By Canon Anna Carmichael
Last week (Jan 20-24), I had the privilege of flying with Pat Fehling, a leading lay woman from St John’s Lodi to Atlanta, Georgia for the Rooted in Jesus conference. I was doubly privileged to have Dean Ryan of the Cathedral meet us there. San Joaquin was in the house!
Let me say from the outset that I love conferences because I get to learn new stuff, I get to network and see old friends, and I get to tell our story as the people of San Joaquin. So yes, I was super stoked to go to Atlanta! This was the first year that this conference was held, and it was the combination of about seven smaller conferences that occur with some regularity. As I overheard one person say (while standing in line for the bathroom), “this is the best of General Convention without all the legislative work”. In other words, it was an opportunity to focus on our formation as leaders of the Jesus Movement.
After the pre-conference workshops on Tuesday, we were shuttled to Clark Atlanta University on Wednesday for the keynote address offered by The Rev. Dr. William Barber. Friends, if you have not heard Dr. Barber preach, you are missing out!! Dr. Barber has gotten a reputation as quite the prophetic voice and public witness in Washington DC, leading the “Moral Monday” movement as well as the Poor People’s Campaign.
During his keynote address, which, let’s be honest it was actually a sermon, Dr. Barber continually returned to the refrain “You can’t worship God without a conscious and concern for the poor”. I knew I was in good company when 1500 Episcopalians erupted in applause. He also went so far as to say “worshiping God without a conscious is a heresy”. Wow! He was on fire with the Holy Spirit and I was feeling it deep in my bones. Dr. Barber, like all good prophets of our holy scriptures, stands at the city gate and reminds us of our responsibility as Christians…that we aren’t meant to be boxed in, but rather in our neighborhoods and communities, sharing the love of God and taking care of each other.
Following Dr. Barber’s sermon, there was a panel discussion with The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglass (Dean of EDS at Union Theological Seminary), The Rt. Rev. Rob Wright (bishop of Atlanta), and The Rev. Nancy Frausto (whom we love). These three folks are without a doubt, prophets. Dean Douglass reminded us that being Church in the 21st Century means being aspirational…we are supposed to dream big dreams, because that’s what God has called us to do. Rev. Nancy called us to attention by asking how we, as the Church, can better respond to the separation of families at the border and the putting of children in cages. And then, in his prophetic way, Bp Rob woke us up when he said that the Church, by losing it’s prophetic voice, has become complacent and has in fact abdicated it’s consciousness, in exchange for keeping people (and pledge dollars) in the seats. He went so far as to say (and granted I’m paraphrasing) that we are invited to partner with God, and that if we don’t accept that invitation, we (as the church) will be a “clique with a cracker on Sunday”. Holy smokes friends! The room went silent while I applauded. I don’t want to be a part of that clique! I don’t want my church to be that clique! And I’m not willing to turn down the invitation to partner with God! Wow! The discussion then opened up into the Atlanta Revival and the Presiding Bishop preached about the Way of Love, the Jesus Movement, and reminded all of us that “If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God”.
After a few days of back to back workshops on leadership, stewardship, formation, and mission, we concluded our conference with a rousing Eucharist at the nearby All Saints Episcopal Church. And friends, we were indeed “taken to church”. The jazz musicians, the bilingual liturgy, and the preaching offered by The Rev. Dr. Mark Jefferson blew the roof off the place! And, like the preachers before him, Rev. Jefferson asked the congregation this provocative and prophetic question: What happens when we go back to the places that Jesus thought were important-to where people are marginalized and disenfranchised-to do our ministry? Like Dr. Barber, PB Curry, and Bp Rob had asked, what happens when we step out into our neighborhoods as disciples of Jesus? What happens when we respond to the world in love, with a consciousness, and with an eye for justice? What happens when we stop being afraid of being prophetic and instead start living into the ministry that Jesus has called ALL of us, lay and ordained?
I think I have an answer…
It means we’ll be the Church at its best.
And not a clique on Sunday with a cracker.
The church is indeed aspirational, Dean Douglass.
God’s Blessing be with you all,