The dark pandemic storm caught congregations in their own deep and familiar forests. Paths habitually taken to stay safe and comfortable suddenly washed away. Lightning-like bolts of truth jarred the consciences of many in pulpits and in pews.
As the storm subsides, some congregations, realizing they are still in the dark about the impacts of racism, injustice or poverty in their own communities, are heading out with flashlights or even flood lights. They are peering into nearby neighborhoods to discover ministry needs.
Certainly many needs exist, but how are churches to discover what God is calling them to find? One way is to simultaneously turn on another search beam – one pointing inward. This can be just as intimidating because shortcomings have a way of blocking light.
One year ago, we watched in horror as George Floyd was murdered, those images still scarred in our memories, captured by a strong, faithful witness. We had been in pandemic lockdown for so long, so much festering and boiling over. Then face-to-face with a veritable series of pandemics – deep systemic injustice, especially around issues of race in our nation, and Covid-19, as well.
The Episcopal Church will mark and mourn this anniversary, and rightly so. Our church stood, then, and stands up, now, against “the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God” and “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” The Episcopal Church, shaped as we’ve been these past several generations by the words of the baptismal covenant, not only knows the words by heart but carries them into the public square. Of this, I am proud to be an Episcopalian: striving for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human person.
Many Americans witnessed the siege of the Capitol building on January 6th, just as Congress was certifying the electors in our most recent Presidential election. Irrespective of where you place yourself on the American political spectrum, it was shocking, and a horrible scene of violence. And yet, it must be said, that the insurrection of January 6th 2021 by domestic terrorists was the logical culmination of four years of dehumanizing rhetoric and actions. As the majority religion of the United States, we Christians are culpable and complicit, because far too many of us did not exercise our political values in concert with our baptismal faith to speak out against the President’s reckless words and behavior. Far too many of us preferred to remain silent through these tumultuous four years, and that silence has come home to roost.
The liturgy of the Episcopal Church is strikingly beautiful. The revenant execution of both Word and Sacrament draws many to a deeper relationship with God. But if we’re honest, many of us in the Body of Christ have witnessed another liturgy at work within its members, revealing a corporate disease of the heart. To clarify, I will give an example of the ritual within this sinful liturgy.
Approximately 3 years ago, I was a new doctoral student and had been an aspirant to Holy Orders for quite some time. I was also working full time at an Episcopal Church in the North Texas area. I was well aware that locally, only about two or three Black people had made it through the discernment process, but I was hopeful. However, shortly after my start in the church, both parish and diocesan leadership decided to place a white male from another diocese, who had yet to finish his prerequisite seminary education, at the church for the discernment process. They wanted me to help train him yet denied my own discernment process. When I began to speak up about what I and others saw as racial injustice, they removed me and tried to silence me.
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.
“Love God. Love your neighbor. Change the world.” In my diocese, we all know this catchphrase by heart. I thought of it again as the grief, anger, and frustration of the black community erupted after the senseless death of George Floyd. As a seemingly unending video reel of protest, violence, and outrage played on social media, I felt more and more isolated and frustrated as a woman of color—not only in the world, but particularly in the church. I love God. I love my neighbor. But can the world actually change?
Our faith says yes. The world can change if we change it. Doing so requires us to be open to times like these – transformative spaces of immense spiritual growth that have the potential to change us forever. If we are able to be resilient in those times, we can adapt to the stressors of spiritual growth constructively, remaining grounded yet responsive, open to all potential possibilities. When we emerge from these times of intense spiritual growth, our transformation strengthens our discipleship and changes how we encounter the world. I am interested in how best to equip lay and ordained leaders for this kind of transformation by providing trauma- and psychologically-informed support, grounded in spiritual practice, that encourages us to be resilient as we transform.
When we think of Dr. King most of us remember his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered to those gathered around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. in 1963. There have been few memorable speeches made before or since then. The words of Dr. King will linger on for many more years to come. He dreamed of a day when racial justice and equality would come true. Of course, with all the recent tragic events happening in our country his dream has yet to be completely fulfilled.
Some of you are too young to understand what certain Americans had to endure
Some of you never saw the separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks or colored balconies in movie theatres
Some of you are too young to understand how a tired seamstress, named Rosa Parks, could be thrown in jail and fined simply because she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus so a white man could sit down
And that list could go on and on.
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.