Bidding farewell, with gratitude

October 19, 2012

As I begin this article, I can only express my deep gratitude to each of you for the ministries you offer as an expression of your discipleship in Jesus. It has been a privilege for these past five years to be able to be a part of the developing evolution of Jubilee Ministry in the Episcopal Church, and our discovery of its implications for our common life together. I am now taking my leave to return to Colorado, where I will continue to live into my Jubilee Ministry covenants. With gratitude, I thank you as colleagues for our partnerships in ministry.

The work that we’re called to do as servants in this church is as dynamic as the world that our church finds itself in today. As we respond to the changing realities of the world, the way we organize ourselves as a network must also change. I invite us to look forward to the possibilities unfolding before us.

This past summer at General Convention in Indianapolis we celebrated passage of Resolution DO90, recognizing 30 years of Jubilee Ministry in the church. Martha Gardner, DJO of Newark, sponsored that legislation as a way to invite us as a faith community to be reminded of the roots of our ministry: joint discipleship in Christ, ministry with the poor and oppressed wherever they’re found, and our common labors of building a just society.

The resolution also recognizes how consistent with the church’s focus on the Five Marks of Mission our historic call continues to be, and that our work directly engages the tenets of Marks of Mission Three and Four, to have ministries of compassion and to work towards justice in our society.

As we look forward to reimagining Jubilee Ministry together, remember that our work has common threads tethered throughout. A commitment to relational ministry, to servant leadership and to building community all reflect our ideals of God’s shalom in creation. That has always been part of who we have been, and will likely always be integral to who we become.

Allow me to reflect on some longer history. In the early 1900s, a young rector at Trinity Wall Street found himself in charge of the inheritance of a large inventory of dwellings being returned to their owner after the expiration of hundred-year leases. Those dwellings had largely become slums. Faced with a dilemma – balance the church budget on the backs of the poor, or partner and recognize the dignity of people who relying on the church to provide a safe place for them to live – the rector engaged the congregation in the discussion. After a long night of struggling, they committed $5 million to the task of upgrading and renewing the units. In doing so, the church reflected the kind of stewardship that understood its interdependence as a community of faith with the world around it.

In 1937, that same rector, now bishop of the Diocese of New York, convened a slum clearance conference hosted at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. A two-story section of a slum was reconstructed in the sanctuary for the large interfaith gathering to draw attention to the struggle and realities of hardship faced by working poor throughout the city. So the movement of respecting neighbor and the church’s role in relationship with community continued to grow, again highlighting that discipleship in Christ is not devoid of the needs of the world around us, but dependent on our responsiveness to those needs.

In 1968, this same church established the Ghetto Development Investment Program for rural and urban renewal, and importantly to Jubilee Ministry, the understanding of the nature of the church’s participation in local renewal was rooted at the grassroots level.  Some $4 million was marshaled for the purpose of creating partnerships between the church and local communities around redevelopment issues. Opportunities were identified, planned, implemented, managed and sustained, all by local leadership and not through external intervention.

By 1982, the mandate of Jubilee Ministry recognized that the work we do is work that we do not do alone. It is relational, and it is dependent upon discovering and drawing out the giftedness within our local communities. This is the manifestation of the church working to build a just society.

So here we are in 2012, 30 years after Jubilee Ministry came into fruition. We have helped birth the Episcopal Public Policy Network, urban intern programs for young adults and seminarians, and a network of more than 600 ministries that are relationally-focused, grassroots-founded and justice-minded.

The church’s response to poverty alleviation during this last triennium - as articulated in General Convention Resolution 2009-A155 - recognized the wisdom of putting our resources to work to animate local leadership, not to direct local leadership. In doing so, the church has been actively cultivating language like Asset-Based Community Development, which acknowledges that our capacity to act already exists within our local communities. Our job has been to draw out and bring light those ministries, so they can be received by the larger Episcopal community.

Moving forward, we must continue to recognize that the ministry we offer in the name of Christ is not about creating something that isn’t there, nor is it about doing something for people that they can’t do for themselves. Rather, our work is to join in with the work that God is busy doing in our midst, and to bring light upon the goodness and the commitments and passions and energies that God has already raised up in the community. And that just maybe, by receiving the gifts around us and listening to our neighbors, not only will we encounter Christ, but Christ will also be encountered through us.