Voice of the Vestry | by Carolyn Purcell

Drawing the Circle Wider

June 2023 | by Carolyn Purcell, Vestry Member 



In his sermon on June 11, Father Derek challenged us to widen the circle of who we see as included in Christ’s redemptive reach. In the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew 9, we read that Jesus included Matthew, a tax collector, who wouldn’t have been the most respected member of society; the woman with a bleeding disorder, who would have been considered someone to be avoided; and even a dead girl, just to show us that the good news can reach even those who have died.

As someone who grew up in a corner of the Christian world with a very small circle of who was in and who was out, I still remember a conversation with a close high school friend who was Roman Catholic, talking as teenage girls do about a boy I fancied.

Me: I am so in love with Chuck, I think I could marry him, even though he’s not a Christian.
Friend: Chuck is Catholic.
Me: Yeah?
Friend: Carolyn, Catholics are Christians.
Me: (back-peddling awkward response)

No one was standing up in church saying these things directly, but this is how the circle was
drawn in my mind: Baptist? Yeah, probably. Methodist? Lutheran? Maaaaybe. Roman
Catholic? Of course not! The unspoken message of who and what was considered
acceptable was communicated in so many other ways in my church community that it
didn’t take a flowchart for me to understand that some were in and some were out. I even
questioned my own salvation on a regular basis, worried that I had some unconfessed
transgression and wasn’t “right with God.”

This message of inclusion has been one of the most transformational of my life. I’m grateful
that my 20+ years in the Episcopal Church have helped me push the boundaries of the
circle wider and wider, allowing me to extend God’s grace not only to myself but to others
around me. Still, there’s definitely room to grow. Even without a flowchart, what unspoken
messages do I harbor that draw lines around God’s redemptive reach? And how does that
creep into my relationships with others?

Derek’s message also captured the heart of Pride month, which is being celebrated in
Traverse City and around the country in June. Pride Month observations honor the struggle
for LGBTQ+ rights and celebrate LGBTQ+ culture. It’s a good time to remember that our
LGBTQ+ neighbors continue to receive messages that they are “outside the circle” in many
areas of our society–not only outside the circle of faith, but also outside the circle of human
rights, legal protections, physical safety, and basic kindness and respect.

By widening our circle of the redemptive reach of the Gospel, we include not only our
LGBTQ+ neighbors but others in the community who feel excluded. What could be a better
way to celebrate Pride Month than by making sure our circle is so large and inclusive that
we can’t even see the boundaries?

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