If it is true that God brought Jesus into the world to turn it right side up, then COVID-19 and the global pandemic seem intent on turning the world upside down once again. The world has changed in radical and deadly ways. Not just for some but for all. This is not hyperbole. It is affecting each and every person from the loss of life, to the loss of jobs, to the loss of everyday freedoms.
Over the past few months I have had many conversations with professionals and volunteers I know in the Episcopal Church. In these conversations there is almost always a point at which we discuss how COVID-19 and the pandemic are affecting their ministries and lives. I have mostly heard their frustrations, their stresses and their anxieties. I have been led to commit to prayer for these people and all those they serve. I have been called to wonder about all those doing the work and ministry of God. I became very curious, in particular, about how those people committed to faith formation are functioning at this moment in time.
When we think of Dr. King most of us remember his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered to those gathered around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. in 1963. There have been few memorable speeches made before or since then. The words of Dr. King will linger on for many more years to come. He dreamed of a day when racial justice and equality would come true. Of course, with all the recent tragic events happening in our country his dream has yet to be completely fulfilled.
Some of you are too young to understand what certain Americans had to endure
Some of you never saw the separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks or colored balconies in movie theatres
Some of you are too young to understand how a tired seamstress, named Rosa Parks, could be thrown in jail and fined simply because she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus so a white man could sit down
And that list could go on and on.
Sunday worship on Facebook. Coffee hour on Zoom. Staff meetings on Teams. At first, it was great to know that we could connect without being physically present. It felt like a bridge from our current situation until that time when we could be together again.
Then I started feeling exhausted. I couldn’t figure out why. I talked with friends, and they shared the following comments:
“I love being able to participate in the Holy Eucharist via Facebook, but there aren’t a lot of us that watch live, and I feel like I need to be commenting throughout the service, or I’ll look like I’m not really engaged.”
When we started The FaithX Project a little over three years ago, we chose as our mission “helping faith communities survive and thrive in turbulent times.” Little did we know how prophetic those words would be or how turbulent the times we would be working in. In the last three months we have experienced:
A once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that has closed down society, even houses of worship,
An economic collapse to rival the Great Depression, and...
Societal upheaval not seen since the assasination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, which erupted in response to the murder of a unarmed black man by a policeman and to the systemic racism it represented.
Note: This was the Opening Plenary by Reverend William J. Barber II at the Rooted in Jesus 2020 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on January 21-22. For the video, click here, and for more information about the conference, please click here.
Gracious God. Amen.
Lord, help us today. We know that whenever you call men and women to say anything in your name, you take the risk of putting treasure in an earthen vessel. Sometimes faithful, sometimes flawed, sometimes strong, sometimes weak, but you put it in an earthen vessel that when all is said and done, the excellency of the power might be of thee and not of us. Hide us behind the cross, cover us in your blood, fill us with your spirit. That the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart might be acceptable in thy sight. O Lord, our strength and blessed Redeemer. Amen.
If you’re like my family, you’re spending a lot of time on screens. Zoom calls, emails, phone calls, and more. And if you’re like us, you’re probably looking for ways to get outside. And if your neighborhood is like ours, there are more kids riding bikes (bike shops and big box stores are reporting shortages), more families walking dogs (shelters are seeing a boom in adoptions), and just more people outside generally.
What if we viewed our time outside as something God can use? What if we viewed our time outside as missional? Our family has tried to start doing that, beginning with our front yard.
“Front yard people” is a term I first ran across when reading The Turqouise Table by Kristin Schell, a book on Christian hospitality and welcome. In the book, she encourages folks to hang out in the front yard, making themselves available for impromptu encounters and conversations with neighbors.
I know the day of Pentecost is past but for some reason it has stuck with me this year. Today I noticed something about it. If you are a fan of the original Star Trek series you probably remember than when the crew set off on a mission away from their comfort zone (an away mission) you could tell which crew members were likely to be killed --- they were wearing red shirts!
I love the image that the original Pentecost was when the disciples were ordered by their captain to leave their comfort zone. Like those crew members, when we put on the red for Pentecost, we have reason to be concerned. Most of the red-shirted crew died on away missions. Scripture tells us we are to die (to self) in God’s mission.
But just as the crew members were expected to take the chance of losing their lives for the good of all people, we are expected to take the chance of losing something for the good of other people.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked The Rev. Sam Dessórdi Peres Leite, who serves as the Senior Priest at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., to choose five resources that resonated with him. Please find his 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.
Last month, in a conversation about the theological nuances of whether or not the Eucharist could be celebrated online, a member of my congregation asked, “Is Jesus a Zoom bomber?”
Now Zoom bombers generally have a negative connotation. They join in on a public Zoom with malicious intent displaying racially charged images or words, for example. Bad stuff. Because of them, most churches using Zoom for their worship in this “stay-at-home” season, have stopped advertising their login links online, thus making Zoom worship less accessible to newcomers. So businesses and churches and Zoom technologists have been working hard to inhibit these imposers. Under these connotations, Jesus is certainly not a Zoom bomber!
But what if we go back to the earlier medium of photographs and photo bombers. Photo bombers are people who show up unexpectedly in a photo of a newlywed couple, for example, or behind a family posing at the beach. They were often simply inadvertent. But even when intentional, they were funny or sweet. Not malicious.
My goodness, a lot has happened in the world since we all worshipped in person together. For many, processing it all happened in the privacy of their homes. Others had to do so from hospital beds. Others from food lines, a situation they never dreamed of experiencing. Others from the front lines of community protests over racism.
In the weeks or months ahead, faith communities will gather again. Can we really just pick up where we left off and head on our way? Will Vestry meetings resume the usual topics of budget and Commission reports?
In my previous post, I put forward the idea that the The Vestry is a thing, an entity in our church which needs serious re-examination and balance. I believe that at least one of our problems lies in our unspoken, unexamined but nevertheless shared core concepts around The Vestry. Frankly, too many people in too many congregations feel responsible to do nothing more than replicate an outdated oversight and management model year after year after year. Put that way, The Vestry is far from the kind of body which would help the Body of Christ keep the main thing the main thing. I believe the problem is much deeper than any of us realize, and it’s deep in the engine room of The Episcopal Church.
The solution? I’ll say it as simply as I know how: we need to better align the Vestry with the methods of a missionary church. It’s about alignment, not a new program or crafty idea. It’s about making The Vestry work for Christ’s Body, and not the other way around. It’s about making The Vestry as healthy and gifted and inspired as our healthiest, most gifted, most inspiring member.
“What’s your brand?” A collective silence fell over the room of vestry members, clergy, and staff.
Finally, someone asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: “Brand of what?”
“Ahh...” The silence continued.
We don’t often, if ever, think of the Church as a brand, whether globally, nationally, or on the congregational level, but it’s a question well worth exploring. From my perspective, brand is nothing more and nothing less than your promise to the consumer – in this case to your parishioners and those considering becoming parishioners.
With the COVID-19 pandemic came the precipitous end to in-person classes at Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in early March. Students who had the option to do so were strongly encouraged to leave seminary housing and get out of the virus epicenter in New York City, so we became physically scattered and separated from our worship space in the small chapel at Union.
Within days of the cessation of classes, the EDS worship team met over Zoom and came up with a plan. Our Monday through Thursday Morning Prayer schedule would resume by Zoom. We shortened the form of worship slightly, omitting the canticles but keeping the time for song that we had cherished when we had been physically together to pray the office. Because we shortened the service, we had the space to add a time of reflection after the Gospel reading. This gave us more interaction during the service in the virtual space. We kept the EDS at Union custom of reciting the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer in Spanish.
Participating as a lay leader of a congregation is a joyful opportunity to participate in building up the Kingdom of God. Sometimes that joy ebbs low as we face of fewer people in the pews and fewer pledges in the plate. Our highest hope and prayers aim to get by for another year, rather than really hoping and praying for the fullness of God’s promises.
If you or your Vestry are in a bit of a rut, here is a quote worthy of intentional meditation from 19 century preacher and Bishop of Massachusetts, Phillips Brooks:
"Pray the largest prayers. You cannot think a prayer so large that God, in answering it, will not wish you had made it larger. Pray not for crutches but for wings."
The COVID-19 pandemic rages on, a bit weakened in its spread, but still a major threat with over 100,000 deaths and a severe economic downturn. In tandem, many in our nation are outraged by yet another murder of a Black man - George Floyd, by law enforcement in Minneapolis, and have reacted with multiple days of protests. These realities directly impact our church communities as we tentatively contemplate the reentry to our church buildings in a yet to be determined future.
Inequity and justice are common threads among these realities. With COVID-19, it has been well reported that Black and Brown people have died from this disease in far greater numbers than their presence in the general population due to disparities in our healthcare systems, health conditions and occupations. How can we as church community and church leaders be part of the solution in addressing these disparities?
On January 15, 1941, at the Stalag VIII-A prisoner-of-war camp, in Görlitz, Germany, a crowd of prisoners and Nazi guards gathered in a freezing hall to listen to a performance.
The make-shift orchestra, made up of four prisoners performing the four instruments available at the camp – a worn-out cello, piano, clarinet, and violin – became one of the most famous compositions to come out of the war years.
At the outset of World War II, French composer Olivier Messiaen was drafted into the French army and assigned to a non-combatant role. Nevertheless, in May 1940, as France was succumbing to the Nazi invasion, he was captured at Verdun and taken to a war camp in a town near the border of Germany and Poland.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Victor Conrado, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Formation in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, to share five resources that resonated with him. Please find his 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.
El Canónigo Victor Conrado, Canónigo para vitalidad y formación en la diócesis episcopal de Nueva York nos comparte los recursos que encontró en la Fundación de la Iglesia Episcopal que pueden usar con sus congregaciones y juntas parroquiales. Estos recursos nos ayuda a vivir nuestra fe y liderazgo durante esta pandemia.
I’m studying Matthew 9:35 – 10:23 for lay preacher school and Jesus is filled with compassion for the crowds because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He calls for laborers to help with the harvest at hand and sends out the disciples to proclaim and heal. Jesus did not call for biblical scholars, grand speech-makers, top-notch administrators, or anything other than ‘common laborers’.
I’m content to be a laborer and it’s from this place that I find such disappointment in the church’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All denominations come under my disappointment, none is singled out.
What you are about to read is my sense of things and mine alone, although I did see a glimmer of solidarity in a video from Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP), Mourning Our Changing Church, when I heard the comments of Micah T.J. Jackson, President, Bexley Seabury Seminary in Chicago. In any case, I know this is a minority view. Here goes.
This morning just after sunrise I watched and listened to a fellowship of cardinals gathered high in a maple tree. I could hear them chirping, “The Lord be with you.” “And also with you,” as they hopped among branches, munching on the tasseled buds. Sure, they get to come together for communion, I thought enviously.
Envy aside, I am grateful for opportunities – more than ever, actually – to participate in worship with hundreds of others, even with thousands on the National Cathedral’s Sunday morning live stream. There, after the bread and wine are blessed, we are led in the “spiritual communion” prayer by St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787):