According to the Book of Common Prayer (Outline of the Faith), the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
In the past several weeks, many Christian churches have rallied to speak out against extremist views from a minority of pulpit voices. Interfaith groups have gathered in prayer and vigil as a symbol of unity and respect for each faith traditions’ beliefs.
This week the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church are meeting in Arizona. (September 16 Press Release) There had been a cry that they should not be meeting in a state that has legislation that Jesus would have frowned upon . . . welcoming the stranger, caring for the needy, being merciful to those in trouble. So some of the bishops gathered before their 6-day meeting began to be a witness for those who have been caught (and died) in the battle over immigration on our nation’s borders. Listen to Bishop Kirk Smith of the Diocese of Arizona and view posted pictures on this site. Bishop Jim Curry (Diocese of Connecticut) spoke of The Dream Act and how everyone can contact their U.S. Senator as it comes up for a vote next week. Learn how here.
While this pre-trip may impact some of the work of this gathering, I have also been struck by a number of blogs and press releases that have come out of the first day of their meeting. For me, the bishops are being called back to reflect upon the mission of the church in today’s world. Some examples:
Bishop Tom Breidenthal (Diocese of Ohio) speaks of this meeting as one centered on mission in a changing world and a changing church.
Anne Rudig, Episcopal communicator, reported on a study of newcomers to The Episcopal Church. “Most are young adults straight out of college or beginning to raise families. They respond positively when they are welcomed warmly (with follow-up), are given plenty of opportunity to ask questions, and are offered ample opportunity for fellowship and community service. They generally love the richness of our worship tradition and appreciate our commitment to social justice.”
Ecumenical guest and partner, Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA addressed the bishops some comments about what the Church should be about today:
- Living the Gospel of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ by living the Christian life by following our Baptismal promises.
- Mission requires three kinds of listening: (a) listening to God; (b) listening to one another; (c) listening to the community that surrounds us.
- We need to revive a thorough knowledge of the Bible as part of our training in the Christian faith. How can we relive the language of the Bible as our mother-tongue?
Some snippets from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori‘s sermon at their opening worship: “We’re actually here to change some light sources – to figure out how to bring more light into a world in great need of it. We are talking about how to be light to the nations in our myriad different contexts. We’ll consider evangelism and liturgy – and yes, candles are very useful in some contexts – and we’ll look at light-bearing in the forms of leadership development, immigration reform, our care for creation, and healing the aftermath of the destruction in Haiti.” and “New contexts and new populations have always produced voices that insist on excluding the foreigner. Jesus’ own understanding of his mission develops – the woman at the well convinces him that he’s supposed to serve all nations. Ninian crossed into northern England and into some other contexts, even if he didn’t enter them all in the British Isles. Europe is consumed right now with debates over the rights and place of Muslims in larger society. The past ten days have brought a remarkable example of what a firestorm can be produced by a small mind in Florida. The world was set ablaze with a message that most of us would not see as good news. Imagine what kind of flame might be lit by a message that truly reflects the gospel!”
Bishop Ian Douglas of the Diocese of Connecticut asked questions that we might also engage in reflection about:
- What is the new invitation that God has given us in a changing world?
- What is God doing in my context?
- What Biblical stories and images illuminate and inform my understanding of the changing context?
- How can/will/do I respond to my changing contextual realties in light of my biblical reflections and my understanding of God’s mission?