In a church often divided by sharply opposed political loyalties and differences over questions of theology, there is still one – and only one – direction in which are all called to move together: Out. Out into the world, to engage the world and transform it with love.
That was the chief message delegates to the 130th annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, meeting last week in Grand Junction, heard over and over again. Nancy Herrera, Rose Applegate, Karen McCall and I were there representing St. James.
“You can’t stay where you are if you want to follow Jesus,” Bishop Rob O’Neill said in his address to delegates. “The church becomes the church, the risen body of Christ, when it is out in the world … The disciples learned they could not go back to their boats a dnets and simplicity of life. They couldn’t stay in one place, in that gated room with the windows and doors locked, protected from the world but of no use to the world.”
“We have a choice,” he said. “Will we be crippled and paralyzed by fear, or will we trust, have courage, and move out to embrace the world?”
Some other takeaways from the speakers:
Our former Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, challenged delegates to look at the current realities of climate change and predictions of the future that vary depending on our responses. She helped us identify attitudes and practices that people of faith can cultivate that can truly make a difference. “Gratitude begets awe,” she said. “Awe begets careful behavior.”
The Rev. Canon Mark Stevenson, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, spoke of the church’s work welcoming refugees. “Yes, nations have the right to set immigration policy,” he said, “but as Christians, our call is to be the voice of welcome. We are all aliens in this land, yet we are all one in God.”
Dr. Samuel Mampunza, dean of the medical school at the University of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, spoke of his angst at leaving his comfortable life in Europe to return to his native country, where health and medical care has been very limited. “Belgium was the best place for my family, but how could I stay in a place like Belgium when God let me be born in Congo?” he asked. Where does God call us?
The Rev. Tawana Davis and the Rev. Dr. Dawn Riley Duval, founders of Soul 2 Soul Sisters, shared their experiences doing racial justice work, and talked about practical approaches for working to eliminate white supremacy. “A community that says ‘We don’t talk politics here’ is a community that won’t take our wounds seriously,” Davis said.
Hearing Davis and Duval had a profound effect on the St. James delegation. “Some of the things they said just blew me away,” said Rose Applegate. “I never thought of the anger, that they’re angry, and that anger has filtered down through the generations. And I can see why they’re angry with all the shootings, the killings of black people. They’re angry that this is happening to their young people. It shouldn’t be this way. It’s a waste of human beings.”
Nancy Herrera was struck by a presentation given by diocesan Communications Director Mike Orr on making our churches more welcoming. “He talked about welcoming our neighbors. He said to just keep trying to do things to bring them in with games or food, like we’ve been doing. Don’t give up. He said to keep trying different things and eventually you will find something that works.”
Added Karen McCall: "I think the ideas presented by other parishes were unique, such as the idea of placing a small food storage unit outside the church, where people could help themselves if they need food, or leave food if they have some extra. I also like the idea of a Spanish Mass, because it speaks to the information presented by the two ladies from Soul 2 Soul about being more inclusive, not just a white church."
We hope to incorporate some of these ideas and strategies here at St. James as we go forward … and as we go OUT! Out to engage the world and transform it with love.