Holy Asides
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November 24, 2015, 1:12 PM

Who We Are


After months of prayer and discussion within Vestry meetings, conversations with parishioners,  parish events, and even a webinar, we have created the following identity statement for our parish:

 

St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, a parish in the Diocese of Atlanta located in Henry County, is a community of grace: demonstrating the transforming power of Jesus Christ as we engage in joyful and meaningful worship; growing spiritually together through prayer, study and fellowship; and radiating God’s healing love to a broken world with compassion and outreach.

 

This identity statement reflects who we are at this present time, and directs us into fulfilling our purpose, vision, and mission. We are an Episcopal community. We put a high emphasis on worship, outreach and spiritual growth. We see the importance of fellowship and care with one another, while also recognizing our responsibility to engage with the world. I am thankful to the Vestry and all who have contributed to the crafting of this statement, but more importantly to this congregation for clearly reflecting who God has called St. Joseph’s to be.

Until recently, I had never heard of an identity statement. Mission statements, vision statements, and purpose statements are all normative in determining the direction of an organization. In fact, much of the Diocesan Council meeting revolved around adopting the Diocesan Purpose Statement. Knowing your identity helps you define your purpose, vision, or mission. This is important, because our identity is always changing. Indeed, the identity of the Church changes and shifts, which sometimes can create a crisis and conflict surrounding our purpose or mission.

One only has to look back a century to see the radical ways that the Church has lost part of its identity in our country. Nearly every hospital was run and operated by the Church, for most did not go to the hospital to get well, but to die without infecting others. The poor, sick, and outcast were cared for in hospitals run by the Church. Most orphanages and social assistance agencies were run by the Church. As the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, it was the Federal Council of Churches that appealed to President Roosevelt for the government to help assist in the efforts of caring for those suffering in extreme poverty. This, of course, became Social Security.  Over the years, government agencies, civil not-for-profit organizations, and other businesses have taken over many of the roles that the Church previously held. This is neither a judgment nor a critique; it is simply fact. But then the question must be asked, “What is the identity of the Church today? How do we continue to care for the poor, sick, broken, and outcast in the midst of these changes?”

This is where purpose and identity are interdependent. God meets us where we are, and God loves us as we are. At the same time, God always calls us to follow Him and become who we are intended to be. From Matthew 28, the Church is called to “Go into the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them all I have commanded you. And I [Jesus] will always be with you.” This is our simple, bare-bones purpose: go, disciple, teach, baptize, trust in the presence of Christ. How do we do those things today? Worship. Fellowship. Outreach. Healing. Sunday School. Friday Friends. Celebration. How we live into this purpose is our identity. And as we know who we are, we strive to become who God has called us to be as a community of grace.


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