On Sunday we observed Pentecost. We experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in our worship and especially in the stories we shared. The sermon time included an invitation to turn to a fellow worshiper and share the story of a spiritual experience. Telling the story of our spiritual experiences takes us back to that special place or time. Hearing other people’s stories can be even more inspiring. In my role as priest, I am privileged to hear many stories. I have heard people’s stories of quiet conversion and prayers answered. I have heard stories of healing, both physical and spiritual, and I have heard stories of charismatic experiences.
One friend, years ago, shared the story of an angel that appeared to him and to his wife. The angel was 15 or 20 feet tall and was fully visible to both of them, even though they were inside their house.
Another friend described being visited personally by Jesus. At a particularly difficult time in her life Jesus came to her. He appeared in her room on many evenings. He listened to her and encouraged her and then he was gone. Sounds like a story of a certain locked room.
Yet another friend, this one a wise mentor and teacher, described a conversation he had with Earl in the sacristy before a service. That wasn’t unusual. He had been speaking with Earl before the service for years. Earl helped set up for services and was a Eucharistic Minister, helping serve the cup at communion. The thing is, Earl died several days before this last conversation.
Spiritual experiences are not rare. Most of our experiences are not as fantastic as these but we all have experiences of the mystery and transcendence of God’s Spirit. Spiritual experiences, even when they are literally a mountain top experience, are not about achieving some sort of high. They are not about feeling good or feeling elated. We seek the Spirit because living in the awareness of God gives a different quality of life. When we watch for the Spirit and celebrate the Spirit and tell one another of our encounters with the Spirit, our lives are enriched.
Spiritual experiences are not rare. God is always present. When we are attuned to that presence, the world is a more beautiful place. When we thank God and give praise to God, we draw closer. When we share the story with others, we become more aware of and attuned to the Spirit all around us. We draw closer to one another and to God.
In his sermon on Sunday, Bishop Greg Rickel quoted my article from last week’s message in which I asked you to finish the sentence, “St. Dunstan’s is the church where they…” He said that in his last congregation he asked them to consider, “If our church went away, would anyone notice?” That’s a provocative way of asking how we are doing God’s work. What are we doing for people? What difference do we make?
I have received a few very interesting responses on my blog to last week’s question. One response was from a couple that is new to the congregation and loves being here. Another response was from my mother. She attends St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in San Diego and reads our weekly message regularly. (Hi Mom!) You can see what others have said at the blog by clicking here. That will take you to last week’s blog entry.
While meeting with our vestry on Sunday, Bishop Greg challenged us to invite one person to come to St. Dunstan’s who has never been here. Then, tell us what happened. Bishop Rickel spoke boldly and encouragingly about the beauty and value of our Anglican worship and the generosity and integrity of our faith. There is a beautiful thing happening here at St. Dunstan’s Church and in the Episcopal Church in Western Washington. Let’s invite our friends, neighbors, and co-workers to come check us out.
Bishop Greg told us he has issued this challenge in other congregations. People who take him up on his challenge report that they have interesting conversations and some interesting reactions. There have even been a few new people coming to church! So, invite your grocer, your dentist, your co-worker or your workout partner. Then, tell us what happened. When your guest comes, introduce them to me. I’d love to meet them.
On Sunday we will host our Bishop, The Right Reverend Gregory Rickel, at both services. We will celebrate the Ascension (transferred), we will have special guests singing with the choir, and the Bishop will be preaching and presiding. You won’t want to miss this Sunday!
One of the conversations Bishop Greg invites us to consider is, what is our mission? What is the purpose that God has given to St. Dunstan’s Church in particular? Here is an interesting way to begin to figure that out. Finish the following sentence:
St. Dunstan’s is the Church where they…
The way we finish that sentence reveals our character as a congregation. The way we finish that sentence reveals our gifts: the ways that God has blessed us to do God’s work.
How would you finish the sentence?
How do you think our neighbors would finish the sentence?
We are certainly a loving group and a welcoming group. The temptation is to finish the sentence that way, but loving one another is a little too general. I want to invite you to finish the sentence, but you don’t get to say, “where they love one another.” We do and that’s certainly a gift and a part of our purpose, but I want to look at what is particular to our congregation, our gifts, and our context.
I think this exercise works best without too much prompting. I asked this question at our staff meeting today and we had a fabulous conversation. I’ll post the answers that the staff came up with after you all have had a chance to share your thoughts here.
Please comment on this posting and tell us how you would finish the sentence:
St. Dunstan’s is the church where they________________.
Check back in a day or two to see what your friends say and to see what our staff said.
On Sunday, May 16th our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel, will visit St. Dunstan’s Church. That visit will be a celebration of our congregation and our relationship with the diocese. Bishop Greg is a very interesting preacher and is very approachable. He will visit with the congregation after worship, with the youth and with our Vestry. This is going to be a very special Sunday and I encourage you to come to meet our Bishop.
When the bishop visits, he expects to do certain things, including speaking with the Vestry. The “customary” is a document that describes a bishop’s visit. Bishop Greg’s customary states, “The Bishop expects a meeting with the Vestry which would include vision, mission, and goals for the congregation.”
We have done a good job defining our goals and priorities as a congregation, but we have not yet done the work to define or discern our vision and mission as a congregation. Vision and mission are given by God through Christ. Each congregation participates in the Great Commission using the gifts God gives them, in the context where God plants that congregation.
When a congregation has been around for a while, as we have (60 years last October!), we need to look at our context and gifts again. The membership of St. Dunstan’s has changed, as has the neighborhood around the church. The church itself has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. The primary service used to be held at the Henry Memorial Chapel in the Highlands with a separate service for families with small children at St. Dunstan’s on 145th. Over the years the center of gravity shifted out of the Highlands to St. Dunstan’s and eventually the main service at the Chapel went away altogether.
While most of the congregation (over 90%) worship at St. Dunstan’s on 145th, we have little or no connection to our neighborhood. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity. Our new Community Engagement Team, formed by the vestry last February, is looking for ways to introduce our church to our neighbors and to introduce our neighbors to our church.
The bottom line is that we cannot yet state our mission clearly because our context has changed so dramatically. We need to so some walking around and some research to discover where we are and who is here with us. If you are an extrovert, that probably sounds like fun. If you are more of an introvert, that probably sounds dreadful! We’ll do this work together. God put us here for a reason. God gave us the gifts we have for a reason – for a purpose – for a mission. We’ll discover and live into that mission by discovering the neighborhood that has grown up around us and by using the gifts that God has given us.
Your brother in Christ,
The Rev. David Marshall
You can read more about St. Dunstan’s at sdchp.org. Check out the new article on “Our Faith” under “About Us.”