In the gospel of Mark 2 1:12, the story is recounted of a paralyzed man who is healed and forgiven by Jesus. The account begins with Jesus preaching to an extremely large overflowing crowd in Capernaum. Four friends of a paralyzed man, determined that their friend would see Jesus, dug a hole in the roof and lowered the man on his mat. Jesus impressed by the faith and tenacity of the paralyzed man and his friends said “Son, your sins are forgiven”. The teachers of the law took issue with the words of forgiveness Jesus used believing that they were blasphemous. Jesus expressed to them that as the Son of Man he had the authority on earth to forgive as well as heal. He then told the paralyzed man “…take your mat and go home” and the paralyzed man walked out in full view of all and everyone was amazed and praised God.
I didn’t think we’d still be here. Back in March, I thought we’d have Covid wiped out in a few weeks, maybe before Easter. March rolled into April, then May. Surely by the summer, right?
I couldn’t imagine we’d be planning Advent and Christmas under a pandemic; actually, looking at rising numbers and a winter surge. I didn’t think the talk of virtual Annual Meetings was going to be a thing, but it definitely looks that way.
My entire relationship with Covid-19 and this global pandemic, you see, is built on my experiences. Even my rough-hewn optimism is founded on what I’ve experienced, what I’ve known. Back in January 2020, I remember talking about this strange virus – it was breaking into news cycles around that time – but the conversation was heady, intellectual; talking about something other people deal with, not us. “Do you remember SARS?” my conversation partner asked, “It’ll pass by soon enough. It won’t impact us.” The problem was that I believed that statement. I believed it because in my lifetime, to date, I’d never been impacted by something like that. It couldn’t happen to me because, well, it’s never happened to me.
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” – Mark 1:1
This is not a headline nor a subtitle. It is a proclamation that the stories about to be related are about THE savior, God’s own son.
Biblical scholars tell us Mark was writing for Christian believers living in Rome, the epicenter of an empire that recognized the emperor as a god. It was good news indeed to be assured that this Jesus for whom they were risking their lives was truly God, not another human invention.
“I am going to start with the main point,” Mark seems to be thinking as he picks up his writing instrument, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Does it seem to you that, “Happy New Year” is being said more fervently now? As if we are demanding: “Be happy, New Year!”
Congregational leaders are likely praying for the same as the stress of change and survival continue. Five years ago, consultant, coach and spiritual director Susan Beaumont began writing a book about such struggle. It was published in September 2019. By 2020, its title seemed designed for the pandemic: How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season.
“Liminality refers to a quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs during transition, when a person or group of people is in between something that has ended and something else that is not yet ready to begin,” Beaumont explains in Chapter 1.
Abuse. We see it within our perspective communities and we typically speak up about it when it’s obvious and lives are in danger. Sometimes we fearfully and selfishly shrink away from the situation in hopes that we are misinterpreting what we are witnessing. Other times, we fake politeness and say to ourselves, “Well, it’s none of my business.” But in Genesis, there’s One who not only sees the situation, but speaks to it; and their name is, El-Roi.
Hagar appears in Genesis 16 as Sarai’s “Egyptian slave-girl” who Sarai gives to Abram to sleep with, in hopes that she would have a child by way of Hagar. Rabbinical tradition claims her to be the daughter of pharaoh. In Islamic tradition, Hagar (Hajar) is never mentioned by name in the Quran, but is alluded to. One stream of Islamic tradition believes her to be the daughter of King Maghreb who was killed by pharaoh Dhu l-'arsh, and thereby was captured, ending up in the household of pharaoh. Another stream within Islamic tradition believes Hagar to be the daughter of an Egyptian King who is given to Abram as compensation for approaching Sarai, as Abram's sister, instead of his wife.
Many folks feel all of the above during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Sadly, these are the terms many clergy persons use to describe themselves during the entire season of pandemic.
“Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”
Book of Common Prayer p. 211
It’s important for us to recognize the power of darkness and evil in our world. We see it in our own lives. We see it in young adults struggling to find their way. We see it in our politics and government. Darkness and evil are at work all around us, and we need to respect their power.
Our people taught me that if we can overcome our fears, if we can acquire understanding and wisdom, we can carry light through the darkness. This is the same as the teaching of Jesus, “Let your light shine…” The power of the Creator and the life-giving Spirit will be with us as we confront the darkness.
Through our liturgy, we express who we are and what we believe. This is most profoundly done in the Eucharistic rite, in which we come together as the Body of Christ, we receive the Body of Christ, and we become the Body of Christ, more and more. In this season of COVID, that expression and formation has been interrupted. We are finding ways to adjust, certainly. And we are grateful for the technologies that allow us to gather, to watch, to listen, to be formed in our faith. But as the season of COVID stretches out, we find ourselves to be a people of longing – longing to be together, longing to worship God in song and movement, longing for the Sacrament of the Body of Christ.
In many ways, the season of Advent couldn’t have been better timed this year. For while the season includes themes of preparation and anticipation, it also holds space for longing and waiting and weariness. As the Church of the Advocate gathers on Zoom this Advent, we include a Liturgy of Longing. The liturgy was adapted from a blog post by James Koester, of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE), The Sacrament of Our Longing. Through it, we acknowledge our longing and our thirst, and we realize our oneness with all the people of God who thirsted before us. Wherever we are, we drink a cup of water, and we are reminded of God’s promise to be with us and to give us something to drink.
“Save the church from extinction!” cry the books, consultants, webinars, and sermons. Like Old Testament prophets they plead with us to love unconditionally, befriend the poor, and acknowledge our corporate racism in order to bring about reconciliation. In short, we are to examine ourselves, acknowledge our sins, and change.
It’s difficult work, this guilt identifying and change. That’s why there are so many books, consultants, webinars, and sermons about it. As much as I pray for their success (full disclosure, I am a consultant), I have seen a brighter source of light for the future. It is the Holy Spirit’s calling of new people to ordained ministry as deacons and priests.
Apostolic hazing. I know. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Unfortunately in many cases the term is warranted. There are too many stories of aspirants and ordinands coming out of the discernment/ordination process feeling emotionally scarred, financially strained, depressed, angry, discarded, blackballed, humiliated, along with not being able to fully trust others. Some of the hurdles that are put before people seeking Holy Orders are downright cruel. Here are some of the things you’ve might have heard, experienced, witnessed, or actively participated in:
● Constantly moving targets for them to meet, only for the target to be changed up again
● Making people go to seminaries that the bishop is fond of, without considering the life circumstances of the aspirant (job, housing, passport, family, finances, distance, etc.).
Every month ECFVP offers resources on a theme. This month we've asked ECF's own Dr. Adriane Bilous to choose resources from Vital Practices to highlight. Please find her choices below. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
As this difficult year comes to a close, we invite you to take the time to celebrate Advent. A season of anticipation and waiting, Advent can be a wonderful time to pause and reflect not just on what has happened, but what is to come. To help you celebrate this season, we’ve gathered ten resources for Advent. From all of us at ECF, we pray that your Advent is filled with health and hopeful anticipation.
1. 5 Ways to Prepare Ye is a short and practical article to help Episcopalians recognize and observe the differences between Advent and Christmas.
2. Journeying the Way of Love Advent Curriculum: The Episcopal Church has produced this four-week curriculum that moves through the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke. It’s perfect for use during your Christian Formation hour before or after church and can be used by small or large groups.
More than 25 years ago, I started using Forward Movement’s Forward Day by Day (FDBD) publication as a Lenten discipline. I found starting the day by reading the Scriptures and reflecting on the meditations so meaningful that I kept it up. In those days, I read from the little printed booklets distributed at my church. When I found a meditation I loved, I gently tore out the page and taped it into my prayer journal. Today, I visit Forward Day by Day online. Now when I am particularly moved or enlightened by a meditation, I “copy and paste” it into my digital prayer journal.
How delighted I am to learn that Forward Movement has published a collection of past meditations in book form entitled Come and See: Reflections of the Life of Jesus. Curated by long-time Forward Day by Day reader Sanford Smith, Come and See includes some of the best Forward Day by Day meditations from the past three decades.
In my more than 25 years in starting new congregations and redeveloping existing ones, I have gained a number of hard-won insights into what makes stewardship successful. These insights are the results of much congregational experimentation and reviewing giving research, and most of them go against the grain of our stewardship traditions. I offer this list ten DOs and DON’Ts below:
Stewardship DOs and DON’Ts:
2020 has been a year of difficult reality checks. Yes, it’s dangerous out there. Yes, you should wear a mask. Yes, you need to figure out Zoom.
Now there is an opportunity for a vitality check, designed to help focus congregational leadership and planning.
The Congregational Vitality Assessment (CVA), is now offered at no cost thanks to a partnership between the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) and The FaithX Project. The CVA provides congregations with an assessment of Vitality (healthiness) and Sustainability (level of people, financial, and contextual resources necessary to survive and even thrive). The vitality section of the CVA measures ten areas of congregational functioning, such as Vision and Mission, Leadership, Lay Empowerment, Worship, Formation, and Stewardship.
As we head into election week, ECF has gathered five resources from around the church to help make this election week holy.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will lead a live-streamed prayer service from Washington National Cathedral, Holding on to Hope: A National Service for Healing and Wholeness, on All Saints Sunday, November 1, at 4:00-5:30 p.m. EST. In the midst of a pandemic, racial reckoning, and a historic election, the live-streamed service will gather Americans for prayer, song, lament, hope, and a call to love God and neighbor. The event will be simulcast in English and Spanish. Learn how to participate here.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked the Very Rev. Miguelina Howell, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford to choose five resources from Vital Practices to highlight. Please find her choices below. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
I will never forget a sweet widow I interviewed during a feasibility study for a capital campaign in a parish in Pennsylvania. As we discussed the various proposed projects, it seemed she had a story for each one. Her children were baptized in the sanctuary, she taught Sunday School in those classrooms, she donated china tea cups for fellowship in the lounge. There was no hesitation when asked about her support for the campaign. Of course she would give.
Nothing in the conversation surprised her until I asked if she thought the campaign would be successful. “What do you mean?” she wanted to know. When I explained that questions are being asked to determine how much money could be raised, her bright face suddenly faded.
Do you need a video for your capital campaign? Maybe you've had your heart strings pulled by glowing shots and the stirring soundtrack of your alma mater's video or the local hospital's. But is something that flashy appropriate for a church institution? And aren't those videos expensive?
It depends on what you need to do.
When a large diocese began an $8 million campaign for renovations to the diocesan center, most of their donors had never visited the building - the limited parking and urban traffic kept attendance at informational tours to a trickle. So the Director of Networking decided to "take the mountain to Mohammed." She used a tech-savvy production house to develop a Pixar-like video that blended donor interviews with animated architectural drawings to give people a virtual tour of the building before construction was completed.