A Big Church by The Rev. Jeff Jackson

When I was in high school, most of my church’s EYC members fell away from coming to church. I ended up being one of a few teenagers who were interested in being a part of the life of the church. It felt lonely. It wasn’t until I began attending diocesan youth events that I felt a part of something bigger — that there were other young people who felt that loneliness in their schools and their churches and yet banded together to support one another in our journeys with Christ. 

I have spent a majority of my ministry in rural parishes, often the only Episcopal church in a county. I’ve borne strange looks from people when I wear my collar. I have defended our church from those who think we are some strange aberration of Christianity. I have stood in the face of hatred from those who would call us unchristian because of our stances on Jesus’ inclusive love. I have endured the apathy of our own members, who see church as a monthly social obligation instead of a way of life. I have often felt that same high school loneliness and isolation, even though I have always made great efforts to be a part of my convocation, Clericus, other clergy support groups, and diocesan ministries. Annual Council is important to me because it helps assuage that isolation. But I confess there are often times when I have allowed that isolation to make me cynical enough to believe a lie that no one really cares about the Episcopal Church, perhaps even Episcopalians.

Now, I find myself in Austin, Texas at the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church as an elected deputy. I am humbled and grateful that the Diocese of Atlanta has given me this opportunity. By far the most moving thing in being here is to catch a glimpse of the wideness of our beloved church.

The first time I got choked up was in our opening worship. We were summoned to worship by drums. We sang both traditional and contemporary hymns accompanied by piano, guitar, organ, violins, and a horn section. We heard the Word of God spoken in English, Spanish, and even Hawaiian. We consumed the Body and Blood of Christ in long lines of people of all colors, genders, identities, and abilities. I had the good fortune to be seated behind the deaf community, and watched them sing with their whole bodies!

The second time I was moved to tears was during a legislative session where we watched videos of distinguished guests from all around the worldwide Anglican Communion. They gave us greetings from other members of our Church in Brazil, Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and everywhere in between. They pray for us even when we don’t always pray for them. 

I realized I wasn't alone.
I will never be alone.

I am surrounded by faithful Episcopalians, those who are like me, but thankfully most who are not like me, but all who love Jesus and faithfully walk in the Way. 

Our Church is wide and wonderful, isn’t it? When you feel like you’re the only Episcopalian out there, you are not. Keep caring. Keep connecting. Keep creating relationships beyond your own circle of churchgoers, and you will find an Episcopal Church so beautiful that you’ll get choked up, too.