Openings for baptised souls

by Demi Prentiss

With belated birthday wishes to J.K. Rowling and to Harry Potter, I’m posting this because of what it has to say about the meaning of baptism. With permission, I’m re-posting a Facebook entry from the Rev. Patricia Lyons, famed for celebrating the mysteries of Hogwarts. Here’s what she offered on July 31:

July 31st…a day for Birthdays and Baptism

 

Happy Birthday JK Rowling and Happy Birthday Harry Potter.

 

[July 31] is a special day for both the Harry Potter fandom and for anyone in that fandom who has been or might be baptized. For those folks, today is more special than you might realize.

 

Everyone knows that Harry’s best birthday present came just a few minutes into his eleventh birthday (July 31,1991) along with a cake from his newest friend and fan Rubeus Hagrid. Hagrid handed Harry his Hogwarts acceptance letter — the proof in writing of Harry’s magical identity and miraculous destiny.

 

But what many people do not know is that when JK Rowling was nine years — until around 12 years old – she had a Saturday job cleaning the Anglican Church down the road from her house. She and her sister were paid one British pound each week to clean up the church and prepare it for Sunday worship. Joanne fell in love with that church, the sight and smells of candles, the stories depicted in its colorful windows and the words of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer that she re-organized in the pews every week.

 

According to Rowling, after a few years of cleaning the church, she wanted desperately to join it. Although her family practiced no religion, Rowling presented herself to the priest to be baptized. She wanted to be a member of the Christian faith. Her parents did not object and Joanne Rowling was baptized at the font of St. Luke’s church.

 

For those of you who wonder how impactful that baptism was on her life and her imagination, consider this: Joanne Rowling was baptized on her 11th birthday. So she shares with Harry not only an annual birthday, but they also share the experience of their eleventh birthday as a day that revealed magical identity and miraculous destiny. Rowling has never commented on the fact that her baptism and the reception of a Hogwarts Letter both come on one’s 11th birthday. Rowling is one of the most intentional writers of our time, so the thought that there is no symbolism in a Hogwarts Letter arriving on the age of her baptism is hard to believe. I trust she wants us to think of the identity that opens for us at baptism as easily and truly as opening a life-changing letter on our birthday.

 

Just like the Snitch, every baptized soul will open at the close.

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Update from General Convention

by Fletcher Lowe

NEWS FROM THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH’S GENERAL CONVENTION!!!

Among the many great things that happened at the recent Episcopal Church’s General Convention was the passage – and funding – of a resolution that will hopefully put flesh and bones to a somewhat dormant canon (law) putting into action the Church’s calling to empower all the Baptized in their daily life.  It directs the church’s leadership to appoint a task force to work to provide ways and means for dioceses, parishes, and seminaries to “equip the saints for ministry.“ (Ephesians 4) You can read that resolution here.  The task force appointed will work during the next three years, and bring a report to the 2021 General Convention in Baltimore.

Aside from that, EBM’s efforts at General Convention included a daily drawing to give away a copy of the book Radical Sending, Go to Love and Serve; giving stickers (Think Outside the Font), Dove chocolate (“the Spirit at work!”), and beautifully designed large Baptismal certificates; and publication of Faith at Work articles in the daily edition of ISSUES, (a publication of The Consultation, of which we are a member). You can read all of the ISSUES articles from 2018 here.

How do we teach love?

By Pam Tinsley

“How do we teach love?” was the provocative question posed by 16-year old Maria Gonzalez as she addressed the House of Bishops during General Convention. Despite her soft-spoken voice and age, Maria’s wise words are powerful and reflect her passion as an advocate for others. Not only was Maria part of the Official Youth Presence, this past spring Presiding Bishop Michael Curry had selected Maria to represent The Episcopal Church at the 62nd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York City in March.

The members of the General Convention Official Youth Presence addressed the House of Deputies on July 9. The Official Youth Presence was established by an initial resolution in 1982. The members are permitted seat and voice by the rules of the House of Deputies and participate in committee hearings and floor debates. Maria Gonzalez appears on the front row, wearing red.*  Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service.

Maria tells us that her baptismal promises have strongly influenced both her worldview and beliefs. Her promises ground her when she observes the lack of love she sees, especially in human rights abuses in the world around us. They also inspire her to challenge injustices by urging The Episcopal Church to be more loving and inclusive in order to change the world.

How do we teach love? Maria’s impassioned address reminds us that our children and youth learn not only from what they specifically are taught at home, in school, or in church, but also from what they hear and see around them – love, hate and indifference. It’s apparent from Maria’s words and actions that she has been nurtured by adults who witness God’s love by living into their baptismal promise to continue in the Apostles’ teaching. As Maria reminds us, in order to walk in love and to share and teach God’s love, we need to be loved and be loving – in word and actions. In other words, love and compassion teach love and compassion.

Maria’s life-giving words reflect her baptismal ministry of transforming our world into a more loving place. Her address reminds us that we, too, make those same promises: to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to love our neighbors; to strive for justice and peace among all people; and to respect the dignity of every human being.  These promises are borne out of God’s love for every human being.

Maria’s message of love and of hope for the future – not only of the Episcopal Church, but also for our country and for humankind – is one that we all can learn from. I encourage you to watch Maria’s thoughtful and inspiring YouTube presentation. Her blog offers a summary of her talk.

*The members of the 79th General Convention Official Youth Presence are Georgia Atkinson, New Hampshire; James-Paul Forbes, Connecticut; Anthony Baldeosingh, Long Island; Wentao Zhao, Long Island; Alexander Ward, West Virginia; Andrew K. Kasule, Washington; Justin Mullis, Diocese of North Carolina; Helena Upshaw, South Carolina; Claire Parish, Western Michigan; Alexander Koponen, Indianapolis; Emily Jetton, Iowa; Luisa Van Oss, Minnesota; Michaela Wilkins, Texas; Cecelia Riddle, Kansas; Angela Cainguitan, Hawaii; Maria Gonzalez, Olympia; Diana Marcela Abuchar Sierra, Colombia; Fernando Jose Aguilar Sanchez, Honduras.

How do YOU put faith into action?

by Pam Tinsley

During Sunday services, following the heart-breaking news of children being separated from their parents at the border, we renewed our baptismal promises as we baptized a three-year old boy. Jake, his family, and his sponsors were seated together, filling the first two pews in the church. As the liturgy began, I was struck that Jake was on a border, too: He was about to cross the border into new life in Christ – and he was surrounded by his supportive family and church community.

Five Syrian refugees baptised at Easter.

Baptism is life-changing and is not to be taken lightly. We make promises to God, or promises are made on our behalf, as to how we will live our lives as faithful followers of Christ. We, the church community, not only promise to do everything within our power to support the newly baptized in their life in Christ, we also renew our own baptismal promises, one of which is:

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

This past Sunday’s baptism was particularly poignant. After the preacher assured us that Jake, strengthened by his participation in the Body of Christ, will grow in his faith and become an instrument of God’s grace and love, he reminded us, the congregation, that our own baptismal vows obligate us to put our faith into action. When we say that we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being, we are promising to participate in God’s work of reconciliation and to help heal our world’s brokenness. We are promising to stand up for just treatment of the most vulnerable among us, especially those who are oppressed.

Today, the most vulnerable are innocent children who have been separated from their parents.

Putting our faith into action is serious ministry, and it takes place outside the doors of our churches. It takes place when we share our concerns with our neighbors; when we speak up against abuses of power; and when as citizens we engage with our civic and government representatives. Putting our faith into action is our baptismal ministry.

How will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being – today?

Factoring God into our daily lives

by Fletcher Lowe

Adolph Eichmann, one of the Nazi officials who supervised the murder of countless human beings during the Nazi regime, was blinded by a systemic effort to eradicate certain groups of people. God was not a part of his equation.

Unlike Eichmann, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  were each confronted by a system of laws that was unjust, and each had their eyes opened, factoring God into the equation of their lives.

So too with Jesus. He and the Pharisees had an ongoing conflict.  One of many contentious occasions (Mark 2:23-3:6) focused on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were guardians of an intricate system of laws governing the Sabbath.  To some extent they had reduced the practice of religion to following a set of laws. But here comes Jesus in a bit of civil disobedience, helping his followers glean the grain fields to resolve their hunger. Then Jesus goes on to restore a man’s withered hand. Both events took place on the Sabbath, contrary to Sabbath laws.  Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus was not blind to human need – he was factoring his own divinity into the equation of his daily life.

During my ordained life part of my pastoral ministry has been to visit members in their places of work.  The conversation begins with what do you do here. Then the second question:  What is the faith connection with what you do here, the Sunday-Monday connection?  I must tell you that for the vast majority – like 85% – this is the first time that that question has come to their consciousness. What an indictment of the church! For that work place is where they are spending most of their God-given time and ability.  After some continuing conversation, most come to an “aha”: Their eyes open and they begin to see that their work – as a contract lawyer or a mortgage broker or a governmental official or a homemaker – is indeed their baptismal ministry. The “aha” comes as they factor God into the equation of their daily life and work.

The question is the same for each of us – for you and for me: How do we, as the Baptized, factor God into the equation of our daily lives?

Why hidden work matters to God

by Demi Prentiss

The good people at Made to Flourish insist that work matters to God, and they push churches to integrate faith, work, and economic wisdom. A few months ago I read a recent blog post on Made to Flourish’s site by Courtney Reissig. (It’s excerpted here, and well worth your taking time to read the entire post.) I was reminded of an evening prayer (BCP p. 134 ) that asks God to “watch over those … who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil.” [italics mine]

Work that takes place outside the church – and especially work that is done by laity and isn’t rewarded by a satisfying paycheck – is often unrecognized in the life of our congregations.  We say, “Stewardship is everything we do after we say ‘I believe,’” and yet we often overlook our fellow stewards – the “image bearers” who show us God in action, all around us in our daily lives.  Reissig, who looks particularly at work that takes place in the home, asks us to think differently:

When you ate your breakfast this morning, did you think about the person who bought the groceries that made your morning possible? What about your clean clothes or mowed yard — did you notice the person who did those things? Maybe you are that person, but maybe you are married to that person. Regardless of who did the work, the reality is that there are many unseen things that happen throughout our days that keep our lives going. There are ordinary things that we do, that often go unnoticed, but that does not remove the value they bring to our lives.

 

Our homes, churches, communities, and neighborhoods are upheld by hidden, ordinary work. And in a society that often places value on work based on compensation, not contribution, I want to reframe the work conversation and bring it back to what God intended work to be about — bearing his image to a watching world.

 

One of the primary reasons I wrote Glory in the Ordinary is because I believe all work (paid and unpaid) brings glory to God. God made us to work. He works and we reflect him in our work in the world that he made. But I also know I’m a product of a culture that places value on certain types of work, namely paid or higher paid work. I don’t do a lot of paid work in a given day. Your churches are filled with people like me. Our days consist of just as much work as your spouse or friend who works in the marketplace, but for the most part people don’t see what we do. The impact of our work is long-term, so it’s hard to quantify how it contributes anything good to society (unless you measure in years, not days or weeks).

 

It’s important work. It’s needed work. It is also hidden work, and my hope in this conversation is that it sheds some light on all the unseen joys, struggles, and complexities that encompass the work of the home….

 

….Society is served by this hidden work. We marvel at a delicious meal, a beautiful landscape, a sparkling floor, or well-decorated home and sometimes forget that image bearers worked to make it all possible. We are bathed, chauffeured, fed, comforted, and cared for by fellow image bearers from infancy to death, and it’s beautiful in God’s eyes. It’s loving his world.

 

This is my hope for our conversation: As you serve the people in your churches, you will honor the work of the home as a vital contribution to the world God has made. God created us to work. And in the Lord, no ordinary work is ever completed in vain (1 Cor 15:58).

Just what are we really calling people to join?

by Wayne Schwab

In The Episcopal Church (TEC), we are moving into a heavy emphasis on evangelism. But what is evangelism?

On Mission

Is it calling people to join the church?

or

Is it calling people to join the mission??

The Episcopal Evangelism Toolkit seems to say evangelism means calling people to join the church.  A one-liner on the opening page reads, “As we share our stories, we practice becoming Beloved Community.”

When do we get around to practice becoming beloved agents of God’ mission?

The “Evangelism Charter” for TEC reads, “Through the spiritual practice of evangelism, we seek, name, and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the storied of all people – then invite everyone to MORE.”

What is the MORE?

Does Episcopal evangelism ever get beyond story-telling to story-living wherever we are?

Sunday, our pastor asked the children gathered in the front of the church, “What is mission?” Only one answer was offered, and it came from a third grader: “It is like finding something that is wrong and making it right.”

Is your church teaching this as the kind of mission that your evangelism is asking people to join?

Are your members ever getting this message about righting wrong? Do you ever move beyond becoming Beloved Community? Do you ever hear about becoming beloved agents of God’s mission wherever we are?

Or do you hold that back until “they are ready for it”? How does our church prepare the Beloved Community to be ready for it? If we take our cue from Nike and “just do it,” how will your church send the faith community out into their everyday lives, to “do the work God has given us to do, as faithful witnesses of Christ Our Lord”? (BCP, p. 366)

Love, Actually

by Pam Tinsley

The Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, primate of the Episcopal Church, gives an address during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018. Owen Humphreys/Pool via REUTERS – RC1CE2F969C0

I was captivated by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s passionate sermon at the royal wedding this past weekend, as I’m sure many of you were. The core of his message: “We must discover the redemptive power of love . . . and when we do that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world.” Love, he says, is the only way.

I had the joy of hearing Bishop Curry preach and speak at the Evangelism Matters Conference in March, where he made it clear that love, beginning with God’s love for humankind, is the heart of evangelism.  Evangelism is understood not as bringing more people into our pews on Sunday, but rather as building a better world, a more loving and caring world – a world where all people are treated with dignity and respect. We were asked to think about evangelism as seeking, naming, and celebrating Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people – and then to invite everyone to MORE![1] And God is in charge of the MORE!

For Christians, our relationship with Jesus transforms our lives. It leads us to be more loving and strengthens us to serve as instruments in creating a more loving and just world. Consider what your own life would be like without knowing God, without knowing Jesus, without being empowered by the Holy Spirit! Where would our world be without Jesus as our center, helping us to love one another; helping us to care for one another; helping us to transform our old world into the new world filled with justice, hope – and love! God’s love for us in Jesus Christ matters. Love heals. Love transforms. And when we ourselves love, we experience that love is, actually, the only way.

[1] Evangelism Matters 2018; The Episcopal Church. www.episcopalchurch.org/evangelism. March 2018.

BISHOP TOM RAY — Pt. 2, In His Own Words

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

http://www.ecfvp.org/vestry-papers/article/49/revolution-brews-in-the-baptismal-font

Tom Ray, bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan from 1982 to 1999 died in early February this year. He was 83. In his episcopacy he pioneered and implemented what he called Mutual Baptismal Ministry whereby congregations of any size and location could be fully and canonically empowered by the raising up from within all the ministers and ministries needed to be an asset-based community that was, in his words, “baptized into mission through ministry.”(Total Ministry is its short-hand title.) This especially included the identifying, training, and ordaining of parishioners to provide all the sacramental needs of the parish without depending on a retired or bi-vocational or Sunday supply priest who, in Tom’s words, “confects the sacraments for the parish instead of them being sanctified by the baptized community itself.”

In some Anglican/Episcopal circles this model of doing mission and ministry could and does rattle the ecclesiastical sensibilities of what it means to be the church. It challenged, and challenges, the traditional institutional order grounded and steeped in what Tom identified as “debilitating patriarchy, hierarchy and clericalism.”

In his own words: “Baptism is the transformational event. That’s what changes you. But we have taken all the solemnity of baptism and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed everything out of it and put it into ordination so that now ordination means everything and baptism means very little.” Tom once observed, “I have often thought that if baptismal formation took three years, and preparation for ordination took only three skimpy sessions, then we would indeed be experiencing and participating in a revolution.”

Stated more bluntly by Tom Ray, “Mutual baptismal ministry pushes back against the hierarchical infantilizing of adult Christians who are considered second class citizens if they are not ordained.”

But what characterizes this model and form of total ministry rooted in baptism? Again, in his own words: “My experience of renewal and transformation within the church comes in congregations that take responsibility for their own life and mission and ministry whereby collaboration replaces delegation by a designated usually ordained authority; where decisions are made by consensus, not rules of order; and where leadership is mutual and circular, not hierarchical.”

However, a baptismally alert and alive community that functions through collaboration, consensus, and circular leadership is not an end in and of itself. It’s not just a different institutional construct for its own sake. It exists for the full realization of what it means to do ministry in daily life.

In Tom Ray’s own words: “Christians imbued with the call to ministry as a result of their baptism, not their education or ordination, can bring all that to help and energize our lives so that we can live thoughtfully, sacramentally, diaconally, priestly, and apostolically—at home and at work and in  the neighborhood—then all of a sudden our Christianity is not something we do on Sunday, but it touches us everywhere at all times and in all places.”

Mobile Jesus

by Fletcher Lowe

Ascension, Salvador Dali, 1958

Earlier this week the church marked the Feast of Christ’s Ascension. I’m thinking about Ascension Day, as I hold my mobile phone.  The phone is a real gift with all it can do to provide so many services for me.  But sometimes it gives me a “no connection” or a “searching” message – and I have to wait or relocate to get service.

How does that relate to Ascension?  You may remember – Jesus takes the disciples up to a high place and then in a dramatic moment is lost to their sight.  He ascended.  Now, in the world view of his time, that meant up to heaven as opposed to down to hell. People sometimes joke that Jesus was the first astronaut. But to be fixed on that is to lose the essence of the Ascension.  The Ascension proclaims that Jesus who was physically limited for 33 years to a particular time and place, e.g. Palestine, is no longer bound.  He is “mobile Jesus,” unrestricted to geography or chronology – present in all time and all places.  The “searching” and the “no connection” messages do not apply to this mobile Jesus. Wherever it is, Jesus is already there.

Recently in a church publication, the title of an article read “Bring God into the Workplace.”  I thought, “How un-Ascension!”  We don’t bring God anywhere – God is already there, ready or not!!  Present in your home and mine, in offices and schools, restaurants, athletic fields, bars, war zones, flooded communities – God’s already there.

But we sometimes want to limit Jesus’ mobility – to relegate him to

  • A particular place like a church building
  • To a particular day, like Sunday
  • To a particular service like the Eucharist
  • To a particular person like a priest

The Ascension blows that out of the water.  Just as Jesus burst through the boulder that covered the tomb on Easter, so he bursts through any attempts on our part to limit his mobility.

And he said as much: “I am with you always, even to the ends of the earth.”  Hear that again:  “I am with you always,” whether we are aware of his presence or not – and not limited just to us or to Christians – but to all people at all times in all places. One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith – the mobile Jesus, unlimited, unrestricted.

So the message of the Ascension is mobile Jesus – no “searching,” no “no connection,” no “roaming.”

WOW!!!