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.