For season of Epiphany we did things a little differently at the end of our services at Grace and St. Thomas. Instead of doing the blessing and dismissal inside our church, we immediately processed out after the post communion prayer, followed the cross straight out the doors, and offered our blessing and dismissal outside. At Grace, we were visible to travelers along Highway 98; and at St. Thomas, neighbors could hear us singing the final hymn.
This all started after hearing a story from the Rev. Mike Michie, the Episcopal Church’s head of church planting infrastructure (meaning he does work with church planting and redevelopment).
Mike shared at clergy conference, the following:
"There was a church that was closing, and in their final service the bishop processed the congregation out the doors. In the final blessing he told the people as they faced out into the world, 'This is now your parish.'"
Mike said, "The bishop in this story wanted to emphasize that the ministry and work of the people can’t be contained in a building, our work as people of faith is never done, just because a church building closed, didn’t mean the work and the ministry of the people was done."
So Mike challenged the clergy to something - he said, “What if we did this? What if we did this well before we ever had to close church doors? What if we did this in the midst of thriving ministries to remind ourselves that the work and ministry we do as the church is not for ourselves but for the people beyond our walls, that our parish is very much the world.”
So, three days after hearing this story, we started this practice for the season of Epiphany. During the season of Epiphany we were reminded of the light brought into the world by Jesus, and each day we are called to take that light and continue in sharing it. This practice in our liturgy was a very physical reminder of going out into the world to share God’s love. Our liturgy has many other movements, both corporate and personal acts of piety, that invite us more deeply into our call and action as people of faith. This was a new way to engage with living out faith in our liturgy and beyond.
While each church has logistics to consider when or how to do this, it is certainly a practice worth trying out, for a special service, for a liturgical season, all the time. We have a lot of winter visitors from the north in Panama City Beach, and I’ve even had a few mention they want to take the idea back to their church at home (to do in the summer when it’s warmer of course).
Trying new things in ministry, especially in traditional worship on Sunday mornings, can be outside of our comfort zones, but that is exactly where God calls us, just to the other side of our comfort zone. I had no idea how this would feel, I had no idea if it would work, or if it would be meaningful, but not trying meant never knowing. If we don’t invite ourselves into trying new practices or new ministries, or being willing to fail, we stand the chance to miss out on new ways God could be calling us to live and serve in this world. So even if it’s not this particular practice, what is something we can do or try on Sunday mornings (or other times in the week) that might help reorient all of us to share God’s love in ways we had yet to consider?
In closing, I leave you with the blessing used once we all got outside:
Loving God, in our baptism we know we are beloved, in our baptism we know we are called to do your work in this world. As we leave out these doors this day, as we stand in the presence of your world and creation, help us to be ever mindful that “this is our parish.” Defined by so many things, but first and foremost defined by your love and our call to share that love with the world. May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Lord, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, bless us, keep us, encourage us, and always give us steadfast hope.