“It is not church unless it is messy….”

A tip of the hat to James who has immortalized my comments in his Feb 24 posting on his blog “A Word from the City.” Being Church is messy. Just as Jesus embraced all of what it means to be human, God asks us to fully engage life and to act in ways that develop right relationships with God, ourselves, each other, and all creation.  This is not easy.  It means being open to seeing the world as it is – warts and all, and then acting in ways that will help it become all that it can be. Instead of choosing what I want, it means listening to the voice of others and choosing for the common good.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Making Time

Throughout the course, we have been reflecting on how church is not simply a place to go (which it is) but also a way of being.  It assumes that the gathering of God’s people enables us to be Story Keepers (preserving God’s Story and the traditions that have sprung from it), Story Sharers (telling and retelling the Story of God’s presence throughout history), and Story Makers (adding the integration of our stories with God’s story to what has been previously collected and shared). This type of story sharing takes time…  and intentionality.

Story Keeping is primarily an institutional function.  Chronicling the history of God’s presence in time and across time has primarily been the responsibility of church professionals. Ordained clergy and lay ecclesial ministers have devoted their lives to study, reflection, analysis, interpretation, integration, teaching and preaching. Their attention is on ensuring that the wisdom of faith communities in the past and present is passed on to their future. We, as baptized members of the Christian community, also keep the Story alive as we hear God’s Word, engage its Vision, and respond by Story Sharing and Story Making.

Story Sharing is primarily an interpersonal act where longtime adherents and new members tell how God has been active in their lives.  For members of a faith community, this occurs informally as individuals reflect on how their faith and life intersect and more formally through Bible Study and faith sharing.  Story Sharing also occurs liturgically, as we ritually reinact the history of salvation as well as symbolically as we embed theological meaning into images and signs (the cross, a fish, etc).  When Story Sharing occurs between faith community members, it is called Catechesis, or Faith Formation; when it is directed toward those who have not heard God’s story, it is called Evangelization.

Story Making is primarily personal.  Having heard God’s Word, faith community members are called to respond.  God has offered us a vision of the world as it was intended with all of creation living in harmony with God and each other.  As the People of God and the Body of Christ, we are asked to live such that the dream is fulfilled.  We become the Story as we make the Dream of God a reality.

It takes time to be attentive to God’s presence in our lives.

It takes time to reflect upon and inwardly digest God’s Story.

It takes time to understand what God is asking of me…. and of us…

It takes time to develop a plan…

It takes time to act…

In the chaos of what I call life, I am aware that I am not always as attentive as I would like.  I am aware that I need to make time… more time… to listen to the voice of God, to discern what God is saying to me, and to act.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What is Important?

The Episcopal Divinity School was the first seminary to join the Living Stones Partnership.  Currently comprised of 20 dioceses and/or schools, the Living Stones Partnership is a covenential community seeking to advance the ministry of all the baptized.  Starting with an assessment of gifts, and seeking to match them with needs, these groups are to serve through whathas been called Baptismal Ministry, Mutual Ministry and Shared Total Ministry.

I have had the good fortune of working with these diocese since 2005 when I was hired as a consultant to the Pastoral Excellence Project directed by the Rev Sheryl Kujawa Holbrook and Fredrica Harris Thompsett.  Through their vision, we were beginning to find ways to extend the Episcopal Divinity School campus to support rural and isolated communities from Maine to Maryland and Vermont to Wyoming using digital media.

One of the blessings of the Living Stones Partnership, is an annual Conference.   The primary focus of these gatherings is the sharing of BMERs -“Baptismal Ministry – Experience and Reflection.” These case-study type offerings enable partners to share experiences, gain one another’s wisdom, and theologically reflect on their efforts to serve God’s mission.

This year, our team (Katherine Ragsdale, Liz Magill, Linda Wilson, and I) joined with representatives from the Associated Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI, Canada), the Diocese of Nevada, and the Diocese of Fort Worth.

Though not the specific focus of our time, the question of what is church and what is essential to be church were underlying themes of each of our BMERs. This was particularly true for APCI which is not a diocese, does not have synods, and has no canon (see why as they tell their story) and Fort Worth which is battling to reclaim its name and properties.

Consider the implications of what it means to be church as you watch this video from the Diocese of Fort Worth.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Being Church – Marks of Mission

The Anglican Church of Canada has issued a challenge… to name a vision of the church in 2019 that they can begin to embody.  YouTube includes a collection of individual and communal statements of visions offered.  They sho how we can be church in the 21st century.

Members of the Anglican Communion have been identifying ways they can embody the Marks of the Church in their contexts. (See Marks of the Church) How do you see the marks embodied in your context? If you had a chance to “Dream the Church” (as the Anglicans of Canada are doing), what would your dream be? Do you believe that we can create the Dream of God… together?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Sower and the Seed

Matthew 13:3-9 (NRSV)
3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”

In 1990, Jamie Rickert – self-identified wandering ministral, singer, songwriter, storyteller, juggler, clown, magician and fool for Christ – forever changed the way I hear this parable.  He was part of the team leading the Phoenix Power and Light Co’s Performing Arts Conference.  I was a clown-in-training soaking in all the techniques he and the other leaders offered as my alter-ego, Valentine, came to life.

After a long day of trying to learn how to juggle, balance on a tight rope, and breathe fire, the lot of us gathered in a small room crammed with oversized couches arranged in a oblong fashion, for liturgy.  As the lights dimmed, Jamie joined us.  His whiteface was gone and the once mime man began to play his guitar.  He invited Karen, another team member, to panomime the story as he began to sing. 

As the lyrics described the sower sowing, Karen gestured the spreading of seeds.  As they turned to birds eating up the seed, Karen stretched her arms like a crow in flight gliding for a landing, then she settled on to the ground and seemingly pecked at the seeds in front of me. Anticipating the next stanza’s description of the seed that fell on poor soil, Karen twisted her feet on the floor as if they were roots extending into the dirt. Simultaniously, she reached her arms far above her head showing how she was soaking in the sun. then she fell in a twisted mass as if scorched and dying on the floor.

This is when it happend. Jamie threw a new twist into the ancient tale. Like an old phonograph that repeats the same phrase over and over when the needle is stuck in a vinyl groove, Jamie sang about the poor soil again and again… and Karen planted, reached, and fell scorched and twisted over and over….    

In Jamie’s version, the sower kept throwing seed on the poor earth.  In fact, the steadfast sower did not stop his pattern of scattering the grain everywhere. In the process, the plants that had grown and died begain to pile up and decay. They transformed the poor soil into good soil. After what seemed like an eternity, Jamie sang about new growth and the results that can come from persistance…. and Karen stopped falling, took root, and blossomed.

Jesus always embedded some form of twist or surprise in the stories we now name parables.  When he shared them, he shared the same context as their first hearers and he knew how to weave a tale that would make his audience think twice. Too often today’s Christian commuities – removed from the story’s context – miss Jesus’ embedded challenge.  The words are familiar and we miss the surprising conclusion.

Jamie changed that for me.  His telling invited me hear the Parable of the Sower with new ears and Karen’s re-inactment enabled me to see with new eyes. While there are likely many appropriate times to discontinue our efforts, the great sower persevers, and we with him. 

What can we do to ensure that our blinders will be lifted when planting churches and growing ministries? How can we help one another stretch our visions of church and being church?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Being Church

Growing up, I learned to associate the word church with a wide range of experiences.

Church was the place we went on Sundays to hear biblical stories and share a ritual meal recognizing Jesus’ presence in us and among us. It was also the collection of families active in the Christian Family Movement that regularly met in one another’s homes to connect faith, life and action using a method known as “See – Judge – Act.”  This is where I learned to associate knowledge with responsibility.

Church was my uncle, a priest, who went to pre-seminary as a teenager and spent a lifetime trying to labor within institutional structures while also pushing and critiquing the boundaries.  It was also the dedicated women and men in the field, energized by aggiornomento (the Second Vatican Council’s encouragement for openness and updating) that mentored me and my understanding of how I was church, a member of the Body of Christ.

Church was school where Sister Terentia’s “Hi God” at the start of each day God, dedicated everything in that day to God… and Sister Maria Cecilia’s instantaneous halt of whatever we were doing to pray at the sound of a siren -mindful of those who needed help and those who were responding … and Mr. Nestorak’s scoliosis-bent body challenging our scientific minds and abilist assumptions … and Sister Cecilia Maureen’s invitation to actively participate by teaching Sunday School, ultimately opening the door to my calling integrating faith and media.

Church is my family… mom’s seasonal decorations ritually replicating the liturgical calendar in our home and calling us to mindfulness…  Gram’s daily meditations and recitation of the rosary…  all of us gathered nightly in the hallway outside my parents room, to kneel in God’s presence, reflect on the day, and pray. It is also the families that chose me and that I have chosen – the Kingdom Construction Company, First Fridays, Second Wednesdays – each a form of intentional community sharing the Word as we attempted to become it.

Church is via media – the middle way – balancing conservation and innovation, institution and grassroots, literal and symbolic, personal and communal, invitation and restriction, espoused and operative, human and divine. Living in this tension, church calls for honesty, authenticity, intentionality, mission-focus, liberation-orientation, and love-filled witness.

Through these and other experiences, I experienced a whole ecology of faith. I learned that Church is word and sacrament, justice and healing, advocacy and action. Being church means following Jesus’ Way – everyday – not just with my head, but my whole self. Being church links knowledge with responsibility – challenging that my life reflects my beliefs and  that what I say I believe is actually how I operate.

As a member of the Body of Christ, I am Church. Being church crosses time and space, ritually linking past with future, calling me to be church with other and for others, witnessing God’s love by offering my gifts  as we strive to enact the Dream of God.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment