THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION
NORTHWOODS, MISSOURI 63121
June 30, 2015
Dear Friends in Christ,
Addressing the Union of Black Episcopalians in 2008, The Reverend Greg Jacobs offered a particularly pointed assessment of the state of black Episcopal congregations and our tenuous future. Nationally, our numbers are decreasing. We’re getting older. Our financial stewardship has declined. And, we’re not “raising up” future clergy from within our own faith communities. The bottom line: we’re at risk for extinction – unless we take charge.
Jacobs also noted that we can’t count on the amount of financial support we’ve historically received from our dioceses and the national church. They’re as challenged as we are! Increasingly, we’ll need to assume even greater responsibility for the life and health of our congregations, our ministries and the stewardship of the spiritual, financial, capital and human resources entrusted to our care.
Admittedly, The Reverend Jacobs’ analysis is broad and does not necessarily describe the unique history or current challenges confronted by a specific congregation. Nevertheless, his concern for our collective future as black Episcopal congregations is well-grounded in fact, and his “call to action” must be taken seriously.
Although the parishes in the Diocese of Missouri are working diligently to embrace the diversity of the communities they serve, All Saints’ and Ascension Episcopal Churches are the only predominantly black congregations and, as such, have both the unique opportunity and responsibility to give distinctive presence and voice to the sensibilities, aspirations and concerns of our community. To be sure, our congregations differ markedly in history, culture and civic presence. However, together we share the broad span of the black experience both in St. Louis and nationally.
We also share the challenges to black congregations illuminated by The Reverend Jacobs. Neither of us has recovered from the migration of population to the suburbs. Our lay leaders and clergy are aging, and our outreach to young people and families has met with limited success. While both congregations are financially stable, serious questions about long-term financial viability loom on the horizon. Our buildings and administrative support are increasingly expensive to maintain. And, although our congregations have lovingly embraced white clergy and their ministries, Father Dunnington and I would readily acknowledge the cultural deficits inherent in the absence of black colleagues in ordained leadership.
These challenges are quite real and will need to be addressed, hopefully while we are relatively healthy and not in crisis. No doubt, we can independently muddle through the issues we are facing. But, although “going it alone” may be temporarily satisfying, such an approach ignores the scope of our challenges and the limits of our individual congregations. More to the point, it calls into question our understanding and practice of Christian stewardship , our faithful use of the gifts entrusted to the Body of Christ – not to individuals or even congregations, but to the entire community that is the Church.
Alternatively, we can together seize the opportunity at this unique point in time to begin serious conversation and discernment on how, as the core of the black Episcopal community within the diocese, we might best be the presence of Christ for all whose lives we might touch. This is just the discussion Bishop Smith has invited us to pursue in a letter recently sent to the leadership of All Saints’ and Ascension, a copy of which is attached. Specifically, he has requested that we explore the:
· distinctive and common elements of our respective histories, missions and ministries;
· specific challenges we face and our hopes and aspirations for the future; and
· relationships, organizational model(s) and resources that will foster substantive collaboration and strengthen our ministries within the larger community.
Bishop Smith has asked that a written report summarizing our discussions and recommendations be submitted to him by the end of this year.
The Bishop’s Committee and I are developing a process and schedule for our congregational “fact finding” and analysis, as well as the eventual conversation with the All Saints’ community. I look forward to sharing this with you as soon as it is complete. In the meantime, let us look forward together with faith, hope and the certain knowledge that God will lead us into a future beyond our expectations.
Although in the midst of summer, our work continues.
· Staff meeting will be held on Wednesday, July 8 at 11:00 A.M. in Rev. Deb’s office.
· The Bishop’s Committee will meet on Sunday, July 19 from 12:30 – 3:00 P.M. to begin our annual strategic planning process. Lunch will be provided.
Please join me extending hearty congratulations and our deepest appreciation to Tarell Gray, Donnetta Jones and all who assisted with Vacation Bible School and our summer meals program.
Finally, Mary and I are profoundly grateful for your concern, care and prayers as we deal with her illness. We also appreciate your understanding and flexibility as we respond to her needs.
May God bless you with a gentle spirit, generous heart and servant’s hands.