Saturday, June 30, 2012

Preaching the Epistle: Second Corinthians 8:7-15

This morning I am going to do something different.  I am going to preach on the Epistle.  I seldom get to really preach on the Epistle.  I generally focus on the Gospel or even the Hebrew Scripture.  But today’s Gospel is about the healing of Jarius’ daughter.

I know that these parishes to which I am preaching this morning are people who have been split in the recent schism. I know you are waiting for the blessed day when you will be back in your buildings. I also know that, most likely, you have heard nearly every sermon on healing that could be preached over the past 3 years.  And while I know that there is still room for healing, I also know when NOT to preach on healing.  ‘Nuff is e’nuff.”

There is a time in a schism when we just have to get on with being Church and that iswhat the 2nd Corinthians reading is about.  In his First Letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is dealing with a divided church.  They were fussing about who had the greatest gifts and who could lead the Christian community there.  We all know the wonderful chapter in that book that calls the Corinthian community to unite under the banner of love.  But the second letter is a bit of a hodge-podge.  There are some scholars who think that this is written by an author of a later Pauline school or perhaps it is an amalgamation of various letters of Paul that don’t hang together too well.  So if you have ever had difficulty reading this book of the New Testament, this is the reason why.

This passage, however, is clearly Paul and clearly does what Paul does so well—the building up of the Church.  This was written most likely near the end of Paul’s life and during the time leading up to the siege of Jerusalem in the early ‘60’s of the first century.  Paul had previously asked the congregation to give to the support of the people who were caught in the fighting in and around the Holy City.  It would be like ER-D asking us for donations for the people of Syria, today.  But because of Corinth’s fussing among themselves, they have not sent the donations they had promised. 

In this passage, Paul basically is telling the Corinthian church to get off its duff and be about generosity and quit fussing among themselves.  He is trying to raise the eyes of the people from their own problems and to regard the needs of people in real poverty.  He knew that if the people could connect with others in need most of the contentiousness would resolve.

In my 30 years of coming back to visit family here in Ft. Worth, I noticed that this diocese, because of the fortress-like mentality of the leadership became more and more isolated from the greater Church. It became more focused on itself.  If there is anything that is more prone to becoming paranoid, are those who are alone.  And that is what this diocese—at least the leadership-- became. It became focused upon itself.  But now we are different.  We are a flock that is outward looking, connected and sharing in the life of the whole of the Anglican Communion.

I had a veterinarian, a specialist on cows, sheep and llamas in my last parish who was also a lay preacher.  And on Good Shepherd Sunday she preached how sheep were herd animals and didn’t like being touched, but liked being close to other animals.  Humans are herd animals too.  We may like being touched, but more than anything we like being among one another. And when we are really under duress it is important that there are others who are sharing that stress with us.  It is what alleviates the stress.  So for a people who are recovering from division, it is important to be outward looking and outward embracing.  That is what Paul is getting at in this passage.

Paul recognizes that the people of the Holy Land needed relief, but this is NOT a stewardship sermon.  He is realizing that for wealthy, contentious, Corinth to become the Church that it could be, it needed to deal with its wealth and deal with its poverty.  It was rich in its "faith, its speech, its knowledge and eagerness", but it was not rich in its generosity.  And it was that poverty of generosity that was keeping it stuck in its quarreling.

This is not just a problem unique to the Church of Corinth in the first century.  I daresay if it had been that unique, it would never have made it into the canon of Scripture.  This is an age-old problem.  Whenever we take our eyes off the prize of Christ and helping others to focus on ourselves, we lose our place.

Paul says: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

This quote from Paul is often misrepresented by those who teach a gospel of prosperity—the idea that God wants all of us to drive Cadillacs.  But Paul’s meaning is that we too must be willing to enter our own poverty so that we too can know the resurrection.  I am not preaching communism here.  I am preaching a gospel of liberation from thinginess.  I am preaching a gospel in which we have our eyes on the prize of Christ’s love for others instead of our own needs.

Yesterday I went to the farmer’s market because I can’t grow tomatoes where I live. Now, I can eat fresh Parker Co. tomatoes until my mouth breaks out.  And those luscious globes of red are just now beginning to really show up in our market.  There was a tremendous temptation to buy pounds of tomatoes—just because I could after 9 months of tasteless pink tennis balls on the produce shelves.  But I also know that many would have  gone to waste.  I have to see my wealth of tomatoes as detrimental to both my health and to my understanding of generosity.  I have to probe my poverty in order to keep my eyes on the needs of others. Obviously, I am not abstemious by nature so I have to enter my neediness in order to become rich in generosity.

Back in my twenties, I did missionary work in Mexico as a Roman Catholic.  While there, every day I met a beggar woman on my way to Mass who would not take ‘no’ for an answer.  Over the months, she would hail me and chat with me.  Lots of times I couldn’t understand her but she demanded my attention.   Slowly I came to know that she was the sole support of a 5 year old great-grandchild and lived in a 9x9 twig hut outside of town.  She had no family other than the child.  Dona Paulina made me see her and slowly I began to understand her poverty. She forced me to raise my eyes from my own needs in order to know my poverty.  She also helped me touch my generosity in ways I would never have bothered.

I broke my hip while there and had to leave town riding on the bus.  Several of the people in the town came to see me off.  On the edge of the crowd was Dona Paulina.  As we said good-bye, she pressed 2 cintos into my hand.  Now a cinto was worth at that time an eighth of a cent in US money.  The only thing you could buy with them was a tiny pack of Chiclets.

Dona Paulina reached into her poverty to teach me a lesson I will never forget: That generosity comes not from our riches, but from our poverty.  And when we understand that, everything changes.  Paul understood that the people of Corinth needed to learn that.    Here in Fort Worth, we need to know that it is in our poverty that we become strong.  It is the fact that we have few buildings, money,  clergy, members, or whatever, that allows us to proclaim that the love we have come to know and it is what creates community in the name of Jesus Christ.  And if the Episcopal Church needs to hear any message this week before our General Convention, it is that.

Jesus healed people by touching them.  We are often healed not by touch but when we raise our eyes from ourselves, look into our poverty and offer what we have.  Paul knew that when he said:  

“I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.  As it is written, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little."  

I would challenge you this week to enter your own poverty, individually, in your families and as a parish.  See where you are wealthy and where you are poor.  And then look to your generosity and see where you are wealthy and where you are poor.  Where do you need to improve? Where do you need to learn?  Where do you need to expand? There does need to be a balance.  AMEN

Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Five: What I Really, Really Like...About Summer(Winter)

We have members all over the globe, so while I stepped out this morning and thought, "oh, my, Summer's really here and it's just the end of, hot, hot" - 

some of our folks are deep into Winter and thinking the same thing.  Except about cold/rainy/whatever it is weather.

So, for a better attitude (for me anyway) and maybe a boost for you too...

What are five things that you REALLY REALLY REALLY like about the current season where you live?  

and, for a bonus:

Something you are looking forward to about another season?

1.   Shorts and Sandals:  I do prefer to wear sandals and shorts and t shirts year round.  And I can almost do that here in Texas.  But I do not like the heat.  I know, I know.  I knew what I was getting into when I moved back to Texas 2 years ago.  But no one in their right mind would prefer 100 F heat with little or no rain for 3 months.  But it beats snow on Mother's Day!

2. Summer Veggies:   I love the produce that you can buy in the summer.  Summer squash, ripe (really red) tomatoes that don't look like pink tennis balls.  I love the leafy veggies and green beans.

3.  BBQ:  Summer is Bar B Que time in TX.  This isn't mere cook outs with hot dogs on the 'barbie.'  No, this is seriously smoked meat done over coals and either rubbed or mopped with deliciousness.  And I love to BBQ!

4.  Indoor activities:  Late summer is "indoor" season here.  I would cook if out in the sun, so like snowy days in upstate NY, August is time to make some 'sun tea', add a bunch of ice, and curl up with a good book in the air-conditioning.

5.  Iced Tea:  When I lived 'up North' I would drink iced tea in the summer time.  But here I get to drink iced tea year round.  I do not drink it 'southern style' with mounds of sugar and lemon.  But iced tea is the best thirst quencher invented.  You can have all those energy drinks.  A glass of plain, glass sweatin', iced teas is the best!

Bonus:  Texas' best season is Spring.  It is usually quite long.  The rains produce the Blue Bonnets and Indian paint brush and clover which spread across the rolling plains of our area.  But Spring also bring FLIES! And while they generally are not biting flies, they are maddening.  

The season I long for is a Yankee Autumn.  I miss the upstate crispness of the frost, the turning of the leaves, the smell of wood smoke and a quietness of a trout stream during an early morning hatch.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Theology 101: Baptism and Holy Communion

Once again my friend Elizabeth Kaeton+ has put up a challenging article.  She challenges her readers to discuss the issue of the reception of Holy Eucharist of those who are not baptized.  This is one of those topics that is near and dear to my heart and I pick up her gauntlet.

The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) does not tell us anything about who and who cannot receive Holy Communion.  That is only found in the Constitution and Canons (Title I.17.7).  I must admit I was surprised to find it in the canons but not terribly so.  It is of the nature of the C & C’s to be about the legal character of the Church.  The BCP deals with the pastoral needs of the Church and there is not proscription of the unbaptized from reception of the Eucharist.

An organization or a Church has the right to determine who comprises membership.  It is an important part of being an organization.  I have no problem with the Church determining who is and who is not a member.  It is a necessary aspect of maintaining order within the organization.  What I do have a problem with is demanding that the Sacrament of Baptism be a prerequisite for the reception of Eucharist.  And I think it is significant that the BCP does not make it a requirement.

From very early in my catechism as a Roman Catholic I learned of the Baptism of Desire (Baptismus Flaminis), an understanding that those who have come to faith yet die without the benefit of the sacrament of Baptism are deemed saved by their faith.  It is an understanding that the mere desire to be baptized is enough. It is an understanding that it is not the human action of pouring water is what makes the baptism efficacious.  It is the act of God. With this in mind that I have often communed those who present themselves for Holy Communion without the benefit of the initiatory rite.  Who am I to determine who is worthy of Christ’s invitation to the table?

The Eucharist also had a similar understanding.  If a person cannot receive Eucharist for some reason, it was always understood that others could receive the sacrament in the name of the other and the grace of the sacrament would be upon the one who could not receive.  It means that the grace of sacraments is not bound by the outward and visible sign, but by the inward and spiritual grace of God.  In other words, God is the arbiter of the desire for faith, not the Church.

At times during the history of the Church, the Church needed to guard the integrity of the Sacraments of the Church.  When Christian sacraments devolved in popular theology into magic, it was necessary to prescribe solid theological understanding for those who found in the sacraments the necessary spiritual support to sustain them.  It is interesting that the Eastern Orthodox understanding of Baptism is much more elastic than is that of Western Christianity.  The Eastern understanding that baptism conferred salvation was always understood in a spiritual context.  In the West, Roman discussion of the sacraments until the Council of Trent was a bit vague, too.  The advent of the Reformation in the 16th century drove Roman Catholicism to articulate a rather rigid and demanding understanding of the administration of the Sacraments in order to refute the protestant critique. 

In the Anglican Communion we have had two different understandings of the sacraments: one catholic and one evangelical.  And although Anglo-Catholicism draws its roots from its Carolingian forbearers, most of its heritage comes to us today from the Tridentine manifestations of Roman Catholicism that made the sacraments almost mechanical in their efficacy.  Most Anglo-Catholics eschew the evangelical understanding of baptism that it is the result of the grace conferred in the surrender of the believer to the grace manifested in the salvific work of God alone.  But Anglicanism has always been a faith in which both the catholic and the evangelical approaches to the sacraments have been held in tension.  In other words, we Anglicans have been rightly hazy about our theology of the sacraments in a way that is not only acceptable but laudable in a pre-Reformation way.

Consequently when presented with those who wish to receive Holy Communion, I want to err on the side of the generosity of Jesus’ life and invitation rather than being ‘protective’ of God’s grace.  If we truly trust in God to make known the efficacy of the signs of God’s presence, then I do not have to be a watch dog.

If I were to note that someone that I knew was not baptized was regularly coming to the altar, as a pastoral response, I would ask them why or invite them to a class leading to Baptism.  But I do not choose to have a ‘window into the souls of men [sic]’ as someone is making the decision to commune with their God.  Baptism does not need to be the gateway to Eucharist.

I too am aware that many are coming to our churches who have never been baptized. At a recent new comer luncheon there were at least 5 who admitted that they had grown up in no religious tradition. There are those who come to weddings and funerals that have never seen the inside of a church and yet present themselves to receive Holy Communion.  But I will not refuse them because we as Church need to recognize that we have brought on this problem ourselves.  By failing over several generations to educate our members in a solid theology of faith and the signs of their faith, we have to recognize that we now have generations of attenders who have some really skewed sense of religion in general and Christianity in particular.

In her book Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass shows that somewhere in the last 50 to 100 years we who call ourselves Church have promoted faith by adherence to tenets of faith.  We have invited to our membership those who would embrace certain doctrinal points and called that faith.  If someone had some water splashed over them, then they were baptized.  If they had hands laid upon them, they were confirmed.  If they had received Communion three times and were known to the treasurer, they were then considered to be ‘in good standing.’ But we never inquired into the relationship they had with God.  Oh yes, we taught the history of the Church and how we had come to this wonderful place in which three-legged stools supported their faith.  And we counted them on our parish records, but we never went deeper.  We never invited them to a life of personal prayer. We developed few programs on personal prayer or invited anyone to anything Eucharist.  We made the Eucharist not only the ‘primary worship ’ but in most cases the ONLY manifestation of worship. We counted all heads at Mass, but we never really talked about how people could love Jesus.  (Of course, good Episcopalians would have never used those words—it might sound too evangelical)

We used the Belief-Behavior-Belong progression to gather the people to Church never really recognizing that we had really gotten the progression wrong.  The community of Faith—the Qa'hal Yaveh is really developed first by Belonging then Behaving and then Believing.  And if we are going to last in this new era of ‘spiritual AND religious’, we must put much more emphasis on how we welcome those who are longing for an encounter with the Holy. 

Part of the belonging has to do with table fellowship.  Jesus knew this.  He ate and drank with everyone—tax collectors, sinners, women, etc.  It is at his table that people knew that they were welcomed and loved.  And when he called them, they knew that they were a part of his family (Mt. 12:48).  It is the community in worship that molds the faithful into claiming their faith and articulating that faith.

As I see it, the future is going to be determined by just how we invite those who seek relationship with God.  We don’t invite people to encounter the Holy by denying the Eucharist.  Jesus never said you had to be baptized to believe in him.  He just said ‘Follow me.”  And I would suggest that Baptism may just be the sign of one who has come to the place in their lives that says I wish to follow Jesus.  Sacraments need to be signs of God’s grace, not barriers to community.  Baptism should be in every Christian’s life.  But it should never be a barrier to communion.

Granted, I come to this from the position of a pastor rather than an administrator who is responsible for numbers that need to be reported.  I come to this theology not just from my Catholic roots but also from a type of Anglicanism that straddles fences for a good cause.  I also come to this way of sharing in God’s holiness as a priest who recognizes that we have failed generations of thirsty seekers by demanding the Christian jump through hoops just to be deemed one of us.   It is time to re-think the sacraments. 

Just as the Blessing of Same-Sex relationships is calling us to re-think marriage and blessings, so this new Age of the Unbaptized calls us to re-think what are the signs of God’s love in the world.  We know that Christ instituted Baptism and Eucharist.  No conditions were placed upon those marks of Christ’ presence, however.  How then, can we?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Making Church--its the process, stupid!

 News comes today from members of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church of some rather significant ‘failures to communicate’ in the development of conflicting budgets that are to be presented to the General Convention.  But what I hear is the ‘same ole-same ole’ regarding the way many bishops deal with ‘the rest of the church’.  I don’t know what they put in the House of Bishops’ sherry.  Or it might be in the purple dye in their shirts or something.  But it is as if that once they put on the purple, they cannot hear the voice of the people of the Church.  The secret handshake seems to convey abilities to know ‘all things and be all things.’  And even when they don’t believe this in their own private thoughts, it is the way that they act.  It is as if they really believe that they are “defenders of the faith,” and must protect the Church from us plebeian attendees or lower clergy.  And while I do believe that bishops should defend the Church from the greater society.  They don’t need to defend it from the Church.  These days, the bishops are feeding the greater society with their failure to listen to the needs of the people and making a mockery of the Church. 

Let me state clearly that I admire our Presiding Bishop.  She has done some things that have made great strides in helping the Episcopal Church respond to the aching problems of our Church, not the least what she has done for the Diocese of FTW.  But there seems to be something in the training of bishops in general that allows them to think that they should not only lead the Church but also fall into that ‘Father/Mother knows best’ syndrome. 

In an interesting conversation I had with a colleague who had spent considerable time in the Church of England, she found the many of the laity wishing to leave the governance to “me betters” part of the thinking that made change in the CofE difficult.  Is this the kind of thinking that is afoot in TEC?  I dearly hope not.

Part of what drew me to the Episcopal Church was its governance.  I was steeped in a democracy in which people were elected to represent the people of a local district.  They were to voice the needs of their areas.  We used to laugh at the pork barrel politics of Nance Garner and LBJ but we could see their work in jobs and public projects, good roads, and new facilities.  They did not line their pockets with public moneys.  ( I am sure that there were those who did line their pockets but it was not with gov’t money)

When I went to seminary, I soon found out that my working-class roots were not appreciated there.  One professor even said to me, wearing his tweeds and smoking his pipe and with a decided Boston brogue: “We Episcopalians do not do well with the poor.  The Roman Catholics seem to do a better job.”  The only students in this most liberal seminary who came from working or poorer class were former Roman Catholics who had gotten an education and wanted to help their people.  And nearly all of the candidates for Holy Orders came from large well-to-do parishes.

The first thing I realized as I entered the Episcopal college of clergy was that I was no longer perceived as working class.  I had become a WASP in the truest sense of the word.  And there was a bit of thinking that we were supposed to be better than others.  Yes, there was a compassionate desire to assist those who were poor, but never with the thought of becoming poor ourselves.  Poverty was seen as an evil, something to be avoided at all cost. 

Budgets seem to raise the ire of everyone.  We always have to deal with our poverty.  It is always about whose ox is being gored.  But in the case of the various budgets that have been proposed, it has to do with the mission of the Church and who should determine what that mission is.  I happen to believe that is why we send lay and clergy delegates to General Convention—to work out the directions of mission and the way we spend our resources for the 3 years between Conventions.  We have some very talented lay people who are quite capable (in fact usually more capable than those of us called to the ordained ministry) of helping formulate not only focus for ministry and prepare budgets for the various ministries.  And I do not doubt that the Executive Council has referred to them.

But when the PB and the COO have offered significantly different budgets, I am wondering if the PB and COO and the Executive Council are ‘making Church’ in their meetings.  They do not seem to be listening to each other.  And most likely the 815 leadership doesn't want the Executive Committee messing with their budget.  

But we practice Church—the living out of our Baptismal vows--in community.  Granted the Executive Council is a fairly large body.  Are they making Church when they meet?  Are they trying to live out their Baptismal vows?  I would hazard to guess that such meetings are seen as ‘meetings’ rather than Church.  If our meetings do not have the same quality as our liturgies—that sense of being open to the Holy Spirit—then we can’t really call it Church.  But knowing some of the members of the Executive Council,  I think that they probably try to make it Church as best they can.

Often times our bishops get in the habit of ‘doing for’ others rather than doing things ‘with others.’  And here lies the problem.  It is all too easy to for clergy to do something themselves that they think is a wonderful solution and present it to the rest of the church only to find that it isn’t accepted.  Then we are likely to think the people ungrateful when it is not received joyfully.  But it is the process that has been ignored.  It is the listening that has not been appealed to.  The process of becoming community in the production of that budget is what has been lost.  And most importantly the bishops and the Executive Council have not had to deal with their poverty together.  The process has not produced “Church” that sense of community that makes us all members in the same standing.

I do hope that this mistake by the leadership of the Church—both bishops and Executive Council can be learned from.  That is the point of haveing a Church in the first place.  It is where we can practice our Christianity, practice our Baptismal vows and work out the process of making ‘church’ so that we can all listen to the needs of the whole Church. We need to be willing to approach the poverty of our hearts, our souls, our budgets together in order to live into our Baptismal vows.

I do believe in the democratic system that allows all classes 'to mark, learn, inwardly digest' and speak on behalf of those who are in need.  It is a charism of our Church and we need to safeguard it from those who would ignore it.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Five; What sustains you?

Over the last year I have found that life has been tough for various reasons, in bits and pieces I might cope with them all, but one after another in a relentless overlapping procession has left me drained and in need of resources that bring life. 

Sometimes even those resources are hard to lay my hands on, but even then if I choose to be mindful the memory of them can be sustaining. I am reminded of the words of Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit?

    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens,you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

So I wonder,

  1. What brings you light in the dark places? One of our teens in the parish who has had a wonderful experience of God asked me a couple of weeks ago, "Does God ever seem far away?"  I smiled sort of ruefully and said:  "I am afraid that God is often feels like you are looking for him through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars."  She said, "How can I get that closeness back."  "YOU can't." I said.  "When you need the Holy again, the Spirit will come. Meanwhile you stay close to those who love God.  That is what real faith is."  I am not sure where that answer came from, but I have depended upon the Spirit for a long time now and I guess that is where it came from.  The light for this extrovert is nearly always with others who are also filled by that hope in the Holy.
  2. How do you connect/reconnect with God, and where do you find him/her holding you?
             Meditation is generally the way I get myself back to a place where God can get through to me.  I 
             need to find a way to find my own silence before I can hear or feel the Holy.  More often than not
             I can't control what or how God is going to attend to me.  Reconnecting is not my job; I just need to be faithful, to be there when God comes.  It is my willingness to wait that I call faith.  I trust the Holy will touch me sometime.  It may not be when I want it but it eventually comes when I NEED it.  The important thing is that I have to remain faithful--ready and waiting even when I am dry as a bone.
 3.  Is there a prayer/poem/piece of liturgy that speaks life/sustains you?
            You have already used one--Psalm 139.  Another is Sirach Chapter 2.

     4.   Is there a piece of music that lifts your heart?(share it or a link to it)
            I don't know how to link music or youtube so I will tell you:  I love classical music.  I put on the 
            classical radio station and that often will do the trick.  Sometimes I need to listen to Gregorian 
            chant, the Anonymous Four or even chant from different religious tradition.  Even sometimes the guttural sounds of Tibetan monks loosen the tension that allows me to open myself and wait for the silence of holiness.   Often it is very quiet music in the background that only serves to support my prayer rather than focus my attention.  I especially love the Brahms' Requiem, Mozart's Requiem, music that I have sung in choir for dog's years.  
      5.   Is there a place you run to (even in your imagination?Iona, Holy Isle, Taize, a trout stream, a lake, and most of those are in my imagination.  Sometimes it is just driving out in the West Texas plains on a day with billowing clouds and perhaps a thunder storm in the offing.  Getting to a place where there are few people or cars and allowing the silence to wash over me.  I often like being out in the weather--in the wind or rain (if it is not too cold).  To find a dry place and watch rain is very soothing.  Even as extroverted as I am, I love to go to these places alone for refreshment and the older I get the more I appreciate this quiet time since my life has been filled with busyness.  Even my home office has become a bit of a refuge in the midst of the illness of our household.
Bonus; Add pictures to any /all of these :-)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Theology 101: Christian Education

I have always believed in Christian Education as being the center of what I do.  I have always seen the job of a rector is to help people come to know their faith.  But the world has changed since I started out.  It isn’t a matter that it is changing; it has already changed.  And I have been slow to realize it.  Part of that comes from working in small towns.  Small communities tend to be slower to pick up the most recent trends. Congregations tend to be small and more intimate.  But at the same time, small towns tend to preserve the simplicity of practice and faith when the city experience has migrated to more complex ways of being followers of Jesus.  I am not condemning or lauding either location.  I am just recognizing that there is a difference—and it is still a matter of ‘different strokes for different folks.’

In each parish I served I always instituted a class called: “What you always wanted to know about the Episcopal Church but have been coming too long to ask.”  It was a good way to get to know what the parish knew and bring some new ideas into the community.  But this is not the kind of adult education that needs to go on in the city parishes here along the Trinity River.  The primary thing that suburban folk want of their church is a sense of belonging.  This belonging is not like having a membership in a club or an organization that does things.  It is a matter of belonging to a body that holds a reverence for the Holy, the Ineffable, the Source of all things.

Reading Diana Butler Bass’ Christianity After Religion, I am beginning to understand just how much the world has tipped to this new way of understanding faith. In our book study, I asked why we were all here.  There were many different ways of expressing it, but all of the class members understood that they participated in Church because they knew that they were a part of something beyond themselves.  Yet not one of them spoke of God or Christ or the Spirit.  It wasn’t because they didn’t claim faith in God.  It was merely that the way that they knew of the Holy was through the community of faith.

Some talked about having grown up in church; some spoke of finding a home there.  Some spoke of the parish; some spoke of the denomination and some spoke of faith in something greater.  But everyone’s faith was marked by the community in which they lived out their faith.

I came to know Christ through the influence of a community of nuns.  It was through their witness to and within a faith-based form of living that I began to understand God’s love for me.  They held all things in common; they prayed together several times a day.  They even meditated in the same chapel in silence and the bonds grew without word in that silent intimacy that none of us would have acknowledged then.  We were afraid of ‘intimacy’ because that could undermine the commonness of the whole.  However, the intimacy that developed was never physical or social; it was spiritual.

As Bass opens her book, she finds the “spiritual but not religious’ mantra that is being bantered about is one that we cannot ignore.  While more and more are leaving our parishes, we are finding through polls that 92% of Americans are admitting to some kind of experience of the Holy/God/Spirit/Higher Power. As a retired pastor/rector/priest, I could toss up my hands and say, “How did I fail to teach the love for Christ Jesus to those who came to my church?”  I could take the blame for dips in attendance like many naysayers both in and out of the church would like me to.  But I would be missing the point. 

In the 1950’s a new breeze began to be blown in the Christian communities in the world.  For me it was symbolized with Vatican II in the early 1960’s which opened the world of faith to a relationship not just to the Church, but to Christ, to God, to All that is beyond us.  The world sat up and took notice to the bringing of scientific research to faith.  Biblical study had already begun in the mid-19th century.  But now archeology, philology, linguistics, higher criticism were all brought to bear on all things religious.  It was a heady half-century for academia.  But Christian Adult Education didn’t keep up.  People began to read more about faith in the likes of Time and Newsweek than Christian Century or The Episcopalian or Episcopal Life.

We had the Church Teaching series, but for some reason it was perceived as all head work rather than teaching folk how to encounter the Holy within them.  Episcopalians could often quote the catechism on the definitions of the signs of faith, the Sacraments, but were often unaware of what was happening to them as they participated in the liturgical symbols of the faith.  With the ’79 prayer book’s attention to Baptism and Eucharist as the vortex of their encounter with God with less and less participation in the daily order of prayer in Morning and Evening Prayer, faith became a matter of participation in the Sacraments rather than a lived-out relationship with the Divine or a conversation with the Holy.

Like Christians all over we invited newcomers to come and KNOW what we knew.  We passed on to them the how to’s and the what for’s of faith but seldom talked of the relationship with the One who was the Source of our lives.  In the 70’s too, a wave of spirit-filled worship caught us Episcopalians off guard and people began to ‘feel’ what it meant to love and beloved by God.  Staid and polished, we found that lifting our hands to praise God was remarkably satisfying.  And there was music that moved us out of the 18th century and allowed us to embrace God deeply within our souls where song moves the heart more powerfully than even actions.  Americans have wakened to a Divinity that touches them more profoundly than our ‘religious services’. 

As a purveyor of those ‘religious services’ part of me wants to hang on for those who “know” their meaning, who have been nurtured in their signs and symbols.  But I do believe that this is a kind of esoteric Gnosticism.  The mysteries of the Church have become arcane rituals which take so much energy to explain that those who come to Faith without a history of them are wondering ‘what’s the fuss?’ Much like the post-Vatican II Catholic, I too would like to see a way to know holiness without having to have a degree in Church History to enjoy them.

So I am going to offer not a Confirmation Class this year.  I am going to offer a class in Community:  How do we come to share this experience of the wholly Other/wholly Within?  How can we trust in that Deity that takes our breath away and share that with one another?  I hope to pair the new to faith with someone who has been coming for some time and perhaps their enthusiasms will rub off on one another.  This does not mean that we will change the name of the parish.  We will still be unashamedly Episcopalians, but hopefully we will be able to hear what those who come to us are saying.  And perhaps they will find among us a way to practice that relationship with Christ that we walk in.  We won’t be changing the prayer book services or ignore what is going on in TEC or the Anglican Communion.  But hopefully we will be able to rejoice in a faith that is broader than we once thought and more open to the joy of living in relationship with all that is Holy.