In 2 Timothy, the writer encourages Timothy and his second century Christian community to “guard the good treasures entrusted to you.” Amid increasing religious disaffiliation today, we may do well to consider doing the same.
But, what is this good treasure? Is the good treasure our buildings? The sacred items inside our buildings – tables, basins, and pews? Is it the grounds on which this building stands? The pandemic may have shifted our understanding of the place of these material things in our common life. Is our good treasure what we do as a faith community – praising God, sharing meals, baptizing, proclaiming, celebrating, burying, sharing, serving?
What if, as the writer suggests, the good treasures are the gifts God that has sown within you – a relationship with Jesus that presses you to go out into the world to share the good news of God in Christ? What if the good treasure is a way of life that witnesses the presence of God and God’s love for the people in your neighborhood?
The good treasures entrusted to your care begin with your faith – your relationship with Jesus and the trust you have placed in God.
“Guard the good treasures entrusted to you.”
Twenty-four congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington have now embarked on a three-year journey to guard the good treasures entrusted to them called “Tending Our Soil.” These congregations have been challenged to name, and then steward their good treasures so that they will remain vital bearers of God’s love in this time and place in a rapidly changing world.
The word entrusted suggests two actions: passing down and caring for. Indeed, our faith is a gift from God passed down through the generations. Just as Timothy’s faith first lived in his grandmother Lois and then in his mother Eunice and finally in Timothy, we are inheritors of good treasure(s). We are the inheritors of faith from your own grandparents, parents, and those who built and stewarded this parish over the centuries.
Yet, because faith is transmitted from elders to younger generations, the good news of Christ is always one generation away from extinction.
Today, with declining religious affiliation in the United States, we are acutely aware of this possibility. Every Christian denomination in the United States is now declining. Younger generations in the United States are less and less religious. More than 40 percent of the Gen Z and Millennial generation (those born after 1981) have no religious affiliation compared to 25 percent of Baby Boomers and 20 percent of the Silent Generation.
Yet, we have been entrusted with good treasures – a gift of God that lives within us – that we are called to share.
Gen Z and Millennial generations have not stopped seeking the spiritual. Young people today continue to seek identity, purpose, and meaning beyond what can be seen and touched. They continue to ask questions and they do not need to answer life’s big questions alone.
Tending Our Soil is based on this belief – that local congregations will continue to be the primary form of Christian community… places where Christians gather regularly to worship, teach their religious traditions to their children and youth, extend care to one another, and proclaim love for their neighbors through acts of service and hospitality. Every congregation serves as a foundational building block of Christian community and a central carrier of faith.
Over three years, the congregations participating in Tending Our Soil will explore and understand the rapidly changing social and cultural context around them; gain greater clarity about their values and mission; and draw on Christian practices from the Episcopal tradition and theology to adapt their ministries to the concerns and gifts of their neighbors. The ultimate aim is to strengthen congregations so that they can better help people deepen their relationships with God, enhance their connections with each other and contribute to the flourishing of their communities and the world.
As Episcopalians, we have been entrusted with much to treasure: good news that our neighbors so desperately want to hear – that they are loved, have infinite value, are called to lives of purpose and meaning, and are not alone. God loves them with a love that endures all things. These are the treasures that are meant to be given away.
You can join by taking part of the many courses that School for Christian Faith and Leadership offers every congregation. Some of these courses feature the very same speakers in Tending Our Soil. The course “Pathways of Discipleship” by the Rev. Dr. Douglas Powe is just one live course. A whole suite of on-demand courses are available too, including these short-courses that focus on parish vitality.
Which course this fall will help you guard the good treasure that is entrusted to you?