[Note: written for the most recent Grail, the newsletter of St. Joseph of Arimathea]

Not that long ago I was down at Church of the Advent joining in one of several focus groups that the Bishop had asked all clergy to participate in.

Fra Angelico: Sermon on the Mount

As we discussed the past, present and future of the Diocese of Tennessee and reflected upon our strengths and weaknesses as well as the challenges and opportunities that face us, I was reminded of a presentation I once saw that I thought was applicable to our circumstances.  In his presentation for “TED” (a non-profit devoted to “ideas worth spreading,”that holds conferences where thinkers from various disciplines share theirknowledge) James H. Kunstler talks about “the immersive ugliness of our everyday environments in America” and shares his belief that much of the way we have organized our contemporary environments and communities lead to depression because they are places that “aren’t worth caring about.” His argument and hischallenge is for Americans to begin considering the ways in which we can makeour communities worth caring about through the development of buildings andpublic spaces that hearken back to age-old principles of urban planning. In effect, Kunstler argues, if communities are not inspiring and do not illicit care from citizens, they will eventually cease to function as meaningful communities and will be besest by all the problems one can find in communities in decline.While Kunstler’s ideas were specifically applied to the built environment andurban planning, I believe the same principal holds for our diocese as a whole as well as each congregation: our goal should be to build or grow and improve upona community worth caring about.

I believe doing this in the diocese and the parish begins with a simple but often neglected task: the cultivation of relationships between our members.

As a diocese this may mean being more aware of the opportunities available for Christian formation atsome of the larger parishes–St. George’s and Christ Church Cathedral for example–that invite speakersand presenters on occasion. It also means being more willing to partner with one another to do things thatwe may not be able to do as individual congregations.The joint Vacation Bible School that St. Joseph’s hasbeen involved with over the past few years with St.Francis and Our Savior–which will be continuing thisyear–is also a practical example.

Within our congregation, the building of relationships is also important, and I have already seen that thereare a number of different ways for people to connectwith one another here at St. Joseph’s. But within ourparish community our challenge is not only to build relationships around common interests and passions, but to go farther.  As individual congregations, if we want to truly be seen as communities worth caring about by all of our members–and even the surrounding community–we need first to be acommunity that cares for others.

Even as I type this, I know that there are so manydifferent ways that we at St. Joseph’s demonstrateour care for one another and for the community.Whether it be through our involvement with theHendersonville Samaritan Association, our supportof Jesús el Señor, The Second Base foundation or theassistance we provide to families throughout the yearand particularly at Christmas, there are so many thingswe already do as a congregation that demonstrate thatwe care about our community and one another.

The challenge for us as we move forward into thefuture is that we don’t lose the places where we’realready demonstrating our care for one another, andsecondly that we become more conscious of the goalto be a caring community that is therefore cared for.  This means that we must be on the look out for the ways in which we can strengthen the bonds betweenone another. It also requires us to become more andmore active and visible in our community.

One of the most important points made by The Rt.Rev. Gregory Kerr-Wilson, the guest speaker at ourmost recent diocesan convention, was that the centerof gravity in our culture has moved away from churchattendance. No longer can we simply talk about “removing barriers” for newcomers and expect themto walk through our doors.  Instead we have to become an invitational church, not just an atractional church.  Part of being an invitational church, a community thatpeople want to visit and remain a part of is building up our identity as a community of caring.  As wemove forward together, I pray that we all find ways ofworking toward the goal of making our congregationsuch a community of caring that we inspire others.  One of the earliest recorded statments about Christians, according to the third century apologist Tertullian, was “See how they love one another.”  Let this be our watchword in our own day as well.