Thursday, August 30, 2012

You Can't Become What You're Not

I wanted to write about the fun we had at Camp EDOW, our diocese’s inaugural summer camp.  I wanted to talk about the ways we grounded ourselves everyday in the Holy Eucharist, and felt free to shout with joy and even dance in church.  I wanted to mention how cool it is to plant seeds of lasting friendship and get infected by fun with a new community of kids and adults – many of whom were complete strangers just days before.  I wanted to talk about the importance of relationships, and how vital it is to remember play and joy in the work of formation, and about this new seedbed of energy for our diocese.  (But you might think this a shameless commercial, which it’s not.  You’ll know I’m spreading camp propaganda when I do so with you, face to face!)

There’s a bigger story here.  Camp gave me and, I imagine, others a gift of creativity, innovation, new rejoicing.  There’s just something wonderful about starting something new.  Look, I treasure the treasures of our Episcopal Church.  When God called me to this church as an adult one of the things I valued – and still value – is our stability, tradition, and steadfastness.  I find delight in the gentle work of tending to what others have set up before, and maintaining our heritage.  And yet I also need to create and innovate and grow new things, especially with others as the living Body of Christ.

Down here in St. Mary’s County, the ‘hip’ church meets in a high-school cafeteria.  They’ve perfected rockin’ music, dynamic preaching, and a service-oriented approach to Sunday mornings.  Jeans and a t-shirt?  Cool.  Bring your coffee in?  Sure.  There’s energy and vibrancy, and it’s an awesome thing.  But when they went from one service to two a few years ago – in order to make room for newcomers – the total worship numbers decreased significantly.  I know a family who used to attend but when the pastor asked them to make a significant contribution to the church building fund they left.  There’s a sign on the road, advertising the future site of their church.  Part of me wants to tell them to stop and enjoy what they’ve got (no roof means no trees will fall through it!), but I’m too busy tending my own growing section of the vineyard.

Why can’t we be like them, a number of Episcopalians ask?  Five hundred people on a Sunday morning, awesome music?  My response: Have you noticed you’ve got buildings and a presence?  You have what they also want.  Also, church, your buildings are historic, quaint, truly sacred … and in case you’ve forgotten some of you have graveyards in front!  My point: you can’t become what you’re not, and yet if we take this whole Good News thing seriously you can become more than who you already are.

In fact, Christ is calling us to become more than who we already are.  It can’t be copycat because that’s inauthentic and it codes as fake.  It’s got to come from the heart of who we are, who we know ourselves to be.  For those of us who enjoy the long-view of tradition (and, Episcopal Church, like it or not that means you, and that means maintenance, so it’s not a bad word) we could also remember the value and joy of starting something new, even if it’s imperfectly organized and doesn’t fit our tidy bureaucracy.  And we might also remember there’s a world of folks who are un-rooted, both geographically and spiritually.  Many are and many more will be drawn to our ancient, holy, timeless way of worshiping God in Christ if we share our story with some vibrancy and joy.  And when we feel like fretting about the numbers or comparing ourselves to the next big thing, we might do well to return home to God.  And hear God call you by name, once again, and re-ignite the call of your life – right where you’re already standing.

Rev. Greg Syler is the rector at St. George's, Valley Lee.

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