On June 28th of this year, the Vestry of St. Philip the Deacon made a decision: they committed themselves, and our beloved community, to actively develop a plan for our future.
As many of you know, I have discussed with of you (and preached on) what I think are the three ways we can say “yes” to the future of our beloved community, given the reality of our aging congregation and our continuous operation at a resource deficit. We can say:
- “Yes” to all that God has done for us: St. Philip has had a long and storied history. It is time to celebrate our history, recognize that our mission is complete, and go out with joy. It is time to close the parish and allow the diocese to discern how God will continue to be present in this place.
- “Yes” to God’s continued love for us: The truth is we are tired, we cannot do more (even as we wish we could), but we also cannot stop being a home to one another. We will continue as we are, and ask that God blesses us as we continue to love one another as best we are able for as long as we can. We will continue with part-time clergy until our finances require that we move to supply clergy.
- “Yes” to something new God may be doing: We are not ready to close, our mission goes on!
The Vestry, after much discussion and difficult conversation, decided that it was not willing to consider closing at this time. Instead, they voted unanimously to seek a new future. What that means is that they committed all of us to working together to reflect our community-oriented activist past in new and creative ways so that together, we can walk in solidarity with a God who seeds the liberation of all who suffer.
We don’t know what this means, or what this looks like. That is for us to discern together.
I know, however, that to do this, I need both more time as your rector and more support as a co-minister with you. So, the vestry has asked the board of trustees of the Diocese of Oregon to consider a grant (click to read the full grant) which will allow me to be full-time as your rector, and hire staff and consultants who can help us discern our future and put it into action.
However, increased staffing is not the primary way in which we will meet this challenge together. Rather, we must work together to:
- Be a vibrant, worshipping community that is committed to supporting the faith of our members and the spiritual hunger of our neighbors.
- Walk in solidarity with Jesus in our neighborhood through direct social action
- Be a center for the diocese and region for theological and ethical reflection, training, and community organizing in order to form anti-racist disciples of Christ the Liberator.
This is the beginning of a vision that the vestry offered to the board of trustees and the diocese, a vision that can help us find new ways to be a vital presence in our community.
One way this may happen is through our continued participation in the Leaven Community Land & Housing Coalition. A team of thoughtful and committed folks already advocated for affordable housing in front of the Portland City Council. This team will continue to be facilitated by Mtr. Alcena, Joe Nunn, Vivian Childs and me. Hopefully, the team itself will include all of you! Perhaps, walking in solidarity with God’s love and care for black and brown and poor lives leads us to build affordable housing, an effort this congregation has tried before. Perhaps, as we talk with one another and our neighbors, we will see a different need that we can meet.
As we wrote to the diocese in our grant, over the next 3-5 years, we will:
- Say “Yes” to evangelism: We need to remind ourselves and our neighbors that the Good News of Jesus goes hand in hand with a commitment to justice and mercy. We must engage our unchurched or negatively-churched neighbors with a vision of Christianity that asks “what will feed your spiritual hunger?”
- Say “Yes” to caring for our neighbors through our long-standing Deacon’s Dining Hall lunch, the newly housed People’s Pantry, the neighbor-led community garden, and new outreach ministries.
- Say “yes” to advocating for and possibly building affordable housing through continued involvement with the Leaven Community Housing Coalition (LCHC).
- Say “yes” to acting theologically: the need for theological-ethical reflection on activism, organizing, and anti-racism is clear. As William H. Lamar recently reminded us, “bad theology is killing us.” As a part of building community-oriented affordable housing, we will dip into our rich heritage as educators and explore incorporating education into our future plans.
I do not know where our future will lead us. My hope is that in five years, we are still here, worshipping and loving God. My hope is that we can sustain a full-time clergy person of color who can lead this congregation into its future. I do not know the plans God has for us. What I know is this:
Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Jer 29:11
So, we will discern together a future filled with hope, walking with a God who sacrifices all for those who cry out for justice and mercy.