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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?

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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!!!

Where is the church?

by Dave Walker

by Demi Prentiss

Clergy Coaching Network recently posted this cartoon on its Facebook page.  The cartoon, by Dave Walker, is used as an illustration in Steve Aisthorpe’s book The Invisible Church: Learning from the Experiences of Churchless Christians.

I was struck with the postings from commenters, who argued back and forth about what being the church actually means. And while people were willing to concede that the church is not a building, the notion that an individual, on their own out in the world, might be the church was apparently quite challenging.

In a world that practically idolizes individualism, how did we decide that a Christian alone is incapable of being an ambassador of Christ? How did we surrender agency to the institution, which was completely unknown to the founder? How can we interpret “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” and “You will be my witnesses” if the individual is incapable of being the church?

The church gathered for worship is a vital tool, equipping each person to leave worship and go into the world, to serve as the church scattered, like salt or yeast, to transform their surroundings.  What do you need to empower you to be the church, wherever you find yourself?

IN MEMORIAM: THOMAS K. RAY (1934-2018) – Part One

by Edward L. Lee

Tom and Brenda Ray

Little notice has been made in The Episcopal Church of the death of Tom Ray on February 6, preceded just three days earlier by that of his wife Brenda. Tom was the bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan from 1982 to 1999. Both died quickly after coping with protracted illnesses for several years. This June they would have been married for 59 years, during which time they raised four children who in turn provided them with many grandchildren. They were a very special couple and family.

Full disclosure: Tom and I were colleagues in ordained  ministry for 62 years, starting as seminary roommates in New York City and ending as bishops in Michigan, he in the Northern diocese (Upper Peninsula) and I in the Western diocese of the Lower Peninsula. We were closest of friends. Yet it was Tom who raised my consciousness regarding the centrality of baptism, not ordination, in the mission and ministry of the church.

The website of the Diocese of Northern Michigan presents that vision in these words:

Our goal is to transform our congregations from being communities gathered around a minister  to being ministering communities.

Stated more succinctly is the diocesan slogan: Stop attending church; start being the church.

It was Tom Ray who pioneered and instituted this pattern of “mutual ministry” (others have also called it “total ministry”) in Northern Michigan. A few other bishops of the church have promoted this vision of Christian community in the years before and after Tom, usually in similar dioceses of small and scattered congregations spread throughout expansive geographic spaces. The challenge: how to be fully sacramental Spirit-blown communities minimally burdened by the usual costs of property and personnel, and unfettered by unrealistic church rules and regulations, in order to live out the Baptismal Covenant, the Gospel’s constitution for all mission and ministry.

In future blog postings I will elaborate on this model of being/doing church. For the moment, however, I want to remember and celebrate the life and person of a dear friend and an adventuresome bishop who made a big difference in my life and in the life of the church even as it seems it might be forgetting him. I won’t let that happen.

Living Faith at the Crossroads

by Fletcher Lowe

George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, once wrote,

I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace 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 garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek . . .  at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died about.

As we experience Holy Week and Easter it is well to remember what George MacLeod has put so dramatically.  The real action for the Christian is not in the “cathedral” but in the marketplace where life is lived.  That is where the baptized live into their Baptism.  That is where, for the Christian, “the rubber meets the road.”