Tuesday, October 21, 2014

InReach

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.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What to Do Now that Dinner is Done

The Dinners with Dann were fantastic!  Each occasion was enlightening and encouraging.  The food was excellent, the conversations deep, the fellowship enriching and did I say the food was excellent? 

Nothing was “off the table.”  And though nothing of what we discussed came to a final form or resolution, everything was brought to the table with the understanding that another round of discussion, discernment, and distillation was meant to happen.  With myself, Susan Kurtz.  and Bill Abbott, our team of Mary McCauley, Rick Crown, Tim Pridgen, and Kathie Lehman will work in the next week to summarize our conversations and then present to the vestry what we said we want Advent to become in our part of Christ’s mission to the world God loves.

My own experience at these dinners leaves me understanding that there is easily too much to do soon but nothing that should be dismissed as a possibility for us. 

There was more, plenty more and in time we will be considering options still yet to be imagined.  But more than the ideas shared there was a spirit in the room with us on every one of those occasions.  I thank God that we were so willing to imagine and explore.  That is where my hope is founded.  We can trust God enough to consider that the one who created us is not done with us but has more for us to do. 

Here’s a brief list of some of topics discussed at multiple sittings:
  • More collaboration with other Madison congregations
  • More adult spiritual formation opportunities
  • More support for parents
  • More programming for our children and youth (see collaboration)
    • Organizing the transition from Little House to worship
    • Programming for those children and youth “too old” for Adventures
  • More outreach opportunities, especially those that “tap our talents”
    • A “mini-Habitat” team that winterizes homes and helps with repairs
    • Caring Hands to knit for prisoners
  • New (and renewed) considerations about our property and its development
    • A prayer garden that also helps link church to parish house
    • Improvements to the Little House
  • New (and renewed) ways to partner in our care for each other
  • New worship options outside Sunday morning
  • Continuing and improving our current Sunday offerings:
    • Rite I @ 8:00am
    • Rite II @ 10:30am
      • With seasonal (4 to 5 times per year) offerings by a choir of regulars and others joining them on these specific occasions.
      • With special seasonal attention to children in worship more than Christmas and Easter. 
  • Continuing and improving our electronic and posted communications
  • Continuing our care of our historic properties
  • Continuing Foyers and other ways to gather socially
  • Continuing to open our Parish House to the community
  • _____________________________________________________ (you add your own topic)


There is still much for us to consider and decide.  You could say our ship has yet to set sail.  In the next month or so we will work through these steps and set our sights on a voyage that should take us through but also beyond 2015. 

Keep these dates on your calendar and dedicate yourself to pray especially for
            Throughout the next week and a half for your stewardship leaders Mary, Rick, Tim and Kathie as we collect and cull the thoughts and imaginations shared in our Dinners with Dann.
            October 19th for your vestry as they hear the report of the stewardship leaders and draft a new budget for the coming year
            November 2nd for you and your shipmates as we gather in a special “All Saints on Deck” meeting to share what has been learned and invite each other on Advent’s next voyage.


And thanks to all our hosts Terry and Paul, Julie, Ellen, Anna, Janet and Charlie, Elizabeth and Jim, Beverly and Bill, Rick and Richard, Gertrude and Berry, and Terry and Paul (again).  Your gift to this church you love keeps on giving every time another idea or hope about what Advent is becoming is shared. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Past, Present and Futures

The observant among us will have noticed how well our Dinners with Dann are going based solely on my waistline.  For sure the dinners have been better than expected in helping us to tell the story “that was and is and is to come” in our historic and hopeful walk of faith here in Madison.   I loved hearing about June Harrell hitching rides after church just so she could share a Moon Pie and NeHi with her friends or the time that Bishop Allan supported the vestry and their Sr. Warden Charlie Mason following Brian Black’s courageous and grace-filled last year on earth. 
There have been all sorts of good stories about what is happening right now at Advent.  I’ll be the first to celebrate the success of Advent-ures as a faithful caring for our children and their friends as they grow spiritually.  Hearing how each of our significant outreach efforts were begun and how they’ve grown and spurred other community ministries into being stirs the confidence of each of us at the table. 
There is a third part to our conversations that is just as comforting and exciting as are the present and the past when we celebrate them.  What’s so wonderful about this third part is that it is not just one story or a small handful of successes but an infinitely emerging and expanding picture of Advent tomorrow, next year, and long into the future. 
The title of this blurb uses “futures” because there are so many possibilities, so many hopes, so many dreams.  Whether we can realize all of them only time will tell, but in order for time to tell we have to hope.  Because of who God is and because of how we know Him in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we have to consider all those imagined and awesome and in some cases frightening futures as ours.  Given to us by the God who loves us and loves the world we live in more than we can know. 
And so we can move into as many futures as we can imagine because our hope is in a God who has been with us, and is with us now and has promised to be with us to the end of the ages.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Big Church, Little Church, . . . Good Church

Many of you are familiar with an expression of mine often said at the conclusion of our Sunday celebrations, “That was good church!” Especially when our worship has included some extra element: baptisms, blessing of scarves and blankets, blessing of Panda Packs, even a funeral has found me feeling that way.   
As well as worship there are ways we are engaged in making the world a better place, both near and far:  the aforementioned Panda Packs, Joseph’s Coat, Meals on Main, Matthew 25, the Boys and Girls Club, Twin Lakes, Île à Vache and on and on.  Outreach for us is also “good church.”
While we celebrate here another effort to identify “good church” is happening at the level of General Convention, and bishops, and executive committees.  The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) has reported on the work they were given by the House of Deputies in Indianapolis in 2012.   Lots of reasons for this work could be listed but to be brief there was an obvious frustration with how “big church” didn’t match up with “little church.”  What TREC has proposed includes significant changes to General Convention, Executive Council, the Presiding Bishop’s office and other structures. 
Lots of church pundits have responded; some through scathing disapproval, others by luke-warm endorsements and still others with pride and celebration of a job well done.  In most opinions one caution is repeated.  It is this: unless there is health at the level of individual congregations all the good ideas about structure and process “at the top” are in vain.
There you have it.  No matter what the structure is, the big church needs the little church. It is OUR health that makes whatever re-imagining General Convention authorizes, worth doing.   OUR health, first known by how we worship and similarly by how we help those both near and far is so important that we can’t take it for granted ourselves. 

These Dinners with Dann are our TREC.  We are doing our own re-imagining and structuring for growth and health sake.   Thanks be to God we already have so much to call “good church.”  Thanks as well that we can consider ways to grow and to contribute to the health of the big church from right here in Madison. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Apologies to Kierkegaard

Some of you already know that I have a strong affection for the “melancholy Dane.”  Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855):
“the first existentialist philosopher. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology and philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a "single individual", giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking, and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment. He was a fierce critic of idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, such as Swedenborg, Hegel, etc. Thanks Wikipedia, ;-)
I’m apologizing so that I can describe a reality of our lives together here in Madison and can use a model attributed to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, as much as anyone Kierkegaard’s nemesis. 
Here’s the reality: we are growing in love with each other.  We have been, we still are, and with this change in my status to full-time can continue on a new scale.  Part of the way this is happening is a back and forth of call and response, of giving and receiving and giving back, of taking turns for each other.  Yes there is plenty that we are doing together, so the back and forth is not so obvious.  But most of what we are doing has a kind of respect built in to it so that we can be said to be “taking turns.” 
One of Hegel’s ideas was that things like Truth – capital T truth – were the result of a dialectic of ideas.  First there is thesis, then there is antithesis then there is synthesis!  And everyday in every way we were getting better and better. Kierkegaard’s rebuttal was that there was no abstract truth better than those lived by the individual in crisis, in decision. 
I love my Søren but I think he is more helpful here in partnership with Hegel.  To be brief, we are exchanging respect, honor, trust and in the back and forth there is something better to build on to which we proclaim, Thanks be to God! 
As long as we are clear about our limitations – Kierkegaard would want us to call it sin – then we know not to expect what grows to be the end of who we are becoming.  That would be to presume a version of things like capital T truth the reality of which can only be known because it comes first from God and has no need for the repartee of antithesis.    

So thanks Georg H. and thanks Søren K.  The dialectic your philosophies are performing for us is helping us see something about our lives in this moment in Madison GA.  We are growing in love through an exchange of willful decisions made by people who understand their limits and trust in God.