Holy Interruptions: A Baptism by Fire

by | Jan 10, 2019

Image: “The Baptism” by Laurie Pace 1999

“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

If you attend church this Sunday, you will hear John the Baptist speak of Jesus as the one coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

“Baptism by fire,” is one way we describe the experience of being thrust into a challenging situation through which we nonetheless learn invaluable lessons. We’re forever changed by our baptisms by fire, mostly for the better, but it’s hard to trust in that eventual positive outcome or hard won blessing as we’re going through them.

A baptism by fire can also be a cleansing experience. Consider how The Message translates John the Baptist’s words about the coming of Jesus: “He is going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives, He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”   

The theme of this year’s Diocesan Convention is “Holy Interruptions,” taken from Tony Morgan’s book The Unstuck Church. Holy interruptions, Morgan suggests, are the ways that God works in the process of congregational renewal. Sometimes those interruptions can feel like a baptism by fire. Yet they are vital if we are to successfully address the habits and patterns that once served our congregations well but now conspire to keep them stuck. With stuckness eventually comes decline. If the decline isn’t somehow interrupted, it in itself becomes a trend that is increasingly difficult to reverse.

I’ve invited Tony Morgan to address all interested leaders of EDOW congregations on the eve of Diocesan Convention, Friday January 25th. He will outline strategic leadership opportunities at every stage of a church’s life from momentum growth to preservation and life support. And he will join us in praying for God to provide holy interruptions in our lives and churches, so that our congregations might experience sustained spiritual health.

Friday night’s gathering will have some levity–good food, live music, and a chance to spend time with friends and colleagues. We have invited the award-winning Adrian Dunn & the Adrian Dunn Singers to minister to us through song.   

You need not be a delegate to Diocesan Convention to attend the Friday evening gathering. All are welcome. This week I wrote the clergy, wardens, Convention delegates and alternates of EDOW congregations, requesting their presence and to ensure that each congregation is represented by at least two people. We’ve arranged for a block of rooms at the Kimpton Hotel (map) (click here to reserve a room or call (202) 337-9700 and indicate you are making a reservation in connection with Diocesan Convention to receive the group rate of $99 plus tax) for those traveling a long distance and attending Convention the next day. If costs are prohibitive for a hotel stay and/or the Friday night registration fee of $15, simply let us know. We will cover Friday night’s registration and go out of our way to ensure that you have a place to stay with a friendly fellow Episcopalian who lives near the Cathedral. 

At Convention on Saturday, I will present a formal plan for a diocesan-wide strategic planning process, rooted in the particular contexts of each of our eight geographic regions. The Unstuck Church Group will help guide that process.

I am persuaded that the strategic planning process is the logical next step in all that we have worked toward together in the last seven years. Equally important, I believe that it will help us address some of the ways that we, as a diocese, are stuck. It will also help me and all in diocesan leadership be more fruitful and accountable in our daily efforts, as we work toward specific goals and objectives that, together, we will discern as being most faithful to Christ now.

When I was on sabbatical last spring, Christ asked me to rededicate my life to him and his kingdom and in service as your bishop. I felt him challenge me not to change course, but to be even bolder in efforts for congregational vitality and collaborative endeavors for the greater good. It was, for me, a holy interruption and yes, a baptism by fire. While I cannot predict what the results of our collective efforts of the coming year will be, I pledge to Christ and to you my whole-hearted best efforts, giving thanks for the privilege of serving among you.