One of the challenges of the Christian faith is to live in humility. Humility is a grounding experience, in the literal sense of the word – given that humility has a connection with the word humus, which refers to the earth. When we are humbled, we are grounded. Grounded in God. When I am humbled, I am less absorbed in myself and more absorbed by God. Unfortunately, there has long been a confusion between being grounded – and being ground down. Between being brought low in order to see the full majesty of God – and being brought down by rejection or disappointment, or worse.
To be humbled has nothing to do with being humiliated. Living in humility is a spiritual discipline of living firmly and faithfully on God’s holy ground; humiliation is to have our noses rubbed in that ground. As Christians, we invite people into lives of humility – and at the same time expose and resist the forces of humiliation.
I have been much humbled these past few weeks. On January 27, I was humbled by the pageantry and celebration of the Consecration – as we were all consecrated in our new life together with the living Christ. And since that day, I have humbled by the talent, passion and energy that people bring to their faith and to their church. The level of commitment is as strong and deep as I have ever seen. I feel that the landscape where I now have my life and my being is indeed holy ground.
Some examples of this holy ground:
- Hearing and seeing the people of All Saints, Orange and Holy Innocents, West Orange ponder and pray together – and with deep respect for one another evolve into a new life as one congregation.
- Working with the leadership at Trinity, Montclair to plan a final service in the church that has been their home for 92 years. The stories of the congregation will be shared, honored and blessed on February 15 – and the cherished and sacred elements of their life will be reverently gathered and taken to Christ Church, Bloomfield/Glen Ridge where those elements will have a new home. The pastoral care given by some of our deacons to the members of Trinity has softened some of the pain of the congregation’s closing.
- And the Deacons! They are faithful and gracious – and filled with enormous stamina – as they provide a whole new dimension of ministry to many of our congregations (while many of them work full-time elsewhere). The deacons in our midst are a remarkable gift to the diocese.
- At the Absalom Jones Day service at Trinity and St. Philip’s Cathedral on February 11, if the preaching of its former Dean -- the Very Rev. Petero Sabune, didn’t raise the roof, the singing certainly did. I was inspired by the witness and the honor accorded the first African American Priest in the Episcopal Church – who was ordained in 1804.
- On the weekend of February 9-11, about 50 teenagers from across the diocese gathered at St. Stephen’s, Millburn for a Happening weekend. Led by their youth leaders (with a lot of adults who bravely kept up with the kids – on very little sleep) the group sang – and danced, and goofed and prayed – into a deeper relationship with each other and the living Christ.
- The Apostles’ House Shelter, located across the street from the House of Prayer Church in Newark – and a ministry sponsored by the Diocese, received an “extreme makeover” from volunteers from Mayor Booker’s former law firm (and front page coverage in the February 12 Newark Star Ledger). Episcopal Community Development, a ministry of the Diocese and whose offices are in Episcopal House, has been approved for funding for 21 units of affordable housing in the South Ward of Newark (which should be built in the next year). Nine of those units will be reserved for qualified Apostles’ House families – which will give this important ministry a full range of service for their guests.
- I have discovered that Episcopal House is holy ground on five floors. The twenty- three people who work there -- are dedicated to a ministry which, in various ways, is focused on supporting the ministry of the 113 congregations of the diocese. Their dedication is a reflection of their mutual support and teamwork.
While we can all acknowledge that there is spiritual litter across the territory which we call the Diocese of Newark; and that congregations and people in congregations occasionally stumble over financial and psychic speed bumps that seem to appear without warning – I want to affirm that the ground which supports our individual and collective journeys is holy and blessed -- by the witness of the past, the extensive ministry of the present – and the promise of God’s future.
And I am humbled.
+Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of Newark