I spent August 20-22 in the San Francisco Bay Area with 20 Episcopal clergy people who are doing ministry in a variety of West/West Coast contexts, including California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and New Mexico.
This so called "West Coast Clergy Convivium" was convened by three Episcopal priests, (Paul Fromberg & Phil Brochard, Diocese of California; and Alissa Newton, Diocese of Olympia) who have been noticing that Episcopal Church conversations often feel very "East-Coast-centric", leaving the false impression that Episcopal identity is centered in places like New York and Virginia. Our conveners called us together in the hopes of discovering more about what the Holy Spirit is up to in the Episcopal Church west of the Mississippi and, in particular, what wisdom might arise from reflecting together on the cultural particularities of the Western US and ministry in our particular church contexts that could be of value to the wider Episcopal Church.
We emerged from our three days together with a set of questions and commitment to continued conversations with one another and with clergy and lay people in our local ministry contexts in the months ahead.
The questions that we will be exploring in one on one conversations in the coming months include:
So here's your big chance--if you'd like to set aside an hour to meet with me sometime in the next few months (coffee shop? bar? my backyard? zoom?) for a conversation about any of the above questions--or West Coast/Western US culture in general and its implications for ministry in the Episcopal Church--just let me know! You can FB message me, or email me.
At the close of our gathering, we were each invited to share a single word to sum up our time together. "Energized", "Curious", "Hopeful" were some of the words offered. The word I offered was "Sad". I am curious to continue to interrogate and unpack that word, and the accompanying image I created to express it (above).
Is there something particularly "Western" about the geography of the image itself? Are we, as Episcopal church leaders, like pioneers struggling to cross the rugged Continental Divide of Grief that separates the present Whirlpool of Fear that threatens to pull us under from the Radiant Yet Unknown Future to which God is calling us? The glare of the sun in our eyes prevents us from seeing that future clearly. And yet we feel compelled to press ahead...to find passage beyond fear through the sometimes treacherous Mountains of Grief into the great and terrifying unknown where God has promised to go ahead of us.
The Western Spirit of adventure and independence spurs us on, increasing the odds that we might discover some narrow, ancient path that leads us to stunning and spacious vistas we could never have dreamed of. But, left unchecked, that same Western Spirit of rugged individualism also increases the odds that we'll get stranded alone in those mountains by an unexpected blizzard or rockslide and be forced to saw off our own leg or eat our only remaining horse to survive. Or maybe worse, we'll make it through alive only to claim as our own those resources and riches that could never belong to us.
Before this half-baked metaphor runs away from me completely, I'll stop and leave you to ponder the Church, the West, and the Mountain of Sad that separates--and connects--"what's now" from "what's next" in the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.
Feel free to share your own thoughts & experiences in the comments, below. [Please don't bother sharing your opinions about my generous and unconventional use of upper case letters.]
My name is Sylvia Miller-Mutia, and I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. I have recently accepted an exciting call to serve as assisting clergy at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM with a focus on outreach, evangelism, and family ministry. I continue serving as "priest at large" for the larger church and wider world, assisting the people of God in whatever ways I can, and developing new resources for spiritual formation to share. Prior to my current call, I served as Rector (aka Pastor) of St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM (2015-2018), Assistant Rector at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, CA (2010-2015) and Pastoral Associate for Youth & Families at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belvedere, CA (2002-2009). I am married to Donnel (grief counselor, couples coach, artist, best dad ever), and we have three awesome kids, ranging in age from 8-14.