On the first weekend in November, Friday and Saturday, November 3 & 4 to be exact, West Missouri held its annual convention. The theme of that convention was: “Called in. Sent out. Building a Community of Purpose.” I included a reference to this theme in my homily at the ordinations and reception of a priest that took place during the convention’s opening worship. I also referred to it at some length in my address to the convention. And, I find myself still ruminating reflectively on that theme even now, several weeks later. So much so that I am going to use it as my theme for the coming year.
What follows is an excerpt from my address to convention in which I elucidate what I think is the gist of being “called in and sent out” and of building, together, a community of purpose.
The Jesus Movement
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry very famously has worked to recapture language from the ancient Church and to move us from thinking of the Church as an institution, and toward thinking of the Church as a movement, as a group affiliated round a cause, a purpose, or — in Church-speak — a mission.
I must be honest. One of the joys of my life was casting my vote for Michael Bruce Curry and helping elect him to the office of Presiding Bishop. His heart beats in rhythm with my heart. His desire for the Church to awaken to itself and its purpose matches my own. He says it and preaches it better than I ever could. The man is a force!
His 10,000-foot view of what the Church is certainly inspiring, at least to me, but we are The Diocese of West Missouri. Therefore, we must localize what Bishop Curry is talking about — must bring his vision down from 10,000 feet to … well … no more than 1,000 feet. We must come to grips with what it means to be the Episcopal Branch of the loving, liberating, life-giving Jesus Movement on our turf, in our backyard, on our street or town or county.
At the Special Convention this past June, I shared some thoughts about the purpose of a diocese — a generic diocese, no matter where it’s located. And I tried to encapsulate what I see a diocese has to do — its marching orders — its mission. A diocese is a complex organism. It has lots of parts and has lots to do.
Try this analogy: a diocese is a machine with thousands of moving parts engineered and built to manufacture hundreds of different products simultaneously. It is not intended to produce a single outcome, unless you paint that outcome broadly, as in,
28…19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you… Matthew 28:19-20a
The Book of Common Prayer states the Church’s purpose or mission this way: “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
That’s also broad, because what does that look like at a localized level? It may mean one thing in West Missouri; it may mean another thing altogether in Cuba, or in Jerusalem, or in Beijing, or in any of a million places.
Localized, I believe the aspirations of the Jesus movement must be tied to or matched up with program, or process, or practicality.
So, let me ask you to focus on the theme for this convention. It is: “Called In. Sent Out. Building a Community of Purpose.”
I’ll say it again. “Called In. Sent Out. Building a Community of Purpose.”
The theme was chosen to reflect the rhythm of Christian life and to encapsulate the Prayer Book’s teaching on the Church: Let me quote an excerpt from pages 854-855 of the Prayer Book.
Q. What is the Church?
A. The Church is the community of the New Covenant.
Q. Why is the Church described as apostolic?
A. The Church is apostolic, because it continues in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles and is sent to carry out Christ’s mission to all people.
Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
“Called In. Sent Out.” is a summation meant to emphasize that we come to the Church as disciples, as learners, to learn the way of Jesus. We are sent out from the Church as apostles, meaning those who are sent, and being sent our task is to pray, worship, proclaim, and promote justice, peace, and love.
We swing in this rhythm over and over, week by week. It is the disciplined life of the Christian. The method by which we are ever being made more ready for our ministry and then being sent out to minister.
Disciple ⇒ Apostle. Disciple ⇒ Apostle. Disciple ⇒ Apostle.
Over and over until they are truly part of us. Until we are not just doing but have become loving, liberating, life-giving ministry for the world.
You see parishes are not the point of this churchy endeavor, not in and of themselves. Neither are dioceses. Congregations or dioceses that exist to ensure their continued existence are the very antithesis of the Jesus Movement. If Jesus had been chiefly interested in his own continuity, what would have become of God’s purpose? The Church and churches are called to be about giving themselves away, about helping disciples learn to walk so closely with Jesus that their lives come to reflect his life. Then the Church — the Jesus Movement Church, not the institutional, corporate church of buildings and wealth — is sent out to do Christ’s healing, reconciling work in a wide, hurting world.
So, I’d like to venture a closing thought.
In my point of view, we, as a diocesan community, have become fearful of material things, which has led us to be too inattentive to spiritual things. How often do you read the Bible? How about engaging in a serious study of the scriptures? How often do you pray? What do you do to deepen your prayer connections to God? How often do you leave worship with a plan to act in kindness and mercy? To promote justice, peace, and love? Why are the concerns of the material world so enthralling when Jesus says that the way to abundant life — for congregations no less than individuals — is to give life away, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” It’s there in three of the Gospels!
What this means is this: as soon as we stop trying to survive, we will learn how to live! “Called In. Sent Out. Building a Community of Purpose.” This is my challenge to you and your parishes and to all The Diocese of West Missouri for the days before us.
“Called In. Sent Out.” Let’s be that Community of Purpose.
As I mentioned, “Called in. Sent out. Building a Community of Purpose” is going to be my theme throughout the next year. I hope you’ll make it your theme, too, in the life of your parish and in your personal life. God needs disciples — life-long learners who foster faith-building communities, and God needs each disciple to be an apostle — one who reaches out from those communities to engage a world that so very, very badly needs the transformation that comes most readily through the Gospel of Christ Jesus.