Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: A Church Odyssey

As the first decade of the new millennium comes to a close, there will be innumerable "top 10" lists, retrospectives, and even a few forecasts for the future. For myself, 2010 saw me complete my first year as Priest-in-Charge of St. Edward's, move into the Rectory (cutting my commute from 40 minutes to 40 seconds, as I like to say), and launch our new two-service Sunday morning schedule. It also saw us make some significant beginnings in addressing long-deferred maintenance on both our buildings and our programs. Sadly, the year ended with a decision to close the preschool we've been sponsoring for more than seven years. In many ways if feels a lot like the Rectory looked in early August halfway through the renovation--lots of potential, but lots of mess and a lot of work to do!

I think that is perhaps my chief reflection on my own ministry this year--a sense of digging into everything, clearing away accumulated stuff, and really getting a sense of the challenges ahead for me and for this church. These challenges are by no means unique to St. Edward's! We recently completed an Advent series where we invited my colleague and former Interim Rector here at St. Edward's, the Reverend John Buenz, to talk to us about "What's happening in our world?" and to suggest some trends worth watching. While there are many, the bottom line is that the era of the Christendom-based institutional church that simply opens its doors and welcomes the hordes of people clamoring to enter is finally dead after decades of decline. Few people not already in church are waking up on Sunday morning with the idea "Hey, I really need to find a great church to attend this morning!" The beauty of our buildings and our liturgy is lost on those who would never think of walking in the door.

As I've been reflecting upon this, and upon the spiritual hunger that still permeates our culture, I've come to one conclusion that seems pretty obvious: It's all about Jesus. What I mean by that is that it is not all about the church for the church's sake, but the church for Christ's sake. The purpose of the church, if one cuts through all of the flowery and perhaps overly theological language, is to introduce people to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ, to facilitate the growth of that relationship by linking them with fellow spiritual pilgrims, and to equip them to express that relationship in the world in word and deed. Period.

That purpose is why I do what I do as Priest-in-Charge. That's why we gather on Sunday morning. That's why I just spent a couple of hours choosing hymns for our 8:30 a.m. service for the next two months. That's why we keep the lights on, the rooms heated, and the roof fixed. That's why we invest money in both buildings and programs. That's why we close down programs--not to save money per se, but because we believe that God is calling us in a new direction best served in a different way. It isn't all about the church, it's all about Jesus. In 2011, St. Edward's will no doubt focus on the question: "What can we do, as St. Edward's Episcopal Church in San Jose, California, to better introduce people to Jesus, disciple them to maturity in their faith, and send them out as witnesses to the world?" In working out the answer to this question, I have the able assistance of our new Priest Associate for Evangelism, the Reverend Julie Nelson. I look forward to that process of discovery!

As the church considers how to make real its own mission, I will also be thinking about what can I do as Priest-in-Charge to both model that and help it happen. Certainly one aspect of that will be to revive my own journey of discovery of Jesus, discipleship, and service in Christ's name. The institutional church often imposes a heavy administrative burden that can distract clergy from tending their spiritual life, and I have found that to be true for me in 2010. So, as St. Edward's discovers its spiritual heart, I will be re-discovering mine as well.  Stay tuned....

1 comment:

bearflagrebel said...

Hello Fr. Tom,

You may enjoy this link: http://smallchurch.com/about/

It's really more relevant for churches with traditional worship and small congregations-- not the seeker friendly or emergent church model. Nonetheless, I find the ideas and thoughts very attractive and fitting for the continuation of historical prayer book liturgies. It somewhat overlaps with emergent ideas on neo-monasticism (size-wise). But I see the latter more suitable to private devotions rather than typical to public worship which strict adhesion to BCP was once practiced. Again, it's all very 'paleo' and not something that interests mosts pastors or people these days. You may find the link still interesting regardless...