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.

Young-adults and ministry

One aspect of campus ministry that every campus pastor/chaplain understands is that we work with young people not for the long term benefit of our own ministry, because in a couple years those people, those students, will be gone. What campus pastors/chaplains understand clearly is that our work is for the benefit of others – other churches, other towns, other pastors/priests. We work to form students not for ourselves but for others. That ministry, that church, that pastor/priest reaps what we sow in the formation and development of students.

Students are transitory and are only with us for a few years, so we have to be very targeted and efficient with and in our evangelism, Christian formation, and leadership development efforts. Every student will leave the campus and continue onward in their life – this is just a fact of life.

What the Church must understand is that in our day and particularly among urban emerging-adults, our work as pastors/priests is and will be much more like campus ministry. We invest in the lives of young-adults not for what they will contribute to our parish over time, because young-adults will more than likely only be with us for a short time. Our presence, work, and efforts with 20-somethings will by necessity need to mirror the approach and attitude of campus pastors.

If we don’t change our expectations of 20-somethings in our churches, we will become incredibly frustrated and perhaps resentful because they are not “stepping-up” in responsibility and commitment the way 20-somethings generally did over decades past. This is just a fact of life and a fact of ministry in our day.

We invest our time and efforts in the lives of 20-somethings, but we will not reap the benefits over time in the majority of cases. We work in the formation and development of emerging-adults and young-adults for the benefit of others. Campus pastors revel in this, so to must we.

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.

‘Relevance’ Is Not Enough…

May I suggest a good, brief article to read from February’s Sojourners Mag.?  More than that, I highly recommend that you read it.

‘Relevane’ Is Not Enough: Many young adults are leaving the church these days. Two 20-somethings reflect on what keeps them in the pews.”

I keep saying that the Anglican form of Christian spirituality is well suited for younger generations…

Anne Marie: “While many congregations modify their music, order of worship, and sermon topics in an attempt to make church ‘relevant’ for newer generations, I am more interested in figuring out how I fit into the rich and complicated tradition of Christianity than in asking how Christianity can be molded to meet my needs.” (After her Baptist, Anabaptist, and Evangelical upbringing, she ended up in an Episcopal Church after college.)

Joshua: “During my college years, this concept of transcendence became real to me as I interacted with the Book of Common Prayer. Together with my community, I would recite the ancient affirmations of faith and engage in timeless rites and rituals that remind the church of its shared vision, the hope to which we aspire. The wonderful thing about transcendence is that it scoops us up locally and globally, backward and forward. As I participate in a liturgical service, I am investing in the local community, making peace with those I see on a regular basis, lifting up prayers of joy and concern week after week, and communing around ancient symbols of nourishment and sustenance. This practice of gathering around a common structure has historically guided the global church and continues to direct us today, giving these words and rituals enduring meaning.” (After growing up Lutheran, he ended up in an Episcopal Church.)

Read the whole article:

http://sojo.net/magazine/2013/02/relevance-not-enough

Listening and Doing

Funny how the “Sermon On the Mount” stands in such stark contrast to much of what our present and predominate culture (including far more of the Christian subculture than I would like to admit) seems to champion.

To whom do we listen? To what do we yield?  Do we simply listen to those who scratch our itching ears?  Do we surrender ourselves to our proclivities, willingly?

 

Change… Faith/Religion

What is the perceived or real difference(s) between a “person of Faith” and a “religionist”?

How might the difference(s) play out in everyday life and the practice of Faith (in my case, the Christian Faith).

I’m wondering in our changing cultural dynamic whether a “person of Faith” is becoming one who internalizes and lives as fully as possible into the Faith (in our case, the teachings and example of Jesus – fully love God with everything and neighbor as yourself), while a “religionist” may be one who holds the “Faith” at arms length – an academician or one who just engages in cultic ritual practices.

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!

Motivation

One of the benefits of the Christian Church in the world, or
a benefit that we should provide but in these days often don’t, is that we call
society and culture to higher standards of discourse, politics, education,
ethics, and culture, and call individuals to their better selves.  God desires us to live life to the full – in
sane, healthy, altruistic, and responsible ways that are beneficial to not only
ourselves, but to all of society.

 

In times past, if people wanted to be educated they went to
the Church. If you wanted to be cultured, you came to the Church.  If someone wanted to help “the least of
these,” s/he went to the Church. 
Not so much, anymore.  And, of
course, there are plenty of examples throughout history where the leadership of
the Church exploited, tortured, killed, maimed, impoverished, etc., people and
societies.  Yet, the negative exploits of
those who used (and continue to use) religion for their own gain does not
diminish what the Church is supposed to be and do and what we as Christians are
called to be and do.

 

In these days, we tend to align ourselves with the
prevailing culture that too often wants to dumb things down – because that is
what people in the general culture have come to expect. The banal, the lowest
common denominator, the most profane or perverse, the most demeaning, the most
dictatorial, the most arrogant, the most selfish, and so forth, has become the
norm.  We make little effort to truly teach
and to call people to move beyond and above the crass, sterile, and
manipulative norm that invades all of life. 
The perception many younger people have of the Church is that it is just
yet another cooped institution or group of people that wallow in the cultural
morass and that offers no real escape and alternative way forward.

 

As a Christian, I take upon myself to be educated, to seek
understanding and wisdom, to be forgiving, to be giving of myself, to be
respectful, to love beauty, peace, and freedom. I also understand that in order
to do all of this in God’s economy of things, my first and primary motivation
and goal is to love God with all of myself – my intentions, my devotions, my
perceptions, and my thoughts. It is tough to do in our culture, but we in the
Church must stop giving into or aiding the dumping down of everything.

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.