Reflection on North Carolina – The Rev. Noah Van Niel
St. John the Evangelist, Hingham, MA
Often the prevailing narrative of the Episcopal Church (both from within and without) is one of a leaking ship, slowly (or not so slowly) taking on water before it runs aground on the shoals of secularism. As one still relatively new to the priesthood, this does not serve to excite and inspire me for the coming decades of my ministry. But Gathering of Leaders is telling a different story.
By bringing together curious, creative, courageous, caring priests and bishops who have hope for the future of the church and are filled with the energy of the Holy Spirit, GOL is serving to continue to inspire the next generation of leaders in this Church. At least that’s what happened for me. Attending my first Gathering I was delightfully surprised to hear stories of congregations alive and vibrant across the country. People shared stories of some really interesting projects they are engaged in, they talked openly about strategies and practices to encourage growth, and we all recommitted and reaffirmed our central orientation around Jesus Christ as head of the Church and author of our salvation. They made the priesthood seem relevant and important, not some niche, dying profession. I was reminded what a gift it is to be called to the ministry and how incredible it is to serve a God who transforms and enlivens all of us, each and every day.
This year’s theme of The Jesus Movement elicited some great discussion and was a refreshing reminder of the number one reason for the Church’s existence: to orient ourselves and our world around Christ. In conversations and presentations, we wrestled with the tensions inherent in our call to be a “movement,” while also maintaining the institution of the Church which promises to help carry that movement beyond just our generation. We were reminded of what it means to be a missional church-sent out into the world in witness to God’s love; a church that doesn’t just welcome, but invites people to come and see. The conversations and stories that were shared encouraged me to continue to be bold for the Gospel of Christ in new and exciting ways, for if one thing was clear from our few days together it was this: there is and ever will be an audience longing to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. We just need to figure out how to tell that story in a way that people can hear it.
It was also a privilege to connect with and learn from so many talented laborers who are working tirelessly in their corners of the Kingdom. The time to socialize and share fellowship and worship with priests from across the church who are good at what they do and remain faithful and inspiring despite the long odds was a real gift. We laughed, we prayed, we ate, we talked, and we connected. I have a feeling some of these relationships will feed my ministry and my spirit for a long time to come.
It was an honor and blessing to participate in my first Gathering of Leaders Conference, and I look forward to many more years of having my ministry enriched and my soul enlivened by attending. Thank you.
The Rev. Noah Van Niel