Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jars of Clay or Feet of Clay?

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. - 2 Corinthians 4:7

Last week I was thinking about the Gospel passage for this past Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent, I thought about the Gospel as meaning "good news" and how much bad news surrounds us, even bombards us, on a daily basis. The economy is a shambles, people continue to struggle to make ends meet--even governments are struggling to make ends meet--and there seems to be a daily litany of people who we have put our hopes in to get us out of this mess and inevitably disappoint us with either personal failings or failing to move in the direction we think they should. They truly have "feet of clay," easily shattered.

By contrast, John the Baptist is not the least bit setting himself up as the solution to any problem. In fact, he is probably the least likely person you would want as a problem solver. He has this distressing habit of speaking his mind, no matter what that is, and he's not one for subtlety. As I thought about him and his message, I recalled the above passage and several things seemed to click. The fact is, all of us are clay jars--unadorned, perhaps dirty, hardly worthy of a second look from outside. And yet we have a treasure within us: the power of God to transform us and those around us. That's what the Incarnation is all about--God with us. May we know ourselves to be bearers of the light of Christ just as Mary was the bearer of the Christ that first Christmas.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Setting Us Free

"The inherited churchly institutions in the United States are typically engaged in inducing people to join, support and attend church ... in order to worship the church, not to glorify and enjoy God, and in order to enhance some churchly cult, not to esteem and enact the Gospel.  The sanction for this appeal is a venerable one - the sale of indulgences.  (People) are persuaded that by serving the church, by spending time and money and talent on the church, they can accomplish and exchange for merit and gain a justified status with God.  Yet secreted in the idolatry of church is the same futile worship of the power of death inherent in any idolatrous relationship. And from that, even when it is shrouded in the trappings of church, has Christ set (us) free." -- William Stringfellow, Imposters of God
A colleague of mine recently wrote a very interesting blog post referencing the above book. As someone who is Priest-in-Charge of a church in what I have often referred to as "the rebuilding phase" of its life, the above is pretty convicting--too often the church can become an end in and of itself rather than a means to the end of proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed. Though we have already set out our mission and vision at St. Edward's, the challenging part remains--discerning how God is calling us to live out, or incarnate, that mission and vision.  This morning I talked about the "the hope to which he has called [us]" (Eph 1:18b) to which St. Paul refers. That hope is the hope of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day, that even death has been overcome to such an extent that we can make fun of it by dressing up as ghosts and goblins!

So where do we go with that hope? What do we do with it? How do we communicate it? And who will go with us? Stay tuned....

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Room for Transitions

When talking with one of my wisdom friends recently (wisdom friend means someone with more grey hair than me) they talked about how we often don’t make room in our lives for times of transition; we don’t consciously acknowledge and attend to the emotional space of life changes, be they hopeful changes such as a new job or new opportunity or tough changes such as the loss of someone or the physical or cognitive changes in ourselves or those we love. Too often, they said, we tend to expect the same of ourselves in these moments as we do in other periods of our life. Too often we don’t find ways to mark and face openly that which our guts are registering quite clearly. -- Todd Donatelli, Father of the Bride blog entry at Episcopal Cafe

Though discussing the upcoming marriage of his daughter, Dean Donatelli makes an excellent point about making "room in our lives for times of transition." However, when I think of transition I think about the last year of my own life and the life of this congregation. My family and I had the transition of moving to temporary housing in San Carlos a year ago and then moving again to the Rectory in September. While we are profoundly grateful for a wonderful house and it is wonderful to be able to simply walk across the parking lot to and from work, this has certainly been a year of multiple transitions for our family. Of course, St. Edward's has been in transition for more than 18 months since my predecessor and others departed. We've spent the almost the entirety of my time here attempting to live into our identity as "ransomed, healed, restored, [and] forgiven" people, and we're making progress in that effort. When I look back on the last year, I can hardly believe all of the changes that have occurred!

So, it is perhaps past time to give ourselves a little room to settle in to this transitional period. The first "room" will be our combined All Hallows Eve/All Saints Day service at 9 a.m. a week from this coming Sunday, on October 31. We will gather, we will celebrate, we will take a breath, and we will liturgically and literally break bread together at the Eucharist and potluck, respectively. The second opportunity for "room" will be a four-week series on "Being the Church in the 21st Century" that will be on Wednesday evenings during Advent (December 1, 8, 15, and 22) from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in Hallstead Hall. We'll look at the various cultural shifts occurring in the world and how we as a church might not only survive but position ourselves to thrive in such a culture. More information to follow, and other opportunities for "room" will be announced as they occur.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Losing Heart and Praying Always

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. - Luke 18:1

As we move through October as a parish, we come to the annual time in which we, once again, focus on God's call to us as a parish and make an appeal for resources (both time and money) to enable St. Edward's to fulfill that calling: The Fall Pledge Campaign. This is no mere exercise in strategic planning, nor is it a PBS-like fund-raising appeal (we don't even have thank-you gifts!), but rather, at its best, it is a careful and prayerful discernment of the realities of ministry in our mission context (West San Jose) and who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do within that context.

We have already articulated a four-fold mission: Welcome all. Worship fully. Witness to God's grace. Walk the way of Christ. That has been discerned by the Vestry and affirmed by the congregation. Now that big question: How exactly to we live that mission out?

The disciples were no strangers to discouragement. Over and over again, Jesus turned their world upside-down and shattered their expectations about what following Jesus should be like. Jesus refused to be limited by people's preconceptions (and misconceptions) about what being a Christ-follower should entail. The passage quoted above is a part of the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday. It is a reminder to us, yet again, that we do not accomplish the ministry to which God has called us in isolation. In fact, mistakenly believing that we can do things on our own causes us to "lose heart"--to lose the drive and the passion to do the work that God has given us to do. The solution? Pray always. Remind ourselves that rather that being cast into the world to fend for ourselves, we are instead full partners with God in the work of God in the world.

I don't know about you, but I find that I am frequently disheartened these days. The world is a mess, the economy is only sluggishly improving, and  people are hardly flocking to churches in droves. It is a difficult time in which to live, and even more difficult to live out one's Christian faith authentically--there is so much to distract and dishearten! Yet God's call to us is undiminished in either its applicability or its urgency--and we are made to respond to that call, and to do so joyfully!

So as we as a parish refine and recommit to our calling from God, I invite members and friends of St. Edward's to consider you own involvement in, and financial support of, God's mission and ministry in this place. Please pray always as we anticipate together what God would have us do in partnership with God.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whose Kingdom Are We Building?

One of the best experiences I've had recently was a two-conference trip I took to Seattle several weeks ago. I began with a group of entrepreneurial Episcopal Church clergy that were gathered to talk about leadership in the Episcopal Church of the twenty-first century. Originally convened by retired Bishop Claude Payne (author of Reclaiming the Great Commission), the group was a collection of priests and bishops from across the country who were focused on a hopeful future for the Episcopal Church and not, for once, focused on the ongoing sexuality disputes that seem to come up whenever two or three are gathered, to paraphrase a biblical passage. We talked with each other, learned from each other, laughed with (and occasionally at) each other, and pretty much encouraged one another. There was no real "expert" who guided us along but simply a handful of colleagues sharing some of their own journey.

Perhaps one of the most profound questions I heard at that gathering is this one: "Whose kingdom are we building?" Those of us who work in and for the church tend to focus on survival of the institution--that desire to grow so that we preserve what is here for the future. Yet nowhere in the early church does there seem to be any similar emphasis. Most often, Jesus refers to the "Kingdom of God" and, in fact, in the Lord's Prayer we pray "thy/your Kingdom come." Even in the definition of church membership, it says nothing about the church as such. A member of the Episcopal Church is defined as someone who "works, prays, and gives for the spread of the Kingdom of God." So the question must always be asked: Are we building and spreading the Kingdom of God, or some substitute Kingdom?

After three days there, I then attended the Catalyst One Day conference in Seattle. At that conference, much more evangelically-based,  I heard Pastor Greg Groeschel of LifeChurch speak. Among other things he and other pastors talked about--guess what--building the Kingdom of God rather than building up individual churches! I also felt something I've rarely felt in such an evangelical gathering--a genuine welcome and acceptance of the variety of ways of doing and being church. I'm fairly certain that they would not agree with any number of theological positions that the Episcopal Church holds, but I heard not a word of condemnation or competition--just encouragement to build the Kingdom of God. How cool is that?!

Several days ago, as if to reinforce the message, I ran across following video from last year's multi-day Catalyst 2009 Conference:

What a great statement, and a great reminder, from two different and distinct voices: it's all about the Kingdom of God.

I pray that is what we are building here at St. Edward's as we have people come and, God willing, join us. I hope and pray that we are building the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of St. Edward's or, God forbid, the Kingdom of (Fr.) Tom. As we focus on our four-fold mission to welcome all, worship fully, witness to God's grace, and walk the way of Christ, I pray that others will be eager to join us on this journey.

See you Sunday---and bring a friend!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Two-Service Schedule has cleared the tower!

With only minor glitches, we officially began the two-service schedule mentioned numerous times on this blog last Sunday, September 5. For those who are unaware, the schedule is as follows:

8:30 a.m. Rite I - Elizabethian Language (thee, thou...) Service with Hymns
10 am. Rite II - Modern Language (you, your...) Service with Contemporary Music

Jacob Perez, our newly-hired Worship Minister, made his official debut last Sunday and did very well!

This coming Sunday, September 12 is our official "Grand Opening" and kick-off to our new services and program year. Several of our neighbors recently received the postcard pictured here, inviting them to attend one of our new services. So, whether you are a veteran member, relative newcomer, or curious seeker, come join us this coming Sunday as we continue to launch this new enterprise!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Counting down to launch

We are now a little over a month away from our new service schedule. On September 5 we will have a "soft launch" where we will debut our 8:30 a.m. Rite I traditional language and hymnody service and our 10 a.m. Rite II contemporary language and music service. On September 12 we will have our public "launch" of the new service schedule as we formally begin our program year. We are now in the final stages of preparation, including searching for one or more worship leader(s), and filling the normal roles of Crucifer/Server, Lector (lesson reader), Altar Guild member, etc... Exciting times, so tune in as we begin the buildup to "launch day!"

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Old Shall See Visions and Young Shall Dream Dreams

'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. (Acts 2:17)
I'm in the last days of a week-long retreat entitled CREDO, which is a week-long retreat which gives some space for people to reflect, dream, and plan for the future--spiritually, relationally, vocationally, and financially. As I've done such reflection, one of the things I've come to realize is what a great opportunity we have at St. Edward's to really think about what we want the new St. Edward's to be. There is no longer a "way we've always done it" anymore. That is a great gift! It means that we can choose our own adventure, seek after God's vision, and move forward confidently into the future.

We're in the midst of doing that, and I've blogged about this before, but I ran across the following presentation recently done for the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California. It talks about radical welcome and what that might look like.....

Bishop's Conference Keynote Presentation by Stephanie Spellers from Episcopal Diocese of Northern Ca on Vimeo.

We have the opportunity to essentially rebuild our church from the ground up with a core value of radical welcome. Our first Core Value is that desire to welcome all. What would that mean for us? How do we build a church of radical welcome? Something to think and talk about in the coming weeks. I look forward to that conversation!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Craving Church

In a recent blog entry on Sojourners Online, the blogger interviewed Julia Duin, author of Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to do about It. One of the most interesting quotes from that post occurs at the end, when Ms. Duin says
You go to church today and people just sit there like they’re going to a movie. People will crave church when the Holy Spirit is so evident in the body. The praying church in the 1970s is when the Holy Spirit really moved. They didn’t care whether you were single or married or what. You had churches like St. Paul’s in Darien, Connecticut, that just went on for like three hours and you didn’t care because God was moving in incredible ways.
As we begin the days "after Pentecost" in the church calendar and continue the hundreds of thousands of days since the first Pentecost, it is worth asking: Do we crave church? Do we come to church expecting that the Holy Spirit will not only show up, but will stir our hearts and minds? Do we, as we invite the Holy Spirit to bless bread and wine and make them the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ also invite, encourage, and expect the Holy Spirit to bless us with both power and direction? If we do not, why not? If we do, can anyone tell by looking at us?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Three Critical Questions for St. Edward's

I'm in the midst of an online conversation over on Episcopal Café in response to a recent post. In that conversation, I ask the following questions:
  1. Do we believe in the transformational power of a relationship with Jesus Christ?
  2. Do we believe that the Episcopal expression of Christianity has real value for people in a post-Christian society?
  3. Are our churches prepared to actively welcome, receive, incorporate, and form new believers?
I'm also reflecting on the conversation we had yesterday after church regarding moving from our single 9 a.m. service on Sunday morning to an earlier and a later service. I believe that there was a real consensus that we did not simply want to replicate the "pre-split" schedule and, most especially, did not wish to go back to thinking of ourselves as "8 o'clockers" or "10 o'clockers" that were essentially two seperate churches using one building. One thing that this transitional period has done is to bring those who stayed at St. Edward's together, and while there seems to be agreement that we need to move forward in this way, there is equal agreement that no one wants to go back to the two-churches-in-one-building model.

As I articulated at that meeting, I'm also not interested in simply having the earlier service as merely some sort of holding area for those who prefer traditional liturgy and music, simply sustaining the service without putting more than the minimal resources and attention towards it.  Rather, I would prefer that we actively market and give attention to both services, making sure that we do them both well and that we actively invite and incorporate people into both. If we truly believe that the Episcopal expression of Christianity is worth people's time, money, and effort, then we need to act on that belief with energy, enthusiasm, and our own time, money, and effort. The exact form of that action will be discerned over the next couple of months, but the opportunity of (re-)forming a community of faith so that all three of the above questions may be answered with an unqualified YES is an exciting prospect not to be missed!

Friday, May 21, 2010

On Pentecost and Being the Church

What we call "church" is too often a gathering of strangers who see the church as yet another "helping institution" to gratify further their individual desires....To the extent that the church and its leaders are willing to be held accountable to the story which is the gospel, ministry is a great adventure of helping to create a people worthy to tell the story and to live it.
--Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony
The church does not exist to satisfy the religious tastes of its tithe-paying members (much less its non-tithe-paying members!). Nor does it exist for institutional self-preservation. Nor does it exist to provide clergy with fulfilling employment and generous remuneration and an unparalleled retirement package. But rather the church exists to join God in God's self-giving for the sake of this world that is loved by God.
--Brian McLaren, Address to the 187th Commencement at Virginia Theological Seminary
This coming Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. That day is often referred to as the "birthday of the church." It is the first recorded instance of the newly-born fellowship of believers having a mass experience of the Holy Spirit in power. On Pentecost, it is written that
...the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
 On that day, the church was literally set on fire by the Holy Spirit. That fire would spread across the globe and would eventually touch millions upon millions of people. That spiritual fire is a fire that we believe burns still inside each and every Christian. It may be a small ember or a raging conflagration. It may be somethng that people are attracted to or from which people flee, but that same fire is what is within each of us who call ourselves Christians. On this Sunday, the Paschal candle, which has burned from the kindling of the fire at the Easter Vigil through Eastertide, will be extinguished. It will not burn again, except at funerals and baptisms, until next year when the new fire is kindled again. The reason we extinguish that fire is not because we don't like candles in church, but because we now that at Pentecost, that physical fire is transported, passed, caught by each and every one of us as spiritual fire. May we tend and fan that fire in ourselves and in those with whom we come in contact.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mission in the Meantime

I'm taking a few minutes on a Friday to post something relatively brief after not blogging for many weeks. After the Celebration of New Ministry and Institution on April 18, the last couple of weeks have flown by. We've begun the transition to a reorganized preschool with Stephanie Wolf as our Preschool Director as of June 1. We've just made the transition from a full-time Sexton to a part-time Custodian (John Vasquez) and a contracted Groundskeeping service. We're in the process of making final preparations for the Diocesan Workday at St. Edward's on May 22 and there are the innumerable administrative and facility-related items that have been occupying my time and attention this week.

In the midst of these, the words of Jesus from the Gospel reading for this Sunday speak clearly: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives." Peace. Not simply the absence of conflict, but genuine contentment. A precious commodity in today's 24/7/365 world. It is so easy to be swept up into the myriad of things that one is presented with during each day that we rarely allow Jesus' peace to permeate our hearts, minds, and lives.  Worth thinking about as we launch into the weekend!

Also worth thinking about is the Four Marks of St. Edward's Mission that have been presented to the Vestry. These marks, in the graphic of our cross, are the things which we hope to focus upon for the foreseeable future and which, assuming they are approved, will guide us as we navigate the uncharted waters of ministry in twenty-first century Silicon Valley. Please read them and comment on them as you wish.

And now, off to another meeting!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Alleluia, Christ is risen! Now what?

One of the interesting things about the lectionary (cycle of readings) in Eastertide is that we take a temporary break from the Old Testament in favor of readings from the Book of Acts, the earliest history of the church. Yesterday, we began with the testimony of the disciples to the authorities of the day--stating unequivocally "we must obey God rather than any human authority" in response to an order to not to teach in Jesus' name. The authorities note that the disciples have "filled Jerusalem with [their] teaching."

What a difference two-thousand years makes! Today, we have many voices claiming the moniker of Christianity, from a variety of social and political viewpoints. Yet, author Katherine Tyler Scott, in a recent book (Transforming Leadership) and an even more recent Washington Post article, says this about the Episcopal Church in this cacophany of voices:

At its core, the Episcopal Church believes in the compatibility of tradition and reform, the partnership of faith and reason. If the church can remember and reclaim this charism, it will help those who follow to navigate the present currents of complexity, chaos and change with reasoned and mature judgment and action. It will enable the church, and all of us, to exhibit the courage to move from the margin, to stand in the gap, to hold the tension of the opposites together, and to take the risk to tell our truths in the world--a world that desperately needs to shed itself of the tendency to demonize differences.

That is perhaps what I like most about my often-conflicted church: at our best we hold that tension between opposing views, forces, and paradigms.  The challenge facing us as a church is to present that tension-holding not as lack of decisiveness or a failure of nerve (assuming it is not), but as a gift to the church and to the world. Perhaps "training for tension" might be an apt description of the Episcopal Church's divine task: teaching people how to hold the center without being torn apart in the process.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

St. Thomas and Practicing Resurrection

Tomorrow, the first Sunday following Easter Day, is traditionally the day we read the Gospel account of Jesus appearing to Thomas "the doubter." I identify strongly with Thomas, for three reasons. First, his name. Second, I was priested (ordained to the priesthood) on St. Thomas Day (December 21). Third, and most important, Thomas has a refreshing "show me!" spirit about him. I really like that. He isn't willing to take Jesus' resurrection "on faith," especially faith in the word of his fellow disciples! Nope, he wants some hard evidence. Such a demand has been derided and demeaned for centuries with the label "the doubter." In an age in which the word of the institutional church has less and less credibility, such a Thomas-like demand is what more and more seekers are echoing. My colleague Frank Logue addresses the question "How do we know that Jesus' resurrection was real?" in this post on his blog.

Jesus doesn't spend lots of time chiding Thomas for his unbelief. Rather, he presents his wounded hands, feet, and side for Thomas to touch, eliciting perhaps the first post-resurrection Statement of Faith: "My Lord and my God!" Recall that it is Thomas that says, in response to the disciples' fear of going to Jerusalem with Jesus to (it turns out) raise Lazarus: "Let us also go, that we may die with him." (John 11:16b). Thomas isn't afraid to make the hard call and to put his life on the line (as he and most of the rest of the disciples would later do) in response to Jesus' call. In some ways, I like to think of Thomas as the first post-modern Christian: he doesn't want just words, he wants the experience of the risen Christ.

Don't we all want that? Don't we all want a fresh, vivid experience of resurrection life? Sometimes, if we're very fortunate, we get a vision or a spiritual experience of the resurrected Jesus. More often, though, we experience resurrection in the midst of everyday life. There is even post on a Spirituality and Practice site that discusses how to practice resurrection as a spiritual discipline. Because, frankly, we are the body of Christ, even (and perhaps especially) with all of our wounds and shortcomings. When we reach out in love and care to another person, we both do so to Christ and do so as Jesus' hands and feet in the world. The miracle of Easter is not simply the miracle of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, important as that is, but the miracle that resurrection happens each and every day, in ways large and small and, yes, in the midst of death and despair. Just as Jesus appeared to Thomas and offered him and experience of resurrection life, Jesus also appears to and through us with the same offer. The question is, will we recognize Jesus when we see him and will we take the offer?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

God's Purposes and our Preconceptions

Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?" Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, "Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me." -- John 12:3-8

After being bombarded with the message that God cares very much for the poor, this passage from the Gospel from yesterday's readings brings most of us up short a bit. We're used to Jesus speaking against extravagance, against accumulating wealth, and against enjoying life at another person's expense. And yet he speaks sternly to Judus Iscariot when he makes the quite reasonable (but disingenuous) objection that Mary is being way too extravagant in this anointing of Jesus' feet.

Beyond the prefiguring of burial that is in this story, it also demonstrates to me that we make a big mistake if we ever think we have figured out Jesus. Every time we think we know what God is going to say to us and go off before getting the full message, God brings us back and reminds us that we are not as smart as we think we are! In God's plan, money is a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. We can get so wrapped up in doing good things for others that such efforts can crowd out doing great things with others. The mission of the church, after all, is not to feed the poor, clothe the naked, heal the sick, or other good things. Such activities naturally arise out of the real mission of the church:
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
An excellent example of making sure that we are doing what we are doing as a result of our discipleship rather than as a replacement for it is put forth by Sara Miles in this short video:

Social service, then, becomes simply another aspect of worship and discipleship--we are simply translating that reconciliation process from the sanctuary to the soup kitchen (in the case of Sara's church, St. Gregory of Nyssa, they are the same space). As we continue to discern God's calling for us at St. Edward's, it might be well for us to consider how the three areas of worship, fellowship, and outreach might be knit together as a whole.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sunday Preview: Losing and Finding

Two of my primary resources for sermon preparation are my friend Sarah Dylan Breuer's blog and Exegetical Notes by (Lutheran) Pastor Brian Stoffregen. Both offer me some very interesting ways of looking at any given text, and the text for this coming Sunday is no exception. In Brian's commentary, he says the following about the Parable of the Prodigal Son:

My friend used the example of misplacing his truck keys. He knew where the spare key was -- with his wife -- 45 miles away. The absence of his keys made him feel incomplete -- at a loss -- life was not right for him because those keys were not where they should be.

An implication of this is that congregations, rather than thinking of the unchurched as "the lost" whom need to be found, (which also means that we consider ourselves as "the found,") or "the lost" who need to find their way back home; we might consider ourselves to be incomplete without those for whom Christ has also died.

We hear a lot about "the lost" when discussing mission and evangelism. "They" tend to be "out there," because certainly anyone in a pew on a Sunday morning couldn't possibly be "lost"! Yet how often do we actually consider the church incomplete without "them"? Perhaps more profoundly, how often do we acknowledge that, more often then we might like to admit, we can become lost ourselves--cut off, sometimes inadvertently, from our relationship with God. Some things to think about, to be sure...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Out with the old and in with the...?

Thanks (again) to Episcopal Café, who got it from Susan Russel's blog An Inch at a Time, I came across a blog entry from Walter Russell Mead, son of The Reverend Lauren Mead, renowned futurist of the Episcopal Church, entitled The Holy Crap Must Go. A sample of his thesis:
The mainline churches in particular are organized like General Motors was organized in the 1950s: they have cost structures and operating procedures that simply don’t work today. They are organized around what I’ve been calling the blue social model, built by rules that don’t work anymore, and oriented to a set of ideas that are well past their sell-by date.
Though I love the title, and appreciate the sentiment, the blog entry suffers from what most of them suffer from--identifying the problem without suggesting a solution. I am a cradle Episcopalian, raised in the Episcopal Church, my faith nurtured in the Presbyterian Church, Southern Baptist Church, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter in college. I am also a Master's degree-holding, classically seminary-trained, ordained Episcopal priest employed full-time as Priest-in-Charge of St. Edward's. Our congregation is one that was founded in the fifties in a farmhouse and now has a wonderful (but aging) church building and education building, a significant budget deficit, and the opportunity to re-imagine what being the church in the twenty-first century is about. Also, the fact that I am here is a direct result of the decision by both the people who are here and by the diocese not to cede control of the buildings and name of St. Edward's to those who instead chose to depart, but to hang on to both name and buildings--stepping out in faith that God has something good for us in the future.

The difficulty is that it is much easier to plant something new, nurture it, and watch it grow, than it is to revive something old. Putting it a bit more starkly, and not referring to St. Edward's (which is very much alive, thank you), it is easier to give birth than to resurrect. What we at St. Edward's are grappling with now is--what next? Who is God calling us to be and what is God calling us to do in a twenty-first century world that hardly cares, or sometimes barely notices, that the church exists at all? That is a conversation we began at our Annual Meeting on January 31 and that we will be continuing as a Vestry in a series of "mini-retreats" on the first Tuesdays of April, May, and June. Please keep us in your prayers.

The problem with the article, and many others like it, is that it gives no road map, no way of distinguishing the "holy" from the "crap." Put another way, one person's trash is another person's treasure. One person's outmoded and dated way of worship is another person's treasured place and path of comfort in a rapidly changing world. I neither can nor would want to undo my seminary education. I neither can nor would want to simply leave the accumulated wisdom, structures, and ways of doing ministry behind in favor of some "new and improved" way of doing church. By the same token, it is clear that the needs and attitudes of people in the 1950s are not the needs and attitudes of people in the 2010s. Much like the auto companies, it has been literally decades since we were able to rely on our denominational brand and reputation as the church of the upper classes to attract people and keep them coming back.

There is an additional irony here. The irony is that St. Edward's is located in Silicon Valley, the birthplace of the technological revolution that was the beginning of this new post-industrial era. Fueled by risk-taking venture capitalists, the story of Silicon Valley is the story of the information revolution and the mavericks who believed they could change the world. Exemplified in the famous Apple 1984 Superbowl commercial, the story of the Valley is of small, nimble companies running circles around their larger predecessors. So, how can a church in the middle of Silicon Valley become that nimble, flexible, change-the-world church? That is the $64,000 question.

I'm also reminded of the scriptures for tomorrow, specifically the Parable of the Fig Tree. Jesus tells the story of a landowner who comes back to a fig tree, year after year, for three years, failing to find any figs. He tells his gardener to cut it down, saying "Why should it be wasting the soil?" The gardener convinces him to let him put some "manure" on it to see if it will bear fruit next year. Perhaps that is the lesson to learn--don't get rid of the crap, use it to stimulate growth!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Equipping the Saints for the Work of Ministry

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ -- Ephesians 4:11-12, NKJV
One of the most challenging things to do in the church is to equip people for ministry. It is challenging in a number of ways. First, it is challenging because people have so little time available to them that sometimes they barely have time for the ministry to which they believe God has called them, much less time to be trained or re-trained. However, perhaps the bigger challenge to equipping people for ministry is not in the equippees, but in the equippers--we who are leaders in the church. Frankly, it is a whole lot more efficient in the short term to do things yourself than it is to teach others to do them. It also means that the tasks will be done to one's own satisfaction and in the way that one wants them to be done. That being said, it is profoundly unbiblical to do things ourselves. Even if we are doing ministry "solo" we are really doing it in partnership with God, and God wants to be in partnership with us. God is all-powerful and could simply think something and it would be done. Yet God models for us a partnership in which human beings are integral to God's work in the world.

I write the above because we are at the beginning of a five week Lenten Series that I've entitled "Being an Episcopal Christian." In that series we'll explore what it means to be a Christian, an Anglican, an Episcopalian, and a member of this parish and diocese. At the same time, the Diocese of El Camino Real has begun their Diocesan Center for Spiritual Leadership with a session this past Saturday at St. Paul's, Salinas. Here are some highlights:

The challenge for me, and for many people I suspect, is to take time to both be equipped for the ministries to which God has called us and to take time to equip others for the ministries to which God has called them. God give us the strength, especially this Lenten season, to have the discipline to do so.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Church: Restaurant, Hospital, or Birthing Center?

I just posted an entry on my personal blog and wanted to share it with those of you who follow this one. Specifically, I wanted to share this part of it:
The idea is that we join in this meal [communion] at God's table after we have been born (actually, re-born) into God's family through baptism. In other words, we're born and then we are fed. That makes a certain kind of sense. However, if one takes this metaphor a bit further, how are "pre-Christians" or yet-to-be-(re-)born Christians fed before they are born into God's family? In other words, what provides the "womb" in which a person's first cells of faith can grow and the "umbilical cord" that provides the "nutrition" or spiritual food without which the unborn-again person will spiritually starve? It seems like, for Sara [Miles], that umbilical cord was, at least in part, communion itself.

I don't know exactly what to do with this metaphor, but I do think it is worth asking whether the church is a place that provides a safe place for spiritual growth and the "food" necessary for such growth or whether the church can only provide solid food, as it were, to those already in God's family. If it can only feed those who are already Christians, then we become essentially spiritually barren--unable to receive the gift of the beginnings of a new life that is growing within someone and nurturing it to in climax in someone's rebirth. Thomas Brackett, the Program Officer for Church Planting and Redevelopment of the Episcopal Church, talks about "midwifing" what God is already doing--nurturing it and helping it along. How might we best do that, I wonder, and what would it take to move from hospital or restaurant to birthing center?
I can't shake that image of the church as birthing center, the place where people come to get that little spark of spiritual life within them nurtured and fed so that it grows to such an extent that it actually transforms them and they are re-born into the family of God. Perhaps part of it is that I'm about ready to launch a Lenten series entitled "Being and Episcopal Christian." This week, I am preparing for the first session, which is simply called "Being a Christian" and thinking about what exactly it means to be a Christian in twenty-first century America and how we might need to change things in the church to make it more faith-nurturing and less faith-assuming. Seems almost like Jesus lament in this coming Sunday's Gospel reading that he longs to "gather [their] children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and [they] were not willing! " (Luke 13:34) Perhaps many people are now willing to be gathered, and the church has forgotten how to do so. Food for thought.

Friday, February 19, 2010

40 Days of....?

After a brief interlude following Epiphany, the church calendar now plunges us into the 40 days of Lent (Sundays don't count--being festival days--so that's why it isn't 40 calendar days). Those 40 days are meant to call to mind the days of our Lord's temptation in the wilderness--and not a peaceful, shady wilderness like I'm used to in Oregon and Northern California, but a desert wilderness. A friend of mine passed the following along. See what you think...

I sometimes think that our world is in a sort of wilderness time. Certainly our church is! There seem to be many, many problems to overcome. Health care reform, poverty, greed, joblessness, etc... At the same time there seem to be so few people, especially in the political arena, with the courage to confront and even begin to address these problems. In the Episcopal Church, we continue to wrestle not only with the obvious issues of sexuality but with what I would consider the more important and more basic issues of meaning and purpose in the 21st century.

We are firmly now in a post-Christendom society, especially here in Silicon Valley. People need a compelling reason to be involved in a church and that involvement means not being involved in the myriad of other possible things available. How do we in the church recapture that core sense of transformational power that is the essence of the Gospel and then translate it into a compelling witness to the world? It is a question that other generations have had to grapple with, but we are at that 500 year point that Phyllis Tickle writes about in The Great Emergence in which everything is pretty much up for grabs. My contention is that it that uneasiness, that dis-ease, which is infecting the church and causing us to be less confident of the Gospel we proclaim, not any issue like sexuality. May this Lent serve to remind our own congregation and the wider church of the power of the Gospel message amidst the temptations of the world.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Godly Discernment, not Program Development

Last Sunday was the Annual Meeting of St. Edward's and we had what I thought was a good meeting. I extended myself slightly, technologically speaking, and put together a PowerPoint presentation to summarize the Annual Report which was well received and we had some good discussions. This week I'm doing preparations for the annual Vestry Retreat which begins with a dinner on Friday evening at the Gooding house and continues with a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. visioning and planning session at the Balcunas cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains. Not a bad way to spend an evening and a day!

In my sermon on Sunday I talked a bit about discernment--specifically, discerning God's will for us as individuals and as a community. That's really what we were doing as a congregation at the Annual Meeting and what we will be doing as a Vestry at our retreat. We aren't burdened with the task of coming up with some whiz-bang, foolproof way of doubling the size of our congregation in a year's time or otherwise coming up with some 'resurrection plan.' We are merely to enter into God's presence, to quiet our hearts and minds, and--in the silence of our hearts and in the discussions between us--to discern God's will for St. Edward's and to begin to put people, plans, and policies in place to carry out what God wills in partnership with God. No human agency could have planned the resurrection, the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, nor any of the myriad of large and little miracles that are sprinkled throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus' earthly ministry. Similarly, I look forward not to planning for God, but planning in partnership with what we know God is doing and will continue to do through us.

Before we even get to the people, plans, and programs, we will also ask God and one another: What is the new St. Edward's? Who are we as a congregation? What are our values? What are our strengths and weaknesses? What is unique about us? Such questions of identity and character necessarily precede planning. This, too, will be an ongoing process.

More to come!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An Evening Prayer Service for the People of Haiti

(Updated 01/26/10)
Tuesday, January 26 at 7 p.m. St. Edward's in San Jose
Haiti Prayer Service Raises over $500!
Updated with links and additional information on 1/23/10

A prayer service combining silence, song, prayer, and an opportunity to give via Episcopal Relief and Development was held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 26 at St. Edward's Episcopal Church, 15040 Union Ave., San Jose (corner of Union and Hwy 85). The small group of 20+ people raised over $500 to go toward Haiti relief through ERD.

In response, from Lauren Stanley: "on behalf of the Bishop of Haiti, The Rt. Rev. Jean Zache Duracin, thank you for your love and support."

There is now a video available, taken by the Wall Street Journal of how the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti is helping in the midst of this tragedy. (Broken link to video fixed 1/25/10)

Update (1/23/10): Here is an interview of The Reverend Lauren Stanley, Appointed Missionary to Haiti, on the situation there. There is a 4 minute version that aired on the radio. There is also 16+ minute version.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"The gone..."

The following are the two parts to the sermon of my friend, colleague, fellow Virginia Seminary alum, and appointed missionary of The Episcopal Church to Haiti The Reverend Lauren Stanley. She was in Virginia at the time of the earthquake and so is doing what she can from hundreds of miles away.

Lauren Stanley Sermon, Part I

Lauren Stanley Sermon, Part II

Pray for her, for those she cares about but of whom she has no news, and indeed for all the people of Haiti.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stewards of God's Grace

"When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him." - John 2:10-11
As noted in my earlier post, when calamity strikes, it is often difficult to respond at all, much less respond helpfully. Couple that with the miracle at the wedding at Cana that is the Gospel reading for this past Sunday, and you have celebration colliding with calamity.

Beyond asking the question "Where is God in all of this?" (which is addressed in the video in the previous post) we hopefully move to the question "Where does God want me to be in all of this?" There are a variety of answers to that question. In the short term, the answer is to give money that can both be transmitted quickly and can support the local economy rather than collecting food, water, and other necessities and shipping them there. It may not be as personally satisfying for us to click a "donate" button or write a check, but this isn't really about us anyway.

In the longer term, it is worth thinking about what sort of long-term "partnership with providence" we might direct towards Haiti. In other words, what is God already doing and planning to do there and how might we most effectively partner with God in that effort? The fact is that we are merely stewards of divine wine--beverage of the Heavenly Banquet. We neither purchase nor create the wine of God's blessings, we simply convey it to those who need to "taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8). The wonderful thing is that this tasting and seeing is not limited to those in extreme physical need. We need to taste that Kingdom wine, that celebration in the midst of calamity, as much as anyone else does. It is in being stewards, being purveyors of God's grace and mercy, that we know ourselves to be both blessed and a blessing to others.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Speechless in San Jose

In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti on Tuesday, I've been searching for words to speak of the unspeakable. Many others have spoken, some with less than helpful words. In the wake of Pat Robertson's assertion that this is somehow God's retribution for an ancient pact with the devil, my friend The Reverend Frank Logue and his parish, King of Peace in Kingsland, Georgia, have crafted this helpful response. If a picture is worth a thousand words, than the following says it all

Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Baptism and the Church

In my sermon yesterday morning, I discussed the three aspects of what it means to be baptized in the name of the Trinity: our identity as children of God (Father), our relationship with God and other people (Son), and our service to the world in God's name (Spirit). I also talked about the fact that three things we do as a church mirror and strengthen those aspects of what it means to be a baptized Christian: worship, fellowship, and outreach.

Worship is arguably the only thing that distinguishes the church from a social or service club. Social clubs are created fr and sustained by fellowship. Service clubs are created for and sustained by service. Churches are created for and sustained by worship. When we come together as the Body of Christ and sing, pray, and share the Eucharist, we are most clearly and vividly the church and we are reminded of our identity as children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, and vessels of the Spirit. Worship is the seedbed of spiritual strength and renewal. One of the most important things I do as Priest-in-Charge of St. Edward's is to plan and lead worship. Perhaps it is the most important thing, especially if preaching is included in that category.

Yet worship is closely connected with fellowship. Connecting with God and connecting with one another are two sides of the same relational coin. The Eucharist is fundamentally a communal meal and literally cannot happen alone. Even priests and bishops are not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist alone--we must have at least one other person with whom to "make Eucharist." Those personal connections are what make weekly events like coffe hour and covenant groups so critical--without them the church simply becomes a spiritual "filling station" where people wander through to get their weekly spiritual "fill up." Church is meant to be far more than that--it is a group of covenant people linked together on a spiritual journey.

If a church has both worship and fellowship it is still deficient if it lacks any sort of effort at outreach. There are different definitions for outreach. In much of the Episcopal Church, we limit outreach to social service--meeting people's basic need for food, clothing, etc... Our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Lutheran church see outreach as evangelism--meeting people's need for a saving relationship with Christ by sharing the Gospel with such people. Both are important and are, again, two sides of the same coin.

Worship, fellowship, and outreach thus form the three basic purposes of the church. At St. Edward's, we have adopted Rick Warren's five purposes of the church that closely coincide with these three. In our case, Outreach is split into Ministry and Evangelism, leaving Discipleship. I would suggest that while Christian formation as a classroom or small group activity has its place, discipleship really permeates all that we do. When we worship, we are formed as disciples. When we strengthen our relationships with one another, we are formed as disciples. When we serve others in God's name and speak of the power of God in our lives, we do so as disciples.

Worship. Fellowship. Outreach. Are you involved in all three of these? We're trying to strengthen them all at St. Edward's. Come join us!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Faith and Fear from the Beginning

Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. -- Matthew 2:13
I'm back from a week-long vacation and slowly getting caught up on parish-related items, including this blog. As we begin a new calendar year and as we consider the Gospel passage from Matthew appointed for the Second Sunday after Christmas, I am reminded of the constant tension between faith and fear as well as the context of fear and danger which has always existed, even since the time of Jesus' birth. With the news of the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day as well as the five year anniversary of the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, no one needs to be reminded that we live in perilous and uncertain times. Had Joseph, Jesus, or any of the disciples succumbed to fear, things would be very different now.

So, if we as Christians are to choose faith over fear, what does that look like, exactly? Since we are now in the season of Epiphany, I would submit that it looks like letting the light of Christ shine in the darkness. It means stepping out in faith, taking risks, and asserting in word and dead that love and light conquer hate and darkness. As the prologue to the Gospel of John (appointed for the First Sunday of Christmas) states: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

Our response is thus a continuous assertion that faith ultimately wins out over fear. As we enter the new year at St. Edward's, we continue to live out the Benedictine values of stability, obedience, and conversion of life to the best of our ability and with God's help. Happy New Year, and Blessed Epiphany!