When I was a kid growing up in suburban Minnesota, I was lucky. I lived in a 1970s style split-level house in a neighborhood within a mile of my elementary school, middle school, and high school. There weren’t exactly white picket fences or manicured gardens holding signs denoting the neighborhood’s name, but our community was fairly close-knit, the streets were filled with kids biking and playing in the summer, and neighbors were slow to anger and quick to send over a hotdish whenever life got particularly busy.
When I was young, my family was not what you would call wealthy—and in the early 90s, maybe not what you would particularly comfortable, either. My parents worked long hours, night and day, to keep us afloat—a fact hidden to my younger brothers and me by our parents’ prioritization of our wants and needs and my own obliviousness, which people tell me I’ve retained well into adulthood. We didn’t have new cars, we didn’t regularly go on vacations, and we surely didn’t attend operas or fancy art museums (which would have been true even if my town had an opera house or art museum).
And I was blessed.
I was blessed for reasons that I still have to wrap my head around; we had a warm house and enough to eat and clean water to drink, all in a world where those are not-at-all guaranteed. I had my grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and friends nearby in other neighborhoods, like mine, without names. I had parents who were able to work day in and day out to make sure I was taken care of. I was blessed with a church where it didn’t matter where you came from, but rather what God was actively doing in your life.
I was not blessed in that silly way that you see on social media when someone buys a big new house or boat or car. I was not blessed in a trite, meaningless, way, like a quick aside from someone when you’re getting off an elevator. No, I was blessed in the same fashion as the Way of Love describes blessing: “Jesus called his disciples to give, forgive, teach, and heal in his name. We are empowered by the Spirit to bless everyone we meet, practicing generosity and compassion and proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ with hopeful words and selfless actions.” I have received from others’ generosity far more than I could ever pay back.
When I took on this work—this really joyful, exciting work—I had this in the back of my mind as we searched to tell a story about blessing in the Episcopal Church.
There is no shortage of blessing going on; I had seen it repeatedly as we went out to cover amazing events in the life of the Church. In the Diocese of Honduras, young Episcopalians informed their bishop that they would go out into the streets of San Pedro Sula to pray for motorists and passersby—knowing full well that the city is consistently one of the most dangerous in the world, but emboldened by their calling as Christians. I saw it in the Diocese of San Diego, where every year, the bishop gathers members of the homeless community to wash their feet and provide donated socks and shoes. I saw it at the Episcopal Youth Event, where Episcopalians care so much for their young people that they often help pay for them to schlep across the country, growing in their faith and understanding.
One of the most important places I’ve seen it, though, was at the Bishop Walker School in the Diocese of Washington. This school is in a glittering new building, with a beautiful playground, exemplary staff and faculty, and brilliant young students. An Episcopal institution, the school is named for the Rt. Rev. John T. Walker, the first African American to serve as Bishop of Washington (1977-1989). Students learn what you’d expect in any elementary school—what I learned at Ben Franklin Elementary 20 years earlier—reading, writing, arithmetic; they also learn music and art, a bit of theology, and character building around the themes of respect, caring, trustworthiness, fairness, citizenship, and responsibility. Students are at school for most of the day and eat three square meals there. And all of this is provided tuition-free to students and their families.
The school is located in the city’s Ward 8—one of the most underserved and underrepresented areas of Washington, D.C.: a neighborhood where there are housing shortages and poverty, a neighborhood part of one of the wealthiest regions in the history of the world, a neighborhood perhaps like yours or mine, full of families trying their hardest—a neighborhood where God is at work. The blessings of God and the generosity of Episcopalians and others in the Diocese of Washington keep the Bishop Walker School working in and serving this community. Episcopalians here, like so many other places, have heard the charge from Jesus to his disciples, given to us, too: “You received without payment; give without payment” (Matthew 10:8b).
While not every congregation will be called to this kind of ministry, all of them, and all of the wonderful Episcopalians inside them, are called to bless others. In our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to God and each other that we will “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (BCP, p. 305).
In watching our first episode of Traveling the Way of Love, think about the ways that God is calling you to bless others—your family, your friends, your community. Explore the Episcopal Asset Map to find ministries that would make sense in your neighborhood. Watch for the ways God is already at work in the world around you and come alongside. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the disciples—Jesus tells you and me, too—“After I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). He is already waiting for each of us to come find him in Galilee. How will you greet him and bless the ones he loves?