Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church
Waretown, New Jersey
From the Rector
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Are we, the people of St. Stephen's, on a mission? Do we ask for God's help with our mission? Those questions, and others like it, began your Vestry's day with Rob Droste, Canon for Congregational Development and Mission for the Diocese of New Jersey. Rob is known around the Diocese as "the church growth guy."
As we gathered in the Parish Hall on August 18, Rob helped us see that the statement; "We have a mission for which we pray for God's help" is actually putting the cart before the horse! Perhaps we can think of it this way; "God has a mission, and has asked for our help."
That minor shift, which changes everything if you think about it, was one of the important insights Rob shared with us that Saturday morning. He handed out stickers that say "Jesus is busy working with me. He'd love for you to help." It is God's mission, not ours. We are called to be disciples of God's incarnation; we are called to be followers of Jesus.
As we consider our parish life, and look for ways to keep our parish healthy, it is so important for us to always remember that God is already at work in Waretown, New Jersey. Our question becomes, "What is God already doing here, and how can we help?"
This is an important shift, as we do not always correctly perceive what is going on. Perhaps we have misread our current culture, the shift in our demographics, the needs of our neighbors, and so many other factors.
Rob shared with us the story of the Choluteca Bridge. In 1998, Honduras was hit by Hurricane Mitch. Roads were wiped out, there was considerable damage to buildings and every other bridge in Honduras was destroyed. However, the Choluteca Bridge stood its ground and survived in near perfect condition.
But, there was one problem. The storm caused the river to carve a completely new path which no longer ran under the bridge. The Choluteca Bridge no longer stood over the river, rendering it essentially useless.
Have we built a strong parish, a strong bridge to God, but the river of people all around us is flowing along a different path? How do we respond to this new reality?
Rob would caution us to not panic. God is already at work within this new river, but God needs our help!
We talked about some of the challenges we face here at St. Stephen's. This was more of a brain storming session, with Rob helping us identify what mission God has already launched in our area. What God is asking us to do is help in this mission!
Here is part of what Rob offered to us, quoted from our diocesan website (http://dioceseofnj.org/churchgrowth/):
As someone who was a parish priest for 14 years, I know how challenging it can be to grow a congregation. Sometimes even the best efforts don’t produce the outcomes we had hoped for. The work can be quite discouraging at times. There’s no silver bullet or magic wand to wave.
Still, even the most challenged congregation can find new joy, energy and passion in its Christian journey. We can grow in numbers and resources, as we:
Discover (or re-discover) what God is up to in our neighborhoods
Enter (or re-enter) into active participation with what God is doing
Boldly re-claim the principle that God is interested in making disciples of Jesus Christ, and that God invites us to join in that effort
Here is Rob's description of "evangelism," from a recent interview(https://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/christopher/meet-evangelist-rev-canon-dr-rob-droste):
Q. What do you want the whole Church to know about evangelism?
A. You aren't trying to convert anyone - that's God's job. Whether you are lay or clergy, have advanced learning or not, you - yes, you - are in possession of life-changing spiritual resources which you can freely share with people around you who are lost and suffering this very moment. All you have to do is open your eyes to see their pain and offer caring friendship, with the sincere hope that they will find what you've found. Whether they ever become a Christian or an Episcopalian is not up to you, so just relax and enjoy befriending these people God's put in your life. And learn to keep your eyes open for people who are spiritually open and seeking!
Or, as Rob said to us, "Live and love like Jesus, and help others do the same."
As we join the Episcopal version of the Jesus Movement, may we keep our eyes open for the movement of God in our midst, and join in the dance.
In the Love of Christ,