First, one must accept how wide that gap is. We must look at our priorities in life and see where they line up with the priorities that Christ has put in front of us. Are we dedicating enough time each week to our called-to ministry? How loud do our actions speak compared to our tongues? For a while now the concept of empowering the laity has been on my heart. I believe that the ministry of the lay has equal power when compared to the ordained and it’s our duty to live out our lives as Christ intended no matter how challenging it may seem. Part of that intention is participating in the ministries that affect those outside our walls. And from what I have heard from many of you is that now is the time for our parish to tackle those ministries and for us to have more action outside our walls. I agree with that approach. I think that Grace needs more action in the community for us to narrow this gap. The reality though is that many of us are too scared to act. We’re scared to step up get out of our comfort zone and say, “I want to do this ministry and I will help lead the charge.” We’re scared that people won’t help or attend an event. We’re scared that if the event isn’t a success someone will be blamed and it might be me. Or we’re scared to let these ministries tear up our current schedule. The dilemma that we must face is that by letting this drive us away we basically spit in Christ’s face as he carries our cross up the hill. By being passive in the dynamic of our ministries we are saying that our comfort is more important than God’s sacrifice for us. The width of our gap is defined in how much we fail to respond to our call to ministry outside of Grace. The internal ministries have been greatly nurtured but now is the time to let them either self-sustain or perhaps be put on the back burner while we discern how to reach out into the community.
Ok that’s the first part. The second is how do we fill that gap? In many situations churches will look to the clergy to lead this endeavor. If Fr. Karl and Dn. Michele were super human and had 36 hours in a day then that might be possible, but they’re not. And the reality is that many of our internal ministries like worship, education, and pastoral care are already under their ownership. Now they’re not the only that contribute to those ministries but they take on a large share of them. To ask them to take on more is not an option. That leaves us to step forward and make things happen. Who is “us”? If “us” is the core group of parishioners that already are stepping forward then we overload them like the clergy which isn’t good. “Us” needs to be those that aren’t actively engaged. We all are in different places when it comes to our journey in faith and so that engagement looks different to each of us but what is common is that the engagement must look new. It must look new and will be uncomfortable. In fact most times when a new ministry is presented to you and it makes you feel uncomfortable it probably means you should go down that rabbit hole. Nothing in the bible talks about people encountering God through comfort and easy means. And that’s the cross that Christ has asked us to carry.
Let’s circle back to the Vestry. We left our retreat with a two-pronged approach to help tackle these issues. The first is to investigate what existing out-reach opportunities need support in our community. We want to avoid starting from the ground-up. This will allow our blood pump a little easier. Perhaps one day we will have our own program that people will connect Grace to but for now many of us need baby steps into fulfilling our duty to God. To many of you this might sound like one more burden to take on. Which might be true. To squeeze one more activity into an already busy life of ministry can be too much for some to accept. But stopping there and letting someone else take on the burden will only result in these efforts failing. Some of you will need to change gears in how you fill your life with God. This isn’t about saying that the existing ministries are less important. It’s about spiritually-nourishing yourself in a new way. It’s about responding differently to God’s call. And responding to how He is calling us now. Not what our calling was five years ago but today.
The second is performing some in-reach within our walls. Our attendance at worship and other activities is declining at a good rate and we need to know why. We need to reach out to the people that consider Grace their home but don’t participate in ministry or regular worship. We need to be better shepherds of our herd just like the Great Shepherd is of us. Hopefully the new habit of out-reach will attract some of these people from their passive faith but we’re also interested in those that might be hurting and need healing from us. There are all kinds of reasons why people stop attending church and sometimes they’re in pain. They need to know that they are an important part of our flock and that we are here to share their burden. They need to know they are not alone in their suffering.
So now that Christ’s suffering and sacrifice is fresh in our minds from Easter I want you to take some time and discern what ministry makes you feel uncomfortable. And when you feel that uneasiness picture Jesus as He carries the cross after being whipped and beaten. Picture Mary as she watches her Son being ripped from her embrace. Picture all the burden that was carried. And then look at what burdens you carry in Christ’s name.
I pray that as we imagine how uncomfortable these pictures are that they are more powerful than any uneasiness we have with our own lives and that will be the source for our action in the Church.
Your Brother in Christ,