Culture has completely shifted. I’d go so far as to say there’s a good chance that Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) for most of the last century was artificially inflated (and not just because the ushers double-counted).
People went to church because culture went to church. It was written into the laws of our cities, counties, and states. That’s why stores would close down on Sundays. That’s why so much of the whole world would stop on Sundays.
Because culture went to church, but now culture has shifted.
When I first arrived at one of my parishes, St. George’s in Valley Lee, Maryland, I found in the center drawer of the desk in the rector’s office a bunch of 3 x 5 index cards, scrawled with handwritten notes. “Visited Mildred X,” read one note, detailing the date and time of visit, location, and how she was feeling. “Took Holy Communion to Cedar Lane,” went another, summarizing the scripture lessons and number of persons present at that afternoon service of worship. The interim priest, a clergyperson evidently gifted with pastoral care, had nourished a rather extensive pastoral care network, and he had developed a fine system of reporting, back and forth, such that he was in the loop but wasn’t the sole caregiver. It was an old-fashioned approach, and the filing system left somethings to be desired (they were just cards shoved in a desk drawer, after all), but it was a beautiful testament to a lovely way of doing church together.
We go to great lengths to welcome people in our homes - but those folks we invite all too often are people that we know and love already. Most folks who come to my house know me, and understand my worldview, and we probably get along socially.
And I think too often we do the same thing with our congregations?
That’s being nice; that’s not hospitality.
In my travels this Summer I had the opportunity to interact, albeit briefly, with Anglican churches in the Bahamas, Panama and London. What these experiences illustrated is that while sharing similar religious tradition and worship styles, cultural nuances are very important and offer an opportunity to learn, incorporate best practices and grow in our ministry.
As Episcopalians and Americans, oftentimes in our local and international travels we have a mindset of being more evolved and therefore enter into these interactions without a spirit of inquiry and discovery.
I’ve found a way to make Christmas last all year. Or at least a bit of the spirit of the season.
When I store the decorations for another year, I’m always faced with a dilemma: What should I do with the Christmas cards? It’s the one time of year that folks send a snail mail card, and even if most have a simple signature, they are still a tangible connection to a longtime friend, a faraway relative, neighbors, and fellow parishioners. I hate to throw them away but I also don’t want to become a Christmas card hoarder.
A few years ago, a friend (and Episcopal priest) sent me a handwritten note in the middle of the year and explained that she kept her Christmas cards for a special purpose. Each week, she would draw a card from the pile, add the person to her prayer list, and then write and mail a note.
A recent lectionary reading, Romans 16:1-16, got me thinking...
In this passage, Paul commends to the church in Rome a long list of friends in Christ. They are women and men whose faith and service Paul has witnessed, experienced, and sometimes by which he benefited.
Priscilla and Aquila “risked their lives” for Paul. He writes that he and “all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.”
Epenetus was “ the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.” Andronicus and Junias were in prison with Paul. Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis, are all praised for their “very hard work” for Christ and the church. The mother of Rufus was like a mother to Paul.
Three months into St. Mary’s commitment to the Safe Parking project, I have a few observations.
One is that it is going well. None of the big problems that people imagine have come to pass. Our vehicle-dwelling neighbors report sleeping better and seem to coexist peacefully and happily with the many other folks who overlap with them at church, including lots of programs for kids and families.
Another is that the concept is very popular. There are lots of people in lots of congregations that think it’s a great idea. There are people working really hard to get the idea through their congregational decision making processes. But so far no other congregation in greater Los Angeles has actually gotten to the starting line. Besides St. Mary’s the other lots run by Safe Parking LA are all on public land.
How we Episcopalians love to experience a thundering organ and rousing choral music, complete with hand bells and chimes and sunshine beaming through the stained glass, wait… why is that family leaving?
This article is the third in a series about improving inclusion for people with disabilities in our faith communities. Some disabilities are invisible. Those who have particular sensitivity to noise and lights may not be able to enjoy a typical worship service.
James Turrell is perhaps my favorite artist. He uses light and space in new ways to help people see new things. Or, rather, he helps people see things in a new way. During our recent visit to Newfield in Indianapolis, a docent invite my wife and me into a room to see one of his works, Acton. I’ve only ever been to his skyspaces before, so I didn’t know what to expect.
As we stood at the back of the room, we looked ahead at a white wall with a dark painting hung in the center. Or so I thought. Acton is one of his “space division” series, which “consists of a large, horizontal aperture which appears to be a flat painting...but is a light-emitting opening to a seemingly infinite, light filled room beyond.”
In my city, Fort Wayne, Indiana, AWS Foundation works to educate all of us about how to be graciously, respectfully, inclusive. The Foundation is where I first learned about “people first language” – words that move hearts from marginalizing others to including them (learn more here).
AWS Foundation CEO Patti Hays recalls as a child being taught, “It’s not polite to stare,” at someone with a disability. Today, she encourages parents to suggest, “Let’s go meet this person.”
Hays reminds us that the Americans with Disabilities Act provides minimum guidelines for removing barriers. Engaging people with varying abilities in the life of our faith communities may require some intentional learning and understanding.
We all watched and reflected with pride as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivered his sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Much has been written and spoken about the impact that sermon portends for the Episcopal Church and Christians today.
One area worth exploring again for our congregations and ourselves is the impact of an invitation. Specifically how often do we extend an invitation to family, friends, colleagues or even strangers to join us at our worship service and our outreach ministries.
Projects to improve accessibility are often included in church capital campaigns. In my work as a capital campaign consultant with ECF, I witness congregations choosing ramps, restrooms large enough for caregivers to enter with their adult loved one, hearing loops, wider doorways, lowering the altar rail to the main level of the nave, and other changes to make it clear that all are welcome.
As our awareness of physical barriers increases, let us also consider whether our language and behavior send messages of, “You are truly welcome.” Consider the differences between these sentences:
There was a time when I would have been frustrated with the small scale of our offering. Ten parking spaces when nearly one percent of the population of Los Angeles lives on the streets? I easily count more than ten tent encampments just on my 1.5 mile walk from home to church. Things are bad.
Ten spaces will definitely not solve the problem. However, I have been amazed to discover once again how God can take a small offering and multiply its impact. You might think that the mustard seed parable or the feeding of the 5000 (not counting women and children?!) would have been enough to convince me. Maybe it was growing up in Missouri, the oddly named “show me state”. I have to see things with my own eyes, hear them with my own ears.
The heads and heartstrings of many Episcopalians are being tugged toward action for racial reconciliation, social justice, addressing poverty, or determining how our congregations can be more obvious participants in the Jesus Movement. Marching in demonstrations is one thing, but how do we, as faith communities, start to bring about unity and peace?
Traditionally, we categorize such efforts as “outreach ministry,” hoping we make a positive difference to those who need it. We jump to do things for the poor. We give money, buy and wrap Christmas presents for the Angel Tree, invite needy neighbors to hot meals we prepare. Beautiful acts of charity.
After many years of doing so, some wonder, “Why don’t those people come to worship?” Some sigh and conclude, “Well, they just must want the food and clothes we hand out.”
St. Mary’s Church in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, where I have served as rector since 2011, recently became a site for “safe parking”. We opened a part of our small church parking lot to be used each night as a safe spot for a few of the thousands of our Los Angeles neighbors who are living in their vehicles after losing their housing. A community partner raises funds to provide security and a portable toilet in the lot each night. That partner also works with local social service agencies to offer case management to each of the guests as they work towards a more permanent housing solution.
This is the first in a short series of posts about how St. Mary’s came to this ministry and what we have learned in the process.
As we continue our Good Book Club journey through Luke’s Gospel this Lent, I’m struck by the recurring theme in the upcoming passages from chapters 14 and 15.
Luke 14 begins with Jesus eating at the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, and then he goes into a story about a great wedding feast, and Jesus closes out the chapter by talking about food seasoning. Luke 15 opens with Jesus being accused - by the Pharisees - of welcoming sinners and eating with them. Jesus then goes on to tell a couple of stories, including one about a father who throws a great feast when his wandering son returns home.
I get the sense that Jesus liked to eat.
My mom was a school principal. My wife is Head of Lower School at St. Thomas’ Episcopal School in Houston. One of my sisters is a high school math teacher, and the other is an elementary school counselor.
Needless to say, we talk about education a lot in my family.
And we in the Episcopal Church have been talking about it quite a bit these past two weeks. First, All Our Children held their National Symposium in Columbia, S.C. All Our Children started as a joint initiative of Trinity Wall Street and the Episcopal Diocese of New York in response to educational inequality in New York City’s public schools. The nationwide organization now champions “every child’s right to a quality public education by building community, creating partnership, and advocating for justice.”
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.
My wife and I really love New Orleans. The art, music, food, and atmosphere are the perfect place for us to get away. But it’s also a place that makes me think deeply about my work and my call to follow Christ.
I’m a photographer, so I like to get up early and walk around the city taking photographs. When I do so, I inevitably strike up conversations with people. On this trip, I met a jazz musician who plays bars at night, plays in his church band on Sundays, and spends his days playing Gospel music on his trumpet outside Cafe Du Monde. At the end of our conversation, we hugged and prayed with each other...because it is hard to stay strangers too long in New Orleans.