When I first became conscious of Jesus as a small child, I did not think or feel uncomfortable about his appearance or skin color. Then, as I got older, it occurred to me that Jesus was not like me, especially blond, blue-eyed Jesus, the surfer Jesus. Dark brown-haired Jesus was more comforting, but he still did not look like me. As an adolescent beginning the socialization process, I recall feeling not okay as I became more conscious of my skin color. The message was that there was something wrong with me and my Native people, but I could not understand it.
This was a painful time, not only because Jesus was white, but because I was not, and the white people seemed to either agree with or be influenced by this reality. This judgmental attitude was usually displayed by nervous, uptight behavior when these folks were around me and my family. Then, as I got older, pictures of surfer dude Jesus really pissed me off! By this time, I was conscious of racism and its reality and painful effects. I became defensive about this and angry at white people for what they did to my people and continue to do, via their judgmental attitude towards us. I began to think that Jesus was only in existence for white people and not us people of color.
This month we offer five resources on race and multi-cultural congregations. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.
Many Episcopal parishes have acknowledged that it is past time for The Episcopal Church to confront our nation’s history of systemic racism and to begin building Beloved Community in our congregations and local communities, as we have been enjoined to do by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
Toward this end, ChurchNext, a ministry of Forward Movement, recently launched a free curriculum: Becoming Beloved Community: Understanding Systemic Racism For Individuals and For Groups. This six-session curriculum is available to any individual or congregation seeking deeper understanding of how systemic racism operates in our country and in our church. It is meant as a launching point for congregations and individuals that want to begin taking active steps toward healing our nation and our church from systemic racism and its effects.
"Lead me where people need your words, need my enthusiasm for life; where hope is faint, where joy is scarce, just because they do not know You. I give you my sincere heart to express without fear your greatness, Lord. I will have tireless hands, your story between my lips, and strength in prayer." Alma Misionera is a Spanish song from the Flor y Canto hymnal, and this is part of the English translation. These words were fundamental in cultivating my family's spiritual identity as a whole and my understanding of what it means to mean to a baptized person within this community of faith.
My story begins with my father, Rev. Simon Bautista Betances, an Episcopal priest, alongside my remarkable, devout, trailblazing mother, Amarilis Vargas Bautista. Who together built a loving, fun, creative, respectful, faith-filled, justice-oriented family who were raised to be proud of our Latino heritage and African descendants. Church for the four Bautista children wasn't a bore or a thing we "had" to do just because our father was the Priest. Instead, we marveled at being part of different diverse communities of faith where we were so loved, cared for, and welcomed. We were known as the "missional family," wherever my Dad was called to serve, the Bautista party of six served alongside him. Early on, my curiosity towards the Holy Trinity's mystery and who God was calling me to be settled in. God's calling began when I served as an acolyte at the age of nine years old, and in the moments where with my family, we would pray for the healing of one of our beloved church members. In those moments, I felt a yearning to learn more about this gracious and Holy God. When I could share God's Good News with the campers at City Camp in Philadelphia, I was left restless with how I am called to be part of God's hands and feet on Earth.
A key ingredient for a healthy, vibrant congregation is a strong appreciation for the ministry of the laity as well as the ministry of the clergy. Shared collaborative leadership is critical for the spiritual growth of our congregations. However increasingly, there in an imbalance in our optimal leadership paradigm.
Many congregations are faced with the issue of no permanent clergy leadership and are continuously being served by supply clergy or have no clergy. This situation strains the effectiveness of the lay leadership and worsens the vitality issues of these congregations.
For many search committees, having the opportunity to discern the right clergy is increasingly difficult when there are fewer options. This may lead to a mismatch of expectations and inevitable conflict.
Over the past 500 years, the perception has been that the old world had all the answers: the science, technology, and advanced ways of living. Can that still be said? Or perceived as truth?
We are facing a monumental moral crisis. Consider these observations:
• The United States is deeply divided politically
• Income inequality is at an all-time high; poverty and homelessness are on the rise
• Pollution of the air, water, and land is contributing to climate change
• Rainforests are being destroyed each day, contributing to global warming, and thousands of native people in South America are being killed for trying to protect the earth
• More and more animal species are becoming extinct
• Violence is glorified on TV—guns are becoming a national pastime—some sports have become barbaric (UFC, WWA)—while mental health is in decline
Laughter, games, art activities, punch in little dixie cups, and cookies with cream fillings are what I remember most about Vacation Bible School (VBS) on the Navajo Nation. Churches came in droves to visit and minister to the children and families. It was the place to be for Elementary and Middle School kids. We loved to see all the smiling and welcoming faces of new people from the big cities willing to play with us and read, sometimes ready to teach some kids how to play the piano or the ukulele. The partners all loved to sing bible songs - so loud it seemed the windows would burst.
I was a baptized Episcopalian but VBS and Holidays were mostly the only times I went to church as a child. My parents and most of my relatives in my community follow the ways of Navajo teachings, ceremonies, and prayer. My mother was devout about prayer. Each morning, before the sun began to light up the horizon, she would start her daily prayers.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Miriam McKenney, Forward Movement’s Director of Development and Mission Engagement, to choose five resources for healthy churches that resonated with her. Please find her choices below.
Community college campus ministry is likely the Church’s biggest blind spot, greatest overlooked missional opportunity, and even worse, a prime example of inadvertent systemic racism and classism. Which means it’s time we started asking ourselves, “Who are we missing?”
Over my 25+ years of ordained ministry, I have observed that as a general rule congregations and judicatories seem to put much more resources into campus ministry at 4-year colleges and universities than they do into 2-year community colleges. Not that campus ministries at 4-year institutions get all that much attention compared to typical congregation-based ministries, mind you. Most clergy seem to view campus ministry as a “junior varsity sport” when it comes to vocations, and those who start there quickly come to see congregation-based ministry as a better career move.
COVID-19 and the uprisings in response to the murder of Black bodies have brought into sharp relief the continued economic, health, environmental, and racial injustices and brutalities impacting the Black community. Some have felt helpless, anxious to respond compassionately and participate in effectual work that changes brutal conditions, but feeling at a loss about where to begin, overwhelmed with the magnitude of the task.
And the task is overwhelming. Neither health inequities nor police injustice began with COVID-19. Both are the result of long-term, structural injustices. They are the result of how we are situated socially. Where you find yourself today is the consequence of where you were months or years or even generations ago. Many feel flat-footed because of decades of separation. The good news is, whatever you do now can change where you will be, where we all will be in the future.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked the Rev. Audra Abt, who serves in Greensboro, North Carolina as the Vicar at Church of the Holy Spirit and Mission Developer for Abundant Life Health & Healing, to choose five resources that resonated with her. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
When we started The FaithX Project a little over three years ago, we chose as our mission “helping faith communities survive and thrive in turbulent times.” Little did we know how prophetic those words would be or how turbulent the times we would be working in. In the last three months we have experienced:
A once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that has closed down society, even houses of worship,
An economic collapse to rival the Great Depression, and...
Societal upheaval not seen since the assasination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, which erupted in response to the murder of a unarmed black man by a policeman and to the systemic racism it represented.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked The Rev. Sam Dessórdi Peres Leite, who serves as the Senior Priest at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., to choose five resources that resonated with him. Please find his choices below. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
“What were they thinking?” is often the head-shaking lament of congregational leaders surveying the obstacles inherited from architects and renovators in previous decades. Up three steps to get to the nave, down a flight to reach the fellowship hall, through a narrow hallway to get to a restroom with even narrower stalls.
Recognizing these barriers, many churches really, really try to make changes to increase accessibility. For most of us, our first thoughts are of stairs and restrooms, but there is so much more.
Like so many of my fellow Episcopalians, I love the season of Advent. Really, I like all three winter seasons – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany.
I live in the northern hemisphere, so these winter seasons coincide with the dark days of the year, which match up well with the themes of Jesus, the Light, coming into the darkness of the world. “Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light!”, we pray in the Collect for the first Sunday of Advent. “Jesus, the Light of the World”, we sing in Christmastide. And, in the season of Epiphany, we celebrate at that we are “the light of the world”, called to carry that light out for all the world to see.
But, in recent years, I’ve had my consciousness raised by the testimony of dark-skinned clergy and laity, those for whom the popular hymn, “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus” causes pain.
In our congregations as well as dioceses we oftentimes have the opportunity to hire a new staff person whether a youth director, financial officer, musician, administrator or sexton. A question for us all is whether we are using good HR (human resource) practices to hire these individuals or are we filling these positions with “Family and Friends”.
Recently at our commission meeting we compiled a list of best practices for lay positions which are below. Do consider as leaders how well we are adhering to these items.
· Form search committees for appropriate lay positions across the church
· Utilize best practices for the job search process to maximize interest from lay people
· Determine whether positions being considered for clergy can also be performed by lay
· Determine whether lay positions being considered are for Episcopalians only or can be filled by those familiar with the Episcopal church
In August 2019 we commemorated the Quadricentennial (400, 3:00 pm, in remembrance of this critical date. There were also events in Ghana celebrated as the “Year of the Return” encouraging visits to the place of origin for many African-Americans. I also visited Jamestown this summer and learned a lot more about our American history including the critical role of the church in the chaotic times of the countries’ formation.
Commemorations are also very important in our church life, regardless of whether we are celebrating a tragic or happy event or flawed or heroic individuals. The church has provided us with liturgical resources including Holy Women Holy Men, and more recently A Great Cloud of Witnesses to highlight the many individuals who through their lives have furthered the ministry and mission of the church. Many churches do commemorate their own patron saint, however so many more can be explored and utilized from our church history.
This article is also available in English here. Este artículo está disponible en ingles aquí.
Hablar de crecimiento espiritual no es una tarea fácil. Es un tema que se puede mirar desde un sin número de perspectivas porque lo que funciona para una persona, no necesariamente funciona para la otra. Sin embargo, todos podemos estar de acuerdo en que queremos crecer espiritualmente; tener una vida espiritual más rica y profunda. Lo difícil es descubrir cómo lograr ese tan deseado crecimiento. Especialmente si somos parte de algún grupo minoritario.
Si eres miembro de la comunidad LGBTQI+, una minoría racial o de género, sabes de lo que hablo. No es fácil crecer cuando se está tratando de sobrevivir y cuando además, estás buscando cómo sanar las heridas que muchas veces nos ha causado la religión y/o alguna iglesia.
Talking about spiritual growth is not an easy task. It is a topic that can be viewed from a number of perspectives because what works for one person does not necessarily work for another. However, we can all agree that we want to grow spiritually; have a richer and deeper spiritual life. The hard part is discovering how to achieve that much-desired growth. Especially if we are part of a minority group.
If you are a member of the LGBTQI+ community, a racial or gender minority, you know what I'm talking about. It is not easy to grow when you are trying to survive and when you are also trying to heal the wounds that were caused by religion or a church.
In my opinion, the first thing is to stop justifying our existence before those who deny our humanity. The Bible has been used to oppress women, the LGBTQI+ community and those of us who are not white. Putting ourselves on an equal footing is very exhausting. The best thing is to rest in the love of God, being sure that God loves us just as we are and created us as God’s sons and daughters.