Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Matthew 9:17
As the Canons for Growth and Support in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, we are called to assist churches in transitioning from the traditional model of church (membership-driven with a financial base in which endowment, capital improvement, and parish administration are primary components) into envisioning and articulating a new way of “being church”. Whether a church was founded as a result of suburban ‘white-flight’ from the city or remained tied to its historical urban roots, these churches have a common denominator, namely that they have lost their connection to the community. The reasons for this disengagement are many and a topic for another discussion, but changes in both the neighborhood and church membership have resulted in the disconnection.
July and August are normally vacation time for many within the church. Attendance by parishioners decreases and there is a scramble to find supply priests while the clergy are away. We fret about tithes and many committees including vestries suspend their meetings and deliberations. We share our vacation plans, are thankful for the much needed rest, and hopeful that we will be reinvigorated for the work ahead. The good old days!!
With the public health issues of COVID-19 and systemic racism raging across our country, this summer’s vacation plans are different, and in many cases nonexistent. Practically, it may not be safe to travel or congregate with groups including family members. Others may be fearful given the continuous broadcast of civil unrest.
The liturgy of the Episcopal Church is strikingly beautiful. The revenant execution of both Word and Sacrament draws many to a deeper relationship with God. But if we’re honest, many of us in the Body of Christ have witnessed another liturgy at work within its members, revealing a corporate disease of the heart. To clarify, I will give an example of the ritual within this sinful liturgy.
Approximately 3 years ago, I was a new doctoral student and had been an aspirant to Holy Orders for quite some time. I was also working full time at an Episcopal Church in the North Texas area. I was well aware that locally, only about two or three Black people had made it through the discernment process, but I was hopeful. However, shortly after my start in the church, both parish and diocesan leadership decided to place a white male from another diocese, who had yet to finish his prerequisite seminary education, at the church for the discernment process. They wanted me to help train him yet denied my own discernment process. When I began to speak up about what I and others saw as racial injustice, they removed me and tried to silence me.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Miriam McKenney, Forward Movement’s Director of Development and Mission Engagement, to choose five resources for healthy churches that resonated with her. Please find her choices below.
Did you know there’s a Christian holiday that celebrates the sacredness of mountains? It’s called the Transfiguration, and it takes its name from a Bible story. Jesus took Peter and two other disciples up on a high mountain, where Jesus was transformed right before their eyes. His face “shone like the sun” and his clothes became “dazzling white.” The Voice of God rang out and the disciples fell to the ground in terror.
Everything is different when we go up in the mountains, right? Daily life is left behind, with all its habits and routines. That’s why mountain outings can be so refreshing, and why people have always gone there to seek visions. Bishop Steven Charleston wrote that “Matthew 17:1-8 has all of the classic elements of a traditional Native American quest. Jesus has prepared himself; his lament is so deep that he has predicted his own death. He goes up to a high place, accompanied by spiritual supporters, and stands alone before God. A vision occurs, so powerful that his friends actually see it.”
 Steven Charleston, The Four Vision Quests of Jesus, p. 120
We’ve been in Covid time for more than four months now. It has taken a while for us to realize our spiritual needs and desires and our abilities to meet them. The human contact, the Eucharist, the singing together, are all missed sorely. We find some of our spiritual longings are met by Zoom, a technology developed just in time to allow us to see each other, to connect, to gather, to pray together on Sunday.
Still, through the weeks, the end of the day is hard. More and more, people report having trouble getting to sleep, especially if they have checked in on the news in the hours prior. The what ifs, the hows, and the realities of our personal lives, the community and the nation are alarming or frightening or discouraging at best. Those who live alone have no one with whom to process the day, the week, the season. Others welcome a transition from day to night just as much.