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With respect to words . . .

by Pam Tinsley

#Tagxedo Wordcloud: Pope Francis’s address to a joint meeting of Congress, September 24, 2015

“Will you respect the dignity of every human being?” was one of the questions we were asked as we renewed our baptismal promises on the First Sunday after the Epiphany (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305). This question was especially poignant in the face of the vitriol spewed by the administration’s leaders which resulted in an impasse that requires hundreds of thousands of government employees to work without pay. The longest government shutdown in our nation’s history is having a rippling effect on some people and a tsunami effect on others, such as those who rely on the government for essential services like food inspection, airport security, food for children and their families, and loans for already financially strapped farmers, not to mention paychecks for contract workers required to work and who will not receive back pay.

Will you respect the dignity of every human being?

As we wait for our elected officials to lead, I’m reminded that each one of us is a leader within our own sphere of influence. The words we proclaim on Sunday mornings when we renew our baptismal promises are not meant to be for Sunday only, or for only within the walls of the church. They are words meant for every day. They are words meant for each situation we encounter when we relate to others, regardless of whether they look like us, where they are from, or whether they hold the same opinions or beliefs as we do. Merely words? No! Words that shape how we live.

Living by the words of our baptismal covenant, including “will you respect the dignity of every human being,” requires us to hold our leaders accountable. This includes speaking up when the dignity of others is violated, because silence, after all, is consent. Our baptismal promises also call us to respect the dignity of those with whom we disagree. And therein lies the challenge.

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Good News wins!

by Wayne Schwab

The Gospel is Jesus’ victory in all of our life.

To talk only of God’s forgiveness and unconditional love as the Gospel can tempt us to a childish pattern of seeking only to be cared for, rather than seeking to be God’s coworkers. There is so much more power in the Gospel as the Good News of God’s victory in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness of sin and God’s unconditional love are still there as part of the Good News. But, the even greater Good News is that the risen Jesus shares his power over evil with us! “As the Father has sent me, so I send you … receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21-22). Through his gift of the Holy Spirit, we receive the power to cope with sin not only in ourselves but in the whole world out there.

Through baptism, we join God’s ongoing work in Jesus Christ to overcome evil, sin, and death – to overcome all that is against love and justice. Christian living becomes working with Jesus Christ in each of our daily arenas from Monday to Monday – in our homes, at work, in our local communities, in the wider world, when we’re at our leisure, in our spiritual health, and in our church life. In each of our daily arenas, we join Jesus in his ongoing work to make life more loving and more just.

Making life more loving and more just is a call to action! Christians can be invisible and silent no longer. We are on mission with Jesus Christ wherever we are. His Spirit – the Holy Spirit – is at work in us all the time as well. Not only are we forgiven, we have the power to cope with our own sin and to take on transforming life in our work – yea, in all of our own daily arenas.

‘God with us’ changes everything

by Demi Prentiss

from AwakeningChurch.com

The 12 Days of Christmas, the celebration of “God with us,” are almost done, and Epiphany is coming, the season that reveals Christ at work among us. The feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6, marks the start of one of the two “green” seasons of the Christian year.  Epiphany, like the longer post-Pentecost season of “ordinary time,” is the growing season, when we take action on the fruits of our Advent preparation / contemplation and our Christmas celebration.

All of this coincides nicely with New Year’s celebrations, when new year’s resolutions are supposed to lead to “amendment of life” and improved habits.

Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission (EBM) – the folks who bring you this blog – are hoping that you’ll take advantage of this creative opportunity to practice something new. We hope you’ll re-frame your response to God’s Christmas gift of “God with us,” by carrying your conviction of God at work within you into every aspect of your 24/7 life.

With the assurance of God beside you at every moment, challenging and supporting you, how might your transformed eyes see your co-worker’s behavior?  Your children’s short-comings? Your employer’s budget cuts in the product safety department?  Your pastor’s appeal to volunteer at the food bank?  Your having to take your turn on the clean-up crew or visiting the nursing home?

We hope you’ll discover an opportunity to be the change you long to see.

And to help inspire some of that transformational thinking, here are some links to some of 2018’s best resources:

From the Church of England’s “Setting God’s People Free” initiative

From the Theology of Work Project

Articles

Video

YouVersion Bible App Reading Plans

Theology of Work Bible Commentary

Mind your business

by Pam Tinsley

I recently saw a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He wrote his novella in 1843, in outraged response to the dire working conditions of the poor, especially of women and children, as England became more industrialized. I’m sure you’re familiar with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a slave of greed – heartless and mean-spirited – who is visited first by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, who voices his life regrets. He is then visited by the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, before he awakens humbled and transformed on Christmas morning.

As I listened to Jacob Marley’s words of deep remorse for his life failings, I was struck by how they reflect our promises at baptism. After Scrooge extols Marley’s virtues as a businessman, Marley retorts,

Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!…. Why did I walk through the crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star, which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!

Marley had realized belatedly that the most important aspect of his daily work as a business owner was to seek and serve Christ in his neighbor; to strive for justice; and to treat everyone he encountered with dignity and respect – using our baptismal language. Helping to create a more caring and just world was his true purpose in life.

Visits by the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future reveal to Scrooge the joy he experienced in his youth before greed corrupted him; the dismal plight of the world around him; and the bleak future that lies ahead. After the Spirits’ ominous visits, Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning a new man with his softened heart filled with love and generosity for others. Humbled, he heeds the Spirits’ warnings and is transformed – and learns always to keep Christmas well.

Although A Christmas Carol is a work of fiction, it reminds us all that humankind is our business. We, too, can keep Christmas in our hearts every day and show the world God’s love through our caring words, but especially through our actions where we live and work, each and every day.

Being a missional church

by Edward Lee

Peyton G. Craighill, a priest and missiologist, is a founding member of Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission. In fact, he’s been an advocate and interpreter of ministry in daily life for most of his professional and personal life which includes years of service in China as well as the USA. Recently Parkinson’s disease has silenced his speaking voice and made writing difficult. But there is a backlog of his written materials that are as relevant now as when they were first crafted. Here is one of them:

Peyton Craighill

THE MISSIONAL CHURCH MOVEMENT AND THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

 

by Peyton G. Craighill

 

In America, congregations generally assume that their success is measured in terms of how many mem­bers they are able to attract. They also assume that their power to attract and hold members depends on their ability to produce programs that meet the spiritual and social needs of their members. The most successful congregations are those with the most attractive power.

 

The problem with these assumptions is that they ignore why God created – and continues to create – congregations. The Church came into being when God sent his Son into the world to live, die, and rise again for that world and to commission his followers to spread the Good News of God’s love and justice through word and action into all that world.

The Church exists not primarily to attract people into congregations but to send people out to share with God in his mission in all areas of daily life. When we were baptized into Christ, he commissioned us all to participate with him in his mission, Monday through Sunday.

 

The paradigm shift from an attractional to a sending model of congregational ministry calls for a major reconsideration of every aspect of church life – worship, formation, community, and service. Mission is no longer on the periphery of church life. Mission is why congregations exist. Parish programs need to be re­ thought in terms not only of the corporate life of congregations, but also in terms of how they inspire, guide, and support each member in his or her missions in all areas of daily life – home, work, leisure, community, church, and the wider world.

 

In regard to the missional church movement in the Episcopal Church, what sets our approach apart from other Churches is our emphasis on baptism and the baptismal covenant. As Christ’s mission began with his baptism, so too our mission, shared with Christ, begins with our baptism. In particular, the five commitments we make in the Baptismal Covenant provide us with invaluable inspiration and guidance for our missions in Christ.

 

We recognize of course, that in mission-oriented congregations, attraction remains an important part of ministry. Unless congregations attract members in, there will be no missionaries to send out. But attraction is subordinated to sending. Indeed, the best way to attract people into congregations is when those congregations inspire and support all their members to live out their faith in their everyday lives.

Are you leading or managing?

by Wayne Schwab

  • Managers make what is work better.
  • Leaders take what is and make it into something new.

It is very easy for church leaders to become stuck in managing.  The “new” of God’s New Day in Jesus Christ can become lost in keeping everyone happy.  Easiest to lose is the daily living of the members.

For church leaders, especially clergy, the “delivery point” – the measure of effectiveness or the end product – is not Sunday morning or the prayer life of the members. The “delivery point” is how the members live every day.

The final truth about leadership is that it is shared by everyone, all – leaders and members alike.  So all are responsible for how all live every day.  As the primary leaders and those with the most power to effect change, clergy have a central role in building and supporting member mission – the practice of members being “on mission” each and every day.

Abraham Zaleznik

A breakthrough in leadership theory came in 1977 when Abraham Zaleznik published an article in the Harvard Business Review – “Managers and Leaders:  Are They Different?”  Harvard Business Review,  reprinted in January, 2004.

From HBR’s introduction to the reprint:

The difference between managers and leaders, he wrote, lies in the conceptions they hold, deep in their psyches, of chaos and order. Managers embrace process, seek stability and control, and instinctively try to resolve problems quickly—sometimes before they fully understand a problem’s significance. Leaders, in contrast, tolerate chaos and lack of structure and are willing to delay closure in order to understand the issues more fully.

Zaleznik is a founder of a school thought that integrated leadership and organization studies with psychoanalysis. He was a professor emeritus of leadership at Harvard Business School, one of the few certified psychoanalysts in the United States without a medical degree, and the author of sixteen books and numerous articles.

‘Prosper the work of my hands’

by Fletcher Lowe

“Prosper the work of our hands,” the Psalmist prays (90:17).

How often do we as Christians consider what the Psalmist asks: Connecting the use of our hands with our spiritual lives. In washing dishes, driving a car, using a computer (as I am now). In the work of the carpenter, the nurse, the surgeon, the chef, the manual laborer.

Our hands are a crucial part of our lives.  Just imagine losing the use of them, like a quadriplegic friend of mine who can no longer do even the simplest tasks with his hand!  Now don’t let me overplay this, but let’s pause a moment and reflect on that connection.

Martin Luther reflected that the handmaid on her knees scrubbing the kitchen floor was doing work that is just as sacred as the work of the priest kneeling at the altar saying Mass.  We’re back to hands, again:  Sacred hands, those of the handmaid as well as those of the priest.

The issue: How do we as Christians re-establish the connection between our daily “secular” lives and our “sacred” lives? How do we recognize that our distinctions between “sacred” work and “not-sacred” work might be artificial?

For many years as a priest I have been visiting parishioners where they work. We discuss the connection between their Sunday church lives and their Monday work lives.  Many experience an “aha!” where they make the connection they had not sensed before. They begin to realize that, as Christians, what they do in their office is just as sacred as anything else in their lives – including church. (handmaid/priest)

It does lead to a different perspective/worldview (“Thy Kingdom come”), when my job is seen in the wider context of my relationship to God. That shifted perspective puts a new light on all we do. Then we join the Psalmist, asking God to bless the world and all creation through our work: “Prosper the work of my hands, O Lord.”

Setting God’s People Free

by Demi Prentiss

With the passage of Resolution C005, General Convention earlier this year created the Task Force on Formation and Ministry of the Baptized. That group of 12 Episcopalians have been charged to “identify or develop curricula, practices, and strategies that can be used by dioceses and congregations to encourage and engage all the baptized in the work of building up the church by identifying their gifts for ministry, employing their gifts for ministry, and focusing on full engagement of their ministries in daily life, work, and leisure.” The task force is charged with recommending to the 2021 General Convention “strategies for the affirmation, development, and exercise of ministry by all baptized persons in the areas of gifts discernment, education and training for ministry, and leadership development.”

This work of recognizing, celebrating, and engaging the laity as equal and essential partners in ministry is not limited to The Episcopal Church. Back in 2017, the Church of England launched a new program called “Setting God’s People Free” (SGPF), aimed at equipping all the children of God to live the Good News of Jesus with confidence and joy, in every aspect of their lives, Sunday to Saturday.  Implementing the program means shifting the life of the church – every aspect of church culture – to focus on the whole people of God, living their lives in homes, schools, communities, and places of work, as well as the church.

The program originated in proposals from the Setting God’s People Free report written for the Archbishop’s Council and presented to Church of England’s General Synod in 2017. As one element of the C of E’s “Renewal and Reform” process, SGFP offers a series of practical resources for Monday to Saturday practices that support each church, and aim for a cultural transformation.

  • SGPF looks beyond and outside Church structures to the whole people of God at work in communities and wider society – not to ‘fixing’ the institutional Church.
  • SGPF challenges a culture that over-emphasizes a distinction between sacred and secular to a fuller vision of calling within the all-encompassing scope of the Gospel – not to limit vocation to church based roles.
  • SGPF seeks to affirm and enable the complementary roles and vocations of clergy and of lay people, grounded in our common baptism – not to blur or undermine these distinctions.
  • SGPF proposes imaginative steps to nourish, illuminate and connect what is working already in and through parishes and communities of faith – not to institute a top-down approach.

Only a year into implementation, the effects of SGFP are hard to gauge. The peer review process that is also a part of the Renewal and Reform is in its second year, and aims to facilitate shared learning as well as mutual accountability among participating dioceses.

The work of our fellow Anglicans in implementing SGFP can inform and enrich the work of the newly appointed TEC task force.  Stay tuned as the TEC task force – which I am honored to be a part of – embarks on its work.

Public service as ministry

by Pam Tinsley

In the days that led up to our contentious mid-term elections, I read an uplifting article[1] about Episcopalians from both sides of the aisle who cited their faith as leading them into public service. Just as some people are called to teaching, to medicine, or to ordained ministry, others experience their vocation as public servants. Audrey Denney, who ran for Congress in California, believes that “. . . all people are called to serve God in whatever capacity that [they] have vocationally. Sometimes that’s taking care of a family at home . . . and sometimes that’s running for office.” A consistent thread cited by the candidates interviewed in this article is that their call to run for public office arose out of a desire to make a difference. That desire to make a difference was inspired by their faith.

These candidates also revealed that their faith has instilled within them a sense of integrity and a commitment to justice – be it economic, racial, or environmental. Denney even describes her vision for the future as seeking the kingdom of God, although she acknowledges that she doesn’t necessarily express it in such terms when she is in secular venues.

These individuals – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – are living out their faith in the midst of public service by striving for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being, and loving their neighbors as themselves. Their faith has shaped their values, those same values that we see in the Baptismal Covenant (BCP p. 304-5).

Our faith shapes our values. Not all of us are called to political office or public service. I certainly am not. Yet I am grateful to live in freedom in a republic, and I view my participation – by voting – in the political process as essential to my faith. For me, it is an expression of how Jesus commands me to seek and serve him by loving my neighbors – with God’s help. Just as I have been encouraged to pray for wisdom and integrity in exercising my right to vote and to pray for our nation and elected leaders – regardless of political affiliation – I encourage others to do so, as well. After all – in the words of Thomas Jefferson – we, the People, are the true leaders of our nation.

[1] Paulsen, David. “Candidates with Episcopal roots cite faith as inspiring, guiding campaigns for Congress.” Episcopal News Service. http://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2018/11/02/candidates-with-episcopal-roots-cite-faith-as-inspiring-guiding-campaigns-for-congress.

The world needs members on mission

by Wayne Schwab

I believe that our primary purpose in creation is to build a more loving and just world.  And we are well on our way.  Humankind has come a long way toward living in more loving and just ways – away from tribal chiefs, child sacrifice, and treating illness with spells and toward more democratic governments, more responsible care for the planet, and more effective health care by doctors and their helpers.  We still have a long way to go in coping with climate change, in getting wealth out of politics, and in ending spouse and child abuse.

To continue on this trajectory, we need more members on mission who put themselves to work, making the world a more loving and just place, day in and day out wherever they are.  We need people for whom love does not give way to “me-first,” and justice does not give way to “our-crowd-first” mentalities.

Working for love and justice requires committed long-distance runners.  Long-distance runners need stamina and conviction.  With God’s help at every step, members on mission are able to run the distance.

The world needs as many members on mission as it can get.  For leaders, both clergy and lay, this is the challenge:  To connect with and support all church members as partners in God’s mission to make the world more loving and more just – for us, for future generations, and for our planet – all with God’s help.