Bishop Brian Cole’s Visit to Adult Ed: Adaptation and Deep Hospitality
This past Sunday’s Adult Forum welcomed Bishop Brian Cole, who led our small group along with Fr. Will in exploring what it means to be a disciple of Christ in today’s changing social climate.
As he does with each annual visit to our Adult Ed gathering, Bishop Cole engaged us in thought-provoking discussion, suggesting that COVID has brought the church not only a challenge, but also an opportunity. While East Tennessee churches have been struggling with attendance and funds, this unprecedented change to our status quo is forcing us to adapt and experiment. We’re offering more online and hybrid opportunities. We’re meeting people where they are. We’re redefining what it means to be a member of a church community.
The Bishop told us a story of a church in Lexington, years before COVID. After the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, this church wanted to offer a chance for those mourning to come and pray, so they offered a midweek Compline service at 9 p.m. More than 100 people showed up; most didn’t return. Rather than seeing so many one-time attendees as a sign of failure on the church’s part, the church considered its Compline a success. The church saw a need in its community, and the community was open to giving the church—and God—a chance to meet that need.
According to Bishop Cole, the church at large is called to offer “deep hospitality.” He says that insiders will care for the institution of the church while others take interest in the broader issues. There is a porous border between the people within the church and the people around the church, and our group left this discussion feeling called to step outside our historical habit of being service providers in favor of inviting others to join in. Ray Barney pointed out Fr. Will’s particular kindness to people experiencing homelessness. Paul Womack suggested that lapsed Christians may need a safe space to talk. We discussed Southside Abbey’s faithful, nontraditional community; our Outreach Committee’s pre-COVID fruit giveaways; and the fundamental ministry of feeding people.
Bishop Cole referenced St. Augustine, reminding us that church is a place for rest, a place to be loved. We’re called to invite people to show us their wounds of where the church has hurt them, to serve counter-culturally, to evangelize without conquest.
Next week, although our Bishop won’t be with us, we’ll be continuing our discussion of Catholic Evangelism. If you would like to listen, to talk, to learn, or just to start your Sunday morning with your Christ Church family, then this group may be just right for you.