Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Welcome Observations by a Visiting Priest

A friend of mine, The Rev. Scott Gunn, new director of Forward Movement, recently visited a number of Episcopal Churches. He has some great observations and recommendations in his blog that can be found at: .

Great food for thought for churches looking to focus on how they welcome the stranger.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Institution vs. Movement

I recently had a conversation with a priest who said to me, "Mary, I am not the same priest I was five years ago. I realize now that evangelism is about a movement, it has very little to do with the institution." My reaction was "hallelujah"! We all need to understand that evangelism is a movement of God, a vibrant life giving and life changing story of Jesus and his teachings that have the power to turn people around, to reveal the nature of God, and to absolutely fill people with hope and peace and healing. Our institution is around to support this movement, pure and simple. Somehow we have gotten things mixed up. The institution of the church has a way of taking precedent in terms of our focus, resources, energy, and attention. It can easily become front and center, especially for those of us who have lived out our vocation in it. It only takes attending a few General Conventions to realize how easily one's attention gets skewed! General Convention consumes at least 9 very full days every 3 years for the people who are elected to represent their dioceses. It is an exhausting focus on democratic process and debate. Often about a bevy of insignificant resolutions, with an occasionally important one thrown in for good measure. I don't know why people feel they must submit resolutions that have very little capacity to impact anything, yet will certainly consume people's time and energy. I know. I have been in the thick of it as deputy, committee member, speaker and gopher. I decided a number of years ago that spending the better part of two weeks every Triennial with 5,000 other Episcopalians was not my calling nor the best use of my time. I often like the fellowship and networking, I just don't like the hyper focus on the institution and the way we do business.

I walk a fine line of dedicating my life in service to God and choosing to work for the institutional church. But I try hard to never forget its about the movement. I know this movement can not and should not be contained. However, we love containers. Especially ones with pretty stained glass and historic or sleek contents. I got a phone call yesterday from a person who viewed a utube video on a church's homepage. The caller asked if I had seen the video and commented that the first minute of it was pictures of the historic building without a person in sight. That church obviously wants the viewer to focus on the container.

It is so easy to be seduced by beautiful boxes. It is so easy to forget its about a movement of the Spirit. Let's be thoughtful and not give so much of ourselves away that we forget what really counts.

To be missionary is to move out. To be evangelical is to join a movement of the Holy Spirit. To be the church we must do both. Watch yourself and don't be seduced. Remember, its about the movement!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Everything is Transitory

The last few months have been an interesting personal journey for me as members of both mine and my husband's families have gone through huge personal crisis, sickness and in the case of a few of them, facing the end of their lives. It has been a motherload, all coming at once. Included in this mix I am expecting my first grandchildren, twins, due in August, with my daughter-in-law having been flat on her back in a hospital bed since late May for the duration of her pregnancy. As life ends for a few of my beloved family new life is springing forth. Transitions. Life is all about moving forward and transitioning to each new day and what life has in store for that 24 hours.

I step back and look at our church as it ages. I love the Episcopal Church, but it is getting very gray around the edges. We haven't transitioned well into the 21st century in America. I believe we have been complacent, caring too much about the survival of our institution and not enough about the personal, powerful transformation of lives. It has been interesting to watch a sense of urgency surface amongst congregations around the 'need for new members'. This is precisely the problem. The focus should be on the power to change lives, the desire of persons to find our congregations to be incubators for the development of the faith and vehicles for sending Christians out into the world to witness in word and deed to the glory, grace of love of God.

I have seen us crack the window, to let a little bit of the Holy Spirit blow through our church to release this revelation. Funny how this has to be re-learned with every new generation. Our church has a shelf life of a couple of generations left in terms of being large enough to have an impact. It isn't too late if we will recognize our true mission and help the people in the pews understand what the work of the church really is. That it isn't so much about us, but a world hungry for Good News and transformation. As missionary leaders, God calls us to lead the way, set the course, fearlessly tell the story and not be afraid. We are called to steer our churches out into unchartered territory. Talk about transitions! It is a challenging but eternally powerful mission. Let's strive to better impact our generation for the sake of the Kingdom.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Not Necessary Anymore

I have come to appreciate Tom Ehrich's blog 'Morning Walk Media' alot. Recently he posted the following article. I hope he doesn't mind me copying it for you all to read. It is about the things we often cherish or think are essential that are only a means to an end and are disappearing from our lives. This includes church buildings. I urge you to read it and consider the implications for you as a missionary leader. Here goes:

The Yawning Divide Between Pencils and IPads
by Tom Ehrich, Religion News Service

In preparing a commencement address this week, I decided to werite it on my new Apple iPad, sitting on a sofa beside a window, using an app called Quickoffice. Big deal, you say. But, think about it.

A month ago, I didn't own an iPad. I had never heard of Quickoffice. I had never imagined that a touch-screen keyboard could be satisfying. I carried 20 pounds of gear, files and books onto an airplane; now I tote around a 1.3 pound iPad.

In one month's time, everthing has changed. What's the point? The point is change-rapid change, change in even the most basic functions we perform, like stringing words into sentences. New gear, new media, new ways to express thoughts, to store and process images, share ideas, collaborate with others, and manage time. Of all the current tools I use in my work, only one, a mechanical pencil, was in my toolkit a year ago.

Is it all about gadgets? Not in the least. I read this week about a family that sold their property in Arizona and now just travel around in a Winnebago, doing their jobs by internet and laptops. Others live and work on boats or run businesses from coffee shops.

My list: no car, no checkbook, no landline telephone, no lawn mower. Much that I considered normal a few years ago isn't even part of my life now.

Churches are forming without buildings, pipe organs, stained glass windows, pews or wood-paneled offices. Bricks and mortar universities are moving online. Even dating has moved online.

The point isn't to extol technology, but to note that most of these changes will seem normal any day now. Former ways, it turns out, weren't essential. We want to fall in love, yes, but whether we do so at a church social, company picnic, group meetup, or is just a detail.

We need to eat, but whether we shop at a corner market, a huge Cosco or online grocery is just a detail.

We need to have faith, but whether we find it in a building with a steeple, a house church, or walking with a friend is just a detail.

A divide is openining between those who still consider the details of yesterday's normal to be necessary and those who perceive the details as optional. When something is necessary, you fight to preserve it. When it becomes optional, letting go is no big deal.

Church buildings, for example , feel like sacred space and a solemn trust to some people, who sacrifice much to preserve them. Others say, "So what? We can worship in a hotel ballroom, meet at Starbucks, study online, and find the sacred anywhere." The point is faith , not facilitites.

Sorting out these two perspectives is wrenching work, filled with misunderstanding, suspicion of motives, loss of employment, loss of certainty, loss of common ground for imagining basic things. These deep divides aren't about age or maturity, education or income, or intangibles like respect. It's more disposition than anything. It's like the gulf between ranchers and farmers a century ago over need for fences. There are elements of self-interest, but also different ways of seeing history, land, values and future.

The obvious answer is to coexist: some using pencils, some iPads. But when so much is changining, and details are in constant dispute, the bonds of community can get strained.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York.. He is the author of "Just Wonder, Jesus" and founder of the Church Welllness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter@tomehrich.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Stories Yet to Come

It is Easter Monday. Hundreds of thousands of folks who worked hard to prepare their houses of worship for this most holy of our religious observances can now rest abit and reflect about the meaning of it all. Hopefully, those reflections will be full of the knowledge that God loved us so much that He gave his only Son, and that Son died for us bearing the weight of the sin of the world, and rose from the dead, showing us that truly, Jesus was the the Messiah, the Son of Man, God Incarnate.
It was in that resurrection that we can catch a glimpse of the glory that awaits us upon our physical death. Stunning! Awesome! Miraculous! Indescribable!

The concern that all missionary leaders face is now that we have passed Easter we will lull our ways back into our congregational routines which can be so human, demanding and draining. These routines can easily sap the spirit and dull awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Fanning the flame for the people of God can be a big challenge.

We now enter into a time that leads up to the observance of Jesus' ascension and the spectacular event of pentecost. We are fortunate to be a church that liturgically celebrates these observances. We can make them come alive through drama, music, visuals, re-enactments, and especially story telling. We must remember that it is our responsibility to keep God's story alive, not only for renewal but for those who have never heard them. Alot is at stake. Let's not let the work in preparing for Holy Week and Easter tire us from remembering some of the best of the story that is yet to come.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Invite, Welcome, Connect

Evangelism in the Episcopal Church is often maligned, dismissed, considered disrespectful of others' beliefs to the extent that we are rarely engaged in it. I have been convicted that I will never again let someone's dismissive remarks about the 'E' word go without a response. We have talked ourselves out of believing the critical need for each of us to share the Gospel, not only personally but corporately. The personal thing is hard. I have often heard it said, 'I joined the Episcopal Church so that I would never have to say the word 'Jesus' outloud.' This remark usually comes from someone who was raised in a more fundamentalist theological background who has found the Episcopal Church to be an open minded, non-pressuring kind of place in stark contrast to their upbringing. I am glad that our church has created a safe place for those who were beat over the head with fundamentalism. However, we do no one any good by dismissing evangelism altogether.

The Diocese of Texas has undertaken a Newcomer Ministry Project that takes a comprehensive assessment/look at the way we corporately invite, welcome and connect new persons into the lives of our congregations. The invitation speaks to the ministry of evangelism. The welcome speaks to the ministry of hospitality. The connection speaks to the manner in which we connect persons into the Body, listening and discerning spiritual gifts, God-given passion and talents and where these people may find a significant outlet for ministry. It takes all three acts of invitation, welcome and connection to open ours doors and closing our exits.

The response to this focus has been significant. It appears that people are realizing the call to evangelism is not one to be dismissed and that intentional work is needed to do this ministry well. We are seeing people get energized by the thought of approaching evangelism in these essential ways. There is alot of work yet to be done but this is a good start.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Timely Opportunity

As I watch the devastation of Japan with the earthquakes, the tsunami, the unbelievable speed at which normal life was destroyed in a matter of minutes for hundreds of thousands of people I reflect on the incredible life God has given us and how fragile our lives and world really are. In an instant life can be over. In an instant life as we know it can be changed for ever. Truly, the only constant in our lives is God, the Alpha and the Omega. The only source of hope is the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain us in times of dramatic challenge such as these. We have the power to manifest the love of God through our response to others who are going through crisis. Those of us who are blessed with more than we could possibly ever need have a responsibiity to give to those who are suffering. And there is always suffering in our very backyards. Every time we support those in need out of our gratitude to God we are drawn closer to Christ. And when we turn away from the opportunity to care by not reaching out with our time, talent or treasure, we distance ourselves from Christ.

Those of us in positions of leadership have the responsibility to guide others toward opportunities to give. God calls us to help others understand how imporant giving is to personal transformation. We should step out fearlessly in this regard. People will be changed when they engage in the sorrow and need of others. As leaders we need to model giving beyond what might be expected by those we lead. This is a time of extraordinary opportunity. How will you draw others toward giving to others in need?