This week, I met with various groups of leaders throughout our church. Many shared that they were feeling a heightened sense of emotions including increased fear, uncertainty, rage, deep sadness, and borderline despair. In these conversations and connections, it was clear, we are struggling.
This reality alerted me to, and confirmed, the fact that there is nothing we should hold onto more closely than the Gospel; a Gospel that gives us permission to tell the truth, to name a thing what it is; a Gospel that reminds us that no evil will ever have the last word.
This is not the first time that the church has been in the midst of utter chaos, destruction, and crisis. Through it all, and in every age, the church has always remained a key presence of assurance that God has not and will not abandon God’s beloved. The Church has a long history of providing spaces and places of hope and healing; spaces and places that are not restricted to buildings or structures; spaces and places that are daily and consistently co-created with the Holy.
I am writing to you with the hope and expectation that we will continue in the inheritance that we have received; an inheritance that is not defined by culture, color, gender, ability, class or any other construct that has been used to divide us from one another. Rather, the inheritance we have received is one gifted to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Dear friends, to be clear, we are Church today, not because of what our ancestors have done or left undone. We are Church today because of the Holy Spirit’s stubborn and persistent work in and through humanity and all of creation.
I am writing because I am convinced that we have been anointed by this powerful Holy Spirit for such a time as this. I want us to cling to that promise rather than be seduced by the spirit of fear, the spirit of despair, the spirit of hopelessness and insecurity.
I am writing because we are not called to lean on what makes us most afraid and we are also not called to lean on false security or illusory hope in the midst of what is clearly a crisis in our nation. We are called to lean into this both/and moment; a moment that challenges us to wrestle within the tension. On one hand, we are followers of Jesus who proclaim resurrection hope and we acknowledge that we are living through one of the darkest times of our generation. On the other hand, we are living through one of the most difficult seasons of our lives and ministries, and, even in this moment, you and I get to be the embodiment of the Church of Jesus Christ. This embodied reality of wrestling with the both/and is our faithful response to the demands of the Gospel.
In addition to the reminders of who we are as people of faith, I want to share recommendations related to safety for local congregations in the Metro D.C. Synod. It is my hope and expectation that you will worship and join together in prayer this coming Sunday, January 17, 2021. I encourage you to use the Call to Prayer provided by our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, which is linked here on our website.
That said, it is my strong recommendation and preference that congregational leaders and their teams not gather in or broadcast from the sanctuary. Lead worship remotely. If you utilize Zoom, use the best practices with a host monitor and waiting room.
It is faithful for us to err on the side of caution during such uncertain times and the threat of upheaval. I thank you for taking my recommendations seriously and for making the appropriate arrangements to prioritize safety for yourselves and for all whom you’ve been entrusted to serve.
In conclusion, it is not lost on me that today, January 15, 2021, is the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and that inauguration week coincides with the day our country remembers this prophetic leader. As I shared last week, when my sighs are too deep for words, I find grounding in the Scriptures and in the wisdom of the saints before us. In light of the traumatic events of the past week and my deep sighs searching for words, I return to Dr. King. I invite you to reflect on this excerpt from his sermon, “Love In Action,” inspired by Luke 23:34:
Jesus eloquently affirmed from the cross a higher law. He knew that the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy would leave everyone blind. He did not seek to overcome evil with evil. He overcame evil with good. Although crucified by hate, he responded with aggressive love. What a magnificent lesson! Generations will rise and fall; men will continue to worship the god of revenge and bow before the altar of retaliation; but ever and again this noble lesson of Calvary will be a nagging reminder that only goodness can drive out evil and only love can conquer hate.
As I reflect on these words, I am comforted in the midst of my own concern for what lies ahead for us as a people, as a church, and as a nation. My personal tendency is to pull back and retreat from community and loved ones when I am hurt, perplexed, and disappointed. However, the Spirit has awoken me to the non-negotiable necessity of leaning into collective lament; of engaging community; and of trusting the power of relationship and goodness to drive out fear.
I pray we dare believe that care for ourselves and those we’ve been entrusted to serve is essential for the work ahead.
I pray we dare believe we have indeed received the inheritance and anointing gifted to us by the power of the Holy Spirit, for such a time as this.
And I pray we dare believe the power of love; and the power of love in action to conquer hate, with God’s help and in Jesus’ name.
Bishop Leila M. Ortiz