Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Take Up the Cross

On September 23-24, the Episcopal Diocese of Santiago (EDS) held its Strategic Growth Plan (SGP) meeting. In 2009, EDS created goals focusing on membership, churchmanship and self-reliance. It is striving to meet them by 2018. Every three years, the staff of the diocese comes together to check-in on where the diocese as a whole and each department is on meeting its goals.

While listening to reports all day in a conference room is not something I would consider fun, SGP proved to be informative for me. I was able to see a clearer picture of the role of each department and the work it is accomplishing. One of the major projects is the building of churches for current parishes that worship in small, worn down buildings. A good number have already been completed or are near complete. The question was raised, “we have these beautiful churches now, but yet our numbers in members are stagnant or decreasing. What is happening? Why are people not entering our church?”

It is a wonderful, important question, one that is being asked not just in the Episcopal Diocese of Santiago in the Philippines but throughout the Anglican Communion.

Why do these beautiful buildings of worship stand nearly empty on Sunday mornings?

But my question is when did we become so focused on filling the pews inside the church that we’ve forgotten that worship doesn’t only happen on Sunday mornings?

If I’m not mistaken Jesus did not stand at a pulpit every Sunday proclaiming the Good News. He was on the road with his disciples. He shared God’s word in people’s homes, on mountainsides, on the sides of roads, in boats, really anywhere people starved to be fed by his word. Matthew 8:20 says, “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’”

I am not saying that people shouldn’t have a sanctuary to feel safe to explore their faith. I grew up going to a wonderful, thriving, energetic church every Sunday. Within the community they provided, they shared the bread I needed to be full which in kind taught me how to share with others.

I was then able to walk purposefully and exit the church doors to worship in another way by feeding the hungry, building homes for the homeless, cleaning up a destructed city, visiting those in prison, and providing light in a place of darkness.

As Rev. Rich Smith said in this sermon, “The Church is not a service center for its members so much as a launching pad for mission.” On Sunday morning a service may end, but once you walk out those doors your service begins. Jesus doesn’t wait in the empty narthex until the next Sunday. As we said in the Office of Mission and Outreach last year, “Jesus has left the Building.”

Jesus has left the building and so have you. He said, “Come and follow me.” Are you ready to follow him?

Take up the cross and bring it to those who are in need of knowing God’s love. Crowds of thousands journeyed to hear him, to be fed by him, to be healed by him. While he fed and healed them literally, he also fed and healed them with community, love, and a relationship.

As the Rev. Dr. Margaret Ann Faeth said, “it is hard to draw what we have not seen. It’s hard to share which we do not know.” People can only know Christ if shown to them by those who are their neighbors and co-workers by creating a community, developing relationships and showing them love. They need to know He is alive in this wide and wonderful world beyond the sanctuary. They need to see the reflection of Jesus within each and every one of us.

If the people aren’t walking in through the doors, meet them outside and invite them in. Take up the cross, go to the streets, to the fields, to hospitals, to food banks, to prisons, and do as Jesus said, “be love like me and no one will hunger and thirst again.”

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Great Thoughts. It is a small thing but our Sunday bulletin does not end our Sunday worship with a dismissal. Instead we call it a commissioning. Our week of ministry ends and begins with Sunday worship. We receive solace and comfort from the week that has been and we receive renewal and empowerment for the week that is to come.