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At the Heart of Discipleship

By the Rev. Dr. Joy Blaylock, Canon Missioner for Discipleship

On September 1, 2020, I crossed the threshold of one year as a “Canon Missioner for Discipleship." People still roll their eyes in confusion or furrow their brow when I say that title. I still get asked “what exactly is that?" The easy answer is that it is one of the big three foci in our diocesan mission: discernment, discipleship, and development.

In some way, I saw the culmination of the year coming with our annual event, Discipleship Day. The Rev. Kammy Young, Canon Missioner for Development, Dr. Lisa Kimball of VTS, Bishop Russell and I gathered for many Zoom sessions to plan and coordinate this day. Underlying our zeal were the parameters that always guide the content and purpose for our Discipleship Day events: gathering, fellowship, challenge, discussion, renewal, and deepening commitment.

I spent most of the Tuesday before the arrival of Hurricane Sally working on the final details for Discipleship Day. Around 6pm, I caught a headline that said that the famous weatherman, Jim Cantore, was not in Biloxi or Gulfport as I had thought, but had moved to Pensacola Beach. Most southerners are aware enough to know that signals trouble. I felt a shudder move through my body.

It was dark by then, and I had made no effort at hurricane preparation. As the days rolled on after the hurricane passed, I had no power, lots of cleanup, and a deep sense of grief. At the postponement of Discipleship Day, I felt that sense of a boat drifting without its moorings. I felt like the foolish bridesmaids with no oil for their lamps in Matthew 25.

It was like so many times this year: just when I felt I had some grasp on where to go next, what to do next, the world changed. And, it left me feeling unprepared and sometimes plain weary. I’ve heard this feeling echoed by others, along with an admittance of the fatigue that comes from prolonged crises. Notice, not just one crisis, but many.

In the midst of it all, we may find ourselves going through a crisis of identity of some sort. Our old expectations of ourselves and others may no longer fit. This year, in the area of discipleship, we had hoped to provide resources and collaboration on Confirmation materials and a Discipleship Day that focused on our identity as baptized people called to be ministers in this world. Yet, the world changed; we pivoted (yes, I groan as I type that word) and all of our previous expectations for ministry, engagement, challenge, and empowerment went to the wayside as we went into recovery mode.

We are still very much in that recovery mode in our diocese. Yet, I came across a quote recently that strikes at the sense of change I am feeling in the area of discipleship and in the way we are teaching in the School for Ministry:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I know it seems a bit mystical or esoteric. But, at the heart of discipleship is the cultivation of our longing for God. That is a constant. And, one of the key areas of growth in that constant is the expansion of our School for Ministry to include education for lay persons who will be licensed as preachers, worship leaders, and pastoral care leaders. This is happening and I am so very grateful that it has come to fruition among all the challenges of this year.

I look forward to telling you more about the School as we launch this new year. But, for now, I encourage you to hold fast to what we know endures: for those who feel weary, heavy-laden, or even defeated, know that our God will not fail to send along the Ship of Grace to pick you up, restore you, and revive you. I look forward to finding that ship as we plan a 50 day countdown to our revival in December. Yes, even though so much feels so unsure, we continue to press forward in hope and resilience with a love for the vast and endless God in whom we move and have our being.

Wising you Shalom amidst the waves,

Joy Blaylock


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