Remember your baptism!

by Pam Tinsley

After over two empty years – thanks to the pandemic – at Saturday’s Great Vigil of Easter we had the joy of gathering around the baptismal font as it was filled with water! By the Paschal candle’s light, we prayed with keen anticipation as the waters of new life in Christ flowed and were blessed. And although we’ve renewed our baptismal promises several other times since the pandemic’s inception, this renewal was clearly different. We renewed our baptismal vows with fervor, kindled by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Flickr – Lars Hammar – Baptismal Font

With God’s help, we proclaimed our promises to

  • continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers;
  • persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord;
  • proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ;
  • seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself; and
  • strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human
    being.

Then, as the priest showered us with holy water from the font, we were reminded: “Remember your baptism! Remember your baptism!”

We might think, for a moment, that the renewal of baptismal vows ends there. However, this renewal offers us a new beginning. After being fed and strengthened at the Lord’s table, our renewed baptismal promises prepare us to go forth into the world, dripping wet, as bearers of Christ’s light and love, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Remember YOUR baptism!

Who’s your hidden hero?

by Pam Tinsley

WelcomeChange, CC BY-SA 4.0

“Be Kind” were the words written on our 2½ year-old granddaughter’s shirt on the same day that a new book arrived. The cover of the book, 10 Hidden Heroes, shows children and adults helping others as they go about their everyday lives. Because I believe strongly in making our world more loving by living out our baptismal promises in daily life, I was eager to share this book with our little granddaughter.

She and I sat down together and searched through the pictures on each two-page spread. One set of pictures features hidden heroes nursing others back to health. Although one setting was in a hospital with nurses and doctors caring for patients, there was also a child tending to another child’s scraped knee and a girl caring for her injured cat. Another set of pictures highlights hidden heroes striving to protect the environment by planting trees, recycling, composting, and riding bikes. A boy stocking shelves in a food bank shows young readers how to serve those less fortunate. There are even hidden heroes who invent and do research to develop medicines and “treasures for humankind.”   

Hidden Heroes author, Mark K. Shriver, is the president of Save the Children Action Network, and hopes that it can help children and their parents make the world a better place. When I read the book with our granddaughter, not only is she learning to count as she searches for the hidden heroes in the pictures, together we’re also making connections as we look to her family, friends, preschool, and community for examples of kindness and compassion. And this is a time for talking, too, about how she herself can be kinder and more compassionate.

Who are the hidden heroes in your life, and how might they inspire you – us – to make our world more loving and just?

Driving the ministry bus

By Pam Tinsley

Flickr – United Way of the Lower Mainland

For years I commuted to Seattle, often by bus. I found the bus drivers to be courteous and helpful – some friendly, and others, business-like. And, like anyone who faces the public daily, they encounter gracious passengers and rude, even unruly, passengers while trying to treat them respectfully.

Linda Wilson-Allen takes her role as a bus driver to a whole new level. A 2013 article in the San Francisco Chronicle describes Linda as someone who “loves the people on the bus, knows the regulars, learns their names. She will wait for them if they are late, and then make up the time on her route. She would get out of the driver’s seat of her bus to help seniors.” One day, Linda even reached out to a passenger who was lost and afraid and then invited her to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner. Her kindness has touched people so powerfully that some passengers will let another bus pass by just so they can ride with Linda.

Linda’s story inspired the pastors of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC). Because her job can be thankless and filled with frustrations from cranky passengers to traffic jams and breakdowns, they invited her to share with the congregation how she keeps such a positive attitude.  Linda told them that her work is to minister to God’s people. She begins her day with prayer – at the crack of dawn. She asks God for guidance and how God might help her bless the people she encounters on her route. She asks God to help her shine light into dark places.

After she shared her story at MPPC, senior pastor John Ortberg reminded his congregation of the wider lesson we all can learn from Linda about ministry. He said, “My patients are my ministry. My clients are my ministry. My neighborhood is my ministry. My store is my ministry. I’m just going to go through every day and reach up to Jesus so that the power of the Holy Spirit is in me all the time, and then be a part of a little community here where I have people I can know and love and care about and serve for and who can help me grow, and then I’m going out. I will go out and bless.”

How will you go out and bless today?

Every day: Both faith and action

by Pam Tinsley

Medscape.com

This past week I’ve heard two moms express their anguish when their young kiddos contracted Covid-19. Both have been extremely cautious over the past 18 months, practicing social-distancing and faithful masking, along with their own vaccination. Both kids were exposed at school or day-camp, in one case because masks weren’t required for children who are five-and-under, and the other because their state doesn’t require masks at all; wearing masks is even discouraged.

Both kiddos got sick. And, because it was Covid, the impact on the children’s families was substantial. Kelly’s eight-month-old baby brother had to stay with his grandparents for ten days to avoid infection. Both kids’ parents had to quarantine and work from home during isolation – that is, work and care for their sick child.

The words the moms used to describe their emotions were fear and anger. They feared for their children’s health and well-being; they feared for those who might have been unknowingly exposed to the coronavirus through their kids; and they also feared that they might end up with a breakthrough infection themselves. They were angry – “Mama bear angry” – that this had happened after they had been so careful: angry about lax attitudes that contribute to the virus’s ongoing spread and its variants.

While there are some who simply refuse to be vaccinated or to wear masks, others have legitimate reasons for fearing vaccination – such as Black Americans who know the US government history of experimenting on them without their consent or those in low-paying jobs whose employers won’t provide time off from work for them to be vaccinated or sick leave if they have a reaction. If we truly promise at Baptism to love our neighbor as Christ loves us; if we truly promise to treat people with dignity and respect – we will strive to listen to and hear their concerns, walk with them in love, and do what we can to reduce their reluctance. Our promises call for us to pray persistently to our God of abundance for wisdom, guidance, healing, and reconciliation. And as members of society, we are called to act responsibly to collectively protect the vulnerable and those who can’t yet protect themselves – our little ones like the young children of the two moms. Because our Baptismal promises call for both faith and action, every day of our lives.

Every worker deserves respect

by Pam Tinsley

An October 13, 2019 New York Times review of Steven Greenhouse’s Beaten Down, Worked Up, The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor included Greenhouse’s conviction that “all labor that helps humanity has dignity and every worker, no matter how low paid or humble, deserves respect.” I was reminded of two examples of how I’ve seen this lived out within the Church.

The first was when I first began attending our annual Diocesan Convention many years ago, and retired Bishop Sandy Hampton always urged us to tip the hotel employees generously. He reminded us that these employees often had to commute long distances due to the high cost of living in the area where the convention took place, yet they were paid but a paltry minimum wage. They worked hard to ensure that our stay was comfortable and our needs addressed, and their presence often went unnoticed and underappreciated. When Bishop Hampton moved from our diocese, our own Bishop Greg Rickel continued the call for generous giving to thank hotel employees. Both bishops taught me a lot about the importance of generous gratuities – signs of gratitude – for the work others perform for us.

Then last year I attended a conference that took recognition of hotel employees a step further. At the end of the conference, the emcee invited to the platform all of the staff who had served us in the conference room. He reminded us that these individuals had cared for us throughout the conference. They had served our meals, removed our empty plates, noticed when our water pitchers needed to be refilled. And they did so without drawing attention to themselves. It was easy for us to miss their actions. It was easy for us to not see them at all. For that reason, the emcee felt that it was all the more necessary that we see their faces and collectively honor them for their hard work.

Both of these are examples of ways we respect the personal dignity of others and the dignity of their work. After all, not only does our work matter to God, but so, too, does how we treat one another.

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.

Holding tank to base camp

by Jennifer Woodruff-Tait

We’ve been having a thought-provoking series here recently on how to change your congregation’s system to produce a church where all the members know, and behave, as though they are sent on mission. (It was sparked by this post by A. Wayne Schwab, which you may want to keep close by for reference.)

Tents at the base camp, Susunia Hill, Bankura, West Bengal, at Basic Rock Climbing Course by MAK (Mountaineers Association of Krishnanagar)

One important piece of changing the system is the church’s leadership. Basically, the leadership needs to help determine what needs changing, redesign the ministries they lead in order to produce the change, and be accountable to someone for the change. This applies to those whose leadership we immediately think of, such as the vestry or the minister of music or the director of Christian education. But it also applies to influential people within the church even if they hold no formal position. (My father, a retired United Methodist pastor and denominational bureaucrat, likes to quip “You know why they call certain people pillars of the church? Because they hold things up.”)

Bears Bluff NFH volunteer nets a large cobia out of a temporary holding tank. Credit: USFWS Image

Whether they are official or unofficial leaders, many in church leadership are working within a paradigm where mission is seen as solely or primarily the job of paid staff. If they have a full-time priest and church staff, they expect those people to do the mission of the church; if they are (as many Episcopal parishes are) small churches who can no longer support full-time staff, they yearn for the day when they might have full-time staff again. This produces a “holding tank” church system that waits around for something to happen, instead of a base camp system equipping people to infect their communities with the love of Jesus right now.

How do we get the church leadership on board to move from holding tank to base camp? Church people have been wrestling with this question for years, and it is a question deeply intertwined with the fraught mood of our current society. We are the middle of a huge paradigm shift from church-as-business-as-usual to church-as-a-chosen-and-commissioned-way-of-life. Congregations–especially white, middle-class congregations–may feel that holding on to a priest-central model will keep them connected to their particular “good old days,” and read any change as being deeply threatening.

The important thing to remember here is that while the priest is the sacramental center of the congregation, this does not mean that he or she needs to be in the center of every ministry the Eucharist makes possible.  The Eucharist is the heart of the worshiping community, and the priest is needed to make Eucharist. But through the grace of God, that Eucharist is meant to strengthen all who worship so that they can be about the mission of God in the world. As the catechism reminds us: “The ministers of the church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons” and the ministry of the laity is “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be”  (BCP, p. 855).

So: whatever your place in the system, begin building trust with those around you, especially those in leadership. And once trust is built, begin raising hard questions about whether you are a base camp or a holding tank. When a church’s leadership is sold on a vision of every member in ministry, commissioned by their baptism and empowered by the Eucharist, the rest of the system will become easier to shift.

More on congregational systems

by Fletcher Lowe

I live in Richmond, VA, a reasonably large metropolitan area.  There are several Episcopal churches from which people can choose.  The congregation that I rectored several years ago made a conscious identity decision—to be known for its creative liturgy and for its community and international outreach.  To make that happen, the system of our congregational life was molded to affect that.  That meant having a liturgy team that could think out of the box.  It meant taking some initiative both toward community needs and international connections.

Every congregation makes decisions about its identity, some conscious, others not so. It has a system that is designed to produce certain results. The systemic question is, going back to the earlier discussion of 2 blogs ago, is your mission statement where your congregational system is?  The actual mission statement may be something that is unwritten, but really lived into—different from the one stated, yet securely at the heart of a congregation’s life. It’s how that congregation really functions and operates, its modus operandi. For example, a congregation’s mission statement may read that it believes in lay ministry, but practically its system only prepares/trains/honors laity who serve/minister in the congregation, e.g. lay eucharistic ministers, church school teachers, altar guild members.

So let’s take a congregation that really wants to live into a mission statement to empower the 99%, the lay folks, in their daily lives—the lives they live outside the church walls. Then conscious decisions are made in terms of its liturgy, pastoral care, communication, and formation which support that decision.  For example, in liturgy, how do the Sunday- and week-day- liturgies enhance the calling of all the Baptized. Through sermons, prayers of the people, the Dismissal?  On occasion are there liturgies or litanies that recognize the lay members in their work? Are there frequent Ministry Moments when congregants share their Sunday-Monday connection?  Depending on the congregation’s past, this may mean a systemic change.  But engaging with the questions makes clear the congregation’s desire to match its mission statement with its actual systemic actions.

The truth remains: A congregation’s system, not its statements, is what produces the kinds of members who fulfill that system.

So how do we redesign a congregation’s system?  Stay tuned.

Making your mission statement count

By Wayne Schwab

What’s your church’s mission statement?

“Everybody knows it is to live the baptismal covenant!”   [Every church has some form of promises it asks of new members.]

Is that enough?  Does it really get into behavior?  Does it really get into what members actually do to make the world a better place?

In the Episcopal Church, the covenant is one and a third pages long (BCP pp. 304-5). The full page is about belief, regular worship, repentance for wrongdoing and return to the Lord.

Only a third of a page is about life in the world – about living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, loving your neighbor as yourself, working for peace and justice, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

How much the world needs members living that third of a page 24/7/365!  How much it needs members trying to live with love and justice wherever they are all the time!

That’s what your church’s mission statement should be about.

That means the primary purpose or mission statement of a church should be to help its members to live better every day.

What does such a mission statement look like?  Here is a short one for starters.

First Methodist / Annunciation Lutheran / Trinity Episcopal Church exists to support its members in their daily living as Christians.

Where do we find God’s kingdom?

by Fletcher Lowe

Several years ago, a friend of mine came to me and said that she felt a call to go to another country as a missionary.  In our conversation, I suggested that she spend a few weeks considering her current place as a teacher to be her mission field.  Later she came back with a new understanding.  She stayed in our city and developed a deep sense of calling with her teaching profession.

Kristina Muñoz, Aviano Elementary School gifted education teacher, watches students participate in a group exercise. Her passion is to help students learn and grow. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Areca T. Bell/Released)

Perhaps that was what Jesus was trying to say to his 12 apostles in Matthew 9:5-7. He was explicit – Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, rather go to the lost house of Israel.  As you GO, proclaim the good news: the kingdom of heaven is near. In short GO, but go to your own familiar territory. Now for some like Barnabas and Paul and countless others over the centuries, going to another place has been a calling.  But for most Jesus followers including you and me, our calling is right here.

We need to hear Jesus speaking to you and me where we live and move and have our being – namely our places of work, our communities and our homes.  You and I are called to GO there, to proclaim the good news: the kingdom. of heaven is near. If that sounds a bit grandiose and vague, let’s put some flesh on it.  Think the Baptismal Covenant.  It is our commissioning as the Baptized.  It spells out how we as the Baptized are to live into our Baptism daily, or in Jesus’ words: how we are to go to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven is near.

Think about this for a moment:  Every time that you and I

  • Proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ,
  • Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves;
  • Strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being,

we are helping the kingdom to break through into real life.

The Lord’s Prayer reminds us: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.  Whenever we do that “everyday” work – proclaim, love, seek and serve, strive, respect – we join forces with God in bringing God’s kingdom on earth.  So, let us GO forth into our worlds of home and work and community rejoicing in the power of the Spirit! Alleluia.