Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Getting Out and Getting Real

"I won't argue that I have all of the answers. I won't claim to have named all of the challenges that you are facing. For all that we hold in common, each of us have an experience that is all our own. But I will offer you a place to begin doing your own spiritual work, a place to talk about what is happening "out there" in the spiritual landscape that we all journey, a conversation partner, a place to begin thinking spiritually about the life you live, and thoughts to build on or to reject. Come what may -- and your responses will have a lot to do with what we discuss -- my hope is that you will be a little clearer about what you believe, why you believe it, why it matters, and how it shapes your life."
-- "The Dave Test,"  The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr.
I had a great experience today--I went and had lunch with our Priest Associate for Evangelism, Julie Nelson, at her office. In many ways it was a 19 year flashback to my "before seminary" days as a Technical Support Specialist at a computer hardware and software company. I left the secular workforce in July 1992, entered seminary, graduated and was ordained in 1995 and have spent over 15 years in one parish ministry or another. It was almost surreal being back in that environment--and I was only in the cafeteria!

Julie can probably speak to this more than I can, but after our great lunch talking about future possibilities at St. Edward's I drove back to the church thinking: "How many of the hundreds of people on that campus have any relationship with any church of any kind and how many of them will be impacted (or fail to be so) by the Episcopal Church?" It seemed like "the church world" (where I spend 98% of my working life) and the "real world" are, literally, worlds apart. I eat, drink, and live church--it's my passion, perhaps occasionally my obsession. On my best days, that passion goes hand-in-hand with my love of God in Christ and my conviction that God is at work in the world and in and through each one of us. On my less-than-best days, it is simply a passion for sustaining the institution and something that can push more important things to the side if I'm not careful.

Being out there "in the world" forces me to confront a critical question: What does the church have to say to, for example, a 30-something software engineer with a wife and children, who works long hours, has precious little family time, and the usual raft of personal challenges common to everyone? Is he going to get up on Sunday morning and show up at 9 a.m., family in tow, to experience worship at St. Edward's? Probably not, unless he has either heard of us (positively!) from someone, someone invites him to church, or he attends some other event where he is introduced to what we offer folks here. I don't have to go 25 minutes north to Julie's office to think about this, either. About 1,000 feet away from where I'm typing in my office is Xilinx, a microchip company literally just over the overpass. I'm guessing that some of the same types of people who work where Julie does work at Xilinx as well.

My thoughts about connecting "the church world" with "the real world" coalesced when I ran across the article: The Dave Test, a portion of which I've quoted above. The author, an Episcopal Priest who has written several books, is talking about his (then forthcoming) weekly column: The Spiritual Landscape. However, in my thinking, his vision for his column is precisely the vision I have for the church. That is what I want the church to be, or at least to be more of---a place where people can come with their stories of both joy and loss, triumph and tragedy, wholeness and brokenness, and feel that St. Edward's is a place where they can feel comfortable exploring and thinking about their lives in a spiritual way. I'm not sure exactly what that looks like with in our particular context, and with our particular assets and challenges, but I am sure that we're not there yet. Food for thought, though....

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