We the People, One Nation under God are the words chosen to provide powerful moral clarity by the Founders of America about who we are as a nation and they embedded them in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
When we read stories about the bombing of the Christian churches in Egypt, or of the blasphemy laws adopted in Pakistan or recall the tragedy surrounding cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, we realize how lucky we are to live in a country founded by people of faith in search of religious tolerance.
More importantly, more than 250 years later it still is a country of religious faith and tolerance. One source of good data and research on the evolving religious views of Americans is the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which often presents the results of surveys and research to track changes in sentiment over time.
Recently, one of the Pew Forum meetings featured David Campbell and Robert Putnam authors of American Grace, the story of the evolving views of Americans about religion since the 1960’s. David Campbell made the presentation to the Pew Forum gathering. He described America today as a nation that remains religiously devout, religiously diverse and religiously tolerant.
This book is based upon surveys of more than 3000 Americans . They concluded that tolerance is reinforced in America through the daily interaction with people different from us. The more exposure Americans have to the world beyond our own the more accepting we have become of the differences in religious views, in part, because of the principles of religious freedom the Founders embedding in our national DNA.
So if America is a religious nation how come church attendance has fallen across the denominations?
Campbell and Putnam say that one explanation could be the tumultuous period from the 1960’s when America went from a post-WWII euphoria of growth and household creation to the plunge in public confidence by 1966 when Time Magazine’s cover asked “Is God Dead?”
The authors said the survey results suggest that far from doubting our religious foundation the tumult of the 1960’s and 1970’s gave rise to the evangelical movement where people sought more moral certainty in their lives and moved away from the mainline denominations in search of it.
Many Americans today claim no formal church affiliation in part because they still seek a church home that responds to the call of their hearts for that combination of moral clarity, acceptance of diversity and tolerance, and the faith foundation to help them get back on their spiritual journey for themselves and their children.
What does this mean for us today is evolving in our 20/20 Vision discernment process:
- Broaden and Diversify the Congregation. In our own 20/20 Vision process the Vestry set a goal of creating a welcoming place open to all doubling participation by 2020 as measured by the growth in the pledge base and average Sunday attendance. Research tells us the more we interact with people different than us the more tolerant and accepting we are and the more a rising tide of community lifts our spiritual boats on our faith journey.
- Invest in Our Kids Faith Foundation. The second 20/20 vision goal is to create a faith foundation for our kids that provide the moral clarity they need; reinforce our religious devotion, diversity and tolerance; and create a foundation for their own faith journey through life. One of the most compelling drivers in the search for a new church home is to meet the faith foundation needs of our kids. Achieving this spiritual goal is living the mission work of the church in ever life we touch.
- Live into the Mission Work of the Church. To love and serve God we have to get up out of the pews and roll up our sleeves doing our work across our campus, community and in the wider church around the world. We are part of an unbroken chain of faith and we are discerning in this rector search process what God is calling us to do to live into our church mission. The story of St. Timothy’s creation within 30 days of a request from the Bishop of California to the Rector of St. Paul’s Walnut Creek to ‘start a mission congregation in the San Ramon Valley’ is a pure and perfect example of God’s hand at work. And the lesson is God’s call to us to pay it forward by living into the 50th anniversary parish goal of planning a mission congregation. Where? When? How?
Calling a Rector committed to leading Our spiritual journey is our next step. But whom shall we call? The search committee must now take the 20/20 vision goals adopted by the Vestry and use them to engage the congregation is a spiritual conversation about the skills, qualities and traits needed to lead St. Timothy’s forward to achieve those goals.
How will we describe who we are as a community of faith to the candidates in this process? We have a lot of work to do to prepare a parish profile that is a true reflection of who we are and what we believe and how we are using those three broad 20/20 vision goals to imagine our parish future.
How do we tell our story of the hundreds of people, working in scores of mission and ministry programs dedicating thousands of hours to doing the work of the church? And what are we accomplishing on our campus, in our community and in the wider church around the world?
What skills and qualities do we seek in a new Rector? We are not going to get away with a simplistic answer like ‘find us someone like Steven and Kathy’ tempting and comfortable as that is for us. Our work as a congregation is harder than that because to describe the skills and traits we need in a new rector we must imagine our parish future. We must assess our strengths and risks candidly. And we must talk to each other about them as many times as it takes to reach a community consensus. Only then will we know the requires skills and of the person God is calling to be our Rector.
In American Grace the authors describe an America that is willing to reach out and embrace others, seeking moral clarity, a sense of belonging, and ways to satisfy our own spiritual journey. This is not new news to us—we feel the same things, want the same things, are seeking the same things in our lives right here in Danville, California USA.
Be Clear about Who We Are as a People of Faith and we will Discern the Person God has Chosen for us. That is the lesson from American Grace and from our own 20/20 Vision process now morphing into the rector search process before reverting again to 20/20 Vision lead by our new priest and shepherd. The other lesson is that the major distinction between congregations that are growing and thriving and those that are not is their willingness to be open and welcoming, to have clarity about their beliefs and yet acceptance of those whose religious experience, ethnic background or lifestyle is different.
This process of spiritual renewal is chipping away at the remnants of self-doubt in search for a sense of values, purpose and faith.
Think of it as a 20/20 version of “Father Knows Best.”