My dear family in Christ,
We have now had five parish forums* where we’ve presented a proposed vision for All Saints as developed by the Vestry and me last year ~ three in person forums and two via Zoom.
*The sixth and (likely) final forum will be held via Zoom on Monday, March 13, at 6:30 p.m.
I’m writing to you today to address some questions that have come up over the past several weeks. My hope is that we can go into this next forum with a bit more clarity about what exactly we're doing and why, and that answering those questions will help us find a greater sense of purpose moving forward.
So, what exactly is this whole … thing … that we’re doing? Well, in a nutshell: We’re trying to figure out, as a community (a family) of Jesus-followers, exactly who we are. More specifically, we’re discerning what God is calling All Saints Church to be, in this place at this time ~ to envision All Saints as God would have us be. The visioning process is all about discovering our identity as the Body of Christ in Appleton, WI, in 2023 and beyond.
Last year, the Vestry and I discerned that God is calling our parish to be 1) Christian, 2) Episcopalian, and 3) Affirming. But why do this vision/identity stuff, when we’ve got bigger fish to fry? Don’t we need to get busy and actually take action, actually do something?
Fair points, but here’s the thing: we need to tease apart our vision from our mission. Our vision is the identity God is calling us into; our mission is the work that God is assigning us to do. In some of our messaging thus far, I think those two different ideas have gotten blurred together, and that's creating some confusion and frustration. We need to keep them separate in our thinking, or else we won’t have real clarity about either one.
And we have to clarify the identity (vision) first, because who we are called to be will determine the specific work that God is calling us to do.
In other words, when we know whom God has called us to be, we will see clearly what God is calling us to do.
So, what would it mean for our parish to be a Christian, Episcopal, and Affirming community?
Being Christian, in this context, means embracing and teaching the core truths of the Christian faith as expressed in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. But more importantly, it means making Jesus the center of everything we do as a parish community. It means that All Saints is first and foremost a church whose primary purpose is to worship God, particularly as we know God in Jesus Christ.
Being Episcopal means embracing our Anglican-ness in our worship, our Sacraments, our role as an inseparable part of our diocese, the national Church, and the Worldwide Anglican Communion. It means that, while each of us individually might believe different things, we as a community hold to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Christian faith as we receive it from The Episcopal Church (see the Catechism, BCP p. 845ff).
Notice how Point # 2 follows naturally from Point #1? There is a definite sequence to the proposed 3-point vision. It would make no sense to put Point # 2 first, or to remove Point # 1, because there’s no such thing as a “non-Christian Episcopalian”!
So the order of the points matters. Especially because Point # 3 is the one that is, historically, most likely to be controversial…
To be Affirming means to be more than merely tolerant of other people; it means more than merely being welcoming; it means embracing, supporting, and valuing each and every human being on Earth as the special creation of God Almighty who bears the holy imprint of the Divine Image, and in whom we are called and sworn to seek and serve Christ Our Lord.
Point # 3, thus, flows directly from Point # 2, because it is in our specifically Episcopal sacrament of Baptism that we swear before God and the Church to adhere to the Baptismal Covenant (BCP, p. 304-5):
Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God’s help.
If we take our Episcopal Baptismal Covenant seriously (as we should!), we cannot have within our church community any “second class citizens” whom we allow in but do not fully embrace and support and value as complete and utter equals. And that goes for any categories that have been used to degrade, oppress, abuse, and/or marginalize particular groups of human beings: race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, education, gender identity, sexual orientation, &c.
Now, everything I've said so far has been focused on our shared identity. On whom we’re called to be. What does any of that have to do with the work that God is calling us to do? Let me offer an example of how the one leads to the other:
If we adopt and embrace the identity of being a Christian, Episcopal, and Affirming parish, then we will finally be in a position to do something that I’m told that Bishop Matt instructed us to do some seven years ago: namely, to make a formal decision as a parish about whether we will bless and solemnize same-gender marriages at All Saints.
My friends, we are way overdue for making that decision. But I hope you see what I’m trying to clarify here: that we cannot possibly make such a decision (one way or the other) if we don’t first have a clear vision of who we are as a parish community. We have to sort out the identity question before we can tackle the action items.
But if we embrace this proposed vision, then we immediately see, for example, our mission to the LGBTQA+ community, to the downtown Appleton community, to the Lawrence community, etc. And more importantly, we will then have the ability to build relationships with the people in those various communities, because we’ll be able to show them clearly and openly who we are.
Every bit as importantly, we will be able to invite people to join our parish community, because we’ll be able to give people a clear vision of exactly what it is they’d be joining. That’s how we grow All Saints and build a community that will do more than just hang on, but will instead actually thrive and be a real source of light and refuge and healing and grace in a world that’s all too often very broken and dark for so many of God’s children.
I urge you, my friends: please take advantage of the opportunity to participate in these crucially important conversations. If you're not able to attend the next forum ~ or if you just happen to be not comfortable discussing these topics in a group setting ~ please contact me (either through the church office or via my direct email & pastoral phone line). I would love to talk with each and every one of you, whether in groups or individually, whether publicly or confidentially.
Thus far, the forum conversations have been overwhelmingly positive and engaging. People have expressed genuine excitement about what this vision of All Saints will mean for our future. People have also brought up wise questions and compelling insights about the challenges we might face moving forward and the factors we will need to address as a parish if we are to move forward in a healthy and life-giving way.
But we have not heard from all of the voices in this parish, and we need to do so. Every one of you is a vital member of the Body of Christ. So please plan to log in to the next forum, especially if you haven't attended one yet; or if you're not able to attend or you're not comfortable attending, please get in touch with me and let's at least connect one-to-one.
Yours always in Christ,
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