By The Very Rev. Daniel P. Richards
When I was about eight years old, my family moved to a new school, and I remember being both nervous and excited. I had not liked our previous move and had decided that this one would be better. Now, I stood in front a new brick elementary school with hundreds of kids I didn’t know as my brother rode off on another bus.
Just then a little boy came up to me and asked my name and told me his. Then he began to tell me about what the expectations were at this school. He had always gone there and somehow knew I needed to know the rules. I do not remember everything he said that day, but I remember distinctly him describing that while we fought by throwing holly berries at each other, you could not hit anyone in the face or head or with a holly branch because they hurt. You could threaten, chase, and even throw, but not hurt. He said, “New boys make that mistake a lot.”
Knowing what is expected can make all the difference in a new place. As a pastor I have often fussed and worried over what people think is expected of them. I want to lay out a vision in outline of what is expected from members of Grace. If you are still the new kid, this is for you.
Our mission is to be disciples and make disciples of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus’ picture of who God is, Abba – Daddy, is true. We believe that God loves all his children and wants them to return to relationship with him. We believe that our work is to continue to heal the gap (sin) between God and people and people with each other. We call that work forgiveness and justice. It is intense but doable in small doses.
We break down that work here in a simple “methodology statement:” As Episcopal Christians we Worship at home daily and together weekly; Study the scriptures, our tradition, and what it means to be a disciple today; Serve our families, our parish, and our world in the name of Christ. Everything we do is done with an ethic of Welcome because we are only here by Grace.
We expect that every member of Grace will be doing these things. We know that we all fail to do them all perfectly or always. This is not about perfection; it is about relationship. We begin where we are and add on.
Perhaps you worship at church on a regular basis, as you promised at your baptism or your child’s, but you would like to build a home practice of prayer. We can help you do that. Maybe you sense a desire to serve but do not know where to begin. We can help you do that. The staff is here to help equip you for the work of Christ.
Members should be moving forward in each of these four areas: welcome, worship, study, and service. We know that some days we don’t get to the Daily Office, but we keep moving. These areas are general and the specifics may need to be worked out for your situation, but we should all be Worshipping, Welcoming, Studying and Serving weekly.
There is a deeper picture of discipleship that we are starting to sketch out in our common life, and it has been taking shape in two fundamental questions:
What do you Witness to with your life?
What do you Steward for God and the next generation?
These two questions make some assumptions. The first question assumes that your life is bearing witness to something. Every statement makes some propositions. Your life proposes some statements to the people who observe it. What do you bear witness to? That U of M is a great school? That State has a great team? That your political party is right?
As disciples our lives make clear statements about the value and meaning of Christ and what we believe about God, the world, and other people. We say that we believe that God loves everyone, but do we treat other people as if we love them? We say that we are Christians, but do we love and care for other Christians?
The second question too proposes something. We support things with our lives, our money, our time, our talents. We support colleges and sports, shopping malls and political parties. What will you leave behind you when you die?
Our church is stewarded by us. We are expected to give ten percent of our income to the church, to put our time into serving the community, especially those who are suffering and lost. We give our talents to God in our worship and study and fellowship.
Disciples make a difference in the world. We expect members of Grace to be disciples of Jesus. We worship God in him, we study his teachings and what they mean in our lives, we serve others and welcome them in his Name. This is what we do here.
We do these things because we know that we want this place to continue to represent God’s Grace for generations to come, and we know that what we do tells the world what we believe and what we have done with our lives.
We are fortunate that we don’t have to do all of this on our own. The Holy Spirit works in us, but the Spirit moves best when we are moving, and we move in a community. You cannot do everything, and neither can I. We rely on each other.
I needed that little boy on the playground all those years ago. I learned how to play the game from him. Here at Grace we are disciples of Jesus, and we need each other to be in the game together.