Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On April 5th, we celebrate fifteen years together as Bishop and People of the Diocese of Iowa. I am so grateful to God and to you that we find ourselves in full stride with Growing Iowa Leaders and anticipating what it will mean to Engage All Disciples in the coming year. The consultations that Lydia Bucklin and I have been organizing around the Diocese are very energetic, honest, creative and inspiring conversations. We all truly want to seek God to grow this Church —and not just for survival sake—but that generations to come can connect with the Loving God we know and serve. We are bothered by the reports that that connection is waning, or at least the desire for that connection is diminishing.
As I sat in the Cathedral on Saturday night during the Easter Vigil, I imagined the centuries of generations who have heard the readings we were hearing. The darkness lit by the smaller candles and centered in the larger flame of the Paschal candle gave off an air of intimacy, mystery and secrecy. That the resurrection Gospel came from Mark’s account only enhanced the latter. After all he produced the all-time Easter cliff-hanger, “for they were afraid” or rather “they were afraid, for….” I encouraged the participants sitting with me in the shadows to be “afraid, be very afraid.” For God who can raise from the dead was at large—and things which were cast down, were being lifted up, and things which had grown old were becoming new.
In the Roman times, many who at the Easter vigil joined that flow of humanity through the waters of baptism were signing potentially their own death warrant. Persecution could break out at any time, and so they would give thanks for each day that ended in peace, and for each night that had been passed in safety. It has been the same for Christian folk down the years. And, yes, we have global companions who sharing in the Easter joys this year, know that they gather under uncertain circumstances. Their faith in God who raises from the dead and promises eternal life is really life-giving and liberating (to use one of our Presiding Bishop’s signature phrases).
The crowd on Easter Day at the cathedral was large as usual. Yet this year, more than I had noticed at other times, there seemed to be more new seekers – young professionals who lived downtown, and gay couples no longer afraid to be themselves before the God who loves them and Whom they love, and some who may have wandered away from Church for a while, yet were finding the strength, grace and curiosity not to let the importance of this day pass them by.
If my hunch is right, I would say it is because of what you as Church are saying in the consultations as we prepare for each Growing Iowa Leaders day. You are saying “we want to know how to tell God’s story and that of our faith; we want to understand the newly maturing generations raised in the digital age; we want to use our time and space differently; we want to become more than an institution and a true serving, loving community present for others; we want to be beacons for justice and racial and economic equality; we want to spice up our liturgy and music; we want to learn how to experiment with small groups and house churches; we want to be followers of Jesus, known for our love of our fellow human beings; we want to become active listeners to those who find it hard to connect with the Church, and in turn we want to know how to welcome, invite and connect; we want to reimagine our buildings and strategize our finances.” In other words, “we want to make a difference as we move forward.”
If together it has taken us fifteen years to reach these very yearnings, then it has been time well spent. And as we seek to find suitable presenters to lead the Growing Iowa Leader days in your congregations, in response to your wishes, we are finding that our collective questions are indeed questions being explored by others all across the Christian Church. Praise be to God that we are tuning in to a conversation that, by the grace of God, the Spirit is having with us all.
In the peace and love of Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe
Bishop of Iowa