Beloved St. John’s community,
Today I want to share with you about how St. John’s is exploring one of the four priorities in our statewide Episcopal Church community: vitality. When our no-longer-quite-new Bishop Craig Loya first joined us in June 2020, he arrived saying that he had heard Minnesota Episcopalians express four consistent longings and values: discipleship (defined as “transformative encounters with Jesus”), justice (“building community with the poor and marginalized”), faithful innovation (“a culture of experimentation”), and vitality (“sharing life together deeply”). We at St. John’s have been exploring what vitality could look like among us as we emerge from two years of exile, pandemic, isolation and race crisis. In particular, during our annual meeting in January, I asked you the following questions, modeled on similar questions being discussed among leaders in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota:
- If there were no obstacles of any kind, what would a vital, thriving St. John’s look like in one year—one that would nourish and inspire you?
- What would we need to embrace to make that happen?
- What would we need to let go of to make that happen?
- Where would we see the Holy Spirit in that vision?
I am deeply moved to share that very similar themes emerged among you as did in the wider Episcopal church. In St. John’s language, you expressed the following as part of your yearning for vitality and thriving at St. John’s:
- Small Group Connection around Faith and Life. You expressed such a deep longing to connect with one another, both in Sunday morning worship, but also and perhaps even more so through having small groups who explore authentic faith and its impact in our world together.
- A Positive Vision. You expressed the yearning for hope, joy, and a positive vision. So much in our world has been about fighting injustice, witnessing polarization and the accusation and blame that exists everywhere, that you wanted to reconnect with what truly is “good news” – gospel – about our church and Jesus’ Way of Love.
- Making a Difference. You expressed that St. John’s is full of good ideas and programs and indeed does a lot, but you wanted to go deeper with a few important priorities, and sense that what we are doing matters and makes a difference in those priorities.
You also expressed that you wanted to take risks – to have a culture of experimentation and possibility, to emphasize the future including caring for and supporting our children & youth ministry, and to innovate in many areas of our common life. I wanted you to know that I, the St. John’s clergy and staff, and vestry are taking these themes seriously. The vestry is adapting the way we do meetings—to make space for both “green grass” (every day administrative things) and “blue sky” discussion (seeing the big picture, visioning, and listening to God’s Spirit). (Thank you, Dick Howard, vestry member who offered this metaphor). For the next several months, we will be exploring the themes you expressed and what we continue to hear God’s Spirit inviting us to do in each one. I am inviting all of you to hold these themes in your mind as well—the yearning for small group connection around faith and life, a positive vision, and making a difference—exploring them together and experimenting with different ways to follow the Spirit’s leading in each area.
If you think of our community as a tree (you can thank your insightful Junior Warden Laura Meister for this metaphor), we are seeking to “go deep so that we can go broad.” First, we are seeking to deepen our roots in the soil of living, transformative encounters with God, each other and our neighbors, and in the soil of prayer and scripture. You might consider this part of our “small group connection around faith and life.” We do this so that we can “go broad”— express our values and God’s leading through our worship, relationships, programs, and activities in a way that is vitally supported by our faith. As I said in a recent sermon, we are not a political action committee or a secular social justice nonprofit, and so our primary activities do not revolve around political advocacy or creating programs for the needy, although it is undoubtedly part of our faith to strive for justice and peace among all people and serve the poor. Instead, we are seeking to respond to “Christ who invites us to meet him” at his table and in one another. We are seeking to become a different kind of community, a demonstration plot of what it looks like when people center love, center Christ, center a living set of spiritual practices that give us the strength to live Jesus’ Way of Love in the world.
Although these are turbulent times, and the world around us presents no shortage of alarming realities—I am as concerned about Ukraine and continued events in the U.S. as any of you—I am deeply inspired and excited by what the Spirit is doing among us. While it is true that we have a budget deficit and will need to consider how to adapt our structures to current resources, I have also experienced this community as utterly generous, liberating and creative. I have no doubt that if we continue to center ourselves on Christ and his Way of Love—and to explore the pockets of energy expressed in your yearnings for small group connections, a positive vision, and making a difference—that we will experience the vitality of God’s Spirit granting us life and fresh air and making us generative. Thank you with all my heart for allowing me the chance to walk with you through this transformative journey.
In Christ’s love,