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Setting Direction

When I was little, I would frequently crash my bike or fall while running because I was easily distracted by things around me. After particularly large falls, I would be afraid to head back out lest I injure myself again. My mother would reassure me that I would be okay and remind me that if I just kept my toes and nose pointing in the same direction, I would be less likely to fall. This is advice I repeat to myself at least once a week when I stumble because I’m watching a bird instead of the sidewalk, when I fail to hear what someone has said because I’m thinking of my own reply, or when I’m so busy working for God that I fail to fully worship God. The truth of what my young body needed to know is the same truth that my adult self needs to know: when I keep the focus in the same direction as I want to go, I’m more likely to get there.

This summer has been about beginning our ministry together in the Diocese of Ohio and setting out in the same direction. Over the past months we gathered as members of the Body of Christ in 16 different listening sessions. I was able to visit with leadership from many of our congregations along the way. In these sessions, people from different congregations met each other, shared where they have seen Christ at work in the world around them, and began to express where we feel God leading us in love and ministry as a diocese. What a gift it is to see the fullness of our diocesan diversity faithfully expressing hopes, fears, and dreams together. The vibrancy of the Holy Spirit was evident in our sessions, animating our conversations and drawing us further into faithful service.

During these sessions, I begin by sharing several themes that seem to continue to emerge based on direct conversations with lay and clergy leaders in the diocese as well as what I’ve noticed while reviewing parish websites, social media, and newsletters. Participants then had the opportunity to add other themes and to rank them in the order of priority to help focus our diocesan direction. Lively debates, quiet contemplation, and meaningful conversations filled the spaces as together we spoke from our hearts. We then discussed what obstacles we face in trying to accomplish these goals and what opportunities we would have in working towards reaching them. We concluded our sessions by sharing what we liked about our discussions, what concerns us, and what dreams we have for the diocese as a result of our conversations.

At Diocesan Convention in November, we will share the consolidated data from the sessions and discuss where we believe God is calling us to join in the work of the Spirit in the world around us. Setting our direction is half of the nose-to-toes alignment! While I don’t want to spoil the reveal of the information, it is no surprise to say that one very common obstacle noted that keeps us from steady progress towards God’s call to us is fear. We are afraid that our church might die, that our congregations will close, that we won’t be buried where our family is buried, that the liturgy we love will change, that we will lose our buildings, and so much more.

Beloved ones, our faith is built around the truth that death is not the end – that love conquers all (even death), and life is eternal. We are invited into this Paschal Mystery as active participants to share the Good News of God’s love for the world. So why are we so afraid of death when we KNOW it isn’t the end? Why do we make decisions based in fear instead of love and hope? Fear is a distraction that keeps us from following where Jesus is leading. We need to keep our toes and nose aligned – and hold each other accountable when we lead with fear – for surely that distraction leads to a crash every time.

Our fears can lead us to being "churchians" instead of Christians, putting our buildings, our congregational identity, our liturgy, and our institution as priorities over worshipping and following Jesus Christ. The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Ohio are beloved institutions that we rightly love, honor, and cherish. We believe that this branch of the Jesus Movement can truly share God’s Good News with the world. We must pray, worship, and follow Jesus more than we talk about buildings and institutions. Our churches matter AND Jesus is always the main point of our focus.

God is working in amazing ways in the Diocese of Ohio. It is evident in each congregation I visit, in each gathering I attend, and in each person who offers themselves for sacrament and service. Together we can keep our nose and toes aligned towards Jesus and hold each other accountable when we operate from a place of fear. After many, many falls and failures, the first bible verse I memorized was "Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9). Beloved, together we can live into this truth. We can stay focused on Jesus and his love, and faithfully follow where he leads us in the world. We can listen and respond to the Holy Spirit as she stirs our hearts and souls in directions we never imagined. We are people who believe that we can "Love God. Love your Neighbor. Change the World.®"

I can’t wait to see how God works in and through us in the coming years! Come to convention and be a part of the ongoing prayer and conversation as we fearlessly follow the Spirit into the world together.

The Rt. Rev. Anne B. Jolly Bishop of Ohio

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