“‘The margins, Nathan,’ he said when he started speaking again. ‘That’s what we’re losing. We’re losing the churches on the margins. We aren’t doing enough for them.’” —Loren Mead to Nathan Kirkpatrick at faithandleadership.com.
Tangier Island is a disappearing island in the Chesapeake Bay, twelve miles equidistant off both the Maryland and the Virginia coast, losing up to sixteen feet of its coastline a year, secondary to the rising sea level from global warming and soil erosion. It is believed that in twenty to thirty years the island will be uninhabitable to the more than 500 people who now live there; and in fifty years the island will be completely underwater. The local islanders speak what is described as a unique Elizabethan British-like dialect combined with a southern drawl. They are primarily fishers of oyster and crab, year-round and tourist guides in the summer. The 1.2 square mile island is steeped in religious tradition and actually completely shuts down on Sunday morning.
Nathan Kirkpatrick, writing recently in the Duke Divinity School Leadership Education Center Alban Weekly (6/26/2018), recalls the above conversation with the founding director of the Alban Institute, Loren Mead, who compared the Church to Tangier Island. What does Dr. Mead mean by saying the Church is “losing its margins”? Is he saying the Church is shrinking because it is not paying attention to people on the fringes or margins of society—the poor, the weak, the hungry, the homeless, the tired, the sick, those who are the most different from ourselves? In the larger scheme, is he referring to our neighbors who border us that we are not caring about?
I can remember one of my favorite quotes from Bishop Barbara Harris: “The Church is like an oriental rug. Its fringes are what make it most beautiful.” In spiritual direction I ask people how the story of Tangier Island might relate to the care of their soul. There are so many possible answers.
Another question is, “Do you ever feel your soul shrinking? Do you feel you are losing the margins, the borders, the uniqueness, the most inspiring and possibly the most interesting parts of your soul, the God, the Christ within you?”