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!

Baptize those backpacks!

by Demi Prentiss

Fellow ministry developer Andrea Rosenberg McKellar recently posted a story on her blog about her church’s blessing of the backpacks, a ritual marking the beginning of the new school year. I love her son’s remark: “Mom, can’t you just baptize it for me?”

Baptism is all about becoming a part of God’s mission, a participant in the Jesus Movement, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry would remind us. So, as a reminder of the everyday ministries of daily life, why not “baptize” the backpacks? And why stop there? Shouldn’t we, really, be “baptizing” law books, and computers, and scalpels, and grocery carts, and hand trucks?

What if we remembered, via our Sunday liturgies, more of the ways that the baptized honor their commitment to the Jesus Movement in every aspect of their lives? What if what we did on Sunday really caused us to remember — on Monday and every day —  that we have promised to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”?

So yes, please, bless the backpacks and the children who carry them back to school. And then remember to bless the grading books and the teachers who labor to fill them out. Bless the blood pressure cuffs and the nurses who skillfully use them. Bless the power saws and the carpenters who build our homes and our workplaces.

Labor Day is just around the corner! Here’s a useful liturgy which works for Labor Day as well as Rogation Day. Or pick a Sunday each month, and honor all those in a profession like real estate or law enforcement. Or remember one vocation each Sunday. Here’s a prayer cycle.

As Andrea urges, may the baptismal font remind us that God is with us when….. [you name it!] And may we also be reminded that our faith community promises — in that same baptismal liturgy — to support one another through all the ups and downs.

3 ministers, 1 covenant – Ministry where it matters

by Pam Tinsley

A woman I know is a minister at a public school where she is a preschool teacher. Two others, a mother and her adult daughter, are ministers at their local public high school where they coach cheerleading.

Sue*, the preschool teacher, tells me that the most important concepts she teaches her tender charges are the assurance that they are loved and respected and that they need to treat one another with love and respect. Because it is a public school, she doesn’t use church language. Nonetheless, intentionally teaching these values from our Baptismal Covenant are at the heart of who Sue is as teacher, friend, mother, wife, and citizen. She strives to instill these core Christian values in children at an early age in the hope that love and mutual respect will shape them as they grow.

Cheerleading coaches Denise* and Jennifer* mentor girls at an older, even more vulnerable age. They, too, model and teach respect and dignity – with love. All three of these women intentionally join Jesus every day where they work and volunteer.

Sue, Denise, and Jennifer were commissioned to serve in their respective ministries – their vocations – by virtue of their baptism. Baptism commissions them to proclaim the Good News by word and example in their daily lives, to seek and to serve Christ in all others – and with love. Their training for baptismal ministry came from within their church communities and began when they realized that baptism is about daily life and not limited to Sunday worship or service inside the church.

Sue, Denise, and Jennifer also freely acknowledge that their ministry at times can be challenging – especially in an environment that is all too focused on individualism. That’s why these women regularly seek out “continuing education” in their church communities, with Sunday worship and from small prayer groups and church ministries, to find support for their vital work with young people Monday through Saturday. Rather than viewing their church communities as where their ministry takes place, they understand their church communities as base camps that provision and support them for their daily treks with Christ into the secular world where they live and work – serving Christ and others.

*Not their real names.

Communicating God’s Love in the Workplace

by Pam Tinsley

I walked into the gym the other day and struck up a conversation with a friend I hadn’t chatted with in quite a while. Eventually, our conversation led to her work as a labor and delivery nurse and her consideration of retirement. She shared with me that, as much as she loves nursing, after 40 years the physical demands of the profession are telling her it’s time to slow down.

My friend’s voice revealed how conflicted she was about this major transition in her life. Nursing was what God put her on earth to do, she told me.  Even as a small child she and her family recognized her vocation because of the care she showed toward others.

She went on to describe nursing as her spiritual calling. She expressed it as life-giving – not only because of the new lives she helps moms deliver, but because of the people she comes in contact with, from colleagues to patients and their families. The relationships she forges with others, even for a short time in the hospital, are life-giving and life-changing.

“Ah,” I responded, “you’re living out your baptism. Nursing is your baptismal ministry.” No further explanation was needed. Instead, she told me about helping a woman in labor who spoke no English. With the aid of an interpreter, she communicated maintaining eye contact with the woman throughout the conversation – thus respecting her dignity. She then posed a last question through the interpreter: Do you have any questions for me? To which the woman responded, again through the interpreter, “I just wanted to tell you that I see God’s love in your eyes.”

My friend found the common language of God’s love to communicate with her patient. Sharing Christ’s love with another in need, even if only through her eyes, is one of the many ways she lives into her baptism through her spiritual calling as a labor and delivery nurse.

Have you had an experience in your daily life – at work, in the community, in the local supermarket – where your actions were shaped by your belief in a loving God and a commitment to your baptismal promises? How might another person’s life have been touched by that experience? How was your life changed?

Markings for the Baptismal Journey

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

Here are several pertinent quotations for the journey of baptismal ministry in daily life.

“I believe that hope is awakened and revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. Each and every person, on the foundations of their own sufferings and joys, builds for all.” Albert Camus

To the question, What Does Love Mean?, come these responses by children:

“When someone loves you the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy, age 4

“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.” Nikka, age 6

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it you should say it a lot. People forget.” Jessica, age 8

“The role I see for Christianity is not that we’re to make all the world Christians. We are to serve the whole world, to bring it into brotherhood and sisterhood. Action on behalf of social transformation is such an essential part of being a disciple. It’s so essential that if it’s not there, we run the risk of religion declining into religiosity. What should be dynamite can become opium.” Fr. Niall O’Brien

“True liberation is freeing people from the bonds that have prevented them from giving their gifts to others.” Henri Nouwen

And finally:

“The Christian’s task is to so enjoy the Word in the world as to attest the veracity of the Word of God for all people in any and every event.” William Stringfellow

Ninth grade justice

by Wayne Schwab

This blog entry is from a podcast by Wayne Schwab of the Member Mission Network.  We help people to live better every day.  This time a unique story of justice.  It’s unique because it’s justice lived by two ninth graders, Diana and Laurie!

Diana and Laurie were with friends at lunch time.

Boys at the table next to them were throwing trash into a nearby container.  They didn’t want to bother with walking over to drop their trash in the container.

As you’d expect, one boy’s throw missed the container and splattered its contents across the floor.

A Chinese friend of Diana and Laurie said, “Pick it up.”

The thrower mocked her, saying, “I don’t speak Chinese.”

Diana and Laurie caught the insult and its bit of racism.  They objected loudly.

The boy turned and ran.

Diana and Laurie chased him.  Laurie, the bigger of the two, cornered the boy in a stair case.

They both insisted he apologize to the girl.

He did.

For the rest of the day, their Chinese friend thanked Diana and Laurie almost every time she saw them.

Diana told me the story – a neat story of advocacy.  Advocacy is defending people who need help.  That’s the promise made in her name at her baptism and affirmed by Diana herself in confirmation.  That promise is “to strive for justice” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

I said, “Hooray.  How good to hear you defend someone who had been insulted!”

That’s today’s adventure in justice.

For more such stories go to our website at membermission.org.

Thanks for listening.

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 Christ in his mission in all areas of daily life. When we were baptized into Christ, he commissioned us all of us 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. The mission of Christ is why the Church and all of its congregations exists! 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 her or his 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 (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 292-4) we make in our Baptismal Covenant provide us with invaluable inspiration and guidance for our missions in and through Christ.

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.

Disenfranchising the Baptized

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

This past Saturday, March 12, the Diocese of Pennsylvania elected a new bishop from a slate of five nominees all of whom were well vetted and qualified. It took four ballots but from the outset the bishop-elect led in all of them. He clearly was the choice of the clergy and the lay delegates who in such elections must vote separately “by orders.” And to be elected the nominee must garner a majority of votes in both orders (clergy and laity) on the same ballot.

So what’s the problem? Certainly not the outcome nor the process. No, it is the voting math as prescribed by Pennsylvania’s peculiar diocesan canon which defines the lay vote as one vote per parish, not one vote per delegate. In this diocese all parishes, small and large, have two delegates, a kind of institutional egalitarianism that seems appropriate for Christian community. But is it in this case?

Let’s do the math. Remember all duly qualified clergy are entitled to vote and on the final ballot this meant 194 individual votes were cast. However, on the same ballot the lay votes totaled only 126. Why? Because that was the number of parishes present, not the total number of delegates. If multiplied by two, there were in fact around 252 baptized lay persons on hand but each had only a half vote with which to negotiate a choice for their parish’s preference. How egalitarian is that!

Truth be told it’s canonical clericalism. It values ordination over baptism. It disenfranchises the laity rather than empowering them. It’s like the early Constitution of our country: women, no vote; slaves, defined as three-fifths of a person. In the Episcopal Church whose membership is about ninety-nine percent laity this discrepancy in power and entitlement is unacceptable. Nothing in the Gospel can justify it.

If the first order of ministers in the church is the baptized laity, and not the ordained  clergy, then let that be consistently evident in its polity, practice and privileges. To be baptized is not a second class status in God’s commonwealth and Christ’s blessed community of disciples. Never.

Bring God into the marketplace

by Fletcher Lowe

“Bring God into the Marketplace” read the headline of an article in the February 11, 2016 Arlington (VA) Catholic Herald. Question: Do we really need to bring God into the marketplace? Isn’t God already there? Isn’t that what the Incarnation is all about – God becoming flesh and dwelling among us: Emmanuel – God with us?

Byron Rushing, an Episcopalian in the Massachusetts Legislature and VP of the Episcopal House of Deputies put it this way: “Jesus is in the Legislature where I am called to serve. If he were not there, I should not be there either.” Rather, isn’t the Christian’s question “how do we live into God’s real presence in the marketplace?” And that, in spite of its headline, is where the article moved with a telling confession: Most people are spending more time in the marketplace every year, but it’s the place where we are least formed.

Why is that? After all, it is in the marketplace where Christians spend most of their God-given time and talent – in God’s presence! Why hasn’t the Church taken that seriously enough to help parishioners be formed, so they can claim their identity as Christ’s ambassadors?

In visiting as I do with parishioners in their place of work, after asking them to share what they do, I turn the conversation to “What is the faith connection with what you do here?” For the vast majority, like 85 percent, that is the first time that that question has been raised for them. This calls for a systemic change in the way the average congregation does business. Rather than the parishioner helping the priest do his/her job better, the priest needs to empower and affirm and equip and form the parishioner for his/her daily life and work.

In the congregations that do that work, the Dismissal at the end of worship becomes our marching orders – when we are sent into our specific world of job and family and community rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.

How do you rate?

by Peyton Craighill

Charles Schulz, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip, offered this reflection as an illustration of his philosophy of life. Though he probably wouldn’t have used this term, he is calling us all to practice our God-given mission in our daily lives:

You don’t have actually to answer the questions. Just ponder on them.  Just read this message straight through, and you’ll get the point.

  • Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
  • Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
  • Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant.
  • Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
  • Name the last six Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
  • Name the last decade’s worth of Super Bowl winners.

How did you do?  The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers – they are the best in their fields. But the applause dies… Awards tarnish …  Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

 

Here’s another quiz. See how you do on this one:

  • List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
  • Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
  • Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
  • Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
  • Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

Easier?

 

The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money … or the most awards. They simply are the ones who care the most.