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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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.

Baptismal accountability

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

In Wayne Schwab’s recent posting for Living God’s Mission titled “Designing the Right System” he posited this insight: If we want a church that gives primary emphasis to the concept of ministry in daily life then we have to  “redesign the system to produce the results you want.” That’s a big task given our current denominational and congregational traditions, practices, and governance structures. But he’s right.

An essential element in any redesign of our church systems will have to be member accountability. Why?  The church is a voluntary association of leaders and members. There are ways, both formal and informal, to hold leaders accountable. But there is little if ever any likelihood that all members will be held accountable for attitudes and behavior that contradict the norms and values of the church’s mission and ministry embodied in Baptism and articulated in the Baptismal Covenant (see Book of Common Prayer, pp. 304-305).

What is meaningful accountability in a community, a congregation of the baptized? Accountability means simply that: the ability to give an account. I Peter 3:15 puts it this way: “Always be prepared to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” (NRSV) That hope is grounded in faithfulness to our baptism and the covenant we have with Christ in God’s mission in and for the world. That mission is daily and not just Sunday. It is in the fullness of our lives and not just in the confines of our home parish. The latter should be a place and community of empowerment, a system for supporting and affirming ministry in daily life.

How might a congregation exercise baptismal accountability? First, it makes it an expectation of membership, of what it means to be “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” In short, that being baptized is serious and solemn business day in and day out.

Second, offer members regular opportunities to “give an accounting,” a mutual sharing of what ministry in daily life entails with all of its complexities, contradictions, challenges, and confusions.

And third, trust the community of the baptized to help answer the question, “How am I doing?” Baptismal accountability is not an inventory of success or failure, of pride or repentance, but of assessing with others how we live into and live out our baptismal mandate to see and serve God in the world as we daily encounter, endure, and embrace it.

Noisy Church

by Pam Tinsley

The church I attend is a “noisy church.” When worshipping in the church, we can easily hear voices from the narthex. Sunday school classes meet in the parish hall directly beneath the church, and we often hear our children’s “joyful noise”. Our church is also located on a busy street corner, not far from a fire station, so that during a service, if you don’t hear a group of motorcycles roaring by, you’ll hear the siren of an ambulance responding to someone in need!

This all used to bother me until I realized that this noise – and seeming distraction – is actually a good reminder of where we are called to be – that we find Jesus out in the noisy, messy world, not simply in the peaceful tranquility of a sacred worship space.

And isn’t that really where church should be? Jesus calls us to be his followers. He calls us to learn from him and then to act, to be like him: to heal, to serve, to feed his sheep. Instead of remaining entirely separate, we – the church – are called to respond to people, to reach out to others, to be in the world. As much as we might like to remain inside the walls of the church, Jesus sends us out to serve as his body in the world.

Our “noisy church” is a good reminder, then, that our ministry as baptized Christians takes place whenever and wherever we intentionally listen to God and ask, “What is God doing here, right now, that I can join?”  Jesus sends us to live into our baptism in our daily lives. We transform our ordinary occupations into Christian vocation by becoming Christ-centered in our actions and words – even if we are not speaking direct words of evangelism.

Now, the challenge is to live that out every day, intentionally, in the midst of our noisy lives, on the noisy street corner – which may be your own home, the grocery store, or in your workplace! That’s where Jesus is!

Be like Thomas

by Demi Prentiss

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading offered the story about the disciple we often call “Doubting Thomas.” I think Thomas gets a bad rap. Merriam-Webster says the first known use of that term was 1883, so for most of Christian history we didn’t dismiss Thomas quite so easily. After all, he’s the disciple who also said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” as Jesus headed to Jerusalem, knowing there were plots to kill him. And when Jesus, at the Last Supper, said, “You know the way to the place where I am going,” Thomas was the one bold enough to say, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Thomas is the one who wants specifics, and is willing to follow Jesus into certain danger. When the other disciples claim to have seen Jesus after the Crucifixion, Thomas wants to see Christ’s wounds. And when he does see them, he doesn’t doubt – he believes. Not just that Jesus is alive. He proclaims that Jesus is both Lord and God – a specific and brave affirmation.

In our daily lives, can we be as brave as Thomas? Are we willing to look for Jesus in the places we work and play and study? And when we notice God at work in the world around us, are we willing to look directly at the bloody wounds and see Christ? Will we name our Lord and God, when we recognize God’s presence at work in unfamiliar places?

“Putting on Christ” in our baptism enables us not only to see God at work, but to be the hands and feet, ears and heart that put God’s love into action. Sometimes it’s hard to find the courage to do that. Sometimes, we can be as brave as Thomas.

Tapping the power of God’s Good News

by Wayne Schwab

Christianity has a unique message. God not only tells us how to live; God helps us to do it.

We are called to be loving and just in every relationship, in every part of life. Our problem is that we do not have the power to do it. We can go part of the way but not the whole way. By ourselves, we do not have the power to cope effectively with whatever blocks love and justice. We are weak. We need to be helped – to be saved – from the powers of evil, sin, and death. Where is such a power?  And can we share it?

The good news – the Gospel – is that the power we seek is at work in Jesus Christ and he shares that power with us.

The risen Jesus tells the disciples to continue his work, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21b). The Father sent him to make clear that God’s power overcomes evil, sin, and death. Jesus has that power and shares that power – the Holy Spirit – with us. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). Here is the help – the salvation – we need. We share Jesus’ power – the Holy Spirit – to love and to be just. We have the power, with Jesus’ help, to act and to act with confidence. The same Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed on his disciples two thousand years ago he also breathes on us. Therefore, with courage, we can act and can seek to do what we believe God calls us to do.

Our baptism and reaffirmation of faith are our commitment to join Jesus to make the world more loving and more just.

There are those in the world who believe an alternative idea.  In this other teaching, our disobedience has so offended God that someone has to pay the price by dying for us to be reconciled to God.  Jesus’ death on the cross pays the price or atones for our sin and evil.

Lay aside this substitutionary atonement with its theme of punishment.  Now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, with God’s help we can cope with evil, sin, and death.   Sharing in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are saved from our weakness, so that we can respond with love and justice to the challenges we face.

Why do congregations exist?

by Peyton G. Craighill

Why do congregations exist? In America, the members of congregations generally assume their congregations exist primarily to put on worship services on Sunday. And the success of the congregations is measured in terms of how many worshipers they are able to attract on Sundays. 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 Christ commissioned his followers jan_luykens_jesus_20-_the_apostles_sent_out-_phillip_medhurst_collectionto spread the Good News of God’s love and justice through word and action “into all the 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 their 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 rethought 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 nine commitments we make in the Baptismal Covenant provide us with invaluable inspiration and guidance for our missions in Christ in our daily lives.

We recognize of course, that, in mission-oriented congregations, attraction remains an important part of our 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.

Shared values answer needs — with God’s help

by Wayne Schwab

God is on mission to make the world more loving and more.  Baptized, Phoebe’s mission is to be part of God’s mission to make the world more loving and more just. As a strong secular humanist, Liz holds love and justice to be among the values guiding her daily life.

No wonder Phoebe and Liz could work together easily.

Liz works full-time for the county branch of the food bank.  As part of her work, she addressed some church members at their Sunday coffee hour.  One of the members, Phoebe, resonated with Liz’s commitment to developing community-wide support for local and county programs to feed the hungry.

Phoebe believed Liz must have wrestled with a sense of need – Phoebe would say a “call” – to meet the needs of many for an adequate food supply; must have assessed her talents for what she could do; and then, must have made the decision to take the job at the county food bank.

Phoebe had been wrestling with the same issue in the church committee she headed.  She connected with Liz after the coffee hour and shared her concern.  Liz suggested Phoebe’s committee might like to sponsor a “fun run” to raise money for the food bank.  Phoebe welcomed Liz’ offer to mentor her in setting up a “fun run” at her church.  It was hugely successful with 225 participants and $1,567 for the food bank.

Together, Phoebe and Liz had made a part of the world more loving and more just – with God’s help, Phoebe told her committee and church.

Confirmands who ‘get it’

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

As a retired bishop (Western Michigan) who is an assisting bishop in the diocese where I now reside (Pennsylvania) I make Sunday parish visitations twice a month on behalf of the bishop of the diocese. This means I have the privilege and pleasure of presiding and preaching at services that usually include baptisms and confirmations. When this occurs, my episcopal heart is deeply gladdened. The opportunity to explore and illustrate the ministry in daily life that is everyone’s by virtue of their baptism is a task to be treasured.

In some parishes candidates for confirmation, usually teenagers, are asked to write a letter to the bishop explaining why they want to be confirmed. It should be noted that this comes at the end of at least a year-long program of significant preparation. It’s clear that the parish, priest, and candidates are serious about what it means to be baptized and to be the church’s first and foremost frontline of ministers and ministry in the world.

This past spring I received two sets of letters. None were frivolous or glib. All were conscientious and insightful. Here are some passages that reflect what the confirmands understand to be their baptismal lives and living.

“Confirmation will take me another step further in my faith journey, which will continue the rest of my life. I have a lot to look forward to.”

 

“I have reached the age where it comes time for me to make my own decisions about my future. My first and most important decision, however, is not deciding on what college I want to go to. Rather, it’s the decision to affirm my Christian faith.”

 

“I approach confirmation in a certain mindset. I will be moving forward knowing that this is my decision and now my responsibility to continue in my faith journey. Most of all I remember this: Baptism is having someone else devote you to God, and confirmation is you devoting yourself to God.”

 

“… when you get confirmed you get to feel you are more connected to God. Since you get confirmed you feel God is more a part of your life. It is the adult affirmation of the baptismal vows.”

 

“I want to be confirmed because I am ready to take responsibility at church like I do at home and at school. The activities I like to take part in are help with the homeless, animals, and veterans.”

These are samples of other letters just like them that I received. These young Christians are “getting it.” They are getting to know and realize what it means to be baptized, to be a minister, to be a disciple!