St. Timothy’s Cares—welcome home the Light of Christ is always on here. Have you noticed that when you ask someone at St. Timothy why they belong to this faith community there is a common theme often spoken emotionally and from the heart. This theme is simple yet profoundly important to who we are and how we live into our faith.
We strive to make all feel as welcome as the prodigal son who was lost and then found by a father who never stopped loving him. Being the Body of Christ at work at St. Timothy’s drives every ministry program. This is our strategy to live into our faith lesson to respond to the pastoral care needs of our parish family.
Our commitment to being a welcoming parish open to all meant to us just that—all means all. Through it all we felt the Holy Spirit was guiding us and protecting us with His simple message ‘love others as I have loved you’ and so we did—and so we are one congregation with open arms to all who love God and seek Christ in their lives and we gather around one table where we all find renewal, sustenance and hope.
Powerfully Validating Act of Asking for Help. Once someone decides to make St. Timothy’s their faith home our challenge is to help them discover the many mission and ministry ways that they can serve God. The single most powerful thing we can do to speed a family’s incorporation into the fabric of the parish is to ask them to help in God’s work. One person put it this way and his words are more eloquent than anything I could write:
“My wife and I were “floaters” for several years early in our tenure with St. Timothy’s. It wasn’t until we were invited to a social gathering by other families with young children that we felt a strong bond with the church and it began to feel like the extended family we view it as today.”
The church connects families balancing the many demands on kids’ schedules with a consistent faith tradition that celebrates the living body of Christ in serving others creating a powerful faith tradition to guide their lives. The church helps others find Christ in their lives, fill a void, renew their spirit or find meaning in their service to others.
Being in Community. We celebrate the ritual and traditions of our faith, the feast days and celebrations of the church seasons and the spiritual power of our corporate worship when we gather around the table as one family becoming the Body of Christ. The church must also be responsive the needs of the people in the pews, or not in the pews anymore! We don’t have to give up on church, but we do have to keep it relevant in our lives and those of our kids in a world of constant distractions.
Church was the center of community life in villages as cities grew. The church was also the center of family life for a long time. But in our mobile lives today it is no longer the church buildings that center us. Instead we need ways to stay connected to each other, stay involved in the ministries causes we care about and our life together as the Body of Christ even though we are not physically in the pews. That is what social networks are doing in our business and personal lives. These social networks like Facebook and Twitter shrink our world by connecting us in person-to-person ways we could scarcely imagine only a few years ago. The church needs to make more effective use of these tools for being in community as a powerful force for good to arrest the decline in church participation by getting people involved and empowered doing God’s work.
Putting social media to work for the church. Perhaps the single most powerful thing the Diocese of California could do for church vitality today would be create and nurture growth a social network to empower and connect its members. If we get congregations connected together and then connect many congregations together with our missions and ministries, programs and the institutions of the church we could create an online virtual version of the parish hall. A virtual combination of an Episcopal Facebook of members combined with an Episcopal Linked-In for the mission and ministry work of the church.
In our virtual parish hall we can hang out, and ‘be at home together’. We can share ideas, collaborate and participate to do our mission and ministry work, offer our time and talent with those who need them, do Bible study or be part of support groups tailored to our needs.
Imagining the church as a social network of the body of Christ does not diminish the role or purpose of the church. We are merely adapting the technology of our lives to do the work of the church. Our lives today are full of disruptive technology, mobility, going off to college, moving for a new job, joining the military, getting transferred, retiring, losing a loved one, feeling alone. Each life event or change modifies the rhythms of our lives and at each life stage we need the love and support of the church and the entire body of Christ to live into God’s plan for us.
We’re learning from our experience that social networks do not isolate us or diminish our personal relationships—quite the opposite—they enrich them, intensify them and share them in ways we scarcely thought possible. Making the church accessible, empowering and a place to be part of something exciting in the lives of people we care about and those far distant we can help.
I have God with me everywhere—why can’t I take church along too? Because the church grew from the congregations up, it is tough for us to transfer our communities and familial ties to the greater church as a top down organization. It follows then that as the congregations and parishes of the church struggle, age, decline and fail so does the larger church. The church as the social place we use to connect to others has been superseded by social media, tweets, TXTs and real-time communications.
Here are real examples of the enabling power of social networking in our mission and ministry:
- Making Youth Ministry Cool Again. Is your congregation struggling to keep youth ministry exciting enough to attract the kids you want to serve? Most parishes face this reality. Traditional approaches to youth ministry have trouble getting a critical mass of kids at each age grouping to have a youth ministry programs that is active, exciting and cool enough to compete with the other options our kids have today. It does not mean we should quit trying, but it does mean we should try different ways to meet the need. But many DioCal congregations lack the critical mass of kids and can’t afford the resources to hire a full time youth minister.
- Episcopal Impact Fund. We learned from experience with action network grants for ministries in the six deaneries of the Diocese that many congregations are supporting the same causes while others go wanting. We learned that the needs are wider than the squeaky wheel of causes that have vocal advocates. We learned that the process was too cumbersome, too long and didn’t focus enough on recruiting the faithful to get involved. Life does not work that way. There is room at God’s table for many hands, many hearts a fire, and many mouths that need to be fed. EIF Action network is a good strategy we should perfect to be the online Jobs Board of the Episcopal Church recruiting the faith to good causes and supporting their efforts.
- Dougherty Valley Mission Collaboration. As part of our 50th anniversary celebration St Timothy’s committed to maintain its unbroken chain of faith begun when God called St Paul’s Walnut Creek through the Bishop to plant a mission congregation down the road in the San Ramon Valley. We worked collaboratively with St. Clare’s and St. Bartholomew’s Livermore to identify mission and ministry needs of a fast emerging new community in the 25,000 homes being developed in the Dougherty Valley area of SE Contra Costa and Southern Alameda Deaneries. Changes in the priests at each church put on hold this collaboration, but the need remains among the multi-generational households in this part of DioCal. If we had a social network it would make it easier to spread the word to congregations and the DioCal community and introduce ourselves to the people of the Dougherty Valley.
At Pentecost we will hear the Good News in many voices, many tongue and today we’re are trying to make every day Pentecost for someone seeking Christ in their lives and connect to a faith community that can help them along that journey. We need an Episcopal Social Network that helps us bring out the best in us, that connects us of new ways to serve and empowers us to action rather than telling us to sit down and be quiet. By putting us to work doing the work of the church, the church is helping us ‘be in community’ doing more to enliven our spiritual lives than all the marketing on Madison Avenue.
We are the Episcopal Church but we need new tools and new ways to discover each other anew and to be connected as the Body of Christ. The church will grow when joy in the hearts of the faithful grows from one simple act of kindness, faith and renewal multiplied like loaves and fishes thousands of times in the hearts of those we touch in God’s name