I had the privilege of representing our parish at this year’s diocesan convention. This is actually the fourth year that I have been able to represent us at the convention! I have learned a lot about the greater workings of the diocese and the wider church. I am happy to share a bit about the plenary speakers this year. As in the past few years, this year’s speakers highlighted minority women. This year we heard interviews that Bishop Jennifer had with Rev. Kim Jackson, senator from Georgia and Episcopal priest, and Ms. Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama and life-long Episcopalian.
As many of you know, this year the diocese is encouraging the message of living a bold witness and both speakers addressed this topic. Both women are active in the political and religious spheres. They each spoke about how their faith informed and encouraged both sectors. As Christians we often are hesitant to speak out about our faith or even use the name Jesus for fear of what others might infer about us. Each speaker was not afraid to combine their religious identity with that of their broader identity in their communities and politics.
It was in fact her passion for social justice that was mirrored in her parish, that led Ms. Tchen to rediscover and grow in her faith. Ms. Tchen spoke of how so many people are seeking right now and that our churches can be a place where they are drawn to learn and grow. Her interview encouraged us to bring our passions for our community, individual and corporate, into the center of our parish life. Does someone have a passion for LGBTQ+ youth or clean drinking water in Haiti? Discuss these passions on Sundays and get the whole church involved. The clear encouragement was not to avoid controversy, but instead to embrace it and do so openly. What will invigorate and grow our churches is not what is quiet and comfortable, but instead what is a bold witness to each other and our community.
Rev. Kim Jackson lives out her bold witness both with her Senate seat and as a part of her community work as a priest. Although she firmly believes in the separation between church and state, she knows that her background in religion gives her a great opportunity to speak of religious and social justice issues in government. Just as a Senator who is also a doctor has the background to better understand and speak about medical bills, Rev. Jackson can deeply speak to those of religion and social justice. Her work in the Senate and in her community also gives her the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ, which she does as she loves and works with those who might originally see her as an enemy. In government, this allows her to work together with others of faith toward bipartisan goals. In her community, it looks like serving a Muslim community and sharing love with them, without attempting to change their beliefs.
Both women gave real life examples of bold witness, both in the church and in their workplace. I was incredibly encouraged as to how they were living out their faith in love, humility, and compassion while also doing so from a place of strength and confidence. I agree that we need to be a bold witness both in the church to each other and to our community. I want to be the kind of witness that makes people wonder why I do the things that I do, why I treat and serve others in a way so countercultural. I hope our churches’ radical love and compassion for others is visible and encouraging to those who don’t know us. I pray that we can do this in whatever way God leads us and not be afraid to be a bit controversial!
Thea Warren Simpson