Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are we "overprotecting the Lord?"

Lindsey Urwin, Anglican Bishop of Horsham in southern England, contributed a chapter in Mission-Shaped Questions: Defining issues for today's church, which I found provocative and forward thinking. Urwin talks about bishops, and I would argue, all of us in the church, being in danger of "overprotecting the Lord," the way we so strictly administer the sacraments with rules and regulations.

For a bishop to write about the ways that he has allowed for the bending of rules and "risky exceptions" in order to allow for the spirit to move freely is really refreshing.

Urwin tells about the ordination of a man named Derek in the midst of a congregation called Eden. Eden was a new congregation, attracting more than 100 people of all ages, with a coffee bar, and variety of liturgical expressions. Urwin's description of finding his place and incorporating his style and traditional liturgics with the rap style Gospel reading, playing of a film clip, and litany written and sung by young people with drums and bass tracks in the background was so awesome! I can just imagine the environment and thanks be to God for Urwin's flexibility and willingness to embrace this community and see the Holy Spirit at work! He joined in the celebration, even dancing and getting down to what he says was a "funky and uplifting remix of 'How Great Thou Art.'"

He later describes a newly founded congregation called, The Point, where he celebrated with them their first baptisms, confirmations, and Eucharist. At the service some young people who had already been baptized wanted to be immersed again in water, reclaiming their baptism, and Urwin, using his creativity, suggested for them to instead engage with the water on their own and then be confirmed, although he admits he's suspicious that some had already been confirmed!

As the church moves forward and experiments with liturgy in new, fresh ways, we need our bishops and elders to be part of the movement. We need their energy, their acceptance, and their carrying on of the old traditions and rituals that have meant so much and made our church what it is today. The laying on of hands during the ordaining of a new priest is sacred, special, and life changing. We honor that.

The breaking of the bread, and recognition that Christ died for us, and the filling of ourselves with Christ's body and blood leaves us transformed, renewed, refreshed. And we honor that.

Sacraments must be shared and experienced by all, as they draw us into an encounter with the Living Christ.

So is it okay sometimes to do things out of order?

Is it okay to allow someone to join in the feast of the Eucharist in order to experience Christ, before they have been baptized?

I believe it is. As Urwin said, "God is well used to people doing things in the wrong order." How amazing to hear from a bishop that sometimes we need to loosen up a little bit and chill out with regard to rules and regulations. AMEN!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Repost: From Tamie Harkins

This post came from former Northern Arizona Universrity Episcopal chaplain Tamie Harkins. You can read more of Tamie's ruminations from her writing life in Alaska on her blog:

Here is a step-by-step plan for how to get more young people into the church:

1. Be genuine. Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip. If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.

2. Stop pretending you have a rock band.

3. Stop arguing about whether gay people are okay, fully human, or whatever else. Seriously. Stop it.

4. Stop arguing about whether women are okay, fully human, or are capable of being in a position of leadership.

5. Stop looking for the "objective truth" in Scripture.

6. Start looking for the beautiful truth in Scripture.

7. Actually read the Scriptures. If you are Episcopalian, go buy a Bible and read it. Start in Genesis, it's pretty cool. You can skip some of the other boring parts in the Bible. Remember though that almost every book of the Bible has some really funky stuff in it. Remember to keep #5 and #6 in mind though. If you are evangelical, you may need to stop reading the Bible for about 10 years. Don't worry: during those ten years you can work on putting these other steps into practice.

8. Start worrying about extreme poverty, violence against women, racism, consumerism, and the rate at which children are dying worldwide of preventable, treatable diseases. Put all the energy you formerly spent worrying about the legit-ness of gay people into figuring out ways to do some good in these areas.

9. Do not shy away from lighting candles, silence, incense, laughter, really good food, and extraordinary music. By "extraordinary music" I mean genuine music. Soulful music. Well-written, well-composed music. Original music. Four-part harmony music. Funky retro organ music. Hymns. Taize chants. Bluegrass. Steel guitar. Humming. Gospel. We are the church; we have a uber-rich history of amazing music. Remember this.

10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

11. Learn how to sit with people who are dying.

12. Feast as much as possible. Cardboard communion wafers are a feast in symbol only. Humans can not live on symbols alone. Remember this.

13. Notice visitors, smile genuinely at them, include them in conversations, but do not overwhelm them.

14. Be vulnerable.

15. Stop worrying about getting young people into the church. Stop worrying about marketing strategies. Take a deep breath. If there is a God, that God isn't going to die even if there are no more Christians at all.

16. Figure out who is suffering in your community. Go be with them.

17. Remind yourself that you don't have to take God to anyone. God is already with everyone. So, rather than taking the approach that you need to take the truth out to people who need it, adopt the approach that you need to go find the truth that others have and you are missing. Go be evangelized.

18. Put some time and care and energy into creating a beautiful space for worship and being-together. But shy away from building campaigns, parking lot expansions, and what-have-you.

19. Make some part of the church building accessible for people to pray in 24/7. Put some blankets there too, in case someone has nowhere else to go for the night.

20. Listen to God (to Wisdom, to Love) more than you speak your opinions.

This is a fool-proof plan. If you do it, I guarantee that you will attract young people to your church. And lots of other kinds of people too. The end.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Planting Churches

This week’s topic of Church Planting is one that gets my creative juices flowing. I love visioning and imagining what might be. In reading Tom Brackett’s essay "Midwifing the Movement of the Spirit", in Ancient Faith, Future Mission, I got so excited that I used up all of the ink in my highlighter! Yes, that is what I am called to do! Yes, the Spirit is out there and is at work! And yes, I want to be part of the new life and new birth!

But here’s the problem… I am a horrible gardener. Last winter I opened a gardening catalog and ordered a ton of seeds: flowers for the yard, carrots, green peppers, onions, plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, raspberry bushes and squash. I couldn’t wait for spring to come! Luckily, my husband, Brandon, knew what he was doing. When the day finally came, he instructed me to start digging a hole. I lasted about 20 minutes before my hands were sore and my husband was telling me to move out of the way. I asked what I could do to help and was sent to the garden center to buy some fencing. Within a week I had given up on the garden.

Brandon on the other hand was dedicated. He watered and weeded and cut back the branches of the surrounding trees to allow for more light. His tomatoes were so impressive that the neighbors stopped by throughout the summer to ask him his secrets. He has that gift. He understands the fine balance between just the right amount of nurturing, but also letting them be and checking in regularly.

So what does this have to do with planting a church? Maybe the most important thing I that I learned from the readings and from my own experience with gardening is that I am not in control. Not only am I not in control, the seed is not even mine. It is God’s, and the Spirit is already at work in our midst. It is our job as church planters to recognize that Spirit and to discern what is already happening.

One size does not fit all in this church and in this culture. As Stephen Cottrell says in his essay, "Letting Your Actions Do the Talking," expressions of church need to fit the local context. Sometimes that means a weekly service on a day other than a Sunday. This may worry some who feel like they are fighting to fill the pews at 10 am on Sunday. Why would they want a competing service in the same community and possibly even the same building? It’s important to realize that it’s not about competing with one another. If we are truly one holy catholic church, and if we are truly one body of Christ, we must be intentionally seeking and sensing the Spirit.