Forward Today: Inspiring Disciples, Empowering Evangelists

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott writes about Forward Movement’s shift from print-centric ministry to one that covers many platforms and digital initiatives. We hope you’ll help us in this effort!


Dear friends in Christ,

 

This week, on Monday and Tuesday, the Forward Movement board of directors met in Cincinnati. Twice a year the board meets to hear reports, to set policy and strategy, and to pray together. I’m always grateful for this time together and for such gifted leaders who give their time and skill to Forward Movement in service to the wider church.
For the past few years, Forward Movement has been transitioning from print-centric ministry to a ministry that seeks to meet needs across many platforms and channels. It’s exciting and challenging to do this work. Just as pamphlets were the right technology when we started in 1935, today we seek to inspire disciples and empower evangelists on social media, with digital products, with websites and online conversation, and more. Our board has courageously allowed us to invest in new initiatives so that we can serve the needs of today’s church. 

 

Take, for example, RenewalWorks. This ministry allows congregations to understand, in great details, the spiritual needs and strengths of a local community. And as we step back and aggregate data from thousands of Episcopalians across the church, we now understand well where our church is strong and where we need to grow. 

 

As I am grateful for our board, so I am grateful for our readers and friends who pray for our work every day. It matters. Thank you. 

 

If you are passionate about making disciples and sharing the Good News of God in Christ, I hope you might also consider a financial gift to support digital and online efforts for which we cannot get sales income. Our work in social media and online — sharing hope and offering resources — relies on your gifts. 
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Video: May Forward Day by Day Author Jerusalem Greer

We’re really excited about this month of Forward Day by Day reflections. May’s author is Jerusalem Greer (whose posts for Grow Christians have been awesome, if you haven’t checked them out). Editor Rachel Jones recently did a video interview with Jerusalem and learned more about her writing, her perspective on daily practice, and more! Here it is:

Forward Today: Christ’s Vision of Unity

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott considers Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s concept of “cheap grace,” and asks: do we often pursue “cheap unity” as well?


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Today, as I was praying morning prayer, I was struck by the assigned gospel reading, from the 17th chapter of John. Verse 20 has Jesus praying to the Father on behalf of his disciples, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”
 
That they may all be one. Of course, Jesus is talking about us, his disciples, just as surely as he was talking about his followers seated around that table twenty centuries ago. What does it mean to say that we may all be one?

 

 

It seems to me there are a couple of dangers lurking here. One would be to say that we are all different, and so the quest for deep unity is pointless. On the other hand, we might be tempted to work for a kind of false unity that obscures or ignores our very real differences, creating an illusion of unity. I see quite a bit of the latter in our churches today.
 
Much as Bonhoeffer talked about “cheap grace,” I think there is such a thing as “cheap unity.” The antidote to cheap grace is costly discipleship, and I think the same cure works for cheap unity. If we see ourselves as followers of Jesus, people who give everything over to following him, I believe Christ’s vision of unity may be possible. To be bound together by baptism, by grace, by discipleship, and by our place in the Body of Christ, is to be bound together in unity. When we see ourselves in this kind of unity, we can acknowledge and even celebrate our differences and our unique giftedness.
 
Jesus prayed that we may all be one. What would need to happen in your life for Jesus’ prayer to be fulfilled? What would our world be like if the church were truly and deeply at unity?
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Happy Easter! It’s a Season, Not a Day!

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on spending Holy Week in Jerusalem, and the ways it inspired him to think about the fullness of Easter.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

I wish you all a very blessed and joyous Easter! I am still basking in the glow of my pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where I celebrated Holy Week and Easter with Ethiopians, Greeks, Armenians, Russians, and Anglicans. You can see photos from my pilgrimage on my flickr page. It was inspiring to walk through Holy Week in the places Jesus and his disciples inhabited.

 

 

One thing that struck me is the exuberant way people shouted the Easter Greeting. “Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!” That’s Greek. Anglicans of course shouted, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” These shouts came in sets of three and they were repeated many times throughout liturgies. These were not the subdued liturgical speech that I’ve come to expect among my fellow Episcopalians. Rather, people shouted with reckless abandon, befitting the absolute triumph over death, fear, sin, and destruction that Christ’s Resurrection represents.
 
I wonder what our lives would be like if we celebrated the fullness of Easter for the fullness of the entire Easter season. Our church has set side 50 days for Easter. You might follow along on a wonderful website, 50 Days of Fabulous (www.50days.org). Or maybe you’ll take on an “Easter discipline.” Read a book, maybe one of Forward Movement’s 50 Day Bible Challenge readings of the gospels. My favorite habit to suggest is one that comes from some of our Orthodox friends. During the entire season, instead of greeting people with a hello or a good morning, they greet everyone with “Christ is risen!”
 
However you choose to celebrate Easter, I do hope you’ll make the joy and the transformation last longer than a day or a week. Easter isn’t just one day with full churches, extravagant music, and beautiful flowers. When we celebrate Easter, we are celebrating God’s absolute victory over death and our captivity to sin. Easter means that there is always hope, and that is good news, indeed.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Holy Week for Holy Lives

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott writes from his Holy Week pilgrimage in Jerusalem, where he’s reminded that Holy Week isn’t just historic–it’s “very much about today.”


Dear friends in Christ,

 

As I mentioned last week, I’m in Jerusalem on pilgrimage for Holy Week. You can follow along on Twitter or Instagram or Flickr (where I’m posting lots of photos). It’s been an extraordinary experience. On Palm Sunday, I marched with tens of thousands along the traditional route from the Mount of Olives to the Old City of Jerusalem. I suppose much like the original parade, there was both joy and sorrow, hope and dread.

 

 

Later in the week, the group I’ve joined from St. George’s College here will worship with Anglicans here in the Diocese of Jerusalem. Perhaps if you are an Episcopalian, your church will take part in the Good Friday Offering for the work of the Diocese of Jerusalem. If so, please be generous. They do much good and vital work under very difficult circumstances.
 
This week, something has struck me in a particularly strong way. Holy Week is not, of course, just a re-enactment of past events, even here in Jerusalem, where some of the processions and services take place in the very locations the commemorated events took place some 2,000 years ago. No, Holy Week is very much about today.
 
This week, our liturgies draw us toward a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. They invite us afresh to glorify God. Maundy Thursday, for example, surely reminds us of an ancient meal. But it also invites us to glorify God for God’s great mercy and love for us. Maundy Thursday invites us to loving service in our whole lives. Here in this week, past, present, and future all meet.
 
How will you move through Holy Week? What will it show you about God?
 
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Getting Ready for Pilgrimage

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott writes about Holy Week pilgrimages, both mystical and literal. He’s headed to Jerusalem this year!


Dear friends in Christ,

 

One way to understand Holy Week is as a great pilgrimage, in which we are mystically transported to Jerusalem to walk alongside Jesus during the events of his final week and, ultimately, his great triumph on Easter Day. This is not a historical re-enactment, but a holy journey for every those of us to who “enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby [God] have given us life and immortality” (Palm Sunday collect). There is a flip side, of course. Maybe it’s more useful to think of Jerusalem, and Jesus’ great journey, being brought to us. It’s not that we go away, but rather that the Paschal Mystery is manifest for us. Either way, we realize that we are entering a great mystery, a Love that is larger than we either deserve or conceive.

 

Usually around this time, I’m preparing for the pilgrimage of Holy Week by writing sermons or proof-reading bulletins or leading rehearsals. It’s a lot of work, but I’ve always found it deeply rewarding. This year, I’m doing a different kind of preparation. I’m blessed to be heading to Jerusalem for Holy Week. So I’ll be savoring both a mystical and a literal pilgrimage this year. This year’s preparation involves suitcases and travel logistics and exercise. I expect to do a lot of walking and standing as I attend many services during the week. I’m taking the St. George’s College Easter Fire course, and they’ve got us quite busy! I’ve always wanted to do this, and I’m not sure yet how it will form my observance of Holy Week in future years. Ask me next year.
 
I invite you to join my pilgrimage, and I’d be blessed if you prayed for me and for all pilgrims (literal and mystical) in this holy time. If you want to follow along on my particular journey, you can find me on Instagram or Twitter, and I’ll probably blog a few thoughts along the way. I’m taking along a list of people to pray for while I’m in Jerusalem, so please do let me know if I can pray for you while I’m there.
 
Wherever you are, I do hope you’ll make time in your life for Holy Week. If you can set aside time during the Three Holy Days (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Eve) for worship, you will find yourself transformed by the stories, the liturgies, and Christ’s presence with us through the journey.
 
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: The Church in Our Time

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflected on John Keble, who we remembered on the church calendar this week–and what his ministry can teach us in tumultuous times.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Today the church remembers John Keble, an English priest who died in 1866. He lived in a time of foment, when the role of the church in society was under debate. Pitched battles were fought over the church and how worship was offered. Keble and others insisted that the church is a divine institution with a purpose beyond the earthly realm. Keble didn’t just launch the Oxford Movement within the church, but helped to reclaim the church from secular forces, insisting on the primacy of prayer and sacraments. High church, broad church, low church – all have benefitted from Keble’s ministry.
No time in history has ever been completely peaceful. In this present time, conflict and strife are more visible to more people, perhaps because of 24/7 news and social media. The good news in this is that oppression and suffering are manifest for all to see, so that all might work toward justice and peace. Of course, the difficulty is that we can be overwhelmed by all the challenges.
 
What are we Christians to do? Perhaps Keble offers a way ahead. We might do well to remember that the church, the Body of Christ, is divine in nature. This means, on the one hand, that the church must surely align itself with the suffering of all kinds. But it also means that the church is bigger and holier than our human frailties. We don’t have the rescue the church from anything. Rather, the church points us all toward Jesus, who rescues us and the whole world.
 
How does the church propel you into the world? How does the church draw you to Jesus?
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Browse Pamphlets for Easter

Looking for good resources for Easter? As we approach Holy Week, we invite you and your parish to consider the following Easter pamphlet offerings from Forward Movement. All pamphlets are sold in bundles of 10.

During the Easter season, we hear the accounts of Jesus’ appearances to his friends in the days immediately following the Resurrection. As you reflect on the passages in Resurrection Living , Christine McSpadden invites you to enter into these strange, evocative stories-and open yourself to the transfiguring power of the risen Christ.

 

The fifty days of Easter offer an opportunity to practice living as a resurrected people- and then to take that practice into the rest of the church year. Author Nancy Hopkins-Greene explores ways let go of fear, cultivate signs of new life, read the Bible, bring new life to others, and invite God into your questions. Pairs nicely with  Lent: Preparing Us for Easter. 

 

To enter fully into Christ’s resurrection, we must first follow him in his passion. Observing Holy Week, the week preceding Easter Sunday, is an invitation to do so. This pamphlet explains all of the worship experiences available during Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Tenebrae and Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday.

Forward Today: Love So Amazing

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott reflects on the great line from Isaac Watts, and how we can all reflect on it this Lenten season.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Today, as I was praying morning prayer, I was struck by this line from Romans: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (5:8). It’s so simple, really, but yet so extraordinary.
 
Even though we’ve all messed up pretty badly, God still loves us enough to effect our salvation. Jesus Christ was willing to live among us and, ultimately, to die for us. The cross proves that our God is not a distant, remote God. God is willing to live in solidarity with us, to enter every human pain. And, of course, Jesus was raised from the dead, showing us that God’s love is stronger even than death.
 
Paolo Veneziano [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
This Lenten season, I invite you to join me in reflecting on all this. Let us not ignore our sins and failings. Let us give thanks for God’s great love for us. And let us prepare ourselves to celebrate God’s victory over evil and death on Easter Sunday.
 
So simple. So extraordinary. “When I survey the wondrous cross,” Isaac Watts’ beloved hymn, ends with this: “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Guest post: Greeting Pachuco

We received the following letter a few weeks ago from Rev. Jim Nelson, a priest in Texas. As we reflect on themes of hospitality in our Lenten Season of Prayer: 40 Days in the Desert series, we wanted to share Jim’s story here. 

I’m an Episcopal priest in “The Valley,” as this part of Texas is called. We’re way down south on the border with Mexico, in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley. Reynosa is just across the river from us, and is our sister city. Though “Winter-Texans” love it here, and flock in droves to enjoy our mild winters, the rest of the state of Texas sees us only as the necessary part to travel through to get to the beaches of South Padre Island. We live in an in-between place—not Mexico but  not the United States exactly, either. We’re simply The Valley.

Because of our location and climate, the Rio Grande Valley is home to many people living between the layers of society. I meet a lot of them at my church, Saint John’s.  I first met Pachuco (not his real name) one evening here at the parish, while I was checking the grounds and locking up for the night.  Saint John’s has a beautiful garden in the center of the parish grounds, and as I was coming around one of the hedge-lined walkways, I suddenly came face to face Pachuco. He had a bandana around his forehead, the clothes he was wearing were about 10 sizes too big, he was sporting an array neck tattoos, complete with a Fumanchu-style mustache and soul patch just under his bottom lip.

His first words to me were, “I’m not here to hurt ya, Boss.”  From that statement, I figured it was likely he might have indeed hurt people before. When he called me, “Boss,” I was pretty sure he had probably also served time in prison. I ended up finding out I was right on both counts. He looked like an aging gang-banger from East LA, which is really just a part of who he is.

Pachuco wanted money for a place to stay (the first of many such requests), and after talking with him some more I invited him  back the next day to see if we could come up with some solutions for him. He did return,  and I gave him a small check from my clergy discretionary account. He had the proper ID to cash a check, so I sent him to the bank that’s right next door to us. About five minutes later, the bank called to ask if I had written a check to this man—I could hear the incredulity in their voice.

That was the start of what is still an on-going relationship between this guerro (white guy) and a displaced gang-banger.

Over the course of five years, I’ve had countless talks with Pachuco. He counts me as a dear friend, even though I seldom tell him what he wants to hear. He could change —find “amendment of life,” if he truly wanted that.  Of course, we all could. I’ve also made friends with another ex-gangbanger who teaches college. I invited him and Pachuco out to lunch with me, in order that the professor might inspire Pachuco to change. 

I’ve prayed with and for Pachuco countless times. I’ve purchased clothes for him that might be a little more professional-seeming in interviews, so Pachuco could look more like the other viable applicants, and actually get a job.  He’s come to church at Saint John’s  a few times. I love Pachuco, and he frustrates me like none of my other regular visitors who come seeking assistance and prayer. The police regularly pick him up for criminal trespassing. I know he is capable of doing differently, but he always justifies not shedding the vestiges of his old life.  Even his clothes have captured him, serving an identity that doesn’t particularly serve his best interests, or who he really is as a beloved child of God.  

I realize that how I feel with Pachuco is how God must feel with humanity—with you and with me.

I care about Pachuco. God cares more about all of us. I see the potential in Pachuco for a contented and joyful life—and I want that for him. God sees that in me and in you, too. And just like us, Pachuco fearfully clings to his old identity—as though that truly is who he is. So do we. Pachuco claims to want more, even though he won’t do the one thing that will allow him to cross over into a better life.  He’s afraid of losing himself and the identity he’s clung to all of these years. He holds back. So do we. 

Jim Nelson is the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in McAllen, TX.