Planting Congregations
Raising Up
Editor's Note
Welcome to the Gulf Atlantic Diocesan Communique for August 2020. As our households head back to school, and our parishioners head back to church in many of our communities, we pause to ask the Lord’s continued protection over us. Know that you are in our prayers and we are grateful to be part of a province that builds community, especially during times of crisis. If there is anything we can do for you, please let us know.

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 Canon for Congregational Health
The year 2020, to say the least, is a troubled year. My daughter asked me last week how long I thought it might be before the term “2020” starts to be used as a profanity. Like when someone hits their hand with a hammer they will cry out, “2020” instead of some other more common term! Given the way this year has gone so far, I could see that happening.
From the pandemic to politics, family divisions to financial burdens, struggling church life to starting school anxieties, most of us are feeling worn down and sick and tired of it all. It’s exhausting. And, as people who seek after God and his righteousness, as people who know God in our hearts, it is normal for us to wonder where is God in all this? What is he up to? When will he bring it to an end?
Of course, we aren’t the first of God’s people to live through a troubled time. In Isaiah 51, which was the Old Testament reading in many of our churches last Sunday, God gave a comforting message to his people who truly sought after him and his righteousness, who knew him and had taken his word into their hearts. In a very troubled time for them, God spoke to them to give them comfort and encouragement. In our trouble time, let me remind you of what he said as a comforting and encouraging message to you as well.

Two Ways to Keep Hope in Troubled Times

1. Hold Fast to What God’s Done in the Past
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” Isaiah 51:1-3 (ESV)

To be clear, God is speaking directly to his faithful people. Not everyone pursued righteousness or sought him back then, just as they don’t now. But to those who do, listen to him. He says to remember where you came from. Remember how the God you know and love brought you out of troubled times before. Just as God brought a great people out of the once barren womb of Sarah, he can bring you out of this current barren wilderness and make it, “like the garden of the Lord.” Our God is a God who brings good out of bad. It’s in his character to do so. If he’s done it before he can do it again, and as his faithful people we can have confident hope he will.

As you seek the Lord in these troubled times, hold fast to what God’s done in the past. Make time to read and reflect on his good actions for his people throughout the Bible. Take time to remember and reflect on how God has brought good out of bad in your own life. If he’s done it before, he can do it again, and you can be sure he will, either in this life, or in the even-better-life to come.

Planting Congregations
In a season overshadowed by a global pandemic, it may seem strange to focus on abundance for others, but that was the “word” the Lord gave me for our church this year. I knew we would be attempting one church plant in 2020, but I was surprised to learn that the Lord was actually calling us to send out two planters. The first one is aiming locally in our city but the second is aiming all the way up north in New England. It was a good reminder of my frequent statement that our church would be an equipping and sending ministry. I am also aware that the COVID-19 crisis provides a new opportunity to help others. This pandemic has brought about a resurgence of people searching for God. What a wonderful opportunity to reach out.
Sometime during his fourth year on staff as our Associate Pastor, Dan Wolf, and I began a conversation about his future and even his potential as a church planter. In February of 2019 we hosted and both participated in a church planter assessment organized by the diocese. Dan’s gifts for outreach were clear, but he did not want to plant in Florida. He was beginning to sense a call to Maine. By the end of 2019 Dan was making plans for a summer move in 2020 just as our first planter arrived. In his own words, Dan writes:

Strengthening Churches
Camp Araminta continues to be integral to our diocesan discipleship of the next generation, even during a pandemic! This summer, approximately 30 leaders (mainly young adult counselors), coordinated and launched Camp Araminta Nights. Camp was held during the scheduled week, but virtually in the evenings. These counselors planned elaborate skits, worship, activities, and games for over 80 campers who joined us. Clergy from 7 churches participated and the cabin time following the teaching enabled deep conversation with campers.

Virtual participation enabled many first-time campers and churches to participate who had not been able to. It was a wonderful week together and the feedback from families has been overwhelming. For example:

Raising Up Leaders
"And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.'" - Isaiah 6:8
June 21, 2020. . . I count it as the 5th best day of my life. The date of my ordination to the priesthood falls only after my marriage to my covenant partner and best friend of 20 years and the birth of my three precious girls. It was a glorious day filled with the rich blessings that only the Lord can offer: friends from decades of ministry; family who supported me throughout the entirety of the three year discernment process, as well as seminary; fellow clergy that sacrificially gave of their time and talents to help shape my formation; and the God of the Universe that both saved me in my wretchedness through His grace alone and then lovingly called me into a life of servitude with Him. 
There were so many moments throughout my process that continually revealed God's ceaseless love through others. I will never forget my first conversation with the Bishop when we shared our testimonies and prayed for one another; or reading, Being A Priest Today, with one of my personal heroes, Father Michael Petty, and discussing the challenges of maintaining balance in our personal and spiritual lives; or my first seminary class with Jim Hobby: a most creative course on apologetics that paved the way for a truly edifying experience at Trinity. There were some incredibly hard times as well. Chief amongst them was living through the tragedy that we all encountered together at St. Peter's. Seeing the depth of hurt that the fall of a clergyperson can have on so many opened my eyes to the importance of living a life of ministry that must include vulnerability and transparency.  

As a frequent retreat speaker, I often find the conversations that follow a gathering to be the most fruitful. This month I’m taking a break from the Fine Fire topic to share a bit of post-conference correspondence which seems particularly relevant to our current stressful cultural climate.

Dear Friend...On Anxiety,

It was great to see your name pop up in my inbox again, recalling how kindly you represented your church in caring for your retreat speaker. I loved my time with you all.

I’ve been grateful for the question you posed to me from your Bible study: “How have you effectively applied the peace of God to your life?” It has been a helpful exercise to ponder this question!
First, an obvious disclaimer, I suppose . . . my work of applying peace has been shot through with holes from the start. Fear has been the Achilles heel of my life as a disciple. I’m sure it’s why scenes of panic like the one with the widow of 2 Kings 4, or with Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6, speak so eloquently to me. I completely identify. And I imagine it’s why I have spent so much time contemplating the wilderness experience of the Israelites. They were helpless and their terror seemed reasonable. All my anxiety seems reasonable on the face of it. Why not fear abandonment if you’ve been abandoned? Why not fear raising a family if you come from a dysfunctional one? Why not fear the opinions of others if you’ve been bullied? Why not fear Covid-19 as America’s death rate tops the globe’s? What breaks me out of those reasonable fears?
Chronologically, for me . . .
As a new believer I received prayer from my mentors to be supernaturally released from the grip of a spirit of fear. What God did was dramatic at the time. I don’t discount a demonic component to most of our psychological woes. Still, I was warned that anxiety was sure to continue to tug at me as I went out from there. My counter-intuitive takeaway? Don’t fight fear in your head!
Because most fears seem reasonable on the face of it, we don’t win the battle by reasoning with them on the face of it. Our emotional reasoning discounts God’s power in the picture. If the people of Israel had been able to picture the parting of the sea, they needn’t have been frightened. Instead, their panic was based on the natural-seeming reasonableness of their impossible-seeming situation.
My counselor’s strong advice for dealing with those moments of being pulled back into the black hole of fear?
1.    Pray with someone else about the specific fear so that you have a witness that you gave it to God.
2.    When it arises, remember where you left it, and don’t take it back! Instead, go for a walk, eat a hot fudge sundae, read a book (maybe not a Christian book so you don’t fall back into theological reasoning with a spirit of fear!). Do NOT engage. You gave it to God, remember? Your witness was there. God’s got this. When we think and re-think our fears in an effort to somehow talk ourselves out of them, we usually lose, often making them worse. Ultimately the battle is the Lord’s.

Looking Ahead
Synod 2020
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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