Points of Light, Fragments of Hope

Any priest who has even been entrusted with the care of a parish community can tell you that it’s only a matter of a very few weeks before that priest is the most well-connected individual in the system, with more “insider” knowledge of what’s going on in the parish, and in the lives of the parishioners, than anyone else, even those who have already been there for decades. When I came to the Diocese of Springfield, I found that same thing to be true, only at an expanded level. Even though I’ve only been here a little over three years, I believe I’m probably the only one who has been to all 37 of the altars at which the Eucharist is routinely celebrated in this diocese each Lord’s Day. I am now in the midst of my fourth round of annual visitations, and have made extra visits to several of our churches for one reason or another–in four of them, to provide an extended teaching ministry, which is something I particularly enjoy. I have the privilege of the proverbial “bird’s eye view.” So let me share with you some of what I see from this altitude.

I see clear-eyed realism about the fact that we can’t just keep doing what we’ve always done. This is a song I’ve been singing in parish halls and vestry rooms all over the diocese, and mostly what I see are heads nodding in affirmation. I have been pleasantly surprised at how little pushback I have received–next to none, actually–over the notion that we need to shift our strategy from one of attraction (“What can we do to entire them to come to us?”) to one of mission (“How can we connect with them where they already are?”). We have a long way to go as we find the best way to live into that acknowledgment, but at least we’ve not in denial. That’s a good thing.

I see substantial pockets of spiritual vitality and maturity. “Knowing the Lord,” not merely as an intellectual proposition but in a living relationship, is not in itself a sufficient condition for the accomplishment of our mission, but it is a necessary condition. We have the raw material. We have a sovereign God who is determined to redeem creation from the power of sin and death, we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit scattered liberally among us, and we have a growing cadre of disciples who practice Habit #5An awareness of vocation—an instinct to ask the question, “What is God calling me to do?” That cadre needs to grow in number. But we are pointed in the right direction.

I see us beginning to create structures for mission discernment, strategizing, and implementation at the parish level that are scalable, repeatable, and exportable. We’ve only taken baby steps, and progress is rather slower than I would like, but we’ve targeted one of our Eucharistic Communities (with their agreement!) to serve as a “lab” for the development of strategic and discernment protocols that could eventually be replicated in other parts of the diocese. Stay tuned.

I see efforts at the local level to take responsibility for the strategic vision of Eucharistic Communities pursuing mission in the geographic area of their parish, even when there is more than one Eucharistic Community in that parish. A case in point: St Thomas’, Salem and St John’s, Centralia, both newly under the pastoral leadership of Father David Baumann, are styling themselves “the Episcopal Churches of Marion County.” Their liturgies are nearly identical, they share a common prayer list, and a common calendar. I rejoice to see this happening. They are trendsetters! Another case in point: St Andrew’s, Carbondale and St James’, Marion, both under the pastoral leadership of Mother Kathryn Jeffrey, are in serious conversation about their stewardship of the Church’s mission in the rapidly-developing Highway 13 corridor that connects the two communities. So there’s a lot of “outside the box” thinking going on, and I find this very encouraging.

Finally, I see us being faithful to our mandate to care especially for “the least of these,” as we contemplate the future of ministry in the southern tip of our diocese and state, in Cairo. I can’t announce anything yet, but I’m fairly confident we are on the cusp of cobbling together a full-time priestly presence at the Church of the Redeemer in that most thrown-under-the-bus of communities. To the extent that I have a mystical side, I am persuaded that Christ will be faithful to us in everything else we’re doing in central and southern Illinois precisely to the extent that we are faithful to those through whom he shows us himself in places like Cairo.

I rest my head on my pillow every night with a prayer of gratitude for this wonderful work to which you all, in consultation with the Holy Spirit, have called me, your most unworthy servant. May joy abound for you.



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