The hungry are being fed; the stranger is being welcomed

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A photo from breakfast at St. Paul’s, Winona on Sunday, May 17

As I walked into the kitchen, I could feel a big smile coming across my face. In part it was because of seeing Paul Double in an incredible chef’s hat. Yet it was also because those in Winona who were hungry were being fed!

Standing there in the sacristy, I was then surprised by how many young people kept popping in and out for one reason or another. Moments later, I was directed to the undercroft where I came upon a whole gaggle of blue choir robed youth – all preparing to process in. The funny thing was, once we were all in our places in the sanctuary, the choir almost outnumbered the rest of the gathering. Come to find out, many of these youth are from the greater community and are church attenders while their parents are not. The youth of Chatfield were certainly at home and welcomed here.

A couple hours later and down the road, I am once again surrounded by a sea of young people, this time the setting is Rochester. Food, fellowship, and fun are all taking place. Yet, it became clear to me that it was not just about fun for those gathered. These folks had spent a good deal of time during this last school year learning about their neighbors both near and far. This was most poignantly demonstrated in a video made by a young person who had the privilege of going to Haiti. She described the devastation after the earthquake, taking clothing to share, and how her life was changed forever. The people of Haiti were not only given clothing, but the gift of human contact and compassion.

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Mt 25:42-43)

Multiple times each day I have the incredible blessing of witnessing the faith communities of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota living into Jesus’ invitation to engage God’s mission in the world. The hungry are being fed, the stranger is being welcomed, the naked are being clothed, and the sick and others are being visited. By God’s grace we can end hunger, we can end homelessness, we can make it so that everyone’s basic needs are being met, and that all feel welcomed and cared for!

Looking Ahead to General Convention

A photo of me and Mrs. Latta

A photo of me and Mrs. Latta

As I sat listening to the conversation, I worked hard to connect the dots. I completely understood the conversation. What I was not as clear about, however, was its relevance to those that I felt deeply called to serve. With some trepidation I spoke up, “Could someone please help me understand how this impacts Mrs. Latta?” This small group of the absolute top of the national Episcopal Church leadership looked at me with bewilderment. I continued, “Mrs. Latta is the head of the Altar Guild in the faith community where I serve, and if I can’t somehow, even remotely, figure out how this impacts her life, then frankly I am not clear why we would be discussing it.” Through the years, those who I was blessed to serve with at that and many other levels of the Church, including within ECMN, have all become familiar with Mrs. Latta.

In the end, it is not literally about Mrs. Latta per se. Though she is a very real friend of mine and parishioner from the faith community where I previously served, she is also the icon that I keep at the forefront of where I fundamentally believe the work of the Gospel takes place. As I navigate through our sacred story, it is unequivocally clear to me that the transformation that God calls us to happens in the local community. From the patriarchs and matriarchs to the prophets, from those early followers of Jesus to the faith communities in Ephesus; Galatia and Corinth coming to a deeper understanding of the Holy people they were called to be, took place in the context of community.

This foundational understanding of transformation is why we describe ECMN as A network of faith communities called to transformation by engaging God’s mission. It is also why the focus of your team of Missioners, and those who serve on your elected bodies, is to assist our faith communities in getting the resources they need to engage God’s mission in their neighborhoods and communities.

In a little over a month and a half, The Episcopal Church will be gathering in Salt Lake City for our triennial meeting known as General Convention. I have been a part of this Church-wide meeting since the early 80’s. During this timeframe, I have served in a variety of capacities: lay, ordained, House of Deputies, and House of Bishops. This year we will elect a new Presiding Bishop, discuss and debate topics such as our structure, social justice issues, and what is liturgically permissible, and we will do all this in the context of prayer. It’s a fascinating macrocosm experience of the Church. And yet, in the end, it is with hope that the focus will be on the microcosm – our local faith communities. 

You have elected a very bright and talented cadre of lay and ordained individuals from ECMN to serve you at General Convention. Every one of them is active in one of our local faith communities. I ask your prayers for them, and for me, as we strive to discern God’s will, as we discover how the work of Convention will assist us in bringing the transforming love of Jesus to all the Mrs. Lattas of our faith communities, our neighborhoods, and the greater community.

Self-righteousness and Humility

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A photo from the Northeast Mission Area Confirmation service, held Saturday, April 25 at St. James, Hibbing.

As she began to speak, I was initially impressed with her credentials and her grasp of the subject matter. However, once the question and answer period began, I could feel a change in perspective for both myself and others in the room. Becoming acutely aware of my changing experience, I concentrated on listening deeply to the interactions taking place.

Self-righteous: Having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior (Oxford Dictionary). That was the phrase that kept swirling in my head. As others offered alternative points of views, or asked probing questions, the speaker quickly moved to a very dismissive posture. With each exchange she became more and more agitated and then argumentative. Not only did she give the clear message that her perspective was superior, but that she herself was superior to all others in the room.

One of my earliest spiritual directors asked me, “Do you believe that in your role, it is important to be the ‘most spiritual’ person in the community?” One of my influential mentors suggested to me a long time ago, “If at anytime you believe you are the smartest person in the room, regardless of your position, education, experience or the subject matter – you have lost the capacity to be effective.” One of my toughest teachers taught me that the moment you can’t be both a teacher and a learner in any situation, or with any individual, you have lost the chance to still grow and evolve as a person.

In the end, what these incredible companions fostered in me was the importance of humility. If I believe I am the ‘most’ anything – spiritual, smart, moral, champion for justice, or whatever – I have in fact lost my capacity to grow. And this would inevitably decrease the value I do have in any set of circumstances. It is great to be passionate… yet if that passion focuses on me and what I know or believe, and not on the greater good, it is then about self-righteousness, not about transformation.

Self-righteous: Confident of one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others (Dictionary.com).

Humility: The quality or condition of being humble; Modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank (Dictionary.com).

So which do you think is closer to following in the Way of Jesus?