Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
At a meeting in early December, the Standing and the Mission Resources committees, along with some other representatives of the Episcopal churches in New Hampshire, met with me to do some praying, listening, and visioning about the direction of our collective ministry in this diocese. We studied some statistics and trends of our life here. We shared stories about where we sense the Holy Spirit is leading us. There will soon be a more full report about some clear directions we sense the Spirit is leading us. But for now I would say that we did not come out of the meeting with any blueprint or five-year strategic plan. We came away with a mixture of exhaustion, fear, and joy. That might sound frustrating.
As soon as I say this, I am reminded of the Easter gospel:
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28…)
As I travel around the Church in New Hampshire, it’s increasingly clear that we are living in a time of such mixed feelings. Fear and joy. We could add other feelings that the first women and men who followed Jesus from his baptism to his crucifixion and resurrection felt as well. Imagine that first Easter morning. What other emotions might you have had if you “were there when they crucified the Lord?” How about anger at Jesus’ choice not to raise an army to throw down his opponents, but instead to make himself vulnerable to the powers of the Empire, even unto death? How about unbearable sadness at this suffering and death, as of a lost child? How about despair bordering on apathy at the way things are and are becoming? How about the cabin-fever like annoyance and irritation at the friends and colleagues with whom you have journeyed so long, only to end in a public failure? How about the desire to cling to and to attend to Jesus’ body, even battered and cold in the tomb and the shock at its disappearance? The Gospels offer examples of all these responses.
If you were to travel with me on the visits I make at various congregations, you would recognize all of these emotions, even today. They are the emotions of good, loving, faithful, and committed followers of Christ who are experiencing a kind of death of a kind of church as it becomes, as it were, an empty tomb. Churches all over the diocese, even the ones who have felt immune to such tremors and shocks, are seeing that their health and life cannot be measured by the usual vital signs of Average Sunday Attendance and the number of Pledging Households. However, the parish churches that are experiencing some of that Easter fear-joy mix are the ones that are running out from their buildings to see how Jesus “indeed is going ahead of you to Galilee,” that is, to the beginning of the story and the place where the religious experts would least expect Jesus to be.
There is incredible, brilliant, spine-tingling joy in following the Jesus who is going from his spiced tomb in Jerusalem to gritty Galilee Here are some places where Jesus has gone before us: