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June 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

150 Years of Episcopal Presence in Columbus

2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the Episcopal presence in Columbus twelve dedicated Episcopalians began meeting under the leadership of William Turner, a deacon who had come to live in Columbus.  It would be another nine years before St. Paul’s would be formally recognized and established as a parish, but St. Paul’s has been serving the needs of the congregation and the surrounding community ever since.

On June 29 (which happens to be a Thursday this year), we celebrate the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.  (They combined the two on the calendar a while back and Peter gets top billing in the gospel reading for that day, but Paul gets another shot on the day that marks his conversion on the road to Damascus, January 25.)  On this day, we pray (in part): “Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord.”

June puts us in the throes of summer and the activity level at the church tends to wane for a couple of months, but this is a perfect time to take stock of witness of the namesake of our church and what Paul’s teaching and example has meant for these 150 years of presence in Columbus; even better, what Paul’s teaching and example, standing firm upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, can mean for the future of the Episcopal presence in Columbus.  I am not suggesting anyone seek martyrdom(!), but I am suggesting that if we value the presence we have had for lo these many decades and want to see St. Paul’s flourish for another century and a half (and longer), then we really need to take stock of Paul’s example of zeal for the gospel (and Peter’s, and the other apostles and disciples and saints, for that matter) and how we mirror that in the 21st century, standing firm upon the foundation of the faith while proclaiming our message of good news in a way that will resonate with the increasing number of people who have no concept of faith.  Gives whole new meaning into what we say is our mission as a church: To proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.  Consider well: What example shall we be - now and for the next 150 years?

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May 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

From Good to Great

(Saw this on some Facebook post, so assuming it’s in the public realm.)

From good to great.  We have come through the all the whirlwind of Holy Week, culminating with the cross on Good Friday and are now in the throes of what is called the Great Fifty Days, the fifty days of the season of Easter, between Easter Sunday and the Day of Pentecost (the pente- part of the word).  The BC comic strip above pretty much sums up the way only comic strips can why the darkest day of our faith, that particular Friday, is called “good”.  Not too hard to understand why the fifty days that follow are called “great”.

It is one thing, though, to use an adjective and another thing altogether to actually give those adjectives and their attendant nouns meaning.  We do not do that just by reading (or writing) about them in a parish newsletter.  What gives them meaning is what we do to actually live them on their day, in their season, and in our lives.  So ask yourself how you move from good to great.  (As something of an aside, the implication here is that we start with what is already good and make it even better.)  If joining your fellow parishioners for worship once a month is good, wouldn’t it be great to worship together twice a month (or more)?  If feeling empathy for a friend is good, wouldn’t it be great to actually minister to that person in a pastoral way (say, through the agape ministry)?  If bringing food to church to fill the shelves at Love Chapel is good, how great would it be to actually serve on the Outreach Commission or volunteer at Love Chapel?

Anyway, you get the point.  As we come through the dark days of Holy Week and move through these wonderfully celebratory days of the Easter season, don’t just make them good.  Make them great!

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April 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

Aslan Is Not a Tame Lion

Aslan is not a tame lion.  In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the children were concerned whether the lion (the Jesus figure), being a lion, was safe to be around.  “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

Sometimes when I am in the wilderness, I am reminded of how vulnerable I am - dangerous and exhilarating at the same time; a good way to shatter my delusions of being in control.  God is eminently approachable, but is utterly Other at the same time - beyond control.  When was the last time you had that exhilarating experience of realizing how dangerous it is to be in God’s presence?  Ancient Israel certainly knew that risk.  Moses had to hide in the cleft of the rock as God passed by in order to not be struck dead.  When it came time for God to be more directive in the face of Israel’s hard-heartedness, no one wanted to approach God.  Send Moses! they said.  No, we like to domesticate our God (as it has been termed), make God safe to be around so we can be in control, not have to risk dying to that of parts of us that try to keep God housebroken so our faith does not make any demands on us to love as God loves us.

In a 2012 article in Christianity Today, Harry L. Kraus, Jr. said, “What we're doing, unconsciously to a large part, is to bring down what is huge, wild, and untamable and repackage him so that we can function.  And in the process, I've domesticated the Almighty.  Tamed him.  Advised him.  Put him in a box.  Fenced him into a safe pasture.  Expected him to function like a divine vending machine.  I like that because I get to be in control.  Not one of us on this side of heaven will ever really understand Christ in all his glory.  But every one of us can make an effort to remove a few of the filters that have dimmed the true light and replaced it with something else altogether.”  Jim Fikkert, on his Pastor’s Blog, put it this way: “We don’t want to have to rely on God.  We would rather do it our own way OR create a system that convinces us that we are doing it His way (while we still actually do it our own way).  What either of these solutions does is simplifies God down into a diluted form of His actual self.  It makes God digestible, but to do that, it makes Him predictable and simplistic.  It creates for us a housebroken God.”

A domesticated, housebroken god (yes, lowercase “g”), safe to be around.  That is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; not the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who could sweep life from the face of the earth with a sweep the divine Hand…or love stronger than death.  ‘Course God isn’t safe.  But God, the King, is good.  In April (this year, anyway), we come through Holy Week, the most agonizing, most holy several days of our church year - the Last Supper’s novum mandatum (new commandment to love), the brutal agony of the crucifixion’s unjust execution, the emptiness of the tomb…to resurrection.  Nothing domesticated or housebroken about that - unless the Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday and Easter services are just a way to practice a feel-good piety or worse, given no consideration at all.

This Easter season, how about having the courage to hang out with an untamed lion, to risk allowing yourself to get caught up in the power of love strong enough to overcome death?  It makes us vulnerable which is a dangerous position to be in, but then Aslan is certainly not a tame lion and ours is not a domesticated or housebroken God!

March 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

We live in an era where increasing numbers of people are no longer seeking the Church. Thus, the Church must seek the people.

We live in an era where increasing numbers of people are no longer seeking the Church.  Thus, the Church must seek the people.

Our worship liturgies are grounded in the earliest church practices, steeped in spiritual depth (as opposed to the spiritual fluff of “worshiptainment,” as it’s been termed).

  • Is this a good thing, something we should keep doing?  Yes.
  • Has worship grounded in ancient and deeply spiritual practice resulted in anyone coming through our doors?  No.

We are quite active in offering any number of ways for our people to be more deeply formed in the faith (adult forums, Bible study, quiet days, Wednesday nights in Lent, etc.)

  • Is this a good thing, something we should keep doing?  Yes (even though only a handful of our own people take advantage of it!).
  • Does offering numerous ways of being more deeply formed in the faith bring anyone through our doors?  No.

The Agape ministry and other means of pastoral care (visitations, prayer, presence, availability) in which we care for one another in this parish is core and essential ministry.

  • Is this a good thing, something we should keep doing?  Yes.
  • Does taking care of our own bring anyone through our doors?  No.

The amount of outreach we do, reaching out to those in need beyond ourselves/outside the church doors, is amazing and is equally as vital a ministry as pastoral care.

  • Is this a good thing, something we should keep doing?  Yes.
  • Has reaching out to others in our community brought anyone through our doors?  No.

We have been blessed with some financial resources and experienced and faithful people to manage them, and are using them wisely to properly care for our sacred space and for the benefit of the parish.

  • Is this a good thing, ministry we should keep doing?  Yes.
  • Does being good stewards with our resources and maintaining our sacred space bring anyone through our doors?  No.

The ministries of all the Commissions make up the life and work of the people of this church and help us fulfill our mission to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.

  • Are these good things, ministries we should keep doing?  Yes.
  • Have any of these ministries brought anyone through our doors?  No.

All of these ministries are good and valuable and we should continue to do them, and not one of them is what brings anyone through our doors.  We have seen the trends; they are real.  Says Charles Lafond: “The Episcopal Church is losing members so fast that if trends just stay stable (and they will not, they will increase) then there will be no members left in 2060, and by 2030 there will not be a critical mass left to pay for electricity, mortgages and Windex.”

We are doing good ministry and still the trends toward decline continue unabated, indeed are increasing exponentially.  For all the good ministry we are doing now, if that is all we do, if we do nothing more than what we are doing at this moment, but not anything to invite people to hear the good news of the gospel in a way that will resonate in this current era, in two generations, when ninety-percent of those of us sitting here right now will be gone, the witness to the Christian gospel will be severely diminished and the unique Episcopal presence in Columbus will cease to exist.

Advertising the pancake supper is fine, but while it may bring a person or two not affiliated with St. Paul’s to come eat, as history proves, it will not result in any long-term difference in anyone becoming active in their faith in this church.  Making sure there is information in the newspaper about our new bishop visiting is good, but it is not likely to result in any long-term difference in people coming and seeing St. Paul’s.  What will bring people through our doors to come and see all the good things that are happening, the single most effective means, is a personal invitation.  That is what the Come and See campaign I talked about at the annual meeting (and the Vestry retreat) is all about.

So since we live in an era where increasing numbers of people are no longer seeking the Church, the Church must seek the people.  We must be willing to make a public statement (and follow through) of our commitment to make a personal invitation to several people to Come and See what the Episcopal Church as we live it at St. Paul’s is all about.

If not…

February 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

Do You Know What a "Futurist" Is?

Do you know what a “futurist” is?  A futurist is “not a fortune-teller or soothsayer, not a reader of tea leaves or crystal balls.  A futurist is a planner and a doer.  Futurists look at trends and innovations.  They look for patterns of change.  Then they act.  Futurists don’t just predict the future.  They make the future happen.”  So says Pat Williams in his book How to be Like Walt (as in Walt Disney; sorry, you know what Disney geek I am!).  Walt certainly fit the bill of a futurist.  So do some of our brightest minds in technology and philosophy.  To some degree, so did the biblical prophets.  So, too, do any of us who lead the Church when we look at trends and innovations, at patterns of change, so we can plan and act, not only predicting the future, but making it happen.

So are you a futurist?  I hope so, because what 2017 and beyond will look like for St. Paul’s depends on it.  I am not going to go back through everything I have tried to bring to your attention over the years regarding the current state of the Church and the trends of attendance and ways to address them.  You can look back through old Venites or check old sermons or adult forum topics find out all the information you never knew you wanted to know.  However, I bring it up generally here because it is early in the year, which gives us the opportunity to embrace being a futurist for a little while.

The problem, of course, is that “c” word (about as loathed as that “e” word: evangelism):  As Williams says, “The difference between today and tomorrow is called change.  It takes courage to embrace the future, because the future is about change, and change brings uncertainty and anxiety.  We fear change; we prefer the comfort of the familiar.”  Right now, we are in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory.  Change is happening whether we like it or not.  The question is if we are going to choose to be futurists or not.  Are we going to just let the change that is happening around us happen to us or will we look at trends and innovations, at patterns of change, so we can plan and act, not only predicting the future, but making it happen?

What do you want 2017 and beyond to look like for St. Paul’s?  I can talk about all the trends and ways to deal with them for years, but I cannot, indeed I should not, deal with them on my own.  It is not about me as the rector, but we as the Church.  So are you a futurist?  I hope so, because what 2017 and beyond will look like for St. Paul’s depends on it.

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