Holy Asides
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March 9, 2017, 8:12 PM

Leave and Listen

Last Saturday, the vestry met for their annual retreat. The Rev. Donna Mote, chaplain of the airport and the Missioner for Engagement and Innovation in the Diocese, was our retreat leader and reminded us of an important core value of the Church: we exist primarily to serve those who are not its members. This is summary of a quote made by Archbishop William Temple, who is not speaking just of individual congregations or parishes, rather the purpose of the Church as a whole is to serve those who are not presently a part of the Church. We, who know the glory of God’s redeeming work in and through Jesus Christ, are called to demonstrate that love and knowledge to the world around us.

This has a profound impact upon the ministries we choose to engage in, as well as our evaluation of the effectiveness of those ministries. Let’s take Friday Friends as an example. Why have we chosen to provide food for the weekend for 81 elementary school children at Walnut Creek? Is it to let people know how wonderful St. Joseph’s is? Is it to try and get those kids and their families to come to our church? Or is it simply to share the love of Christ in us with those whom we have discerned God has called us to serve?  Hopefully, you have chosen the third inquiry. Our mission as the Church is to discern the ways in our communities in which God is inviting us to shine forth Christ’s light and glory, without expectation that those to whom we go will begin attending the parish or become pledging members.

This is a bit counter-intuitive to everything we have heard or been taught through the church growth movement model. We hold Vacation Bible School in order for kids to bring their friends, who will bring their parents, who will bring their checkbooks, which will pay for our new education wing. However, the real reason to hold Vacation Bible School is to allow kids (and some teens and adults, for that matter) to experience the transforming power of God’s love for them-and to have FUN! Jesus is fun. He is life-giving.

The challenge before us is two-fold: to leave and to listen. We need to leave the church building and enter into the communities and neighborhoods that surround us. Not only is St. Joseph’s the only Episcopal Church in Henry County, but we are also the surrogate presence for Butts County.  In addition, we have an impact in parts of Newton and Rockdale Counties. That is a large area and a large demographic, with a great number of needs and concerns. This leads us to listen. We need to listen to the people that we encounter. What are their fears? Hopes? Needs? And we need to listen to God. We are called to discern together how we are to engage within our communities, how we can bring outreach, healing, prayer, and worship into the world that surrounds us. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. How will we bring forth that love to the world that does not know it?

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