Pay attention clerics and search committees…

Attention clerics and search committees of the Church – This short blog post: Rectors (Pastors): The Odds are Against You! from an experience, retired cleric (Fr. Robert Terrill) is simply the reality and everyone has to face up to it – particularly those bishops with jurisdiction, especially the Executive Council, and finally the General Convention (throw into the mix seminary deans and professors).

From the Episcopal Journey of Hope blog of

“Again the question, ‘Parish clergy, do you want to improve the odds?’ First, you must be a strong leader.  Barna’s [Barna Research Group] studies found that churches that ‘call’ caretakers, healers, managers, administrators, teachers or consensus builders fail to gain ground.  Good intentions coupled with the title of Pastor or Rector is not enough.  Barna states, ‘toughness is requisite for leadership in making decisions that disturb the status quo but benefit the body.’  The point is that leadership is not about being loved by everybody.  It is doing what is best for the parish even though it may stir up some complaints or disturb tranquil settings.”

Read the whole post here.

Trans-cultural

“Oddly, I leave this project [the National Study of Youth and Religion] strangely hopeful. The best news about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is that teenagers do not buy it as faith. They but _into_ it – it shapes them nicely for fitting into American society, since it conforms so neatly to America’s dominant cultural ethos. Youth and parents are correct if they think Moralistic Therapeutic Deism will outfit them better for success in American society than Christianity will. Those who want to succeed in American life, and attain high levels of visibility in it, will find that being theologically bland helps immeasurably. Yet the gospel is very clear: God wants to liberate us from being defined by these circumstances, so that we are free to follow Jesus regardless of the culture we call home” (“Almost Christian”, by Kendra Creasy Dean, p. 192)

So then, what is our goal as the Church, as priests of the Church, and as the people who are the Church?

Will it be whatever gets us the most attention from the general public? Will it be what makes us the most successful within general society? Will it be whatever we think will cause those in power to like us? Will it be bland conformity to the cultural zeitgeist? Will it be the vain presumption that we (of a generation) can make up the religion that comes from the Faith under our own volition?

Or… or will it be faithfulness to the enduring way if Christ? The way that has not only survived but thrived through the millennia, through a vast array of cultures and languages, through very divergent circumstances – will it be by way of the wisdom of generations past who found life-to-the-full in the troublesome Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Change and adaptation are always with us! Change isn’t the enemy, but we must be wise about the change we engage in. We must be discerning concerning the change agents.

The adaptation we need most right now revolves around perception and intention. We will be, must be even now, trans-cultural with respect to the prevailing American culture and the Way of Christ – in the world and all that is positive and negative, yet not of it. We chart an independent course. We will acquire by the way if grace the strength and resulting freedom for doing so.

The “Faith” and the “Religion” of Jesus

The recent interview in Rolling Stone of Marcus Mumford of the Grammy awarding winning music group “Mumford and Sons” gets at a developing distinction being made between the “faith” and the “religion” revolving around Jesus Christ.  Marcus was raised by parents who were instrumental in the development of the Vineyard Church in his native land, the U.K.

Increasingly, I’ve been making this distinction over the last couple of years.  This is not the same thing as “spiritual but not religious.”  The “faith” contra “religion” of the endeavor of following Jesus Christ tends to come from those who truly are engaged in their “faith” even if they don’t purport to engage in the “religion.”

Among the attitudes of younger people, generally, this isn’t necessary a negativity toward organized religion per se, though they will certainly point out the hypocrisy of and the negative things about those who call themselves Christians.  Can you blame them?

I found this comment made by a person reading the article interesting:

BRAVO for Marcus Mumford! Jesus’ person and life is the great equalizer and exemplar of FAITH. Not of Church-codified “Christianity” which, while theologically and liturgically may be the “body” of Christ, is NOT the essence of FAITH. An inability to distinguish between these two, and the ignorant over-indulgance in dogmatic, punitive and politicized theology has veritably severed the (Church) body of Christianity from Jesus, its head. Leaving it an amputated appendage bleeding out–useless and fruitless, for those whom Jesus most intended its spiritual, and Religious embrace.

This can be said of both the present-day liberal or conservative churches and para-church organizations.

I think this sums up the attitudes developing within emerging culture.  This doesn’t mean the institutional Church with its “cultic ritual practices” (technical term in theology) and doctrinal stuff involved are rejected out of hand. This does mean, however, that the hypocritical attitudes, words, and behaviors of people within those institutions who call themselves “Christian” are rejected – that which any outside observer knows does not particularly match up with how Jesus calls us to act and be.  That’s the “religion” that is rejected – that which comes from the people calling themselves Christians but doesn’t mirror Jesus.  The “faith” is the authentic engagement with Jesus Christ whether found inside or outside the institution.

Where we are…

I’m reading Proverbs – seek wisdom!

Within the Church (and greater American Christianity) there is much “wisdom” that is going around these days on how to “save the Church” and increase involvement in Christianity among the increasingly disinterested and disaffected.

There is a standard and official, “This is what you have to do to survive and grow…” But, we tend to not really look around to see what is working, instead we tend to want to double-down doing what is subjectively familiar (even if not objectively working).

The parish I’ve served in for the past nine years has nearly doubled its average Sunday attendance within this time frame – and most of the new people are twenty-thirty somethings, singles, young-families.  Yet, if you listen to the “wisdom” of the zeitgeist that is going around concerning how our churches need to be situated, by what we do and focus on, we should have no one attending.  We seem to be the anti-zeitgeist (but not intentionally – we just don’t get caught up in all that “stuff”).

We never talk about inclusion or welcome.  Yet, we have tea-party people and Communists (literally – except for the religion part).  We have Socialist and stanch Capitalists.  We have people who think the next Pope should be a woman and people who think women shouldn’t be priests.  We have gay people marrying and people who think marriage is only between a man and a woman.

We never talk about diversity.  Yet, we have African-Americans, West Indians, and African-nationals; we have Hispanics and Asians and Middle-Easterners.  The majority is now Caucasian, but in the past they weren’t.  We have people who struggle mightily with belief in all this stuff and people who have amazing, deep, and simple faith.  We have people who have been members for literally 80-years and four new babies this past month.

Worse yet, our music is traditional (hymns for the 1982 hymnal with anthems and the like) our liturgy is non-fussy Anglo-Catholic with old fiddle-back chasubles (not all) with maniples, three sacred ministers, and “smells & bells.”  We are absolutely straight Prayer Book.  We use Rite I in our Sunday Mass and don’t change the words.  We celebrate “East-facing” with the priest leading the people all facing “East” together.  Frankly, we should be driving people out of the church screaming.  Yet, we are growing and struggling to keep up with the new people coming in.  Right now, we aren’t doing a good job with youth group ministry.  We don’t glory in all this, we don’t fight to maintain it, we just do it – it is just us.

Our sermons tend to be long for Episcopalians – probably closer to 15-minutes than not.  We don’t use all the buzzwords.  We rely on Scripture to do the talking.  We don’t emote all over the place, we don’t tell people that they should be liberals or conservatives or support the latest, greatest causes – we trust the people do determine for themselves what to be involved in as long as they obey the two great commands of Jesus (which they hear every week in the Rite I liturgy).

We don’t have an agenda, other than being the Body of Christ in this location – loving God with all our being and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

If we listen to the “powers that be” in current American Christianity we should stop doing just about everything we do.  Except, that is, if we listen and look around with humble hearts and seeking-to-learn attitudes and with open minds to listen and observe where God is building up His Church – those places that are growing like gang-busters, particularly among younger people – and observe what God is doing.

You see, those in power don’t need to be a block to what is coming.  There doesn’t need to be a “new movement” separate from the established institutions that live into new methods and approaches that resonate with the emerging generation.  They don’t need to be the block or hindrance, but too often they are.  At some point, we will learn or we will fade away.  “How do we not fade away?  Into the wild” we should go!

That, I think, is a good beginning point for employing wisdom.

Why the Church?

Why the Church?  What good is organized religion?

“The Church comes into your life to bring you a knowledge of the presence of God. If one were going to live in a far country, would he not, if opportunity offered, make friends of the King of that country?

“The Church comes into your life to make life more joyous, more free from sin, more contented, more spiritually furnished, more sound in its judgement of things that are worth while. But likewise the Church nourishes that growing union with God through Christ which is man’s best heritage and the best compensation for his labors.”

From: “The Episcopal Church: Its Message for Men of Today,” by George Parkin Atwater, p.180. (New York: Morehouse-Gorham Co.; 1917, 1944)

Emerging Generations and the Church

I highly recommend this review of two books written in 2002 that appeared in the magazine “Touchstone”.  It is a great summary of the generational trends with regard to Christianity and the Church that began in the 1990’s among GenX’ers, and that have only increased over the past 10-years among the Millennials. The insights and the suggested trends are proving to be true!

The title of the review article is, “Orthodox Twenty Somethings,” and the reviewed books are: The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy
by Colleen Carroll, and The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World by Robert E. Webber.

Here are a few paragraphs that I find particularly compelling.

It isn’t supposed to be happening. Traditional Catholic piety is finding zealous practitioners at universities across the United States. The children of Planned Parenthood devotees are becoming advocates of Natural Family Planning. Nice suburban girls who ought to know better are making monastic professions in—you guessed it—traditional orders, and there are enrollment spikes on the charts of conservative seminaries across the Christian spectrum.

At the same time, some of today’s Evangelicals are unresponsive to the agendas of their immediate forefathers in worship, theology, and general “church strategy.” They are seeking instead “a biblically rooted, historically informed and culturally aware” evangelization of their hometowns, and the creation of new congregations attuned to the ancient faith. This isn’t quite supposed to be happening either.

None of this is supposed to be happening because it’s not the project for which two generations of Protestant and Catholic clergy have worked. And it’s certainly not what for decades a graying army of secularists has agitated for in American public life. The push for relativist moral teaching, “simplified” worship, interchangeable sex roles, and an utter separation of private belief from political expression has come from the pulpit as readily as it has been demanded by pseudo-intellectual elites. But against all odds, portions of a modern American society, which groans to find itself secularist, is returning in a quiet revolution to the fundamental truths of the Christian religion.

It goes without saying that “the primary cravings of young orthodox Christians in America—for tough time-tested teachings and worship imbued with mystery and a sense of the transcendent—are often the result of deficiencies in their childhood spiritual diet.”…

The evidence of public opinion polls shows a trend of twenty-somethings “clamoring for convention,” writes Carroll. The increase in Latin Mass attendance during the 1990s, for example, can be attributed to a “retro-revolt among U.S. Catholics,” rather than a nostalgic return by the elderly to a rite with which they grew up. Marie-Thérèse Scott-Hamblen, the young orthodox wife of a young orthodox Episcopal priest, may not have been the first to use the term “young fogey,” in The Living Church magazine in 2001, but she put her finger on a phenomenon that has reached even the most liberal denominations in the United States. As often as not, those who seek traditional worship in their congregations are young men and women whose only opposition is their parents’ generation of clergy and laymen. The older generation’s response tends to be in the negative; after all, worship has to be modern in language and form to appeal to “the young people,” that strange mass of mainline census data that never actually finds its way into a pew on Sunday morning…

The evidence of public opinion polls shows a trend of twenty-somethings “clamoring for convention,” writes Carroll. The increase in Latin Mass attendance during the 1990s, for example, can be attributed to a “retro-revolt among U.S. Catholics,” rather than a nostalgic return by the elderly to a rite with which they grew up. Marie-Thérèse Scott-Hamblen, the young orthodox wife of a young orthodox Episcopal priest, may not have been the first to use the term “young fogey,” in The Living Church magazine in 2001, but she put her finger on a phenomenon that has reached even the most liberal denominations in the United States. As often as not, those who seek traditional worship in their congregations are young men and women whose only opposition is their parents’ generation of clergy and laymen. The older generation’s response tends to be in the negative; after all, worship has to be modern in language and form to appeal to “the young people,” that strange mass of mainline census data that never actually finds its way into a pew on Sunday morning…

There is a built-in nostalgia for the pre-Constantinian Church in this worldview, which assumes the death of traditional Christendom and the birth of a new post-Constantinian model for Christian life—hence “ancient-future.”

I highly recommend reading the review if you want to understand what is truly happening within the cutting edges of American Christianity, rather than what those determined to maintain the status-quo would like us to believe.

The love of many…

stbasil

Icon of St. Basil the Great

The love of many has grown cold; concord among brothers is no more; the very name of unity is ignored; Christian compassion or sympathetic tears cannot be found anywhere. There is no one to welcome someone weak in faith, but mutual hatred blazes so fiercely among brothers that a neighbors’ fall brings them more joy than their own household’s success. And just as a contagious disease spreads from the sick to the healthy during an epidemic, in these days we have become like everyone else: imitators of evil, carried away by this wicked rivalry possessing our souls. Those who judge the erring are merciless and bitter, while those judging the upright are unfair and hostile. This evil is so firmly rooted in us that we have become more brutish than the beasts: At least they herd together with their own kindred, but we reserve our most savage warfare for the members of our own household.

ST BASIL THE GREAT – “On the Holy Spirit” (78)

Change… Evangelism 2.0

Having done my share of evangelism in a variety of ways (including pantomime and street preaching on the streets and campuses of the U.S. and Europe), the changing dynamic of faith in the U.S. compels us to conceive of the advocacy and spreading of the Faith, differently.

If we want to “evangelize,” it is increasingly the case that people are brought into the Faith only because of what they see in the lives of those who profess the Faith.  They see or perceive something different and compelling, ask “what is it about you,” and then most importantly – we are able to tell them! We live into being and becoming the imago Dei.

Next!

What is the purpose of the Church?

The Church of the 1970’s is over (social-gospel, mainline Protestantism); the Church of the 1990’s is over (Evangelical Seeker); the Church of the 2000’s is ending (GenX Emergent).

The late 20-Century Church model is over, even as the formal structures try in desperation to maintain it.

The culture is no longer with us. What are we to become in this day and this context?  That which has endured will continue to endure!

Crisis in American Christianity

I suggest that the primary problem that is at the heart of the creeping
crisis in American Christianity is a spiritual one – not merely
financial or lack of members or the presence of young people or
unresponsive structures or antiquated thinking (1960’s and 1970’s
thinking, that is the antiquated thinking I’m writing about), but a
spiritual problem.

What is the single thing that the Christian
Church provides humanity that no other organization or institution or
system offers?  It is squarely Jesus Christ! Redemption –  forgiveness,
healing, and restoration between God and the rest of humanity.  That’s
it.  Period.

The Christian Church is not needed for social work,
political activism, justice seeking, or most anything else, except new
life in Christ. (Not that we don’t have something to say or do with
regard to those other things, but our engagement with such things is on a
primarily different plain than is secular society’s.)

Until we
recognize the reality of spiritual crisis, no matter what “change” we
engage in to correct other presumed crises within our churches will
bring about the results we seek or bring about the reality of the
Kingdom of God in the world around us.