Think of your church as an oasis
Published 4:32 pm Monday, October 2, 2023
Over the summer, I flexed my web designer muscles and crafted a new website for our parish. I absolutely LOVE doing web design. Getting the right shade of red becomes like a spiritual discipline. Ensuring the page is both readable and attractive is a challenge, but a fun challenge, nevertheless. But more than being just a laboratory for creativity, web design forced me to think about what I consider to be the most important information a visitor needs to know about our church. So, if you head to our website (www.saintpetersnc.org) and stay right there on the home page, you’ll find the following mission statement, prayerfully crafted by our leadership team: “The mission of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church is to reflect the love of Jesus Christ by affirming and welcoming all to meet God in an oasis of love, responding to the needs of our community and healing the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.” So many churches have mission statements that, once drafted, promptly get locked in a desk drawer and never looked at again. Saint Peter’s is trying to do the opposite. We wanted our mission statement to reflect not only who we are right now, but who we want to become.
There’s a line in there that always catches me with its power: “affirming and welcoming all to meet God in an oasis of love.” Sometimes, life feels like a desert. It’s endlessly complex and oppressive, with every day bringing new challenges and frustrations. And that’s if you’re one of the lucky ones. Sometimes, life brings daily catastrophes, like news of a loved one’s death or a life-altering diagnosis. And when those catastrophes and challenges come, it can feel so lonely and isolating, so punishing and barren. Thus, the metaphor of the desert.
But we can’t forget the oasis. For every weary traveler through the desert, beaten and broken by all its challenges, an oasis represents the possibility of life, restoration, and hope. It represents rest, and the ability to pause and breathe without fearing for your life. It gives strength for the rest of the journey and remains a place of safety for those who need to return to it time and again.
At the end of the day, when I ponder what the Church is, I come back to this image. I come back to the fact that in a world as hard as ours, we need places of rest and refreshment. We need an oasis. And the Church, on its best day, can indeed be an oasis for all those in the world who are wearied and run ragged by the demands of simply existing.
Shamefully, I acknowledge that the Church hasn’t always been an oasis for those in need. On its worst days, the Church has harmed and excluded the very people in most need of an oasis of grace. I bet some of you reading this have even been hurt by Saint Peter’s. We are certainly guilty of being more like a punishing desert than a restorative oasis. For that, I am sorry. Here’s the thing, though. Saint Peter’s wants and longs to be a welcoming and affirming place for all, where not a single person leaves feeling less-than, or unwelcome, or damaged beyond repair. I can’t promise we won’t fail again. We’re human, all too human, as my friend Friedrich Nietzsche wrote. What I can promise is to be a pastor who learns from his mistakes, advocates for the marginalized and the outcast, and does all in my power to ensure Saint Peter’s is a healthy, vibrant oasis of God’s love. That’s a tall order, sure. That’s alright. We’ve got the Spirit and a parish full of people trying to do the next right thing. I can already see the palm fronds waving in our oasis. I can hear the bubbling spring of life-affirming love. All that’s needed is you, my friend. In this oasis of God’s love, you are welcome. Truly, unconditionally welcome.
Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.