The people who sell things and the people who help them sell things know that a respected brand is important. We don't usually think this way about Churches, but maybe we should. A question that has been asked around our parish recently is "How do our neighbors think of us?" Are we thought of us just those crazy Episcopalians who seem to be arguing about sex all the time? Or are we, as friend of mine told me recently, seen as the most welcoming Church in town?
I suspect that neither answer really captures how our parish is seen in this village, but hearing both of them is important. Episcopalians have argued about sexuality a lot in recent years, and although those discussions have been important, there is a lot more going on that is also important. My friend Ian Douglas, a professor at Episcopal Divinity School, reminded me recently that the resolution on homosexuality was not the only resolution passed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops. There were other resolutions adopted, and two that are often overlooked, but have proved to be very important, were Resolution I.15, International Debt and Economic, and V.2, On International Debt Cancellation and the Alleviation of Poverty. These resolutions challenged Anglicans to advocate for debt relief for the poorest nations and to provide funds for international development programs. In the United States, Episcopalians were instrumental in getting legislation passed that cancelled one billion dollars in bilateral debt. That legislation became the framework for international agreements that leveraged an estimated twenty-seven billion dollars in debt relief.
Another friend told me recently about how a parish to which she once belonged had established its brand with a sign at the entrance that quoted Bishop Edmond Browning, the Presiding Bishop at that time: "There will be no outcasts in this church." Our parish has had the sanctuary open for prayer pretty much all the time for the past seven years and a sign on the front door tells people that we are "Open for prayer." From time to time I hear from people who have responded to that invitation and found a place to pray at 2 A.M. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said in a sermon at the meeting of the Communion's Primates, "I remember a signboard outside a church that was filled with activities and I couldn't help but wonder if they had left any space for God."
What is the brand of our parish in this small western New York village? Are we seen by our neighbors as part of a Church that works for debt relief, a Church committed to the poor? Are we seen as a Church committed to prayer and to providing sacred space for others to pray? I hope so.