Time to reflect

Consider the church’s mission and our part in furthering its ministries
March 5, 2007

As we move from Epiphany, the season in which we celebrated the manifestation of God in Jesus to the nations, it is appropriate to reflect on our mission and the ways in which God’s love is made evident in and by our own efforts.

I have been abundantly impressed in recent weeks with the health and vitality of this church, and the ways in which so many different parts of it are participating in God’s mission to heal the world. It has been a great blessing to visit in a variety of contexts – Arkansas, Long Island, Louisiana, Mississippi, Newark, New York and, most recently, the Episcopal Church in Cuba. In each, people of varying theological and political positions are vigorously engaged in that mission to heal the world.

Episcopalians in Arkansas are concerned for, and responding to, the needs of those with little access to adequate employment in the Mississippi Delta. Others are striving to build a school system that challenges all students, and those who work in the school districts note the difficulties of serving students who do not have parents who can provide additional support and reinforcement at home – a role that might well be played by local congregations.

Long Island recently opened a new building in its Interfaith Hospital – begun in a merger between Episcopal and Jewish healthcare institutions. The hospital provides excellent care in an area that is otherwise significantly underserved, with continuing diocesan leadership. In the Diocese of New York, the churches of the South Bronx gathered on Martin Luther King’s birthday for a rousing celebration of his life and witness to the dream God has for all of his children. I do not believe I have ever seen a more diverse congregation!

Newark recently celebrated the leadership and ministry of its retiring bishop and opened the next chapter in its history with the consecration of a new bishop. In both, the diocese’s history of prophetic witness, particularly in urban areas, was remembered and blessed.

Camp Coast Care in Louisiana continues to coordinate volunteers for home rebuilding, and Mississippi congregations on the Gulf Coast continue to provide centers around which communities can be rebuilt in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Hope wafts out of a desolated landscape, despite the evidence of death.

Volunteers in New Orleans travel about the city in a collection of vehicles, offering mobile physical and mental health care, clothing and consumable supplies, and lunch or a light snack as well as the ever-needed ministry of presence – a friendly face, the willingness to listen and the human face of hope, showing that God truly is with you whatever the world has dished up.

Cuba’s Episcopal Church has long and deep ties with this Episcopal Church, and I discovered some rather surprising connections. The first bishop of Arizona and Nevada, Ozi Whitaker (1869-1886), left there to become bishop in Pennsylvania (1886-1911) and later oversaw some of the early mission work in Cuba. The Diocese of Florida has a companion relationship that dates back many years, with people routinely sharing expertise and resources, and learning from each other. Retired Bishop Frank Cerveny was there for the diocesan synod and told wonderful stories of the last 50 years of the church’s work there.

Cuba shares a good deal with the re-emerging church in China, especially in its focus on self-propagation, self-governance and self-support. We have something to learn from their incredibly faithful witness to the gospel in the face of at-times strenuous governmental oversight. At the same time, they partner with the government, or anyone else who is willing, in order to pursue effective mission possibilities.

Our Executive Council in November reaffirmed the Episcopal Church’s urgent desire to seek an end to our economic embargo against Cuba and called on churches here to develop partnerships with the church in Cuba.

The call to effective mission comes in many shapes and possibilities. Opportunities must be recognized, gifts assessed and courage found to take the leaps of faith that often are necessary to begin. God’s creation is marked by a web of connections, and God’s mission always is engaged more fruitfully when we enter into the kind of the creative interconnections called partnerships.

At the close of Epiphany, look around your part of the world, notice where you have seen God’s hand at work and give thanks. What part do you or your family or congregation play in that work? How can the interconnections be expanded in creative ways in order to engage in greater mission, now and in the coming year? How will your understanding of God’s mission have grown by this time next year?