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.

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!

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.

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

Ministry in the ‘None Zone’

by Pam Tinsley

A number of years ago I began a ministry at my workplace, where I was an executive at an insurance company. I didn’t call it a ministry at the time. I didn’t realize that it was a ministry. And, to be quite honest, I didn’t intend to start anything!

My mother became seriously ill, and I was frequently and uncharacteristically absent for long-weekend trips to visit and care for her. After she died co-workers began to seek me out – not to talk about my grief, but to share their own struggles with aging and seriously-ill parents.  We never talked about Jesus or God or faith. Living in the “None Zone,” where our residents mark “none” when asked about religious affiliation, most probably weren’t aware that I was active in my church. Instead, they simply shared what was happening in their lives and with their parents, and I listened. We conversed about a sacred part of our lives with an openness that transcended the typical business transaction-type conversation. As a matter of fact, one person who sought me out was a senior vice president whose personal life was so private that others referred to his vacations as “CIA missions”!

It quickly became apparent just how healing these conversations were. I noticed a level of mutual care that had previously been lacking in my workplace, and I believe they did, as well. By being intentionally Christ-centered in the care for my mother and my openness to others, the interactions I had with co-workers had been transformed from simple workplace conversations into baptismal ministry.

This is just one example of how I’ve experienced that being mindful of our baptismal vows can transform what we are already doing in our lives.  Not only was I changed, but others were, as well.

How might you live into your baptismal vocation, be it at work, in your community, at school, or at home with family?

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.

Your move

12800154_10207704687208295_4568046868047057557_nThis is the very essence of living our baptismal covenant — understanding that our job, as Christ’s ambassadors, is to add to the love and justice acting in the world. We do that by acting with love and justice wherever we find ourselves.

Too often we go to church and hear about the need for greater compassion in the world. And then when we leave, we forget about the opportunities waiting for us – at home, in our workplace, in our community, in our everyday lives. Opportunities to respond to someone’s unkind word with compassion. To stand with the bullied person, out of compassion. To listen, with compassion, instead of speaking. To take action against injustice, allowing compassion rather than anger to shape our response.

Being a compassionate presence is hard work, requiring both faith and courage. We need the support of a faith community, serving as our partners as we grow into “the fullness of God.” Ultimately, it’s up to us, to take the lessons we practice inside our faith community and put them to work wherever we find ourselves. Beyond attending church, we are called to be the church.

Will the world be a more or less kind, compassionate, and loving place because of your presence? Your move.

Who are we blessing?

Blessing the Backpacks - photo by Moses Leos III, Hays Free Press, Aug. 26, 2015
Blessing the Backpacks – photo by Moses Leos III, Hays Free Press, Aug. 26, 2015

by Fletcher Lowe

Did your congregation recently have a blessing of the backpacks as your students went off to school?  It’s becoming more and more an add-on to our Episcopal Liturgical calendar. Questions come to mind:

  • Were the students themselves and their parents also blessed?
  • What about the teachers and professors and the school administrators and their staffs and the principals and the members of the school and university boards—were they too blessed?

Well, they were blessed at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Chesterfield County, VA.  Those added blessings broaden the backpack “liturgy” to include and affirm those who are giving their God-given time and talent to the all-important educational enterprise.

Soon many congregations will celebrate St. Francis by having a blessing of the animals.

  • What about the “owners’ of those animals—will they, too, be blessed?
  • What about those who work in pet shops and zoos?
  • What about veterinarians and their co-workers?
  • What about SPCA and animal rescue workers and those who provide temporary care and shelter to foster animals?

Will they, too, be blessed and affirmed for their ministries with God’s blessed pets?  I hope so.  If not we are missing a significant teachable moment and opportunity to affirm the calling that people have in their daily life and work.

And then there is

  • Labor Day and
  • Luke’s Day (those in the medical profession) and
  • May 1- Lawyers’ Day and
  • August 15th Mary’s day (parents), etc…

Our Liturgical calendar is filled with opportunities to celebrate and affirm the ministries of the Baptized as they offer their God-given time and talent day by day.

What about Rogation Sunday (the sixth Sunday of Easter) when the means of production not only of farm and fishing but of all of us can be offered up as symbols of our daily life and work?

All of this helps a congregation connect with the real world of those who come in and are fed in order to go out into their worlds of home and community and work, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.

Salty Christians

by Fletcher LoweSaltcellars

I like to salt my food, sometimes even before I taste it. A little salt gives the vegetables and the salad and the meat a better flavor.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount has called us to be the salt of the earth—note earth, not church. A congregation is called upon therefore to “equip the saints for their ministry” (Eph 4:12), in short to aid us in being “salty Christians.” We are to flavor our environment—our workplaces, our homes, our communities. The Episcopal Church’s Baptism Covenant fleshes that out: Proclaim by word and example…, Seek and serve Christ in all people…, Strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Other faith communities have their equivalent.

The message is clear. We are to use our time and talent as God-given, using our abilities and experiences to bring the values of our faith into our daily lives. We are Christ’s salty ambassadors, exercising our kingdom citizenship in our earthly citizenship. Our oft-repeated Lord’s Prayer puts it this way: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….”

LIFE IS MINISTRY, or All Ministry is Apostolic, Presbyteral, and Diaconal (Part 2)

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

Part 1 of this blog appeared in late March. It maintained that the Book of Common Prayer establishes and asserts that there are four orders of ministry in The Episcopal Church, not just three, all sacramentally grounded in Baptism: lay persons. bishops, priests, and deacons. The sequence is essential in understanding the equality of all ministers and ministry in the Church. Ministry is the holy enterprise of baptized equals who understand that all life is ministry. Being a lay person is being a front line minister Sunday through Saturday, 24/7, 12/365.

The traditional ordained ministries — bishops, priests, and deacons — have, however, through history been regarded as the real ministers of the Gospel and Church. They got locked into that perception and role when the Church for centuries was what historians have called Christendom, an official sanctifier of empire and culture, of state and dominion, an arbiter and player in the halls of power and politics. To some extent it still is, or at least tries to be, even though the Christendom era and aura have waned significantly. The Church is now faced with the task of once again coming to grips with what it means to be baptized, “to be sealed by the Holy Spirit … and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

The Protestant Reformation introduced some key understandings of what the ministries of the baptized ought to be about even though it still clung to Christendom underpinnings. For example, it was Martin Luther who posited the broad ministerial scope of “the priesthood of all believers.” And John Calvin maintained that there is only one ordained ministry, the presbyter, and he (no women back then) was only one voice with lay elders in the governance of the Church. Still, it would be awhile before governance of the Church would not just be something akin to running the institution, as if that constituted ministry; but would begin to understand that real ministry in and for the world that God loves is inaugurated and imparted in Baptism, and is lived and exercised daily from dawn to dusk for a lifetime. All life is ministry and it is a serious vocation.

Let it be argued that the Episcopal/Anglican ordained ministries — bishops, priests, deacons — are still authentic in understanding the Church’s ministry. Yet they originate in Baptism and inform the baptized of how their ministries are apostolic, priestly, and diaconal without having to wear a bishop’s mitre, or a priest’s stole, or bear a deacon’s serving towel. Throughout any given day they manifest all three. Sadly the Church has rarely told them that, much less thanked them. Making these connections will be the subject of my next posting. Stay tuned.