Getting to Know Our Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Home Missions and St. John's Chapel Bible Study
Pictured: The Rev. Matthew Rivers, Pastor of St. John's Chapel in Downtown Charleston
Earlier this summer, members of the Home Missions Team reached out to the Rev. Matthew Rivers, Pastor of partner ministry St. John's Chapel, seeking a dialogue about race and justice in the light of biblical teaching. This led to two meetings by Zoom of members of the Home Missions Team and members of St. John's Chapel, a mission of our Diocese that is predominantly an African-American congregation.
These first two meetings were extraordinary. We asked the members of St. John's for the personal stories that they have lived or seen and that we need to hear in order to have a better understanding of the issues of racism. The stories they shared were deeply moving and disturbing, revealing various acts of racism occurring in Charleston and in other parts of the country. Some stories went back to childhood and revealed how harsh incidences of racism can affect a person's entire life. We listened for several hours. All members of our Team were deeply moved by the stories, and desired to engage further to build relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ at St. John's.
During the second meeting, the members of St. John's asked us to share our thoughts and reactions to what we heard. We spoke honestly, and felt that this was also a good time of sharing and relationship building. At the end of this session all of our team members and all of the participants from St. John's committed to continuing to meet together for a Bible study. We desired to study Scripture and its teaching on the issues of race, reconciliation, and justice. We are now in the midst of a six-week Bible study, currently meeting by Zoom, focusing on the following topics and Scripture:
1. Jesus and the faith of foreigners. John 4:1-42, Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well; Matthew 15:21-28, The Faith of a Canaanite Woman
2. Everyone who believes. Acts 10, Peter and Cornelius
3. Living by Faith. Galatians 2 and 3 (with focus on Galatians 2:11-14, Paul Opposes Peter; 3:15-28, The Law and the Promise)
4. The Ministry of Reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, Ministry of Reconciliation
5. Putting on the New Self. Colossians 3:1-17, Bearing with one another in the love of Christ
6. Every nation and tribe. Isaiah 56:1-8, Salvation for Foreigners; John 17:20-25, The High Priestly Prayer; Revelation 7:9-12, Great Multitude from Every Nation
Last night's Bible study explored Simon and Cornelius's interaction in Acts chapter 10. Volunteers took turns reading the verses, and the discussion in between was lively, much to the delight of Pastor Rivers. "I'm just so proud of this entire group," he said.
With these weekly meetings, we are seeking unity through our shared faith. Dr. Tony Evans, president of national ministry The Urban Alternative, wrote: "The reason why we haven’t solved the racial divide in America after hundreds of years is because people apart from God are trying to invent unity, while people who belong to God are not living out the unity that we already possess." True reconciliation for Christians comes through our common belief in Jesus Christ.
"With everything that's happening," said Henrietta Rivers, Pastor Rivers's wife, during last night's study, "we're seeking the Gospel deeper, and it's changing hearts. ... the text is so different in a whole new way for all of us because of what we're trying to do together. And that is the power of the preached gospel ... the power of Jesus Christ––his death, his resurrection––that is the thing that changes, transforms, and makes us who God calls us to be."
We are early in our journey, and we continue to be excited about the opportunity to study God's word and to build relationships with members of St. John's, and to live into the calling of God to live in fellowship with all people––from all races, nations, and tribes––who are unified in the gospel of Jesus Christ.