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3 ways for worship to support everyday life

by Demi Prentiss

Do the people in your congregation leave worship each week knowing God loves their daily work, and celebrating how they contribute to what God is doing in the world? Equipping people to be co-creators with God – sowing love and justice in the places they live and work – is a transformative purpose of the church. Too often our focus in worship is on what we do while we’re inside the church building, rather than on how we can be God’s agents of transformation once we leave the church grounds.

Made to Flourish is “a network of pastors who seek to encourage and resource each other to integrate faith, work and economic wisdom for the flourishing of our communities.” One of the ways they do that is to challenge pastors – and their congregations – to make weekly worship a place where people learn the many ways they are sent out into the world.

How’s your congregations doing? Made to Flourish pastor Isaac Wardell offers an audit that examines three areas – practice, pastoral care, and posture.

  • Practice touches on what we do and talk about during worship, and the difference that can make to people’s understanding of their work.
  • Pastoral care looks at some of the ways that some vocations are disrespected in our culture, and how the church might be more intentional in “respecting the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer, Baptismal Covenant, p. 305), especially in their work.
  • Posture deals with how the willingness to become a “learner” opens doors for life-giving relationship with those we pray for and minister to.

Once you’ve discovered an area you might like to work on, Wardell also offers suggestions on small changes that can make a big difference.

Want to go deeper? Take a look at our book Radical Sending for some more stories, suggestions, and strategies.

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Claiming the mission

by Fletcher Lowe

Lynn McDonald, registered dental hygienist at the Naval Branch Medical Clinic’s Dental facility, gives a visiting student a ride in the dental chair. Photo by Verda L. Parker

As I sat in the dentist’s chair somewhat anxious (isn’t that what most of us feel!) awaiting the dentist, I began a conversation with the hygienist.  She spoke about how much she loved what she did, how fulfilling it was.  I said, “Sounds like you have a real ministry here.”  She paused and said, “I never thought of it as a ministry.”  I then pressed it a bit as to her strong commitment in using her God-given skills to help others, and she then reflected, “Well, perhaps it is a ministry…. Yes, I think it is.”

Last Sunday after a church service when I was talking with a newcomer, I asked what she did professionally.  She said she worked in a Social Service office.  I commented what a gift she must be to the people with whom she worked.  She responded by saying how much she did like what she did and, for the most part, she enjoyed the clients with whom she worked.  I said, “That is a real ministry.” To which she replied, “I never thought of it in that way. But maybe it is.”

These conversations reflect a couple of things to me:

  1. How isolated the word “ministry” is in many church-going people’s minds – limited to those who are professional “ministers.”
  2. How that isolation reflects on the opportunity the Church has – to acknowledge that chasm by helping people name the name, recognizing that what they are doing with their God-given time and ability is really a God-given ministry.

Christians are engaged in ministry every day in their daily lives, be it at work or in the community or at home.  We just need to help them name it.  In doing so we empower people to see that what they are doing is an expression of what God has called them to do and be.

Resolutions

by Pam Tinsley

As we turn the pages of our calendars to January 2018, perhaps we look with hopeful expectation to the New Year. Perhaps we think of it as a fresh start. And it will indeed be a new year: although our rituals and the seasons lend continuity and a sense of familiarity, each day opens us to a new beginning.

We may even contemplate New Year’s resolutions! Yes, I know: within a week, 25% of resolutions will be history. By year’s end, fewer than 10% will have been fully kept.

As much as I’m not a particularly avid “resolutionist,” a newspaper article[1]  recently caught my eye:  The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions. The author suggests that, if we rely on self-control and willpower, resolutions will fail. Instead, he contends, our emotions — specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride (not “hubris”, but what I would call “inner joy”) — encourage us to behave in ways that result in self-control. When our values are focused outwardly toward others, rather than inwardly toward ourselves, we are more likely to make meaningful changes in our lives. In short, these qualities – gratitude, compassion and a sense of inner joy – are also the basis for establishing and sustaining relationships.

And, certainly, as followers of Christ, we understand that our values are shaped by Jesus’ values of love, compassion, gratitude and inner joy.

This insight is helping me reframe my own perception of resolutions and to consider how I might take steps to embrace Jesus’ values more fully in my daily life. What about you? How might your New Year unfold if you embrace Jesus’ values of love, compassion, gratitude and inner joy in your daily life?

[1] DeSteno, David. “The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions.” The New York Times, December 29, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/opinion/sunday/the-only-way-to-keep-your-resolutions.html

Finding life in the Last Judgment

By Wayne Schwab

Many Christians shy away from Advent’s Last Judgment themes. Jurgen Moltmann’s healthy view of judgment, with Christ at the center, can help you to a brighter living of God’s mission.

Moltmann complains that the Christian idea of a Last Judgment [has come] to resemble the mythology of Egypt’s pharaohs, in which the god Anubis weighed souls and the god Osiris pronounced verdicts. Medieval portraits of the Last Judgment substituted Christ for Osiris and the archangel Michael for Anubis, and inculcated a fear of hell that “poisoned the idea of God in the soul,” Professor Moltmann says. He further states, “The image of the God who judges in wrath has caused a great deal of spiritual damage.”

Last Judgment (Ravenna) – Photo by Nick Thompson

The alternative, in Professor Moltmann’s view, is to put Jesus Christ at the center of this final drama. “It is high time to Christianize our traditional images and perceptions of God’s Final Judgment,” he says. Any Last Judgment with Christ at the center must answer the cries of human victims for justice, without simply meting out vengeance on the perpetrators of injustice. A Christian eschatological vision (a vision of the “last things” literally) would involve not the retributive justice of human courts but “God’s creative justice,” which can heal and restore the victims and transform the perpetrators.

The goal of a final judgment, in this interpretation, is not reward and punishment but victory over all that is godless, which he calls “a great Day of Reconciliation.” Professor Moltmann argues for the universal preservation and salvation not only of humans, as individuals and as members of groups, but also of all living creatures. It has been “a fatal mistake of Christian tradition in doctrine and spirituality,” he argues, to emphasize the “end of the old age” rather than “the new world of God,” the beginning of the “life of the world to come.”

This resurrected life will be bodily and worldly, and its expectation, he says, should teach people to “give ourselves wholeheartedly to this life here and surrender in love” to its “beauties and pains.”

[This summary is excerpted from Peter Steinfels’ column in the NY Times of 1/20/07. Prof. Moltmann’s two presentations on CDs are found at the Episcopal Marketplace; 800-229-3788. scowart@episcopalmedia.org.]

Hope bringers

by Demi Prentiss

Here we are in the middle of Advent – just past the beginning of the Christian year, looking toward Christmas and those Happy New Year celebrations, complete with made-to-be-broken resolutions. Each week church goers hear about the hope and joyful expectation embodied in Advent. With the days getting shorter, the temperatures colder, and the trees barer, many of us identify with the longing for a glimmer of hope.

“The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

For Christians, Jesus embodies that hope. And we look forward to re-claiming that hope for ourselves each year. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, / For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!’ is the reminder we hear in the verses of “O Holy Night.”

Thank you, Jesus! I deserve a little hope. Doesn’t everyone? For many of us, every-day life can be hope-crushing. All I want for Christmas is hope!

But wait. In the “already / not yet” world of the Christian, each of us is already a Christ-bearer, by virtue of our baptism. We are “marked as Christ’s own forever” (BCP p. 308). Each of us carries that spark of hope, even when it’s so dim we hardly feel it. As Peter reminds us, “Always be ready to offer a defense, … when someone asks why you live in hope.“ (1 Peter 3:15 The Voice)

Even when you aren’t aware of it, it’s likely the Christ in you is showing, or could be. In what ways might the people around you see your everyday work and the way you live your life as “bringing hope into the world”? And if you don’t think of your life in that way, what might happen if you did? What might happen in your work-place, or your family, or your cycling group, if your ambition each day was to bring hope into the world?

May your week bring many opportunities to be a hope-bringer.

Seeing saints

by Fletcher Lowe

“They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still.

The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.

You can meet them in schools or in lanes or at sea, in church or in trains or in shops or at tea,

For the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, CA

This past All Saints Sunday we sang this familiar hymn, and for the first time I really heard those words from the last stanza.  How relevant to connecting Sunday with Monday, liturgy with life, worship with work!!

To paraphrase the Ten Commandments (Please don’t send a lightning bolt, Lord!),

Remember the weekday to keep it holy!!

All of which reminds me of a reflection that George McLeod, a Scottish pastor who founded the re-opening of the Iona Community, made many years ago:

I simply argue that

the CROSS

should be raised in the center of the market place

as well as on the steeple of the church. 

I am recovering the claim that

Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles,

but on a cross between two thieves,

on the town’s garbage heap,

at a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew, and Latin and Greek…

at the place where cynics talk smut

and thieves curse

and soldiers gamble.

Because that is where he died,

and that is what he died for,

and that is what he died about,

and that is where churchmen ought to be

and what churchmen out to be about.

You Are the Light of the World

by Pam Tinsley

The verse, “You are the Light of the World,” from Matthew 5:14 was the theme of my congregation’s 2018 Stewardship Campaign. What I like about this theme is that it helps us focus outward from within the church. Jesus calls us to live as the light of the world every day – not just during stewardship campaigns – and the theme captures the relationship between stewardship and ministry in daily life. Our stewardship brochure asked the questions “How does our church shape the rest of your week?” or “What does ‘being the light of the world’ mean to you?”  We invited all members of the congregation to reflect on those questions during the month of November.

We also asked a handful of parishioners to share how they feel our church helps them to shine the light of Christ in the world. A small business owner said that her faithful Sunday worship and meaningful relationships within the church community help her to be a better wife, mother, grandmother, and a better boss.  A millennial para-educator, who drives 30 minutes to attend our church, describes it as an anchor that rekindles her own lamp so that God’s light can shine through her when she pours herself out at a job she loves – but which is also a job filled with challenges. A high school teacher believes our communal worship helps him to recognize his students’ vulnerability as well as their sense of compassion and justice. During the week he seeks to bring God’s grace into his relationships outside the church. And a retiree realizes that she kindles the light of Christ through worship, study and service. Then she can be the light of the world outside of church walls and outside of church-related ministries when she helps at the local food bank and other community service activities.

I find it striking how those rather simple questions prompted such meaningful reflections. By sharing their own experiences in writing or during a worship service, others in the congregation were invited to reflect more deeply on how they, too, might respond.

And now I invite you to consider:

  • How does regular worship shape the rest of your week?
  • What does “being the light of the world” mean to you?

The Gospel and the call to live it

by Wayne Schwab

Evangelism is the call to join the church. That is only half of Jesus’ story – and the smaller half, at that. The big part of Jesus’s story is calling the hearer to join his mission. We seldom get around to that. No wonder Christians are so mute and invisible on solving the issuers of the day – of adequate health care for all, a living wage, and care for “this fragile earth, our island home.”

When you talk of God, Jesus, and the church, go on to talk about joining the mission.

I have been working on evangelism for a long time. From the start, there was something missing. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s talk of the Jesus movement has been part of finding what is missing. Calling to join Jesus’ mission to make the world more loving and more just is the missing piece.

Mark’s Gospel has helped me the most. From the start, this first-written of the four Gospels tells of Jesus’ good news that God’s kingdom or reign is at hand (Mark 1:15). Eugene H. Petersen puts it this way in a present-day wording: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

Creative Commons: mac8oppo

Now comes the “eye-opener,” perhaps for you as well as for me. Jesus’ first act is to call Simon (to be called Peter) and Andrew to join him, to live the good news of God’s reign. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Do not take “fishing for people” as fishing for believers and church members. Jesus is calling them – and us – to be part of his work, his mission to make the world more loving and more just.

Yes, evangelize and call to join the mission.

God loves you; God calls you to love others!

Name it, claim it

by Fletcher Lowe

“I really like my work here.” the dental assistant said as I sat patiently waiting for the dentist to appear. “I like what I do and the people I work with and the patients—at least most of them, including you,” she continued.

Francesca Balajadia, Red Cross volunteer, is participating in the Red Cross Dental Assistant Training program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alesia Goosic)

I said, “It sounds like you have a real ministry here.” There was a pause, and then she said: “Really?  I never thought of it like that, but maybe what I do really is ministry.”

“Well.” I said,” it certainly sounds like a ministry to me.”

This is not an isolated event.  There are so many people working so many jobs that really are their ministry.  We just need to help them name and own it.  In so doing we put another dimension in what they do: That it is more than a job, really a ministry, God-given, through which they live out their faith in their work.

Christians of all sorts and conditions are doing ministry in all kinds of places and positions.  Our role is to help them name what they are doing as ministry and to help them own it.  What about the Uber driver or the ER nurse or the cleaning person in our office building or the receptionist in that office or the teller at our bank or the clerk in the clothing store…. The very act of affirming what a person does, thanking them for their work, can begin a short conversation that leads to naming what they do as ministry.

So often we limit the use of words like ministry and vocation and calling to those who are ordained, whereas all the Baptized are called to live into their Baptism in their daily lives, which is their ministry.  We need to help folks make that connection by naming it, so they may own it.

As Martin Luther once remarked, “The housemaid on her knees scrubbing the floor is doing a work as pleasing in the sight of the Almighty as the priest on his knees before the altar saying Mass.” We have a mission: To help the “housemaids” whose lives intersect with ours—even briefly—to own their work as ministry.

Shifting from ‘adulting’ to vocation

by Demi Prentiss

A recent blog post caught my eye. While it was aimed a young adults, I think the message is a profound one for the entire faith community:

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, young adults have lower employment levels and smaller incomes than previous generations. In addition, young adults are more frequently strapped with student loan debt which impacts their options for housing and reduces their buying power. Young adults are waiting longer to complete traditional milestones of adulthood like marriage and starting a family. At the same time, new milestones of adulthood have yet to emerge.

“When my young adult friends say “I’m tired of adulting” they are most often sharing their frustrations over these realities. They feel stuck because in many ways they are. To adult is to become an effective manager of your life and while that is good, it feels incomplete.

“This hunger for meaning is where I believe communities of faith can help. Revitalized communities of faith provide alternatives to “mindless adulting” by equipping men and women – both young and old – to discover and live their vocations. In these communities, stale catechesis is replaced by a Culture of Encounter and Vocation.

“How do congregational leaders begin this revitalization?

  • Let go of old program models that don’t work
  • Create space for people to listen and hear God who is calling
  • Help people identify their gifts
  • Appreciate the diversity of talents present in the community
  • Call gifts from the margin to the center
  • Uphold the dignity of all work
  • Place people in relationship with one another so needs can be shared without shame
  • Celebrate and find meaning through story sharing”

What might our faith communities look like if believers were formed to discover and live their vocations – not simply on the church grounds or on a mission trip, but every day? How do we uphold and celebrate the daily life ministries of all the baptized? What needs to change in your faith community to take the first step in this direction?