It’s Annual Meeting Season, the time when many Episcopal church congregations all over the country gather to elect vestries, talk about mission, thank volunteers and plan for the year ahead. It’s a good time to hearken back to the beginning, to the words of Jesus as recorded by Luke, as he instructed seventy of his disciples whom he then sent out ahead of him into the towns he would be visiting. After telling them not to take a purse, bag or sandals and to greet no one on the way, Jesus went on to say, “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:8-9)
These are strange instructions for us, organized as we are into worshiping communities with a hierarchy of bishops, priests, deacons and lay people. Rarely do we go out two by two any more. And yet each member of a parish is part of the Body of Christ, the heart and the feet of Jesus. Each of us baptized Christians, no matter what else we are, is a load-bearing post in the House of God. Without us, the structure would collapse.
Today is the feast day of Florence Li Tim-Oi, the very first woman ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion. The passage I quoted above is part of the reading assigned for this occasion. She was ordained in 1944 out of necessity in a time when travel was very dangerous in Japan-occupied China. But the bishop who ordained her recognized that hers was a true call.
It was over thirty years later that the ordination of women was normalized in the Episcopal Church and later still that women were recognized as legitimate recipients of the call to the priesthood in other parts of the Anglican Communion. The bishop who ordained Florence Li Tim-Oi saw beyond the limitations to imagination and insight imposed on the church of his generation. He recognized an instrument of God when he saw her.
Today, in this culture of the “unchurched” and the “nones”, we also are called to see beyond limitations. How do we go out once again, two by two, to bring the life-giving, gob-smacking good news of Christ to a world increasingly hungry for the love of God? What new paths is God trying to get us to see? How might we experiment, taking risks and opening gates? As we consider church budgets let us also be courageous enough to consider this. Where is the fresh understanding of the call to be disciples? How can we recognize and support God’s instruments? How can we say to the people who need to hear, in the language of today, the life-giving proclamation, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can view some of her work here.