Planting Congregations
Strengthening
Churches
Raising Up
Leaders
Editor's Note
Welcome to the Gulf Atlantic Diocesan Communique for September 2020. As we settle in to our new normal, we share some articles with you to encourage you to stay connected to the Lord, to your church, and to your network of Christian support. The Holy Spirit is certainly forming all of us through the events of this year and we are looking forward to hearing your testimonies of how God has worked in your life. 

Prayer for the Local Congregation, BCP 2019:
O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful, Sanctify these congregations by your abiding presence. Bless those who minister in holy things. Enlighten the minds of your people more and more with the light of the everlasting Gospel. Bring erring souls to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ; and those who are walking in the way of life, keep steadfast to the end. Give patience to the sick and afflicted, and renew them in body and soul. Guard those who are strong and prosperous from forgetting you. Increase in us your many gifts of grace, and make us all fruitful in good works. This we ask, O blessed Spirit, whom with the Father and the Son we worship and glorify, one God, world without end. Amen.
From the Bishop
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Romans 14:19

Dear brothers and sisters in the diocese,
Greetings in the Lord Jesus who reigns over all.

Sadly, the pandemic is still with us. Therefore let me briefly share a commendation, a concern and a challenge in this hard season.

Commendation for Faithfulness
I am very thankful to the Lord and to you all for the ways you have stayed faithful to the Lord and one another in the midst of this struggle. You have found ways to serve others, while having worship and real fellowship online or with social distancing. I bless the Lord for your perseverance.

Concern for Continuing COVID Vigilance
My concern is that we are not out of the COVID-19 woods yet. 

I am grateful that infection rates are going down in many places, but that can be correlated with mask wearing and social distancing. Many health officials have warned that if we let up on those two practices too soon, the infection rates can climb again. Israel is now having another lockdown for example. The high rate of infections at colleges where students have ignored restrictions shows us how quickly the virus can spread.

It is regrettable that mask wearing has somehow become a political issue. As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we must remember that we are called to serve one another, not to just demand our personal preferences. We are to pursue peace (see Romans 14:9 above), recognizing that the health concerns of others should determine our response. Do we want someone not to attend because we do not want to wear masks? (Read all of Romans 14 to see how we are called to care for each other despite our differences.)

Therefore, mask wearing and social distancing should remain a part of our gatherings for the time being. While more and more groups around us, including some churches, are ignoring mask requirements or recommendations, there are many reasons to assume that the virus can still be dangerously transmitted in public gatherings.

Some argue that not wearing masks in church is somehow a sign of our faith in God’s ability to protect us. Please recall, however, that it was Satan who tempted Jesus to unnecessarily risk his health by jumping from a great height as a measure of faith. Jesus repudiated this suggestion as an unholy dare to test God (Matthew 4:5-7). Risking our health or the health of others is not a sign of faith. It is giving into the temptation to presume the Lord will protect us despite our taking unnecessary health risks. I realize there is an ongoing debate to the level of effectiveness of mask wearing. But if we are to err, we should err on the side of caution based on majority medical advice. There are already too many cases of churches being ground zero for COVID outbreaks.

While schools have reopened for understandable reasons in many places, this also increases the risk of spread. Our wearing masks when we are together means we are consciously not adding to that and other similar risks.

Challenge to Prepare and Pray
Finally, as our Archbishop has already challenged our clergy*, I challenge all of you to prepare yourselves for the mission field around us. Many are now seriously seeking God because their lives have been shaken on so many fronts. Pray, immerse yourselves in the Scriptures, and reach out in any way you can to those who need the Lord. 

Please also pray for so many who are affected by illness, fires, storms, economic hardship, injustice, violence and social upheaval. And intercede for those who sacrificially serve our communities by facing these challenges head on.

May the Lord Jesus bless you all.

In the love of the Messiah,

+Neil

Outreach
On September 15, Hurricane Sally made landfall on the Gulf Coast as a Category 2 storm. The Anglican Relief and Development Fund is already moving to send support into the area. For more information or to contribute, please visit: 
Almighty God, by your Word you laid the foundations of the earth, set the bounds of the sea, and still the wind and waves. Surround us with your grace and peace, and preserve us through the storms we face. By your Spirit, lift up those who have fallen, strengthen those who work to rescue or rebuild, and fill us with the hope of your new creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Strengthening Churches
(Discipleship)
I think you’d agree that in the Fall of 2020 in America we could all use more love. We could use more joy. More peace, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (especially on social media). Wouldn’t more of all those be beneficial to all of us? Those hopefully sound familiar since they are the fruits of the Spirit the Apostle Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23. 

The theme verse for our diocesan synod on November 6-7 is, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation,” Ps. 85:4 (ESV). Much in our society and our churches need to be restored but both of those restorations start with the restoration of our own hearts and souls. If we want to see those fruits of the Spirit experienced more around us we must first make sure we are experiencing them in us. In Galatians 5:25, we are told how to experience the fruits of the Spirit more. It says, "If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit." Another way of saying that would be, if you are a born-again follower of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirt, then do life with him. Do life with God.

Many are appropriately pointing others to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-29 during these troubled times. Most of us are weary and burdened and long to have our souls restored. In that passage, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” (NIV). Notice Jesus didn’t say, “come to church” or “come to a Bible Study” or “come to financial security” or “come to life’s circumstances being back to normal” to find rest for your souls. Although those are not bad things, what he did say is, “Come to me.” It’s in him that we restore our souls. It’s in being yoked to him that you learn to live life with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in this wearisome world.

To take up Jesus' yoke is yet another way of saying to keep in step with him. Or, to do life with God. I once heard Dallas Willard describe his experience of growing up on a farm and watching horses being yoked together. He described how a young horse would be yoked to an older horse. The young horse would pull ahead with all its energy and the older horse would resist and just keep its steady pace. The young horse, becoming weary, would start to drag behind. But again, the older horse would resist and just keep its own steady pace. Finally, the young horse would figure out that if it just kept in step with the older horse it would go well for him. Similarly, when we try to do life apart from God, even as a believer, we find our souls out of sorts. But if we keep in step with Jesus, learn from him, do life with him, we will find rest for our souls.

Raising Up Leaders
As a new priest, I have been reflecting on the last four years of formation leading up to my ordination. The days were simply packed with studying, classes, working in my job during the day, and being present to my family. That busy pace is not specific to seminarians or clergy. It seems everyone I know feels strapped for time and energy. It is a constant challenge to maintain those spiritual practices of our faith that are quiet and which can seem less pragmatic. But, as Annie Dillard wrote, “The way we spend our days is, of course, the way we spend our lives.” A life of prayer is lived out in prayerful days.

Two spiritual writers I read during my discernment process were especially aware of the risk of losing a life shaped by daily prayer, and they addressed this head-on. Bishop Fulton Sheen writes several chapters on rhythms of daily prayer. His direction includes some humorous and pragmatic advice any Christian may heed:

[The priest] will be well advised to take a cup of coffee before he starts [his daily holy hour]. The average American is physically, biologically, psychologically, and neurologically unable to do anything worthwhile before he has a cup of coffee! And that goes for prayer too.

How important it is to remember our own limitations—even our need for caffeine! These writers also wrote about our limitations without prayer. Evelyn Underhill spoke clearly to clergy on this issue:

For parents, and anyone who disciples others: What’s one, sure-fire thing you can do to help root the faith in those you are leading . . . to protect them from falling away later in life?

I learned the oddest statistic a few years ago. Research was conducted over several decades to discover which factors led kids who grew up in Christian homes to keep the faith as adults.* It turned up many surprising and strong common elements. One in particular struck me: Kids who were part of a family that embraced some level of risk for the Gospel, or who had to pay a price for their faith in adolescence, were far more likely to hang in there as disciples in adulthood.
 
What? Isn’t hardship exactly what we want to protect them from?

For most of us, it is, but the Scriptures lean in the opposite direction from that of our Western therapeutic culture. Jesus was clear that following his lead would be costly (Luke 9:23).And the narrative of the Scriptures is full of the stories of saints who, at God’s direction, were called to embrace what often seemed like radical risks. Taking those risks deepened, rather than wrecked, them.
 
Ask yourself who in the Scriptures was asked by God to do something they were loath to do? Start a mental list. The more you think about it, the longer the list becomes! Abraham readying his son for sacrifice in the area of Mt. Moriah. Moses at the burning bush. Joshua facing enemies with nothing but musical instruments. Gideon hiding in the winepress, but called out to battle. There are so many. Supremely, Jesus in Gethsemane.

Looking Ahead
Synod 2020
Virtual Synod
November 6th 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
November 7th 9:30 AM - 12:30 PM

2020 has seen significant shifts in almost every aspect of our lives, including ministry. The Gulf Atlantic Diocese will host its annual (virtual) Synod on November 6-7. During this time we will come together, focusing on the cry found in Psalm 85, “Restore us, O God.” We are reorienting ourselves toward God in the midst of our new normal. Join us as we are revived by the Lord again, as our faithfulness springs up, and we reorient ourselves and our ministries, to the Lord’s steadfast love. Friday night we will worship together and Saturday we will look toward 2021 and beyond as we seek the Lord’s guidance and restoration. Please join us.
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Rev. Dr. Jessica H. Jones Editor-in-Chief, Communique
Canon for Next Generation Discipleship
Gulf Atlantic Diocese of the ACNA
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