Forward Today: Church growth during a pandemic?!

Dear friends in Christ,

A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend from one of the larger Episcopal congregations, and she told me they’d recently had a zoom class to welcome 48 (!) new members. I was astounded. And then I started hearing lots of reports from all across the country of new members joining churches, even though their encounter with the church has been through online worship only.

As I thought about it, I realized it makes sense. This time of year is one that often brings seekers and, potentially, new members to churches. Why should it be different just because most churches are not meeting in person? People are still hungry for connection with God and with their neighbors.

A Pew Research Center survey found that about a quarter of Americans had experienced a stronger faith during the pandemic. My own anecdotal experience suggests that there is a growing hunger for encounter with scripture during this time. In other words, perhaps this time of upheaval is pushing people to examine what’s important. Maybe this is a natural time for people to seek participation in a church community. Might the sacrifices of this time of pandemic invite connections to the costly discipleship to which our Lord Jesus invites us?

Outdoor Sunday service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Portsmouth, RI

I mention all this because I think some church leaders have concluded that the pandemic must be a time of retrenchment, not growth. That’s probably the right posture in some congregations. But in many others, this could be be a fruitful time of numerical and spiritual growth.

Now, before I suggest some ways to nurture growth, I want to acknowledge that the pandemic is exhausting for many leaders. There are good physiological reasons for this. If you are a leader who cannot imagine anything beyond survival, please know that getting through this time is more than sufficient. Also know that others can help you and support you.

That said, if you and your church have the capacity for some new things, this could be a time of growth.

  • This is a good time to start or expand or rethink online education and formation offerings, especially Bible studies.
  • With more engagement online, have a look at your website. Is your information updated for current practices—and does it also give a sense of what practices were like before the pandemic (that is, what folks might expect in the future)?
  • Instead of greeters in the back of the church, maybe you need to commission online greeters who can notice new faces in online worship and in classes, and make connections to invite your guests to know more about your church.
  • Do you have a way to incorporate new members now?
  • Can you equip your current members to invite others to join your church? In some ways, it’s easier to invite someone to “come to church” now, because seekers can explore your church from the comfort of their couch.

 

Of course, I don’t know the context of your local church, and I don’t know how you and your church’s lay leaders and clergy are doing. Getting through this pandemic might be plenty. But if you’re up for growth, every sign I’m seeing says it’s possible now.

Our world sometimes seems like it’s spinning out of control. Now more than ever, people need what the church has to offer: the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a community of disciples who follow a way of justice, hope, love, compassion, mercy, and grace.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

A Season of Prayer: For an Election | The Episcopal Public Policy Network & Forward Movement

Free Forward Day by Day Email | Forward Movement

The Verdant Greening of Joy | Grow Christians

Now available: Come & See | Forward Movement

 

Forward Today: Getting by, by the grace of God

Dear friends in Christ,

There’s a lot going on these days, and the burden of it all can be daunting. We face political rancor, a fearsome pandemic, terrible fires, powerful storms, and the resulting economic uncertainty. 2020 is turning out to be an annus horribilis like none other.

People are suffering in large and small ways, and it’s not always visible. That person who always puts on a smile might be filled with dread. The cheery colleague might secretly be overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. We build personal walls to conceal our pain. It is the way of our culture.

Masks don’t just protect others and us from a virus. We use masks—literal and metaphorical—to protect us from the vulnerability of admitting our struggles.

It’s no different in church.

I hope we can all check in with one another. Offer tangible help if it’s needed, and ask for help if you can find the strength to do the very difficult thing of admitting not everything is under control. Within our churches, people may have needs that run the gamut from monetary support to emotional pain, from loneliness to anxiety. We often do a great job of caring for one another, and this might be the time to make sure we’re doing our best.

Your clergy bear a particular burden. Your priest has the task of caring for your congregation, and the burdens of that work can be considerable. Priests and deacons are often ordained with a strong pastoral sense, a desire to care for others. And that is harder to do when we are dispersed outside our churches. The peculiar challenges of this time may also push more people into emotionally fraught places. Priests with oversight of churches may keenly feel the weight of this moment.

Pray for one another, but especially pray for your clergy. They are certainly praying for you! Perhaps you will reach out to your clergy and offer reassurance and support. Don’t delay!

I say all this not because clergy are needier or holier or more special than others, but simply because caregivers themselves may need a bit of care. Of course, the same is true for doctors, nurses, first responders, and others. Thank them, pray for them, and offer tangible support—a meal, a kindness, a hand-written note.

You might read all this and worry about me. I’m fine, really. It’s a blessing to work with supportive colleagues at Forward Movement, and I’ve just come back from a vacation (which I highly recommend!). Sometimes after Forward Today goes out, I receive kind notes from readers, and I am always grateful. But today, please send your kind notes to someone else, someone who might be struggling.

We’ll get through this time, by the grace of God and because we are all in it together.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

Subscribe to receive Forward Today in your inbox.

Photo: Pixabay


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

A Season of Prayer: For an Election | The Episcopal Public Policy Network & Forward Movement

Free Forward Day by Day Email | Forward Movement

Enough Love to Go Around | ECF Vital Practices

This is NOT Sunday School | Forward Movement, ChurchNext, Forma

 

Forward Today: The world changes one life at a time

Dear friends in Christ,

Lately when people ask me how I’m doing, I say something like, “Well, other than a deadly pandemic and a political dumpster fire, I’m fine!” We laugh. It’s funny because it’s true.

I don’t intend that as a knock on any political party. Whether you’re conservative or liberal, and whatever nation you live in, I think we can all agree that we wish our political leadership were…better.

I tend to engage in gallows humor. Laughter helps me get through tough times. Not everything is funny, of course, but little bursts of joy surely help me when life is challenging. But laughter isn’t the only way or the best way to survive when we face challenges.

The longer I’ve served at Forward Movement—in conversation with lay people and clergy from all over the church—I have become more and more convinced that daily prayer and regular scripture reading are the foundations of discipleship. Tending to our relationship with God in prayer keeps us focused on who we serve, and steeping ourselves in scripture reminds us that we are part of God’s great love for us and all creation.

If you’ve been reading Forward Today for a while, you’ve heard this before. And you’ll hear it again. Partly this is because I need the reminder myself. And partly it’s because there is always someone who hasn’t yet begun this ancient and life-giving practice.

So I want to encourage you all to do something that I try to do myself. Pray daily. Maybe you pray the daily office. Maybe you just talk to God. Maybe you have a favorite prayer resource you enjoy. There’s no right or wrong way to pray, but do pray.

And read your Bible. Read your way through a whole book of the Bible. Find a resource that takes you through a theme of the Bible, such as trust or forgiveness or mercy. Use the daily office lectionary to read much of scripture. Or just open up a Bible and start reading.

One of the greatest treasures of Forward Movement is Forward Day by Day. There’s a reason it has been beloved since it started in 1935. Each day, you get a snippet of scripture, a devotional reflection, and an invitation to pray. We do sell print subscriptions, of course. But I’m happy to say that we now offer a daily email with Forward Day by Day for free. If you want a regular invitation to read scripture and pray right in your inbox, you can sign up for free today.

Whether you use something from Forward Movement or just grab a Bible, I hope you’ll commit (or recommit) to reading and praying regularly. And consider inviting a friend to do the same.

Can I fix the pandemic? Can I fix our politics? No, but I can fix my heart. And the world changes one life at a time.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Photo: Pixabay


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

This is NOT Sunday School | ChurchNext & Forma

In the depths of Pentecost days | Grow Christians

Unprecedented Times | ECF Vital Practices

The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to Following Jesus | Forward Movement

Forward Today: The church in our time

Dear friends in Christ,

What is the church? There are a lot of answers to this question. A building. An institutional structure. A gathered group of Christians. Over the years and centuries, the church in all its forms has looked different in varied times and places.

During this time of pandemic, the church looks different. I take comfort in knowing that the church has always been on a bit of a journey. So it need not shock us that things look different now.

Of course, this doesn’t take away our grief at missing things that we cannot now have. I dearly miss receiving Holy Communion. And I yearn for the day when I can belt out a hymn with a full congregation. Still, we know that Jesus Christ is present in the church, even when the church looks different from what we are used to or what we prefer. Thanks be to God.

I’ve been thinking about all this. How can we carry on the essential aspects of church life even when we can’t gather—or when we can only gather in very limited ways?

Worship is surely a more satisfying experience in a full church, but we can worship in our homes. We can tune into a webcast, but we can also just grab our prayer book and offer our prayers and praises individually or with others in our household.

We can offer our daily prayers and we can read scripture on our own, or with an online group. We can support mission outreach and social justice work with our financial gifts or in other ways, even if we can’t get together with our usual team at church.

In other words, the church can thrive now. Many congregations have discovered this, and they have adapted to our present reality. It’s possible that we won’t ever go back to the way things were in 2019. Maybe online daily prayers are here to stay. Maybe online bible studies are going to stick around. Time will tell.

But we also have to be mindful of all the ways we are leaving people out. Are we supporting people in worship who do not have internet access? Are we using online tools to support worship and learning in life-giving ways? We at Forward Movement have been looking for gaps—places where local churches might need help. We think we found one, and we have an answer.

A new offering called “This is NOT Sunday School” will launch in mid-September. Hosted by ChurchNext and taught by our friends at Forma, this is a new online, weekly, free, and intergenerational way to learn together. Your family—whatever your ages—can gather and learn some of the great stories of the Bible together. Learn more and sign up at the ChurchNext website.

This is one example of a creative solution to how we need to grow into this new time. I wonder what other needs you see? Are there ways in which the church can thrive in ways it has never grown?

We’re watching, listening, and praying here at Forward Movement. We want to inspire disciples and empower evangelists now as ever.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Photo: Christ Church Charlotte


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

Lifting Every Voice | Earth & Altar

Saint Bartholomew and Brokenness | Grow Christians

The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to Following Jesus | Forward Movement

Make Me an Instrument of Peace: A Guide to Civil Discourse | ChurchNext

This is NOT Sunday School

Brought to you by ChurchNext and Forma.

Even if we can’t physically worship and learn together, we can still draw closer to Jesus Christ.

That’s the aim of a new learning experience called “This is NOT Sunday School.” This free, weekly online resource is intergenerational, making it a perfect tool for families and people of all ages.

“Being away from church doesn’t mean we can’t continue learning about God at home,” said Melissa Rau ECF’s Staff Liaison to Forma and co-organizer of This is NOT Sunday School, “This is a dynamic opportunity for families to grow together in faith, especially around this terrific, weekly offering.”

This is NOT Sunday School is coming from the Faith@Home team, which is a collaboration between Forma and Forward Movement to offer free Christian learning resources.

Free sessions of This is NOT Sunday School will launch weekly starting September 16, and you can sign up on the ChurchNext website today. Each week’s session features video teaching by a professional from the Christian formation network, Forma, as well as downloadable lessons and readings.

Sessions use Forward Movement’s Exploring the Bible curriculum, which includes many of the most famous stories in the Bible. It’s part of Forward Movement’s free Living Discipleship series for all children, youth, and adults, available in English and Spanish.

The sessions are hosted through the online learning platform of ChurchNext, a leader in offering online Christian formation. “We’re excited to develop and share this much-needed resource,” said Chris Yaw, founder of ChurchNext. “Families can pick the time and space that works for them to come together, learn about the Bible and one another, and draw closer to Jesus Christ.”

This is NOT Sunday School can be used at home by families or online with groups from congregations. Each session takes about one hour to complete and can be completed at a time convenient for individuals or groups. Some of the teachers for This is NOT Sunday School include Victoria Hoppes, Roger Hutchison, and Miriam McKenney.

You can learn more and sign up at ChurchNext.tv.

ChurchNext offers online Christian learning for individuals and groups, and is a ministry of Forward Movement. Forma is the network for Christian formation, a ministry of Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF). Faith@Home offers free Christian learning and discipleship resources and is a collaboration between Forward Movement and ECF.

Forward Today: Church growth…now?

Dear friends in Christ,

I’ve had a couple of conversations lately about church growth during this time of pandemic. At first, it seems counter-intuitive. How can we be growing when many of us can’t even gather in person for worship and learning?

Of course, there are many kinds of growth in the church. There’s spiritual growth, in which current members grow deeper in their faith. We think about that a lot in our RenewalWorks ministry. Then there is numerical growth, when we see our churches growing to include more people. I believe the church needs both kinds of growth—depth and number.

During the crises we now face—pandemic, growing awareness of racial injustice, politics—the church will rightly begin with a compassionate response to those in need. We can’t neglect our care of those who are affected by illness or the economic downturn or other forms of crisis. But we also should not lose sight of growth. After all, Jesus told us our main task is to make disciples.

I encourage you to think about what growth might look like in your own congregation. Can you use traditional methods or find new ways to encourage spiritual growth? Hold classes online. Send out materials to empower people to start new prayer practices. Encourage Bible study. These can be done well in person or online.

And then there’s numerical growth. I’m heartened by several recent stories I’ve heard about churches that are gaining new members even now. Everything that is happening in the world is pushing people to search for meaning and hope, so it’s not surprising people would be looking for churches. Are you ready to welcome them? Are you ready to invite people to join you?

I saw a Facebook post from one church holding a newcomers class online—and there were a LOT of squares on the Zoom screen. We can grow, even now.

I’ve started a video interview series in which I talk with people about discipleship and church growth. Perhaps one of these conversations will inspire you to think about discipleship and church growth at your church, even during a pandemic.

  • I spoke with the Rev. Kate Wesch from West Seattle about her congregation’s remarkable numerical and spiritual growth, mostly through Bible study and learning about our faith.
  • The Rev. Nurya Love Parish and I talked about her small church that has grown by embracing their core purpose and by focusing on discipleship.
  • Early in the pandemic, I talked with the Rev. Jason Prati about how his church was responding to the pandemic and still growing. It was back in April, which seems an eternity ago, but there are still lessons to learn.
  • Just recently, I had a chance to talk about innovation, success, failure, and growth with the Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija. Sometimes we have to fail in order to learn, and that’s OK!

 

Let us all keep our eye on growth. There are people all around us who need to hear a word of hope, mercy, grace, and love. In the name of Jesus Christ, tell them some Good News.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Photo: Pixabay


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

Peace, Be Still | Grow Christians

Guide us in the Way of Justice and Truth | Earth & Altar

The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to Following Jesus | Forward Movement

Make Me an Instrument of Peace: A Guide to Civil Discourse | ChurchNext

 

Forward Today: A practical guide to following Jesus

Dear friends in Christ,

In late 2017, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church invited a few of us to Atlanta to think creatively about our church and how we might focus our work. Our small group quickly settled on the idea that discipleship—the daily work of those who are committed to following Jesus—was key. And we settled on some spiritual practices. By the time General Convention rolled around in 2018, the Presiding Bishop and his staff had taken our suggestions and crafted the Way of Love as an invitation to seven spiritual practices: turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go, rest.

There are lots of resources now—including several from Forward Movement. There are podcasts and books and courses and more. The question I kept hearing from Episcopalians across the church is, “This sounds great. How do I get started?”

That question echoes my experience as a parish priest. Churches are filled with people of all levels of spiritual maturity and commitment. This diversity is one of the wonderful facets of parish ministry. The person who spends an hour a day in prayer works alongside the person who hardly prays. Each can inspire the other at times.

What I noticed in my ministry is that there are a lot of people who want to be committed followers of Jesus, but they’re not quite sure what that might look like in their own lives. “I would love to pray every day, but I’m not sure how.” “I’ve always wanted to read the Bible, but it’s too scary to start.” And so on.

Thinking of all those people—and remembering my own journey as a disciple—I wrote a small book with very practical guidance on how to get started. Or if you’re already started in the work of discipleship, it might provide some fresh ways to renew your practices. This is not a book for spiritual ‘experts’. It’s a book for regular people who aren’t quite sure how to translate the lofty ideals of following Jesus into their own lives.

This Friday is the official publication date for The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to Following Jesus. I’ve written a short chapter on each of the seven Way of Love practices, and each practice also includes a personal testimony from a lay person who has lived out these practices. There are reflection questions, biblical passages for study, and a list of resources for further exploration. You can find reviewers’ comments on our website.

I hope you’ll buy this book if you’re not sure where to start following Jesus. And if you’re well on your way in following Jesus, perhaps you’ll get a copy or two for friends.

The book is available for a special pre-order price of just $12 now, and the Kindle ebook is also available for pre-order on Amazon. If you want to buy the book for your book group, it’s just $10 when you buy five or more.

Next week, I’ll get back to reflecting on life in the church and in the world. Thank you for indulging an excited author this week.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

Subscribe to receive Forward Today in your inbox.


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

Finding Black Episcopal Spaces | Earth & Altar

Living Discipleship, an all-ages curriculum series | Forward Movement

Seeing the Glory of the Lord off the Mountain | Grow Christians

Check out our new digital catalog | Forward Movement

 

Forward Today: Why did you doubt?

Dear friends in Christ,

It’s funny what sticks in our memory and what doesn’t. As a preacher, I sometimes wonder what anyone will remember an hour after I finish the sermon. For my part, there are a few sermons I remember years later (and some I forget seconds later). Today I’m thinking of one sermon that’s stuck with me. I heard it as a child in elementary school.

The preacher was speaking about the Gospel passage we hear this Sunday—Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). The relevant part is brief:

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

In the sermon I remember, the preacher assumed Jesus was angry or disappointed. And the preacher said Peter blew it by not trusting Jesus and keeping faith.

That stuck with me, and, for a while, I agreed with that reading. Now I think it is 180 degrees wrong.

Have you ever walked on water? I haven’t! I cannot imagine having the faith that would make this possible! The point is not that Peter failed to keep walking on the water, but rather that Peter managed even a few steps. What is the relationship between Peter and Jesus in this moment? We often don’t have emotional adjectives in the Bible, so we have to be careful what we project onto the speakers.

It seems to me that Jesus was offering compassion. After all, he reached out his hand for Peter. His question may have been asked in pity or in sorrow or in wonder.

Reading the passage as I suggest, it teaches us that we should not beat ourselves up when we fail to keep faith. Rather, we should rejoice for those faithful moments in our lives. And we should know that our Lord Jesus reaches out to catch us when we fail. Jesus offered grace to Peter again and again. Of all the people Jesus could have chosen to lead the church, he chose impetuous Peter, though Peter was often loudly and completely wrong.

Jesus chooses us, too. When we lose our faith, we need only to cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus will catch us.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Image: Lorenzo Veneziano, Public domain


A Covid-19 Spiritual Survival Kit

Isolated, anxious, and unsure of what will happen next, our response to the virus has already taken months, and we don’t know when it will end. What can we do to take care of ourselves and others during this difficult time? How can we rely on God to help us survive—spiritually, physically, and emotionally—and to do God’s work in the world? In this course, four instructors offer suggestions to help us manage this period of anxiety and social isolation. This course is being offered for free.


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

Share it Forward Packs are now available! | Forward Movement

The Stone Will Be Rolled Away | Grow Christians

All Loving God, It is Night | Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices

Check out our new digital catalog | Forward Movement


Forward Today: Cleanse and defend your church

Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday’s collect seems particularly appropriate for this moment in our common life.

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

In this time of pandemic, when we worry about our health, surely we want to pray that our churches might continue in safety. And praying that our church might be cleansed is especially fitting when disinfectants are selling like never before.

But of course, the collect isn’t really about the church in a time of pandemic.

Those of us who live in the United States are blessed to dwell in a land where we Christians are not persecuted for our religion. While some nations may need to pray for the church to be defended from persecution and other terrors, the threats to the church are different here. Our chief danger is complacency. We might enjoy the comforts of life and the privileges of the church so much that we fail to be convicted and transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another collect asks God to help us make no peace with oppression. Our church must be cleansed from its timidity in the face of injustice, from its enjoyment of wealth and privilege, and from its failure to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ.

The church has truly known the goodness of the Lord, but it is also true that we have sometimes fallen short of our high calling. Let us treasure all that is good, while praying for defense from all that draws us away from Jesus. Let us seek an awareness of God’s continual mercy in our church and in our lives.

While our churches are fully or partially dispersed, I hope we will take the time to pray and to take stock of how well we have allowed Almighty God to govern our church with goodness. This uprooted time prevents us from our business as usual and invites reflection and redirection. How can we grow as disciples during this pandemic? How can we meet the increasing needs of our world, caused by disease and economic crisis?

So, yes, by all means, pray that the church be cleansed and defended from a deadly virus. And beyond that, let us all pray fervently that our church is cleansed and defended from all that holds us back from our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ, living transformed lives to change the world by God’s grace.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

Subscribe to receive Forward Today in your inbox.

Image: Larry Lamb, Flickr


A Covid-19 Spiritual Survival Kit

Isolated, anxious, and unsure of what will happen next, our response to the virus has already taken months, and we don’t know when it will end. What can we do to take care of ourselves and others during this difficult time? How can we rely on God to help us survive—spiritually, physically, and emotionally—and to do God’s work in the world? In this course, four instructors offer suggestions to help us manage this period of anxiety and social isolation. This course is being offered for free.


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

Share it Forward Packs are now available! | Forward Movement

Masks as a Sign of Love | Grow Christians

Whatever you do now will prepare you for what you can do in the future
Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices

Check out our new digital catalog | Forward Movement

Forward Today: Let the whole world see

Dear friends in Christ,

In the last few days, I celebrated my ninth anniversary of serving at Forward Movement. These occasions are natural times to reflect on time that has passed. I’m proud of what Forward Movement has done, and I’m grateful for all the leaders who served before me to lay a solid foundation. Everything we do though is only possible because of the remarkable staff. I am profoundly grateful for gifted and passionate colleagues in ministry.

Lately I’ve been thinking about our beloved Episcopal Church. In the last nine years, I’ve spent much of my time travelling across the church visiting congregations, dioceses, and various gatherings. I thought on this occasion I might share some thoughts based on what I’ve seen and heard.

  • There are thriving, growing congregations of all kinds. Rural and urban, liberal and conservative, large and small. Those congregations have in common effective leadership and a congregation-wide deep commitment to following Jesus. It’s not complicated to grow a church. It takes intention and focus.
  • The overall statistical trends of slow, steady decline are true. As a friend of mine says, “the church isn’t dying; we’re killing it.” In almost every case I’ve seen, congregations that aren’t numerically growing are beset by either conflict or complacency (or both). Complacency is deadly, and it is antithetical to the Gospel. We too easily take for granted our churches and even our faith.
  • We need a new slogan. “The Episcopal Church welcomes you” sets up a dynamic of a club to which new members of many kinds will be admitted, rather than a mission-focused, outward-facing movement in which we seek to make disciples of all nations. It isn’t enough to be nice to people who show up in our churches. We need to get out there and invite people to know the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. We need an active, urgent slogan—because we need urgently to be active in the world.
  • Related to the previous point. We’re also not very welcoming in terms of race and class. The Episcopal Church skews wealthier than the broader population. And we are, especially in the United States, markedly less diverse than the racial demographics of our society. We have some soul-searching to do and plenty of repenting to do.
  • We need to equip people to practice their faith at home—prayer, study, service, and evangelism.
  • We need to study what’s working and what’s not and be brutally honest with ourselves. Nothing should be unexamined, other than the unchangeable core of our faith. How do we teach stewardship? How do we reach new people? How do we govern and organize ourselves? How do we do our work both within congregations and in the wider church?
  • We must develop a deeper curiosity about the people who come to our churches and the people who don’t. This is a necessary step in evangelism.
  • Our world needs us to step up our game. People are crying out, seeking a word of hope and grace. People are looking for meaning and purpose. People need to meet our loving redeemer, Jesus Christ.

 

Almost every day, I pray for our church. I invite you to join me.

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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Image: Scott Gunn


Building Racial Justice

This series was made in partnership with Trinity Institute in 2016 based on their 2016 conference, Listen for a Change: Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice. Courses are built on lectures by some of our leading teachers on the subject of race in America.

  • Spirituality and Racial Justice with Michael Curry
  • Whiteness and Racial Justice with Kelly Brown Douglas
  • Theology and Racial Justice with J. Kameron Carter
  • Racism and Racial Justice with Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
  • Reparations and Racial Justice with Jennifer Harvey

 

This series is for those looking to deepen their understanding and conversations on racial injustice.


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

Seeing Ourselves in Picture Books | Grow Christians 

A Letter to My Predominantly White Congregation | Earth & Altar

Next Forward Day by Day issue begins in August…order your subscription!

Implement Revive Online | Revive