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Newsprint Epiphany

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

On May 9 I observed the 60th anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate of The Episcopal Church. The same for the priesthood will be observed on November 14. As for the episcopate, it will be my 30th anniversary on October 7. Collectively they represent a full lifetime of ordained ministry and leadership in the church. In memory and experience they are richly indelible.

The Church: “…gathered as a base camp and encircled and embraced by the triangular arms of the Trinity….

However, one other tally is missing in the above years of service. It’s the one that undergirds the others. The Prayer Book’s Catechism on page 855 informs us that the sequence of ministers and ministry in the church, not its hierarchy of clergy, are “lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons.” This means my life in ministry in the church began when I was baptized not ordained. So on June 23 I will remember and celebrate the 84th anniversary of my baptism. Truth be told, it’s taken me quite awhile to make that observance as indelible as the others: baptism as the first order of ministry in the church, not bishops nor priests nor deacons.

Over the years this recognition of sequence and not hierarchy of ministers has shaped my understanding of the church as a community of fully graced baptized equals and not a top down organization of spiritual and sacramental unequals.

For me the realization of this pattern of community occurred when I was chairing one of those annual organizational planning meetings that parishes and dioceses, and their vestries and councils, regularly conduct to envision and carry out their common life and mission. It entailed the usual brainstorming and posting of ideas and comments on newsprint.

In this case it was the diocese of my episcopacy and there were pages upon pages of newsprint taped on the walls throughout the meeting room. “How do we see ourselves as the church?” was the question to explore. And the image that was most common to much of the thinking was the triangle, and on the newsprint pages it was always visually vertical. At the peak point of the triangle was, of course, the bishop. Below that ministry came a middle rank of ordained clergy. And below them came the laity. This image of church was invariably three-tiered with me at the top, the other clergy next in line, and the laity at the bottom. Very hierarchical. Very authoritarian. Very Episcopalian. Just the opposite of the Prayer Book’s sequence of ministers.

It was at one such meeting that I had my newsprint epiphany. Rather than looking at the triangle vertically why not view it horizontally. To demonstrate this, I took down one of the newsprint pages and laid it flat on the table in front of us. From that vantage point all of the church’s ministers were now on a common playing field, all baptismally equal, a community of shared authority and accountability, of collaboration and consensus, of mutual responsibility and interdependence. In short, an authentic movement and community as revealed and mandated by Christ.

Here then is another image for ministers and ministry in daily life, gathered as a base camp and encircled and embraced by the triangular arms of the Trinity in “whom we live and move and have our being,” and sent forth to love and serve the world as Christ has loved and served us.

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Equipped for what?

by Fletcher Lowe

“…that we might receive a faithful pastor who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries….”  Parish transition prayer (bold mine)

Victorinox Swiss Champ XLT Pocket Knife

The congregation which my wife and I attend is in the search process for a new rector. Every Sunday in services and hopefully privately during the week, we offer prayer for the search, a phrase from which is quoted above. It is my hope and prayer that she/he will see “equipping us for our ministries” as a top priority.  All too often rectors get caught up in their own ministry of running a parish and fail to help empower the laity in their own ministries – the every-day, daily-life ministries, in particular. After all, don’t we go to church in order to be the church?

This past Holy Week underscored that for me in a new way. On Maundy Thursday at noon the bishop led the diocesan clergy in the service of Reaffirmation of Ordination Vows. Not only did we have the servant example of Jesus in washing the disciples’ feet, but the collect spoke directly: Give your grace…to all who are called to any office and ministry…. This came as a reminder that all the Baptized are called to ministry.

At the Easter Vigil we affirmed that calling as the baptized in our daily lives as we renewed our Baptismal Vows to proclaim, seek and serve, strive….

The collect for the second Sunday of Easter puts it another way:  Grant that all who are reborn (Baptized) into the fellowship of Christ’s Body, may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith….

The message is clear: Vocation and ministry are the province of all the Baptized, not just the clergy, that each one of us has a calling that we show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith….

As we do, our faith hits the street, our liturgy meets our life, our Sunday connects with our Monday.  That’s why the Dismissal is the most important part of our liturgy.  What else is the music and the readings and the prayers and the sermon and the bread and wine for but to equip us for our ministries beyond the church doors.

All the way to kingdom come

by Demi Prentiss

Photo by Dan Evans

Christians all over the world say the Lord’s Prayer often, in worship and in private prayer, and typically know the “prayer that Jesus taught us” by heart.  Like many of the things we do almost without having to think about it, we can come to say the words thoughtlessly. Sometimes the words lose their meaning for us.

“Your kingdom come” is one of those phrases that slips by, almost without our noticing – without our noticing that what we are praying for is the reign of God, on earth, right here, right now. And by offering that prayer, we’re acknowledging the part we have been created to play in the coming of that reign. We’re the children of God – whose kingdom we pray for – and “heirs through hope of [God’s] everlasting kingdom.” (BCP p. 339)

Learning to perceive God in action everywhere we find ourselves is one way we can begin to realize the in-breaking of the reign of God, sometimes in the most unexpected places. On occasion, we are allowed to see that our own actions might be aligned with living in the kingdom, in present time, in our daily lives.

This past weekend, the angels ushered Rachel Held Evans into the nearer presence of God, weeks after a reaction to antibiotics caused doctors to place her in a medically-induced coma. At age 37, she leaves a husband and two young children mourning her death, as well as a host of readers who found her a refreshing and liberating voice among writers who blog about religion. Evans was an Episcopalian and attended St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee.  Her books have been much-discussed and debated. As reported in the Washington Post, “Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all, and her work will long survive her,” her husband Dan Evans wrote on Saturday.

Rachel’s writing helped many people perceive the reign of God in a more-accessible, practical way. She spoke of God’s reign as allowing each person to be the beloved creation God envisioned. In honor of her life and her witness – her “baptismal mission,” her “ministry in daily life” – here are some of her words:

This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.

― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

 

We might say the kingdom is like St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn where strangers come together and remember Jesus when they eat. The kingdom is like the Refuge in Denver, where addicts and academics, single moms and suburban housewives come together to tell each other the truth. The kingdom is like Thistle Farms where women heal from abuse by helping to heal others. The kingdom is like the church that would rather die than cast two of its own out the doors because they are gay. The kingdom is like St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee, where you are loved just for showing up. And even still, the kingdom remains a mystery just beyond our grasp. It is here, and not yet, present and still to come. Consummation, whatever that means, awaits us. Until then, all we have are metaphors. All we have are almosts and not quites and wayside shrines. All we have are imperfect people in an imperfect world doing their best to produce outward signs of inward grace and stumbling all along the way. All we have is this church—this lousy, screwed-up, glorious church—which, by God’s grace, is enough.

― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

 

Let us so walk before God’s people, that those who follow us might come into his kingdom.

― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

 

“God’s kingdom in the preaching of Jesus,” explained [N.T.] Wright, “refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ . . . Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden dimension of ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever.”
― Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

 

Marriage is not an inherently holy institution. And it cannot magically be made so by the government, by a priest, or even by the church. Rather, marriage is a relationship that is made holy, or sacramental, when it reflects the life-giving, self-sacrificing love of Jesus. All relationships and vocations—marriage, friendship, singleness, parenthood, partnership, ministry, monastic vows, adoption, neighborhoods, families, churches—give Christians the opportunity to reflect the grace and peace of the kingdom of God, however clumsily, however imperfectly. For two people to commit themselves not simply to marriage, but to a lifetime of mutual love and submission in imitation of Christ is so astounding, so mysterious, it comes close to looking like Jesus’ stubborn love for the church.
― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

 

Jesus made it clear that he did not come to abolish the laws of the Torah, “but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The life and teachings of Jesus, then, embody all that these laws were intended to be. Jesus is what the living, breathing will of God looks like. This includes compassion for the poor, esteem for women, healing for the sick, and solidarity with the suffering. It means breaking bread with outcasts and embracing little children. It means choosing forgiveness over retribution, the cross over revenge, and cooking breakfast for the friend who betrayed you. As Elton Trueblood put it, “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.
― Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

Rest in peace, Rachel Held Evans. Your words will continue to enlighten and disturb us.

So I am sending you

by Pam Tinsley

“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” Jesus says to his disciples in the upper room on the evening of his resurrection (John 20:21). We hear this verse every year on the second Sunday of Easter as part of Jesus’ greeting to his startled disciples, who are gathered fearfully behind locked doors. Note that after offering his peace, Jesus’ first message to his disciples is to go back into the world to continue Jesus’ ministry.

This serves as a good reminder that Jesus consistently meets people where they are, physically and spiritually. During his earthly ministry he healed, taught, forgave sins, reconciled people to God and to one another, and gave hope to the poor and marginalized. Jesus called his first disciples while they were in the midst of their daily lives, working as fishermen, as tax collectors. And Jesus also calls us to follow and serve him in the midst of our daily lives.

Jesus reminds both his first disciples – and us – that we are to continue his ministry out in the world and not within our church walls. The Episcopal Collect for the second Sunday of Easter also emphasizes this message: “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess in their faith.” At a time when we are still savoring the joy of the resurrection, Jesus sends us out of the comfort of our rooms and churches to continue his ministry by helping to heal a hurting world with our love for one another, wherever we might be.

Signs of life on mission

by Wayne Schwab

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day all offer signs of life on mission.

Maundy Thursday (“maundy” from “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you” John 15:12) recalls the Lord’s Supper where we are fed and strengthened by the nourishing power of bread; and refreshed by enjoying wine. In truth, God feeds and refreshes us in every moment.

Good Friday is “good” because Jesus does not run out on his mission to confront the wrongdoing of his day. The wrongdoers of his day, Pilate, the crowd – and all of us, now – indirectly if not directly are all wrongdoers, unable to stop wrongdoing on our own. We, as well as they, need help to avoid wrongdoing.

Jesus, risen and with us on Easter Day, is the decisive sign and helper that all of us need. Jesus gives us the power we need to resist wrongdoing when he gives us his Spirit, the Holy Spirit. “‘As the Father has sent me I send you’ . . . he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22).

The Gospel: In Jesus, God tells us to live lovingly and justly and helps us to do it by God’s Spirit at work with and in us.

 

The point of worship is “GO”

By Fletcher Lowe

First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, NE

Go, my children, with my blessing, Never alone.
Waking, sleeping, I am with you; You are my own.
In my love’s baptismal river
I have made you mine forever.
Go, my children, with my blessing – You are my own.

Go, my children, sins forgiven, At peace and pure.
Here you learned how much I love you, What I can cure.
Here you heard my dear Son’s story;
Here you touched him, saw his glory.
Go, my children, sins forgiven, At peace and pure.

Go, my children, fed and nourished, Closer to me;
Grow in love and love by serving, Joyful and free.
Here my Spirit’s power filled you;
Here his tender comfort stilled you.
Go, my children, fed and nourished, Joyful and free. *

This has become for me one of my favorite hymns.  The text moves through the worship experience, and then says GO.  The point of all that worship offers is focused on the GO.  That makes the Dismissal the most important part of the Liturgy.  Everything points to the GO: What is the value of the hymns and prayers and music and sermon and silence and the bread and wine, but to prepare us to GO into our worlds of home and work and community as the Baptized to live into our discipleship.

The Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant (Book of Common Prayer, p. 304-5) underscores this:  After the Baptismal Creed is recited, the Covenant moves from the first two vows focused on the Baptized congregational experience to the last three (proclaim, seek and serve, strive) that say the point of the first two is to GO.  Each person goes to church to GO to be the church in his/her world of daily life.

Think of a base camp for the hiker: It is there to prepare and support the hiker. It is not the destination.  It is there for the hiker, not the hiker for the base camp.  Translate that to a congregation. It is there to equip and support its Baptized members for their ministry/calling/vocation in their daily life.  It is there to say “GO, your destination is not here but rather your daily life.  GO and be the church!”

* Hear this Jaroslav Vajda hymn beautifully sung, at this site.

Turning theology to biography

by Demi Prentiss

from Education for Ministry

The Rev. Michael Piazza is a well-known progressive clergyman, dedicated to justice particularly for the LGBTQ+ community. He posts every weekday, and recently examined the connection between our Sunday worship and our weekday lives:

What does it mean for our theology to become biography?

 

That can’t happen only when you are at church. It also must happen when you are fishing or filing. Ninety-nine percent of the ministry of the church takes place Monday through Friday in shops and offices and factories. The deep purpose of our lives must extend to every area of life, and our purpose also must extend beyond the boundary of our own lives. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said:

You ask why are we here, and I will tell you. We are here to serve. Success is not defined by the number of servants you have, but by how many people you serve.

 

According to a parable Jesus told, only a fool thinks the purpose of life is gaining more and more. This generation has certainly proven his analysis to be correct. The most certain formula for misery is to have as your only purpose for rising in the morning and working through the day to be what you can accumulate for yourself.

 

If you can summarize the purpose of your life with the words “me” and “mine,” then you have succeeded in sentencing your soul to hell. Oh, not the hell of eternal fire, but the hell of a shallow, vain, and meaningless existence. Look at the great lives that have made this a better planet:

        • What if Beethoven had just been an organist?
        • What if Edison had just been a mechanic?
        • What if Rosa Parks had just been a seamstress?
        • What if Desmond Tutu had just been a priest?
        • What if Mother Teresa had just been a nun?

Great people are those who have most enriched life for others. Isn’t it time for us to rise up to become great people?

Pass it on: Toby’s legacy

Toby and team

by Pam Tinsley

A year ago I blogged about the ministry of Toby the Therapy Dog. For years, Toby, a gentle giant of a St. Bernard, and his person Stan have brought joy and comfort to nursing facility residents and have helped reduce anxiety in waiting rooms of emergency rooms. Toby warmed the hearts of parents and children alike in our regional children’s hospital as young patients nuzzled their faces in his fur, crawled over him, or simply snuggled with him. Stan combined his love for dogs, his love for Christ, and his passion for caring to offer peace and healing to others.

Stevie

I was sad to learn that Toby suffered a stroke and passed away during emergency surgery early this month. The outpouring of love from the communities Toby served is a testimony to the impact his and Stan’s ministry has had on others.

The exciting news is that Toby’s legacy lives on! A week after Toby’s stroke, I met Stevie, a friendly golden retriever, as I left the hospital after a visit. Stan had founded Toby’s Therapy Dogs to train a team of therapy dogs, and Toby had mentored Stevie. Stevie has achieved Novice Therapy Dog status after having completed ten visits to nursing homes! And although the initial plan was to build a local therapy dog team, it has quickly expanded to include a chapter in Wisconsin and beyond. All to continue to honor Toby and to carry on his ministry!

When I think of how quickly Toby’s legacy is spreading, I’m reminded of Kurt Kaiser’s hymn, Pass it On:

“It only takes a spark

To get a fire going,

And soon all those around

Can warm up in its glowing.

That’s how it is with God’s love,

Once you’ve experienced it,

You spread His love to ev’ryone,

You want to pass it on.”

Stan’s ministry with Toby started small – just a spark in a seemingly dark world – and is expanding day-by-day thanks to Stan’s faith and his commitment. To learn more about Stan and Toby’s ministry, visit his Facebook page: Toby the Therapy Dog.

Look for love and justice

by Wayne Schwab

Love and justice are the reliable and constant guides to discern and to find God at work in our own life and in the world around us. Wherever we meet love and justice, we are meeting God at work among us. Wherever love and justice are missing, God is at work somewhere to bring them. If we do not see where God is at work now, we will see it in time. God never fails to be present and active somewhere.

Wherever you find love and justice, God is present and at work. Wherever the two are weak or absent, God is already there working to restore them. Love and justice have guided the biblical writers from the first. They are our guides to find God at work and they guide us to find God at work in today’s world. Both testaments abound in love and justice.

God’s love guides the Israelites in their escape from Pharoah (Exodus 15:13) and Hosea hears God say his love cannot give up on a rebellious people (Hosea 11:8). Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Jesus’ teaching that loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself are the foundation of the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:27-28, 8-34). Enemies are to be loved as well (Matthew 5:44).

Micah’s call to “do justice” (Micah 6:8) and Isaiah’s picture of a just society (Isaiah 65:20-23) proclaim God’s justice. In Isaiah’s vision of a just world children do not die, old people live in dignity, people live in the houses they build, and farmers eat what they plant. Jesus challenged the injustice of Jewish laws that called for the faithful to avoid eating with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors served the Roman emperor and sinners were any who did not abide by the over 700 religious and ceremonial laws. Matthew sees Jesus as fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of one who “brings justice to victory” (Matthew 12:20). Finally, Jesus’ resurrection overcomes the injustice of his crucifixion (Acts 2:23-24 and Romans 1:4). We, too, are raised with him to new life. (Ephesians 2:4-6).

Whenever you’re searching for God, look for love and justice to find where God is at work, today or any day.

Growing baptismal awareness

by Fletcher Lowe

Men's field lacrosse game between UNC and Duke
Men’s field lacrosse game between UNC and Duke

For those of you who may not be aware, this is the beginning of the college/high school lacrosse season.  I grew up in Baltimore, MD, that, along with Long Island and part of New England, were the hubs of the sport.  Outside of those places, nobody had much knowledge/interest/awareness of it – until the last 20 years. Now there are over 3400 high school boys’ teams and over 2700 girls’!  My granddaughter in California plays as do my grandsons in western North Carolina!

Reclaiming the centrality of baptism may be in the “three Lacrosse hub” stage within much of the Christian church including the Episcopal. Our seminaries are mostly about training seminarians how to run parishes rather than empower lay people for their ministries in their day-to-day lives.  In congregations we are good at asking the first question: What is your name? And we gather relevant information so we can be in touch.  But what about the question that usually follows: What do you do?  Congregations are more interested in what you can do to help the parish and its programs than in how the parish can support, encourage, equip the baptized in their baptismal living.

The Way of Love – Practices for a Jesus-centered life

There are signs that this is beginning to change. A professor at one seminary has empowering the laity as a part of two of the courses she teaches.  The academic dean of another is exploring how to make it part of the core curriculum.  The Episcopal Church’s General Convention in July formed a task force focused on how parishes, dioceses, and seminaries can develop ways and means for equipping the laity for their daily lives.  The Presiding Bishop’s signature program, The Way of Love, has as its last phase the thrust to GO which incorporates much about baptismal living, engaging our faith in our everyday lives.  The national organization, Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission (EBM), continues to be an advocate for the calling of all the baptized in their daily lives.

In that advocacy, EBM’s main metaphor is a base camp.  The base camp is not the hikers’ destination. It exists of the good of the hikers, not vice versa, and is, therefore. there to support the needs of the hikers for their journey.  Translate that to a congregation and you get a sense of what this movement is all about.   Let’s keep working and praying that the Spirit will continue to move the Church to see as its primary mission to enhance the mission of all the baptized in their daily lives.