"Every single one of our parishes is surrounded by people who are anxious, depressed, some struggling with addiction, and many incredibly lonely," says Bishop Hughes. And she believes we are called to offer the beauty of God's love to them by growing the faith, in ourselves and others. (Time: 4:17.)
This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark. One of the most special gifts that I found – I should say, found again – in our focus on Sabbath this past summer, and also on my own re embrace of Sabbath, of making sure that it has a real place in my weekly life. I gave us a very specific way to approach Sabbath this summer, and that was to look at rest, and gratitude, and joyfulness, but that doesn't sum up all there is to Sabbath – that was some practices for us to get used to Sabbath, to stretch our muscles and lean into Sabbath.
And what I found myself working through those different pieces of approaching Sabbath is, sooner or later came a moment of quiet, a moment where I was able to listen. And most often I will admit, I would give a question to God, and I would just sit and wait with that question, hoping for an answer. I have to say that for me – and we all have a different experience – that for me, it's rare that there's an automatic answer. Often, there's a sense of what the next thing to do is. And if I do that next thing and get quiet again, then the next thing is revealed. And it's a slow unfolding, of moving into the direction that God has for us.
I spent quite a bit of time thinking about where we are as a diocese, what is happening with Christianity in the United States, and what is happening with our church, in our churches here in the Diocese of Newark, in particular. And certainly one of the things that I have heard from everyone is, we need to get people back in. We need to find young people, we need to find young families, we need to figure out how to grow the church. And I am aware that the Christian church has been figuring out how to grow itself consistently for the last 30 years – the entire time, losing ground, every single year, year after year, despite our best efforts and our best plans.
And what struck me this summer, when I kept offering that question over to God, "Do you actually even want to church here in northern New Jersey?" And the thing that became very clear to me this summer, is we have a very big ministry that God is calling us to in northern New Jersey, that every single one of our parishes is surrounded by people who are anxious, depressed, some struggling with addiction, and many incredibly lonely – not having any idea of how to connect to other people, how to be in relationship in a community or a group that cares for them, and certainly not having a sense of who God is in their lives. That is what we are called to. We are called to grow the faith.
And so I'm calling on every Episcopalian in our diocese, to spend time in your parish, spend time in your prayers, spend time in silence before God asking that question. How do I grow the faith? How do I grow it in myself? How do I grow it in others? Let me be clear, there is no one simple answer to this. It will take all of us – faithfully praying, faithfully listening and faithfully always taking that next step so that we can offer the beauty that is God's love, far beyond our parish doors.