In our Baptismal Covenant, we pledge that we will “strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” The world is crying for justice and peace, yet controversy lurks even in definitions of terms. Like a squirrel kicking up dried leaves, we scurry through the space provided for conversation, anxious to find our own safe place.
How can we make the conversation space safe enough for everyone? As we consider this, some self-reflection might be beneficial.
In her book, An Altar in the World, acclaimed spiritual writer Barbara Brown Taylor writes about twelve practices that engage us to experience God. The book helps us recognize some of the altars around us, which Taylor describes as ordinary-looking places where human beings meet the divine “More” they are seeking and sometimes call God. For your prayerful consideration about how to live in respectful peace with others, check out Chapter 6, The Practice of Encountering Others.
On Easter morning, I will offer the short, sweet, three-point sermon that I’ve offered before:
We gather today to celebrate Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection.
And I want to say three things about the Feast of the Resurrection that we celebrate this day:
1) The Resurrection is a mystery that cannot be described in words.
2) The Resurrection can’t just be celebrated by our intellects and in our heads. It requires our whole selves.
3) The Resurrection is best celebrated with others.
So, rather than give any more words in response to the Gospel and the Feast of the Day, we will dance.
At that point, the feelings in the congregation are a blend of excitement, anxiety, curiosity and relief (for many are only occasional church visitors, and not particularly revved for a sermon). Then I call on a good sport of the congregation to help me show folks how the dance goes.
At a recent meeting, one of the assignments for our dinner conversation was to answer the question, “Name one thing that you cannot live without.” Given the occasion, many of the answers were frivolous and funny e.g. chocolate, hot water, the ocean etc. It is a question worth pondering seriously and also in turn asking in the context of our life as a congregation, “Name one thing that our congregation cannot live without.”
Personally, after we get past the life-saving items (food, water, shelter), the answers should reflect things that are truly important in our life: our family, friends, and yes, most importantly, our faith. Obviously, whatever we think we cannot live without is where we should spend our time and treasure. Experience shows that problems arise when these areas are not nurtured.
If you want to get better at something, you practice. That’s true for sports, or musical instruments, or spiritual disciplines.
Want to become more diligent in prayer? There’s no shortage of prayer practices that have developed through the centuries. Want to read your Bible more? We’ve got you covered.
But what if you want to get better at evangelism? You practice.
I hope you’ve kept up in our reading of Romans. If so, we’ve been in Romans 12 this week. As I read through this chapter, I’m struck by what Paul is pointing out. He lists several gifts that may be given to some of us: Prophecy, preaching, exhortation, ministry, giving, leading, compassion.
That list isn’t exhaustive, but it is interesting. We’d agree that not everyone has the spiritual gift of preaching or prophecy. But giving? Compassion? Those seem like qualities all followers of Jesus should have. But Paul seems to be saying here that some folks will be particularly gifted in those areas.
But that’s not even the most interesting thing to me in this chapter. After we get through that list of qualities that some folks might have more than others, Paul then hits us right between the eyes with a quality he assumes all followers of Jesus will have in abundance: Love.
There is a recent surge in interest around evangelism in The Episcopal Church, in part due to inspiration and interest drawn from Bishop Curry’s royal sermon. There are wonderful resources available on TEC’s website, and a recently-launched Facebook Group allows folks to share ideas and encouragement.
I love the energy and momentum around evangelism, but I worry that we often are blurring the lines between evangelism and marketing.
Are we talking about how great our Presiding Bishop is, or how beautiful our parishes are, or how wonderful our music can be? Those are all good things, but they are marketing.
The week after Easter, we always hear the story of Thomas’ questions. And in some places, Thomas gets a bad rap as “doubting.” But I don’t even think this story has much to do with Thomas. Do you know what bothers me most about that story?
The other 10 disciples had already seen the risen Christ, they received the Holy Spirit, but they’re still hiding behind locked doors a week later!
I sometimes feel like that, too. I have experienced Christ, I have received the Holy Spirit, but too often I sit behind a closed and locked door. But Jesus wants us to go! Jesus wants us to share the Good News we’ve received with a broken and hurting world.
That’s called evangelism.
This past New Year’s Eve, as I was awaiting the countdown with my family, I was able to pray with more than 1,000 people just by opening up Facebook.
Ever since Hurricane Harvey, my parish has been hosting morning devotions and Compline every Monday through Saturday on Facebook Live. While it was still raining and streets were impassable, we started offering up these times for folks to come together and pray, with my rector and I taking turns officiating.
When I lead the prayers, I’m usually joined by parishioners, family members, colleagues in ministry, elementary school classmates, and (more often than not) a bishop or two. It has been a wonderful example of how technology can be used to bring people together, which we’ve talked about before in this space.
Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with friend or stranger sounds a bit scary. To make it less so, we are advised to prepare what we would say whenever the opportunity arises. Writing one’s faith story is a powerful experience when done in prayerful partnership with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the resulting words on paper seem so compelling, the would-be story teller transforms into a would-be author. Or at least dreams about it.
Recently, dreams found paths toward reality at a Writing for Your Life conference in Nashville, Tennessee. More than 100 spiritual writers – some would-be and some already published – gathered like pilgrims at a hallowed place. No candles in this grotto - just inspiration from best-selling authors Barbara Brown Taylor and Rachel Held Evans, and information from other writers, teachers and editors about the craft and business of writing for publication.
The most recent issue of the Diocese of Texas’ Dialog magazine is focused on faith, culture, and the ways that we live our faith in the midst of our daily lives. This got me thinking about some of the places I’ve seen folks serving Christ in the day-to-day.
There’s Dr. Beverly Vick, an angel on earth who is a first grade teacher in Alexandria, Va. For my oldest son, and countless other children for whom school can be challenging, Dr. Vick makes learning come alive. For my son’s birthday that year, he invited Dr. Vick to dinner, and I was amazed at the stories she shared of a life dedicated to teaching. And underpinning it all is her deep faith and love of Jesus.
In the middle of May, the Church observes the custom of Rogation Days. In the spirit of this tradition, we offer five resources to help your congregation get outside and into your neighborhood. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
What is it about tables? We all hear the anecdotes and research about the importance of family dinner around a table. But what about dinner around a table with our church family, or even our community?
The Diocese of Texas started a project several years ago called Sharing Faith Dinners. As its website states, “Sharing Faith dinners invite people to gather around a meal and participate in life together. At each dinner, a moderator will prompt participants to share stories of their faith journey with printed questions. Sharing Faith provides a welcoming and safe way to engage one another, articulate our faith and build relationships.”
Ever thought of a capital campaign as a form of 'evangelism'? No, a campaign is not just about money, it's about cultivating new and existing relationships that nurture the vitality and growth of your congregation. A capital campaign offers a variety of creative ways for parishioners to interact both inside and outside the parish. Building relationships is as important for the future of your church as receiving monetary gifts in a campaign. Here are three groups you should intentionally reach out to in your capital campaign.
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.
Discussions of crowd size have blanketed the news this past month. Friday’s crowd was small, and Saturday’s crowd was bigger, so we judge the value of these two ideas based solely on audience participation.
The Episcopal Church knows a thing or two about decreasing crowd sizes. Too often, our “success” and significance as parishes (and as a national church) are measured by large numbers and our average Sunday attendance. The average ASA for parishes across the country dropped from 60 in 2014 to 58 in 2015. We can’t dispute those facts. But what if we could provide more meaningful information, by asking alternative questions?
“The first significant wave of multisite churches started coming onto the North American church scene roughly two decades ago,” writes Warren Bird, director of research for the Leadership Network, capturing the history of this recent movement. “In the 1980s there were well under 100 and in the 1990s at most 200. During the 2000s growth increased at a rapid pace with the greatest number of multisites being birthed within the last ten years.” (Leadership Network / Generis Multisite Church Scorecard, 2014, p.5; download here.)
A multisite church is defined as one church that meets in multiple locations. This recent category in North American Christianity is the result of megachurches who, for various reasons, struggled with the question about whether to build an even bigger building or plant additional satellite campuses. The shift from mega-turning-mega is, I suspect, also a smart response to the larger demographic and cultural turn away from ‘big box’ anything and toward more boutique and locally-owned, locally-sourced products, Christianity included.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation get ready for Christmas. Please share this digest with others in your congregation and invite them to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.
What does it mean to communicate in a way that models Christ? How do we share good news with our friends, neighbors and strangers? In this issue of Vestry Papers, we invite you to consider how the sharing of stories can take on many different forms – conversations, pictures, videos or even performances. What they have in common though, is inviting others into fellowship, community and love.
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…
Evangelism. Sharing our stories. Being comfortable talking about Jesus and the role faith plays in our lives. Making this easier – and also more difficult – is the array of resources available to almost all of us. At our disposal are tools to make our voices, our words, and even our images, heard and seen, across the room, across our communities, across the entire world. Today we offer ideas and examples of how Episcopalians are using their voices and their gifts to share their stories and understanding of their faith, using both the oldest and the newest forms of communication.
I hope the experiences and ideas of these congregations and individuals spark a conversation in your congregation: