Around 2,000 Episcopalians packed the gym at Clark University, the majority of them participants of Rooted in Jesus, a four-day Episcopal conference centered on discipleship. Renowned speakers, teachers, musicians, and leaders gathered from a variety of Episcopal entities including Forma, Missional Voices, Episcopal Evangelism Society, Episcopal Preaching Foundation, Evangelism Matters, Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church Foundation. Many of these organizations normally offer their own stand-alone conference, but by collaborating in Rooted in Jesus, they were able to provide a more diverse selection of offerings. Participants could choose between workshops on evangelism, formation, mission, leadership, communications, preaching, and stewardship. There was also an intentional area set up with prayer stations and opportunities to rest and reflect.
The Diocese of Ohio was represented by 14 individuals attending the conference, who spread out to experience a wide variety of workshops. Over dinner the last night of the conference, we discussed our initial takeaways from what we had learned and experienced. Ginger Bitikofer of Trinity Cathedral and the Rev. Greg Stark of Christ Church, Oberlin and St. Andrew’s, Elyria were inspired to develop tools for discipleship in their congregations through intentional engagement and small groups. For Kate Gillooly of St. Luke's, Cleveland and the Rev. Bridget Coffey of St. Andrew's, Toledo, that work is rooted in The Baptismal Covenant. Baptismal ecclesiology— that baptismal ministry is of all the people—is a radical concept in the face of our hierarchical world. Kate continually experiments with the question “How can lay people be agents of change for the church?”
Richard Pryor, III of Christ Church, Kent was inspired to respond to the brokenness and hurt in the world in both the pulpit and the public arena, living into the baptismal ministry of Christians to be spirit-driven activists in our community. Debbie Likens-Fowler, also from Trinity Cathedral, framed this is a reminder that the church is a grassroots movement, not a hierarchy. Debbie shared a vision that the church is lay-led and clergy-supported, rather than priest-led and lay-supported. Imani Driskell from St. Michael in the Hills, Toledo was feeling the power of the ministry of the baptized and is excited to evangelize and empower.
In addition to the transformational workshops and discussions, the conference opening plenary featured the Rev. Dr. William Barber, President of Repairers of the Breach, and one of the leaders behind “Moral Mondays” and the “Poor People’s Campaign.” He reminded us that our consciences ought to be rooted in the Spirit, and that we are anointed by the Spirit to be an agent of a higher calling to liberate and serve outside of the temple: we should “expect God to be present to transform words into action of love and liberation.” He reminded us that “we can’t worship God without a Holy Spirit-shaped conscience.”
We also participated in two worship services at the host church, All Saints' Episcopal Church in Atlanta. Incorporating jazz, gospel, and Latin American music, 1,500 Episcopalians made a joyful noise in worship. The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings preached on the theme of rootedness, likening the firm roots of kudzu to the values we find ourselves clinging to in our own lives. At the closing Eucharist, the Rev. Mark Andrew Jefferson asked us if it was time for a transplant— are our roots in The Episcopal Church tangled up in one another? What would happen if we broke open our current container and transplanted ourselves into something new?
It’s a pretty sure bet that all of the participants of Rooted in Jesus are ready to do just that. We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, and our roots are ready for a new thing. Anointed by the Holy Spirit, following the example of Jesus of Nazareth, and inspired by the creation of the human and non-human creation around us, we are ready to proclaim that the "Way of Love" is, can, and should be our way of life.