Have you ever stopped to consider that the New Testament in our Bibles is really just a collection of LETTERS? The Gospels are a collection of four versions of people telling their friends essentially, “So you want to know about Jesus? Here’s what happened:” The rest of the New Testament repeats a pattern: a church leader, a pastor, an evangelist, or an apostle, someone who has started a church in a place, writes a letter sharing something he wants to say to the people he loves that will give them spiritual vision and wisdom from God to help map the road ahead. Imagine receiving one of these letters as a house church, a group of faithful followers of Jesus locked into someone’s basement for fear of discovery, opening the letter from the Apostle Paul or Peter and waiting with baited breath for the words of encouragement, challenge, and comfort they would share.
That’s the experience I wanted to recover today. What follows is a pastoral letter, essentially my words of encouragement, challenge, and comfort to us as a growing church family called The Mission Cincinnati. It is my hope and prayer that these words are not just my words, but that they will help give shape to what I believe is God’s vision for us as a fellowship of missionaries seeking to know and live for Jesus together in 2018.
So let’s start with this:
2017 was a year in which we built a solid foundation. We launched weekly services, we learned how to lead liturgy together, we gained skill in the various tasks required to “pull off a Sunday morning together.” All manner of things went wrong. People moved on, new people came. We faced hardships and we celebrated joys. Some core values emerged for us: we are a church that PRIORITIZES LOCAL MISSION, in other words, we care about our place, our neighborhood of Evanston and our wider “parish” of Uptown, the collection of neighborhoods stretching from UC Clifton – Xavier Norwood. While we are generally for this city, we are intentionally and first for these communities: we invest our time here in service, we invest our relational energy here through outreach, and for some of us, we actually move into these neighborhoods. We are also a church that values ANCIENT-FUTURE worship. We are Anglican, that is, we are rooted in the tradition of the church across the globe and throughout history that has sought to follow Jesus. There are many treasures of the faith Christians have discovered throughout the last 2,000 years that have helped them connect to Christ through worship and prayer. We seek to bring these ancient treasures of the faith to life today in our services in a way that makes sense for the present, and in a way that boldly moves us forward into God’s imagined future. Finally, we are a church that values REAL FRIENDSHIP. We don’t just want to be “a community,” we want to be friends with one another, to have people over for dinner, to pray together, to share joys and struggles. We believe that befriending people across difference can truly heal our world, and we think the church is a great place to make those friendships. 2017 was a year that we began to explore these values, a year in which we got to know each other and got to know our community. If a church plant is a campfire, God built an ember base in our midst in 2017: and in 2018 He is calling us to add fuel to this fire, so that the light of Christ may burn brightly in our hearts and our life together for all to see.
So what’s going to happen next?
In 2018, I want to call us to CHAMPION PRAYER. Every time God has gotten ready to do something BIG in the world, He has prepared the way by calling His people to pray. Prayer is the fuel for God’s mission. Our lives will not have the power we need to complete our calling as a people, unless we are daily being filled by the Holy Spirit in our times of prayer alone and with each other. We need to pray for those in our spheres of influence who we long to come to know Jesus. We need to pray for the broken situations in our world we long to help mend. We need to pray for our church to become what God desires it to be! In our gatherings together on Sundays, in our midweek smaller group settings, and in our own lives individually, I hope that 2018 is a year in which we grow in our love for and our practice of prayer.
In 2018, I want to call us to REACH OUT WITH JOY! You all are the most loving, hospitable, joy-filled church, and I want everyone to know about you! I want to invite everyone into our fellowship together, not because I believe our church is a GIFT I want others to receive! I want to focus this year on how we can reach out well to our fellow Evanston residents, students at Xavier & UC, and families in surrounding neighborhoods like E Walnut Hills, Hyde Park, and Norwood who may identify with our church’s vision and mission. We all need to own this work of inviting people into this community. None of us can do it on our own. And it doesn’t have to be hard or weird. It’s simply being excited about what God is doing here and sharing it with people you love: simply, joyfully, and without expectation! We’ll also have people coming to help us! I’m delighted to announce to you today officially that Rev. Kristen Yates whom many of you had the chance to meet in December has accepted a call to join our team as our Associate Pastor for Spiritual Formation & Congregational Care. Kristen is currently raising her salary to move here and we hope she may be able to join us by May or July. Kristen will bring a wealth of experience, and pastoral depth to our team. She’ll help us grow deeper with Christ and each other as a church even as we continue to reach out. Please pray for Kristen as she engages the support raising process. Additionally, we have begun conversations with CCO about the possibility of bringing a staff person to The Mission Cincinnati who would partner with the CCO chapter at Xavier to expand our capacity to reach out to college students just down the street. Our hope is that we could find a called leader of color who could help our church as well as CCO at Xavier take steps forward in our desire to be multi-ethnic ministries. Please pray for our mutual discernment with CCO and that God would provide the right leader for this position.
Finally, in 2018, I want to call us to GIVE SACRIFICIALLY as a church. Financial stewardship has been a strength for our church thus far. In just one year, we have grown to sustain almost 50% of our budget through local giving. We doubled our local giving in 2017, and I’d prayerfully love to see us double it again in 2018! And here’s why: not only is giving one of the most joyful ways we can tangibly proclaim our trust in Jesus as our God and our provider over and against any other god, but when the church has financial resource, we can do effective ministry! We can invest more into our Mission Kids ministry and explore the future of what youth outreach ministry might look like…possibly in further partnership with Urban Young Life. We can invest in transforming a building in our neighborhood into a third space that can offer a meeting grounds to our neighborhood. We can continue to partner with other parachurch ministries in our city like those we currently support Urban YL, InterVarsity, and CCO. And we can continue to invest in and raise up young leaders in our midst.
As we stand on the edge of a new year and look back on the one we completed there is so much to celebrate about what God has done! And there is so much to look forward to in the year ahead.
Mission Cincinnati, I can’t wait to go there with you! Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus this year and together grow more and more into the church Jesus longs for us to be.
- Fr. William