In the middle of my first ‘stewardship’ season as a new rector, now ten years ago, I was doing everything by the book and already feeling overwhelmed and unenthused. The congregational leaders appeared only mildly interested in doing a pledge drive. And yet it’s drilled into us, in most every way, that the fall is the time to do stewardship, be intentional, make sure you make the proper ask, but of course couch it in terms of God’s larger mission because you’re not just asking people to pay the church’s salaries and light bills – oh, and remember to do stewardship year-‘round so it’s not only an annual request for generous pledges.
At a local clergy meeting that fall, the wiser, more senior rector of a neighbor parish said to me, “I simply hate this time of year.”
All over Houston, private citizens pulled their fishing boats behind pickups. They launched their vessels at the water's edge, which could be anywhere that a street became a bayou.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett put out an extraordinary call in the midst of the storm. He said the fire department, Coast Guard and police are overwhelmed — they needed people to help their neighbors. And folks responded.
The boat that evacuated my family belonged to four fishing buddies from Virginia, who drove through the night to come help. Ordinary citizens, they responded and teamed up with a county constable and starting rescuing people.
In 2015, Vital Posts recorded the planting of a new Episcopal congregation in Brownsburg, Indiana, just outside Indianapolis (Parachute Drop). Rev. Gray Lesesne, D.Min., Church Planter/Pastor, “parachuted” into this suburban area and worked the coffee shop crowd, discovering what he was called to find: diverse people seeking spirituality.
The small seed of a congregation that Fr. Gray planted has grown to nearly 130 people of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church. He says it is “a Spirit-filled operation that has gone beyond our wildest dreams.” The congregation stays united around a mission and identity rooted in service: Good Samaritan Episcopal Church is a growing community of open-minded Christians who seek to do what Jesus taught us: to include, love, and serve all people without exception.
We hear a lot about quiet time for reflection. This weekend, rather than quiet, I overheard a cacophony of reflection. This past weekend was our second Missional Voices National Gathering, and more than 200 clergy, laity, and seminarians from around the country gathered to discuss the mission of God and our neighborhoods.
I could tell you all about the wonderful presenters (videos available soon!), or about the worship, or any other of the planned and programmed activities. But this isn’t a sales pitch, so I won’t. Instead I want to tell you about the trouble we had in getting people to stop talking.
No, this post isn’t about Drive Through Ashes. Instead, it’s about how God can even use my addiction to Diet Dr Pepper.
Since I started at my parish in July, I’ve probably stopped by our local Sonic at least twice per week to grab my morning caffeine in the form of soda. It’s always the same car hop bringing me my food with a smile and a warm welcome. If some people become friendly with their neighborhood barista, I’ve got my neighborhood car hop.
I’ve been reading a lot of books about “neighboring” recently (see -1>here or -1>here for a couple I recommend). The underlying principle is that we should seek to mold our churches (and parishioners) into good neighbors. That’s the essence of the “parish,” isn’t it? To serve the local community, the area in the defined borders of the parish.
Ash Wednesday is coming. For at least one day out of the year, we’re going to be reminded that we are dust, and that we’re going to die some day. Fun times!
Over the past several years, this solemn fast day has been infused with a missional fervor in the popular Ashes to Go outings. Part of a church-wide movement, Ashes to Go moves this imposing act from the confines of church buildings to the people in their daily lives. Interested passers-by are marked with the sign of the cross and invited to seek forgiveness and renewal (and hopefully be prayed for!). Locations to receive ashes are designed to meet people wherever they are, including train stations, bus stops, coffee shops, church parking lots, street corners, and more.
My wife and I recently spent a few days of vacation in New Orleans. Jackson Square is one of my favorite places on the planet, largely because of its collective and eclectic group of artists, performers, and tourists.
This time I happened upon a street magician that had a pretty lousy show, to be honest. But one thing he said at the beginning stuck with me. “The only thing I’ll guarantee you is this: by the end of our time together, you’ll be part of a circle of strangers all hoping for the same thing.” Maybe we’ll all be hoping this ends soon, I thought…
Almost like those moments that begin sometime late at night Christmas Eve and continue the next several days, the world begins to hush during Thanksgiving week. People re-connect and spend precious time with their loved ones, and there’s not much noise or commotion. I really like this time of year. I like it for so many reasons – great feasts among them – but I also like this pause, this hush.
A harvest festival, such as what we’re doing this week, does that to us – gives us pause to consider, encourages us to take stock, provides a moment to focus, even strategize about how we can best invest in what really matters. It’s significant that the Thanksgiving holiday and our own stewardship/fundraising practices in the church fall in the same timeframe. For one, they’re both connected to ancient harvest practices. On another level, though, they’re both about healthy practices of looking back and going forward, a dynamic, communal motion that is really one and the same – giving thanks for what God has already provided and, based on God’s good generosity, making sure we’ve put those resources toward where God is leading.
At the Diocese of Texas Clergy Conference last month, Bishop Doyle opened his address to the clergy by showing a brief clip about planetary exploration of Mars. He wanted to propose a bold vision of missional work on Mars…and then jokingly said everything else he talked about would seem reasonable in comparison.
But, it got me thinking. Why not a mission to Mars? That started me down a rabbit (er, Google) hole that led to National Geographic. As a matter of fact, a new series premieres tonight on the National Geographic cable channel about a fictional (although realistic) mission to Mars in the not-too-distant future. I’ve seen the pilot episode online, and it is fascinating.
I won’t be leading any missionary journeys to Mars, but I think I am learning a thing or two about missional work from this series.
A few weeks ago we gathered in Alexandria, Va., for the Missional Voices Oneday gathering, where we focused on liturgy, music, and the missional church. Dr. Jim Farwell, the liturgy professor at VTS, discussed the intersection of mission and worship. “There is no such thing as a ‘missional liturgy,’” he said. “Because all liturgy is missional.”
What the Church does (or should do) is all missional. But I think too often we forget that.
Congregations everywhere are concerned with their growth. There are books, magazines, and inspiring speakers who all share strategies for growth, and church leaders diligently listen, plan, and implement. This is a good thing. It is important that church leaders be diligent and intentional about growing their communities. It is also important, however, that the growth of congregations be not only numerical but also spiritual.
I hesitate saying this. I know many churches who use “spiritual growth” as a crutch for excusing their lack of growth in the areas of evangelism, formation, and leadership development. As with most things in life, it is not one thing or the other. Growth in a congregation, a sign of life and vitality, is about all kinds of growth at the same time. Spiritual growth is not measured by the increase in warm feelings, nor by engaging in passionate discussions about religious matters, but it is measured by the way a person, or church, lives. Living in Christ and bearing fruit to God’s glory is a mark of discipleship (John 15:4-8). And how is this expressed? Through our love—again not an emotion but an action, loving our neighbors as ourselves, seeking to serve Christ by serving our neighbor, and serving the least of these (Matthew 25:40).
When my sons tell me they want to be race car drivers when they grow up, I think “just wait until you’re in the real world.” But why? At what point do we stop dreaming about what we can be and do?
How can we begin to dream about and carry out our work as a way to participate in the mission of God?
Dreams Aren’t Just For Children
Since deadlines don't respect vacations, I've filed the August edition of my In Good Faith column from an undisclosed coffee shop somewhere in the world. I write about that thing that's on many of our minds this week -- the Olympics in Rio. Enjoy. If you can pull yourself away from the TV long enough to read it...
Let the Games Begin
As I write this, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio are in full swing. Like much of the world, I have tuned in to a few events so far — some biking and swimming and a touch of women’s soccer. Also, like much of the world, I lounged on the couch and stuffed my face with food as I watched these world-class athletes put their bodies to the test.
The Feast of St. Nicholas is a wonderful way for families and congregations to explore and understand the great tradition behind the commercialized Santa Claus. A bishop of Myra (what is now Turkey), Saint Nicholas is remembered as a grace-filled, faithful, and generous man. Perhaps he was jolly too, but more importantly he lived out his faith in big and small ways. He was not only imprisoned for his faith, but he also participated in the councils of the church, including the gathering that developed the Nicene Creed, which we still say today.
Numerous legends surround St. Nicholas. In one story, he provides bags of gold (or gold balls) for the dowries of three poor daughters. According to custom, Nicholas heaved the bags through an open window, where they landed in shoes. This led to the custom of hanging stockings or in some places, leaving out shoes for gifts on St. Nicholas night. Often oranges are given as a symbol of the gold balls.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Dayton, Ohio, is hosting a particularly engaging event for the celebration of St. Nicholas – one that both is playful and joyful (even jolly!) but also lives into the generous spirit of the saint.
Their event, cleverly called Goody2Shoes, invites the community to bring shoes to the front steps of the church on the morning of December 5. (Folks are encouraged to add a note with their names to the shoes.) Overnight, St. Nick will fill the shoes with sweets and gifts. On Sunday, December 6, the feast day of St. Nicholas, participants can return to the church in the morning to pick up their goodies.
But there’s a twist!
This is the last of a 3-part series about the relationship ministry of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in South Bend, Indiana. Read part 1 and part 2.
Holy Trinity in South Bend, Indiana, is a church with a passion for processionals with “smells and bells” around its neighborhood, and a penchant for developing relationships over food. So, what better symbol for one of its latest neighborhood events, a barbecue cook-off, than a grill-turned-thurible!
Everyone who competed in the “Holy Smoke” cook-off was asked to prepare 5 pounds of meat.
“We invited neighbors to come help feed neighbors,” explains Holy Trinity priest-in-charge Terri Bays.
The day included fire prevention education provided by the South Bend Fire Department and kids getting to sit behind the wheel of a squad car at the invitation of police officers who came for the food and fun.
Holy Smoke was another example of how Holy Trinity’s ministry is with its neighbors and community, not “for” them. For the past three years, parishioners have worshipped and prayed not just within the walls of the church, but on the sidewalks of the neighborhood. They’ve invited neighbors, police, and other government officials to eat, meet, and work together to combat crime and poverty.