I grew up in northwestern Pennsylvania, though I have extended family all over the country, in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, and Utah. During the holidays, we travel long distances to reunite. We bear the unpleasantries of travel in stride—paying tolls, sitting in airports, hauling luggage—with one goal in mind: being together. Though we live in different places and do different things, we are united by our love. Our pasts and futures are linked together.
When I played high school tennis, my teammates and I had different roles. Three of us played singles, four played doubles, and everyone else cheered on from the sidelines. My coach was always thinking three seasons ahead. He invested in the younger players because he knew they were the future leaders of the team. Everyone, no matter their role, was striving to accomplish our team goal: to win matches and represent our school well.
This is how I have come to think of the Church—a family united by love and a team with a goal. Wherever we live, worship, and pray, we are wed to one another by God’s great love. We share a bond because we are all recipients of His abundant grace. Whenever we break bread, we declare in one voice: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. We have all been welcomed into God’s family.
The Church is also a team with a commission, one to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Whether your church is in the mountains or in the desert or along the coast, whether your church is in the city or in the country, its purpose is to fulfill Jesus’s directive. Our church buildings look different and our fellow parishioners are diverse, but our message is the same: God loves us, welcomes us as we are, and has a wonderful new life in store for us.
We are one Church. But how do we live into the reality?
Agreeing on a vision and committing to that vision is the first step. That’s exactly what the “One Church” mission conference was about. Clergy and parish “thought leaders” came together to discuss the one Church vision played out in our diocese. We brainstormed ways to collaborate, to bolster each other’s outreach efforts, and to both offer and receive wisdom.
When each parish shared their gifts and strengths, the richness of our faith communities became obvious. Some strengths were repeated, but many were not. We learned of parishes with ample land for events, parishes who were especially hospitable, and parishes with exceptional teaching.
The beauty of the one Church vision is that we’re not striving to be the same, or to mass produce a single spiritual experience. We are not a franchise. Our burgers and fries won’t taste the same at every location. Instead, we are uniquely diverse faith communities who stand on the common ground of the Gospel. It is this common ground that propels us to proclaim God’s good news to the world. We embark on this mission together. We are a family as well as a team.
May we fully embody the one Church vision and regard each other with compassion instead of comparison and with solidarity instead of strife. May one parish’s joys be all our joys, and may one parish’s sorrows be all our sorrows. May we follow the Apostle Paul’s imperative: “be of one mind, united in thought and purpose” (1 Cor. 1:10).
By David Gorman
(David is a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal church in Fairview, PA and is headed Richmond, VA in late August to serve in the Episcopal Service Corps)