Pastor Russ Norris
As you have undoubtedly heard, our new Mission Statement at Joy in Christ is all about building bridges – bridges of “compassion, caring and civility”. One of the bridges we are building is with our good friends, the folks at All Saints Episcopal Church in Whitman. Our two churches have been doing ministry together for a number of years. Under the leadership of Pastor Carolyn and Pastor Colette, we have joined together in Lenten midweek worship, shared worship during the summer, and even shared Bible study together. When All Saints lost heat last winter, we invited them to worship with us at Joy in Christ. When Pastor Colette fell and fractured her hip, we were quick to offer assistance, prayers, and even meals during her recovery. Members of our two congregations have become friends. We pray for each other every Sunday. And along the way we have discovered how similar our churches are.
We have been able to do all these wonderful things because Episcopalians and Lutherans have signed an agreement acknowledging that our denominations are in “full communion” with each other. For Lutherans, that means we recognize the Episcopal Church as one in which “the Gospel is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” In other words, we both share the same understanding of the Christian faith and we agree on the meaning of Holy Communion and Baptism. (We are also in full communion with the Presbyterian, UCC, Congregational, Reformed, United Methodist and Moravian churches.)
Being in full communion means more than receiving Holy Communion in each other’s church. It means our two denominations have agreed to share clergy (Lutheran pastors can be called by an Episcopal church, and an Episcopal priest can serve a Lutheran congregation.) We also cooperate in social ministry, social justice, and evangelical outreach.
All this has led our two congregations – Joy in Christ and All Saints – to ask if there is an opportunity now to be better together, stronger together, more able to spread the Gospel together. Last month a resolution was presented at our church council to begin exploring ways we might develop a closer relationship between our congregations. An identical motion was presented the same night to the vestry of All Saints. Our church council and their vestry voted unanimously to form a “discernment committee” composed of 3-4 members of each church plus the clergy, to explore ways we might be more effective in mission and ministry together.
No one knows where the Spirit may lead us as we enter this discernment process. There are many possibilities. We might decide to share Sunday school and confirmation classes. We might work together on community outreach and social ministry. We might try sharing clergy or worshiping together more often. We might think about sharing one building for a month or a season. We might try worshiping with a blended liturgy for a month.
Remember, this is a time of discernment and experimentation, so nothing we try is a “forever” decision. Our two churches have agreed to listen together to the Spirit, and see where God might be leading us. If you are as excited as I am about this new relationship, and if you are interested in serving on the discernment committee, please speak to me or to Jeff Stone. The Spirit is blowing in our church. Let’s listen together to see where God is calling us. And please continue to pray for Joy in Christ and All Saints as we explore this new opportunity together.