This Talk given by Canon Frank Logue was the Opening Presentation
for the 193rd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia
The word “Mission” gets used so much in the Church, that mission is in danger of becoming so laden with meaning that it crosses over into being meaningless. Let me take mission from the theoretical to the very real and practical. We are to make disciples of all nations and to care for the least among us. Here is a snapshot of who we are as a Diocese, right now, and what we are doing this coming week:
It’s Monday in Kingsland, Georgia where the first staff member arrives at 6:20 a.m. to open up the preschool. The 70 students 15 staff will soon fill King of Peace Episcopal Day School. The church will stay busy all through the day and into the night when twenty people come out for the Boy Scout Troop 226 Venture Crew before the preschool closes. While that meeting is taking place, the school board or vestry is usually meet and the last person leaves at 9:30 p.m.
Meanwhile just north in Brunswick, volunteers gather at 8:30 in the morning to get ready to give out food collected from five Episcopal Churches in the Golden Isles at St. Athanasius’ Food Pantry. More than 100 people will leave with bags heavy with food for the coming two weeks.
At noon Good Samaritan House opens its doors in Dearing, Georgia, 30 miles west of Augusta. In response to real need in the area, our Archdeacon, Sandy Turner, opened a free medical clinic with help from parishioners at Our Savior, Martinez, and in partnership with Dearing Baptist Church and others. More than 20 patients will receive free care until the clinic closes at 4:30 that afternoon.
As the workday ends, it will be a full evening at Good Shepherd, Augusta, with the Prayer Shawl group gathering at 5 p.m., a Grief Group at 6:30 and finally the Alcoholics Anonymous group starts at 8 p.m. Good Shepherd is not just active in its building, the congregation also gives significantly of its resources for God’s work in the world. In 2014, this amounts to $340,500 or 26% of the church budget.
On Tuesday morning, ten volunteers gather in the dark at St. Paul the Apostle, Savannah, to distribute food through its Thomas Park Food Pantry which opens at 7 a.m. By 8:30, they will hand out 175 ten-pound bags of food to their neighbors. The ministry has been underway in varying forms for more than three decades.
Before the pantry is packed away in Savannah volunteers will begin arriving at Rebecca’s Cafe in Statesboro to begin preparing food for the 85 or so guests who will eat in the former school cafeteria that now houses the ministry. Created by Trinity Episcopal Church, the twice weekly soup kitchen now combines volunteers from ten local groups.
At 12:30 p.m., Tuesday Music Live gets underway at St. Paul’s, Augusta, where since 1988 the 13-concerts-a-year series which brings 5,000 people a year into one of the Diocese of Georgia’s three founding churches.
That afternoon in Martinez, members of Holy Comforter continue their partnership with Lakeside Middle School. The church’s mentoring program currently serves more than five percent of the student population with more children on a waiting list, hoping to be mentored. Since the church and school partnered, test scores have shown an improvement, but more importantly vital relationships between parishioners and students have formed, this includes one middle school student kicked out of school for behavior issues who got back in school through mentorship, moved on to high school and now attends Holy Comforter with his family. The church is now setting aside scholarships to assist Lakeside graduates who move into Tech School or other high school graduation needs.
Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. the community women’s Bible study gets underway at St. Elizabeth’s in Richmond Hill. The large group gathers women from a variety of denominations. In the background are the happy sounds coming from the children in the congregation’s preschool.
Wednesday at 4 p.m. the ECW Knitter’s Guild is gathering at All Saints, Thomasville, in the parish hall to make prayer shawls for the sick as well as blankets for new babies.
Wednesday at 7 p.m. and historic Christ Church Frederica is lit by more than 200 flickering candles, most of them LED candles. Incense and the use of Taize chants and periods of sustained silence, create a different tone for the liturgy. The liturgy is designed to speak to a deep need for the Holy through an experience of God in worship offering a chance for over-programmed lives to hit pause in a more significant way than in our typical Sunday morning liturgies.
It’s Thursday morning at St. John’s, Savannah, and just before 7 a.m. 60 or 70 participants in the Sunrise Solutions Alcoholics Anonymous Group come in from the dark. While AA functions independent of the churches where it meets, the group is not just for the community, as AA groups in congregations across the Diocese are attended by our members including our clergy who are in recovery. But the AA group meeting on the ground floor does not have Cranmer Hall at St. John’s to itself. At 7 a.m. this Thursday, the Men’s Bible Study is underway upstairs in and as they leave, the sounds of the 50 toddler through pre-K students arriving for The Children’s School at St. John’s Church will ring out in the building.
It’s Thursday afternoon and as school gets out in Thomasville, students around Good Shepherd filed into the historic Parish Hall for the after school program offering enrichment through the school year for 40 students with an additional program in the summer. This is part of the work of the Episcopal Development Agency in Thomasville which draws on all three Episcopal churches in the community—All Saints, St. Thomas and Good Shepherd.
It’s 8:30 a.m. on Friday and the side door opens to the Parish House at Christ Church Savannah. More than 200 people enter to eat breakfast every weekday. Day services of the ministry include washer and dryer, shower and rest room facilities, distribution of donated clothing and shoes. The founding congregations for Emmaus House include Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Baptist congregations. Deacon Jamie Maury now serves as a Chaplain to this vital ministry.
Friday at 9 a.m. Hello-Goodbuy opens its doors on Highway 17 in Brunswick. The Thrift Shop Ministry of St. Mark’s Brunswick is open 8 hours a day, six days a week in a prominent location. Since moving to a new location and more frequent hours two years ago, the store has funded nearly 20 grant requests from local charities, totaling $31,000.
At noon on Friday in Valdosta, parents start picking up their preschoolers from the church’s new education building. Most days, Christ Church’s Parents’ Morning Out program will have five to eight kids while the half day preschool daily cares for 34 children two through four-years olds in three classes.
Friday afternoon in Darien, volunteers with c3—Community Cares Cafe—watch students cross the road from the elementary school across the street and enter the Parish Hall. Two dozen children have after school care with a meal and homework assistance. This is an outgrowth of a partnership with the Elementary School across the street that began with tutoring during school, the after school program was added and now there is a community youth group.
Saturday morning in Augusta sees the Soup Kitchen at Christ Church in the Harrisburg neighborhood has a line leading out from the building as physician assistant students at the Georgia Health Sciences University set up their medical screening clinic to run alongside the Soup Kitchen. The students offer screenings for high blood pressure, diabetes, and other common diseases at this church that has seen outreach ministries as a central focus since the church was established in 1882.
As the Soup Kitchen volunteers open the doors in Augusta, the St. Thomas Thrift Shop opens for business in its store on Montgomery Crossroads in Savannah. Open four days a week, the Thrift Shop is a major source of funds for the Unseen Guest Ministry of St. Thomas Isle of Hope. Since its founding 20 years ago to serve primarily persons suffering from HIV/AIDS, Unseen Guest has served 90,000 meals and currently serves about 350 each month.
Saturday morning also sees a group of volunteers gathering at St. Patrick’s, Albany, to tend to the eighteen growing beds in its Food for a Thousand Community Garden. The ministry has given away a literal ton of food as 2,000 pounds of fresh vegetables have been harvested and distributed to local food pantries including Neighbors in Need and The Lord’s Pantry.
On Sundays, our 68 congregations worship with Eucharists across south Georgia starting at 8 a.m., from Trinity, Blakely, on the western edge of the Diocese to Christ Church St. Marys in the southeast corner to Holy Cross, Thomson on our northeast edge. In a few hours on Sunday, nearly 6,000 of us will worship in our Diocese of Georgia churches on a given Sunday. Take just one example, at 9 a.m. on Sundays in Cordele, the bell rings and the opening hymn plays at Christ Church. Nestled in its beautiful church among the pine trees on a lot in the town, each Sunday the children of a different family pulls a red wagon up the aisle at the time of the oblations. The food offered Sunday by Sunday to God in the Eucharist then goes to stock the Open Pantry ministry that distributes food every third Wednesday. The worship and service all connect week by week.
On Sunday afternoon in Rincon and Girl Scout Troop 30235 meets at St. Luke’s, one of the numerous Scout groups across the Diocese that offer a sustained chance for adults to mentor children and teens through those programs.
Celtic Masses at St. Paul’s Augusta and St. Paul’s Albany as well as the more seeker-oriented Sunday evening liturgy at St. Paul the Apostle, Savannah, bring the day of worship to a close as the Diocese of Georgia readies for another week of loving and serving the Lord.
To the degree we are in business, we are in the business of changing lives through the power of the Gospel. We serve in the midst of a lost and hurting world deeply in need of the forgiveness, healing and wholeness that come through Christ alone yet all too often sure that Christians have but nothing but judgment to offer. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by people lost to drug and alcohol addiction, abusive relationships trapping them in violence and degradation, and all sorts of other harmful situations. For there are many kinds of oppression in the world, there is all kinds of hurt and sin, but there is only one source of healing and that is found in Jesus.
Yet if we are trying to follow the Great Commission to make disciples and baptize them, we are not bringing in new Christians in any large numbers. In 2013, the Diocese of Georgia baptized 222 new Christians with 42 of these being persons 16 and older. That is less than one adult baptism per congregation, especially as two churches account for a quarter of that number. St. John and St. Mark’s, Albany baptized six adults in 2013 and Holy Comforter baptized five.
For St. John and St., Mark’s, five adult baptisms represent a tenth of a typical Sunday’s attendance. While little growth has resulted from it, the congregation has sustained an effort to connect with the people who live around the church through block parties, their Trunk or Treat and the Radium Springs CyberCafé which offers a free place for students to cross the digital divide with a supervised place to use the internet for school work.
At Holy Comforter, adult baptisms grow naturally as the congregation attracts persons who grew up either unchurched or have been away from church since childhood. A recent example is that of a couple preparing for marriage in the church and the groom deciding that forming a Christian marriage mattered to him very much and so now is the time to commit to God through the sacrament of baptism. People with no church background know others with no church background and so as the church grows, they continue to attract persons who have not yet made a public profession of faith and been initiated into Christ’s Body, the Church.
I say this because we are not the Rotary Club at prayer or a social service agency. We are the Church and we don’t just reach out in mission, we also have a story to tell about how Jesus has broken into our lives in a meaningful way. And still we can be shy about telling out stories of faith. And this is true even though every Episcopalian I have ever met shows strong evangelical tendencies. My fellow Episcopalians tell me about good restaurants to try in their town, the best hotel to stay at, good books to read and movies to watch. We have lots of Good News to share and we do it effortlessly.
The key is to bring this all together. Take the ways in which we are connecting to our communities as I shared in my tour of a typical week. See how we might not be afraid to share our faith with the new people God brings across our paths. It is not as difficult as you might imagine. We are not talking about witnessing in the way other denominations might. We are only saying don’t keep how Jesus has made a difference in your life a secret from family and coworkers. Don’t make your congregation one of the best kept secrets in your town.
If we really have eyes to see the world as God sees it, I promise the fields are ready for harvest. As we get out of our church walls and encounter the world for whom our Lord suffered, died and was resurrected, we just need to not shrink back from sharing the one known cure for the deep hurts we see. And in this, we do nothing by our own effort alone. It is really the work of the Holy Spirit. The key is to get out in the world in loving service so that we encounter the world and then to be unafraid to share the Balm in Gilead. Jesus will handle the rest. For it is not our mission but his. We just work as the hands and the feet for the good hard work of being the Body of Christ and trust that God will take what we offer and accomplish more than we could ask for or imagine.
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