Earlier in this week I met with a gentleman who, in his lifetime, has enjoyed the breadth and depth of affiliating with three different religious traditions. He came to talk with me about the Episcopal Church. He wanted to express his interest in our denomination’s history, and its sacramental and community life. And I wanted to hear about his walk with the other traditions that he had mentioned- in which he had been raised and schooled : how had he decided to step from one to another… and then to another? What were the stepping off places, the moments of decision, the shift in understanding that led to the shedding of one religious skin for another? We talked for a long time playing with the tension of his wanting to know about our Church and me wanting to know about him and his journey. I think we both left wanting more. I look forward to meeting with him again.
Last Sunday, I had the honor of confirming and receiving and hearing the re-affirmation of several teens and adults. It was great. I also had the distinct honor of presiding over an adult baptism. The conviction of the adult who decided at this moment in her life to profess Jesus as Lord and to take on the mantle- and responsibility- of the Christian Way unglued me. I looked into her eyes as she stood, dead center of the transept crossing in front of a church full of people and professed her faith during the “examination” portion of the baptismal rite. Did she renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces that rebel against God? (Yes, she did. She renounced them.) Did she renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? (Yes, she did. She renounced them.) Did she renounce all of the sinful desires that drew her from the love of God? (Yes, she did. She renounced them.) And then- did she turn to Jesus? Did she put her whole trust in his grace and love? And would she promise to obey him as her Lord? Yes, she would. And Yes, she did. Yes. Yes. Yes. It was a powerful moment to hear her strong voice asserting to follow this Way, carved out for her in the past two millennia.
I am a cradle Episcopalian. Truth be told, I was baptized in my father’s Presbyterian church(as was expected for the daughter of a Scotsman) but whisked away to the Episcopal Church, my mother’s church, that very day for a homecoming celebration of sorts and I never left. I attended Episcopal Sunday Schools, sang in Episcopal choirs, took my catechetical training for confirmation at the Episcopal Church, was best friends with our Episcopal Rector’s daughter, and only dabbled with ecumenism when our high school youth group combined with the UCC youth group in some wild, bell-bottomed experiment in the 1970s. (It was fine with all of us since many of my friends were UCC and they had the groovy youth minister at their church.)
I’ve been teaching a class during Lent about “Knowing our Stories and Proclaiming them Boldly.” It’s what we’ve been about this year, here in Central Pennsylvania and… much of sharing our stories has to do with claiming our identity as followers of Jesus. As disciples. I realized this week that Discipleship has never really been put before me before as a question… or an option. I’ve always known Jesus, always belonged to the Church, always walked in the Christian Way. Having to reflect on my life of discipleship has been kind of like asking a fish to reflect on the quality of the water. What water?!?
Ian Paul, a theologian, writes that the three markers of discipleship include 1) Making a Change, 2) Going on a Journey 3) Enlarging one’s sense of Community. And so, I’ve been reflecting this week on discipleship and these three markers. I’ve been asking how, in the deepening of my life as a disciple, have I been asked to change, move and accommodate companions? It’s been a good exercise.
I’ve made many changes in the past 2 years and have, clearly gone on a journey. My identity and shift in role from one ordained role to another has been of great significance for me as I’ve taken on the responsibility for the stewardship of an entire diocese of loving, generous and gracious people. We’re beginning, now, to look at difficult questions of sustainability and at exciting opportunities for collaboration and mission and these leadership questions yoked with a physical change in venue and culture have been significant. My community has expanded, indeed- both in the people whom I serve, and in my new community of peers- the House of Bishops. This has been not just an act of discipleship- continuing to learn lessons from my teacher, Jesus- but an act of apostleship, too, as I’ve learned, really, what it is to be “sent.”
My journey may not have been very far, but it has been significant. And good.
How have you- a disciple of Jesus- experienced
and an Expansive Community?