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January 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

We Must Become Comfortable with Going Eye-to-Eye

I don’t make new year’s resolutions.  Most resolutions people make aren’t kept and any worth keeping will get done whether a resolution is made or not.  Still, as we come into the new year and continue to assess who and where we are as a church, particularly as we will review this at the annual meeting on January 21 (following the one service that day at 9:30 AM), we might want to renew our resolve in addressing issues of being the Church in the 21st century, particularly as God has called us in the tradition of the Episcopal Church.

The bottom line is that, in all matters - personal, communal, financial - we are going to have to become comfortable doing what we have never had to do before: go eye-to-eye; uncomfortable because we have such a deeply engrained ethos of establishment.  In the American colonies, the established church was the Church of England.  When American won the Revolution, the Church of England sure wasn’t going to be the established church anymore, but other than establishing the Episcopal Church in 1785, nothing else much changed in the colonies.  The people who were the Church of England (and who largely established the United States) were now the very people who formed the Episcopal Church and the property and ecclesial structures remained largely the same as they were before the Revolution.  That establishment ethos remained with the Episcopal Church through the next couple of centuries, even as recently as into my childhood, and its specter looms to this day.

The trouble with that is there is no such thing as an established church anymore.  There has been no greater time since the Christian church was forming in the first, second and third centuries that the necessity of going eye-to-eye, person-to-person, has been more imperative.  But for the increasingly occasional Episcopalian who finds there way here after moving to Columbus, in this era it is beyond all reason to expect anyone to seek us out.  We can no longer expect people to come and find us because the establishment ethos of the Episcopal Church that was just sort of built in to the social fabric is no longer the case and will never be again.  Not only are the Nones (claiming no affiliation to any religious tradition) rapidly increasing in numbers, so are the Dones (those who were active at some point, but have either just faded away from the Church or felt compelled to leave because of some disillusionment or trauma).

I know this creates discomfort because it is still such a foreign concept for most Episcopalians.  At least in the lifetimes of anyone here today, we’ve never had to do this before (although the Episcopal Church was quite mission-oriented with the expansion of the country through the 19th century).  That is what makes it all the more imperative to become more comfortable with going eye-to-eye with people - not just the rector, not just the Vestry or the Outreach Commission, but as I said in a sermon in December, every Christian person, every Episcopalian, every person who considers themselves a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, or the wider Christian tradition, for that matter.

We’ll talk some about this in the context of the annual meeting on January 21st, but in the meantime, as we come into the new year, resolve to be thinking about this in your own context - the discomfort, the imperative, and the trust in God that is required to do what we must become comfortable with if we are to continue to be the (Episcopal) Church in the 21st century: the necessity of going eye-to-eye.

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December 1, 2017, 6:54 PM

See Joy Everywhere

The adult forum series through most of December focuses on joy, particularly as a means of preparing for the joy of welcoming our newly incarnate savior, including plumbing the depths of what we mean by joy, exploring overcoming obstacles to joy, and then delving into joy practices that will help us sustain our newly deepened understanding of joy.  One good way to remember joy - J-O-Y - is Jesus, Others, Yourself, in that order.

In The Book of Joy that is the basis for the three-Sunday series in December (a book by Douglas Abrams that chronicles a week-long conversation on the nature of joy between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, who are close personal friends), Archbishop Tutu dispenses a nugget of great wisdom that joy brings (p. 12): “Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak.  In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too.  Perhaps we are just more alive.  Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters.  We have hardship without becoming hard.  We have heartbreak without being broken.”  There you have it: suffering that ennobles rather than embitters, hardship that does not harden us, heartbreak that does not break us.  You can see joy everywhere…if that is what you are looking for.  With joy - J-O-Y - Jesus, Others, Yourself, in that order, is one good way to prepare for the joy of welcoming our newly incarnate savior.

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November 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

A Different Way of Being Smart

Much has been made of IQ (intelligence quotient) and Daniel Goleman made a significant impact with his research on emotional intelligence with his book by that title published in 1994, arguing that the emotional quotient, or EQ, adds up to a “different way of being smart”.  Now comes yet another dimension to factor in: the LQ, the quotient of love, the capacity for compassion, understanding and, of course, love (according to Jack Ma, founder and chairman of Alibaba, the Chinese version of Amazon).

I have talked a lot over the years about all kinds of ways for us to invite people to share the banquet that is set before us at this Table.  Most recently, you may remember Come and See.  Various Vestries have heard a marketing plan and Holy Currencies and a Transformational Charter.  We have done some reimagining and walked the Pathways to Vitality and explored what we would need to do to be a Magnetic Church.  We have looked at Five Marks of Mission and the Jesus Movement, Appreciative Inquiry and going deeper and regaining our prophetic voice and being futurists, and I sent Andrew Goldsmid (the Vestry’s Welcome Commission liaison) programmatic information entitled Invite, Welcome, Connect that maybe will give us some more ideas.  In every venue at my disposal - sermons, forums, the Venite, Facebook, conversations… - I have tried to inform and educate and encourage us to be outward-looking, but to be completely honest with you, I am not sure much of any of that has really made much of a difference.  I see all the good ministry we are doing in this church - liturgy and music, pastoral care, outreach, formation, stewardship of our resources, all the rest - and we continue to be caught up in the seismic cultural shift that is diminishing the impact of the Church, and this is reflected in our budget considerations for 2018.  It got me wondering what we are doing all this for.

Our IQ is pretty high: we pursue learning and are pretty good at problem-solving.  Looking at the ministry we do and why we do it, we at least try understand people and their emotions, their needs - solid EQ.  A willingness to do that has at least some basis in compassion and love, so I think our LQ is on the higher end, but we can get so caught up in formulaic programming that we forget what we do this for.  I want to suggest that that single factor - LQ, the love quotient - become the single most important guiding factor for everything we do.  Not that it is not already, but that it take center-stage in our hearts, minds, and souls; that it be the most prominent, the most salient, the most obvious, first thing we think of when we consider why we do what we do: we do it first to the glory of God, we do it to feed and nurture those hungry for the spirit and presence of God, and even as Jesus did it for those who hated him, we do it even for those who are indifferent and hostile to us or to the Church because that will give them a different vision for what the Church truly is supposed to be.  As Bishop Jennifer noted when she visited with us in June, we already have everything we need, we just need to find our niche.  It used to be lobsters, but now?  Now let it be our LQ because when you factor in, not only our IQ and EQ, but our LQ - quotient of love - and make that our niche, it glorifies God, it feeds and nurtures, and may just change the world by renewing an indifferent heart and dispirited soul.  And that adds up to a whole different way of being smart.

October 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

God is bigger than the boogie man, He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV!

God is bigger than the boogie man, He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV!  If you are aware of the long-running animated series, Veggie Tales, you will undoubtedly be familiar with that line from one of the episodes dealing with children’s fears.  At a recent adult forum, we talked a bit about how difficult it is for an established institution like the Church to adapt to social changes, especially when those changes come at breakneck speed.  With a Prayer Book that is nearly forty years old (and will be much older when the next revision is authorized), canons that often are reflective of a bygone era, and lots of folks who can only imagine the Church being the Church as it currently exists, well it is not too hard to see how we can get stuck

My personal view is that, as much as I was raised on the 1928 Prayer Book and really love the (current) 1979 Prayer Book, I am actually looking forward to the next revision because I am anticipating it being far more inclusive and allowing for adaptability.  As it stands now, because I took a solemn vow at ordination to “uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship” of the Church, even as a priest, I do not have the authority to basically say, “I don’t care what the Prayer Book or canons or my bishop say, I’m going to do whatever I want.”  That may be fine for other traditions, but in our tradition part of the catholic nature of our faith is that I cannot just make things up as I go.  That said, as I said during the forum, God is not limited by the constraints of our tradition!  God is bigger than the boogie man (and Godzilla and the monsters on TV), bigger than Episcopal Church canons, the sacraments, and our fear and anger.  As John Muir observed, God’s charity is big enough for bears.

I have committed my life to this vocation in this tradition, so I cannot flippantly disregard my vows, the canons, my bishop’s directives, and the like, but I can recognize that, while the Holy Spirit breathes through each of these, God is bigger than any of them which gives me hope for the future of our storied tradition, whether a new revision of the Prayer Book or the vitality of our ministry in the 21st century.

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September 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

Life in the Church


I know you can quickly look over the Venite (and the bulletin announcements and the announcements that Caroline and Barb send out and on Facebook and on the website), but there are a number of things happening this month that I thought I would highlight them for you:

  • Sept 9: parish picnic
  • Sept 10: Victoria Hoppes (Waycross)
  • Sept 14: Stations of the Cross
  • Sept 17: children’s ministry resumes
  • Sept 17: newcomers luncheon
  • Sept 17: youth group
  • Sept 20: Wednesday Bible study resumes

These are not just bullet-points, but indications of life in the church.  Parish picnic: fellowship and an opportunity to invite people to come and see our community.  Stations of the Cross: unique and ancient spiritual practice of worship.  Children’s Ministry: nurturing our youngest members in their faith.  Newcomers luncheon: welcoming those who find a home for worship, ministry and community at St. Paul’s.  Youth group: nurturing the faith of the next leaders of the church.  Wednesday Bible study: ongoing formation of the faithful.  And these are in addition to all the normal bustle of activity of the church that goes on all the time.

This highlights an important distinction relative to our discussions over the past few years about the state of the church and the impact of the church’s waning influence, a distinction between stressing over declining numbers vs. the church’s vitality.  It is true that, as I pointed out at the annual meeting, the Episcopal Church (and Diocese of Indianapolis and St. Paul’s) is facing what pretty much everyone else is dealing with (including social service agencies that rely on volunteers) - declining membership and straining budgets.  I think it worth pointing out that, even as our numbers reflect the larger social dynamic, our vitality remains strong.  (Aside from what is coming up this month, just look at the response to last month’s rummage sale and the far-reaching impact that has, not just on us, but on our community!)

That vitality is something we should continue to nurture regardless of what our numbers are.  That is part of what is working for those of us who are here and active in the myriad ministries of St. Paul’s.  But the single missing piece in our ministry is figuring out how to respond to what is not working for those who are not here.  Personally, I think more people hearing the gospel is a good thing and eventually the decline in numbers will lead to a decline in vitality because if we do not at least maintain critical mass (preferably bolster it!), we will not be around to offer anyone anything.  So the counsel I try to bear in mind for myself, for the Vestry, and all of us who are the church is to trust God’s Holy Spirit to guide us and emphasize our strengths (i.e. the ongoing vitality of this church) as the best way to address the critical issues we are facing for the sake of life in the church.

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