Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Christian Century Blog

Amy Frykholm asks some interesting questions about Church membership. It is worth a read and some thought.
Is Membership an Outdated Idea?

For Episcopalians, this is a particularly tricky area. We have a number of descriptions of membership that mean slightly different things. Part of the confusion, I think, has to do with the role of Confirmation.

It seems, according to my fallible memory, Confirmation is no longer required, if you have made an “adult profession of faith” in the denomination you are leaving. Prior to this change, the action of a General Convention, Confirmation was required of converts from denominations with no notion of the Historic Episcopate. This practice emphasized being in communion with the the bishop as a sign of apostolic authority and continuity. The change emphasizes Confirmation as a rite of passage denoting a certain spiritual maturity.

There are certainly positions to be taken and defended about Confirmation, but that is only one dimension of the membership question. According to canon, there are financial expectations for one to be a “member in good standing”. An individual or family is expected to make a pledge, which I see as an open-ended contribution to parish operations with no expectations other than general good stewardship. However, there are many that choose to make financial contributions of record to specific ministries. A member of a certain parish may designate a gift for music, mission or something else. The rub is that a pledge and a designated gift are different things.

There is also the expectation of attendance. Again, working from a soft, mushy brain, “members in good standing” are expected to attend and receive communion a couple of times a year. I think the intent is for attendance and reception on specific feasts, but I believe the specific wording of the canons to be murky on this point.

Of course, membership status means little in terms of practice. The two exceptions might be the privilege of having a wedding in a parish and voting in an annual parish meeting. Usually, good Episcopal clergy will baptize and bury almost anyone regardless of parish membership status.

Membership is a clubby sort of word that I don’t particularly care for, but I think it communicates investment and identification. I wish we could come up with a better word to communicate investment and identity. I also wish we thought in more enduring terms.

The ASA (average Sunday attendance) is probably the most useful indicator of life and “membership” of a parish. The ASA represents the people that are present through the course of the year. The word Church itself from Greek (ekklesia) really means assembly or gathering. Membership is really about the people that are present (obviously, I don’t intend to exclude those absent by virtue of health or infirmity).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Epiphany 5b 2009 Sermon Notes

In The Gospel According to Mark, Jesus maintains a frantic pace. His ministry is marked by rapid shifts from scene to scene. In fact, Mark's Gospel employs transitional words that note the shifts. "Immediately" is a word that appears often in the Gospel. Little phrases jump out at the reader paying attention like "again," and "then." These phrases give the attentive reader a true sense of Jesus' pace. Grasping the pace of Jesus' work gives us a feeling for the rhythm of Jesus' life and ministry.

We also gain a sense of what Jesus is about, as we explore the vignettes that the Gospel of Mark connects. The portion of the Gospel we just heard has four distinct shifts. We begin with Jesus leaving the synagogue. He enters the home of Simon and Andrew. He heals and casts out demons at the doorstep. In the morning, he seeks a deserted place to pray. We might think of Jesus' work as teaching and debate in the synagogue, domestic health and wholeness at Simon and Andrew's, public ministry outside the home, and private prayer alone.

The way the story is told, we see the focuses of Jesus' ministry, because they are connected. A balance of study and teaching, home, community and individual emerge. This balance is reinforced by the fact that most of the action occurs on the initial day of Jesus' ministry. It is easy to miss, but the Gospels from the last two Sundays reflect Jesus' work on a single day.

At this point, it would be very easy to make some trite point about time management. I have something more significant and substantial in mind.

The challenge is to become self-reflective and self-aware. If I claim to be a follower of Jesus, there has to be some reconciliation with who I am and what I say I am. So this balance of the Christian life, the one Jesus lived and called disciples to live, is the life we are called to live, if we are to be his followers.

A good first question is "What are we doing?" Jesus and his disciples were actively going from place to place engaging individuals on some occasions and crowds on others. Are we active enough as the body of Christ? Are we available, in appropriate and authentic ways to make the love of God known?

Next, are we united in a worshipping community seeking knowledge and a deeper understanding of God?

Are we seeking health, wholeness and love at home, with our intimates?

Are we open to life just outside our doors? Surely our homes and families aren't barriers to the world as the family of God.

Am I maintaining my personal relationship with God?

The answers to these questions will tell us if we are becoming who we claim to be. The Good News is that Jesus offers us the power to grow into our identity. It is not about perfection or being some kind of goody-goody. It is about living a life of congruence and integrity. It is about living a desiring life with God as the object and knowing we are objects of God's desire.

Backing into a Theology of Worship

Father Alexander of St. Stephen’s, Providence has an excellent post on worship. While I am unconvinced of the practicality of the “Silent Canon”, I think the underlying thought is right on target.

Read it all Here.

The money quote:

“Several years ago, I received an anonymous note after Mass complaining about the noise of the fans we use in the church on hot summer days. The note read in part: “The entire service was a waste of my time, for I could not hear a single word that was said.” (Or words to that effect.) Admittedly, the noise of those fans resembled the whine of airplane propellers, and I have since replaced them with quieter ones.

But I wished I could have explained to that person that the purpose of liturgical prayer is not primarily the instruction or edification of the faithful, much less their entertainment or aesthetic gratification. I wished I could have explained that regardless of what this person could hear or understand, his assistance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by presence and prayers, was anything but a waste of time. But the Silent Canon itself makes all those points much more forcefully and eloquently than any such explanation ever could.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Deaf and Mute

In my personal study of the scriptures, I examined Mark 7:31-37. This passage is a healing story. Jesus encounters a man who is deaf and suffers from a speech impediment. Jesus takes him aside, touches him and prays, "Be opened."

Obviously, the man was healed or there would be no story to tell. The literal meaning of the story is powerful. We depend on hearing and speech to such an extent that it would be difficult to imagine life without these abilities. To have these abilities restored, or experience them for the first time would be monumental. In Jesus time, life without speech or hearing must have been incredibly lonely.

Fortunately, time often brings progress. Therapies and technology have helped many with these same issues. Sign language, itself, has relaxed many of the barriers to communication, so much so, we often speak of "Deaf Culture.” Some argue that we should think in terms of difference, rather than disability. The cultural argument recognizes the existence of community and connection.

I don't really know what it means to be deaf and unable to speak. I do know what it means to be lonely and isolated. Jesus' words have resonance beyond the particulars of the story. When Jesus commands, "Be opened," the assumption is that something is closed.

There are numerous ways we are closed. As individuals, we have formative backgrounds and experiences that shape the way we see and hear. Through trial and error, each of us developed strategies to manage life. We tend to gather into groups that reinforce our individual choices, even if we are unaware of having made choices. Perspectives develop, opinions form, minds are made up and doors close.

What would it be like to examine the closed doors in our lives? Is it possible to examine who we are, what we think and remake choices? Can we be honest with ourselves that some of the doors we have closed make us residents of our own self-constructed prisons? When I am closed to you, I am closed to God. The promise of the Gospel: there is no door that cannot be opened.

Have a look at Father Matthew’s video below this entry. I think this is the story he is talking about telling.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Father Matthew on Evangelism

Once again, Father Matthew gets right to the point.

Evangelism Video