Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)
These words were written to a people in exile in Babylon, a place filled with beliefs and values contrary to everything they believed. In the words of Psalm 137:1, all they wanted to do was sit down and weep.
To these people Jeremiah gave a simple command: Get up and live your lives. “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” (Jeremiah 29:5-6) If you want your beliefs and values to survive, you need to thrive. More than this, if you want to prosper, you need to make sure the city where you live prospers. If your city does well, so will you.
While Jeremiah 29:7 speaks to the mission of an urban church, it defines the mission of a cathedral. It was very heartening to hear the conversations at the annual meeting that picked up this theme. When asked about where God was calling us, “serving the community,” “being present in the community,” and “reaching out to the community” were repeated again and again. While serving the poor and supporting music and the arts were certainly pieces of the puzzle, there was a new emphasis on advocacy and social justice — not just standing up for our beliefs and values but working for systemic change that will put them in action. The conversations about community were not just about helping St. Luke’s grow and thrive, they were about helping Portland do the same thing.
In their work a few years ago, the strategic planning committee said that one of the values of the congregation was what they called “Widening Circles.” Reaching out beyond our walls, sharing and creating Good News with others, building community, and being a center for music and the arts, education, and dialogue on important issues are all examples of what widening our circles can look like. These are all ways this cathedral can serve the city as both an anchor and a catalyst for change. One of the comments at the annual meeting was that we need to grow in order to fulfill our mission. Jeremiah 29:7 puts it the other way around: We will grow if we fulfill our mission, if we put our mission first.
The conversations at the annual meeting show that we are on our way. Thanks be to God.