On April 15 and 16, two of our young adults, Janelle Grant of St. Paul’s, Paterson and Ben Miller of St. Paul’s, Englewood attended the Missional Voices 2016 Conference on the campus of Virginia Theological Seminary. With a goal of “thinking, planning, and dreaming about the future of missional communities and innovative ministries in The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion,” the conference included worship, panel discussions, and incubator sessions with practitioners, church planters and entrepreneurs who are pursing the mission of God in their context.
According to its website (missionalvoices.com), Missional Voices “began with a simple question: What if God is up to something really big and global but it can only be discovered through the small and local? It was through the exploration of that question that Missional Voices was born… gathering for the sake of reimagining church and transforming neighborhoods.”
Here in our diocese, we have been pondering a similar question. In thinking both about who might represent the Diocese of Newark at the conference and how we can invite young adults into the ongoing conversation and learning here in our diocese of joining God in shaping our future, it seemed obvious to myself and Kai Alston that we ask two young adults to attend. Ben and Janelle share their reflections on the Missional Voices conference below.
“Missional” seems a favorite buzzword among Episcopalians these days. Yet the phrase “missional church” has always struck me as redundant, like “wet water” – its popularity indicates that many Episcopalians feel that an essential element of being a Christian has been lost and needs to be reclaimed for our time. At every baptism, we publicly vow in the liturgy to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ”? (BCP p.305) Are we living up to our vows, to witness to the work of Christ in our lives? Do we accept our Lord’s Great Commission (Matthew 28.19-20) as a daily project to pick up and not merely a lofty ideal to leave to the professionals? I believe this is the question that the Missional Voices Conference, at its heart, wants to answer by discussing new and innovative ways of doing ministry.
There was excitement in the air as speakers and panelists encouraged us to try new projects, to be willing to fail, and to not wait on our existing church and diocesan structures for resources. This was an encouragement. In the midst of our doubts and our uncertainty as to how to get started, we always have the promises of Scripture, our baptism, and the Holy Spirit as the foundation for ministry.
The Rev. Katie Rengers, a VTS graduate who started a coffee shop in Alabama, made the biggest impression on me when she opened her speech by naming the feeling of disenfranchisement among the so-called Millennial generation. This concern gave her speech an urgency – it’s not merely that an entire generation feels alienated from church, but that, in her words, “many of the disenfranchised were never even franchised.” Many people – even those raised in church – have not been shown what Christianity really has to offer humanity. Do we want to see church as a harmless “nice place,” that does not expect much out of us, or as the gathering of people who encounter the salvation of God in Christ? Rengers then encouraged more Millennial leadership, and described how her ministry moved away from hosting events to a one-on-one approach by inviting people individually to dinner.
I felt encouraged by Rengers’ panel to focus on how I can make Jesus known among my friends, beyond a series of prepackaged church programs. In her words, “stories, not numbers, are a measure of success.” How true – our future cannot take the big numbers of Christendom for granted. What we need is a story – the story of God among us in the crucified and risen Lord – made “living and active” (Hebrews 4.12) in the lives of His Body the Church.
I was excited to be able to go to the Missional Voices conference in Alexandria, Virginia. I was ready to learn what other diocese were doing to be missional and bring it back to the Diocese of Newark. I’ve always wondered about how I could be missional in my diocese and also in my life. I’m a disciple and as a disciple I need to go out and do the Lord’s work by helping the community and touching the lives of people in the community by teaching and sharing God’s words. During the opening Eucharist, we sung “Spirit of the Living God”. The words “melt me, mold me, fill me, use me” stuck out to me. My entire life I have been molded into one of God’s disciples and being missional is God using me to do his work.
We were asked at the conference what brought us here. Words like Empowerment, Evangelism, Community, and Knowledge came to mind. There was one presentation that stuck out the most to me and it was by Christian Kassoff from the Diocese of LA. He spoke about Laundry Love. It started by asking a homeless person what could better his life and he responded, “If I had clean clothes, people would treat me like a human being.” This diocese gathers at a laundromat and pay for people in the community to wash their clothing. They also brought food and started fellowship with these individuals and started their own community in the laundromat.
I learned what it takes to be a missional church and learned so much about what we can do in our diocese to become more missional and I’m ready to put it into action. Like me there may be a lot of people ready, but don’t know where to start. I learned at this conference that you need to get up and just start the movement. Go out into the community and start relationships and begin to feed people spiritually. I leave you with a question asked at the conference, “How can we become a vibrant embodiment of God’s mission?”