As I reflect on this season of thanksgiving, I find I am grateful for our Regional Gatherings this fall. They were great in helping me get to know the people of this diocese better. I am especially grateful for the discussions we had around the Vital Signs of Parish Health. Developed out of diocesan-wide conversations held in 2020 to identify what areas of focus go into creating a health church, the Vital Signs are now an integral part of all of our revitalization work. At each of the Regional Gatherings, we took 10 minutes in Zoom breakout rooms to answer the following questions.
Which Vital Sign do you think is your congregation’s greatest strength?
Where do you think God is calling you to invest your energy?
Watching the expression on people’s faces as they described their greatest strength became a source of growing joy. They lit up with energy and enthusiasm, eager to share that area of ministry in their church. And even as they moved to share what area they felt called to invest in, the energy–and the sense of possibility–remained. I love hearing these stories. Especially amazing are those that came out of this pandemic time. They give me great hope for our churches and how we are going about sharing the gospel in this world.
Last Thursday, the Parish Vitality Working Group and I hosted Sharing Vital Stories through the School for Christian Faith and Leadership, an event inviting the whole diocese to share stories about the ways in which our parishes have experienced vitality in the last 18 months framed by the seven Vital Signs. We did the work in small groups. And while I was a bit worried when we began because many of the people in my group had done this previously in a trial run — Would they tell the same story as last time? — new stories were told. New stories that were just as awe inspiring as those from that first test round. As the evening ended, I gave great thanks for how we have embraced the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in a pandemic time that could have shut us down physically, mentally, and spiritually. As the evening ended, I gave great thanks. This pandemic time could have shut us down, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Instead, we embraced the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And as we continue sharing vital stories, continue embracing the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, continue investing in possibility, we surely will also continue our path toward revitalization.
The Rev. Canon Anne-Marie Jeffery, Canon for Congregational Vitality
When the COVID pandemic reached the Washington, D.C. area in March 2020, forcing our congregations to cease in-person worship, I immediately sent an email to two adults in my parish who were planning to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. The postponement was particularly difficult since we did not know when we would be able to resume baptisms.
Later that spring, after an adult formation class where we discussed the ancient baptismal preparation process – the catechumenate – one of the two adults in the parish who was awaiting baptism contacted me to ask if it would be possible for her to complete a catechumenal process. The idea of creating a catechumenate at St. Andrew’s had been a dream of mine for quite some time, and after a time of intense planning and preparation, the resulting product was a ten-month catechumenal process that would begin in the fall, with two-hour monthly meetings and supplemental readings. In addition, we also decided to utilize all of the accompanying catechumenal liturgical rites contained in the Book of Occasional Services.
The process was an overwhelming success, and it will be offered each fall, with the intention that lay catechists and sponsors will assume full leadership next year. This fall’s group includes someone who found St. Andrew’s through our livestreamed Sunday services and discovered the catechumenate through our website. The presence of a catechumenate in our parish, along with the celebration of the associated liturgical rites, has created a renewed appreciation for the importance of baptism and prompted the parish to change the position of our baptismal font, taking it off casters and permanently affixing it to a limestone base in the narthex of the church, immediately inside the front doors. The baptismal font stands as a physical reminder of God’s boundless grace and our commitment to follow Christ.
The Rev. Timothy Johnson, rector, St. Andrew’s, College Park
The Path of Discipleship App for iPhone
Come, follow me.
From the start of his ministry, and throughout the four gospels, Jesus invites the people he meets to follow him. Turn from what you are doing, Jesus says, come and follow me.
As Christians we have committed to living a Jesus-shaped life. But how do we do that? More than a year ago a group of more than 20 individuals from diverse contexts across the Diocese of Washington gathered to share stories of growing as followers of Jesus to discern practices that we could offer others seeking to grow in faith. Running through our stories, we discovered five core practices along a path of discipleship:
Pray: We begin with prayer–talking, listening, and responding to God, the ground of our being and source of transformation. Finding a prayer practice that draws us close to God can take any number of forms, including worshipping with our faith community, listening to reflections on Scripture, or remaining in silence.
Learn: Learning is a commitment to discovering the story of God and God’s people through ongoing study of Scripture, tradition, science, ourselves and our neighbors so that we can discern how to join God in reconciling all people and creation.
Serve: By serving we take part in God’s mission by using our gifts in service to others and creation. Serving is a matter of relationships marked by vulnerability, courage, creativity and wholeness that honors the dignity of every member of the community.
Give: God has blessed us abundantly. It is out of those gifts we share generously with others, knowing that all we have been given is a gift from God meant for the fullness of creation.
Share: Finally, we grow in faith by sharing the good news of Christ, inviting others to come on the journey with God.
Over the past year, we have been on a journey to create resources to help our congregations and its members to grow in discipleship. Today we share three:
A Path of Discipleship App: An interactive app for iPhone and Android devices offering over 100 activities to pray, learn, serve, give, and share with discussion prompts. Share your practice on social media and watch your progress along a deepening faith path. The app includes a “find a church” feature that shows users Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Washington close to you with links to connect. Download the app from Apple | from Google (coming soon!)
Path of Discipleship faith sharing cards: A set of 54 cards with question prompts in both Spanish and English inviting players to share stories about prayer, learning, serving, giving, and sharing. Great as conversation starters at home, church, or any gathering of a faith community. Use them to begin your small group gathering or to prompt conversation at a community dinner. Three decks available–child, youth, and adult. $8.15 a deck. Order a deck.
Path of Discipleship posters: A set of 6 posters for congregations to display in their churches, highlighting each practice plus a poster that introduces the path of discipleship. Download the posters.
We invite you to go deeper in your faith life through these five essential Christian practices. These five practices, over time, hold the promise of transforming hearts, hands and heads, helping us live more like Jesus along an ever-deepening path of discipleship.
These resources are intended to get you started wherever you are, whether you are new to faith or a longtime follower of Jesus. No matter where you are, you can continue to grow your capacities, commitments, and understandings of God, yourself, and your neighbors.
Related articles, EDOW’s Path of Discipleship 8/19/21
The Rev. Jenifer Gamber
Director of the School for Christian Faith and Leadership and Tending Our Soil Thriving Congregations Initiative
Photo from St. John’s, Norwood Facebook page announcing coat drive for ADAMS Center
“…I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
Refugee resettlement has long been a priority of The Episcopal Church. Many in our diocese have engaged actively in this ministry. Anticipating what the massive evacuation of refugees precipitated by the withdrawal of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan in August might require, Bishop Mariann called on the Diocese’s deacons — charged in The Episcopal Church with “a special ministry of servanthood to serve all people, especially those in need” — to lead us in taking on this new challenge. Through the new diocesan Afghan Refugee Response Team, our Deacons are responding to fulfill this call. They are working to make “Welcoming the Stranger” a shared, sustainable ministry throughout the Diocese, not only to meet the current emergency needs of Afghans, but also to welcome the many refugees from all over the world who will come to our communities in the future.
Meeting weekly with experienced lay leaders, the team, co-chaired by Deacon Anne Derse of St. John’s Norwood, is providing information and resources and making connections to assist parishes new to this ministry in getting involved, as well as to support the great initiatives already underway in parishes with established refugee ministries. Deacons Ethan Bishop-Henchman, Kathryn McMahon and Mary Sebold have established new refugee committees at St. Paul’s K Street, Good Shepherd in Silver Spring, and St. Dunstan’s in Cabin John. Deacon Terri Murphy at Ascension Silver Spring, with deacon students Adela Vasquez and Melissa Sites, is collaborating with Deacons Sara Thorne, and Adrienne Clamp at Christ Church Kensington and Redeemer, Bethesda to set up homes for newly arrived Afghan families. With support from Deacons Eugene Wright, David Griswold, and Harvey Bale at St. Anne’s Damascus, St. Columba’s, and St. David’s they are also helping the All Dulles Area Muslim Society ADAMS Center collect at least 13,000 coats this month for refugees on military bases.
At St. John’s Olney, Deacon Janice Hicks and deacon student Nancy Stockbridge are leading the parish in equipping apartments and preparing to mentor new refugees. Our active community of deacons in Southern Maryland, Marty Eldredge, Joan Crittenden, and Steve Seely have united their parishes to raise money, purchase gift cards, and assemble welcome kits for new homes. And the congregation of St. John’s Norwood, supported by Deacon Anne Derse, has just begun supporting a newly arrived Afghan family, and agreed to sponsor two more Afghan refugees for entry to the U.S. Deacons are also working on advocacy for immigration reform, connections with Muslim and Afghan communities, and collaboration with non-profits and community groups supporting refugees.
The support of faith communities makes a crucial difference in our new neighbors’ successful resettlement in the United States. Working collaboratively, our Deacons are empowering us to ensure the compassionate welcome to the stranger that Jesus calls us to offer.
The Rev. Ethan Bishop-Henchman
Deacon, St. Paul’s, K Street
The Rev. Anne Derse
Deacon, St. John’s Norwood
The Episcopal Diocese has recently reestablished its Prison Ministry Task Force. The Task Force’s mission is to follow the Great Commission of Christ to respect the dignity of all persons. “Welcome Home Neighbor” is one way that deacons in the diocese are connecting with and supporting returning citizens — and contributing to the mission of the Task Force.
As part of their work to proclaim the good news and freedom for prisoners, deacons have partnered with the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizen Affairs (MORCA) and the “Welcome Home Neighbor” ministry. MORCA is the first legislatively mandated office in the country specifically serving formerly incarcerated individuals, working to remove barriers to reentry, and empowering residents to connect to services for employment, health, education, housing assistance, and family needs.
Deacon Julie Petersmeyer established the partnership with the MORCA Director Lamont Carey and has sought out deacons throughout the diocese to create partnerships between parishes and MORCA to serve the reentry needs of returning citizens. The Rev. Ricardo Sheppard, Rector of Episcopal Church of the Atonement, and Deacon Antonio J. Baxter have formed a relationship with MORCA and routinely receive referrals from MORCA to provide care packages and a caring relationship to returning citizens. Deacon Baxter has provided about twenty care packages so far to returning citizens which include items such as toiletries, face masks, hand sanitizer, SMARTRIP Transit Cards, gift cards for food, and key rings to aid in welcoming returning citizens with compassion. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this outreach is the opportunity for returning citizens to interact with people who are interested in their story and willing to be partners in their transformation.
In seeking to build a multi-layered approach to restoring human dignity, the Prison Ministry Task Force serves as a resource to educate parishes on the urgent criminal justice issues that impact all of us and includes restoring relationships between and among the individuals in the justice system and the wider community. With the involvement of dedicated and motivated deacons, the Task Force will continue pursuing strategies to motivate increased participation in preventive and reentry programs and seeking to engage and transform the carceral and justice systems.
The Rev. Antonio Baxter
Deacon, Church of the Atonement, DC
Interested in knowing more about the Prison Ministry Task Force? Contact Hazel Monae, Missioner for Equity and Justice
“A call from God has the power of conviction that is not our work alone but is something intended and empowered by God.” Author Ben Campbell Johnson makes this statement in his book, Hearing God’s Call. He asks this question in the third paragraph of the book, “How do I know the call comes from God and not my own unconscious longings or fears or even cultural influences on my perceptions and decision-making?”
Clergy and Laity of the diocese met for a Diaconal Discernment Retreat on Friday, October 1 to follow the Spirit and help six Diaconal Nominees answer that question. St. Paul’s, Rock Creek hosted the people discerning a call to Holy Orders. Worship, prayers, interviews, and social time consumed the day as the Nominees for Diaconal Postulancy had time to reflect and share in these areas:
- Spirituality, Prayer Life, and Spiritual Disciplines
- Academic and Psychological Readiness
- Diakonia and Servant Ministry
- Support Systems and Collegiality
Discernment is defined as perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual guidance and understanding. Spiritual guidance and understanding were the objectives of the day for both those discerning a call to ordained ministry as well as those who were present to help the Nominees on this journey.
By the time Nominees are invited to attend the Diaconal Discernment Retreat, they have completed six months of discernment with a Local Discernment Committee comprised of laity from their sponsoring parishes. Those Nominees that are discerned for the diaconate are made Postulants by the Bishop. The next step in their journey is to begin academic training in the areas of Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, Ethics, and Systematic Theology. These seminary courses are offered in English by the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and in Spanish by our Latino Deacons School. The classes in both settings may be completed in one calendar year.
After their academic training, Postulants attend the Diocesan Deacons School for 18 months. Throughout this time there are periodic interviews and evaluations by the Commission on Ministry (COM) and the Standing Committee, along with two internships, one in a social service agency and one in a parish with a Deacon.
It is a long journey of discernment and formation, two essential elements for anyone who may be called to ordained diaconal ministry. Yet the most important aspect of discernment is keeping one’s ears, eyes, and heart inclined to God and the Holy Spirit.
The Nominees moving to Postulancy in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington ask for your prayers as they walk this way of following God to a new dimension of their faith and servanthood to the kingdom.
The Rev. Steve Seely
Deacon, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church