Transfiguring Jubilee as we return to our local roots, empower our local leadership

March 1, 2012
Christopher Johnson

The future Church is today!

While the invitation to embrace the Spirit of Jubilee has been extended since at least the days of the writing of the Book of Leviticus (see chapter 25), each generation must decide for itself if they will accept that spirit. Jesus accepted it when he claimed the words of the Prophet Isaiah as his own: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… (Luke 4:16-21).

Likewise, the Episcopal Church claimed these words in 1982 when it declared Jubilee Ministry “a joint discipleship in Christ with poor and oppressed people wherever they are located, to meet basic human need and to build a just society” is at the heart of the mission of the Church.

While the criteria for becoming a Jubilee Ministry were established by the Executive Council in 1983, it was always intended that the local diocesan bishop would be the one to designate a ministry as a Jubilee Ministry. To make that possible, provision has been made since 1985 for each bishop to appoint a Diocesan Jubilee Officer to assist in the process of identifying local ministries worthy of the Jubilee Ministry designation. Unfortunately, our denominational structure has led us to sometimes place too much emphasis on the institutionalization of Jubilee Ministry, and to create a top-down management structure far removed from Jubilee’s organic roots. Just as the disciples appealed to Jesus to let them build booths on the Mount of Transfiguration after seeing him with Moses and Elijah, so we have become enamored of building structures where none are needed, and that which was intended to affirm healthy local ministries became a mere cog in the spokes of an institution.

For the past four years I have been laboring as your denominational staff officer to return the future of Jubilee Ministry to its local roots where it has always been vibrant and most alive. There is no need to look to a distant future to find a Church that is healthy in its local context. The future Church is today and it is us!

I write this column today as a call to action. This is not a call to action for institutional leadership to assert its will from above. This is a call to action for our local Jubilee Ministries and the diocesan leadership to lead the Church back down the mountain where the ministry to which we have been called awaits us.

How do we do this?

The means are already in place: 600 Jubilee Ministries have been designated, 78 Diocesan Jubilee Officers are currently appointed by their bishops, and a leadership team of 13 members with a voice to the Executive Council has been appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. A Jubilee Ministry Facebook page exists as a host for conversation to develop among those with mutual interest. The Jubilate newsletter is prepared four times a year. The challenge is how each of us will engage one another and the relational network opportunities to make all of our voices heard and our dreams known. To this end, I am convening the Jubilee Advisory Board leadership in March to consider strategies for our continued network development, and in November, the Diocesan Jubilee Officers will gather to focus directly on this challenge.

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