Are We There Yet?
Everyone can recall from either being a child, or having a child, the trip where the parents are constantly asked: “Are we there yet?” We are all going from one place to another in a myriad of ways, from the mundane to the metaphysical. The experience of taking a trip or journey then, becomes a handy metaphor to talk about the evolving, unfolding nature of daily life, business, raising children, career, marriage, relationships, or many things, as well as our experience of God.
The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God is defined and described in many ways. We are using this expression as shorthand for a life that is conceived of, lived and ordered with God and his gracious rule at its center. Jesus talks a lot about God’s kingdom that is coming, that is here now and yet, is still to come in God’s good time to its perfect fulfillment. Jesus compares it to many things; he encourages some with their closeness to it and challenges others, suggesting they are further from it than they think. But always, the Kingdom of God is an unfolding thing, completely under God’s control and rule with a sense of urgency about it!
Good Shepherd is a gathering of people seeking, discerning, and hoping to experience God’s presence, power and grace in their own lives. We are on this journey individually with God, and we are on this journey together as a parish. However, what now makes this journey both exciting and disconcerting is our realization that we are making this trip in a time of great change and transition. (See Part One)
So, Where are We?
A group of about 45 parishioners, staff and vestry have reviewed all of the information gathered from the five exercises (See Parts Four - Eight) that the parish began in Lent of 2010 with the Thin Place Exercise and concluded with the other four exercises this past fall. We have sifted through many pages of newsprint. All of the wonderful post-its with the gifts people want to give to God (over 1,500 of them!) have been entered in a computer database where they can be accessed and put to use for God’s purposes.
Now after all of that, this statement of purpose summarizes the key points that we have gleaned from the wisdom of the people of God at Good Shepherd and that we can use as a compass to guide us on the journey we have begun together.
The People of God of the Church of the Good Shepherd desire to join with God in His redemptive mission in the world. We humbly and prayerfully seek His grace in this journey which honors Jesus Christ as the center of our communal, familial and individual lives.
We understand that our life together is shaped by these signs gathered from prayerful and guided discernment:
1. We will grow in our discipleship and in our willingness to encourage others in their own discipleship of Jesus Christ.
2. We offer our lives as active partners in God's mission remembering that we are people blessed with an amazing array of gifts and abilities to bless others.
3. We seek out those who are lost or left out for caring service and to hear Good News of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
4. We stand on an Anglican heritage and traditions that guide and shape our common life, ministry and mission for today.
5. We sustain children and young people and their families, and those of every generation, striving together to know, love and serve our Lord Jesus.
Sometimes a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. This illustration helps me to “see” what we have discovered and where we are headed.
The two pyramids illustrate the shifts in emphasis that are taking place and must take place in order for the church, the Christian people of God, to realign ourselves with the redemptive mission God is already, even now about in God’s world.
Yesterday: For 1700 years all churches have ordered and organized their life and ministry with a mainly “top down” approach. Certainly church life in America since the start of the 20th century has seen vast amounts of time, energy and resources be applied to the building up of the institution of the church. This is a model that works by attracting people to come and join the church to receive all that the church has to offer. In all honesty, significantly smaller portions of resources were directed to outreach if any at all. Again, in all honesty, the Episcopal Church almost has an aversion to any explicit ministry of evangelism to those who have not heard the Good News of Jesus.
At least since the 20th century we have, at the end of the day, acted as if the building up of the church were an end in itself, rather than a means to ends, chiefly offering caring service in the community and pursuing an intentional mission of conversing with others about Jesus.
Today: This pyramid illustrates the shift that is taking place as we become more kingdom centered rather than church centered; more externally focused than internally focused; and as members become missionaries, or if that word is problematic, disciples. In this model the emphasis is on the people of God dispersed and deployed in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and community to build the reign of God through caring service and evangelism. Clergy and other church leaders provide vision, guidance and equip the people of God for their individual missional callings.
Sometimes hyperbole can serve to make a point more clearly as this drawing illustrates. The Christendom model over time became fixated on attendance, money, and involvement. Someone has named this fixation, hyperbole granted, as exploitation! The model for the New Apostolic Era emphasizes building up people, discipleship and nurture, and is named as edification to strike the clear contrast.
This illustration applies these points to what is already happening at Good Shepherd. The bottom box represents our ministry, our parish life. From it we move out into the world for caring service and to share the Good News of Jesus with others.
The four classical signs of the church’s ministry are, using the Greek words, koinonia (fellowship), didache (instruction), diakonia (service) and kerygma (proclamation). At Good Shepherd we have articulated and applied these as Connect with us, Grow with us, Serve with us and Worship with us.
We are doing a fair job with our ministry – by which we mean specifically that which happens within our parish and on our property. We have made outreach a priority for decades as part of our mission, or that which specifically takes place outside of our parish. Please note the upper right hand box is empty. Beyond our public worship, we do not do anything intentional as a parish in the area of sharing the Good News of Jesus with those who do not know him.
A couple of things: Beating the Bounds, Stop Hunger Now and the 1 Diocese 1 Book study for starters.
Beating the Bounds
In medieval England, when maps were rare, it was customary to make an annual perambulation of the parish boundaries on Ascension Day or during Rogation Days – days set aside to pray for the planting of crops in the spring and early summer. This took place in a context where the parish was a geographical area, whose inhabitants were entitled to receive the ministrations of the parish church. Young boys were often taken along and bumped on the boundary stones to make sure they remembered the boundaries and to ensure that there were witnesses to the boundaries for as long as possible into the future.
With the exception of the state of Louisiana, no one refers to parishes as geographic areas any longer. There is no established church and Augusta isn’t medieval England, but nonetheless, it is a useful and usable image for us as we continue to discover what God is up to in his redemptive mission to the world and how we might be part of that. To focus any effort that we might make to have significant impact in the lives of others, we have taken a map of Augusta, drawn parish boundaries on it (the 30904 zip code) and now we need to go and beat the bounds to see what’s out there.
If you are interested in joining a small group to go out and take a look at our “neighborhood,” catalog the public schools, other churches, and see what’s up out there with a mind to shaping caring service in this “parish,” then please give me a call.
Stop Hunger Now
On Sunday, March 27th, we’ll be acting missionally when we roll up our sleeves and pack 15,000 dehydrated, high protein and highly nutritious meals for hungry people in our schools and around the world. Stop Hunger Now is an international hunger relief agency that coordinates the distribution of food and other life saving aid around the world. Serve with us!
1 Diocese 1 Book
Good Shepherd is participating in this Lenten study. Together with others in the parish and around the Diocese of Georgia we’ll be reading and discussing 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer thought long and hard and wrote powerfully on the nature of Christian discipleship. A leading spokesman for the German Confessing Church, the Center of Protestant resistance to the Nazi’s, Bonhoeffer was implicated in the plot to assassinate Hitler, and was arrested and imprisoned. He was executed on April 9, 1945. Grow with us as we learn more about this remarkable man’s Christian witness.
So, Are We There Yet?
Well, in classical Anglican fashion we would say yes and no!
Yes, in the sense that the process of discernment that we have been involved with for two years has come to its conclusion as summarized in the statement of purpose at the head of this article.
No, in the sense that although this process has given us direction and a compass, the journey still needs to be taken. Beating the Bounds, Stop Hunger Now and 1 Diocese 1 Book study are but the first baby steps of Good Shepherd’s entry in the New Apostolic Era, a journey that generations who follow us will still be making when the time of our stewardship of Good Shepherd is past.
And all of this mirrors and reflects to some extent the ongoing, unfolding nature of the Kingdom of God. God’s saving, redeeming initiative in Jesus Christ is both a done deal and an unfolding reality. Each of us will spend the rest of our days on this journey of incorporating more fully this grace gift into our lives. Only when we die and leave this world, can we in any meaningful sense say that we have reached our final destination: seeing face-to-face the Triune God in his incomparable glory and enjoying this communion and that of all the saints forever.
Pray that the Lord of the journey will bless, provide and guide the people of God at Good Shepherd on His way.
Godspeed to all!