Bishop Goff's Report
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a profound joy to be connected in the Kingdom with you. Job 33:4 proclaims,
"The Spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Spirit gives me life." The Spirit of God has made us and the breath of the Spirit connects us deeply in God's kingdom.
Three years ago at Council we proclaimed our connectedness when we shared that Dayspring has Sprung. This year, we share that Dayspring is Done. The four congregations that moved back into their church buildings and the one new congregation that was formed when our properties were returned to us are vital and strong. They no longer have a special status as “Dayspring Congregations.” The entire Diocese will continue to walk with them in the same ways that we all support each other – as brothers and sisters in mission. I ask everyone who has been a part of the Dayspring venture in any way to stand as we offer, one last time, our deep thanks for that vital ministry.
Last year I announced the formation of a Think Tank to reflect on what it means to be the Church in this time of dizzying change. The group of 30 met over the year for prayer, Bible study, and deep conversation. Early on the group changed our vocabulary from words like program, policy and best-practice to these six words:
Vulnerability, Relevance, Abundance, Transformation, Courage and Connectedness. It has been rich and challenging work. I hope in the coming year to enlarge the conversation, not by adding more people to the Think Tank, but by expanding the conversation to small groups across the Diocese. I ask everyone who has been a part of the Think Tank conversations in any way to please stand and receive our thanks.
As I visit congregations, I hear one question more than any other. “How do we get people to come through our doors?
If they’d just come, they would experience the love we share and would want to be part of our church family. So how do we get them to come?"
I hear in that question a passionate desire to share the love of Christ and ensure the future of the congregation. But I believe it is the wrong question. At the very least, it's an outdated question. The reality many of us know is that people just aren't coming through our doors the way they once did. Church members typically are not coming as frequently as they once did. Strangers are not driving to our churches, searching for a place to park, figuring out which door to enter, and finding a place to sit; not in the old numbers, anyway. There are exceptions, of course. Military families and federal workers who come to Virginia for a limited time often show up and dive right in. But in most of our churches, people are not coming right now the way they once did. So sitting in our pews waiting for them is an exercise in frustration.
How do we overcome the frustration? By changing our question from "How do we get people to come in?" to "How do we go out?" By changing our primary verb from Come to Go.
The Spirit is urging us to GO to the local laundromat and meet neighbors there; to GO to the neighborhood school and partner with families there; to GO to the nearby nursing home or retirement community and make connections. The Spirit is impelling us to get to know the neighborhood in which the church building is located and make connections that are meaningful. Not to swoop in as saviors or even as servers, but as friends who want to make new friends. Sometimes when church members go out, people in the community no longer find the church to be so forbidding or scary, because they have relationships with members. Sometimes neighbors notice, for the first time, that the building in their community is an active church filled with good, loving and caring people. Sometimes they come in the doors and join in worship or fellowship or outreach activities. Sometimes young people who didn't grow up in the church and who believe that church people are judgmental see Christians making real and meaningful connections in the community and say, "I want to be a part of that." Going out is mission and it is evangelism. Going out fulfills the commandment of our Lord Jesus who never said “stay and wait,” but “GO. Go into all the world. GO.”
Going courageously and faithfully is part of the rhythm of congregational life that is just like the simple rhythm of breathing.
We come to church to worship in community, to be with friends who know and love us, to learn and teach, to hold one another accountable, to be fed by Christ's own body and blood. Coming is a deep inhale, like filling our lungs with nourishing air.
Then we go into the world to connect and befriend our neighbors in Christ's name - every day, whatever we do. Going is our exhale, like letting go and giving back.
Our living, breathing bodies cannot survive if we only inhale. Or if we only exhale. We need both in a constant rhythm. So the Church cannot thrive if we only come in. Or if we only go out. The people of God need the constant rhythm of coming in to be strengthened and fed, and going out to love and befriend others, then coming back in and going back out.
And here's more good news about this breathing rhythm of mission - we don't have to do it alone. We can't do it alone. We're hearing stories at this Council about congregations who are going out together. They are crossing lines of parish, region, denomination and even faith tradition. In joining together, they multiply connections.
Sometimes we fear that ministry with others divides us. Sometimes we fear that we won't get all the new members to ourselves if we work with other congregations. But in Christ, connections don't divide us. In Christ, our connections always multiply us. Multiplication is the only math God knows. In Christ we overcome competitiveness and join in the work of the Spirit.
That is mission, Christ's mission in this world. To gather us in and send us out in a constant, endless rhythm. Like the simple, ordinary, life-giving act of breathing.
So breathe, just breathe. For the Spirit of God has made us and the breath of the Spirit gives us life.