Thanksgiving for Vital Stories

Thanksgiving for Vital Stories

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

Creating a catechumenate at St. Andrew’s, College Park

Creating a catechumenate at St. Andrew’s, College Park

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