This Is Your Life

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.
John Lewis

In Anne Tyler’s novel Saint Maybe, a young man named Ian struggles with guilt for something he said that he believes caused his brother to commit suicide. One day he stumbles into a storefront aptly named The Church of the Second Chance. The minister speaks to him about forgiveness and restitution. Ian decides to drop out of college, take a job as a carpenter, and help his parents raise his brother’s children. He joins the church and finds solace among its community of misfits. 

But as the months and years go by, Ian continues to struggle. One day he tells his minister that he wants to go back to college and get on with his life. The minister responds quietly, “This is your life, Ian.”

The minister’s words hit Ian hard at first, but he takes them to heart and begins to embrace the life he did not choose. They hit me hard as well when I first read them. At the time I was struggling with how frustratingly slow my life felt when I wanted things to happen quickly. I heard God speaking through the minister’s words, asking me to accept my life as it was and trust the horizons beyond my sight.  

For most of us, acceptance of what we did not choose comes gradually, through hard work and pure grace. In acceptance we let go of magical thinking, that we’ll wake up one morning in the life we want as opposed to the life we have. 

Because God also calls us to change, and to work for change, acceptance has the suspicious ring of passivity to it. But acceptance is not the same as resignation or learned helplessness. Paradoxically, we can only change what we first accept. And because we never know where our lives fall in the larger continuum of change, we can’t judge our faithfulness based on results. 

This is your life. 

In 587 BCE, the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Israelites who had been taken into exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem. Other prophets were assuring them that their time of banishment would be brief. Jeremiah warned the Israelites not to be deceived by false dreams. Instead, he encouraged them to make their home in exile. 

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 . . . 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. 

Exile was now their life, not the one they wanted, but the life they had. Yet Jeremiah also held before them God’s vision for their future: “Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” That is what a grounded faith looks life–accepting our lives as they are while placing our hope in God. 

This is your life. 

During these long months of pandemic and of collective reckoning, I confess that whenever I’ve tried to imagine the future, I find myself slipping into worry and deep sadness. In prayer, what I’ve heard is the call to accept my life now and tend to the work at hand, which is what I’ve done. 

But as we’ve been celebrating the life of Congressman John Lewis, I’ve been inspired by his example. He unflinchingly faced the harsh realities of racism. Yet he lived each day according to his true identity as a beloved child and God’s vision of beloved community. Inspired by Lewis’ example, I’m praying now for that same faith, grounded in acceptance yet never losing hope. 

In Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, Lewis writes: 

There is one question people ask me more than any other: How did you do it? How did you hold to nonviolence when a pounding wall of vicious hate was pushing through you like waves of fire? How is it possible to be cracked on the head with a nightstick. . .and not raise your hand one time in self-defense? How could you bear the clear hypocrisy of being arrested on trumped-up charges and taken to jail for disturbing the peace when you were the one who was attacked and abused? How could you survive the threats, the bombings, and murders of a lineage of people without holding any bitterness or anger? 

The answer is simple. Faith. Faith has the power to deliver us all, even from the greatest harm. . . .Faith is being so sure of what the Spirit has whispered in your heart that your belief in its eventuality is unshakable. Nothing can make you doubt that what you have heard will become a reality. Even if you do not live to see it come to pass, you know without one doubt that it will be. That is faith.

This is your life. This is your time. This is your home, not forever, but for now. As you live, may God sustain your faith in what the Spirit has whispered in your heart. By grace and with courage, may you continue on, as Lewis did, across the bridge that unites your life as it is to the vision of hope God has entrusted to you. 

Revitalizing Our Churches: Welcoming and Connecting Ministries

At the beginning of 2020 we launched the Strategic Plan at our annual convention. Included in the roll out was a list of three measurable objectives, tied to the plan’s three areas of focus, that we covenanted to prioritize during the plan’s first twelve months. Under Church Revitalization, the objective is to provide church health assessments and revitalization strategies, and introduce them to ten representative congregations. Soon after Convention, we gathered leaders and parishioners from across our diocese for the purpose of identifying the vital signs of parish health and the concrete metrics behind those vital signs in our context here in the Diocese of Washington. 

February was a busy month of meetings and harvesting our collective wisdom. After much grace-filled discussion, the revitalization team discerned seven vital signs and a list of concrete metrics. March brought us an interruption, a pandemic which has changed the way we do just about everything in daily and communal life. Yet even as the diocese responded to the crisis in our midst, the team kept firming up those vital signs and testing the metrics, observing and testing how they might work in these unexpected pandemic days.

Diocesan staff gathered in the beginning of July to review where we stand with our first twelve month objectives and to create a new set of goals, short-term for the fall and longer-term for next year. As a result, the Revitalization Team is making the final refinements to the vital signs and metrics before sharing them with the broader diocese. Watch for the vital signs and metrics package to drop in a month or so!

One vital sign our collective wisdom identified is that growing and healthy churches have robust Welcoming & Connecting Ministries. This vital sign speaks to a parish being strategic about how to welcome new guests and help them become connected to next steps like ministry opportunities, small groups, and parish communications. For a parish to gauge how well they are doing with this vital sign, we can look to measurable things like what percentage of parishioners are active in welcoming new people, and whether the database of new contacts is growing. This vital sign has everything to do with planning for first-time guests and bringing them back for more.

There’s real value in recognizing that we all share this welcoming and connecting work, lay and ordained alike. As you think about this in your own parish you might ask, “Who is talking about this and strategically planning our welcoming efforts?” or “What identifiable next steps do we offer, and what invitations are we prepared to make to new people?” Having so much of our worship and ministry happening online adds a whole new dimension to making these kinds of vital connections. As an initial step, we’re hosting two 90-minute discussions August 12 and 19 on welcoming and connecting ministries with a special focus on how we do these online. Learn more about the discussions and register.

In these pandemic days, we have seen lay leaders and ministers stepping up to make sure our pastoral contacts are happening and offering technical skills and talents for our online challenges. That’s a trend which can exponentially expand a parish’s reach and impact. This is such exciting stuff for our parishes. As someone still relatively new to the diocese, I would love to chat, have a virtual coffee, get your thoughts and dream together. Hope to see you, soon.

The Rev. Todd Thomas
Missioner for Revitalization and Young Adult Ministry

Building the School for Christian Faith and Leadership in Stages

And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.
Exodus 12:9

At times, God sets before us significant tasks and journeys. Building the School for Christian Faith and Leadership is significant enough that, like Abram and Sarai’s journey to a new life in a new place, must be taken by stages. We began in earnest in January when the diocese officially launched the strategic plan for 2025 with a mission “to draw people to Jesus and embody his love for the world by equipping faith communities, promoting spiritual growth, and striving for Justice.” We set our gaze on what we have discerned to be God’s preferred future for us, focusing on three interrelated areas: revitalization, formation, and justice. 

In February, we hosted a listening session with Diocesan leaders, which offered clarity about the purpose of the School and a way forward. In March, I was hired as Special Missioner for the School for Christian Formation. Even before beginning officially, the diocesan staff and I began working closely on a few projects–first, writing a $1 million Thriving Congregations Lilly Foundation grant and second, taking first steps to clarify the mission, structure, and initial offerings of the School. If awarded, the Lilly grant will underwrite resources for a rigorous and intentional five-year program for congregations to learn, innovate, and strengthen their ministries. We will hear about its status in late fall.  

Formation has been a consistent part of the life of the Diocese, reflected in various offerings over the years. The working mission statement of the School: “to inspire, equip, and empower laity and clergy towards realizing God’s call in their lives and in the lives of faith communities” continues this ministry. We envision two parts to the school: 

  1. Transforming Leadership–equipping leaders–with offerings in finance and administration, evangelism, Christian formation, liturgy and music, and justice; 
  2. Discipleship Catalysts–forming faith–in the areas of practical teaching, spiritual disciplines, baptismal ministry, providential relationships, pivotal circumstances.

Offerings will include webinars, toolkits, playlists, and learning paths, rich in resources and opportunities to learn, practice and connect with peers. 

Our next step is to plan a soft launch of the School this fall with select offerings that both equip leaders and deepen faith. We’re excited to share this slate of webinars and toolkits in the September 3 edition of The Bulletin

When we formally launch the School in fall 2021, we will have in place the more permanent structures necessary to support a complete set of offerings with an identifiable brand. This fall, that building work includes identifying core values, designing a logo, and choosing a learning platform.  This infrastructure will support learning with opportunities to practice, collaborate, and develop peer relationships around the topics so that our congregations thrive in faith and ministry.  

One of the immediate tasks for the School is to create a path of discipleship that identifies Christian practices that root ourselves in Jesus’s way of love. We’ve begun conversation with diocesan leaders to build this path with the goal of sharing it widely this November. We believe this tool will help congregations to offer and communicate opportunities for members to grow in faith. Becoming a follower of Jesus takes intentional practice. The School’s ultimate objective is to create spaces and opportunities for individuals to undertake that practice and to grow the Jesus movement. 

I join the EDOW staff with a grateful heart, and I am particularly thankful that the journey of building the School is beginning within the larger vision of the strategic plan that includes goals of revitalizing congregations and pursuing equity and justice. These commitments will be embedded in the DNA of the School.

The Rev. Jenifer Gamber
Special Missioner for the School for Christain Faith and Leadership

Equity and Justice: Looking at Diocesan Life Through a New Lens

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:14

The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to see, through a new lens, that the effects of the pandemic are not equal across the Diocese of Washington. For me, before medical professionals, scientists, politicians and pundits proclaimed that the Coronavirus disproportionately affected the economic, health care, and morbidity outcomes of Black and Brown people, the evidence was evident throughout the Diocese. 

I serve on the Diocesan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund Committee, the program that provides financial support to food ministries, members of our congregations, and people in our surrounding communities, who are suffering from food insecurity and other hardships brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. In April, Bishop Mariann suspended the annual Bishop’s Appeal, asking instead that people give as they were able to this emergency fund. The people of the Diocese of Washington and beyond responded to this call with over $100,000 in donations. 

This generosity was miraculous, life-changing, and occurred not a moment too soon. The applications we have received in the months since are overwhelmingly from our multicultural parishes for members and those they serve in their surrounding communities who are suffering from staggering job loss, illness, homelessness and hunger, and who are not being supported by government programs. The people we have granted support to have lost their jobs as home health aides, construction workers, restaurant workers, nursery school teachers and aides, and others–all with one staggering fact in common: they do not qualify for unemployment, rendering them completely without financial resources or a safety net. These persons do not have the luxury of social distancing at home, quarantining, and telework. Many have been personally affected by the coronavirus, either with their own illness or that of a loved one. 

We have had several heartbreaking stories of persons adversely affected by COVID-19, but a recent one in particular stands out. A mother of two young children, ill with the virus, gave birth to twins, and was immediately put on a ventilator. Her husband, who had lost his job, took the babies home from the hospital while she remained in a medically induced coma. Thankfully, the mother is now home with her husband and four children, but she will not be able to work for months while recovering.  

As summer approached and we continued to grapple with the growing hardships and tragedies of the coronavirus crisis, the video of George Floyd dying at the knee of a callous police officer circulated around the world and horrified us. The violent deaths of Aumaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain at the hands of police officers and vigilantes angered us. We, in the Diocese of Washington, suddenly were in the epicenter of rage and controversy over the sin of racism. No need to go into detail over a presidential photo and its after effects, but we have experienced a seismic shift in our resolve to dismantle racism in the Diocese of Washington.

The Strategic Plan always prioritized Justice as one of our three primary objectives in ministry over the next 5 years. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, we envisioned collaborating on region-specific justice initiatives that together would provide more impact on the communities we serve. The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism have changed our strategy and focus, and with the blessing of the Diocesan Standing Committee and Council, our new strategic objective is “Equity and Justice.” 

We envision brave uncovering, understanding, reckoning and action to dismantle racism in ourselves, our congregations and institutions, the Diocese and our communities. We will provide resources, programs and initiatives that will allow us to engage in antiracist ministry, no matter our experience and/or comfort in confronting racism. We will develop a Diocesan Antiracism Covenant, that we will encourage individuals, faith communities, and the diocesan leadership to sign, pledging our commitment to dismantle racism. We have claimed antiracism and systemic inequity as a primary lens through which all our Diocesan strategic objectives will be addressed. 

Together, we will strive for equity and justice by adjusting our lens to focus squarely and soberly on dismantling racism in ourselves, our congregations, the Diocese, and our communities.

The Rev. Paula E. Clark
Canon to the Ordinary

Equidad y Justicia: Mirando la Vida Diocesana a través de un Nuevo Lente

Si mi pueblo, el pueblo que lleva mi nombre, se humilla, ora, me busca y deja su mala conducta, yo lo escucharé desde el cielo, perdonaré sus pecados y devolveré la prosperidad a su país.
2 Crónicas 7:14

La crisis del COVID-19 nos ha obligado a ver, a través de un nuevo lente, que los efectos de la pandemia no son iguales en toda la Diócesis de Washington. Para mí, antes de que los profesionales médicos, científicos, políticos y expertos proclamaran que el Coronavirus afectaba desproporcionadamente los resultados económicos, de salud y morbilidad de las personas negras y mestizas, la evidencia era evidente en toda la Diócesis.

Yo sirvo en el Comité Diocesano del Fondo de Ayuda de Emergencia del COVID-19, el programa que provee apoyo financiero a los ministerios de alimentos, miembros de nuestras congregaciones y personas en nuestras comunidades, quienes sufren de inseguridad alimentaria y otras dificultades que se han producido por la crisis del COVID-19. En abril, la Obispa Mariann suspendió la petición anual de la Obispa, pidiendo en cambio que la gente diera a este fondo de emergencia. El pueblo de la Diócesis de Washington y más allá respondió a esta llamada con más de $100,000 en donaciones.

Esta generosidad fue milagrosa, cambió la vida, y ocurrió no muy pronto. Las solicitudes que hemos recibido en los meses desde entonces son abrumadoramente de nuestras parroquias multiculturales para los miembros y aquellos a quienes sirven en sus comunidades circundantes que están sufriendo de la pérdida asombrosa del trabajo, enfermedad, falta de hogar y hambre, y que no están siendo apoyados por programas gubernamentales. Las personas a las que hemos concedido apoyo han perdido sus empleos como auxiliares de salud en el hogar, trabajadores de la construcción, trabajadores de restaurantes, maestros y ayudantes de escuelas de párvulos, y otros, todos con un hecho asombroso en común: No califican para el desempleo, haciéndolos completamente carentes de recursos financieros o de una red de seguridad. Estas personas no tienen el lujo de distanciarse en casa, de ponerse en cuarentena o de teletrabajo. Muchos han sido afectados personalmente por el coronavirus, ya sea con su propia enfermedad o la de un ser querido.

Hemos tenido varias historias desgarradoras de personas afectadas adversamente por el COVID-19, pero una reciente en particular destaca. Una madre de dos niños pequeños, enferma con el virus, dio a luz a gemelos y fue puesta inmediatamente en un ventilador. Su marido, que había perdido su trabajo, llevó a los bebés a casa mientras la mujer permanecía en una coma inducido médicamente. Afortunadamente, la madre está ahora en casa con su marido y cuatro hijos, pero no podrá trabajar durante meses mientras se recupera.

A medida que se acercaba el verano y continuamos lidiando con las crecientes dificultades y tragedias de la crisis del coronavirus, el video de George Floyd muriendo asfixiado bajo la rodilla de un insensible oficial de policía circuló por todo el mundo y nos horrorizó. Las violentas muertes de Aumaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor y Elijah McClain a manos de policías y vigilantes nos enojaron. Nosotros, en la Diócesis de Washington, de repente estábamos en el epicentro de la ira y la controversia sobre el pecado del racismo. No es necesario entrar en detalles sobre una foto presidencial y sus efectos posteriores, pero hemos experimentado un cambio sísmico en nuestra resolución de desmantelar el racismo en la Diócesis de Washington.

El Plan Estratégico siempre prioriza la justicia como uno de nuestros tres objetivos principales en el ministerio durante los próximos 5 años. Antes de la pandemia del coronavirus, imaginamos colaborar en iniciativas de justicia específicas de la región que juntas proporcionarán más impacto en las comunidades a las que servimos. Las pandemias duales del COVID-19 y el racismo han cambiado nuestra estrategia y enfoque, y con la bendición del Comité Permanente y el Consejo Diocesano, nuestro nuevo objetivo estratégico es “Equidad y Justicia”.

Concebimos el descubrimiento valiente, la comprensión, el cálculo y la acción para desmantelar el racismo en nosotros mismos, en nuestras congregaciones e instituciones, en la Diócesis y en nuestras comunidades. Proporcionaremos recursos, programas e iniciativas que nos permitirán participar en el ministerio antirracista, sin importar nuestra experiencia y/o comodidad para enfrentar el racismo. Desarrollaremos un Pacto Diocesano de Antiracismo, arraigado en nuestro Pacto Bautismal, que alentará a las personas, las comunidades de fe y los líderes de la diócesis a firmar nuestro compromiso de desmantelar el racismo. Hemos reivindicado el antirracismo y la inequidad sistémica como lente primario a través de la cual se abordarán todos nuestros objetivos estratégicos diocesanos.

Juntos, nos esforzaremos por la equidad y la justicia ajustando nuestro lente para enfocarnos de manera justa y sobria en el desmantelamiento del racismo en nosotros mismos, en nuestras congregaciones, en la Diócesis y en nuestras comunidades.

The Rev. Paula E. Clark
Canon to the Ordinary