I have an unusual proposal to make to my church. I wonder if it isn’t time for a home mission initiative to rural Missouri.
As a church, we travel to far-away places to be the church for others and to learn from them. This is all good and in keeping with The Great Commission.
With the recent election, though, it’s become glaringly obvious that there are people in our diocese we don’t know or understand. They live in a world that is separated from many of us, and what they understand to be The Way of Jesus looks and sounds very different than what we hear from the pulpits in our parishes.
I wonder if it’s time for a “domestic missions initiative”; planting settlement houses and community farms and homes churches throughout Missouri? Maybe even the whole country?
Why is this important? I think we can find the answer in the recent meeting between the bishops of the A.C. and the R.C.C. They made a public statement confessing their mutual neglect of women, children, and indigenous people of the human race. They announced that the care of the oppressed and neglected is at the core of the Gospel message and way of life.
It is increasingly apparent that those very people, as well as p.o.c. and lgbtq persons, are under threat like no other time in recent memory. Add to this the economic neglect and marginalization of poor white folk, and we have a witch’s brew of sorrow and rage in our diocese and our nation. This cries out for the redemptive message of Jesus, and we need to bring it to rural life like it hasn’t been in quite a while.
The religious and culture vacuum in the rural areas is being filled with something other than the Gospel of Jesus, wrapped up in Christian lingo and Christian window dressing. It’s small, mean, narrow, and compassionless, infused with a tremendous amount of rage.
Back in November of 2015, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said:
God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the Way. He came to show us the Way to life, the Way to love. He came to show us the Way beyond what often can be the nightmares of our own devisings and into the dream of God’s intending. That’s why when Jesus called his first followers he did it with the simple words “Follow me.” “Follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fish for people.”
I wonder if what we are seeing in our nation today is due, in large part, to our selective fishing for people. Are we fishing for rural people like we fish for urban and suburban people? Because of our abandonment of our rural brothers and sisters, are we now reaping the whirlwind of another message, a message of hate and fury? If we hope to create a church of love, compassion, and reconciliation, do we not first go to the abandoned places of empire and seek out the lost and the lonely?
We should be there, and be there in a serious way. We need to plant faith communities and base camps that reach out to the abandoned and the left-behind and fulfill the Great Commission. Jesuits did it with their reductions in the Americas, Anglicans did it with their settlement houses in the English speaking world…there is great precedent for such a mission. We have a department in the national office called “New Church Starts and Missional Initiatives”. We have the Jubilee Ministries for support. There is also the Episcopal Service Corps.
Perhaps it’s time we go where the rural lost are found and go fishing.