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.
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Image: Scott Gunn
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.
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!
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