What is Beloved Community?

At the 2019 ECMN Convention, we introduced the new ‘mission opportunity’ for the program year: Engaging God’s Mission of the Beloved Community: Practicing the Way of Love. In this post and more coming soon, we’ll share materials created for Convention that connect the dots between Beloved Community and the seven practices of the Way of Love. These materials are available for your use. If you use them publicly, please give appropriate credit.

What do we mean by Beloved Community? By the Rev. Marcus Halley

[This talk can be accompanied by this powerpoint presentation, created by the Revs. Marcus Halley and Susan Daughtry. You’re welcome to use it in your faith community! Way-of-LoveDownload

A little over ten years ago, I found myself at a really scary moment in my journey with God. It was so scary at the time that I was convinced that God wasn’t actually there. You see, earlier that week, I had just been kicked out of my childhood church for speaking up in support of LGBTQ+ folks. I hadn’t yet gained the confidence to step fully into my own identity as a gay man, but that didn’t stop the doors of the church from closing in my face.

As grace would have it, though, earlier that summer I had heard rumblings of something called “the Episcopal Church” and “General Convention.” When I stumbled onto a website, I heard Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori talking about mission and a church that carried the Gospel with both the gravity and the lightness necessary for it to “take root” in different contexts, different cultures, and different hearts. It struck me as a breath of fresh air, like a flowing river of water that quenched something dry and barren within me.

So, when I was kicked out of my church and found myself in need of safety, community, and belonging, I found my way into St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, NC. I found myself at the altar rail, kneeling in front of something, someone, I had always known but felt like I was encountering for the first time. I felt welcomed, affirmed, and seen.

I am here to talk about Beloved Community, about how we engage the Mission of God, and about what this looks like on a practical level.

For me, it is not possible to talk about the Beloved Community without talking about the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ continues to come to us, to be known to us, to be taken into us so that we may come to him, be known by him, and be taken into him. In the Eucharist, we are swept up into a story that is far larger than we are, into a love that takes a lifetime and more to truly allow in.

When I knelt down at that altar rail all those years ago, I didn’t have the words or the framework to name what I know feel to be true. It wasn’t just bread and wine that I was receiving. I was kneeling in front of the sweep of salvation history. All of it, the full tide of the Kingdom of God, the powerful current of God’s future, the electrifying energy of the Spirit of God – the one that fell on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost – was washing over me in that moment. This is the Movement of God, God’s activity across the expanse of human history that seeks to repair what sin has broken.

Sin “is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with one another, and with all creation.”

God created us to live in the fullness of God’s love, but love requires choice – free-well, we had to choose to love God in return. Free-will also left open the possibility that human beings wouldn’t choose to love God. Free-will meant the human beings could choose to love power, privilege, wealth, and security more than God. To turn from God is to turn towards sin.

God’s response to sin is redemption and reconciliation.

Redemption is the act of God which sets us free from the power of evil, sin, and death.

In this journey from Sin to Redemption, God’s Church is those people who have heard the voice of Jesus to turn from sin and who have been baptized into his saving death.

We are those who accept the freedom in Christ and, in that freedom, we get to join in God’s mission. “God’s missionary purposes are cosmic in scope, concerned with the restoration of all things, the establishment of shalom, the renewal of creation and the coming of the Kingdom as well as the redemption of fallen humanity and the building of the Church.”[1] When you hear “Church” don’t hear St. Swithun’s in the Swamp or St. Patrick’s on the Prairie. When you hear “building of the Church” what I want you to hear is “the building of a movement.”

The Church (Big-C) exists because of God’s choice. God chose us to represent God in the world. Being chosen by God isn’t about us. It’s not divine fire insurance. Each of our communities of faith are called to engage God’s mission. This is the only way to the renewal and revival we seek. The Church does not exist for itself. We exist for God’s mission. The Church doesn’t have a mission. The mission is God’s and God’s mission has a Church. That mission is reconciliation.

When Jesus stands up in Luke 4 to proclaim the God’s Jubilee – a time of the renewal, restoration, reconciliation, justice, and liberation, he didn’t just pull it out of thin air. The people of God have been patiently awaiting the coming of God’s Kingdom for a long time. Jesus himself quotes the prophet Isaiah who, amid a backdrop of colonialism, imperialism, violence, hopeless, and oppression dares to proclaim:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners; 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn; 

God’s Kingdom has been a hope for God’s people since the very beginning, since our faithful ancestor Abraham heard God’s call and just began walking.

In the context of the Mission of God, the Beloved Community is simply this, and this is my own definition: the community of people whose lives have been so shaped by the hope of the Kingdom of God, that they have begun walking in that direction. The Beloved Community is not necessarily the Kingdom of God, though we can experience bits of the Kingdom in and through it. The Beloved Community are those are committed to living as if the Kingdom of God were here and now.

According to the King Center, the Beloved Community “Beloved Community was not a lofty utopian goal to be confused with the rapturous image of the Peaceable Kingdom, in which lions and lambs coexist in idyllic harmony. Rather, The Beloved Community was for him a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence.”[2] The Kingdom of God is not something we can achieve. When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, he never says “go build it.” Human pride assumes that we can build the Kingdom of God. When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, he says that it’s like:

  • A seed that just starts growing…
  • A woman who loses a coin and gives everything she has to find it…
  • A sower scattering seed on all types of soil…
  • A wedding banquet…

When it comes to the Kingdom of God, the invitation of Jesus is not “build” or “take” but rather “experience,” “inherit,” “find,” “wonder.” The Kingdom of God is like standing on the sea shore. No one asks us to build the ocean, but if want to experience the ocean, we can look at it, but we also have to step in. We can breathe in the salty air. We can feel the mist on our skin. We can marvel at its power, its beauty.

What is ours to build is the Beloved Community. It is up to us to create, nurture, and sustain compassionate communities and if you look at the world around us, we are sorely in need of compassionate communities. Dr. King says that this is an “achievable goal” when enough people make up in their minds that the only way forward to compassion and justice.

Questions

That’s what we mean when we talk about the Beloved Community, a community of people so filled with hope in the Kingdom of God that they just begin walking in that general direction.

It’s ours to build. It’s ours to nurture. And if we are going partner with God’s mission of reconciliation, this is what it looks enough.

If it is ours, how do we do it? How do we build this Beloved Community.

We build the Beloved Community through Practice. If we want love in the world, we have to build loving communities. If we want justice in the world, we have to build just communities. If want reconciliation, we have to build reconciling communities. If we want mercy, joy, and peace, we should get serious about building merciful, joyful, and peaceful communities.

In Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, adrienne maree brown suggests that to think about justice, joy, peace, and compassion at every level of our lives – internal and interpersonal to systemic and institutional. “When we speak of systemic change,” she says, “we need to be fractal. Fractals – a way to speak to the patterns we see – move from the micro to the macro level. We must create patterns that cycle upwards. We are microsystems.”[3] Later she says that it isn’t good enough simply to have vision for the kind of world we want to see, we have to model it internally.[4]

In other words: if we have to practice the world we want into being.

This has happened throughout history:

  1. The earliest Christian communities were outposts of the Beloved Community. They gathered people of different classes and spheres of influence into the Body of Christ, letting them know that in order to be a part of the Church, you had to give up violence and privilege.
  2. When the part of the world that was once part of the Roman Empire was descending into chaos and violence, St. Benedict of Nursia gathered a Beloved Community and gave them a Rule of Life that called people from across the world to follow the Way of Jesus.
  3. Monastic communities across time have done this work, holding space for the Beloved Community in the face of a world spinning wildly out of control, including Constance and her Companion in Memphis, women of God who stayed behind to care for the sick when the rest of the city fled the Yellow Fever epidemic.
  4. In the mid 1900s, awash in a culture of white supremacy and racism, another Beloved Community challenged the soul of this country. Women and men of various racial and ethnic identities stood arm-in-arm and demanded justice and freedom for “all.”

Throughout history, different people and communities joined in becoming the Beloved Community by being open to compassion, justice, and nonviolence. What sets these communities apart? What connects them to this movement that this world has tried it’s best to kill but somehow still keeps on living?

Jesus. The Son of the Living God.

According to Dr. King, it is possible to be part of the Beloved Community and not have faith in the Lord Jesus; but, there is something unique about the ways that followers of Jesus engage the Beloved Community.

A few weeks ago, when I was preaching at Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Linden Hills, I shared with that community that Christians are folks who have been touched by Jesus. We are people who have been granted a “foretaste” of glory divine. We are people who have seen the reality of the Resurrection in our lives and, when we look at the world around us and we see the prevalence of death, we know that this is not the whole story. Like those women who made their mournful journey to that tomb on Sunday morning and discovered life where any reasonable person would expect to find death, we know that that there is something to this Messiah, to this Christ, to this Jesus. We know that there is something relentless about life. Try as we might, and Lord knows we have tried, we cannot stop the relentless, abundant, all-consuming life of God.

We regularly experience the dissonance of living in a world of death while holding on to the hope and the reality of life. Paul writes to the Church at Philippi:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. [5]

We are free to live in God’s Kingdom because we have already died in Christ. Whatever was separating us from the fullness of the love of God has died and we are free to be bearers of that love into the world.

We do what we do because we have one foot in this world and one foot in the Kingdom of God.

We feed the hungry and house the homeless because we have one foot in the Kingdom of God and in the Kingdom of God there are many mansions and a feast of rich foods for all peoples.

We stand up and fight alongside immigrants and refugees because we have one foot in the Kingdom of God and in the Kingdom of God “there is no East or West… South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”

We show up with our neighbors who mourn and grieve because we have one foot in the Kingdom of God and in the Kingdom of God, God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

We pray and we sing praises to God because we have one foot in the Kingdom of God and in the Kingdom of God all of Creation stands around the throne of God singing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty.”

We serve, we minister, we witness, we walk, we advocate, we build, we dismantle, we share, we invite, we do what we do because we have one foot in this world and one in the Kingdom of God and the dissonance is unbearable.

We are the Beloved Community. We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. We are those who have been touched by Jesus Christ and who cannot help but touch the world.

When we

  • TURN from sin to new life in Jesus,
  • LEARN the ways of Jesus,
  • WORSHIP God in community with other followers of Jesus,
  • PRAY on a regular basis, orienting our lives around the ongoing presence of Jesus,
  • BLESS others the way Jesus did and continues to do through us,
  • GO across boundaries and borders bearing the Good News,
  • REST in the goodness of Jesus Christ

 we are practicing Beloved Community.

This is not merely a program to revive the church. This is not a seven-step process to get more members, more pledgers, or more money for the capital campaign.

This is what it means to follow Jesus.


[1] Mission Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004), pg. 85.

[2] https://thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy/

[3] adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, pg. 59.

[4] Ibid., p. 61.

[5] Philippians 3:20