In the 2013 film Gravity, we watch as Sandra Bullock’s character cries, “Will you mourn for me? Will you say a prayer for me before its too late? I mean, I’d say one for myself but I’ve never prayed in my life. Nobody ever taught me how.”
Nobody ever taught me how.
Studies such as those conducted by the Pew Research Center have brought attention the ongoing decline of religious affiliation in the west. Like the fictional example above, one of the outcomes of this trend will be that fewer people will be familiar with the practices that have provided generations with the tools to engage the Divine. It is important to acknowledge that, even in Texas, fewer Americans are finding their way to our sacred spaces to be shaped into people prepared to encounter God in the triumphs and tragedies of life, and everything in between.
Recognizing this, Bishop Doyle cast a vision that taps into an age-old practice of developing small batch communities embedded into the fabric of a community for those that cannot, or will not, participate in traditional church environments. These communities harken back to the earliest days of the Jesus tradition, when groups of Christians would gather in homes. It is reflected in the classes and bands of the Wesleyan movement, the hush harbors of the antebellum south, the base communities of Latin America and the fresh expressions movement in the Church of England today. In our context we call such groups, missional communities.
In 2017, we saw missional communities sprout up across our Diocese in family rooms, retirement communities, taco shops, bars, gardens, laundry mats, yoga studios, school gymnasiums and countless other contexts. In each scenario, these communities are providing Christian community for people that would not have otherwise participated in an Episcopal church. Today in our diocese, there are 67 established communities, 22 in development and 46 congregations are sending out members to explore starting new communities. Over 800 people participate in the missional communities within our diocese and in 2017, 10 individuals came to baptism through a missional community and 16 adults were confirmed. We have surpassed our expectations of what was possible through missional communities and are eager to follow the Spirit into the possibilities ahead of us for this much needed expression of our tradition for this time. These communities have not worked in contradiction to the congregations sending out individuals to start them. Rather than drawing away from the importance of our traditional congregations, these new expressions have brought new life as they deepen the ties a congregation has to its surrounding neighborhood—exposing aspects of their context that may not have otherwise been discovered.
In the coming weeks, we will continue to share stories of missional communities across the diocese on the Amplified Church website. I hope you will read these stories, share them with others and pray for these leaders and the communities they are teaching to pray, to worship and to follow the way of Jesus. Thanks ahead of time.