Inspiration for the Journey in 2016: Following Jesus Wherever He Calls Us

I write you at the beginning of a new year, the celebration of Christ’s birth still fresh in our memories.  If you are like me, your Christmas tree is still up, and it will be taken down only reluctantly in the days to come.  And then only because you don’t want to be that crazy neighbor who keeps his tree up until March.

The Episcopal Church is also poised at a new beginning, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry having taken his place only two short months ago.  And for Episcopal Relief & Development, another new beginning (far less momentous) as I begin my term as our new Chairman.  As the first layperson to chair Episcopal Relief & Development, you should know that I am not used to preaching, but plenty used to communicating.  So I will tell you a bit about myself, how I came to lead this wonderful organization, and what I hope to help us achieve in the coming years.

I was raised in The Episcopal Church, beginning my service (rather ineptly) in the children’s choir and (for many years) as an acolyte. Early on, this responsibility mostly entailed leading the procession into church with a candle or cross, wrestling in full robes with my brother and friends out of sight of the priests (usually during the sermon), and then recessing out.  But over time, the singsong liturgy of our service was hard-wired onto my soul.  “We do not presume to come to this Thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercy.”  The words I heard during Eucharist returned to me many times as I hiked in the mountains, or sat on a New York subway, and at other odd moments.

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Some years ago, I was serving as chairman of the outreach committee for my church in San Antonio, helping decide where we would give a portion of our budget to do good for others.  It happened that we gave a substantial gift to a community across the border in Mexico hard hit by flooding.  A fellow vestry member came to me and asked “Why do we send our money to another country when there is so much need right here near home?” Now you have to understand this was a good person, a generous person, a kindred spirit.  I told her, in all humility, that I understood her concern for our nearest neighbors, but that I also believed God’s Kingdom does not recognize any political boundary. We are called to serve God’s children wherever they may be found in need.  I spoke to her as someone I cared about and loved, and she understood and agreed.

Notwithstanding what I told my vestry friend, most of my lay ministry has focused on need close to home.  I devoted many years serving on the board and as chairman of the Good Samaritan Center (now Good Samaritan Community Services), a social services agency of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, located in an impoverished neighborhood on San Antonio’s west side. We served everyone from the tiniest child who needed care while her mother worked a job, to the school-age-kids who needed a safe place after school to learn and thrive, to the seniors who came for a nutritious meal and the company of others.  Our ministry was aimed at helping our neighbors escape the grip of poverty, to live a full and rich life, the life God intended for them.

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My work at Good Sam led me to think a great deal about the parable from which we took our name, and my first instinct was to see myself as the courageous Samaritan, the hero of the story, who saved another in need. Only with great reflection (and reluctance), did I come to see myself as the unnamed soul found bleeding in the road, the one most in need of God’s grace.  I saw that it was only with the help of those we served – our poorest neighbors – that I might be lifted out of that road and brought to health.

Our Presiding Bishop has spoken movingly about how Jesus began his ministry with the simple invitation to “Follow me.”  As he puts it, Jesus tells us:  “Follow me and I will help you change the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends.” This was the call that led me to accept the Presiding Bishop’s request that I succeed him as Chair of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Board of Directors.  Let me tell you, my first impulse was to question his judgment in choosing me, to feel the full weight of my unworthiness.  I suppose many journeys begin this way.  (Just ask Jonah.)

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Fortunately, it is not my burden alone to devise the game plan Episcopal Relief & Development will follow going forward. This organization is blessed with extremely talented and committed board members who, in collaboration with Rob Radtke and his senior management, will develop a new strategic plan to guide us for the next five years. Episcopal Relief & Development will continue to create, support, and execute best-in-class programs that deliver measurable positive outcomes in nearly 40 countries throughout the world.  The strategic challenge will be to decide how to deploy our capabilities and resources to bring about the most profound sustainable impact.

Personally, my hope is to help our faithful supporters feel more present in, and even more connected to, our work throughout the world.  Where need be, to help others see that in God’s Kingdom there are no political boundaries, we must follow Jesus wherever he calls us. And finally, perhaps I can even help some needy souls like me understand that, in serving our neighbors most in need, we not only help heal the hurting world that surrounds us, but also that which is within us.

I wish you and those you love a very Happy New Year, and I look forward to our adventures together.

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c833ae75ac3a5b59b7697edb146f4794 Daniel McNeel "Neel" Lane, is Chairperson of Episcopal Relief & Development's Board of Directors

Images: Top, child participant from the Philippines. Middle 1, Neel in a red hat as a young child, next to his younger brother Maury with his sister Oletta in the background. Middle 2, children participants from Guatemala. Last, The Good Samaritan by artist Dinah Roe Kendall.

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