The diocese recently held its annual Summer Church Summit. In case you don’t know or were not able to attend, the Summit happens each August, is open to all those who worship in West Missouri churches, and presents constructive ideas for increasing the effectiveness of the witness and outreach of our parishes.
This year’s Summit focused on the needs we have individually, and as eucharistic communities collectively to prepare for our outreach ministries, such as evangelism, advocacy, charity, etc. The premise of the Summit was captured in its theme: “You Can’t Be a Beacon if Your Light Don’t Shine.” What that means is simple and at the same time complex. Unless we are formed in faith and consistently strive to personify the light of Christ, we will fall short as evangelists — as those who share the Faith — as ambassadors for Christ.
At the conclusion of the Summit, the Canon to the Ordinary, The Rev. Dr. Steve Rottgers, and I were musing about the day. It had been a good day. There was a lot of good sharing. Amid our pleasant conversation, we started to think about the attraction of epic stories. There are many epic stories, and each of us probably has a favorite.
What is an epic story? And what makes an epic story epic, rather than just a regular, old story?
An epic story is commonly recognized to be a large body of work (from literature, theater, cinema, etc.) that can be broken down into several smaller stories. The word epic is also applied to be a work that tells a heroic story or relates something courageous, intrepid, or grand. Examples of epic stories from literature would include: Paradise Lost, Beowulf, The Hobbit & the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, Ramayana, The Iliad, and more. The Star Wars series is a big production, epic movie with multiple sequels and a sweeping story line.
Crossing over between literary and cinematic worlds would be the aforementioned The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as well as Game of Thrones, and the Harry Potter series of books and movies.
Christian Formation is the internal, intentional process of becoming heroes. Of daily becoming more and more like our hero, Jesus.
People love these stories, and that holds true across all cultures and languages. Heroes remind folk of something big and bold and worthy of their toil and devotion. The courage and triumphs of heroes renew our values, inspire our efforts, and affirm what we understand to be true. Heroes elevate us emotionally; they heal our psychological ills; they build connections between people; they encourage us to transform ourselves for the better; and they call us to become heroes and to help others.
The reason Canon Steve and I got into this conversation is that we realize the Bible is an epic story, and the Bible presents a hero named Jesus who truly fulfills the role of hero. Let me paraphrase what I said a paragraph earlier.
Jesus reminds folk of something big and bold and worthy of their toil and devotion. The courage and triumphs of Jesus renew our values, inspire our efforts, and affirm what we understand to be true. Jesus elevates us emotionally; Jesus heals our psychological ills; Jesus builds connections between people; Jesus encourages us to transform ourselves for the better; and Jesus calls us to become heroes and to help others.
That last line — about becoming heroes — is where the message of the Summer Church Summit intersects with all my babble about heroes and epic stories. You may never have thought of it this way before, but Christian Formation (meaning what we do to build faith) is the internal, intentional process of becoming heroes. Of daily becoming more and more like our hero, Jesus. Of growing into the moral likeness of Jesus. Of letting God seep deeper and deeper into our lives so that the way we interact with the world becomes the way God interacts with the world.
This hero-building process is the only thing that provides us something to share with the individuals we meet and the world communally. If we do not have light, we cannot shine. If we are not filled with living water, we cannot give another a drink. If we are spiritually empty, we cannot guide another to spiritual life.
That is why the theme of last year’s annual, Diocesan Convention was “Called In. Sent Out. Building a Community of Purpose”. The theme recognized that we are called in to be readied to go out. We are called in for discipleship and sent out as apostles of the Good News. That’s what the Church is for. To call us in, to ready us, and to send us out. The institutional Church is not the point or the aim. Spreading the Gospel of Christ Jesus in a world that badly needs God’s love and nurture is the point and our aim.
I fell that this truth is so important that our upcoming, Diocesan Convention (November 3-4 in Springfield) will continue in the same vein with the theme: “Called In. Sent Out. One Ministry in West Missouri”.
What practices do you have in place that help you day-by-day to open yourself to God that he may seep deeper and deeper into your being? How do you unlock yourself more and more to the Holy Spirit?
And how does your parish or congregation do that? How does your Eucharistic community open itself to God? What are you doing as a community to help those who are open and seeking to deepen their faith, to be readied to serve God in the world, and more fully to respond to the call of God?
At convention, we will learn, talk, and be challenged on this subject much more. Even if you are not a delegate, you are welcome and encouraged to attend.
The Rt. Rev. Martin Scott Field (Bishop Marty) is the eighth bishop of The Diocese of West Missouri.
Since the lead up to the Presiding Bishop’s visit in May 2017, we in The Diocese of West Missouri have been putting a lot of emphasis on evangelism and Christian formation. I would like to tell you of two leadership opportunities in evangelism and initial formation. The Commission on Ministry has defined two licenses for leadership in these areas. One is “Evangelist” and the other is “Catechist”. The Bishop Kemper School for Ministry (BKSM) has devised two curricula to prepare potential licensees.
A licensed Evangelist is a lay person who coordinates and facilitates the evangelism activities of a congregation or other ministry (like campus ministry, for example). The license does not necessarily imply direct evangelism, like going door to door. Rather, we envision groups of persons working as a team with leadership from the Evangelist and clergy.
The same sort of structure would also be true for a Catechist. A Catechist is a lay person who coordinates and facilitates the preparation of (mostly new) members for baptism, confirmation, reception in The Episcopal Church, or the reaffirmation of baptismal vows. The Catechist would work with clergy and sponsors to help prepare persons for these rites.
Both of these licenses fit together as part of the ancient, and modern, Catechumenate. The Catechumenate has four stages:
Evangelism — where we seek out and invite new persons to the Christian faith and the Episcopal Church, or as the Presiding Bishop puts it, the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.
Catechumenate –where we he help persons to learn how to live and worship within our faith communities.
Enlightenment –where we prepare persons for the rites of Baptism or Confirmation, etc., frequently during Lent.
Mystagogy — after the rite of baptism or confirmation where we help the person to live into their vows and to take their next steps in formation and discipleship, frequently during the Easter season.
I invite you to look up these licenses and requirements of the diocesan website, and I also invite you to check out the curriculum at BKSM — links to both are provided below. See if it might be something for you.
I would invite anyone who is curious to consider auditing one of the courses in the curricula. For the Catechist license, I recommend taking “Adult Catechesis and Formation”. The classroom time for this course will be October 13-14, with reading starting September 10. For the Evangelist license, I recommend taking “Contemporary Mission”. The classroom for that will be November 10-11, with reading starting October 15.
The cost for auditing is $100 per course, and you can register on the BKSM website.
During my 32+ years as a parish priest, I’ve watched many a New Year’s Resolution falter and fail within days and weeks of its initial formation. I’ve since adopted a KISS attitude by keeping intended hopes, plans and goals for a New Year to a healthy list of 1-3 items.
I’ve seen the same format playout with Congregations and their hopes, plans and goals for a New Year and Vestry leadership become overwhelmed with well-intended lists of 12-15 points. Ignoring the basic Pareto (80/20) Rule, many frustrations and dashed expectations replace the initial hopes, dreams, plans, and goals.
For this year, 2018, I’m encouraging all clergy, vestries, book clubs, laity, and leadership of all sorts to consider a simple yet transformative path. It’s in the form of a Book Study Challenge. There is no hard “Start” date and no hard “Finish Line” for this plan, yet it does depend upon a thread of commitment on an individual or congregational level to just “Do It!”
Here’s The Plan
Gather a group of your choosing such as a Sunday Forum, Book Club, Friendship Circle etc. that will commit to a regular time frame to read and gather to discuss the appointed reading material. (Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.)
Commit to agreed assigned segments/chapters to be read for each period.
The Scriptural Reading List is to be from the New Testament Book of Acts (The Good Book Club has a Lent/Easter program reading the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts that would be an option for use)
The Co-Reading Text for the Epiphany-Lent Segment of the year is: Beating the Boundaries — the Church God is Calling Us to Be by The Rev. John Spicer, Rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City.
The co-reading text for the Easter-Pentecost Segment of the year is Cultivating An Evangelistic Church by The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers and Ms. Carrie Boren Headington.
The discussion/study outline is simple for all to participate and be heard
What point, thought or idea interests me from the assigned reading of Acts and/or the Co-Reading material?
Why does that point resonate with you and perhaps is touching a Passion or Interest?
Is there a possible crossover from being just reading material too seriously needing to be studied/explored further and perhaps initiating a plan to make it a reality in your life or the life of your congregation?
Finally, we invite you to come with your group and share your insights, applications or ideas at the Summer Church Summit, Calvary Episcopal Church in Sedalia on Saturday, August 25th, 2018.
Canon Steve is Canon to the Ordinary with The Diocese of West Missouri.
When Jesus of Nazareth began his brief (one to three years) ministry, he did not, while on Earth, start a new religion. What he started was a movement to reform certain practices and focuses of Judaism, his religion.
Which is why religion scholars — the best ones, anyway — don’t refer to Jesus’ 12 apostles as Christians. And they say it’s anachronistic to speak of Christianity as a separate religion from Judaism until decades after Jesus’ time. The term they most often use to refer to people attracted to the life and message of Jesus in the early years is the Jesus Movement.
Michael B. Curry , presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, thinks it’s time for a renewed Jesus Movement, one that draws its focus and energy from the teachings of Jesus and that de-emphasizes the institutional nature of the church.
Curry was in Kansas City (and Springfield, Missouri) this past weekend for an event called “Awakening the Spirit.” I had a chance to talk with him at the Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City before he addressed the crowd there.
“… whether it’s the church or any organization or institution, the further it gets away from its reason for being, the weaker it becomes. And the closer it gets to its reason for being, the stronger it will be.” —
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
“I really believe,” he told me, “that whether it’s the church or any organization or institution, the further it gets away from its reason for being, the weaker it becomes. And the closer it gets to its reason for being, the stronger it will be. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been using the language of the church being a Jesus movement. That’s where the origins are. Jesus began a movement and that movement gathered around him and changed lives.”
For the institutional church, he said, it means “reclaiming who you are. The closer we are to our deepest roots as followers of Jesus of Nazareth I think the more effective we will be in engaging the culture and being a witness in our time.”
I asked him how a church can appeal to people rooted in our 21st Century scientific culture and worldview who struggle to make sense of stories from the gospels about the virgin birth, resurrection, a man who can walk on water and calm stormy seas with a word.
Curry said the thing to do is to focus not on those things but on the loving spirit of Jesus and how we might acquire that same kind of spirit: “Then the kind of life that Jesus lived becomes a possibility for me now.” Rather than getting stuck in arguments about whether Jesus really drove demons out of people or raised Lazarus from the dead, he said, people should try to live in ways that mirror the spirit of Jesus. “That’s a game changer,” he said.
Christianity is really quite simple, he said: “Love God, love thy neighbor. That’s the whole kit and caboodle.”
Curry said he’s “finding a receptivity” to his idea of describing his denomination as “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. It’s reclaiming who we are in the first place. It’s not actually anything new. It’s going down to our deep roots … This is a cause, a cause that actually changed lives and changed the world for good.”
The Episcopal Church, like such Mainline Protestant churches as the Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians, has seen its membership numbers decline in recent years for a number of reasons, including people who left the church when it began ordaining otherwise-qualified gays and lesbians. That’s what is bringing the United Methodist Church to the edge of schism today, as I wrote about recently here. But the core issue is not about sexuality but about how to interpret the Bible.
So Curry is right to try to return to the center of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ himself. Whether the Episcopal Church as an institution can deliver that message in an effective way — or whether some new forms of messenger are needed — isn’t yet clear. Often across history the institutional church universal (not just the Episcopalians) has been as much a hindrance to the message as a help.
Maybe the Jesus movement Curry is promoting can help to change that.
Bill Tammeus writes about religion and ethics and is a former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star.
I see crowds of young people arriving at a nearby church as I walk to the bus stop on my way to the Cathedral Sunday mornings. I admire this thriving church’s ministry to my neighborhood.
Doing interfaith work in the community for 35 years convinces me that there ought to be different churches because people have different needs. Different religions are gifts to us, not threats.
Still, I doubt that most young people, whether they attend church or not, are conscious of how our culture frames religion and limits their ways of accessing the most sacred treasures of faith. I worry that we Episcopalians are unintentionally hiding the treasures we cherish. I reckon a good number of the young people I see would be astonished and grateful to learn about our evolving Episcopalian tradition.
1. Cultural framing
To most media, religion is regularly told as conflict, abuse, and other forms of oppression, and even anti-science. I need not give examples. The “nones,” the expanding number of folks with no faith affiliation, often explain their rejection of organized religion with a sense of righteousness, unsullied from the institutional corruption the media report. “I can be spiritual by myself,” they sometimes claim.
Many “nones” reject religion because they find it incredible, superstitious, or repulsive. “Do you really insist that God sent those Ten Plagues to the Egyptians and killed their innocent firstborn children and animals?”
For some who do go to church, the motivation is personal guilt, or to make or connect with friends, to enjoy musical entertainment, and so many other reasons. One of my students wanted to survey his church to find out why people attended. He received answers such as the church is nearby, the windows are pretty, the preacher is friendly, the grandmother helped found the church — none of the responses concerned the stated beliefs of the church. Which is profoundly ironic since most people associate religion with beliefs. When I was asked by the Kansas City Star to write a weekly religion column (which I did for eighteen years), my column’s name was “Faith and Beliefs” even though I told my editors beliefs are not important in most religions.
For example, to be Jewish, you don’t need to believe anything. You can be a good Jew and an atheist. You simply need to have a Jewish mother. You can believe in one god, or no god, or 330 million gods and be a good Hindu. The Buddhist Heart Sutra denies the basic doctrine of the Buddha to teach that what is important is not belief but practice.
Scholars sometimes identify dimensions of religion with four C’s: Creed (belief), Cultus (rituals), Community, and Code (moral expectations). Different faiths and different adherents may emphasize one or two of these dimensions over others.
Nonetheless, the persistent modern framing of religion as belief is, in my view, problematic.
2. The Sacred Story
As the great late sociologist of religion Robert Bellah, an Episcopalian, has demonstrated in a lifetime of scholarship, religion is a sacred story. Most scholars, I think, agree. The four C’s are ways of understanding, reenacting, sharing, and behaving in harmony with the story.
Since the time of the first Book of Common Prayer, 1549, the meaning of “belief” has changed. Then it meant something more like “trust” or “commitment to.” When a wife says of her husband, or a producer says of one’s actor, or a partisan says of one’s candidate, “I believe in them,” this is not so much a factual statement as a declaration of relationship. “Belief” derives from the same Latin root as libido, desire, and is akin to the German liebe, beloved. It’s not about facts. It’s about a bond.
When I say I believe in Jesus, I am not affirming any historical or theological speculation; rather, I am belonging to Him. Instead of a virtual faith confined to a compartment of my mind with answers to theological questions, Jesus becomes the Bread and Word for my whole life.
The 20th Century Anglican poet T. S. Eliot theorized that the power of 17th Century poets like John Donne, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, is in part due to the fact that they wrote before the “dissociation of sensibility,” when thinking and feeling were still united. Then belief and be-love were the same.
Believing in the Christian story is not singularly an intellectual decision. When I recite the Creed, I am outlining a cosmic story of salvation in which I am involved, not a scientific proof (The Latin word credo has many meanings including “to entrust.”)
Belief in the shallow sense of cerebral assent hinders us from understanding who we are from stories. This is so, even of fiction. Anglicans defended the fiction of Elizabethan theater against the Puritans who decried the stage because it was not true. The enjoyment and benefit of fiction, from Aesop’s fables to your favorite movies, arises from encountering them with a “willing suspension of disbelief,” in the phrase of Anglican poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Another Anglican poet, W. H. Auden wrote, “It is as meaningless to ask whether one believes or disbelieves in Aphrodite or Ares as to ask whether one believes in a character in a novel; one can only say that one finds them true or untrue to life. To believe in Aphrodite and Ares merely means that one believes that the poetic myths about them do justice to the forces of sex and aggression as human beings experience them in nature and in their own lives.”
Our story is genuine, and we participate in it and are formed by it. The Palm Sunday parade, the Maundy Thursday washing of feet, and the Good Friday adoration of the cross, as examples, are no more superstitious than a client following a therapist’s suggestion to “place your deceased mother in this chair and tell her how you miss her.” Neither is about facts so much as about a relationship which ritual appreciation or therapeutic methods may deepen.
So we can tell that story of the Ten Plagues of Egypt as a spur to our evolving questions about how to live in the light of the Gospel.
3. What Episcopalians Can Offer
To the “nones,” we can offer a spiritual reframing service. We can replace a superficial, virtual frame of religion with what is genuine. God is not an HD display idea; God is reality. Over the virtual we chose embodiment. Christ is incarnate. Religion is less as an inventory of disputed facts and more as a sacred story. Instead of religion focused on concepts, we offer a faith embracing and balancing creed, cultus, community, and code, each dimension of the holy narrative.
Since becoming an Episcopalian seven years ago, I’ve often visited with young people about what they desire in religion. From these conversations, I am convinced our living heritage offers what the future needs. Reframing is the first step.
Young people want to participate, belong to an open tradition that requires something of them, something like the ancient meaning of “belief.” In a future article, I’ll suggest how our tradition of table and word offers fulfillment, but the way we present our faith may yet be clarified and our mission in the Jesus Movement enhanced.
Vern Barnet’s latest book is Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire. He previously wrote for The Kansas City Star.
On Saturday May 6, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joined the Diocese of West Missouri in the first half of the Awakening the Spirit in West Missouri held at Kansas City Live! This Awakening is the second of five planned evangelism events to be held during 2017.
Before arriving at Kansas City Live, the Presiding Bishop spent time with the youth of the diocese, the Diocese of Kansas, and the Diocese of Iowa at St Paul’s Episcopal Church Kansas City.
Between 800 and 1000 people attended the event, along with passing foot traffic for the nearby Garth Brooks concert.
Image credit: Gary Zumwalt
Image credit: Mary Ann Teschan
Image credit: Gary Allman
Image credit: Gary Zumwalt
Image credit: Mary Ann Teschan
Image credit: Gary Zumwalt
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joining in with the hymns before preaching about the Jesus Movement at Kansas City Live! Image credit: Gary Allman
Image credit: Mary Ann Teschan
Image credit: Gary Zumwalt
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Image credit: Gary Zumwalt
Image credit: Gary Zumwalt
Image credit: Gary Allman
Image credit: Mary Ann Teschan
Image credit: Gary Zumwalt
Image credit: Mary Ann Teschan
Image credit: Mary Ann Teschan
Mary Ann Teschan
(The event starts at around 7:09)
Gary Allman is Communications Director with The Diocese of West Missouri.
Awakening the Spirit in West Missouri – on Sunday May 7, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joined the Diocese of West Missouri at Hammons Field Springfield in the second half of the second of five planned evangelism events to be held during 2017.
I was at the church for a Commission on Ministry meeting to discuss how to organize all the Commission’s documents and information on the diocesan website.
On my way in I spotted Bob, who was there for an event in the parish hall. Our interaction was limited to waving to each other as we headed in our separate directions. After my meeting I took some moments to pass the time of day with a few volunteers clearing up after the event. I was headed towards the door when I noticed Bob coming towards me. I stopped. He walked up to me, shook my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “I miss you. I miss you. I miss you and your family. If there is anything I can do, let me know.” Very simple, and also very moving.
Bob was not only being kind and genuine; he was also providing an excellent example of what evangelism can look like in The Episcopal Church. He shows how we can reach out very simply and with few words and yet still have an impact on the lives of others around us.
What we do need to change is our propensity for being reserved and hiding our light under a bushel.
Elsewhere in this issue you’ll find an account of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s recent Revival in Pittsburgh. The events being held in West Missouri on Saturday and Sunday, May 6 & 7 will be somewhat different to those in Pittsburgh, and we are calling our events ‘Awakenings’. There are similarities, and these events are tied back to Bob’s example, as we found out at February’s Evangelism Workshops. At the workshops we were shown that Episcopalians can be evangelists, and really we don’t need to change much to do so. We just need to carry on the work we do in the community, and the quiet works of help and love we give to friends, family and those we encounter along the way. What we do need to change is our propensity for being reserved and hiding our light under a bushel.
When you are serving in the community tell them which church you go to. Want something really simple to do? Follow the example of St. Stephen’s, Monnet. They took a diocesan advertising grant and invested it in St. Stephen’s tee shirts, so that wherever they go and whatever they are doing, they are taking their church with them and introducing it to people. Have printed calling cards for all your members is another simple thing to do. When you are working in the community, be proud to be Episcopalian. Tell them about the church you attend. Don’t be shy! Welcome questions about your church; answer them. Tell them about our wonderful music, our moving liturgy, fellowship and the way in which we welcome everyone. If people are interested, invite them to join you at a service. Keep it simple, and it will be painless.
Gary Allman is Communications Director with The Diocese of West Missouri
The old church tradition of the revival received new life in the Diocese of Pittsburgh Feb. 3-5 with a distinctly Episcopal feel. The emphasis was on both sparking individuals’ faith lives and a commitment to show the love of Jesus beyond the four walls of their churches. Anchoring Episcopal revivals in the needs of the world was a constant theme of the weekend.
“Episcopal Church, we need you to follow Jesus. We need you to be the countercultural people of God who would love one another, who would care when others could care less, who would give, not take,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said during his Feb. 5 sermon at Calvary Episcopal Church in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
For those who think the words Episcopal and revival don’t go together, the size of the crowds, the depth of their emotion and Curry’s insistence begged to differ.
His prayer for this and subsequent revivals, he said during one of his four sermons, is that they will be the beginning of “a way of new life for us as this wonderful Episcopal Church, bearing witness to the love of God in Jesus in this culture and in this particular time in our national history.”
Curry’s Pilgrimage for Reconciliation, Healing and Evangelism in Southwestern Pennsylvania is the first of six revivals being planned with diocesan teams in different cities around the country and the world this year and in 2018.
“I want to suggest this morning that we need a revival inside the church and out – not just in the Episcopal Church. For there is much that seeks to articulate itself as Christianity that doesn’t look anything like Jesus,” Curry said in his Feb. 4 sermon during an Absalom Jones Day Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross. “And if it doesn’t walk and talk and look and smell like Jesus, it’s not Christian … and if it’s going to look like Jesus, it’s got to look like love.”
Curry said the revival of the church, centered in God’s love, is not about a church rejuvenated for its own sake. The church’s revival must spill God’s love out into the world “until justice rolls down like a mighty stream,” he said, echoing Micah. To do that, a revival must channel the emotions of the moment toward something bigger and lasting, Curry said during a news conference. “It is about claiming new and authentic and genuine life. That’s true for our nation, true for our world. We must find better ways to live together, to care for each other, to care for our society and to care for our global communities,” he said.
“We who are followers of Jesus believe that the way of love and the way of Jesus is the key to doing that. But, we join hands with people of other faiths and people of goodwill – anyone who wants to help us end what so often is a nightmare of poverty and injustice and bigotry and wrong and violence, and realize God’s dream of true harmony and peace and justice for everybody.”
The six revivals will vary in design, according to a recent press release, but most will be multi-day events that feature dynamic worship and preaching, offerings from local artists and musicians, personal testimony and storytelling, speakers, invitations to local social action, engagement with young leaders, and intentional outreach with people who aren’t active in a faith community.
The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Creation, is organizing those efforts, along with a team including Consulting Evangelist for Revivals Carrie Headington and Evangelism Associate Emily Gallagher. The planning for each begins with asking diocesan members what the good news of Jesus looks like in their communities. Pittsburgh Episcopalians discerned that the good news would help them cross the divides of their area, build relationships with neighbors of different traditions and start reconciling with each other, Spellers said during the news conference. Thus, that was the theme of the Pittsburgh gathering.
She and others will return to the dioceses after the revivals to work with Episcopalians to cultivate a group of leaders who have new abilities, new relationships and a new common purpose to further enact Jesus’ love in their communities.
“Hopefully, Pittsburgh – not just the diocese but the city and surrounding communities – will look different. And they’ll feel like there was a church that showed up, not only to talk about good news but to be good news,” she said, describing the hoped-for outcome. Episcopalians will understand that they have grown into being new leaders of the Jesus Movement, she added.
Curry’s call for reconciliation and healing first rang out Feb. 3 during the opening event, an ecumenical service of repentance and reconciliation at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Hicks Chapel.
“I am more and more convinced that Jesus came among us to show us how to become more than simply the human race,” Curry said. “He came to show us how to become the human family of God. And, my brothers and my sisters, in that is our hope and in that is our calling.”
God is calling Christians to a deep and radical sense of repentance, Curry said. The world needs such a manifestation of Christianity, he contended, because it will lead to a desperately needed reconciliation among a litany of ethnic groups and even among “red folk and blue folk,” referring to the nation’s political divisions. Finding ways for Republicans and Democrats to discover common ground echoed through Curry’s sermons.
The congregation greeted Curry’s words at the seminary with murmurings of assent, shouts of agreement and, soon, drum rolls and keyboard riffs from the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church choir, whose members also sang during the service. That audience participation was hallmark of all four of Curry’s sermons during the weekend and it included the Presiding Bishop leading every congregation in song.
Curry sounded a theme that would echo throughout the weekend: Christians must be people of compassion, people of goodwill, people who dare to live the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ words in the Matthew 25:31-46. For instance, he said, people setting social policy or enacting legislation ought to measure it by the core Christian value of “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Twelve leaders and senior pastors from local Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and African-American churches gathered with elected and civic leaders and members of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for the service that many called a historic commitment to ecumenical conversation. The revival began with a revival of the clergy’s commitment to their ministry. Pittsburgh’s Roman Catholic Bishop, David Zubik, began a 10-part confession based on the Church of Scotland’s Ministerial Challenge of 1671, lamenting clergy’s attention to the business and accolades of the world. “We have been unfaithful to our own souls, and to our sisters and brothers; unfaithful in the pulpit, in fellowship, in discipline, in the Church,” Zubik said.
Curry met the next morning with some of the youth of the diocese at Holy Cross in the struggling Homewood West neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Telling them that they were growing up in a time of complex change, he said technological progress is important but “progress as a way of love, progress in living, progress in learning how to live together in all of our differences and varieties may be the ultimate progress that will make the difference for us all.”
After the breakfast meeting, Curry went upstairs for a rousing Absalom Jones Day Eucharist in the packed nave. During his sermon, the Presiding Bishop continued his call for Christians to act out of the selfless love exemplified by Jesus on the cross rather than “unenlightened self-interest.”
Saying that the “way of love can save us all,” Curry asked the congregation to imagine how legislatures, corporate boardrooms, schools and health care in America would be different if they were approached “not by what I can get out of it but how it serves the common good.”
“We are talking about a revolution of values,” he said, having left the pulpit to preach from the center aisle. “Revival means to give life; it’s resurrection. Imagine our country, imagine what we would say to the immigrant and refugee, imagine what America would say to the rest of the world, imagine what the rest of the world would say to us if that way of love became our way.”
Heading to the end of his sermon Curry told the congregation: “Don’t be afraid to be people of love. Don’t be afraid to stand up for the name of Jesus. Don’t be afraid to reclaim this faith again. And don’t you be ashamed to be an Episcopalian.”
As an Episcopal sort of altar call, Curry invited people to sing “There Is a Balm in Gilead” in which Christians are told that it does not matter if they are not good at preaching or praying. Instead, they should simply tell someone else about the love of Jesus. “As we sing, in your own way I invite you to recommit – or commit – yourself to following the way of Jesus, to being a part of his movement in this world,” the presiding bishop said.
Curry returned to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary that afternoon to welcome Episcopalians and others from across the diocese for a conversation billed as “Bridging Divides and Healing Communities” and aimed at beginning to form relationships among individuals and churches in hopes that they can work together to address hopelessness, poverty and addiction in local communities.
Kim Karashin, Pittsburgh’s Canon for Mission, told Episcopal News Service before the conversations began that the “best case scenario” for the gathering would be that people agree to meet again to talk about these issues but that this gathering was about getting to know each other. “We’re not going to move the needle without building relationships,” she said.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who joined in welcoming people to the conversation, said later during the news conference that Pittsburgh is a divided community needing this sort of training in conversation to cultivate leaders who can step in during emergencies and try to move people into productive ways of acting.
“Pulling a community together only happens with things like this,” he said. “You have to be pro-active; you can’t wait until something happens. It’s taking these actions that will help build those bridges that we speak about.”
The last day of the Pittsburgh revival featured two Eucharists: the first at Calvary Episcopal Church, and the second 40 minutes away at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, McKeesport, in the economically struggling Monongahela River Valley south of Pittsburgh. Representatives of nearly three dozen Episcopal congregations gathered at St. Stephen’s to support “The Mon Valley Mission,” which is a new effort to revive the faith and well-being of the river communities.
Curry used the morning’s gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well to tell the McKeesport congregation that God pushes people to build bridges between people who society says are enemies. In their conversations at the well, Curry said, both Jesus and the Samaritan woman learn something about each other and themselves. Moreover, the woman discovered within her the image of God and she experienced the love of God as being active in her life, he said.
The service ended with Curry commissioning all 320 people in attendance to be disciples sharing the good news of Jesus.
The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.