Get the Hell out of Church
By J. Fletcher Lowe and Demi Prentiss, part of the Vestry Papers issue on ‘Reboot’ Your Vestry (January 2016)
“It was a revelation to me! I tended to view ‘God’s work’ as what the priests and choir directors and youth ministers and Mother Teresas of the world do. I viewed the ‘work world’ as separate from the ‘faith world.’ It turned that assumption on its ear to see that maybe simply applying the talents God gave me is, in fact, also doing ‘God’s work.’ As dry and un-faith-like as writing up a contract sounds – it did seem possible that somehow that type of work might also serve God’s purpose.”
– Lisa, corporate attorney
WOW!! This lawyer got it!! She made the connection between liturgy and life, Sunday and Monday, worship and work. Her ministry, her vocation, her calling was right there in her office where she spent most of her God-given time and talent day after day, week after week. Alleluia!! She recognized that, for her, witnessing effectively for Christ meant getting out of church.
What facilitated Lisa coming to that “aha?” For most of my ordained life (writes Fletcher), my pastoral visits have included not only hospitals but also visiting people in their places of work. After talking about what they do there, I steer the conversation to what is the faith connection with what they do. For most people it is the first time that question has been raised, so the conversations explore, as it did with Lisa, the relationship of their work and their faith. For many, it becomes an “aha” moment.
A congregation’s rector and vestry can open the door for people to perceive that faith-life connection. Workplace visits (which aren’t limited to offices – they include homes and factories and schools and more) are just one way a congregation can help “Equip the saints for their ministries,” (Ephesians 4:12) connecting the God-inspired work they do in daily life.
Let us suggest an approach. Consider for a minute a base camp for those hiking Denali or Everest. What is its raison d’être, its reason for being? What are some of the things it provides the hikers? Take a moment to brainstorm your own list. You likely named equipment, food, guidance, support, encouragement, and first aid. Translate that to a congregation – your congregation. Are they not some of the same things that a congregation is to be about? Notice that the base camp/congregational focus is not on itself but on supporting the hikers in their work, the hike. The base camp/congregation exists for the good of the hikers/members, not vice versa. Sometimes congregations get that reversed, acting as though the hikers are there to make the congregation run better. When the congregation is truly mission-focused, the base camp/congregation is not the destination. Instead, the congregation supports the hikers’ journey, their daily lives where they are called to “do the work you have given us to do….” (Book of Common Prayer p. 366)
Martin Luther put it this way:
The housemaid on her knees scrubbing the floor is doing a work as pleasing in the sight of Almighty as the priest on his knees before the altar saying Mass.
When the vestry prioritizes the calling of all its members to live out their baptism in their daily lives, how can its oversight of liturgy, formation, pastoral care, and communications enhance that calling? Supportive resources for this journey are available. The book we co-authored, Radical Sending: Go to Love and Serve (Church Publishing/Morehouse) and our web site (www.radicalsending.com) provide practical, congregation-tested ways of leading a congregation to choose this shift in focus. MemberMission (www.membermission.org) also offers supportive programs and information in its “seven daily mission fields.” Additional resources are included at the end of this article.
It is the dismissal at the end of worship in our Episcopal liturgy that sends us out to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” (BCP p. 366), whether it be in our workplace or our families or our community or our schools, for that is where God is. At Christmas, we celebrate the living presence of the incarnate God in all of life. “He pitched his tent and dwelt among us,” as one translation renders John 1:14. It is not a question of taking God somewhere. God is already there. Our calling is to recognize and collaborate with that presence in all that we are and do. Our baptism is our commissioning.
The story goes of a rector greeting the people at the church door after a Sunday service being interrupted by a man who has just raced up from outside. He calls out: When does the service begin? Before the rector can answer, a woman in the line calls out: The service begins now. She got the dismissal right. She was ready to “get the hell out of church” so she could be the church in her daily life, experiencing a Monday morning “hangover” from her Sunday morning experience!!
We invite you to catch the vision of church as base camp where, when the worship is over, the people are sent out and the service begins. We invite you to re-imagine your own congregation as a “go-ing concern.” We encourage you, too, to get the hell out of church.
- What might happen if, at the start of each vestry meeting, one or more of the vestry members shared a scripture verse that they see as related to their outside-of-church work, and briefly explained the connection?
- What might happen if, each Sunday during Lent, the Prayers of the People included asking for prayers of thanksgiving and support for people in a given profession (e.g. law enforcement, health care, finance, education, food service, retail, communication, transportation, government, etc.)?
- What might happen if your church newsletter published monthly articles by members of the congregation, telling how their faith is connected to their work?
- What might happen if the rector as part of his/her Lenten rule, set aside lunchtime one day a week to visit a member where he/she works and discuss the Sunday/Monday connection? Or, a lay leader invited a member of the clergy to a workplace visit for a similar conversation?
Demi Prentiss In addition to shamelessly promoting Radical Sending, which she co-authored with J. Fletcher Lowe, Demi Prentiss works with Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) as a program consultant in Endowment Management Solutions, and cultivates a coaching practice serving non-profit leaders and small business owners. She lives in Denton, Texas, celebrating the gifts of an energetic husband and family, engaging work, and a faithful Catahoula Leopard dog.
J. Fletcher Lowe is the convener of Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission, a group of lay persons, priests, and bishops committed to promoting the ministry of all the baptized in their daily lives. He co-authored Radical Sending: Go to Love and Serve with Demi Prentiss. Rector emeritus, Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, Fletcher authored the LeaderResources book Baptism: the Event and the Adventure, and co-edited the book, Ministry in Daily Life.
- “Church as Base Camp” by J. Fletcher Lowe, ECF Vital Practices’ Vestry Papers, March 2014
- Faith@Work www.faith-at-work.net
- Ministry in Daily Life: A Guide to Living the Baptismal Covenant by Linda L. Grenz and J. Fletcher Lowe
- Radical Sending: Go to Love and Serve by Demi Prentiss and J. Fletcher Lowe, (Church Publishing/Morehouse Publishing) and the Radical Sending website
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- We invite you to re-imagine your own congregation as a “go-ing concern.”