Saturday, February 26, 2011

Vunerability and Radical Welcome

Another colleague of mine (as one of my seminary professors used to say "I am not original.") recently highlighted the following talk by Dr. Brene Brown discussing the necessity for vulnerability in our lives. Take a look:

This dovetails with the talk about Radical Welcome from The Rev. Stephanie Spellers at our clergy conference a couple of weeks ago. At that conference, she invited us to share with one other person two experiences: an experience of being unwelcome and an experience of being welcome. In the midst of that, I realized that my entire ministry has been about creating and nurturing community--a place where people feel welcome and connected. A place, frankly, where people can be free to be vulnerable and admit their imperfections.

Frankly, and highly ironically, the church often makes this difficult. One would think that a faith tradition that is founded on the paradox of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ would be the most welcoming to imperfect, shameful, vulnerable people. Instead, we've put ourselves out there as perfect people who have it together and just need a little touch-up or polish on Sunday mornings. Our perhaps unintentional message is that you are welcome to come to church if you are certain of what you believe, your life is nearly perfect, and you can navigate your way around a church service pretty easily.

I seriously doubt anyone qualifies to come to church under those restrictions.

Few people are certain of what they believe, and the ones that are most certain are often the most resistant to growing in their faith and understanding. Few people's lives qualify as anything close to perfect, especially in the world we live in today. Few people who have not grown up in the church have any idea what to do and when to do it.

So where does that leave me as a pastor and priest and St. Edward's as a congregation? It means that we need to be intentional about creating a place where anyone, doubter, seeker, or curious visitor, can explore the Christian faith. We need to be explicit that our church is a  place where you don't need to be perfect to walk in the door. We need to be helpful to those people who enter our doors for the first time so that they can be participants and not just spectators in our services. Finally, we need to proclaim far and wide that we're doing this, we're going to repeatedly fail at it, but we're going to keep trying.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ministry of The Word and Sacrament

One of my colleagues passed this along to me:

Walter Brueggemann is arguably one of the primary movers and shakers in the theological world today. His critique, sparked by a conversation with a rabbi, that we as preachers spend the bulk of our time engaged in everything but preaching or preparing for preaching, and end up devoting a few remaining hours in our week after we've exhausted ourselves with other things, strikes a little too close to home for comfort. My desk is currently strewn not with books, articles, and sermon drafts, but with catalogs, various pieces of mail, budget drafts, and various other items primarily having to do with administration and the day-to-day minutia of running a religious non-profit corporation that happens to be a church. And, yes, I generally do not get to serious sermon preparation until later in the week, occasionally even sitting in front of a computer screen on Saturday evening finishing up what I'm going to say the next morning!

That fact sparks in me a thought about the different names that we're called as ordained ministers: pastors (means "shepherd"), priests (not very much anymore), ministers (though much more ministry is done by the many church members serving in the community), and (in my case) "Father" (which places the priest in the role as "father" of the church "family", which is often less than helpful). I know if few, if any, times in which I've been referred to as "preacher"--and yet that is a key part of what I do each week: speak God's words to God's people. My ordination vows place as one my primary tasks the "ministry of Word and Sacrament", by which is primarily meant preaching and administering the sacraments. Those two tasks do not seem to have the same urgency during the week as the "running the shop" tasks do, nor are preachers generally rewarded or given points for reading and studying. If a church member or board member asks a pastor "What are you up to today?" and receives the answer "Well, doing a lot of reading and some prayer" it sounds almost as if he or she is taking a vacation! That is because most people work at jobs that not only don't require much study (and zero prayer) but often preclude study and prayer. Thus, the often unconscious reaction for most folks is "Wow, I wish that I could get paid to sit around and read and pray!"

The fact is, however, that we our primary calling is feeding the flock of Christ. Jesus' first post-resurrection commission to Peter was "feed my sheep." Putting aside the comparison of church members to sheep, as preachers and pastors we cannot give what we do not have. If we have not studied and prayed, we will give shallow, largely meaningless sermons that do not even come close to satisfying the spiritual hunger that God places in each one of us. Perhaps we need to take more seriously the rabbinical side of our calling--to be the teacher and the scholar.

One of the things that I hope and plan to do this year is to get a bit more focus on my preaching--both by setting aside more time for preparation and by focusing my continuing education funds and time on honing those skills. Preaching is one of my gifts. Administration is not. However, since others can do administration but not as many can do preaching, it makes sense to hone my strengths rather than attempting to shore up my weak areas.