We Have Ignition – A Message from Rector Chris Girata
By the Rev. Christopher D. Girata
This past summer gave me an opportunity to take a step outside my normal routine and reconsider the work we do together in our Saint Michael community. I’ve written specifically about my summer sabbatical later in this issue, but here, I want to focus on one of the most important benefits of my time away.
When I began my summer journey, one personal goal was to reset and renew my excitement for what is happening at Saint Michael. We have grown in giving, attendance, and vision during my first six years with you, and I left for sabbatical excited about our future. However, what I didn’t expect was to return from the sabbatical with such renewed clarity about what God has given us to do.
In Europe, including the UK, Christianity has shifted in an incredible way over the past two generations. I knew that Europeans overall didn’t go to church in significant numbers—any survey can tell us that. What I didn’t realize was that low church attendance wasn’t simply a function of people getting out of good habits. Rather, low church attendance represents a shift in the impact of Christianity. Religion, specifically Christianity, has become a relic of history to most Europeans. Yes, there are many ways in which religion is still present, such as its use in names of schools, buildings, and towns, but those names and traditions have become secularized and historical, without any broad, meaningful spiritual connections.
That reality stunned me. I simply was not prepared to see the shift away from religion in such a sweeping way. When I left on my sabbatical, I expected to have a wonderful time with my family, which I did. I expected to rest and renew my personal spiritual life, which I did. What I didn’t anticipate was getting so fired up about our mission at Saint Michael, which I really did!
What we are doing here has evolved in my heart and mind. Over the first six years of my ministry with you, I was passionate about who we have been and who we can be in the future. This manifested in energetic engagement around giving, investment in major ministry areas such as music, outreach, pastoral care, and communications—the last proving especially important during Covid. Last year, we began to dig into more effective and impactful discipleship programs, as well as welcome and engagement ministries, and now I’m far more energized about both of those.
I’m keenly aware that we live in a community that still desires a spiritual life, even if fewer people are making the commitment to show up and invest themselves in church communities. For me, that means we have an opportunity, that we are surrounded by truly fertile hearts and minds. In other words, I think we can make a big impact on our neighbors if we commit to reaching out and inviting them to join us.
I write regularly for the Katy Trail Weekly. It’s a unique opportunity for me to potentially reach thousands of people in our community who might never sit in our pews, and I always try to walk the fine line of publicly claiming my faith while remaining accessible to those outside a religious community. Recently, I wrote about the phenomenon of wishing for a spiritual life while being disconnected from a church community and suggested what it might mean for us here in Dallas.
“If you’re one of the 90% of Americans who report desiring a spiritual life,” I wrote in the August 26th issue, “I want to encourage you to seek out a community that can support you on that journey. I hope that you have a desire for a spiritual life that drives you to seek out ways to express it. But take care as you do, because the world has begun to hijack spirituality for political or social gain. In the process, spiritual truths are being lost, at best, and outright perverted, at worst. Have the courage to seek and find ways to express the God-given beauty inside you, while also staying vigilant to not let others limit how you find hope and how you spread love.
“Although it may be tempting to make this an individual exercise, we are made for one another, and we are made to share our spiritual life in community. Love is the great force that defines our humanity and can be made holy when our faithfulness is lived out loud. Don’t stop with passive hope. Today, go help a friend, feed someone who is hungry, be kind to someone who is hurt, and, when you do, your love will help change our world for the good.”
We are not meant to just be a good church doing good things. Saint Michael has been given incredible gifts of resources—financial, social, and spiritual—that give us the opportunity to be a leader in the Gospel movement. Put another way, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to renew the power of Christ’s Gospel here in our neighborhood, our city, and our world. The chance before us is incredible, and God is giving us all the tools we need to take and make powerful strides toward a renewal of Christian faith all around us.
Now is the time for all of us to grab ahold of the combined energy in this church and to strap in for the incredible work ahead. The measure of our impact is only limited by our vision and faithfulness. Our family, friends, and neighbors need our witness now more than ever, and as I look out at who we are and who we wish to become, I am renewed and reignited in my belief that with God’s help, the best is most certainly yet to come!
**This article was written by the Rev. Dr. Chirstopher D. Girata and was featured in the 2022 Winter Archangel.