Diocese Sees "Mustard Seed" of Growth in 2016
First Numerical Growth in ASA in More Than 20 Years
In the year 2016 — when North Korea launched a long-range rocket, when we had the Zika virus outbreak, when Brexit began, when NASA’s Juno entered Jupiter’s orbit, when Brazil hosted the Summer Olympics, and when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States — a small needle shift occurred in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. By the grace of Almighty God, we grew in the total number of people who worshipped in our churches for the first time in at least two decades! More about that later.
During this season of Lent, we have focused our attention on various ways to study, pray and reflect around inviting God to “create in us new hearts.” In the book of Revelation, John reveals what God is up to in those significant words of hope and promise, “See, I am making all things new.” The creation story is incomplete since human failings are real. Greed, selfishness, jealousy, violence and all forms of discrimination and making “others” invisible are negative expressions of agency. Redemption is God’s intervention in human existence to correct a self-absorbed free fall toward the creation of a new hell on earth obsessed with worshiping the self. A new heart is our penitential request to God, receiving it, tending to it, and offering it to participate in the divine corrective to this free fall. Seeking a new heart is not about stalling within the comfort of self-contentment. It is about positive, creative and generative agency. It is possible in God for each of us to be born from above with hearts beating with the heart of God, generating new worldviews of care and connection where agency is about doing the right things for the right reasons.
The questions for us amid a challenging sweep of a global trend in spiking nationalism are:
- How are we joining God in the work of making all things new?
- How are we standing our ground to resist and overcome the evils of obsessive self-interest?
- How are we creating safe containers for those who are homeless—this includes us—in any or every way? Are we listening more? Are we telling our stories of resurrection and making ourselves productively vulnerable to each other?
As we approach Holy Week, I invite your sense of clarity and confidence that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in its various contexts of challenge, has thrived because it is about making all things new. Not only does this new thing come to fruition through embodied catalysts/disciples/leaders, but it gains its purpose from the resurrection, not death. While death happens, resurrection is a God thing. God is doing many new things among us. One of many signs I see is that by God’s grace, as a diocese, we grew in our average Sunday attendance — not by a lot but surely like a mustard seed — by 1.3% in 2016. To me, that is a lagging indicator of the fact that we are connecting and growing spiritually and in missional ways. Thank you, Jesus! Where Christ is, there is resurrection. The Rochester branch of the Jesus Movement is being raised up and we are witnesses to this new thing that God is doing. I cannot explain a whole lot about it, just like I cannot explain the resurrection a whole lot. All I can say is that it’s a God thing and it causes me to repeat our confidence, “Yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!!”
Your fellow servant of the risen Christ,