Last month, Greg Syler posted an essay, You Keep Using that Word “Parish”, that challenged us to use the word “Parish” in a more intentional and historically accurate way – referring to a geographic area rather than to a specific type of congregation. In this essay, I would like to challenge our use of the other word that we use to describe our congregations: “Mission”.
The dictionary defines “Mission” as a specific task to be completed, or as a vocational calling. The canons of most dioceses define “Mission” as a congregation that is not self-sustaining. These two could not be more different. The dictionary definition is filled with purpose; the canonical definition is characterized by scarcity.
$10.4 billion annually. That’s what the so-called “self-help” industry is worth. By 2025, that number is expected to grow to $14 billion.
Search “what’s my purpose?” and about 6,860,000,000 results will be returned.
It’s a question I’ve long struggled with until this past year. Something came to me during one of my early morning walks with my dog, who is the best meditation partner one could hope for. My purpose, in fact our collective purpose as Christians, is the same: to expand the presence of God on earth by fully sharing the gifts which we’ve been given.
I understand why harps, lyres and trumpets are associated with angels. The notes of harps and lyres dreamily float. Trumpets blast, demanding attention to God’s impending Words and action. What I do not understand, however, is why timpani are not included in the realm of angelic orchestrations.
I might never have thought of this were it not for the wonderful timpani that a parishioner at my church donated to our music ministry. The kettles’ full, deep sound on Christmas Eve 2019 rolled through the nave, gathering our scattered thoughts and moving us to our feet in anticipation. O come, all ye faithful! Hark! The angels have good news!
There just had to be timpani that first Christmas night…
I have noticed a subject trending among some Christian writers, speakers, and preachers over the past year, from evangelicals to Roman Catholics and everyone in between: victimhood.
Though the specifics of their stories differ, the framework remains the same: society used to be guided by Christian values some 60+ years ago. Society then became indifferent to Christian values, and is now openly hostile towards them.
They further state that there are “pseudo-religions” in the form of social movements which are taking the place of the Christian religion. Most all of those who are advancing the victimhood narrative point towards so-called “liberal” or left-leaning organizations as the problem. The problems that they identify invariably include human sexuality, marriage, and what they identify as the breakdown of order in society.
“No, I did not get ordained online.” Let’s add that to the list of phrases I never thought would hear myself say.
I recently officiated at a destination wedding. About an hour before the ceremony, the audio technician asked me to do a sound check. Needing something to say as he pressed buttons and turned knobs on his control board, I began reciting from memory a passage that we would all be hearing later that evening: “Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of…”
“That’s enough,” he interrupted. “You’re a real pro.”
“Thank you. I am actually a professional. I went to seminary and everything.”
“Really?” he asked with a blend of shock and incredulity. “Most of the officiants I work with got ordained online.”
Christmas is always a special time in New York City. With the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the department store window displays, and the throngs of tourists and shoppers, the city sparkles, bustles, and hums during the holiday season. After settling for virtual events and subdued celebrations in 2020, there is plenty of pent-up demand and even expectations for a “normal” New York Christmas this year.
And I know that this sentiment is shared by people throughout the country and even the world – we need a normal Christmas, and we need it now.
This month we offer five resources on celebrating Christmas. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.
Matthew 18:19-20 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
We emphasize numbers in the world of churches. We gather and report on numerical data - How many members, average Sunday attendance, number of pledges made, total “pledge and plate” collections. Was that more or less than last year?
Inevitably, this leads to the way we evaluate congregations. Steady or rising numbers indicate a stable or growing church. Shrinking numbers mean, uh-oh, that church is struggling, or worse.
“If this trend continues, well, someone’s going to have to make a decision to keep that church or close it. Afterall, how can a church with just two or three households survive?” we mutter.
A lot has been thrown at church leaders since the onset of this pandemic. I don’t need to rehearse all the ways we’ve turned on a dime, improvised, and modernized. It’s been amazing to watch The Episcopal Church toss on its lifeless head that worthless, old adage: “We’ve never done it that way…”
All that said, however, there are a number of things we’ve truly lost during the pandemic. Or things we’ve nearly lost, and can very well lose entirely if we’re not intentional about actively working to cultivate and restore them, once again.
One of those things is our bonds of fellowship – “church membership” is the institutional term that comes to mind. Pre-pandemic, we were loosey-goosey about membership requirements, even though we all read the literature that growing churches are growing, in part, because they have clear and high membership standards. Some Episcopalians thought about trying to work on better, higher standards (I’m in that group) but we were just as soon reminded of those sweet, if not dated Anglican values – how important it is to the quality of my ministry that I am also locally planted and available, and thus we consented to that funeral or welcomed that baby at the font.