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Euntes Docete Omnes: The Journey of Christ Church Plano: Part VI
Stand Firm ^ | 1/26/2007 | David Roseberry

Posted on 02/04/2007 7:02:11 PM PST by sionnsar

The Journey of Christ Church Plano: Part VI

With joy and thanksgiving for God’s great guidance over these years and most especially in the past six months, the vestry voted unanimously to join the AMiA.

In the early 1990s I attended a national meeting in Winter Park, Florida. I was a board member in a para-church ministry within the Episcopal Church. It was the first morning of the three-day meeting. I had stayed overnight at an old Floridian-style hotel—the kind that you see in an episode of I Love Lucy—and that morning I was carrying my breakfast tray to an empty table. I passed by a man who was finishing his meal and he spoke to me, “Sit down here David…I have something to tell you.” I had only met Herb the day before…he was new on the board, too. I sat down at the linoleum table across from him and stirred my oatmeal. He said something to me that I never could have imagined, but it set me on a course of hope that changed and refueled my ministry, radically increased the size of Christ Church, ultimately led me out of the Episcopal Church and now, into a new affiliation.

I am the founding rector of Christ Church in Plano, Texas. It has been a wonderful and incredible run of nearly 22 years. We have several thousand who attend each week for worship. I work with a staff of some 40 lay and ordained ministers. I love the work. Our vestry is united and has been united for 12 straight years and well over 144 consecutive vestry meetings. It is a great place to be. But it hasn’t always been like this.

In fact, a recent report from the Episcopal Church reveals just how hard it is to plant a church and keep it viable. The report reads: During the 16-year period between 1980 and 1996 the Episcopal Church planted 337 new churches nationwide. 14 of those congregations reached an average Sunday attendance of 250 or more by their 7th year. In other words, most new churches don’t thrive. This could have been the case at Christ Church. We were off to a great start in 1985 but by the early 90s, the growth had stalled, budgets and mortgages were squeezing our program dollars, the staff was cranky and unfocused, our vestry was moody and divided, and I was nearly burned out. Actually, I think I was burned out. That’s when I met Herb at breakfast.

Herb told me that he had had a dream that night and the Lord had told him to pay the way for Fran and me to go to the Holy Land for a few weeks of renewal and study. I had never been before. I had never even envisioned going at all. But the idea of a stranger having a dream and offering to pay the cost of the $5,000 trip was too much. I didn’t take it seriously. Frankly, I forgot about it. But 10 months later Herb called and said that he had put a check in the mail. Hmmm. When the check arrived I took it to the bank and only when it cleared did I decide that I could make plans to go. So in February of 1994 Fran and I took three weeks for a pilgrimage and tour through the ancient sites of what is called by some the Fifth Gospel, the Land of Jesus.

On that trip, on the 12th of February, on an old Roman road overlooking the Sea of Galilee I discovered why God had set it upon Herb’s heart to send us to the Holy Land. Half way down the road from the Mount of Beatitudes our small group paused for a brief prayer service. I looked for a place to sit down. Without really realizing it, I sat down on a small four-foot stone mount. I stared out to the east over the gem-like lake, toward the Golan Heights and I noted the lush green trees along the shoreline. And then He showed up. Wham. My back was electrified. I felt an unseen Hand on my shoulder. It sent shivers down and back up my spine. Waves of emotion and electricity came over me. I began to weep. I tried to focus on what the guide was saying but it was like hearing a distant voice in a deep canyon. I was clearly being touched by our very powerful and wonderful God. The guide said something about the city of Jerusalem (our next stop) and how Jesus loved the northern part of the Sea of Galilee (where we were) and that it might have been here (where I was) that He gave His final words to His disciples.

I stood up from the stone monument I’d been sitting on and tried to compose myself. Tears were still rolling off my face. I was shaken up a bit. I didn’t really know what had happened, but I had been deeply touched. I looked closely at the stone monument that I had been resting on. I noticed some writing in Latin that had been crudely etched into the rock some pilgrim years before. It read: “Euntes Docete Omnes”. I hadn’t a clue what that meant. I also saw five Cs carved into an arc across the face of the basalt boulder. Again, no clue as to what that meant either. But I had had an encounter and I felt perhaps I had also received a message from the stone tablet. But what did it mean? I felt somewhat akin to Mary perhaps and I kept these things all in my heart and I treasured them…until I returned to Texas.

When I returned home I called a Latin professor at SMU and asked him to translate for me. He was a bit annoyed, but he gave me the translation anyway. I should have been able to figure it out from the English cognates but I was blind to its simple meaning. I found out that it meant “Go teach everyone”. The five C markings were actually five Roman numerals, referring to the 500 witnesses to the Resurrection (I Corinthians 15:6). I realized what this was: the first three words of the Latin translation of the Great Commission itself.

I had been sent by Herb…but I had been touched by God. That monument has become a literal touchstone for my ministry and the mission of Christ Church. I have been back to it at least four times since.

At that moment in 1994 and on that monument on the old Roman road, I found the power and direction I needed to move forward under God. I had my marching orders and I took them seriously and very personally. My ministry, and the ministry of Christ Church, was all about the Great Commission.

For the following 12 years I tried to align every program, activity, budget and preaching moment to this renewed mission statement for Christ Church. In fact, since then our published mission statement reads like a pocket version of the Great Commission: Go, make disciples, and teach them to obey the commands of Christ. It was not easy and there have been numerous mistakes. But looking back on it, the results have been astonishing. Whereas we were on a plateau between 1990 and 1994, the year I got back from the “boulder moment” marked an upward trend that has continued to this day. In the following 12 years our attendance nearly quadrupled. Our budget increased five fold. We had three major capital campaigns and added nearly 100,000 additional square feet of buildings to our campus. We purchased and paved an additional four acres of parking and doubled our staff. And our vestry is totally united around the Great Commission. The number of adults in Bible study and small groups each week is nearing 1,000. I take little credit for this upsurge, as it has far exceeded my expectation and my ability to manage it. I can take credit for only one thing: sitting on the right rock at the right time.

As I have written in the past few weeks, the decision and the journey to leave ECUSA was a costly one to make, both in emotional and human terms. I have heard from hundreds of people all over the country about our journey…some words of encouragement and some of disdain. The journey is concluded and the drama will subside. 2006 was a very hard year. But in reality, the decision to withdraw from the Episcopal Church was not made in the summer of 2006, but in winter of 1994, on a cold stone boulder on the Sea of Galilee, when I was told to make the Great Commission the mission of my life and the ministry and mission of Christ Church.

After Minneapolis (’03) I suspected my days in ECUSA were numbered. I thought that I would indeed need to move out of ECUSA in order to fulfill the mandate I felt so deeply. But I tried to stay in. I truly did. I worked diligently with others over the following three years to try to redirect our denominational family. But the General Convention in Columbus told me everything I needed to know. The mission of ECUSA and the mission of Christ Church were two very different directions. The Episcopal Church declared its new intention. It was doing a new thing…and it was not the old thing that I had been told to do so dramatically on the Roman road years earlier. So, as Yogi Berra so brilliantly put it, when we came to the fork in the road, we took it.

When it came time to align with a new organization for oversight and ministry, I had some thinking and praying to do. I have already written about the checklist I had in my mind. I wrote of my findings of both CANA and the AMiA and my experiences in London. And as I prayed and wrote and prayed some more I began to sense the Lord’s leading. And, as I try to do with any “leading” from the Lord, I started to lean into it. I started to press the question more and more in my prayers and discussions with others.

Our clergy, too, were coalescing around a common understanding. While I believe it is a vestry decision to make, I wouldn’t have led the vestry in a direction that was different from the clergy that serve our church. And, to further raise the stakes, I had in my mind the seminarians that our church is sponsoring who are finishing up their degrees in school. They had jumped from the ECUSA affiliation (with us) without a parachute and were, in canonical terms, in free-fall. I wanted to find an organization or affiliation where they could be ordained and have a long-term ministry.

Our vestry met on Monday evening, January 22. Our clergy team submitted an encouraging letter to our vestry recommending that the parish join the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA). With joy and thanksgiving for God’s great guidance over these years and most especially in the past six months, the vestry voted unanimously to join the AMiA.

We make this choice with great delight and anticipation. On that boulder in the Holy Land I was told what to do with the rest of my ministry and with the parish of Christ Church: Euntes Docete Omnes. The AMiA has the perfect set-up for us to continue this ministry with integrity and freedom in the Lord. It is my hope that Christ Church, which has become so well known for a “stand” against the dominant forces of ECUSA, will become better known for its commitment to the mission of Jesus Christ that so deeply and wonderfully touched me almost 13 years ago.

I greet this decision with great relief. I recently attended the AMiA’s winter conference (also at a Florida hotel…irony?) I attended the great plenary sessions and I met old friends and linked arms with new brothers and sisters in ministry. It was a great time for fellowship and joy. I finally felt what I had been told I would feel after a few months of being out of ECUSA and away from the constant contention: I felt happy. I listened very carefully to the speakers and most especially to the leadership of the AMiA describe their mission and their goals and their hopes for the coming year. I did not hear a reference to the Episcopal Church drama or warring contentions and factions that have so paralyzed and pulverized my former denomination. I am sure it is there, but it is in the rear view mirror and the prospects ahead are too exciting to pay much attention to what we’ve left behind.

We have been wonderfully welcomed by this organization. The leadership has been extremely respectful of my need to sniff around, ask questions, write blog articles and invite others into the equation. They have not pressured me or shunned me. They have prayed for me and for our parish.

I would invite my readers to visit our website for the complete details about our decision. I am so very happy to have a personal video greeting from the Chairman of the AMiA, Chuck Murphy, and a personal welcome from the Archbishop of Rwanda, Emmanuel Kolini. You will find a letter from me, a blessing from our “outgoing” bishop, Bill Godfrey, links to the AMiA, and a few other things of interest.

As I close this series of essays, I wish to thank my readers for their comments, kind and otherwise. I have heard from people all over the world about these articles. I hope that I have been able to shed light on a confusing subject in a difficult time.

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 02/04/2007 7:02:13 PM PST by sionnsar
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To: ahadams2; Way4Him; Peach; Zippo44; piperpilot; ex-Texan; ableLight; rogue yam; neodad; Tribemike; ..
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Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 02/04/2007 7:02:52 PM PST by sionnsar (††|Iran Azadi| 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0ur5 (SONY) | UN: Useless Nations)
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To: sionnsar

What a touching and heartening essay.

3 posted on 02/05/2007 9:45:39 AM PST by Zippo44 (Liberal: another word for poltroon.)
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