June 13, 2019 - M. Scott Peck, best-selling author of "The Road Less Traveled" also wrote an interesting book entitled "The Different Drum," about community building. I became fascinated by his observations about why people go to church. There is overlap, of course, but it appears we also have very different reasons for why we show up. This awareness, and realizing later how different our worldviews can be depending on when we were born, made me more aware than ever of the extraordinary diversity of our congregations, and how important it is that we get to know one another.
A group many mainstream Christian traditions are learning to appreciate and to understand are the group named "Milliennials" (which include both of my children - both of whom I appreciate; neither of whom I understand!)
Most recently, a series of articles on Millennials and the Church have been published by “Vital Practices” of the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), the mission of which is to strengthen the strategic, leadership and financial institutions of the Episcopal Church. I highly recommend you check out their website found here to see the resources and tools offered to respond to the changing needs of the Church.
Recently "Vital Practices” of the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) published a number of articles on Millennials (the link to these articles can be found here.) All of us would, I believe, benefit a great deal from seeing our Church from the perspective of a generation that grew up in an electronics-filled and increasingly online and socially-networked world. As the most ethnically diverse generation, millennials tend to be tolerant of difference.
They have much to teach us.
May 22, 2019 - I have found the extraordinary events of the past several weeks exhilarating, challenging, exciting, exhausting, inspiring, and disturbing – in short – a bit of a “wake-up” call. I have been hearing about “Missional Church” for many years now, but it’s not something I have fully understood, nor really focused on. After talks and sermons by Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, the brilliant preacher at Bishop’s Kym’s consecration, The Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, I am convicted by my complacency at a time when, more than ever, the Church, Christ’s Body, has something of the utmost importance to say to a fractured and hurting world.
The Episcopal Church has for many generations been an “establishment church.” For many years the Episcopal Church represented privilege. We have expected people to come to us; we have beautiful liturgy; we have developed wonderful music and children’s programs to attract people. And they have come. They still do, but in significantly less numbers. The question we have to ask is “why?” There are dozens of reasons, but bottom line, I am convicted by the fact that as an establishment church we have become complacent. Jesus is still in our building, as Stephanie Spellers says, but he is also outside our building. We are called to be followers of Jesus. That’s a pretty challenging call, because Jesus never stood still. He was on the move – always on the move – seeking out the lost and the lonely, touching and healing those who were considered undesirable, unclean, unwelcome – all in the name of love.
As we explore the shift from being an establishment church, a church based on the teachings of Jesus, on Scripture, and rich traditions build over millennia, we also need to be looking outside of ourselves, expanding our scope, taking what we know about God’s love of us and of all people to those places outside our walls where Jesus bids us to go. As much as we need to continue to embrace, to cherish, to love and to perpetuate “establishment church,” we also need to go beyond – to move, as God is moving. We need to meet people where they are – whoever they are, truly seeing them, truly listening to them – curious about their lives – open to learning about them, without any preconceived ideas, without an agenda. That’s the beginning of what it means to be a missional church. Growing and vibrant churches are those in which God in Christ is central, the sole reference point, the reason we do what we do. God in Christ answers the “why” of our church life.
“Be welcomed” we proclaim at St. Ambrose. Why? Because we know that we, warts and all, are welcomed and loved by God as beloved children of God. We recognize that all those we encounter, whether on the street, in our workplaces, or in our pews, are beloved children of God. We welcome them in the name of God – in the name of love. Why do we proclaim “Be restored?” Because we know what it’s like to be fed each week – spiritually fed by God’s real presence in the bread and the wine, fed by the beauty of the liturgy and the music, fed by the support and love of our friends. We long for others to know this, too. Why the word “Connect?” Because we know we are connected to God and God is connected to us. God will never let us go. God is in us and we are in God. God is in ALL of us. We all belong. “Serve.” Why, because Christ, crucified and risen, came to this earth to serve – to serve us, and modeled for us in everything he did, what it means to serve others – those we know and those we don’t.
God is on the move. God is on a mission. It’s a mission “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (Book of Common Prayer, p. 855). Or, as Stephanie Spellers translates it, “God is loving the world into wholeness.” That is the mission God asks us to join.
May 16, 2019 - Clergy Retreat in Avon last week was wonderful – as they all tend to be – with truly inspiring guest speakers, including those who have graced us with their presence these past several years - Walter Brueggemann, a preeminent theologian and scholar, Richard Rohr, Franciscan friar and spiritual writer, and John Bell, the Celtic musician who has written among dozens of hymns, one that I think many of us know called, “The Summons,” the first verse of which goes like this.
Will you come and follow me
If I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know
And never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown
In you and you in me?
This hymn is a call to our faithfulness, openness and willingness to risk as the way to knowing our own belovedness in the eyes of God, and to learning how to become beloved community. This was cleverly highlighted in the logo for the Clergy Retreat.
What does it mean to be “Beloved Community?” asked The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, guest speaker at this year’s Clergy Retreat. She pointed out that diversity is not the same as beloved community. It’s an interesting distinction. It seems to me that beloved community is about being intentionally loving in all our relationships, about embracing the other rather than simply tolerating or putting up with the other. Beloved community strikes me as the rarest of gifts, especially now, when divisiveness is rife. Imagine a place that is safe, where we can be ourselves, where we feel heard; a place where we feel we belong, a place of purpose and meaning, where who we are and what we stand for in the world makes a difference; a place where the central message brings healing and hope, renewal and joy; where people truly get to know one another, care for one another; a place where we are deeply fed and filled, affirmed and renewed, can take the love of God, touch of Jesus out into the world. Church at its best. What a gift we would be to the world.
May 6, 2019 - I write this in anticipation of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado Clergy Retreat that starts tomorrow and ends on Thursday at noon. The setting in the mountains will be lovely. I trust that this time away will allow me to be still and to truly reflect on all the images tumbling through my over-active mind like a kaleidoscope as a result of the intense excitement I feel about St. Ambrose and the promise it holds for spiritual growth, a deeper sense of purpose and even greater vitality.
Part of this excitement was prompted by the recent Vestry Retreat facilitated by Ann Fleming from the Diocese. First of all I realized what a phenomenal Vestry you have – gifted, prayerful, thoughtful, forward thinking, compassionate, energetic, committed and faith-filled. This helped me understand your giftedness – the giftedness of this St. Ambrose community - which the Vestry members represent so well.
During our retreat, Ann reminded us that a church’s identity grows out of its giftedness, and that aspects of its core identity are all pieces of God. Look at St. Ambrose and your gifts – how they shape your identity and how they are, in fact, pieces of God. Your hospitality is an aspect of who God is; your compassion towards one another and your neighbors in the larger community through a wide range of outreach efforts are aspects of who God is; the joy you express in the music during worship and in the fun times you have together are aspects of who God is; your tending to God’s earth in the upkeep of the lawns, shrubs and flowers on this property, as well as housing bees, are aspects of who God is; your delight and the nurture of your children are aspects of who God is; the food and friendship you enjoy during coffee hour are all aspects of who God is, and on and on!
Please claim your unique gifts, both individually and as a community. Celebrate them. Share them. Grow them. That’s how we love God back.
April 28, 2019 - Through Virginia Theological Seminary, which I attended, I have direct and indirect connections with three African American women, who either are, or are soon to be Bishops in the Episcopal Church – Carlye Hughes, who was a year ahead of me and the proctor in my dorm, was consecrated bishop in the Diocese of Newark last year; Phoebe Roaf, a year behind me – also from my dorm, will be consecrated Bishop in the Diocese of West Tennessee this coming Saturday, and Kym Lucus , a friend of one of my closest friends from seminary. I find myself far more excited than I had anticipated. Something amazing in happening in our Church – winds of change – the promise of new life – participation in the family of God in more inclusive and deeply enriching ways. We are discovering that we are all part of God’s beloved community.
It is with this in mind that I believe it makes more sense to focus our adult education on some of the work that is going on in the Episcopal Church, starting this coming Sunday with short videos on what our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has to say about “beloved community” and the “Jesus Movement.” In his first address as Presiding Bishop, he said: “This is the Jesus Movement, and we are the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in the world.” Presiding Bishop Curry calls us all to follow Jesus “into loving, liberating and life-giving communion with God, with God’s creation and with one another.” Please do come to the Adult Ed hour in Barcelona House between services this Sunday to learn more about “what the Spirit is saying to the Church.”
April 21, 2019 - G. K. Chesterton was an English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One of his most well-known quotes reads, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Ouch! I must say, though, it’s when confronted with the hard things – sometimes the unspeakably hard things that I am reminded of this quote. Take the appalling news out of Sri Lanka recently, when over 350 individuals were killed at the hands of extremist suicide bombers. I believe the desire to retaliate is instinctive – fight or flight. That’s when our reptilian brain operates at its best. As Christians we’re asked to go beyond that.
I remember a specific time in life when I hated – hated a person. Like a lightning bolt one day it struck me that the person I hated was God’s beloved. How could I – how dare I - hate what God loved.
Although we may feel outrage and remorse when we hear terrible news, information overload has made many of us somewhat numb to atrocities that don’t directly touch us. That’s when I have to remember what hate looked like in my own world – and how clear it was to me that hate and retaliation is our way – not God’s way. Jesus didn’t hate and retaliate. On the contrary, to become love fully and completely, he kept walking to the cross.
And as the spring breezes blow, and trees burst into blossom, and birds twitter excitedly in the early morning hours, the resurrection, the response of love by love is everywhere. Episcopalians are often called “Resurrection People.” We are called to live out of Christ’s resurrection – we are called to say yes to love – even when it’s excruciatingly difficult.