Digging into the Work: Ascension, Silver Spring

Digging into the Work: Ascension, Silver Spring

Graphic with man shoveling soil“Who is My Neighbor?”

When the Diocese presented the “Tending our Soil” thriving congregations initiative, which seeks to cultivate the changed soil of our congregations so that God’s love might grow in our time and place, I was excited!

My congregation of Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring, Maryland, was at a critical juncture. We were completing a successful Capital Campaign and the time was ripe to review and renew our mission, vision, and future strategic goals. Myself and our leadership believed Tending Our Soil would be a great resource to help us do this.

Over the past 12 months, Tending Our Soil has encouraged us to think about “how to do church” in new ways to help us renew and thrive. One homework assignment between learning labs was to look around our local community and find out what our neighbors needed.

What we discovered compelled us to initiate new ministries. We began worrying less about membership numbers or the budget, and instead focused on who was in need. Following are some of these ministries.

During the pandemic, even before entering the Tending Our Soil initiative, Ascension had begun offering online worship. By livestreaming our Sunday 10:00 a.m. service, our Wednesday noon service, and all other special services, we reached and continue to reach neighbors locally and globally, providing people with spiritual inspiration and sustenance. Tending Our Soil has helped us realize the importance of this ministry. Even though we are back doing in-person worship again, our online worship ministry is permanent.

We enhanced our outreach ministries in the surrounding community. We continued to support Shepherd’s Table with our casserole ministry and to encourage members to donate financially in lieu of casseroles. Ascension has contributed over $5000 to fund Shepherd’s Table to feed the hungry.

Ascension also joined efforts with Tommy’s Pantry (an organization named after Rep. Jamie Raskin’s late son) to help the food insecure. Tommy’s Pantry is now based at Ascension where church and county volunteers compile shelf stable food and wellness boxes which are handed out twice a month. In total Tommy’s Pantry is ministering to over 600 people per month who come to the church for support.

Our deacon, The Rev. Terri Murphy, began a Street Ministry. Every Sunday morning Rev. Terri and her volunteers head to Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring and hand out $10 food cards as well as care packets. Individuals who hang out around the plaza know that Rev. Terri and her team show up about 6:30 a.m. and they start lining up. Anywhere between 30-60 people experiencing homelessness come for assistance. They have become part of our church. Each week Rev. Terri brings their prayer requests for the Prayers of the People at worship services. Some have submitted their yearly tithes of $2.00 or $5.00 (truly the widow’s mite).

We have engaged in other outreach ministries such as a diaper drive, a blanket drive, and along with Lutheran Social Services and other Episcopal congregations we collaborated to help five Afghan families move into apartments, equipped with furniture, appliances, linens, computers, etc.

And so we experienced a spiritual “aha” and discovered that “our neighbor” goes far beyond the person who lives next door. Or the immediate community that surrounds our church building. Everyone is our neighbor. And we are here to be Christ’s heart and hands no matter where Christ’s heart and hands lead us.

For Ascension, Tending Our Soil has cultivated the changed soil of our congregation so that God’s love might grow in our time and place and flourish in places we had not previously imagined by deepening our understanding of what it means to be neighbors. It is a wondrous love indeed.

The Rev. Dr. Joan Beilstein
Rector, Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring

Nurturing Families and Our Communities Through Paid Family Leave

Nurturing Families and Our Communities Through Paid Family Leave

4 black and white photos of people caring for one anotherWhen a child joins a family, either through birth or adoption, all members are part of the transition. There is ample research noting the benefits of paid leave for parents. It helps enrich bonds, reduces stress and lower rates of infant mortality. This same reduction in emotional, social and physical stress is experienced when employees have access to paid leave for caregiving responsibilities. Our parish communities benefit by having paid staff who know they are valued and who come to work less fatigued and distracted because they have been able to take appropriate time off to see to these familial responsibilities.

During the 2022 General Convention, the House of Bishops and House of Deputies concurred in encouraging dioceses to adopt uniform paid family leave policies. Church Pension Group is charged with exploring options for insurance products that would function similarly to disability plans by offering between 70-100% of the usual salary or wages while an employee is on paid family leave.

The Diocesan Human Resources Committee, chaired by the Rev. Dr. Maria Kane, is working on revisions to the Employee Handbook template and the creation of a new Clergy Handbook. Both will include recommendations for paid leave to support employees as they navigate the roles of new parent and caregiver. Be on the lookout for these this fall.

Christian Formation Leaders Retreat

Christian Formation Leaders Retreat

Image of the labyrinth at Claggett CenterSupporting faith formation leaders is part of my ministry as the Missioner for Faith Formation and Development. Since joining the bishop’s staff six months ago, one of my priorities has been to meet with Christian educators and formation leaders working with children and youth. These conversations informed me about how our leaders are doing and what the landscape of formation ministry for rising generations looks like in our diocese.

When asked what they need right now, leaders responded. “I yearn to feel connected,” one leader said. “I want to learn from my colleagues,” another shared. Other sentiments included a desire to hear what’s happening in the diocese and to learn how folks are engaged in formation ministry as we emerge from the pandemic. Others spoke of just needing a break. “I just want some rest,” a colleague said, “this stuff is hard.”

It is hard. Even before the pandemic, rhythms of life were changing for many of our families. In this climate, the traditional models of Sunday School and Youth Group aren’t always as life-giving as they were in the past. This means that Christian formation leaders, whose ministry is to help form young people as Christians, are shifting their ministerial approach. That takes energy, creativity, and trust in the Holy Spirit.

Communities of support – colleagues in ministry – also help. One of my goals is to create spaces where these communities of colleagues can flourish and feed one another. To this end, the diocese is sponsoring an in-person retreat for formation leaders who work with children and/or youth. Held at the Claggett Center Friday and Saturday, November 4 & 5, the retreat is an opportunity for formation leaders to connect, pray, engage, and refresh. There will be ample time for community building as well as personal retreat space. Participants will stay in private rooms at the Christiane Inn and have access to the center’s beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces, including walking trails and a labyrinth.

Retreat registration opens Thursday, September 1 through the School for Christian Faith and Leadership. Any formation leader in the diocese working with children and/or youth is welcome to participate, but please note that attendance is limited to 20 participants and registration will close once all spots are full. The retreat costs $50 and covers all your expenses for the event. I hope you will join us and be refreshed.

For more information about the retreat or other opportunities to connect with formation leaders, contact The Rev. Amanda Akes-Cardwell.

Reflexiones sobre la Conferencia de Lambeth

Reflexiones sobre la Conferencia de Lambeth

Obispa Mariann con los otros obispos del mundo

El pequeño grupo de la obispa Mariann en Lambeth incluía a obispos de Sudán del Sur, Kenia, Ghana, Australia, el Reino Unido, Filipinas y el norte de la India.

Tuve el honor de representar a la Diócesis de Washington en la Conferencia de Lambeth de Obispos Anglicanos en Canterbury, Inglaterra.

Las noticias e impresiones de la conferencia se han compartido a través de las redes sociales de los obispos, la prensa secular, el Servicio Episcopal de Noticias y el Servicio de Noticias de Religión (Religion News Service), y las perspectivas varían en cuanto a lo que sucedió y lo que no.

Basta con decir que pasaron muchas cosas a la vez. Para los 650 obispos, 450 cónyuges y muchos miembros del personal y voluntarios, la experiencia dependió en gran medida de lo que trajimos con nosotros a Lambeth: nuestras perspectivas vitales y lentes interpretativos. El cansancio era real, al igual que el contagio de Covid entre algunos. Hubo tensiones, pero en general, también hubo buen ánimo y conversaciones orantes, el regalo de la risa y las lágrimas, y una determinación casi universal de perseverar como cristianos juntos en la fe, la esperanza y el amor.

Me gustaría destacar tres aspectos de la conferencia: Lambeth como comunidad cristiana; como oportunidad de aprendizaje; y su papel de liderazgo en la Comunión Anglicana, la rama mundial del cristianismo a la que pertenece nuestra Iglesia Episcopal.

Lambeth como comunidad cristiana

En teoría, éramos una comunidad cristiana desde el momento en que llegamos a la Universidad de Kent y comenzamos nuestros ritmos de adoración, estudio bíblico, talleres, comidas compartidas y consideración del tema del día. En realidad, el sentido de comunidad tardó en desarrollarse. La mayoría de nosotros nos conocíamos a través de las divisiones étnicas, culturales y lingüísticas. Al principio, la mayoría de nosotros gravitaba hacia quienes ya conocíamos y manteníamos relaciones profesionales. Los primeros días fueron complicados por razones que describiré más adelante, pero a medida que pasaba el tiempo, los límites entre nosotros se suavizaron, permitiendo una mayor vulnerabilidad y curiosidad en nuestras conversaciones. Como me dijo un obispo británico el último día: “La frase más importante que he aprendido en Lambeth está en mi contexto”. Aprendimos a honrar los contextos de ministerio de los demás, y a dar voz a los nuestros.

Lambeth como oportunidad de aprendizaje

Otra dimensión de la conferencia fue la oferta diaria de estudio bíblico, reflexión teológica y sabiduría práctica. Fue un maravilloso alimento para la mente y el alma. Me sentí como si hubiera vuelto al seminario.

El Reverendísimo Justin Welby, Arzobispo de Canterbury, pronunció tres brillantes discursos. En el primero, habló apasionadamente de la necesidad de que la Iglesia mire hacia fuera para atender las necesidades del mundo del siglo XXI; en el segundo, reflexionó sobre el legado histórico y el impacto global de la Iglesia; en el tercero, lanzó nuestra mirada colectiva hacia el futuro. No puedo elogiar lo suficiente estos discursos. Y hubo otras presentaciones igualmente inspiradoras sobre una amplia gama de temas y preocupaciones.

Como no podía abarcarlo todo, centré mis energías en los temas más relevantes para nuestro ministerio: el cuidado de la creación, la fundación de iglesias nuevas y el discipulado. Afortunadamente, todas las sesiones de Lambeth fueron grabadas, y se pueden ver o leer en el sitio web de la Conferencia.

Lambeth como entidad de liderazgo en la Comunión Anglicana

Esta fue la parte más estresante e inicialmente desconcertante de nuestra reunión, en gran parte porque no estábamos seguros (o al menos yo no lo estaba), de lo que se nos pedía y por qué. Al principio, hubo señales confusas y cambios repentinos en el proceso. Resurgieron recuerdos dolorosos de anteriores Conferencias de Lambeth, en las que se debatieron y votaron resoluciones con una presunción de autoridad sobre los obispos y las diócesis que la Conferencia de Lambeth no tiene.

La sexualidad humana y el lugar de las personas LGBTQ+ en la iglesia fueron el centro de esta tensión, que alcanzó su crescendo en el séptimo día. Al final, por la gracia de Dios y con el valiente compromiso de muchos obispos, la mayoría de nosotros llegamos a estar de acuerdo de manera generalizada y nos comprometimos a respetar en lo que no estábamos de acuerdo. La declaración que discutimos dice lo siguiente:

Los prejuicios basados en el género o la sexualidad amenazan la dignidad humana. Dada la política anglicana, y especialmente la autonomía de las Provincias, existe un desacuerdo y una pluralidad de opiniones sobre la relación entre la dignidad y la sexualidad humanas. Sin embargo, experimentamos la salvaguarda de la dignidad en la profundización del diálogo. La Comunión Anglicana en su conjunto considera que “todas las personas bautizadas, creyentes y fieles, independientemente de su orientación sexual, son miembros plenos del Cuerpo de Cristo” y deben ser acogidas, cuidadas y tratadas con respeto (I.10, 1998). Muchas Provincias siguen afirmando que el matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo no es permisible. La Resolución de Lambeth I.10 (1998) afirma que no se puede aconsejar la “legitimación o bendición de las uniones del mismo sexo”. Otras Provincias han bendecido y acogido la unión/matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo tras una cuidadosa reflexión teológica y un proceso de recepción. Como obispos seguimos comprometidos a escuchar y caminar juntos en la medida de lo posible, a pesar de nuestro profundo desacuerdo en estas cuestiones.

Fue la primera vez que el cuerpo internacional de obispos anglicanos reconoció que quienes habían llegado a una comprensión diferente de la sexualidad humana, lo habían hecho tras un discernimiento en oración y una reflexión teológica.

Esta declaración, incorporada en una mucho más larga sobre la naturaleza de la Dignidad Humana, es un buen ejemplo del papel de la Conferencia de Lambeth como entidad de liderazgo. No tiene autoridad legislativa ni sancionadora, pero nos llama a una comprensión más profunda de nuestra humanidad común y al testimonio del amor de Cristo.

Hay otras formas de autoridad, además de aprobar leyes. Hay poder espiritual cuando los líderes se ponen de acuerdo para concentrar sus energías y su atención en prioridades mutuamente discernidas, y eso, en la medida de nuestras posibilidades, es lo que hicimos. Se podría argumentar que tener diez áreas de prioridad es demasiado, pero no cabe duda de que cada uno de los temas que discutimos era de gran importancia: Misión y Evangelización; Iglesia Segura; Identidad Anglicana; Reconciliación; Dignidad Humana; Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible; Unidad Cristiana, Relaciones Interconfesionales; Discipulado; Ciencia y Fe.

Puede leer todas las declaraciones (en inglés) en su forma actual aquí. Serán revisadas de acuerdo con la retroalimentación que hemos dado y seremos invitados a trabajar a través de la Comunión en los llamados particulares que Dios ha puesto en nuestros corazones. Tengo la intención de monitorear y comprometer las que más se alinean con nuestra misión diocesana y plan estratégico: Dignidad Humana, Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible; Misión y Evangelización y Discipulado.

Para terminar, permítanme decir lo inspirador que ha sido conocer a obispos de todo el mundo, especialmente de los países de origen de muchos en nuestra diócesis. Durante dos semanas, tuve la bendición de ver el mundo a través de los ojos de otros, lo que me dio una perspectiva que espero no perder nunca. El día que pasamos reflexionando sobre el significado del sufrimiento, tanto en las escrituras como en la experiencia humana, se quedará conmigo para siempre.

Gracias por tomarse el tiempo de leer esta reflexión. Agradezco sus pensamientos.

Somos personas llamadas por Dios en un viaje de fe y amor sacrificado, y es bueno saber que hay personas en todo el mundo que oran por nosotros y dependen de nuestras oraciones por ellos. Nuestras oraciones y acciones nos unen.

Reflections on the Lambeth Conference

Reflections on the Lambeth Conference

Bishop Mariann with a small group of bishops from around the world at Lambeth Conference

Bishop Mariann’s small group at Lambeth included bishops from South Sudan, Kenya, Ghana, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, and North India

I was honored to represent the Diocese of Washington at the Lambeth Conference of Anglicans Bishops in Canterbury, England.

News and impressions of the conference have been shared through bishops’ social media, the secular press, Episcopal News Service, and Religion News Service, Perspectives vary on what did and did not happen.

Suffice to say that there was a lot going on all at once. For the 650 bishops, 450 spouses, and many staff and volunteers, the experience depended in large measure on what we brought with us to Lambeth–our life perspectives and interpretive lenses. Fatigue was real, as was the spread of Covid among some. There were tensions. But overall, there was also good cheer and prayerful conversations, the gift of laughter and tears, and a near universal determination to persevere as Christians together in faith, hope, and love.

I’d like to highlight three aspects of the conference: Lambeth as a Christian community; as an opportunity for learning; and its leadership role in the Anglican Communion, the worldwide branch of Christianity to which our Episcopal Church belongs.

Lambeth as Christian Community

In theory, we were a Christian community from the moment we all arrived at the University of Kent and began our rhythms of worship, bible study, workshops, shared meals, and consideration of the topic for the day. In reality, it took time for a sense of community to develop. We were mostly strangers across ethnic, cultural and linguistic divides. At first, most of us gravitated toward those we already knew and we kept our professional guards up. The initial days were bumpy for reasons that I’ll describe later. But as time went on, the boundaries between us softened, allowing for greater vulnerability and curiosity in our conversations. As one British bishop said to me on our last day, “The most important phrase I’ve learned at Lambeth is in my context.” We learned to honor one another’s contexts for ministry, and give voice to our own.

Lambeth as Learning Opportunity

Another dimension of the conference was the daily offerings of biblical study, theological reflection, and practical wisdom. It was wonderful food for the mind and soul. I felt as if I were back at seminary.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, gave three brilliant addresses. In the first, he spoke passionately of the need for the Church to look outwards to tend to the needs of the 21st Century world; in the second, he reflected on the historical legacy and the global impact of the church; in the third, he cast our collective gaze toward the future. I can’t commend these addresses highly enough. And there were other, equally inspiring presentations on a broad array of issues and concerns.

As I couldn’t take in everything, I focused my energies on topics most relevant to our ministry: creation care, church planting, and discipleship. Thankfully, all the Lambeth sessions were recorded, and you can watch or read them on the Lambeth Conference website.

Lambeth as a Leadership Body in the Anglican Communion

This was the most stressful and initially perplexing part of our gathering, in large part because we weren’t sure (or at least I wasn’t) what was being asked of us and why. In the beginning, there were mixed signals and sudden changes in process. Painful memories from previous Lambeth Conferences resurfaced, in which resolutions were debated and voted upon with a presumption of authority over bishops and dioceses that the Lambeth Conference does not have.

Human sexuality and the place of LGBTQ+ persons in the church was at the center of this tension, which reached its crescendo on the seventh day. In the end, by God’s grace and with the courageous engagement of many bishops, most of us reached a place of widespread agreement and respect for the places we disagree. The statement we discussed reads as follows:

Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998). Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.

It was the first time that the international body of Anglican bishops acknowledged that those who had come to a different understanding of human sexuality had done so after prayerful discernment and theological reflection.

This statement, embedded in a much longer one on the nature of Human Dignity, is an apt example of the Lambeth Conference’s role as a leadership body. It has no legislative or sanctioning authority, yet it calls us to a deeper understanding of our common humanity and witness to Christ’s love.

There are other forms of authority besides passing legislation. There is spiritual power when leaders agree to focus their energies and attention on mutually discerned priorities, and that, to the best of our ability, is what we did. One could argue that having ten areas of priority is too many, but there can be no doubt that each of the topics we discussed were of great importance: Mission and Evangelism; Safe Church; Anglican Identity; Reconciliation; Human Dignity; Environment and Sustainable Development; Christian Unity, Interfaith Relationships; Discipleship; Science and Faith.

You can read all the statements in their current form here. They will be revised according to the feedback we gave and we’ll be invited to work across the Communion on the particular calls God has placed on our hearts. I intend to monitor and engage the ones that most align with our diocesan mission and strategic plan: Human Dignity, Environment and Sustainable Development; Mission and Evangelism; and Discipleship.

In closing, let me say how inspiring it was to meet bishops from around the world, especially from the home countries of many in our diocese. For two weeks, I was blessed to see the world through others’ eyes, giving me a perspective I hope never to lose. The day we spent reflecting on the meaning of suffering, both in scripture and in human experience, will stay with me forever.

Thank you for taking the time to read this reflection. I welcome your thoughts.

We are people called by God on a journey of faith and sacrificial love, and it’s good to know that there are people all over the world who are praying for us and depend on our prayers for them. Our prayers and actions unite us.