by The Rev. Diana V. Gustafson
‘I came to myself, in a dark world, where the direct way was lost.’
Dante, The Divine Comedy
If you have ever taken a personality test, you may have identified personal strengths, such as the ability to organize people or ideas or to express yourself musically, and weaknesses, such as a fear of speaking in public. It can be fun to gain insight into who we are and how we operate in the word. But consider your spiritual gifts and personality. How might tests to identify spiritual gifts give you insight into your relationship with God and your church?
Perhaps no one is more interested in this question than the newcomer to a church and the people dedicated to walking with them on their spiritual journey. Identifying and honoring newcomers’ self-identified talents is vital to guiding them on a path of discipleship.
St. Paul teaches us that:
There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same God; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. ~ 1 Corinthians 12
For the newcomer, understanding their abilities and desires through a spiritual lens is an important first step in their path of discipleship and participating in the life of the congregation. At St. Margaret’s in DC, we invite newcomers into just such a practice of discovery. In our class, “St. Margaret’s Go!,” newcomers journey together, exploring who they are as spiritual beings and the life that God is calling them to. In three one-hour sessions, newcomers identify and explore their spiritual gifts and discern where they are along a pathway of faith. Just as they are learning about the church’s mission, values, and ministry, they discover what this church can offer them and consider how they might participate in and contribute to a community of faith.
The Go! class begins by using pictures of common objects and events, such as crayons in a box or a child crying, to explore the kind of relationship with God they would like to have.
Go! then helps the participants identify where they might start on the threshold of their discipleship paths. Are they “Experiencers,” engaging with God through song, prayer, and fellowship? Or “Searchers,” at a point of questioning Christian theology and investigating concerns about racism or tasting other faiths. Other places along the path are for ‘Belongers,’ who locate themselves in community and corporate worship, and for ‘Owners,’ who regularly pray on their own, and are ready to teach others from their experience and wisdom. Together the class looks at each person’s spiritual gifts, such as “mercy,” “hospitality,” or “wisdom.’” Go! also asks participants about the individuals who have influenced them.
Through such exploration, participants gain a greater understanding of who they are as spiritual beings. They are better equipped for involvement in the life of religious community and worship because they have a stronger sense of self in relation to God. They are ready to self-identify intelligently as disciples.
Discoveries made during St. Margaret’s Go! informs not just participants but leaders as well. Clergy and formation leaders can use participant’s self-identification to plan formation offerings and general forums through the church year. “Experiencers” may be drawn to bible study, for example, while “Searchers” may benefit from classes, such as Sacred Ground, that explore the church’s response to racism. Formation is focused on guiding disciples along their spiritual path toward deeper relationship with Christ. An understanding of spiritual gifts and desires also helps participants and clergy identify ways laypeople can take part in the life of the congregation. The participants may feel a call to join an outreach group, serve as an usher, or attend weekly healing prayer.
You can learn more about the Diocese of Washington’s path of discipleship at www.edow.org/path and learn more about how St. Margaret’s is using that path and spiritual gifts discernment to meet the needs of newcomers at the upcoming course, Spiritual Gifts and the Newcomer noon on November 16. Learn and talk about the needs of the newcomer and how your church can implement a newcomer’s Go! program.
In his second letter to the Christian community in Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:20).
Before his ascension, Jesus promises those gathered, “[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
What if you thought of your congregation’s vocation in terms of ambassadors, or witnesses, sent to share the good news of God in Christ with our neighbors? Doing so shifts the focus of your congregation’s mission from the people inside the church toward who’s outside the walls of the church, that is, your neighbors.
For some congregations, this is a significant shift in orientation. But, as the people of God, our ministry is primarily to represent Christ in the world (Book of Common Prayer, 855). We gather on Sundays not for our sake only, but for the sake of the world. We are unique in this way. As Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said, “The Church is the only society that does not exist for its members.”
How do good ambassadors begin their work? By getting to know the people in the place where they reside, by listening to their neighborhoods. How well do you know your neighborhood?
Given the high rate of mobility in our society today and the demographic shifts in Washington, DC and the surrounding region, it is likely that your neighborhood has experienced significant changes over the past few decades. Some neighborhoods have become increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. Some have grown younger. Some older. Your long-time members may have noticed these changes while your new members may not. Either way, thriving congregations attend closely to the demographic and social changes in their area and understand the distinctiveness of their community– both of who they are and who they are becoming.
You might begin getting reacquainted with your neighbors might by gathering demographic data. The Episcopal Diocese of Washington offers its congregations access to MissionInsite, a program that offers in-depth demographic data, including religious beliefs and concerns of demographic groupings in the area surrounding your church. If you’d like to receive a MissionInsite report for your congregation, reach out to the Rev. Jenifer Gamber.
To really get to know your neighbors, to really listen to them, however, requires being on the ground, building face-to-face relationships. Through listening, you can become attentive to your neighbor’s needs, interests, and desires.
To help you and your leadership practice getting out in your neighborhood, the School for Christian Faith and Leadership will be hosting a workshop at Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring MD on Saturday, July 30th called Connecting with Your Community.
Consider attending – and bring your team!
…lo plantaré; eche ramas y produzca fruto y se convierta en un magnífico cedro. Toda clase de aves anidará en él, y vivirá a la sombra de sus ramas.
El Ministerio Latino/Hispano en la Diócesis de Washington ha puesto a prueba muchos modelos de ministerio y formación, desde el primer servicio litúrgico en español que tuvo lugar en 1974 hasta el día de hoy, en el que seguimos buscando nuevas oportunidades para hacer crecer esta vibrante expresión de fe. La diócesis está comprometida a equipar a sus seis comunidades activas de fe para que puedan prosperar tanto hoy como en el futuro.
Parte de este compromiso significa responder a las necesidades de los cambios demográficos en nuestros diversos campos de misión.
La demografía actual y proyectada de la región central del condado de Montgomery ayudó a tomar la decisión reciente de reubicar una de nuestras comunidades de fe latinas de Aspen Hill a Silver Spring, Maryland. De todos los lugares de la Diócesis donde tiene sentido invertir en una comunidad de fe de habla hispana, es éste. Con unos 81.000 habitantes, Silver Spring es la quinta zona más poblada de Maryland y la segunda más poblada del condado de Montgomery. Más del 27% de la población se identifica como latina/hispana. Y de ese 27%, estimamos que unos 14.000 individuos tienen entre 18 y 34 años.
¿Por qué es significativo este número? Porque, como parte de nuestro Plan Estratégico, reconocemos lo vital que es para nuestras comunidades de fe no sólo reflejar la demografía de los lugares de adoración, sino también que las casas de adoración son espacios en los que nuestras nuevas generaciones tienen un sentido de conexión y pertenencia. En el caso de nuestras comunidades latinas/hispanas, esto puede ser especialmente importante para las segundas y terceras generaciones.
Después de un año de discernimiento y de profundizar en los datos demográficos, Misión Buen Pastor, antes conocida como Misa Magdalena, se convirtió en una misión de la Diócesis tras una votación del Consejo Diocesano en marzo de 2022. Es la primera misión de la diócesis en la memoria reciente y el primer relanzamiento de una comunidad de adoración que se centrará en las nuevas generaciones.
Misión Buen Pastor se trasladó a la Iglesia Episcopal del Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) y celebró su primer servicio el 15 de mayo. Misión Buen Pastor tiene mucho trabajo por delante. Con el liderazgo de la Rvda. Anna Olson, la congregación está explorando valientemente nuevas formas de ser iglesia en su comunidad. La gente está ansiosa y espera servir a la población de habla hispana en el área de Silver Spring/Aspen Hill/Wheaton.
Mildred Briones Reyes
Misionera de Ministerios Latinos/Hispanos e Iniciativas Diocesanas
…I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.
Latino/Hispanic Ministry in the Diocese of Washington has test driven many models of ministry and formation, from the very first liturgical service in Spanish that took place in 1974 through today, when we continue to seek new opportunities to grow this vibrant expression of faith. The diocese is committed to equipping its six active faith communities so that they may thrive both today and in the future.
Part of this commitment means being responsive to the needs of the changing demographics in our various mission fields.
The current and projected demographics of the Central Montgomery County region helped inform a recent decision to replant one of our Latino faith communities from Aspen Hill to Silver Spring, Maryland. Of all the places in the Diocese where it makes sense to invest in a Spanish speaking faith community, this is it. At roughly 81,000 residents, Silver Spring is the fifth-most populous area in Maryland and the second-most populous in Montgomery County. Over 27% of the population identifies as Latino/Hispanic. And of that 27% percent, we estimate about 14,000 individuals are between the ages of 18-34.
Why is this number significant? Because, as part of our Strategic Plan, we recognize how vital it is for our faith communities not only to reflect the demographics of where they worship, but also that houses of worship are spaces where our rising generations feel a sense of connection and belonging. In the case of our Latino/Hispanic communities, this can be especially important for second and third generations.
Following a year of discernment and digging into the demographic data, Misión Buen Pastor, formerly known as Misa Magdalana, became a mission of the Diocese after a vote by Diocesan Council in March 2022. It is the first mission of the diocese in recent memory and the first relaunch of a worshiping community that will focus on rising generations.
Misión Buen Pastor moved to Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and held their first service on May 15. Much work is ahead for Misión Buen Pastor. With the leadership of the Rev. Anna Olson, the congregation is courageously exploring new ways to be church in their community. The people are eager and look forward to serving the Spanish speaking population in the Silver Spring/Aspen Hill/Wheaton area.
Mildred Briones Reyes
Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries and Diocesan Initiatives