From Greg Masztal, St. Paul’s, Modesto
In my travels around the Northwest, and in a recent Church conference I attended, I am surprised at the number of fellow Episcopalians who are interested in the Diocese of San Joaquin. “Oh, you’re from San Joaquin?! Tell us what’s happening!” is a common response to my introduction. At the recent conference a Bishops told me one of the reasons he came was to hear the story of the transformation of this Diocese.
At first I thought we had gained a notoriety because of the property disputes, or the forgiven $6 million debt, but I found that those issues weren’t raised in the discussions. The real interest was in what we, Episcopalians of the Central Valley, are doing in our new life of discipleship. I wonder sometimes if this interest is similar to the surprise of Lazarus walking out of his tomb: “You mean he isn’t dead??!!”
In my explanations I tell them how our nearly extinguished embers of faith have now burst into a new fire of hope for the communities surrounding us. I talk of how we are reaching out in new partnerships with other faiths and peoples, while searching for dark corners in need of Light.
I also tell them of the pain that goes along with transformation-how we have lost some people who are uncomfortable with this new way of being ‘church’. Change can be fear-filled and fearful, and the cost of that fear can translate into people walking out. I feel the loss of every single one, and hope and pray that they may one day find their way back.
If we, as Episcopalians in the Central Valley, focus on what we may lose in this change, then fear will surely overwhelm us and destine us for obscurity. If, however, we focus on the message of Jesus, to come follow him out into the world, then transformation into the Kingdom of God is inevitable and life-sustaining.
In walking this path of New Life we are told by Jesus “Do not be afraid”. How fearful it must have been for Peter, James, and John, to walk away from their nets and their family business to follow Jesus! How fearful must it have been for the women to follow Jesus to the Cross! How fearful it must have been for those new Christian communities to be ejected from the synagogues and persecuted.
In all of these stories, the people heard the message of Jesus, and responded: Fear not! Come follow me! May all of God’s people respond to this call to new life.