Reflections to start the week
Monday, September 29, 2014
We began our day with reflection on scripture, meeting last Tuesday in the chapel at Willow Creek Community Church in the suburbs of Chicago. They call it the chapel, and it is indeed their smaller worship space. It probably only seats seven or eight hundred, which means that this chapel is larger than most Episcopal churches. That space is in fact dwarfed by the main worship space which seats 8,000 or so, and is often filled on Sundays. The sections of that larger space each seat about 250 people. People are encouraged to sit in the same section each week, as a way to get to know each other, as a way to build community, small congregations within a larger one. Any one of those sections is larger than most Episcopal Churches.
I visited Willow Creek as part of a gathering of about 50 Episcopal clergy and lay leaders. It was an honor to be in the presence of these fine, wise and inquisitive Anglicans, gathered in a spirit of learning, which is after all, what a disciple does. It was an honor to experience the hospitality of this large church, and to engage in conversation with Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor, who shared with us what Willow Creek has learned about leadership. For oh so many reasons, I realized on the visit that we had moved from the Episcopalian culture to another. But along with those who joined me, we were eager to discover lessons for us in the work we do.
I realized (and not for the first time) that I have my own impressions, perhaps prejudices about churches like Willow Creek, and the people who lead them. I suspect the Willow Creek crowd has impressions of Episcopalians. Those didn’t matter much last Tuesday. Our day in conference was filled with lessons, including the reminder of how very hospitable the Willow Creek community was to our group, and how important that is. It was Christ-like. I was impressed in our time with Bill Hybels with how we need to renew our understanding of what it means to be a disciple. We need to do that as a denomination, and as congregations. I need to do it in my own life. We need to do that in a way that is authentically Anglican, balancing scripture, tradition, reason and experience. We need to do it honoring the sacraments at the heart of our tradition, each of which are intended to draw us closer to Christ. We need to do it with Episcopalian hospitality, a message of welcome to people to come as they are, and a special openness to those who have experienced rejection. We need an ear for the questions people bring. And while it was relatively easy to note all the ways that the Episcopal Church is different from Willow Creek, it was also important to notice how we share a common goal, helping people to grow in love of God and neighbor, helping people to know God better, to follow Christ more closely, to do so not in our own strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Willow Creek has grown in part because it has rigorously adhered over decades to its mission: To help irreligious people be formed into disciples of Christ. You may or may not embrace that mission statement. But one of the things I realized in the wake of this trip is that I personally need more clarity and rigor about mission, about purpose. Many of our churches need that. Our denomination needs that. But let me repeat. The most important thing: I need that clarity and rigor.
So on this Monday morning, I’m wondering how you would articulate your own sense of mission, your sense of what you have been sent to do and be in the world. What are you called to do and be as a disciple? Do you know what the mission statement of your faith community happens to be? Do you sense that community is living into that mission? I’ll just put it out there. Often mainline denominations are adrift, with little rigor, clarity in articulation of mission. Drilling down a bit more, I’m often a adrift in that way. Pray today for clarity. And if it helps, consider the mission of the church as described in our prayer book. It’s printed on the side column. Does it sound like a mission you can embrace? Can you act on it today?
– Jay Sidebotham
Q: What is the mission of the Church?
A: The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
Q: How does the Church pursue its mission?
A: The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace and love.
Q: Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A: The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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