Holy Asides
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October 2, 2014, 12:00 PM

Reflections on Being the Church


I returned yesterday from the Priests’ Conference at Camp Mikell. This was the first real opportunity that I had to meet most of the clergy in our diocese. I had a wonderful time getting to know many new people, worshiping with them, and learning more about the Diocese of Atlanta as a whole. In fact, I have three thoughts/observations that I want to share that were realized or reinforced during these past few days. (I know, it’s almost always three things.)

 

We began the conference with the question “why?” Why does the Diocese of Atlanta exist? What is its role and purpose? Not “what programs should we run?” Or “what issues must we face?” But “why are we here?” This opened up a great conversation, as one can imagine, with many answers concerning restoring broken people to unity with God in Jesus, partnership with one another in proclaiming the Gospel, and living as the community of the New Covenant. It is an important place to begin, and it is an important place to continue to revisit. It’s easy to get caught up in the who, how, or what questions of mission and ministry. What programs will appeal to youth? How will we pay for this ministry? Who is our target demographic? We need often to come back to the “why?” Why are we expending this energy and these resources? Why am I giving up my Sunday mornings? Why are we concerned about these issues and people? Because, we are the Church—the community of Jesus Christ, who actively work to proclaim God’s love and grace to the world that they might be restored to unity with God and one another. This is why the Covenant that we are undertaking is so important. We are “a community that strives to live out Jesus’ Great Commandment of loving God with our whole heart, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.” This is our purpose.

 

This leads to my second observation. Bishop Wright took some time and invited the clergy to speak of the “unspeakable” issues that we generally choose to ignore. For about an hour, the clergy had an opportunity to address the issues that are generally only discussed (or gossiped about) privately. With “kindness and candor,” several people talked about ways in which they felt the diocese was marginalizing certain people, programs, and structures. In all honesty, there was little that I found revelatory, but the very act took risk (both for those who spoke and for the Bishop). Generally, we are hesitant to become vulnerable, to allow critique or criticism. We want everyone to smile, get along, and play nice. But that leads to shallow relationships, with very little depth or trust. In other words, it is not acting like the Church. This was an example of what it is to “be the Church”: to listen, to risk, to love, to accept through the grace and love of Jesus.

 

This leads to my final observation (in this post anyway) which is that, as the Church, we are called first and foremost to faithfulness. Looking around at the variety of priests, serving in a variety of ministry settings, it’s easy to remember how we can get sidetracked with metrics above faithfulness. How many people do you serve? What’s your budget? How many clergy are on staff? And while metrics are important over time in measuring fruitfulness, the reality is that faithfulness to God alone is what is important. We cannot judge the success of a program based on numbers alone, or place a value on ministry through the size of the revenue streams. We are called to be faithful and obedient to Jesus. Jesus himself reminded the disciples that the fruit they were reaping came from the labors of others. There are times when the Church is called to dig, other times to plant, and still other times to harvest. As the Church we can only be faithful to what Jesus calls us into. And as St. Joseph’s, we must first embrace our purpose in being that community of the New Covenant, and second find contentment, joy, and strength in being faithful to Christ in whatever he calls us into.

 


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