By Will Scott
About six months ago, I moved to California to start a new job at Grace Cathedral. We are a large, vibrant and growing church in the midst of what often gets described as a “hyper secularized” environment. But having grown up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia (not quite the Bible Belt, but pretty darn close), I was formed in the faith by two interconnected communities: a small parish church and a large summer camp in the mountains. I have learned there are many differences between the East and the West Coasts of the United States. I have also found that the Church’s mission of reconciling the world to Christ remains the same in San Francisco, California and in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
The small church where I grew up was on the edge of town and was dwarfed by much larger churches. However, St. Paul’s on-the-Hill was unlike any other place in my life because it connected little me with the whole world. Our parish priest at that time was passionate about Jesus and was a champion for global human rights. People of all ages were taught about our faith’s moral obligation to stand up against injustice and violence. There in that tiny parish church, I learned about the anti-apartheid movement going on in South Africa and the issues facing the Middle East. Few other places in my relatively rural community talked as regularly and sincerely about global matters.
This small church taught me that faith communities help build bridges across great differences, whatever their size or location. Even on a global scale, our small faith communities can have a significant impact. I recently read a posting on a social networking website in which a young man who described himself as an “emergent Christian,” said he was having a difficult time finding ways to “do the gospel.” My hunch is that if Episcopal Churches of all sizes and locations were more intentional about communicating our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and other global causes, this young person and many others would have no problem finding ways to express their faith. “Doing the gospel” can include helping the church and its members become more energy efficient, supporting fair trade, raising funds to fight HIV/AIDS, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, or attending a rally or vigil. The Episcopal Church Communications office has put together an excellent website sharing ideas, resources and information about “doing the gospel” called Global Good.
I will never forget one closing ceremony at my large Episcopal summer camp, Shrine Mont. Amidst campers crying about leaving behind their new friends, one of the counselors took the whole group out of the chapel and down to a large pond. She asked all of us to circle around that body of water. Picking up a pebble, she tossed it in the water and we all watched the lone ripple on the surface created by her pebble. The counselor talked about how this was like one person speaking up on behalf of God’s love and peace in the world: it made one beautiful ripple. Then she invited all of us to pick up pebbles and throw them in the water. As we watched the overlapping ripples, each with a different point of origin, moving together across the pond, my counselor told us that this was what happens when we all speak up on behalf of God’s justice and peace. Together, we create many ripples and have much effect.
What we as a church do and say about global matters in our rural parishes, suburban churches, and summer camps is as important as what goes on in big and urban places. Responding to injustice and violence is about living God’s mission and practicing our faith. Addressing the hopes, needs and concerns of the world is not an option — it is Christ’s call to each of us.
The Rev. Will Scott is associate pastor at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. He blogs occasionally at Yearns and Groans.
Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.