The sleet was falling and I thought to myself, ‘I should have gone back for an umbrella.’ The gray sky pushed down on me with wet frigidity that slowly seeped through my coat with urgent shivers. I looked at the slush on the steps, prayed that no one would slip, and gingerly stepped down, down, down from the lofty perch of the Lincoln Memorial towards the reflecting pool and the stark Washington Monument. As I stepped, I saw some of my Matthew 25 colleagues huddled and then I heard the familiar voice of Gathering Steering Team member, Herb Bailey as he began to read Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech from the very spot Dr. King would have delivered it over 55 years prior. The cold sleet persisted. Herb read the whole thing. As he approached those clarion words, ‘Let Freedom Ring…’ we all lifted our eyes and our voices and proclaimed together, “Free at last! (Yes) Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” ’ That’s a Matthew 25 Gathering moment we will not soon forget.
And yet, the Matthew 25 Gathering was created because the dream of Dr. King and the vision of the prophet Isaiah (which Dr. King invoked by quoting, ‘the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together’) is still an unrealized aspiration. There are men and women doing heroic works for justice and mercy (and they must!) because the Lord calls them and men like Dr. King inspire them.
The leadership of the ACNA decided to create an annual Gathering of Anglicans who are doing these works of justice and mercy so that the heart and soul of our province would be revealed by people like Herb, Vicky, Adam, Eva-Elizabeth, Daniel, Sami, and hundreds of others. The Gathering is a learning community, an opportunity to be refreshed, and a place to meet people doing similar work across our province.
Planning for the first Matthew 25 Gathering began in 2015 in order to make contending for justice and mercy part of the DNA of our young North American movement. This was initiated by Archbishop Foley Beach and the Canon for Mission who said to us, “our desire is that this part of God’s heart be the heart of the ACNA.”
By coming together, we aimed to form a common vocabulary for talking about justice and mercy in our denomination. We deliberately don’t use words like “compassion ministries” or “ministry among the poor.” We want to avoid reductionism and we seek to be as holistic as possible in our language. So in 2019 we had workshops and ‘stories from the field’ about creation care, advocating for the unborn, multiethnic parish ministry, restorative justice, elder care, trauma and soul care, immigration legal aid, human trafficking, addiction…. all of it! When we talk about Anglican Justice and Mercy Contending for Shalom, each of those words is chosen with intention.
This year, we presented to Gathering participants the way our work on a common vocabulary has grown into a rich, robust theological reflection on Anglican social theology. It was written by Father Nicholas Krause, Ph.D candidate in Theology and Ethics at Baylor University and Associate Priest for Campus Ministry at Christ Church in Waco, TX, from his collected observations at The Matthew 25 Gathering in 2017. We heartily encourage anyone in the ACNA who wants to read an Anglican Social Theology to take the time to work through Father Nicholas’ careful writing.
In addition to common vocabulary and theological reflection, we layer topics and build on the content of prior Gatherings. For example, we have consistently talked about the way race and ethnicity impacts the work of every person who attends. The first Gathering focused on lament for pain and brokenness caused by racial injustice. At the second Gathering, we held the grief of our own denominational story in North America, being honest to name our sin, while also celebrating some markers of hope. During the third Gathering, we looked at the structures that exacerbate racial brokenness. We examined the systems that make works of justice and mercy necessary and more difficult.
We also hope to highlight and contribute some Anglican distinctives to the broader North American church’s growing focus on ministries of justice and mercy. The two primary emphases that we as Anglicans can bring to this conversation are first, a sacramental perspective on creation that engages with every corner of the material work and structures. And second, a contemplative tradition and practice that pairs with the activist proclivities of Christians doing this work.
We want to build a community of Anglican practitioners of justice and mercy across the continent. We want to know each other, network with each other, and collaborate in partnership. This community of people is crucial to what we are forming in the Anglican Church in North America and so we prioritize time and resources to make it happen: we gather annually, we create lots of opportunity for interaction, and we celebrate what is happening around our province. This is not just a conference to deliver information. It’s a community of people who are learning to be vocational companions across the provinces of Canada and the states of Mexico and America.
It is our prayer that every person in an ACNA church who is doing works of justice and mercy would make The Matthew 25 Gathering an annual priority. The relationships and encouragement that happen when we gather are crucial to the sustainability of this work. We long to see this community of Anglicans doing works of justice and mercy mature into a strong and growing voice that witnesses true Shalom in every place that the Anglican Church in North America calls home.
To learn more about the Matthew 25 Gathering, visit http://www.anglicanjusticeandmercy.org/. If your congregation is looking to begin a Matthew 25 ministry, click here to learn more about receiving a M25i grant.
This reflection was co-authored by the Rev. David Hanke and Mrs. Christine Warner.