As we approach Thanksgiving and Advent, there are issues in the world that have grabbed our attention, and provide opportunities for us to respond – in study, giving and prayer. I highlight four of them.
On Tuesday, November 25, in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I will be offering Thanksgiving blessings at Penn Station in Newark and at the soup kitchen next door to Episcopal House. I invite congregations to join me by offering blessings in your own communities, as we join in God’s work in the world. Having done this now on several different occasions, it is becoming more and more clear to me that people want and need to be blessed – in church and in the public square.
Beginning on November 30, the first Sunday of Advent, I invite you to join me in reading Alan Roxburgh’s book, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood. The book is available from online booksellers. The Rev. Dr. Roxburgh will be the keynote speaker at our January Diocesan Convention. I will be offering regular reflections on Alan’s book on my blog – Signs of God’s Grace – and on Facebook and our website. Alan offers important insights on how we can engage the Gospel in our neighborhoods
On December 7, the second Sunday of Advent, I invite your congregation to join in a National Day of Prayer for West Africa. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is calling for this day of prayer – in response to the Ebola crisis. Worship resources will be available on our website. People will be invited to make donations to Episcopal Relief & Development, which has an extensive ministry on the ground in Liberia – and has a 75-year-old track record of responding to human need as crises arise throughout the world. As chair of the Liberian Covenant Committee, one of five historic covenant committees in the Episcopal Church, I have been working with leaders from various entities in the Episcopal Church which have been offering responses to the crisis. We began to develop a communication network with one another, and pledged to work together as partners in develop a more focused response to the crisis.
On December 14, the third Sunday of Advent, we are inviting congregations to join in the National Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend. Sponsored by Faiths United Against Gun Violence, an interfaith organization based in Baltimore, communities of worship are invited to make their witness for peace by reducing gun violence. Worship resources are available on our website. At least seven congregations participated in last March’s gun violence Sabbath (it has been moved to December to coincide with the anniversary of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings). I hope we can increase that number. This gun violence Sabbath is one of the many initiatives of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network that began two years ago with four bishops – from Newark, Baltimore, Chicago and Milwaukee – who made a commitment to work together to reduce gun violence in our cities. Then the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut happened; and our network has grown to sixty bishops. We are committed to making a difference; and reframing the national conversation from gun control to gun safety; from a constitutional rights issue to a public health issue; and to advocate for universal background checks, which has overwhelming public support.
Fourteen years ago, on the Sunday after Christmas, Archbishop Desmond Tutu preached at All Saints Church in Worcester, Mass., where I served as Rector. It was the occasion of his granddaughter’s baptism. He began his sermon by thanking us for our prayers that ended apartheid. Prayer makes a difference, he passionately claimed. It changes the conversation; and prayer deepens the commitment. The world needs our prayers.