Easter Monday 2017
To Our Parish Community:
“Tell me about your church.”
I’ve had the chance to travel over the last several months and folks I meet generally ask about Heavenly Rest. I figure they realize we celebrate Christmas and Easter but what they’re really asking is, what’s special about the way we carry out our ministries? How do we experience God in our Parish?
More than a dozen years ago, the Vestry took a risk: Could we re-claim space from the Trevor Day School and re-imagine our mission together? If we invited people, would they come?
The answer is clear: The number of children registered in Sunday School has doubled over the last four years; 200 parishioners volunteered in our outreach ministries in 2016; our Art Walks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art have waiting lists; and our Wednesday Celtic Eucharist and Sunday Night Prayer welcome first-time attenders every week. People are sticking around for coffee hour! The cafe’s coffee was voted the best in the city. We’ve reclaimed 15,000 square feet of space for mission; you’ve given $7.3 million to the capital campaign; and our first two phases of construction are due to be completed on-time and on-budget.
Over the last several years we’ve focused our ministries on Children & Families, Outreach, Arts & Spirituality, and Contemplative Practice. We’re developing long-term partnerships with Harlem and with Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. We confront tough challenges together. Over the last year we’ve stayed faithful to our call through fire, flood, tenant uncertainty, and staff changes. And, we balanced our 2016 budget.
Tell me about your church. My answer is invariably the same. “We have amazing people.”
Amazing people is more than an affirmation of our congregation. It’s a theological proposition about how God knows us, how we experience God, and how we relate to the world. Amazing people defines our strategy for ministry. As we celebrate the Easter season, I wanted to think together about where we are and pose questions about what happens next in God’s call to us as a community.
This winter we heard the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus declares to the disciples:
‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5: 13-15)
Salt, of course, in the ancient world was precious because it preserved food. It was more valuable than gold. Light, at a time long before electricity, transformed a world shrouded in darkness. It offered hope and possibility.
Jesus says to the disciples, You are salt and you are light: beloved, and made in God’s image to be of infinite worth and infinite promise. It’s a spiritual way of saying amazing people. Perfect people? No. We wander off course most days. God’s love is present in our brokenness as well as our gifts. Powerful people? Never by ourselves. God’s grace shines through our friends and partners to offer us more possibilities than we can imagine.
Salt and light defines not only us but everyone whom we meet: first-time Sunday morning visitors, museum tourists who visit the cafe, people returning to East Harlem from prison, and immigrants arriving in our City seeking a new home. We have something to learn from everyone.
Salt and light explains how we focus our ministries. Our mission strategy is to recognize worth and possibility in our congregation, our neighbors, and the world– to invest deeply in our people and in our partnerships. We care for each other, nourish gifts, and build bridges.
If this is our call, what are the questions that we have to answer in order to carry it out?
How are we nourishing body, mind, and soul? Infinite worth means that Christ’s love nourishes us at every moment in our life. So much of life can deplete us. We seek a community in which we can know God and relate our faith to every-day life. All our pastoral care, our liturgy, and our programs feed us by reflecting Christ’s love. Our partnerships with Berkeley and with Harlem both focus on nourishment. Our goal isn’t to run interesting programs; our programs are meant to nourish souls.
How are we offering hospitality to our Parish and to our neighbors? Infinite worth means that Christ’s love calls us to welcome everyone who walks through our doors. We seek a community that knows our names and cares for us. Our practical operations should reflect Jesus’ hospitality. We hear from newcomers that they feel welcomed. Hospitality requires a long-term commitment to culture. Recently, with help from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, we’ve discussed how our operations and our campus could better reflect hospitality. Sunday morning greeting is important; so is having paper towels in the bathrooms every day.
Who are our leaders? Infinite promise means that everyone has something offer. We seek a community in which we can make a difference. Everything we do should invite, nurture, and support leaders who offer their gifts for God’s mission. We started six new programs over the last six months. Our ministries are growing organically because we’re listening to our community and exploring ways to respond. We’ve begun to sponsor community organizing and neighborhood mapping training for congregational leaders and senior staff. We have to make invitation and nurture of spiritual leaders core to our common life.
How are we witnessing to our faith? Infinite worth and infinite promise mean that Christ’s love calls us to witness our faith to our neighbors. We seek a community where our values are reflected in our actions outside our doors. Christ calls us not just share a new faith; Christ calls us to shape a new world. Now is an uncertain and disruptive time– not just in our country. This gives us an opportunity. We have participated in the Women’s March, responded together to the needs of refugee children, and drafted a statement of shared Biblical values around immigration that has been joined by 100 Episcopal clergy across the country. The world yearns for voices of dignity, respect, and compassion. We have to make this witness part of our Parish DNA.
Tell me about your church. We have amazing, faithful, courageous, fun people. The Episcopal Church has chosen Heavenly Rest as one of three congregations nationally to spotlight what the Episcopal Church might be: how our denomination might nourish newcomers searching for a safe home, yearning for a place to use their gifts, and witnessing to their values.
God has given us an important message to share. The risks that we’ve taken over the last decade have shown us new life in the Spirit. I have so much hope for our calling. In our ministries and in our partnerships we have new ways to embody, reflect, and proclaim Christ’s declaration to the disciples:
We are salt and light.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Matthew Heyd