Open Means Open: Pastoral Reflections on an Audacious Vision
Dr. Brad R. Braxton
Founding Senior Pastor
As I wrote the initial vision for The Open Church in 2011, I wanted to form an intercultural community held together by three core theological commitments: 1) progressive ministry; 2) prophetic ministry; and 3) pluralistic ministry.
- Progressive Ministry: Progressive ministry believes that sacred texts and authoritative traditions must be critically engaged and continually reinterpreted in light of contemporary circumstances, or religion becomes a relic.
- Prophetic Ministry: Prophetic ministry insists that God desires to save us not only from our personal sins, but also from the systemic sins that oppress neighborhoods and nations.
- Pluralistic Ministry: Pluralistic ministry is a liberating call to “uncertainty, to a sense of human and religious limitedness. It is an affirmation that what we think we know certainly and absolutely is, in fact, neither certain nor absolute.”1 Truth held in a vise grip often leads to the vice of arrogance. On the contrary, by opening our hands and hearts, we make it possible to grasp, and be grasped by, larger truths.
Like sturdy beams supporting a floor, these three core commitments undergirded every aspect of The Open Church’s founding meeting in October 2011 and continue to inform the congregation’s approach to ministry. Thus, in the very foundation of the congregation is an explicit commitment to radical openness.
In the founding meeting, and subsequent meetings across these eight years, we envisioned and have striven to be The Open Church, not just the The Open Door Church. Many churches have referred to themselves as “open door” churches. I do not disparage congregations with “open doors.” However, The Open Church has loftier ambitions in its pursuit of openness. In some churches, the “doors” may be open, but the “windows” are nailed shut through denominational dogma, burdensome bureaucracy, and an obsession with outdated orthodoxies (to name a few nails). Consequently, the free-flowing “wind” cannot circulate properly, and the air becomes stagnant.
We purposed to create a church whose entire existence—and not just its “doors”—was open. We envisioned and are striving to be: A church open to any persons and perspectives that are truthful, just, and compassionate. A church open to theistic and non-theistic religions and to humanist and atheistic moral philosophies. A church open to sexual diversity so that LGBT persons can emerge from the closets they often inhabit in religious spaces for fear of “assault and battery” by the Bible. A church open to the courageous re-imagining and embracing of the feminine dimensions of God as an act of resistance to sexism. A church open to class diversity that will enable white-collar salary workers and blue collar shift workers to learn with and from one another.
In other words, when we say The Open Church, open really means open!
1 Joseph M. Webb, Preaching and the Challenge of Pluralism (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1998), 108.
"The Two-Way Street Called Love"
(Letter to St. Luke's School Community, October 7, 2019)
The Parents of Students of Color (POSOC) met last Thursday evening for the first time in the 2019-2020 academic year. Sixteen parents from beautifully diverse backgrounds joined me at school for food, fellowship, and fun. Laughter, comfortable dialogue, and a hospitable energy filled the room.
As we introduced ourselves, I asked parents to respond to several questions including these: 1) What tangible dish would you bring to the "Welcome Table"? and 2) What intangible "gifts" do you bring to the "Welcome Table"?
In response to the first question, parents described the most delectable dishes that they and their families enjoy. The parents at St. Luke's School could outdo any award-winning chef when it comes to cuisine and creativity. As we imagined the Welcome Table, it became abundantly clear that the effort to build a care-full community involves tangible activities such as eating together and crossing culinary boundaries with curiosity and appreciation.
In response to the second question, parents described the most heart-warming personal characteristics and values that they gladly bring to our community to make us better and brighter. Words such as joy, optimism, hugs, wisdom, passion, and gratitude lept from the lips of one parent into the hearts of other parents.
Several parents said that a precious gift that they bring to St. Luke's School is love! My soul needed to hear that. Our world needs to hear that.
Love - truth-telling love, justice-seeking love, heart-mending love - must undergird our efforts to build care-full communities - both inside and outside the walls of St. Luke's School.
James Baldwin, the 20th century literary genius and prophetic seer, once reflected on love - not the syrupy love of Hallmark cards - but rather the serious, strong love upon which a better today and a brighter tomorrow can be established. Baldwin remarked:
If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see. Insofar as that is true, in that effort, I become conscious of the things that I don't see. And I will not see without you, and vice versa, you will not see without me...
The only way you can get through it is to accept that two-way street which I call love.
Many streets in New York City are woefully congested. The traffic, however, on the two-way street called love can flow easily if we let it.
Brad R. Braxton, Ph.D.
Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion
and Church-School Initiatives
St. Luke's School
A coeducational Episcopal school welcoming children of all faiths.