My dear friends in Christ,
For the past several months, I’ve been asking you to support your Vestry and me with your continued prayers as we’ve set about the work of envisioning the future (both in the short term, and the long term) of our parish community, and of discerning what God is calling us to do … and more particularly, who God is calling us to be.
I invited the Vestry into this process last spring with the questions:
It was a very useful way to start, it turns out, because we couldn’t really even begin visioning any future for All Saints until we first confronted all of the needs, desires, expectations, and even fears that each of us brings to the table when we start talking about “our” church.
Of course, it isn’t our church at all; it is and ever has been God’s Church, and we are blessed and privileged to be invited and called to participate in the work that God is doing through God’s Church. Even so, every community, every organization, every group of people, whether secular or sacred, has its own unique collective identity, its own traits and characteristics, its own gifts and strengths, its own mission and purpose.
Much of our discernment work this summer, then, has focused on exploring who we have been, as a worshipping community, who we are now, and who God is calling us to be, moving forward.
In this so-called “post-Christian” age of our society, it is no longer viable simply to be “that church downtown.” (For one thing, here in Appleton, we’re “just one of those churches downtown”!) People no longer attend church merely because “that’s what ya do on a Sunday.” These days, if folks are going to make the effort to get out and be part of a church community, they want a community whose faith, whose perspective, whose way of being and doing “church” speaks specifically to who they are and what they need. People “shop” for a church home as carefully as they do for a physical home to buy. They want to know what is unique and special about us, what sets us apart and distinguishes us from other church communities in the area, and thus what it would mean for them, in their lives, to become part of our parish family.
Gone are the days when simply being an Episcopal Church was enough to answer those questions. How, in what specific, concrete ways, does All Saints embody and express and celebrate and live out our understanding of the Christian faith in the Episcopal tradition as part of the worldwide Anglican Communion?
Toward that end, the Vestry and I have discerned three factors, three particular expressions of identity, that we believe God is calling All Saints to embody, that we believe will best express our unique identity as a worship community, and that will speak clearly and concretely to the specific gifts that All Saints has to offer the people of Appleton and the Fox Valley. Here is what we believe All Saints ought to strive to be:
* Theologically orthodox. We should be a church community that boldly proclaims Jesus Christ and the Salvation he brings through his life, death, and resurrection. We should be a people of faith who can say the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds without having to cross our fingers behind our backs. We need not be in uniform agreement about every little detail of the Christian faith—as Anglicans (see below), we should always welcome a range of doctrinal perspectives and interpretations; the basic, foundational tenets of the Christian faith and the Apostolic Tradition, however, we should not be ashamed to proclaim.
* Unapologetically Anglican/Episcopal. We should be a worshipping community that celebrates the liturgies, traditions, and practices of the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion, being informed and formed by the Book of Common Prayer, with the Sacraments at the heart of our corporate worship. Sacramental worship and Common Prayer have always been the hallmarks of Anglican Christianity, and we should enthusiastically embrace that identity. That does not mean, of course, that we all must be “high church ritualists,” or that we have to have incense at every service (I mean Easter & Christmas would be nice, but … J). It simply means that we should lift up our liturgical styles of worship as very positive aspects of who we are, offering an alternative to other styles and formats of worship out there in the larger community.
* Unequivocally welcoming, inclusive, and affirming. We should be a parish community that really means it when we say "The Episcopal Church welcomes you," whoever “you” are. That means being not only a truly safe, but also a truly inviting place for everyone, regardless of politics, race, economic and/or social status, etc. And it especially and particularly means being openly inclusive and affirming of LGBTQA+ folks (and making that official by following the diocesan procedure for doing so, and then including our identity as an affirming church in our parish communications, our website, our “branding”).
Friends, my personal thinking on these three points of identity is multi-layered. Primarily, I believe that the above breakdown is pretty much required of us by Scripture, Tradition, and Reason as we have received the Faith from the Bible, from our Lord Jesus Christ, and from the Episcopal Church to which we belong. But beyond that, it's a question of finding and renewing and sustaining a source of vitality for our parish, which in my view requires us to develop a clear, concrete, and unambiguous understanding of who we are.
Of immediate importance, of course, is our need not only to revitalize but also actually to grow this parish, drawing in people from the community even as we find more ways to serve the needs of the community around us. Living into the identity outlined above will, I truly believe, position us incredibly well to be attractive to, and of the greatest service to, the people of this area. If someone is truly seeking to know Jesus, and is yearning not for a mass-media, info-tainment approach to church but rather for an ancient, deeply rooted faith, with Mystery, ritual, and sacraments going back thousands of years, and is also looking for an inclusive and affirming community ... where in the Fox Valley can they go? My sense is that folks can have one or the other: either traditional, sacramental worship OR inclusion and affirmation. All Saints is uniquely positioned to be able to offer both to all. I fully believe that God is calling us to do just that.
But we have a lot of work to do to process such a vision and to discern our way forward in response to God’s call.
To that end, we’re going to spend time together studying Scripture, exploring our Episcopal/Anglican theology, sharing all of our individual perspectives, beliefs, views, needs, concerns, fears, expectations, etc., reinforcing our deep connections with each other in Christ, and building new relationships as we move towards the future together. Look for information to go out in the weeks to come inviting you all to participate in a series of small-group gatherings, which is how we will begin this exciting process. It is my personal goal to make sure that everyone feels welcome, everyone feels safe, everyone feels heard and valued, and everyone is a vital and valued part of this covenant community, this portion of the Body of Christ in Appleton. Some of these small groups will meet in person; others will meet via Zoom, so that everyone really does have a chance to participate and to feel safe doing so.
If you have any thoughts, concerns, hopes, and/or fears about this next part of our journey together in Christ, please reach out to me by phone or email (or after a service), and let’s connect and explore what’s on your mind and on your heart. My friends, I am truly looking forward to this next chapter in our lives together. I am deeply grateful for your prayers and your support, and for the privilege of getting to be part of your parish family. And I am in awe of the faithfulness, diligence, intelligence, and wisdom of your Vestry ~ they are, individually and collectively, an outstanding group of leaders. Please continue to keep them, and me, and All Saints Church in your ongoing prayers.
Peace & blessings,