What do we really long for?
By: The Rev. Tom Brackett, Manager for Church Planting and Mission Development
Over the last 13 years in this position, I have frequently been asked, “What are the factors that lead to the successful redevelopment of a dying congregation?” Some of those asking can remember when there was a buzz of excitement about partnering with the Holy Spirit in the care and nurture of their respective neighborhoods. They remember when worship was multigenerational and well-attended so the question carries with it a mix of longing and hopefulness … a longing for what was and the hope that the spirit of those days might yet be restored. When I am in the presence of that longing, right before I answer, I often remember the moment when the rich-young-ruler asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer Jesus gives him was so disappointing that the man walked away and the conversation was over (as best we can tell). What did Jesus say to this Inquirer? “Go sell everything you have and give the sale proceeds away.” Basically, cast off your identity as one who is rich … one who is youthful … and one who has power over others … give that all away if you want to join me in the Abundant Life I offer.
Of course, I cannot really know the hearts of the church leaders with whom I work but I do know that we serve in a denomination that longs to be financially independent (rich); longs to lower the average age of its membership (young); and longs to be the influential center of society (ruler). It may be much easier then to answer the question in this way, “Well, it depends – how much do you love your neighbors? Do you love your neighbors as much as you love the Episcopal Church? Do you care about the well-being of your neighborhood children as much or more than our beautiful liturgies and buildings?”
Quietly, in my own heart, I know that they are the only ones who can answer the question they’ve brought me and I also know that they have to hear for themselves the urging of Jesus in that moment, “Go and sell.” Give away everything you have insured and safe-guarded – give it all away for the sake of love for the “other.” But then, get ready to be surprised. That brown person you felt sorry for will be the one who nurtures you back to health after it seems all is lost. The Hmong community will show up with their retirement accounts in hand to finance the new ministry for which you prayed.
But that’s a lot to say in those passing exchanges. We Episcopalians have caught glimpses of these possibilities for 232 years but this is the moment for a growing number of us to take matters in hand and respond to that same Jesus moment with all the humility we can muster to say, “Spirit of God, show us how to give it all away – we too want that Life Abundant!”