By: The Rev. Dr. Patricia Lyons
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:4-7
In Jeremiah’s letter to the exiled Israelites, we find our mandate for evangelism and community engagement. In this passage, the Israelites are foreigners in a strange land, and a false prophet tells them to turn inward, grit their teeth and disengage with the people around them. But the Lord tells Jeremiah this is a false teaching. God says to the people, “While in exile, plant, harvest, marry, grow, invest, engage in and work for ‘the welfare (shalom in Hebrew) of the city, for in its shalom you shall find your shalom.’”
Anglican spirituality is not a separatist endeavor. Through Jeremiah, God convinces us that grace is built into and bursts out of the material world. Our great vocation and blessing is to work with God inside and outside of our churches. The Holy Spirit is restless for reconciliation in the world and pulls the baptized beyond their walls to seek and bring grace to all. Jeremiah tells us we are in exile, that we are “in but not of the world.” God tells us to turn outward and be the partners for shalom with all people.
It is inspiring to see how meaningful our churches are to us, but churches that work hard for the shalom—the common good—of their neighborhoods matter to everyone. There are not enough Episcopalians to save our buildings, and as Christians, we are not called to such a narrow mission. As God says in Jeremiah, we work for the peace of the world with everyone in our neighborhoods. Our buildings are consecrated to be wells of grace in the public square; centers to be shared, not citadels to be defended. Community engagement is working for this common shalom and recognizing that through it, we live into our baptismal vows and find joy, vocation, and transformation. Evangelism is going out to do this work confident in our own faith stories, confident in who God is and what God is doing in our lives.
Working together for good means a renewed commitment to the common shalom—to helping the diocese move beyond its walls, embed itself in its communities, and be confident in its faith story. As we look toward the year ahead, we have a renewed commitment to evangelism, community engagement, and faith formation.