One of the great blessings of my time at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) was the chance to engage in spiritual direction. As a part of the student fees or tuition or some such thing, VTS was able to provide students with a wide variety of Spiritual Director options, free of charge. While my first year Spiritual Director was a total flop, I found a great match for years 2 and 3 in Kathy Staudt. Kathy was great at helping me “find God in the midst” of all sorts of woes from an emergency appendectomy and my mother’s mysterious illness, to GOEs and the search for a first call. One moment that is particularly vivid in my memory had us sitting in some random office on the second floor of Sparrow Hall as Kathy said to me, “Steve, I think you are a prophet to the Church.” #humblebrag That was a moment that was both freeing and frightening at the very same time.
A quick perusal of Scripture will show you that the life of a prophet is often painful. Either the powers-that-be make your life hard (see John the Baptist) or God does (see Hosea). In the five-plus years since Kathy uttered these words, I’ve had my fair share of both. I’m slowly becoming known around the Diocese as the man with the poisoned pen. A letter from me often comes with biting critique, but it always comes out of a love for the Church and a passion for the Gospel.
Simply put, I have high expectations of the Church. She should be led with wisdom. She should be imbued with grace. She should do all things to the honor and glory of her Triune God. Anything short of that, and the Church and her agencies, missions, parishes, and members aren’t living into the fullness of their call to a holy life.
As I read the lesson appointed for Sunday, the Old Testament lesson from Joshua stood out to me as a reminder to make wise choices. Joshua, as a prophet, speaks on behalf of God, “Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Too often, the Church, the Denomination, the Province, the Diocese, the Parish, the Vestry, the Member, and/or the Clergy decides to serve some other god. In The Episcopal Church, we have chosen variously the gods of social issues, budgets, buildings, staffers, programs, structures, fear, and money, among several others, as the focus of our attention and service. We have, quite frankly, made bad choices.
As the deadline for application to the Task Force for Restructuring the Church nears (apply here), I can’t help but wonder, “Which god will this Task Force serve?” It is my hope that they will choose the path of Joshua and serve the LORD, but I also know that they will need help getting there.
That is where the rest of us come in. If we will choose to serve the Lord, then we will also choose to pray for our leaders. Pray that they might make wise choices. Pray that they might look to the Scriptures for direction. Pray that they would be cloaked in prayer. And pray that they might “put away the gods that their ancestors served.” In the coming weeks, Frank Logue and I will be developing an Acts 8 prayer cycle that will certainly include the membership of the Task Force. If you have specific requests for that prayer chain: local Acts 8 groups, Diocesan restructuring work, persons of influence, etc. please don’t hesitate to pass them along.