Be relational in Christ: Make room for new friendships

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I write, first and foremost, to thank you for your prayers and support as Margaret and I moved through the long process for the election of a Presiding Bishop. It was a privilege to be a finalist, and I learned and grew much along the way. I hope that my involvement in the search amped up our interest as a diocese in the life and mission of the larger church. Please keep Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop-elect, in your prayers. He is one of our own, having served as rector of St. Simon of Cyrene in Lincoln Heights (Cincinnati), and as chaplain to Bethany School, the K-8 school operated by the Community of the Transfiguration (our local nuns).

I emerge from this adventure with gratitude for this diocese and for the ministry we share together. There is much work to be done, as we continue seeking and learning how to be the Episcopal Church in a rapidly changing religious and cultural environment. Our main work right now is relational. As we all know, there is very little social status or reward these days for being a person of faith, let alone an Episcopalian. The one thing we have to offer (at our best) is a profound commitment to common life in Christ. That is why we adhere to a Book of Common Prayer, and discipline ourselves to the constant challenge of diocesan connectedness. This commitment arises from our tradition’s assurance that the church truly is the Body of Christ, and that the Christian journey is grounded in our participation in that body.

How do we live that assurance out? First and foremost we do so by being relational. This means more than rejoicing in the relationships we share in our various congregations, precious as they are. Being relational in Christ means breaking our established friendships and histories open so that there is room for new friendships and new stories. This is not just about paying attention to newcomers at the coffee hour – although that is an important spiritual practice. It’s about getting to know the neighborhood we are in, and introducing ourselves to it. We do this not in order to get more people into the pews, but simply to become good neighbors, and to learn how, as followers of Jesus, we can serve the world that is adjacent to us. All talk of our survival as a church is moot unless we are focusing first of all on serving our neighbors, whoever they may be: households, neighborhood associations, schools, businesses, agencies, other churches and communities of faith. Few non-Episcopalians are interested in the local Episcopal Church as a group to be joined, but many will come to know and value us if they see us as proponents and examples of connection. The Gospel starts there.

At our diocesan convention last November I invited all of us to identify the ministry partnerships our congregations were involved in. I could have put it this way: How are we being relational? How are we connecting with our real neighbors? Even to ask who our neighbors are can be exciting and revitalizing. Let’s keep working on this. If we identify the neighbors we’re working with already, we will all be able to celebrate the relational work we are already doing and help each other build on that.

That’s what gives me new energy as we move forward together.

Just before General Convention I convened my executive staff, together with our Fresh Expressions missioners, to help me think about next steps. We ended up brainstorming a map of all the relational, connective ministries we were immediately aware of in Southern Ohio. The map covered a huge expanse of butcher paper, residing now on a wall of David Dreisbach’s office – you are welcome to come to Diocesan House and see it. Since then Karl Stevens, our missioner for campus ministry, has created a digital representation of that map, which is displayed here. I have no doubt that in generating this overview we left out many partnerships. Please let David Dreisbach (ddreisbach@diosohio.org) know what’s missing. Let’s see what the Holy Spirit is already doing in our midst, as we live into our vocation as the Episcopal Church in Southern Ohio.

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