Challenges and gifts

Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday’s epistle comes from 1 Corinthians 12, in which Saint Paul reminds us that we Christians together are the body of Christ, and that each one of us is a member that has a crucial role to play in the body.

I was thinking about how this works out at Forward Movement, a ministry of the church that has a different calling than a local congregation. Our work is to inspire disciples and empower evangelists. We do this in lots of ways. We host conferences, publish books, create apps, provide websites, offer podcasts, and more.

Doing our work requires a variety of gifts. We need people whose spiritual calling is finding missing commas. We need people who are patient and persistent to make sure that our orders ship on time. We need people who can tell the story of Forward Movement and what we have to offer the church. And that’s not even getting the list started!

The pandemic has pushed us hard. At times, it has felt futile to struggle against the tide of adversity. And at other times, I think we’d all say the pandemic has challenged us to work in new ways that will help us be more effective in our ministry. Our whole staff is weary, but I’m also amazed by the resilience of every single person at Forward Movement, as the staff has pressed onward to carry out our mission. We know that just as this has been tough for us, it’s also been tough on the individuals and congregations we serve.

Dozens of shipping boxes and mailing envelopes, stacked in the back of a large hatchback car.One of our latest challenges is that our warehouse has struggled to ship orders. You’ve read about all the issues with the supply chain and the world of logistics. Well, it’s no abstraction for us! To get things out on time, our Cincinnati customer service team has worked tirelessly to ship orders from our offices in Cincinnati.

This photo shows a carload of orders heading out. That’s just one of many batches. These orders—and hundreds more over the last few months—were all hand-packed by folks who stop every day at 10:00 a.m. to pray for our work and the ministry of the whole church.

I’ve certainly learned a lot about logistics and shipping! And we’ve had to change how, where, and when we work. We’ve improved our technology. We’ve learned to support one another in new ways. We’ve learned to go with a flow a bit more readily. Someday when the global health crisis is over, we’ll work better because of the challenges of the last two years.

Why am I telling all this? First, while I fully acknowledge and grieve very real costs of the pandemic in terms of death, illness, and personal struggle, I can also see that it has pushed us in some ways we needed to be pushed. I wonder if that’s true in your congregation? Second, we couldn’t have gotten through the last two years without the support of the whole church. I know that you have been patient with us. You have prayed for us. And you have supported us with an outpouring of donations to sustain our ministry. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We’re going to get through this. Things will change, but we have each other and we have the abiding Holy Spirit with us along the way.

Blessings to you. May you have the strength and the courage to do the work God is calling you to do in this strange and challenging time, and may we never forget that Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit’s companionship with us on our journey.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians, our family blog: Who is Jesus to you?
Get your Lent calendar today: Join the Journey through Lent
Help make this work possible: Donate to Forward Movement

Forward Today: A grand adventure begins tomorrow!

Dear friends in Christ,

Tomorrow is a big day! Among other things, it is the Feast of The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Churches will gather (online or in person) to celebrate the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the whole world. If for some reason, your church isn’t celebrating this important day, you can join my friends at St. James’ Church in New York, NY for Epiphany Lessons & Carols online at 6 p.m. EST.

Tomorrow is also the day that the Good Book Club for Epiphanytide 2022 kicks off. This time around, you are invited to join Episcopalians all over the country in reading the first half of the book of Exodus. Perhaps your church is hosting a group that will read together. If not, you can join folks from all over the church.

The Good Book Club is simple. The idea is that Episcopalians everywhere join in reading a book of the Bible. Because Exodus is pretty long, this time we’ll just read the first half. (There’s also a reading plan for the second half if you want to keep reading during Lent.)

Pick your favorite Bible and use the free reading plan. If you don’t have a paper Bible you love, you can find the whole Bible online for free at Bible Gateway – lots of versions and lots of languages. There are several free resources for individuals and groups listed on the Good Book Club website. You can sign up for free emails and updates about the Good Book Club.

Meet with other students from around the world for a live, online class on the Book of Exodus with Vicki Garvey, a respected teacher and author and canon for lifelong education at the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. In this free class, Vicki will teach about the context and themes of the Book of Exodus. Classes will meet live on Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST starting tomorrow, January 6. Register here. 

Sometimes the news of the world can seem overwhelming, and with good reason. How can we find peace? How can we find our way? The scriptures won’t solve all our problems, but they will remind us that God is sovereign and that our true joy and peace is found in God’s presence. I’m especially looking forward to time with scripture this Epiphany season.

Exodus tells us about God’s liberating love. Exodus teaches us about God’s steadfast love for us, even when we turn away. Exodus reminds us that God has revealed to us laws that help us live well. It’s just what I need this January, and it might be good for you, too.

Maybe I’ll see you online as we journey through the book of Exodus together.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Dive into other books of the Bible: The Bible Challenge series
Start the new year with daily prayer:  prayer.forwardmovement.org

Forward Today in 2021

Dear friends in Christ,

Our marketing team had a fun idea for this week’s Forward Today. What if we reviewed the “greatest hits” from the last year? They found the most popular messages from our blog and social media, and I’m excited to share them here as a way to celebrate Good News as we’ve encountered it over the last year, even amidst trying times.

Speaking of the end of the year, at Forward Movement we’ve worked hard to serve the church during a tumultuous period. We’ve continued to give thousands of free copies of Forward Day by Day to those in prison, in hospitals, in nursing homes, and serving in the armed forces. We’ve offered free resources to equip the saints and strengthen congregations. If you have the ability to make a donation to support this work of hope and encouragement, your gift will change lives through the transforming Good News of Jesus. Thank you for your gifts and for your prayers. All of us are sustained by your constant support.

Blessings to you in this Christmas season.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Most popular on the blog:

A detour on the journey: “If you are an exhausted person who can’t muster the energy to be part of your church in the way you were two years ago, it’s OK. Rest. Even Jesus needed time for refreshment and prayer, so take the time you need. The church depends on Christ alone; the church will carry on as you rest.”

What to do when there’s too much: “What are we Christians to do in the face of impossible problems and insurmountable suffering? I believe our response begins in prayer.”

Can we understand the Trinity? Does it matter? “On Trinity Sunday, I hope we can simply enjoy the glory and majesty of God.”

Most popular on Facebook: 

Advent and beyond: “[Advent Word] is an ideal social media devotion—a way to claim an often unholy space with the holiness of preparation and repentance.”

All things may prosper (St. Michael and All Angels): “Michael is a warrior for good, someone who rights wrong and seeks justice.”

The spiritual practice of gratitude: “Thanksgiving reminds us that God’s grace defines our world.”

Most popular on Twitter:

Stir up thy power: “I am so ready for God to stir things up.”

Discovering a deeper practice of prayer: “When I was a parish priest, every now and then someone would say to me, “I want to pray, but I’m just not sure how to begin.” If this book had existed back then, I’d have given it to all sorts of folks.”

You CAN make a difference: “Don’t accept ‘there’s nothing I can do’ as reality. There’s work for you. And there’s work for your church. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, and our neighbors around the world need our love.”

Glorifying and Praising

Dear friends in Christ,

We’re just a few days away from Christmas. Last year’s Christmas was bizarre, a time when we were unable to gather for worship. There were no churches full of worshipers singing their praises of the Christ child.

Christmas this year is perhaps even more strange. In many churches, worshipers will raise the rafters with glorious praise even as we enter another peak in the pandemic. We will hear the angels’ cry of peace on earth, even as division and strife grow daily.

Perhaps we’ve never needed the Christmas message more than in this moment.

You wouldn’t be alone in asking, how can we be joyful at a time like this? Perhaps we do well to recall the original Christmas story. Two thousand years ago, during a time of oppression and military occupation, in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of what looked like a very ordinary set of people, God acted decisively. The enfleshed Word of God was born.

Everything about the Christmas story tells us that God gets right into the thick of it with us. Our God is not distant and uncaring. Our God sides with the ordinary and the outcasts. Our God values mercy, hope, justice, and peace.

A couple of details in the Christmas story stand out for me this year. God sent an angel to bear glad tidings to shepherds. Shepherds! People of low status were among the first to hear the Good News of Christ’s birth, and they went quickly to see God-with-us. And after their encounter with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, the shepherds went back to their fields. As the Gospel says, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”

The shepherds are models for us all. They hear, they respond, they see, and they proclaim.

At Christmastime, as we encounter afresh the wonder of Jesus Christ’s birth, I hope we too can glorify and praise God. Perhaps you and I can be bearers of grace and mercy in a world that sometimes seems graceless and merciless.

Jesus Christ is Perfect Love incarnate, showing us how much God loves each one of us. That is Good News worth proclaiming.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians, our family blog: Have you any Christmas cheer? 
From RenewalWorks blog: What song do you sing?
Get ready to explore the Bible with The Good Book Club
Walk through the last week of Advent with Advent Word

Forward Today: Past performance, future promises

Dear friends in Christ,

When you read investing advice, articles will usually have a disclaimer that says something like, “past performance is got a guarantee of future returns.” This is because the stock market is irregular.

With God, it’s a completely different story. God is steadfast and trustworthy. So with God, past performance does say something about the future. The Bible is full of recitations of God’s mighty deeds from the past. These are not included because of nostalgia.

Too often, our churches are infected by toxic nostalgia. We are tempted to remember “the good old days” which weren’t nearly as good as we remember them. We use our energy grieving a reality that doesn’t fit our memory of the past. We want to recreate some time from the past rather than pushing ahead.

We might be tempted to misread the recitations of history in the Bible. They aren’t there for nostalgia! God’s past deeds are remembered so that we always remember that God acts on our behalf.

This coming Sunday, we will hear the Magnificat in our lectionary readings. Mary’s song of praise is a remembrance of God’s deeds in the past. And that look backwards is meant to encourage us about the future.

As we look toward Christmas, we do well to recall how God has entered our world to redeem us. And we can expect God to work in our lives and in our world.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

New ChurchNext course on interrupting cycles of violence: Each Other’s Keeper
From Grow Christians, our family blog: We Know About Waiting 

Forward Today: Stir up thy power

Dear friends in Christ,

I love the collect – or prayer of the day – for this coming Sunday. It’s an ancient prayer that still speaks to us today.

Illuminated manuscript in Latin, which translated reads "Stir up your power, O God, and with great might come among us."Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

Several years ago, I wrote about this prayer for an Advent retreat I led. In that retreat meditation, I said:

I am captivated by the idea of God stirring us up, of being stirred up by God’s power. It really suggests we won’t be left the same, that things will get mixed up in us and in the world through God’s power. I think of the swirling nothingness at the beginning, out of which God brought all Creation into being, and how God’s creativity continues in the world. Stir up thy power!

My gosh, I am so ready for God to stir things up. It’s not that our chaotic, fallen world needs excitement. Rather, the patterns of power, might, greed, and violence need to be stirred. Complacency and fear need to be stirred away. Hope, grace, mercy, peace, and justice need to be stirred in. We need some stirring.

If you can, get to church this weekend or join a service online. Hear the warning of John the Baptist. Pray for a fresh stirring up of our world and our lives. Do the work of repentance to which Advent calls us.

We can’t do it on our own. Stir up your power, O God! Stir us up, we pray!

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

New ChurchNext course on interrupting cycles of violence: Each Other’s Keeper

Forward Today: Omicron, Alpha, and Omega

Dear friends in Christ,

Advent has begun, but I suspect plenty of us are focused on the Omicron variant more than on Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega.

It’s an understandable worry. We all want the pandemic to end, and we want our loved ones to stay healthy and safe. The headlines about the Omicron variant are sometimes terrifying. But articles are often less frightening than their sensational titles may suggest. Still, every time you flip on the TV or open a news site, those headlines scream out at you again.

Reading the articles is not just a good way to be informed, but it can be an essential spiritual discipline. If we leave ourselves to headlines, we may let ourselves be ruled by fear. If we move beyond the headlines to the substance, we can experience a more balanced approach to any news story.

What do we know about Omicron as I write this? Not too much, other than it’s a significantly different COVID variant that has already spread around the world. Vaccines may or may not work against it. It may or may not be more contagious and more deadly than previous variants. It may or may not respond to new treatments. Those facts are a lot different that the initial impression the headlines give us.

If our hearts are ruled by fear, they cannot be ruled by love. And, indeed, love casts out fear. It’s not that fear is bad. Fear is an evolutionary necessity that keeps us alive sometimes! It’s just that we can’t let ourselves be defined and governed by our fears. Rather, our perfectly reasonable and necessary fears should be governed by our Christian hope.

Not long ago on Thanksgiving Day, we heard the Gospel from Matthew 6. “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Worrying doesn’t change anything, except that it consumes us.

I get afraid sometimes, just like everyone else. It’s almost impossible not to be afraid with all those screaming news sites! But on a good day, I make sure I don’t spend too much time with scary headlines. And on a great day, I spend plenty of time with God’s trustworthy and true message of hope in the scriptures.

In this Advent season, I hope we will all turn to hope and love more than fear. A good way to get daily inspiration is the Advent Word devotion, based on words from the Sunday lectionary. Or there’s always Forward Day by Day.

The Omicron variant – and plenty of other things in the news – might be truly and rightly terrifying. But none of these things need to define us. We are defined by Jesus Christ, who always stands ready to offer hope, mercy, justice, grace, and peace. Greek-letter COVID variants are big, but they are not as big as Jesus Christ, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature


More from our ministry:

Our Christmas shipping deadline is this Monday, 12/6 – order your items today!
Turn to hope and love in prayer with this new book: Seek and You Will Find
New ChurchNext course on interrupting cycles of violence: Each Other’s Keeper

Forward Today: The spiritual practice of gratitude

Dear friends in Christ,

The word THANKFUL in gold letters laid on a wooden table, surrounded by crafty cutouts of leaves and pumpkins

Tomorrow those of us in the USA celebrate Thanksgiving Day. It’s a holiday with a complex and complicated history, but I am delighted to keep this day. In the Book of Common Prayer, it is a major feast, right up there with Sundays and big-time saints’ days.

We live in a culture that teaches us to value things about all else. People with more stuff, culture says, are worth more. Our happiness, culture says, comes from what we possess. Thanksgiving upends all that.

This holiday is about gratitude for what we have. In the prayer book celebration of Thanksgiving, we give thanks for God’s gifts to us, and we pray for God’s help in being faithful stewards of these gifts not only for our good but for the good of all who are in need. In other words, for Christians, Thanksgiving is all about God. It is a day to give thanks for all that God has done for us and for the whole creation.

We are living through a time of disruption and upheaval brought about by the pandemic and by the public revelation of deep chasms diving our society. We’ve always lived in a fallen world, but somehow it seems more visible now. It might be easy to become discouraged, to begin to believe that evil, sin, and death define our world.

Thanksgiving reminds us that God’s grace defines our world. We just need to see that, and perhaps reorient our lives toward gratitude. While a sense of gratitude doesn’t banish evil or remedy injustice, it does enable hope and enliven our hearts with an awareness of God’s grace.

What if we changed the narrative? Consider this recent story from CNN about how an accidental Thanksgiving invitation forged a new friendship. I think everyone in this story must have had some deep gratitude. And I also see how their gratitude is magnified by friendship.

I’ve been working on my own sense of gratitude – seeking to be more aware of God’s blessings so that I can be more open to the possibilities of grace in a broken world.

I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving Day. Beyond the turkey or tofu or whatever you eat, I hope you and yours will find some time to share stories of God’s blessings.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature


More from our ministry:

Meet the artist behind one of our most striking covers: Joseph Holston Q&A
From the RenewalWorks blog: Jesus and the law 
Nationalism vs hospitality, from Grow Christians: Margaret of Scotland
New ChurchNext course on interrupting cycles of violence: Each Other’s Keeper

 

 

Artist Q&A: Joseph Holston

Joseph HolstonToday we spotlight the artist behind the striking cover image of Mark Bozzuti-Jones’ book, Face to the Rising Sun. Joseph Holston, an American artist, painter and printmaker, has been working in the fine arts for more than 40 years. The cover image for this book, Jubilation, is part of Holston’s visual narrative “Color in Freedom: Journey along the Underground Railroad.”

I hope [the Color in Freedom series] resonates with viewers everywhere, as the world continues to grapple with people who, escaping from whatever chains bind them, seek freedom and opportunity to live their lives.

Cover of the book "Face to the Rising Sun: Reflections on Spirituals and Justice" by Mark Bozzuti-JonesThis image made a great fit for the cover of Face to the Rising Sun, rooted in the deep faith of African American story and the celebration of the Black spirit. Fittingly for a book centered on justice, Holston’s fee for use of the image was donated, at his request, to two local charities: the Manna Food Center and the Maryland Food Bank.

Read on to hear more from Holston about his background, his art, and his work on this book cover! Continue reading Artist Q&A: Joseph Holston

Forward Today: Planning for a future, even with uncertainty

Dear friends in Christ,

The Board of Forward Movement outside Christ Church Glendale in Cincinnati

Last week, Forward Movement’s board of directors met near Cincinnati. It was our first in-person meeting since late 2019. Of course, we were all profoundly grateful just to be together. But beyond our joy at gathering, we had important work to do.

The board has been working on strategic priorities for Forward Movement for several months now. The days of thick three-ring binders with strategic plans are over. The world is changing too fast for that. Instead, many organizations set strategic priorities. Where should an organization invest its time, energy, and money? What are the areas of work that need to be pushed to grow and change to meet the needs of a quickly-changing world?

We’re still working, so I’m not ready to share all the results yet. But I will say this. One of our emerging priorities is to capture data. We want to understand what the church needs, where it is strong, and where it needs help. We want to understand what Forward Movement does well and what we could do better. These things will help us map out our work to serve the church in the months and years to come.

This time of pandemic may seem like a strange time to be thinking strategically, but. The church was already changing quickly before the pandemic, and many of those changes have been dramatically accelerated. Whatever is coming next for the church, it will not be going back to life before the pandemic. There’s no “back to normal” because norms have shifted.

Good leaders and healthy organizations will take advantage of this disruptive time to make changes that might have seemed impossible before the pandemic. Is your church changing now? I suspect so, but is it changing in a purposeful way? If ever there were a time to let go of things that needed to end or to take up bold new ventures, this is it.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is unchanging. The hope of God in Christ is our anchor in a turbulent time. But how we preach the Gospel and how we live as a church must surely change. I am delighted that our board did hard work to help steer Forward Movement through this time so that we can emerge stronger and healthier than ever, ready to meet the needs of the church in our time.

May God bless you in this time and fill you with strength and purpose to discern how you might be called to change and grow.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Strategy and vision in this ChurchNext course: Vision and the Vestry
Leadership in families, from Grow Christians: Leo the Great
Give the gift of prayer: Forward Day By Day gift subscriptions