You Will Be My Witnesses

You Will Be My Witnesses

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!

Misión Buen Pastor, una Misión de la Diócesis Episcopal de Washington en Silver Spring, MD

Misión Buen Pastor, una Misión de la Diócesis Episcopal de Washington en Silver Spring, MD

…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.
Ezequiel 17:23

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

Misión Buen Pastor, a Mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington in Silver Spring, MD

Misión Buen Pastor, a Mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington in Silver Spring, MD

…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.
Ezekiel 17:23

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

Strategic Plan Year Three Mid-Year Report: Revitalization

Strategic Plan Year Three Mid-Year Report: Revitalization

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Acts 2:46-46

As we work together to revitalize our churches to grow the Jesus Movement, one of our primary Strategic Plan goals is to “become a spiritual home for our children and grandchildren.” We’ve been active on a number of fronts in 2023 in supporting that vision.

A major part of our focus has been on reaching rising generations. This effort kicked off with the Diocesan Convention Friday night event, Listening to Rising Generations , where we heard powerful testimonials from four young adults of the diocese and Mark Yaconelli cast a vision of what’s possible when elders take the time to make genuine connections with the youth and young adults in our communities (watch the video). We have also invited congregations to read the book, Growing Young, which shares research about churches that attract and support young people and the practices that facilitate that work. We hope to have a cohort of churches that embark on a learning journey of Growing Young with coaches from the Fuller Youth Institute.

A key part of this revitalization effort will beto launch/relaunch three worshiping congregations, and we have begun laying the groundwork for this work for the years to come by identifying possible geographic areas and leaders interested in this work. ACS Technologies is assisting us, beginning with a demographic MissionInsite study, to help us discern areas with the most potential to reach rising generations.

Another important piece of our revitalization work is being done by the Task Force on Black Ministries. Formed following the adoption of a resolution at Diocesan Convention, the Task Force is called to identify recommendations to enhance, revitalize, and empower Black churches and Black parishioners in the Diocese of Washington. The Task Force will report its findings and recommendations to the diocese in September.

The first cohort of 12 congregations completed Year One of the Tending Our Soil Thriving Congregations Initiative–our flagship revitalization program. In Year Two, they will begin to address specific strategic goals. This fall, a second cohort of 12 congregations will begin their journey, focusing on getting into their neighborhoods and reconnecting with their mission to discover where God is leading them. Throughout the initiative, the activities that participating congregations engage in are being offered to all the congregations in the diocese, multiplying the impact of the initiative throughout our diocese.

The Seven Vital Signs of Parish Health continue to be the foundation of our vitality work. The signs ground parish visitations, transition work, the Tending our Soil Thriving Congregations Initiative, and the work of congregations in Canon 54. Earlier this year, an Introduction to the Vital Signs course was launched through the School for Christian Faith and Leadership.

Join the work of revitalization with a July 30th workshop — Connecting with your Community — an opportunity to practice going out and interacting with those outside our church wall.

The Rev. Dr. Anne-Marie Jeffery
Canon for Congregational Vitality

When A Guest Arrives

When A Guest Arrives

My son and I were once on the receiving end of the comment “I can’t believe you sat in her pew!”, followed by a refusal to share the Peace with us later in the worship. I have been to worship in churches where it was not the practice to have bulletins with helpful page numbers or text so one could follow along, you were just expected to know / memorize the service – or stumble along lost. These two examples are not as outlandish as they seem; I have witnessed similar responses to guests here at St. John’s.

When a guest arrives at church we cannot assume that:

  • they know to pick up a service bulletin, where to sit, or where the bathrooms are.
  • they are an Episcopalian who knows the Prayer Book front to back.
  • they have not previously been hurt by religion.
  • they are coming in the door feeling wonderful.
  • we know who they are based upon their outward appearance.
  • they think or believe what we think or believe, or that they even know what they think or believe.

When a guest arrives at church we cannot assume that they are a guest, or might normally attend a different service, or have been out of town for a few months; but we can introduce ourselves if we don’t know them.

When a guest arrives at church we simply can not assume. Rather, it is best:

  • to be curious and not judgmental.
  • to introduce ourselves to our guests, of all ages. The names of children are important to them and to the family, make sure they are included too.
  • to wear our name tags so others know who we are and do not have to struggle to remember; this is true also for those we already know and who still struggle to remember names (myself included).
  • to sit with someone and help them navigate the service if they seem lost. This can be especially true with families who are trying to juggle a service bulletin, hymnal, and children all while trying to remain invisible.
  • to share the Peace (in a COVID-appropriate way) with our guests, and not just with our friends.
  • to invite someone to coffee hour, and walk them to the parish hall for fellowship, taking time to introduce them to other parishioners along the way.

The phrase has often been attributed to Saint Francis that we should “preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary”; when a guest arrives we should show how much we love St. John’s, use words when necessary.

Love thy neighbor: no exceptions, is not just the best sign in Olney, it is also how we can welcome our guests to St. John’s. Show our guests that our love of neighbor is not just for those whom we have known for years, but also for those we have just met.

Written by The Rev. Henry McQueen, Rector
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Olney, MD