Monday, November 24, 2014

Sabbath Disconnect

One could argue that the Christian weekly observance of the resurrection of our Lord primarily occurring on Sunday mornings between the hours of 8am and noon is an inadequate Sabbath practice. Yes I said it. Going to church every week on Sunday morning may not be “sabbathy” enough.

I’m thinking this way for a set of reasons not just one. First, remember the circumstances that led to the creation of Advent-ures. Sunday morning was not a good time for many of our young families to muster for a 9:30 start AND to do so in “love and charity” with each other. Even worse was how damaging to the intent of a Sabbath for the parents all that effort often was. One of the benefits of our current Advent-ures setup is the “parents night out” it provides.

Second, I know I’m taking a risk with this next insight but I’m interested how the women of our church are more consistent in their attendance on Sunday morning. The trend is not extreme but it is noticeable.

Third, I’ve noticed how every time I run by Ingle’s Sunday after church or in the afternoon I meet a parishioner who has to start the conversation apologizing or excusing their absence earlier that day. It is not hard for me to understand and I do everything I can to put them at ease. We are both in the store because it is when we have time to go. Plus, I’d rather have a good visit than instill guilt.

Fourth, it occurs to me that our Jewish kin have a better Sabbath practice, especially those who live close enough to their synagogues and temples to walk to worship along with those who dim the lights and turn off the TVs.

There are other reasons but these few make it pretty clear that there is a disconnect between what we do and what we say about what we do. Our Christian observance is meant to be a celebration and maybe that is the best reason there is little encouragement for the time we take to be “off” and thus the disconnect. Maybe we try too hard on Sunday morning for some people. They need the breathing space and not more to do or “get up for.”

Another way the disconnect shows up for me is in how hard it is to be quiet or sit in Sabbath-like silence during Rite I or Rite II eucharistic worship. I have no solution to this puzzle. I do know that Sabbaths are made not just taken and I do know that what we do on Sunday mornings is a break from the world’s lament, anxiety and busy-ness.

Celebration should be a refreshment. But I’m worried for those in our community and the society beyond who can’t connect with our current Sunday morning practices for whatever reason. Even more I’m worried that we are losing our sacred Sabbaths.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More to Stewardship Than We Can Imagine

We’ve done just about all we can in preparation for our voyage, the journey into the future God is calling us to explore.  Many of you who pledged in previous years have said your prayers and made your commitment to supporting God’s mission in and from the Church of the Advent.  Just as prayerfully several commitments have come from families who have not pledged in the past.  
All of this is good news to which we respond “Thanks be to God!”  Yet, one of the risks we take in putting so much focus on this part of the process is that we forget to support each other in continuing in the larger part of stewardship.
Here’s what I’m thinking: Imagine what it would take for you to go without your cell phone for 24 hours. Call it a “cell phone Sabbath.” 
Take a breath. I’m not saying anything bad about those of us who seem to be on our phones all the time.  I am saying that in order for us to consider “continuing in the larger part of stewardship” it may require as much planning and advance work as a pledge campaign. 
The difference is that the intent of this effort is not just a relatively brief, once-a-year campaign closed by our signatures but the establishment of a habit or pattern of behavior shared by a community.
  • First you would have to find the time -- 24 hours -- to be away from your electronic “friend(s).”  
  • Then you’d have to choose between those friends and family who could join you and those you’d warn, in some cases multiple times beginning several weeks in advance.  
  • Then you’d have to get someone to protect you from intrusion or interruption during your Sabbath.  
  • It would probably help to have some ceremony to begin your retreat 
  • and certainly you’d want some ritual during your time as a way to sustain yourself and get through the hours.  
  • All of this would be done so that you can be open to a set of possibilities larger than those bound up in the web of emails, calls, and messages.  All this for one day. 

Now, breathe again. Imagine what it would take for that one cell phone Sabbath to become a pattern or habit. See what I mean about all the work required in “continuing the larger part of stewardship?”
So thanks be to God that we have come this far and done this much. Let’s pray that we continue with God into a future that will likely require even more work to sustain for the sake of our imagination.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Collaborating in God’s Neighborhood

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.  (BCP, p. 832)
This prayer has been on my heart and my mind a bunch lately.  Not only is it the one we’ve used to help in our reimagining Advent’s voyage with God in the year to come, it was also used as the postcommunion (yes, that’s how you spell it) prayer at the Service of Repentance and Reconciliation hosted by Bishop Wright on October 22 at the Cathedral of St. Philip. 
I’ll admit to the collect’s comprehensiveness and thus it’s capacity for use in multiple applications.  I’m also OK with saying that what Bishop Wright was about that night was different from our use, although not entirely.  Suffice it to say the prayer works for both of us.
In the case of Bishop Wright’s use, the prayer encouraged those gathered that night to move into a time and place we are still learning to describe.  His sermon -- as I’ve already said, “one of his best” – was a very good beginning toward reinterpreting racism as it has evolved through these last 50+ years.  
In our case we’ve articulated an understanding of Advent’s movement into doing what God is asking of us that includes more collaboration with our neighbors.  But instead of jumping into “collaboration” maybe we should first talk with our neighbors about neighborhoods and neighborliness. It might be exactly what we can do best at this point: host a gathering for sharing, for telling stories, and most of all for listening. 

A time may come for us to extend our Bishop’s call for repentance and reconciliation specifically through Advent’s collaborations but for now let’s ask God to so draw our hearts, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills and see what kind of neighbors we can become.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Holy Light Bulbs and Pie Charts!

Thanks to all who helped to make Sunday the multifaceted success it was: one of our largest attendances at 8:00am since I’ve been serving in Madison, above average attendance at the 10:30 service! and what a “cloud” of witnesses our All Saints' Prayers produced! Then we enjoyed a roomful of questions and information and commenters and listeners as our Stewardship Team leaders -- Mary McCauley, Rick Crown, Tim Pridgen and Kathie Lehman -- explained more about our roles and options in commitment and support than we had ever been told before.
I sat in my office afterwards and sighed in relief as if we were done. Over a hump perhaps but we still have a ways to go. Another way to say it is that we will set sail soon enough.
Between now and November 12th we want you to say your prayers and ask God to guide your giving so that it is the best representation of who you are in membership and stewardship on this great voyage of discovery and purpose in our lives together with God.
Take the extra minutes to read through all the material in your envelope. Talk to your family members: husbands, wives, partners, children, parents, pets. Heck, talk to your neighbors if it helps you to clarify and focus on how your giving joins you to what God has already begun for us.
Thank you for all you have already given to this campaign of renewal and imagination, for ministry and mission, in outreach and inreach. Let us pray,
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP, p. 832)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Risk Management

I’ve already warned you that I like Kierkegaard.  I pray that you are not tired of him yet.  He wrote this prayer and I think it speaks to us as we make the next step in our journey, this voyage with each other and God. 
Preserve me, Lord, from the deceit of thinking that by being prudent and looking after my own interests I am necessarily using my talents aright. The one who takes risks for your sake may appear to lose, but is accepted by you. The other who risks nothing appears to gain by prudence, but is rejected by you. So let me not think that by avoiding risk I am better than the other. Grant me to see that this is an illusion, and save me from such a snare. Amen.
What dear Soren has said is consistent with Jesus in the gospel we’ve been reading on Sundays this year. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25 RSV. 
Can we take a moment and consider the extent to which we have used “prudence and looking after our own interests” as the baseline for our decisions together?  Can we ask if we have taken a risk?  (By the way I think we have taken some risks, so being honest about our answers doesn’t require us to be harsh or to lay blame on anyone.)  But we need to know who, when and how.  Knowing the risks we’ve already taken allows us to stand on the shoulders of so many who were faithful before us. 
For me it means learning to live on less and asking for help before I try to “do it myself.”  It means risking a self-image built from and for defense.  For some it might mean real courage to step through real fears triggered by real hard times, debt and even loneliness.  For others it might mean choosing their commitments before all the numbers are in. 
It might help to understand that most “risk management” models would have us avoiding failure or minimizing its effects, a safe strategy. And I’m not advocating recklessness or carelessness.   But I’m wondering how we can push a little, maybe a lot into taking a new risk in our lives with God. 
We are about to set sail with God on a voyage much of which is unknown at this point.  We know what we are allowing our selves to hope: for financial stability, expanded outreach, more worship, stronger programs, increased collaboration with our neighbors, full-time compensation for our priest, etc.  Are we just as much allowing ourselves to hope that in joining those faithful ones who have gone before us we are taking our own risks in this moment? 

November 2 is set for you and your shipmates to gather in a special “All Saints on Deck” meeting to share what has been learned and to invite each other on Advent’s voyage. Our time will begin at 10:30am with worship in Holy Eucharist streamlined to allow us to finish the day in special session and still be dismissed as early as 12:15pm.  We will share the same summary the vestry has used to draft a budget, get a quick review of that draft, and share in prayers to help make those commitments of time, talent and treasure for 2015 and beyond as we risk with God and voyage into a “new world” of mission and ministry.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I am writing this on a Tuesday morning, with deadline pressures amplified by the invitation to join Paul Roman’s Sociology of the South class at UGA.  I get to talk with his students about my memories of growing up in Anderson, SC in the 50’s and 60’s and whatever else comes up in our conversations about religion and religious practice in the South. 
On my mind will be how gratifying it was to see so many familiar faces on the Conservancy Ramble.  Thanks to Ann-Marie and Frank Walsh I was on a bus and at the table on the Ainslie’s lawn of Ardenlea Farm.  As I was able to greet and embrace Adventer after Adventer my feeling included and connected grew and grew.
That experience of face-to-face connectedness redefined for me an idea introduced to our Dinners with Dann sittings by Tim Pridgen.  On more than one occasion he spoke passionately about the need to name and promote a kind of connectedness within the day-to-day life of Advent.  He calls it “inreach.”
When first he shared his ideas and feelings I thought he was making sure that I was up to the task of being and doing the work of a pastor.  I’ll admit that I’ve worried about my ability to pastor for the entirety of my ordained life.  As we heard him at the dinner table other parts of that concept emerged and with the events of the ramble for me now have come into full bloom. 
We are connected to each other.  Most of the ways that I have experienced and understood that connectedness have been from the altar in our historic and beloved church and from the many meetings that I have attended.  Always with me delivering some thought, some content, some collaboration or some prayer.
I know that my status as full-time means that I must change how I attend these moments and especially how I connect to your personal and private crises and challenges.  Now instead of catching you at a hospital in Athens between chaplaincy duties, I’m on call and ready to be on my way to Atlanta or some other spot outside Morgan County.   Thank goodness the Saab is in so much better condition than the Subaru.
But now that I have experienced and so enjoyed the Ramble I understand Tim’s inreach in a much richer and less anxiety provoking way.  I see my role and our support of each other in all those other ways that pastoring occurs person-to-person as caught up in a energized and dynamic exchange of connectedness.  As we extend greetings to each other we are laying the foundations for inreach. 
This is more than a sociology of southern customs as pertaining to the history of worshipping communities in the South.  It is how I am continuing to be included and embraced among you and how I will celebrate the role that is growing before me as pastor and priest in charge of the Episcopal Church of the Advent. 
Inreach is a holy and sacred connectedness and not just a well designed delivery of a service or product of pastoring dispensed from some priest’s supply.  Thanks for helping me connect as a pastor by your invitations, your sharing, your tables and buses, your joys and sorrows, but most of all by your inreach.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New World Prayers

In 1606 when John Smith and Christopher Newport set sail from England they were authorized by the same King James I who ordered the English translation of the Bible, now known in many parts of the world as the KJV.   Newport was Captain over the three vessels, the Discovery, the Susan Constant and the Godspeed, with Smith having to wait until landfall to take his charge in establishing the first English speaking settlement in the “New World,” Jamestown.  Smith was not a good passenger and was charged with mutiny only to be saved by the royal charter’s taking effect as soon as they were standing on the banks of the Powhatan River. 
Prayers in English were first prayed in the New World in Jamestown. The Rev. Robert Hunt led the settlers in intercession twice a day -- every day -- as they sought God for wisdom, provision, and protection.  In fact, after the declaration that essentially freed Smith from the charge of mutiny the next official act by the English in the New World was a corporate prayer.
They sailed with much support and hope and some anticipation for economic return on their investment but the longer, landed story of Jamestown is not a good example of “getting one’s money’s worth.”  Mosquitos, rats, harsh weather, and bad relations with the “locals” all made what quickly became bad only get worse.  For sure they never stopped praying.
Thinking analogically, we’ve not yet left our homeport.  What has occurred up to now in our dinner conversations has been more like the collection of investment capital, the appeal for permissions, and drafting of a charter. Your ideas, thoughts, and dreams are the resources with which we will set sail.  For sure there is much to be learned from this history and since we have no control over the distant future we can take care to manage our ambitions, our hopes, and our expectations hoping to be good passengers and better sailors.  Wherever God is calling us we should be ready to say our prayers. 
In the next weeks these final preparations for our voyage will be made:
Mark Your Calendars!
October 19, our vestry will hear the report of the stewardship leaders and draft a new budget for the coming year.
November 2 is set for you and your shipmates to gather in a special “All Saints on Deck” meeting to share what has been learned and to invite each other on Advent’s voyage.

Our “All Saints on Deck” will begin at 10:30am with worship in Holy Eucharist streamlined to allow us to finish the day in special session and still be dismissed as early as 12:15pm.  We will share the same summary the vestry has used to draft a budget, get a quick review of that draft, and share in prayers to help make those commitments of time, talent and treasure for 2015 and beyond as we voyage with God into a “new world” of mission and ministry.