Helping people to walk a little closer with Jesus

Date: April 16, 2024

From time to time, I ask departments to reflect on their impact. How much impact are we having on the church and the world? The primary arena is our work with students. The students become graduates who then serve the church. The one well formed life will then ripple out as they sit next to the dying, prepare the couple for a wedding, baptize the baby, and preach and celebrate. An additional arena is our work in LifeLong learning. And this morning, I want to share the news that we had over 4,000 people being fed in their Holy Week experience by a service that we are providing.

The Rev. Dr. Tricia Lyons shared the results below: “We started this faith-intensification experience of daily texts that report the events of Jesus during Holy Week as they unfold in 2022. For that first year, with only 2 weeks between conceiving the idea, drafting the texts and sharing invitations, we had 683 subscribers. Last year was our second year of the program and we had 2,060 participants. This year, 2024, we broke all expectations and had 4,036 subscribers across 6 time zones. We sent out over 123,900 texts, engaging and feeding the religious imagination by following a timeline of Jesus’ life from Palm Sunday to the Day of Resurrection, according to Biblical sources. Subscribers received between two and five texts per day, each text arriving at the approximate times of the events according to the Gospels. Each year we receive grateful and joyful survey responses that these texts helped subscribers keep a focus on the choices, words, actions and love of Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross.”  A large portion of the grateful responses each year have come from clergy and lay leaders who report that while working so hard on organizing experiences for others during Holy Week, these texts were like a ‘personal retreat’ or ‘intimate week-long relationship with Christ’ that fed them while they fed others. We had participation across generations: 10% GenZ, 18% Millennials, 32% GenX, 35% Baby Boomers and 5% from the Silent Generation.  This year we had just over 60% of participants identifying as Episcopalian, which means nearly 40% of our four thousand users were from other denominations or none. Interestingly, only 35% of respondents on this year’s survey reported going to church on Easter Sunday. This statistic reminds us of the national labor statistic that over 45% of Americans work on Sundays, not to mention those homebound, disabled or totally disconnected from a church community. This reality pushes us on to continue this and other digital formation experiences that can reach people unable to attend or find a worshipping community. Over 75% of participants are open and eager for such daily-text experiences “in other seasons of the liturgical year.” We are already considering drafting a text season for faith formation based in the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter and Pentecost seasons. Stay tuned!”

The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D.
Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary and the President of The General Theological Seminary

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