Monday, December 14, 2009

Great Music, Great Message

As we begin to wind down the season of Advent, I ran across the following video for Canticle of the Turning, one of my favorite worship songs. It is one of my favorites both because I love Celtic music and because of the words. Is the world about to turn do you think?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Two-track Blogging and A Suffragan Bishop

I began this blog more than two and a half years ago in March 2007 and used it in earnest during my Sabbatical in the summer or 2007. Since then, like other things, it has been busier at some times than other times. Recently, however, any readers may have noticed a drop-off of the frequency of postings. The reason for this is that I began a parish blog for St. Edward's church, where I now serve as Priest-in-Charge. I try to post there at least once a week, usually on Sunday or Monday, with a perspective on the sermon I've just preached or other items of interest. Trying to keep up the frequency of posting on that blog has meant a lack of posts on this one. However, time is not the only factor here. When this was my only blog, I freely mixed personal and parish news and interest items. Now that I have separate personal and parish blogs, I often find it hard to think about what to blog about personally that does not have anything directly to do with my parish.

That being said, there is plenty swirling around Episcopal/Anglican-land these days. With the election of The Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool as one of two Suffragan Bishops in Los Angeles. As I have several partnered gay friends (several who have been together longer than my wife and I have) I am hardly unsympathetic to the continuing quest for GLBT rights. However, I do get tired of looking beyond my parish boarders and seeing a church that seems to provide innumerable opportunities for people to take verbal shots at us. The rhetoric on both sides is as amazing as it is predicable. Frankly, I have better things to do than to get involved in the same old arguements about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. For now, back to cleaning my office and starting to think about a sermon for Sunday.

Update (12/9/09):
Canon Glasspool gave a very good brief video interview to the Baltimore Sun in which she asserts that she is "hardly the most liberal person" in the Episcopal Church.

That squares with my experience of my GLBT brothers and sisters--they are all over the map theologically. Hopefully, we can agree to disagree about a great many things and still come together in the name of Jesus around the Eucharistic table. The only reason not to receive communion with others with whom you disagree is because you consider yourself unprepared to receive, not because you consider others unprepared, or even unworthy. Look it up!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


There are many, many reflections on Thanksgiving Day on the various blogs, including a particularly good one on the real tradition behind the holiday at Irenic Thoughts, the blog of King of Peace, Kingsland, GA. I am personally thankful to be much closer to my parents this year--driving for an hour and a half to be with them beats having them drive for twelve hours to be with us! I'm also thankful for the parish I now serve, St. Edward's in San Jose, California. Frankly, given the current economy, I'm thankful to have a job at all, much less one that I love.

It occurs to me that the message of Thanksgiving is nearly the opposite of the message of the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as the holy grail of retail: black Friday. By the end of today, most of us will be full--full of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, etc... Even if we were presented with a fabulous feast, we wouldn't want it--we are already full. Similarly, if we are thankfull--full of thanks--we can be presented with a ton of fabulous offers, wants masquerading as needs, special deals, and wonderful items and yet still say "I'm full." We can then easily move to thanks-giving--giving to others who have less than we do. After all, if we're full, where would we put anything else? It's pretty easy to give when you're "full."

This coming Sunday, I'll be talking in my sermon about a relatively new tradition called the Advent Conspiracy. This tradition uses the liturgical season of Advent to focus people on the true meaning of the Christmas season which we prepare to celebrate--God giving himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Perhaps if we're feeling full enough of thanks, we might then be easily able to turn and give to others not just money, or things, but ourselves. Check it out:

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This is NOT Your Grandmother's Episcopal Church (but she's welcome, too...)

It's becoming more and more apparent that the institutional church, specifically the powers-that-be in my own beloved Episcopal Church, don't really get it. Their version of a national advertising campaign features the  cutting edge ad (my tongue planted firmly in cheek) to the right of this paragraph:

Contrast that ad, which probably involved hours and hours of conceptual work and much money for both design and publication, with the ad below from Pastor, Priest, and self-proclaimed Art Director Frank Logue, which likely took a few hours or less:

Where do I start? The contrast is stark: word-based vs. image-based, service-based vs. doctrine-based, edgy vs. corporate. I could go on. The last straw for me was the note on the " ad collaborative" page that said that "if you wish to customize it with your own church's address and/or web address, provide the information." So, in an age of desktop publishing, Photoshop, and easy multimedia programs, we're supposed to email information to a central office and have someone else put it into the ad (no doubt at the preselected spot) for us?

Perhaps I'm just a grumpy Generation Xer, but I'm finding more and more of this sort of corporate thinking that simply rubs me the wrong way. Are we a corporate giant that simply puts out the blue and red shield and expects that people will instantly recognize the brand and beat a path to our door, or are we a living, breathing part of the Body of Christ that is active in service to the world and in "working, praying, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom of God" (from the Parochial Report form, no less!)? The USA Today Ad says the former, the ad from Frank says the latter.

Perhaps more scary for me is that, for far too many churches in TEC, this really is my grandmother's church: run from a central office in New York, staid, word-based, corporate. That is not a very attractive church for me. Don't get me wrong--I love the liturgy, the depth, and the spirituality of the Episcopal Church. What I don't love is that the face we too often present to the world is that of a declining church that has beautiful buildings and baubles but not a clue about what those outside our walls are needing, even desperate for, though they may not know it. My frustration is that the church seems to fail repeatedly to take advantage of the technologies and tools available to it to get our message out while simultaneously failing to engage the world that embraces such technologies. There are many, many exceptions (take Holy Apostles in NYC, where the ad picture comes from, for instance) but too often they fly under the radar. Let us (and I'm speaking to myself as well) embrace tools for delivering our message and make sure that it is relevant, faithful to our core values, and able to cut through the maelstrom of information with which we are constantly bombarded. And then let us live that message!

Memo to Episcopal Church Center: If you really want to be helpful, put together a toolkit, complete with submissions of ads like this one, and don't bother spending dollars you don't have on ad agencies or marketing experts. Those were the same folks who brought us the ill-fated "The Episcopal Church: We're here for you..." branding campaign. Give folks the tools, maybe even run an ad contest, and get out of the way.

But that's just my thinking....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From Our Fears and Sins Release Us

Come thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
-- Hymn 66, Charles Wesley (Hymnal 1982)

I am begining to think about the holidays (Starbucks is already in full Christmas mode), about Thanksgiving, the "Christmas season" (not the liturgical one, the commercial one), Christmas, and "post-Christmas." As I do so, I am more and more conscious that the words above very much describe our current human condition just as much as they did over 200 years ago when they were written. There is fear, sin, and woundedness all around us and within us. There are bright lights, turkeys (some on the table and some at the table!), and an almost forced festivity that is at odds with the mood of people in a country crawling out of the Great Recession, insanely busy, and, it seems, completely bound and even enslaved to sin and fear.

In the midst of that, the church invites us to enter the season of Advent. As one Advent bidding says:
As we enter, eager and expectant, into the season of Advent, let us in prayer and praise, thanksgiving and song, give voice to the hope set forth in teh Secriptures, that Christ's reign of love and light will indeed come among us. Let us offer ourselves anew as witnesses to the advent of Christs glory, seeking to bring Christs light and love to those who sit in darkness.
That invitation to hope is not an invitation to some sort of plastic, fake, enforced cheerfulness, but an invition to stop, listen, and set our hope on Christ.

May God give us the grace and strength to look beyond the glitter of store windows and Christmas lights to the true Light that is coming into the world once again....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Honoring Those Who Serve

It is Veterans Day and, for the first time in over seven years, I am not marching in the Veterans Day Parade in Albany, Oregon. Of course, the fact that I no longer live in Albany might have something to do with that. I'm now in California. In fact, I've spent much of the day sitting in front of a computer, in a warm house, with a turkey in the oven. However, I do have friends who currently serve in the military as well as friends, family, and members of various congregations I've served who have served in the military in the past. I'm conscious as a blithely blog from my comfortable chair and comfortable home with no fear whatsoever of anything happening to me that such a state of being is made possible in no small part by those who serve and have served in our armed forces. Much like a few other vocations (doctor comes to mind...) I fully realize that I couldn't serve that role, but am very glad that there are people who not only can, but actively choose to do so.

I've also been made aware that twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down. As a Generation Xer, up until that time there was never a time where there wasn't a Berlin Wall, not to mention an East Germany and a West Germany. My fellow Generation Xer, Jennifer Moody, presumably just before heading out to see the aforementioned parade, has posted this reflection from her travel diary about the events of that day. I frankly don't remember where I was on that day, but since I was in college at Humboldt State University (senior year) I was no doubt either doing something school-related or (more likely) sitting in my shared house in Pneumonia Gulch (it was always shady an cold there, since it was in a valley surrounded by redwood trees) in Arcata, California enjoying the opportunity to do nothing at all. I guess some things never change...

So, on this Veterans Day, and the twentieth anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, thanks to all who have served, continue to serve, and, most of all, for those who gave their lives for the freedoms and security we now enjoy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sacrifice and Stewardship

One of the many privileges that I enjoyed through my attendance at General Convention this past summer was the opportunity to attend the daily Eucharist with my felolow attendees, to hear and sing wonderful and diverse music, and especially to hear some outstanding preachers--including both our Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, one of the most impressive preachers was not a clergyperson at all, but a layman--Ray Suarez (of Newshour fame). At General Convention he preached a sermon which could best be summarized as "we should not apologize for who we are as Episcopalians!"

Once again, Mr. Suarez steps to the microphone, stands behind a pulpit, and delivers words that we need to hear:

After talking very much about the world we live in and the legacy we have inherited, Suarez ends with this: "...all that we have is gift. The question now is: What will you do with your share?"

As the economy slowly and painfully recovers and as the spirit of fear and doubt continues to pleague both church and world, it might be a good spiritual exercise to think about what God would have us do with "our share" of the gifts God has given to us. Do we use them as a buffer against possible calamity, an insulator against a cold breeze, or do we offer them freely to others as God has freely to us? Something to think about...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Migration, Mission...and Ninjas?

Well, last Sunday was my first at St. Edward's, San Jose and it seems like a good start. Just getting used to a new and much bigger worship space was a challenge for me but, as I said "no one got hurt." It is a joy to see folks with such a great attitude in the face of all that they have been through. It is pretty new to me to be personally involved in the fallout from folks departing the Episcopal Church for Anglican splinter groups, but that is where I've ended up by being here. Part and parcel of that is my increased awareness of, and rumination on, what is distinctive about the Episcopal Church alongside other churches. One answer to this is the Around One Table initiative to facilitate the discussion of identity. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the folks at King of Peace in Kingsland, GA (where my friend Frank Logue serves) have come up with an answer (and then revised it)...Episconinjas:

I think that the video describes things pretty well--though it focuses on social service and hits the liturgical richness of our tradition pretty lightly. However, social service is much more likely to be attractive to the non-churched than a description of our worship, at least at first. Well done!

At the same time as the above video has been spreading across the Internet like wildfire, news that the Roman Catholic Church is providing a "home to traditional Anglicans" (to use one headline), making it easier for disaffected Anglicans and Episcopalians to move to the Roman Catholic Church. There has been a huge amount of reaction to this announcement, which I will not attempt to summarize here. My own reaction is that God really doesn't care what flavor of Christianity the disciples of Jesus Christ follow. We will not be carrying our denominational labels into eternity with us. For that reason, I'm perfectly happy to see any development that will allow those who are genuinely feeling estranged from their current denomination, and thus perhaps hobbled in their ability to fully live into their identities as followers of Jesus, to find a place where they believe they can more fully live out their God-calling. I couldn't move to the Roman Catholic Church myself (for both personal and professional reasons), but if that is where folks are feeling called, Godspeed and blessings on their journey.

As for me and this congregation--9 a.m. every Sunday, alternating Rite I and Rite II, standard Episcopal fare. Come one, come all!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Pastor, Packer, and Painter

This morning, I presided at my final Eucharist at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Albany, Oregon. This afternoon, I led a service of the Blessing of the Animals commemorating St. Francis of Assisi. That service was my final liturgical act at St. Alban's. I have said many goodbyes, and will say many more this week, but for now both mind and body turn towards preparation. I must pack my office and ship books and papers to my new office at St. Edward's Episcopal Church in San Jose, California. I must complete the packing of our house into our moving POD. I must repaint some rooms at my house and prepare it for sale. I must do all of this, with a little help, in the next several days before I leave Albany on Thursday.

For that reason, this will not be a long post and you will not see more posts from me until at least my first Sunday at St. Edwards, October 18. Until then, I am officially in transition!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Borrowing and the Economy

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 75–77

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.
Proverbs 22:7

I've been thinking about earning money, spending money, and borrowing money for several months now. Not the actual act of doing those things (which I do all the time), but the fact that while it is comparatively difficult to earn money, borrowing and spending it take a mere few mouse clicks. In fact, I can spend literally thousands of dollars, either borrowing it off a credit card or (if I have enough) pulling it directly from my bank account at places like Amazon, eBay, or any one of thousands of online vendors. Even if I have to go to a retail location, a swipe and several keystrokes get me my product and deprive me of a certain number of hard-earned dollars. Heck, even churches can get into the act, with both online donations and even giving kiosks right in the church building!

What is interesting to me is that our entire economy is dependent on such instant gratification and the ability to transfer money in seconds. The "just in time" method of inventory control has now morphed into the "get it now" method of consumerism. Recall that what former President Bush did shortly after September 11, 2001 was not to call us as a nation mobilize for war, but to call us as a nation to shop, shop, shop and otherwise go on with our lives as if nothing had happened. When that adrenalin-jacked up economy finally collapsed late last year, the collapse was huge, in part, because people could instantly move money away from investments that people were newly unsure of and partly because the ability to borrow money was slowed to a crawl.

What's the solution? Well, part of it is what we are seeing now--increasing savings and decreasing spending. Increasing savings frees us from the dependence on borrowing to sustain our chosen lifestyle, both forcing us to live within our means and also helping us to serve God rather than being a "servant to the lender." This is obviously easier said than done--as I've already noted, it is very much easier to spend money than it is to either earn it or save it. So, perhaps as we enter what we in the church euphemistically refer to as "stewardship season" it would be well to reflect not only on what our spending says about our priorities, but exactly how we go about doing that spending says. Do we save for what we need and consider ourselves rich (which, in comparison to the rest of the world, is what we are) or do we constantly long for what we don't have and willingly subjugate ourselves to the Visa or MasterCard gods? Something to think about, especially before the holidays...

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Moving "The Library" and Thinking Ministry

As you might imagine, I am in the midst of packing up my church office and preparing boxes to be transported to my office at St. Edward's. As I do so, I am struck again by how many books I have accumulated over a mere thirteen-plus years of ordained ministry. Book accumulation is both a personal inclination and a professional near-necessity. Yet as I begin to sort through this decade-and-a-half (includes three years in seminary) accumulation, I am struck not only by the volume and variety, not to mention the many that I have either not read at all or not read in a decade or more, but that most of the information I get now is most readily accessible via the Internet. Why do I need a big heavy tome of "Who's Who in the Bible" when a couple of keystrokes can get me the same information? The answer, most of the time, is that I don't. Hence the "donate" pile grows ever larger.

As I think about that, and about ministry in general, two things strike me. First, that this readily accessible information fits in a bit too neatly with our culture's frantic pace. Rather than walking over to the bookshelf, bringing back a book or three to my desk, and bending over the desk for some serious, protracted, and substantial research, doing things like sermon preparation too easily fall into the "check the Internet" temptation. Want to know what others have written on that? Check the Internet. Want a good sermon illustration? Check the Internet. Don't get me wrong, I'm in many ways a child of the Internet, and I grew up (and will now once again be ministering) in Silicon Valley, so I am hardly averse to technology. Yet a computer screen is necessarily a less prayerful and deliberate medium than the pages of a book. As I transition to this new call, perhaps there are some lessons to be learned there.

Second, I have been working my way through Kevin Martin's "5 Keys for Church Leaders". The first key he explores is that of the myth of the Pastor as CEO. His point is that in the twenty-first century, the Pastor or Priest is less the all-knowing expert and much more the group facilitator and encourager. I'm realizing that if I had actually read all of the books I own, I would have a huge amount of knowledge--only a fraction of which would likely be useful to me in the day-to-day activities of pastoral ministry. As someone who loves books and learning, it will be good for me to remember that.

Back to book sorting.....

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

New Call: St. Edward's, San Jose

As my current congregation is now aware, I have been called to, and accepted, a position as Priest-in-Charge of the Episcopal Church of St. Edward the Confessor (otherwise known as St. Edward's, or St. Ed's) in San Jose, California. My last Sunday at St. Alban's will be October 4th and my first Sunday at St. Ed's will be October 18. September will be a month in which my family and I pack all of our worldly belongings as well as all of our memories from what will end up being over seven and a half years of life and ministry here in Albany, Oregon. I have only just begun to process the move within myself, so perhaps some of that processing will eventually make it to this blog.

Until then, however, the moving boxes come out, the goodbyes have already started, and we're officially in transition!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Possibilities and Plans

I decided to remove the post I did on the Nominees for the 10th Bishop of Oregon, primarily because the search web site had the information up less than twenty-four hours after I did. No sense in duplicating efforts....

That editorial note is a perfect segue to the topic of this post--the fact that Summer is rapidly disappearing and so planning for the 2009-10 Program Year is either in full swing or is very close to it. Sunday morning worship, Sunday School, study groups, fellowship times, and the vast array of programs, volunteers, and calendar dates that need to be coordinated to have those events make this a very busy several weeks! Beyond that, however, I am thinking of our programs as means to an end--the end being mission and ministry within this church and community. So, though it daunting to see the amount of effort required, there is also a program year ripe with possibilities.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cool and Collecting

Well, the heat wave in the Mid-Willamette Valley has broken, at least for now, and there is a cool breeze wafting through the screen door. Such cooling breezes allow me to concentrate on some of the post-Convention discussion that has continuously made its way around the Internet via blogs, articles, and other statements. The recent announcement that the Suffragan Bishop slate in the Diocese of Los Angeles includes a gay and a lesbian candidate and that the slate for Diocesan Bishop in Minnesota includes the name of a partnered lesbian candidate is the latest set of stories to ripple through the church. Though hardly disturbing (to me at least) in and of themselves, the rhetoric that has followed these announcemnets is unfortunately more of the same winners versus loosers, conservatives versus liberals conflict that has become commonplace in The Episcopal Church of late. Over and over again, I wonder how the church that has nurtured me as a Christian, as a priest, and in virtually every area of my life has chosen this issue on which it seems poised to tear itself apart.

I'm not the only one wondering this. An excellent blog entry by Tim Chesterton asks the question: "Why this particular line in the sand?" The article is well worth the read, but his conclusion is that this issue was chosen because it hits close to home for only a portion of TEC's population. In spite of the "threat to traditional marriage" trumpteted from the conservative angle, any blessing of same-sex unions or consecration of GLBT bishops would likely have only minimal effect on the parish level. Parish priests would certainly have the option of not performing such blessings (as the have the option of not performing weddings now) and the average person-in-the-pew sees their diocesan bishop rarely enough that it is not likely to be a daily realtiy for many people. Barring such blessings and consecrations, of course, does affect our GLBT brothers and sisters in Christ, but again if one is in a largely conservative congregation, there aren't any GLBT folks around anyway, as far as you know. In other words, opposition to same-sex unions and consecration of GLBT bishops costs we straight folks absolutely nothing, at least nothing that is not of our own choosing.

So as I continue to watch my denomination struggle with the issue, I also remind myself that my own ordination, much less my salvation, depends not on a numbered resolution, nor the orthodoxy of my diocesan bishop (slate for my diocese to follow soon!) or even what the Presiding Bishop does or does not say. Rather, it depends on my fidelity to my ordination and baptismal vows. Actually, it depends only on God's faithfulness, and I trust that won't be up for a vote anytime soon. Back to the parish again tomorrow, General Convention resolutions or no.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Back in the Hot Seat

After a week and a half of vacation, which was preceded by a week of General Convention, I'm finally back in the office today, sweating in triple-digit heat. Spent the day tying up loose ends, putting a computer network together, and attempting to generate as little heat as possible. I've nosed around the blogs with the continuing discussions of post-General Convention issues, but frankly am thinking more of the fact that I have a little more than a month before the program year (Sunday School, etc...) begins. Time to make some plans!

More later, perhaps when the temperature cools down a bit....

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

D025 and Speaking the Truth in Love

Predictably, the Episcopal and Anglican world is abuzz over the passage of Resolution D025 at General Convention yesterday. While I could go on and on about it, I'll defer to Greg Jones at Anglican Centrist, with whom I very much agree, for an excellent article about it. The short, short version is that D025 states clearly the current state of much of The Episcopal Church regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gender (GLBT) ordination, the Anglican Communion, and the "listening process." It's actually a little more vague and nuanced than I'd prefer (just call a spade a spade, for God's sake!) but it is what it is.

My preference for clarity has less to do with putting out an "in your face" statement and more to do with the inevitable multiple interpretations of the resolution from conservative and liberal ends of the spectrum. Conservatives are already crying "they've chosen to walk apart" and liberals are already dancing in the streets over the "end of the moratorium" on consent to the election of GLBT bishops, or the "repeal of B033" (the resolution asking for restraint in such consents). It is neither. Predictably, it is a middle course which simultaneously asserts our desire to be a continuing member of the Anglican Communion while also asserting that we are not free to violate our own Constitution and Canons nor to simply ignore the ministry of GLBT persons in our midst. Some Standing Committees and Bishops will still withold consent from GLBT bishops-elect, some won't. Some dioceses will elect GLBT folks to the episcopate, others won't. Sounds suspiciously like what we have now, without the ecclesiastical slight of hand or smoke and mirrors of saying one thing and doing another.

In any case, other pieces of legislation are in the pipeline and the next few days will result in a flurry of resolutions being passed, so there will be much to comment upon. All those of us in pulpit and pew can do is pray for God's will to be done, Christ's peace in the midst of everything that is going on, and the Spirit's power to grow and sustain the church through trial and tribulation.

Monday, July 13, 2009

General Convention, Day Six and Reflections

As promised, reflections on Day Six (the morning of...) has waited until I returned home. This also happens to be the 100th posting on this blog, for what that is worth.

I managed to check out of my hotel and get myself to the convention center in time for the UTO Ingathering Eucharist. As with all of the Community Eucharists, it was an impressive combination of pageantry and song, as well as participation from thousands of members of the congregation. When one needs 144 Eucharistic Ministers, you know that you have a large congregation! It as also an opportunity for our Presiding Bishop to remind us what all of us, deputies, bishops, and visitors alike, have the opportunity to carry home with us. Having just packed up and checked out of my hotel, these words resonated with me: ""When you leave this place, how much more stuff will you have than when you arrived? You can ship the papers home, but are you open enough to receive what is offered here – from the housekeeper in your hotel room, the deputy across the aisle, an international or ecumenical visitor, or the person who beats you to the microphone?"

I was not there for the now infamous D025 debate, but what struck me most about the resolution itself was that it simply re-connects General Convention with the reality of individual, congregational, and diocesan life in most of the Episcopal Church. It says nothing other than that we commit to both continued membership and engagement with the rest of the Anglican Communion as well as honoring our own process and polity. Not as much as progressives would have liked, more than conservatives would have preferred: perhaps the via media at its best.

I suppose that the big question I have coming out of General Convention (while knowing that it is still going on. As I write this, both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops are scheduled to be in session) is this: How do we bridge the chasm between what goes on at General Convention and the realities of individual, congregational, and diocesan life? At General Convention I saw a worldwide church, proud to be who it is, and moving forward in mission and ministry, even amongst challenge and conflict. At an individual, congregatioanl and diocesan level, I see little of that international focus, little mission focus, and more than a little anxiety about what tomorrow will bring. It will be my task, and that of others who attended General Convention this year, to bridge that gap--to bring the optomism of General Convention to the person-in-the-pew and to bring his or her concerns to the next General Conveniton in 2012.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

General Convention, Day Five

While this is not technically my last day of General Convention, it is the last day I'll be blogging about for a bit, primarily because tomorrow will be largely a travel day for me. I will attend the UTO Ingathering and Eucharist tomorrow morning, then head back to my hotel for my airport shuttle and then home. I had a certain sense of sadness as I left the convention center this afternoon--knowing that I would not be attending any more legislative sessions which, though occasionally tedious, have some really bringht spots as well.

This morning at the Community Eucharist, Ray Suarez preached an outstanding sermon saying, in effect, that we need not apologize for who we are and that we as a church have weathered a long series of conflicts over the years and will weather the one about sexuality, too. It frankly made me change my mind about some of the things I've said in previous blog entries regarding the Episcopal Church. Rather than scaling back, I think we need to ask for a committment from each and every perosn in the pews to help us to fully live into the structures and programs that do so much for so many. While there is certainly room and need to focus, it seems like it makes more sense to do a little judicious pruning rather than wholesale limb removal, to use a gardening analogy.

That was the first shoe to drop for me. The second was a long speach by Jenny Te Paa, one of several international guests of House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson. She said, in part, "

"I am a little surprised and saddened that too many Episcopalians are being affected by their sense of loss of face or vulnerability in belonging to the Anglican Communion," she said. "I am dismayed at the extent to which that seems to be prevalent. I don't believe that that is so … it is not how I perceive the rest of the communion regarding the Episcopal Church to be honest." Citing her own province's experience of being the only province to be censured by the Anglican Consultative Council for its constitutional changes empowering indigineous people, she went on toe encourage the Episocpal Church to make the decision it feels in needs to make in terms of its own sense of justice. I was, frankly, stunned. From reports, it would seem that the Episcopal Church is viewed by the rest of the Anglican Communion as stubbornly going our own way in spite of pleas to hold back. From what I head from Te Paa, that is hardly the case with any number of provinces.

I then travelled to the Disney California Hotel for a wonderful Virginia Theological Seminary dinner where I was reminded of how great a seminary it is and how much it also is tied in to the Anglican Communion. I return home acutely conscious not only of the breadth of the Episcopal Church, but the worldwide communion of which it is a part.

General Convention, Day Four

Got up a litle earlier this morning and was present when the House of Deputies went into session at 9:30 a.m. I continue to have the rather cynical sounding question reverberating in my mind: Why so huge and cumbersome a legislative process for a church of slightly over two million members? There is a plea from the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee for both creative and realistic ways of plugging what is likely to be a $15 million income shortfall. I have a solution: Cut the budget, do fewer things, and focus on what we can and are called to uniquely do. I'm also struck by how glacially slow it seems things get done. Presumably the pace will accellerate as legislative committees complete their work and the end of Convention nears, but I frankly almost feel sorry for the Deputies, at least, spending hour after hour plodding through resolution after resolution, any one of which might well be spoken to by at least one person for several minutes. With hundreds of resolutions, it will be a very long remainder of Convention!

After ducking out of the House of Deputies meeting I headed for the daily Community Eucharist where I was asked to be one of the distributors of bread. Though clad in a t-shirt and slacks rather than a nicer outfit, I agreed. After all, how often does one get to distribute bread at a General Convention Eucharist? It was very fun, not least because my friend Maureen was the Deacon in charge of that communion station and the altar guild person there was someone I knew from long ago in the Diocese of California. I really liked the variety of people that came to me for bread--bishops, visitors, young, old, the whole diversity of the Episcopal Church, in fact! Perhaps the most fun, however, was giving communion to the children in the children's choir after they sang. WOW! It was like feeding pigeons--they all wanted a piece of bread, and all at once. It was actually pretty darn exciting. I don't think I've given that many children communion at one service in the entirety of my ordained ministry. Very cool.

After that, I headed for the NNECA (National Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations) lunch, which I thought I'd registered and paid for, but they didn't have my name on the list. So, I sat in back and participated as much as seemed needed. I did split a wrap (sandwich) with one of my seminary classmates (she could only eat half anyway, she said), so I got some food. The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, Bishop of Maryland, was the keynote speaker. He talked about a time when Peter Drucker (of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People fame) filled a bucket with large rocks. He asked the audience if the bucket was full. They said "yes." He then proceeded to pour some gravel in the bucket, filling it with gravel. He asked again if the bucket was full. His audience again replied "yes," but with much less force. He then poured a load of sand in the bucket, again filling it. Once again he asked if the bucket was full. By then there was a definite questioning "yes?" He poured a pitcher of water in, and the bucket was full.

The moral of the story, far from what I thought it might be ("nothing is what it seems" or "there's always room for more," or something equally obvious) was instead "you have to get the rocks in first, otherwise you'll never get them in." He said his rocks were Prayer, Holiness, Purpose, Discipline, and Honor. If you don't get those in your life, he said, everything else fills it up and you can't get that in. He used the example of prayer, which was a great one for me as that sometimes really does slip out of my day without my really knowing or intending it. All in all, an excellent experience.

Following that, both Houses began a marathon 2:30 to 6 p.m. legislative session. I poked into the House of Deputies, heard a few presentations regarding the debate on resolution 2006-B033, but decided to duck out after a half-dozen. It will be interesting to see what General Convention does with the various resolutions having to do with sexuality. Some are direct repeals of B033, others seek to clarify our canons with regard to qualifications for ordination (heterosexuality specifically isn't one), and still others are either canonical changes or changes of policy that would permit some form of same-sex blessings (which B033 doesn't address). It will be interesting to see how all of those resolutions make it through the various legislative committees and which ones make it through which House(s).

I spent from 3 to 4 p.m. saying afternoon prayers (at 3 p.m.) and watching the booth in the exhibition hall which functions as the Convention Chapel. Why the General Convention doesn't have an actual Convention Chapel is beyond me, but they don't. Anglimergent, a group of emergent Anglican folks, solicited donations and put this together. We had four of us for afternoon prayers. Many people walked by and said something like "it's great that this is here" or "what a good idea" but none stopped to actually make use of the space. The cynical part of me thought that was just like some church folks--they want to know that a program is there, even if they don't intend to use it!

Did a little looking around the exhibit hall, walked the 20 minute walk back to my hotel, remembered I was due to go to a CREDO reception, and walked nearly all the way back to the convention center. After the reception I walked back to my hotel and grabbed the shuttle for Downtown Disney. It was fun to wander, but apart from grabbing a late dinner and a hat with Mickey ears, I didn't really buy anything. Now I sit in my room as it approaches 1 a.m. and wonder what I'll do tomorrow. I might possibly try to get to the morning legislative session again (at 9:30 a.m.) or, if I'm feeling particularly lazy, I'll aim for the 11:30 a.m. Eucharist. Since it is my last full day at General Convention (I leave Sunday afternoon), it will likely be the former, or at least arriving early enough to do some shopping before the Eucharist. Until later today...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

General Convention, Day Three

If I had subtitled this entry it would be: Relationships and Resolutions. Today I sat in on the debate on the sole resolution regarding the Anglican Covenant being dealt with at this convention, a resolutions that resolves that we "provisionally accept" and agree to live by the first three paragraphs on the Ridley-Cambridge draft of the Covenant. There was a great deal of discussion of relationships, communion, etc... and whether our church should "lead" by provisionally accepting the Covenant or, on the other side, whether we needed a covenant at all to accomplish the mission and ministry of the church and sustain and strengthen the ties that we already have with other churches of the Anglican Communion. There was even some question about whether the Church of England would ultimately be able to sign the Covenant since it would appear to hand control of the established Church of England to a higher (foreign) authority. Since the Church of England is an established church and thus beholden to Parlament, that could be problematic.

Right after I left the hearing, I ran into my old field education supervisor who is now working in the American Anglican Council. While he and I would likely disagree on most things, I was able to greet him warmly, show him pictures of my children, and thank him for the pastoral care he game my family and me during my field education time. It struck me that what we are really being asked to do with all of the resolutions regarding the Anglican Covenant and repeal of resolution 2006-B033 is to chose our relationships. Are we as a church going to push ahead with celebrating the committed relationships of GLBT people, perhaps at the cost of both relationships with other churches in the Anglican Communion (but perhaps not between the people of our two churches) as well as relationships with people alongside whom we have served? I don't know, and the choice of honoring one set of relationships at the possible expense of others is one that I'm personally happy that I won't have to vote on. I will, however, have to live with any consequences of that vote or votes, so I am definately praying for the bishops and deputies. It will be an interesting next few days.

Then this evening we had a GTNG dinner gathering at 6:30 p.m. and a GTNG "post-dinner" gathering at 8 p.m. I was glad to have time to sit and chat with folks I haven't met before, have met only online, or haven't seen for a while. Sometimes, I think, the church mechanisms get in the way of such informal but life-giving relationships. Until tomorrow....

General Convention, Day Two

Actually, this is the morning of Day Three for me, but that's just because I'm running a little behind in blogging! Day Two was the first full legislative day of General Convention and I made sure to be up in time to hike the 20 minutes to the Convention Center and arrived in plenty of time to pick up my badge that marks me as a registered visitor and admits me to the exposition hall (marketplace), committee hearings, and the visitors gallery in the House of Deputies. Not sure whether the House of Bishops meetings are similarly open, but I might see later today.

My first impressions of General Convention are many--chiefly that it is a huge event! Part of me wonders how a denomination with under two million members ends up with a legislative structure this complex, but I'm here for the experience, not to single-handedly reform the structure of the church. I've also compared it to a face-to-face Facebook experience--I've seen dozens of people I haven't seen in many years. Folks from seminary but also people I've known in my ordained ministry and, of course, the Deputation from Oregon. I even saw my former boss here! In any case, it has been great to see people and connect. It seems almost a shame that there is work to do and most follks have to rush off to a committee hearing or other official business.

Business-wise, I sat in on the Joint Commmittee on Constitution and Canons, which reminded me why I'm not a canon lawyer. I also sat in on the second (late afternoon) session of the House of Deputies. I have two impressions. First, it is very formal, much more formal than even the school board meetings I'm familiar with. Second, some people will vote "no" on anything, even seemingly non-controversial resolutions. Wierd. After the House of Deputies meeting, I attended the Global Economic Forum with a panel discussion that included the Archbishop of Canterbury. Frank Logue, who sat next to me, blogged about the experience better than I could. After that, it was a late dinner with my friend and colleague Nathan (picture two relatively young guys in clergy attire sitting in a burger joint in LA and I'll let you imagination go from there) and the day was over.

So, this morning is the beginning of Day Three. They are doing "Mission Conversations" this morning, which I don't think lend themselves to exciting spectator sport, so I slept in and am slowly getting out of here. I'm going to try to make the mid-day Community Eucharist at 11:30 a.m. Since I have two hours, that should work. Tonight is the GTNG Gathering, so it should be fun to hang out with friends old and new!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

General Convention, Day One

Well, I'm here. Here being Anaheim, California for the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. It is a little odd, since I'm not here with any sort of official delegation or deputation and so haven't "connected" with anyone I know as yet. However, I'll be up bright and early tomorrow morning, hoping to reach the Anaheim Convention Center in time to register and get to the Opening Eucharist, if not the first legislative session, by 9:15 a.m. Being an INFP on the Meyers-Brings Type Indicator (MBTI), I'm generally OK with not having a specific plan, but it is a little unnerving to be "flying solo" for the time being. I'm sure that will change tomorrow. Already I have about a half-dozen luncheons, breakfasts, or gatherings to attend, so I doubt seriously that I'll lack for things to do.

Well, a little relaxing and then to bed. Tomorrow is a big day!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Praise of Fathers

On this, the 100th Father's Day, I'm going to take a little bit of personal privilege and commend my own father for the quiet example of fatherhood he has been to me. I said to my mother several weeks ago that I was and am a very fortunate member of my generation. Unlike the parents of so many of my peers, my parents stayed together and were fortunate to be able to raise my siblings and me in an economically, emotionally, and spiritually stable and nurturing home. They also sacrificed many things for our sake, and continue to support my family and I in many ways as I strive to be a good husband and father to my wife and children. Thanks Dad (and Mom, too)!

I am also heartened by the video below from President Barack Obama in which he extols the virtues of responsible fatherhood.

I also recognize that, like Mother's Day and Valentine's Day, Father's Day is a painful time for some. Those who, by death, absence, or deficiency, are or were denied the fathers they wanted. I recognize also that we are far beyond the normal nuclear family of a mother, father, and 2.3 children (or whatever...). I also know that the aspect of God that many call "Father" is problematic for some for whom fatherhood means abuse, neglect, or other traumatic issues. For some, God the Father becomes the father they never had and offers the opportunity for healing, for others "God the Father" puts up a wall between them and God that is nearly impossible to cross. For everyone, whether with good fathers or not-so-good fathers, present fathers or absent fathers, the concept of fatherhood remains in some shape or form.

As families and society increasingly fragment, and as our culture conspires to polarize and separate us, is the sacrifice and service of millions of responsible, dedicated fathers who (like me) fail repeatedly but keep trying to do the best they can for their children, that truly works against that which would otherwise seperate us. Happy Father's Day to all!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mission and Management

As the program year winds down, I'm feeling a bit different about church life and ministry. In years past there was the sense of having gotten through the program year and the anticipation of both taking a break from the sometimes frenetic pace of church life and planning for a Fall filled with possibilities. This year, owing primarily to the current economic climate but also to the ongoing challenges of connecting with a culture in transition, there is a palpable sense of unease as we enter summer. What does the future hold? How can we survive, much less thrive, in a time of tight budgets and only a trickle of newcomers to renew both our budget and sense of mission?

In the last 24 hours I've received information relating to both of those issues. In the latest update from The Barna Group, they discuss what mission and ministry looks like in the 21st century with the various "tribes" that they identify, including the "Casual Christians" they discuss. At the same time, I received the latest from the Alban Institute talking about different ways of viewing budgets. I can identify with both of these articles!

The biggest challenge for the church in 2009 would seem to be being about the work of mission and ministry in a culture that supports neither and in the midst of shrinking congregations and even more quickly shrinking budgets. The biggest challenge for me in leading a congregation is that many members seem perfectly happy with their level of spiritual maturity and their level of ministry to the community around them. What they are not happy with is the fact that "being church" seems to take more and more money. At the same time, nearly half the members of that surrounding community either have no experience whatsoever of church or just enough experience to know what they don't want to go back. They may not exactly be happy with their lives, but the notion that the answers to their unspoken (and perhaps even unacknowledged) questions lie with the church has either not even crossed their minds or, if it has, has been dismissed as soon as it did so.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with a great number of churches that are content to simply wind down, keep doing what they're doing, and seek some magic solution even as they pine away for the good times of the past. It also leaves a gigantic void of spiritual need that might well be filled with churches who are willing to provide an accessible "spiritual stimulus" in the world by first knowing themselves to be in need of such a thing. If we can awaken what is referred to in the Baptismal service as an "inquiring and discerning heart" in the people of our congregations, we can then invite others on this journey of discovery. However, if we simply more strdently proclaim that we have the answer and if these poor misguided folks would just get out of bed on Sunday morning and come to church to find it, we will largely wait in vain for the door to be knocked down by the rush of newcomers.

So perhaps it's time to put our money where our ministry is and invite others to join us on the journey. Perhaps more now than at any time in the last 50 years we need to put aside fear and the natural impulse to preserve dwindling resources and look into a world in desperate physical and spiritual need and take some risks for God, both financially and spiritually. Of course, it is easy to blog about that and much more difficult to actually do it!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Relatioships Rock, Issues Bite!

It has been nearly a month since I last put fingers to keyboard and posted to this blog. Of course, Holy Week and Easter were there, so there is some justification for silence. Mostly, however, I wanted to give some time to the random thoughts drifting around my brain to form some sort of coherent whole before "uploading" them to blog text. Friends of mine are far more qualified than I am to opine on the various theological and ecclesiastical goings on right now in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. However, I did want to highlight one particular essay, written by The Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon, Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. I'm a big fan of Bishop Whalon's, not least because he attempts to chart a center course in an era where polarization is the norm. His latest effort is a reflection on the Anglican Covenant where, among a great many other things, he says:
What matters most is in fact what the Ridley Preamble claims: is this Covenant a means to make our contribution to God’s mission in the world more effective?
Many years ago, a number of us in Gathering the Next Generation (GTNG), what I refer to as a "Generation X mission society" came together for a regional gathering. The unofficial theme of that gathering was an assertion that: "Relationships Rock, Issues Bite!" Though more nuanced, I find that same sentiment in both Bishop Whalon's essay and, interestingly, in some of the reviews of the Covenant itself. Efforts to make the Anglican Covenant into an Anglican Contract and to make it proscriptive rather than descriptive seem to be waining in favor of putting out a document that sets out in very simple theological terms the basis of our common mission and life together--and it isn't that we agree on all the issues, either! I look forward (though with a perhaps too jaundiced and cynical eye) to the debate that will commence with the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council and, in this country, with General Convention 2009. I hope that it focuses on our unity in Christ and the relatioships we have with one another, rather than any sort of doctrinal conformity. We'll see...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Beyond Modernity: Episcopal Evangelism

There is an excellent presentation by Brian McLaren: the keynote address for the Diocese of Washington (DC). It is well worth watching, but I include his talking points below to wet your appetite.

In his presentation he mentions four advantages that Episcopalians have in the twenty-first century. They are:

1) A "Via Media" Mindset: Many Anglicans never surrendered to the modern mindset.
2) A Celtic Mindset: We have vestiges of non-Roman Christianity in our makeup.
3) A Diverse Mindset: We give people space to differ in their opinions.
4) A Liturgical Mindset: Space to experience God, bonding to meaning, beauty of worship, participatory.

He also notes some disadvantages:

1) An Upper Class Mindset: Elitist, "civilized", older, one-size fits all.
2) An Institutional Mindset: Centralized, controlled, change-resistant, risk averse, bureaucratic -- averse to charismatic leaders.
3) A Christendom Mindset: Parish/geography, people ought to come to us.
4) A Bi-polar Mindset: Cold war liberal-conservative.

He goes on to suggest some things that are needed:

1) A "bring them in" spirit (not merely welcoming within a caste): Diversity, innovation, welcoming all seekers (especially the young!), inviting friends, relatives, associates, neighbors. Question: What would it take for you to be excited about inviting your friends to church? What embarrasses or concerns you?

2) A "let's experiment" spirit (not institutional): Entrepreneurial, self-organizing, evolutionary, experimental--adding experiments (for 4 to 8 weeks), adding new services, planting new congregations (inside existing?), adding new models or examples (Fresh Expressions, Anglimergent?).
Question: Who says "no" to new ideas? Who can say "yes"? Who can bring new ideas?

3) A "we're beginning again" spirit (renewing, not conserving, a history): Demography, adaptive, agile--a huge rummage sale "What needs to be put on the curb?", getting rid of the junk in "cleaning house", changes in physical, social, and/or spiritual architecture.
Question: Would you rather be motivated by desperate necessity or surging creativity? What would your church look like if it could seize the possibility of a total makeover?

4) A "transcend and include" spirit (above liberal and conservative): Where is the via media? Which future do you prefer (conservative, liberal, centrist, or transcendent inclusive)?


5) The Holy Spirit! People aren't seeking religion, they are seeking spirituality. You can't give what you don't have (you have to smoke what you're selling). People need to experience God, worship, transformation, belonging, participation in God's creative and healing mission in our world...
Question: Are you eager to become a "sample" of what God wants to do in the lives of others?

McLaren goes on to cast a vision for the church as a collection of individuals in partnership with God for the transformation of the world. I'll let you listen to the talk for specifics, but this sounds like a mission that the Episcopal Church, as a incarnation-centered, socially active, and spiritually rich church could really get behind!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Why should I be an Episcopalian?

This is an excellent question! Here is our Presiding Bishop's answer:

What I find refreshing about this answer is that it summarizes the great features of the Episcopal Church without being shy about our shortcomings--sometimes they are the same things! Part of what we are having to learn in the Episcopal Church is to articulate what is means for us to be Christians in the Episcopal tradition. That is a challenge for many, especially those of us who are "cradle Episcopalians" who have grown up in the church and barely know any other way of being Christian. Yet there are many disaffected and disaffiliated Christians out there and even more people who would not call themselves Christians at all. What does the Christian Gospel as seen through the lens of the Episcopal Church offer them? Answering that question is indeed the challenge.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I love Legos...

I just had to share this. You can make anything with Legos. It's a LegObama!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Transitions, Triumph, and Tribulation

Jesus said, "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand."

The above is from today's Gospel according to the Daily Office lectionary. I can think of no more fitting passage to mark the transition from the presidency of George W. Bush to that of Barack Obama. I was in seminary at Virginia Theological Seminary (just across the river from Washington D.C.) for the inauguration of former President Bill Clinton in 1992 and I am now, as I was then, amazed that in a world in which transitions of power are often accompanied by at least strife and wrangling and at worst war and bloodshed, our transition of power simply involves one man gracefully stepping down and another gracefully stepping up.

It is my fervent hope that we have turned the page on one of the most divisive chapters in our nation's history. President Obama has repeatedly called for unity, for disagreement without being disagreeable, for finding common ground in the midst of the daunting challenges that face us. He has also repeatedly invoked Abraham Lincoln, a president who presided over literally the most divided chapter in our nation's history. I remember well that now former president George W. Bush stated that he was "a uniter, not a divider." While that may have been his initial intention, he and Karl Rove presided over a presidency that was a poster child for a divide and conquer strategy. Perhaps history will judge him less harshly then his outgoing approval ratings, but I devoutly hope that we have seen the last of divide and conquer politics and instead have a "unite and overcome" politics.

As has been said many times, this day hardly marks the end of the movement for equal rights for African-Americans, much less other minorities. It is, instead, a new beginning in what I and millions of others hope and, yes, earnestly pray, will be a time of both sacrifice and solidarity in the midst of war and economic uncertainties. The church, too, is in a state in which we desperately need to hear and heed Jesus' words that a house divided cannot stand. May both church and state be united within themselves for common purpose and healing.

Welcome to the White House, President Obama and family!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Barna and The Belief Buffet

Although just one of many voices, George Barna has made a career out of taking the religious pulse of the United States and suggesting the implications of those results for individuals, churches, and the country as a whole. His latest offering, headlined "Christianity is No Longer America's Default Faith" explores the increasing tendency of Americans to either choose no faith at all or to pick and choose from a variety of beliefs and spiritual practices to meet their needs. The article is a good one, well worth reading, and the implications of the study results are summed up at the end as follows:
  1. The Christian faith is less of a life perspective that challenges the supremacy of individualism as it is a faith being defined through individualism. Americans are increasingly comfortable picking and choosing what they deem to be helpful and accurate theological views and have become comfortable discarding the rest of the teachings in the Bible.

  2. Growing numbers of people now serve as their own theologian-in-residence. One consequence is that Americans are embracing an unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs. Barna pointed out, as examples, that millions of people who consider themselves to be Christian now believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the lessons it teaches at the same time that they believe Jesus Christ sinned. Millions also contend that they will experience eternal salvation because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior, but also believe that a person can do enough good works to earn eternal salvation.

  3. In the past, when most people determined their theological and moral points of view, the alternatives from which they chose were exclusively of Christian options - e.g., the Methodist point of view, the Baptist perspective, Catholic teaching, and so forth. Today, Americans are more likely to pit a variety of non-Christian options against various Christian-based views. This has resulted in an abundance of unique worldviews based on personal combinations of theology drawn from a smattering of world religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam as well as secularism.

  4. Faith, of whatever variety, is increasingly viral rather than pedagogical. With people spending less time reading the Bible, and becoming less engaged in activities that deepen their biblical literacy, faith views are more often adopted on the basis of dialogue, self-reflection, and observation than teaching. Feelings and emotions now play a significant role in the development of people’s faith views - in many cases, much more significant than information-based exercises such as listening to preaching and participating in Bible study.
It almost goes without saying that this has huge implications for the church, especially the Episcopal Church which is both very rooted in words (Bible, Prayer Book, Hymnal, etc...) while also being rich in multi-sensory symbols (water of baptism, bread and wine of Eucharist, candles, stained glass, etc...). The traditional Evangelical way of converting folks to Christianity and enriching their spiritual lives focuses primarily on preaching and Bible study. The above statements reflect the fact that people are becoming more individualistic, less likely to have (or take) the time to do much Bible study (much less do serious theological reflection), and are perfectly comfortable with holding contradictory views taken from a variety of religious traditions. This is sometimes, in my opinion, without actually knowing much about their own faith tradition (if they have one)! A great example of this is the practice of a Christian incorporating Buddhist meditation practices into his or her spiritual practice without realizing that there is a rich Christian tradition of contemplative prayer from which to draw without having to graft in practices from another faith tradition. Of special note is the last observation that "faith views are more often adopted on the basis of dialogue, self-reflection, and observation than teaching."

I would suggest that, at its best and done well, worship in the Episcopal Church and associated programs that emphasize such
dialogue, self-reflection, and observation are the primary means by which we might best enter into the conversation that is likely to be the only way to conversion for most people. The challenge for us is to do such things ourselves rather than taking who we are and what we do for granted. The misquoted line from Field of Dreams "If we build it, they will come" (it is actually "If you build it, he will come.") applies here. We can build anything we want: people are not coming unless they have a reasonable expectation of finding a place in which they can enter into dialogue without limitations or pretense, self-reflection without pressure to conform, and observation without pressure to participate.

Quite a tall order for the church at the dawn of the twenty-first century!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Light in the Darkness

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
- John 1:1-5

In my daily "blog habit" I track a dozen or so blogs (see sidebar), one of them being Pluralist Speaks, a blog from across the pond in England. Sometimes it is very interesting, other times less so (like all blogs, including this one, I suspect!). After celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany last night, I was interested in his latest post regarding the alleged drift of the Episcopal Church (and by extension the Church of England and the Anglican Communion) towards Unitarianism. Since he has both some background in Unitarianism and apparently no apprehension about such a drift, he is more qualified than most to identify its presence or absence. After a fairly lengthy post, he notes:
So for Unitarian drift you need a really humanising Jesus according to how science understands the development of humanity, that the Christian Bible is but one view of something much wider, that the Pauline origin tradition gets replaced by a broader view of religion and salvation, or that there needs to be something like a frequent interfaith approach to ordinary church services. Liturgically there needs to be revision towards variety and simplicity and actual theological change involved.

This is not found at The Episcopal Church, or the Anglican Church of Canada, or at any other Anglican Church. It's not that it cannot happen: it can. It just isn't.
As we enter the Epiphany season, where we celebrate the light of Christ coming into the world, it is worth taking note that no official creeds or formularies have been changed or rescinded by official action of General Convention. I don't expect it to happen this summer either. To be sure, we as a denomination are much more lax about requiring conformity with doctrines or creeds than we are in enforcing our polity, but unless and until I am required to believe something plainly contrary to scripture, I think I'll stick around.

That is not to say, however, that the average person-in-the-pew isn't pretty darn fuzzy on exactly what Christianity is, much less the Episcopal flavor of Christianity. There has not been a consistent effort (or often interest) in enhancing biblical and liturgical literacy among folks. In my experience, people generally do what they do because that is what they've always done and there often is not very much interest in going much deeper than an hour on Sunday morning. Much like evangelism, I think the decline in TEC is due less to a sort of institutional slide into Unitarianism than to a decline in people's interest in exploring, enhancing, and sharing our faith. Perhaps a good Epiphany exercise might be a commitment to fanning the flame of faith and passing it along to others.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Semi-Happy New Year

Among the various things said today "Happy New Year" and "Thank God 2008 is over" seem to be the most common. There seems to be a collective breath-holding at work as many people both anticipate the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama and cast wary eyes to the faltering economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the new flare-up of conflict in Gaza. 2009 is set to either be the year that things begin to turn around or the year that things continue to slide.

Perhaps I'm projecting, but 2009 also looks as if it will be a pivotal year for the church as well. Culture wars continue to rage, the economy is sliding, and there does not appear to be a lot of signs of the mainline church reconnecting to the surrounding culture. The Episcopal Church has its triennial General Convention this summer which will no doubt result in some controversy, a few headlines, and many resolutions expressing the church's position on various world issues, most of which no one who is not already in the Episcopal Church will pay the least bit of attention to. So, some hope, some fear, some talking to ourselves, and we'll see what else. I'm sure God will show up in some form as well, as befits the celebration of Epiphany in a few days.