Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” John 20:21
One of our great historic faith affirmations is that we “believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church.” Where I’ve long believed the church to be grounded on a common foundation of the Apostle’s witness, until relatively recently I did not consider that this affirmation entails much more than a historical reference. The Greek root of the word “apostolic” is the verb apostelō, which means “to send.” So to call the church apostolic is to name something much more than our connection to Jesus’ first followers through their teaching; it is to name our connection to them through our common identity as sent ones and our common call to be sending ones.
An apostolic church is a sent & sending church.
Since starting CityWell in 2011, this great affirmation of faith has become deeply personal and sustaining for me in many ways. First, understanding myself to be part of an apostolic church, I believe that Jesus’ words in John 20:21 are the Lord’s direct address to me. Sending is not just what Jesus did; sending is what Jesus does! Yes, I know the bishop had a role in this, but ultimately I believe my family is in Durham and that CityWell is thriving because Jesus sent us as part of His unfolding Kingdom project. In our hardest days (and there are plenty) this belief is life and breath. Knowing we are Jesus’ sent ones in this place sustains us in ministry.
Second, being part of an apostolic church has greatly expanded my vision for CityWell as a sending church. Because CityWell is unique in many ways and because we are home to so many Duke Divinity students, we believe it part of our purpose to have deep impact within our broader connection and beyond. Future pastors who come through CityWell will never view the church or their ministry the same as they may have prior to finding a home with us. And every year we send out several of our family members to take CityWell’s vision and DNA into new appointments. Last week I was blessed to hear a report of a conversation from two of the folks we have sent in the last year. Ian Strickland (who was a three-year Covenant Partner with CityWell who is now a UMC church planter in Cincinnati, OH) and Fede Apecena (who we are sending this fall as a missionary to Uruguay with GBGM) were talking about all the ways they want their ministries to reflect what they experience God doing at CityWell. This is one of many examples of how God is using CityWell to continue the awesome sending that is the heart of the one apostolic church.
All of this is God’s great generosity, who self-offers fully in Jesus, our Lord, and who sends the sending church as a mode of that offering today. Glory be to God!
Pastor Cleve May, CityWell UMC, Durham, NC