Angels unaware

I’m still catching up on my sleep from last weekend. It was my privilege to be one of the spiritual directors at a weekend called Happening. For those who might not know what happens at Happening, it’s a weekend full of surprises. I won’t divulge too much, but teenagers gather for an experience, experiment, adventure in Christian community. It’s led by these amazing young people, who talk about key themes of the faith. They provide music, entertain with skits, offer lavish and thoughtful hospitality and keep the whole weekend lively. The worship is powerful, though perhaps not what many Episcopalians (a.k.a., the frozen chosen) are used to. And there are a number of older folks like me who provide support throughout the weekend, and are blessed to share in the spiritual growth of these younger Christians.

The whole weekend is deeply anchored in our spiritual tradition. There is always a biblical theme. This past weekend, the scriptural focus was a verse from Hebrews which spoke about how we are surrounded by angels unaware. That text hearkens back to the Old Testament story of angels who were welcomed by Abraham and Sarah. It seems like Abraham and Sarah were indeed unaware of the fact that these visitors were God’s messengers. That’s what the word “angel” means. Messenger. They came to deliver good news to Abraham and Sarah, news of a promising future, when Sarah and Abraham had come to believe they were at a dead end. I couldn’t help but think that we have a promising future as a church if we have these kinds of young people engaged in exploring the spiritual life. They were God’s messengers to me.

As I travel around the church, I often hear that our denomination — and organized religion — faces a bleak future. As Larry David said on Saturday Night Live last week, in his brilliant impression of Bernie Sanders: We’re doomed! But after this weekend, I would say: Not so. There is a bright future for our church as long as we allow for young faithful people, God’s messengers, to find a meaningful role in the life of the community. As long as we let them be our teachers. As long as we become aware that they may well be God’s messengers. We are surrounded by angels, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The Rev. Jay Sidebotham is the executive director of RenewalWorks, a product of his time as rector at Church of the Holy Spirit, Lake Forest, IL. Jay and his wife have two children, both of whom graduated from Wake Forest University. In 2013, Jay and his wife re-located to Wilmington, NC where he also serves as an Associate Rector at St. James Parish. Jay is well known for his cartoons for the Church Pension Group and for his work as an animator for Schoolhouse Rock.

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