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!

The Vital Signs of Parish Health – On Demand

The Vital Signs of Parish Health – On Demand

Parish Vitality Wheel

The Parish Vitality Wheel

As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, we hear parishes asking important questions: Where are we? What’s next? How do we move forward from here?

One helpful lens for assessing where it might be most fruitful to invest parish resources is to engage with the Seven Vital Signs of Parish Health. The Vital Signs identify key markers that indicate the relative health of a parish. When used as a diagnostic tool, the vital signs can quickly show what areas of parish life are well-tended – and those that might need increased care and attention.

To help parishes better engage the Vital Signs, the School for Christian Faith and Leadership has developed an “on demand” course led by the Rev. Dr. Anne-Marie Jeffery – An Introduction to the Vital Signs of Parish Health – that parish leaders can access at any time and complete at their own pace. Each Vital Sign is a stand alone module within the course and provides both a deep dive into the various aspects pertaining to that Vital Sign and how work done to improve one area may benefit other Vital Signs. Each module includes a reading, video, and ideas to try.

Because this is self-paced, there is no need to complete “the whole course” before getting started. Simply choose which Vital Sign the parish feels would be most beneficial to focus on, work through the materials and resources in the module for that Vital Sign and begin.

Need a little more guidance before getting started? Contact the Rev. Dr. Anne-Marie Jeffery, Canon for Congregational Vitality.

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