Last Thursday I delivered the message to the Cornwall Central High School seniors, parents and friends who attended this year’s baccalaureate. It’s hard to believe that people whom I met as rising 6th graders are going off to college, but it is true. One of the things I challenged them to do is keep their faith. How we believe changes over time as we mature, as we experience more of life, as the tragedies and challenges of life impinge on us and those we care about. In this cauldron of life some turn away from engagement with God, some decide it’s completely un-understandable and put faith in a limbo, and some feel that they either can’t question aspects of their faith or that no one is willing to take the time to listen and journey with them around issues that trouble them.
Some observers estimate that 92% of Americans believe in God or a Higher Power making us the most religious country in the developed world (France, Germany, the UK, etc.), yet there is a significant difference between believing and operationalizing (nice military term) that belief. I was engaged in a conversation with an official from the Diocese and made the point that the person we were discussing does good as a response to her relationship to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. The world is not as full of do-gooders as it should be, but there are many. A subset are people for whom Jesus and his teachings are the motivating factor.
I have been puzzled about the great number of people whom we carry as inactive members—that term as defined by the Episcopal Church is someone who during the past year has made no positive effort toward being connected with the church: they haven’t attended the Eucharist at least once, we have no record of their giving in support of the church, we can pretty much figure that they are not praying for the coming of God’s Kingdom. But I realized that they are inactive perhaps because they never connected with a relational ministry within the church or because once they had completed a particular ministry they were not asked to take on another. I am very much in favor of giving people a respite from a particularly intense church commitment such as Sunday school teacher, but the leadership of St. John’s including me need to do a better job of connecting people to ministries which will feed their souls. Past Vestry members should plan to be asked to rejoin the Vestry; why would God want us to disavow ability enhanced by experience? Experienced Sunday school teachers should be invited to rejoin this critical ministry or take on a related one.
I think of our fellow parishioners who have ‘retired’ from a ministry and then gone outside the church to take on a new role in the community. That’s fine, but there seems then to be a corresponding decline in their Sunday attendance and overall involvement. There is no rule which says that Sunday school staff should all be mothers of school age children—thankfully some at St. John’s are not. There certainly is no rule that says that people should drop out of church and stop learning more about their relationship with God because they have been confirmed.
Clergy do not spend 3 years in seminary so they can only answer phone calls; they study so that they can provide some perspective to their fellow believers who are asking questions about their faith. I am not so busy that I can’t speak with someone about a faith challenge. One of the things that I encouraged the almost graduates to do is to stop and not just smell the roses but to stop and catch their breath, look around, take stock of where they are and who loves them before going on to the next thing. It is a lesson we all should take to heart as we continue on our spiritual journeys.
Blessings, Fr. Tom
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