The Beloved Community
Visioning the Beloved Community
Upon his arrival as Bishop of California in 2006, the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus felt the need to build a diocesan vision from the ground up. To build this vision, titled the Beloved Community Visioning Process, Bishop Marc invited input from members at every level of the Diocese of California. The phrase “beloved community” though popularized by Martin Luther King, Jr., originated in early 20th century writings of the
Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Bishop Marc borrowed from his experience as an urban planner and adapted the Beloved Community Visioning Process for use by the diocese. The process included appreciative inquiry; wondering together where people had experienced the diocese at its best, which in turn showed what the diocese could be.
Over 1,000 people participated in six Eucharistic services to brainstorm and dream during the process. The first service — with nearly 400 participants — was held at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. The Liturgy of the Word at each service was the proclamation of a gospel text and included a brief homily by Bishop Marc followed by the assembly breaking into diverse groups. Some groups focused on artistic expression as response to the proclamations while other groups focused on discussion. At the offertory thoughts were gathered into nets as prayers for the vision of the diocese.
Long-time leaders of the diocese, Julia McCray Goldsmith and the Rev. Sue Thompson, aggregated and consolidated the information to the five Beloved Community principles: Embodied Justice, Church Vitality, Rooted Spirituality, Transparent and Accountable Leadership, and Inclusive Community. Read more about the Beloved Community visioning priniciples below.
After the visioning process concluded, a special diocesan convention adopted the five principles as the official vision of the diocese. After these were adopted, Vitality Practices for Building the Beloved Community were introduced as practices by which the diocese could be the beloved community. Read more about the Vitality Practices below.
Being the Beloved Community
The Beloved Community, like the Kingdom of God Jesus references in the gospels, is something we catch glimpses of here and now. Our mission is
- Embodied Justice for All People and for God’s Creation
- Church Vitality
- Rooted Spirituality
- Transparent and Accountable Leadership
- Inclusive Community
Embodied Justice, like being a Christian, is a way of living rather than a series of actions. Embodied justice is an awareness of how our decisions impact others, and how our decisions are a part of our striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. To embody justice we must be aware of our immediate surroundings and situations as well as in our communities, our state, our country, and our planet. In addition to impacting our decisions personally, embodying justice leads us to advocate on behalf of the voiceless to work for a just, beloved community. We embody justice by intentionally working against discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or age; standing in solidarity with the poor and marginalized; and caring for God’s creation with reverence.
Church Vitality requires moving from maintaining our established and set structures to creating communities that are growing and thriving. Growing based solely on numbers is hardly an indication of vitality; when churches are vital they are places that grow members’ spirituality as they work to be disciples of Jesus. Vital churches are also those that engage not only themselves, but make a difference in their surrounding community. Church vitality in the beloved community needs the community to be vital. It encourages evangelism, growth, and new expressions of church, and adopts missional practices of worship and outreach. Vital churches collaborate between one another and express creativity and joy in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Rooted Spirituality reminds Christians that they are not only Christian on Sunday morning but also all the time, and that following Christ extends into all portions of their lives. Those whose spirituality is rooted engage their Christianity in their day-to-day habits and behaviors, and are comfortable proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. Rooted spirituality builds a network of resources for prayer, study, support and nurturing. A rooted spirituality is one that is deep and holds the truths of the Good News close at hand even in the midst of life’s difficulties. Through vital education and renewal ministries, communities of Christian discipleship, and formation in the Episcopal tradition with informed respect for other traditions all root spirituality.
Transparent and Accountable Leadership models how Christians are to live their lives — as Jesus says in John 3, doing what is true in the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. Transparent leadership is clear about how decisions are made and seeks to make processes more opened than closed. Accountable leadership values the discernment that happens in community and is open to hearing and acting on feedback. Transparent and accountable leadership build beloved community by not keeping secrets while motivated by fear, but sharing what is good and from God.
Inclusive Community requires asking the question “Who is not at this table with us?” particularly looking at our every day lives and at the neighborhood around our churches. More than seeking a marginalized or underrepresented demographic, inclusive community invites all people to come and feast at the table. Inclusive communities have leadership composed of people from all walks of life. Rather than tolerating diversity, inclusive community celebrates diversity as a gift created by God in whose image we are all made. Inclusive community incorporates all people without regard to race, class, gender, sexual orientation or disability, including meaningful participation of all ages — children, youth, and elders; and being attentive to the prophetic voices among us.
Vitality Practices For Building Beloved Community
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
— 1 Corinthians 12.12
The apostle Paul reminds the church in Corinth that our bodies are made up of different parts and that we need each part to function. He compares that to the body of the church and emphasizes that different people have different gifts, and that the church needs them all to function. Because no one has the same experience, diversity is a vitality tool. The church is strengthened when varieties of perspectives are shared and each person’s place in the body of Christ is celebrated. To be diverse, we must first wonder if we lack diversity and strive for ways to bring new, treasured people to our midst.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
— Acts 2.44-45
When the earliest converts committed themselves to the apostles’ teachings, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers (Acts 2.42) they strived not to be in competition with one another, but to share amongst themselves so that anyone in need could have their needs met. Collaboration to build the Beloved Community is sharing resources among congregations and working with external agencies that provide services we do not or cannot. Collaboration is embracing God’s generosity in all things and no longer fearing scarcity; there is no need to have the most programs or projects or people when we acknowledge that in our diversity and community embeddedness we may give to all, as any has need.
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”
— John 1.38-39a
Early in Jesus’ ministry people noticed something that was different about him. When they asked him to explain himself his direction was to “Come and see.” In the same way, when Mary sees Jesus at the empty tomb, she goes to her friends and tells them, “I have seen the Lord!” Invitation is not showing hospitality to guests as we receive them, it is sharing with those already in our lives the ways we have seen and known the resurrected Christ, sharing that Good News with them, and saying, “I invite you…”
And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
— John 1.14a
Just as Jesus became human and lived among us, we are called to leave our church buildings and work to build a better world locally. Congregations can better engage their local communities by learning the needs of the community and how to better meet those needs — in collaboration with their neighbors.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
— Psalm 19:1-4
Scripture tells us that God created the world and everything in it (Psalm 24:1) and that it is good. Creation itself teaches us about God, and we are asked to be stewards of creation and care for the earth and all that is in it. Sustainability takes the long view of how our actions and choices impact not just us, but all those coming after us. We are stewards of the precious gift of creation in and among our own communities.