Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Official Steps

I've been thinking in terms of rhythms and rests, remarkable moments worth repeating, and how we are a growing parish.  We all know there are those in our Episcopal Church who measure growth in the simplest terms.  Their most common metric is "Average Sunday Attendance" or ASA.  

Especially because the Episcopal Church has shifted in its designations, titles, and qualifications relative to ministry in the building and follow-up to the "new Prayer Book" the new normal is "the ministry of the baptized."  

The basic theological argument is that baptism is THE marker of membership and therefore following baptism one is fully included in the life of the church.  The old standard of "confirmed communicant in good standing" is still a portal but now more specifically for service into leadership. 

BTW neither is the category "communicant" as good a measure. You can tell how it has lost effect as a measure by looking at its current use.  Ask any parish priest what constitutes "communicant." You are likely to get an answer like "one who attends Holy Eucharist at least 3 or 5 times a year."  

Others are developing but currently, ASA is the metric.  And here's some good news.  Our ASA is up. We are seeing higher averages at both of our Sunday services.  

Great!  Just not enough. . .  Yes, I am happy to see more people in the pews during all of our worship offerings.  More IS better.  

But more is only better when it goes with more ministry, more moments, more prayers, more programs, more of what the Church of the Advent should be FOR the world around it. That's why I said, "The shape and direction of our growth is largely determined by how we prayerfully decide to add to the rhythms of each week and month." It's moments not just bodies.  

So, we will continue to use ASA as a basic measure of one kind of important growth. We'll use some others too, because we are a growing parish. 

After reporting our ASA in the annual parochial report there are other official measures or steps we must take as we grow.  In order for my tenure to continue beyond June 30, 2016 we must measure our lives using a set of standards pre-determined by the Bishop for moving through the last year of our current agreement.    Here's some of the questions we are to answer in that process:
  • The established ministry priorities: how they have been addressed?
  • Has trust built among the priest and various leaders in ministry?
  • What is learned from the mutual ministry review?
  • Have parochial reports and annual financial audits as required been filed in a timely fashion?
  • Have Dismantling Racism training and Safe Church training been held, and is the parish current on all financial obligations?
Some of these official steps are simple and we already know the answer.  Others will require involvement of members beyond the vestry to be fully addressed.  All of them are consistent with the responsibilities and blessings that come to a growing parish.  Indeed, several of these official steps are themselves invitations to further growth.  

I used to cringe at the simplistic, procedural, bean-counting, box-checking way of evaluating and encouraging attention to growth.  Now I am glad to be invited into a process that helps me to mark the "other than ASA" growth of the parish community I am more and more coming to call home.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

God's Heart Beat

I've been thinking about my life in Madison now that I am into my SIXTH year of serving the parish.  For those who need clarification: 
▪ My first Sunday at the altar was the Fifth Sunday in Lent (just before Palm Sunday,) March 21, 2010.  
▪ I continued serving just on Sundays for a several months and then late in the summer of that year added a weekday afternoon to my schedule.  
▪ By the end of my first year I was calling myself permanent supply priest and Bishop Alexander encouraged me to draft and sign a letter of agreement as priest in charge (part-time).  
▪ I continued to carve out bits of time from my schedule in Athens and by the time Bishop Wright's "honeymoon" was over I was in Madison on Sundays and two weekdays. 
▪ Now with my leaving Athens almost a year ago I have been included in this parish family in varying degrees for 5 years and 3 months.  
This past year has been the joy of my life as a priest.  And like I said last week the rhythm of the week feels like home to me.  
But remember I also encouraged us to consider other ways that we could add to the calendar and enrich each week with other events and gatherings, some social, some spiritual, some both.  
So that we are ready to live best into these possibilities, we want to add them with the kick-off of the program year this fall on the Sunday AFTER Labor Day during our annual Ministry Fair.  I know you have some ideas from which we can choose, including:
▪ An adult class on aging well which would include learning how to keep wills up-to-date, making choices about end of life issues, power of attorney, bequests, insurance decisions, down sizing, etc.
▪ Regular Youth programming for our Advent-ures"alumni." Maybe even planning for a pilgrimmage in couple of years!
▪ Monthly (at least) Family Fun and Faith Nights - like Adventures with something for everyone. 
▪ Home Church Groups - like foyers but more often and with less formal dining and a theme for study, reflection and conversation.
▪ More Sunday morning options
▪ EFM (Education For Ministry) either the new curriculum from Sewanee or our own "home-grown" version. Something that deals with "big" questions.  
▪ Outreach of the month/work-day
▪ ___________________________________________ (Add your idea to the list!)
We are a growing parish. The shape and direction of our growth is largely determined by how we prayerfully decide to add to the rhythms of each week and month.  
We will continue to grow from within this grace-filled life that God allows us to share so long as we keep looking for those new moments that only our faithful imaginations currently recognize.  
I am excited to begin my second year as Full-time Priest in Charge (call me Rector). But I am also very aware that in order for us to continue in this happiness other official steps must be taken. I'll write about that next week. 
For now know that my heart tells me we are a family having fun being faithful, together living to the rhythm of God's heart beating in us.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rhythms and Rests

You know I love music.  I've enjoyed some instruction in piano, guitar and voice.  I still cannot really read music but when Jim plays the melody I can locate the harmonies the hymnal intends. One can safely say I have a good ear.  
I'm also interested in the effect of rhythm in music.  Most of us experience the effect of rhythm through the pace of music.  For me there is almost always another, more intricate and complex, beat behind the one with which we count out the measures and set the pace.
Coming to Kanuga for this weeklong conference has called on me to practice a rhythm different than the one I enjoy in Madison.  Holy Eucharist at 7:30, breakfast at 8:00, Morning Prayer at 9:00, first Plenary (my opening remarks set the theme for the day) at 9:30, first workshop at 10:00, second workshop at 11:30, noonday prayers and lunch at 12:30, then the afternoons are scheduled one person at a time for private counseling and consultation till 5:00, dinner at 6:00, evening prayers at 7:00, small groups until we close the day with compline at 9:00
There is a definite pace to the day that the rhythm of prayer and program actually helps to happen.  That's the way that prayers are supposed to work.  They are not always rests away from the pace of life but integral to maintaining the pace, counting the measures, keeping the rhythm.  
Our lives in Madison only share a few markers to set the pace, establish a rhythm.  Sunday's morning worship services and during a part of the year Night Prayers, Tuesday's Prayers for Healing, Wednesday's Theolatte are the moments in our weekly rhythm.
In each month there are other markers, Daughters of the King, Men of Advent, Vestry, Finance committee, Outreach, and others.  
Even our annual parish meeting is a marker and it establishes a year by year rhythm and pace into our lives.  
So let's think about other moments, especially new ones, that we use to maintain the rhythm and pace of our lives.  It's time for us to consider Wednesday night programming, some other week night as well, even another weekday morning moment.  Whatever we consider we can be confident that God's Holy Spirit will help us keep pace.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

No Sacramental Junk Mail

Everybody knows what junk mail is.  And we all know by the same means: we each get too much of it.  Now with the advent of email the junk has a new and even more insidious way to find us. 
A friend recently asked me “what makes junk mail junk?”  Unsolicited was the first word to come to my mind.  But then I realized that I had solicited some of the emails I’ve now come to delete without reading.
Then another way to characterize it popped into my head: imbalance.  As often as junk mail comes unsolicited or not by way of some fishing or spamming algorithms, it comes immeasurably beyond my interest. 
Thanks to junk email I can check my credit report, everyday.   I can vacation in Cancun, I can make $10,000 / week, in my own living room!
If I can be interested in the content of the email then its sending, unsolicited or not, is balanced by my receiving.  That’s how the junk mail keeps coming. You see anything that looks interesting and then in just one clicking of a link the “interwebs” and their formulaic minions take over.  Within 24 hours every “friend” of the original sender is on your computer’s doorstep, begging even more of your interest and soon, too soon you are back to imbalance.
Thanks to all the ways our computers, operating systems, email apps, and internet providers help to shunt away and sift through the unbalancing piles it is not as bad as it could be.  Yet even with their help our interest is demanded, pestered and strained. 
This becomes a way to talk about living sacramentally because the way God persists into our lives is similar but different from junk mail. 
There is a similarity between unsolicited email and unconditional love.  They both are sent without our asking.  But there is an important difference that comes by way of our receiving what is sent. 
Junk emails need only curiosity’s click of interest and our free will becomes dependent on finding the unsubscribe link in the fine print at the bottom or even worse on having to listen to Muzak while on hold to the 800 number. 
Living sacramentally invites a kind of receiving that works to sustain our interest and to continue the exchange. 
Think about how you feel some Sundays as you return from the altar.  A tiny morsel of bread, a sip of sweet wine and nothing is better to invite us into our part of sustaining the balance of interest and love.  Even better think of how you feel when your own broken-ness becomes the moment kin to clicking the link titled “help.”
For sure we can be perturbed because ours are the lives that need reconciling and we will not always simply be graced with positive outcomes.  Sometimes we have to wait, sometimes without Muzak. 
Junk mail always pushes us toward an imbalance because it feeds off our interest.  God’s love persists but doesn’t abuse us or coerce another “click.”  God’s reconciling presence always finally feeds us and it’s never junk.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Retreat Rules

"every time God forgives us, God is saying that God's own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to create with us."

Richard RohrFalling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

The tide and the moon and raccoons and the deer and the sub culture that is camping at Hunting Island State Park are not the normal rulers of my life in Madison. 
Being away from the normal allows all kinds of rules to be broken: sleeping later, eating differently, not shaving. You have your beach "rules" too. Don't you? And when one retreats from the normal it feels like a kind of forgiveness. 
It shows up in way one breathes, Long slow draughts. Not the shallow, petty breathing of deadlines and appointments. 
Thanks for the break, the forgiveness, the air. Not just here on this barrier island but for so much of what and how we share in each other's lives in Madison. See you Sunday. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Sighs too deep for words"

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."
(Romans 8:26, NRSV)

The rhythm of parish life is the result of many forces, currents, and events.  One of those sublime days when everything seems to flow and synchronize together was this past Sunday of the Feast of Pentecost.  The combining energies of more than one kind of music, the lessons, the framing provided by those extra events, and the seasonings of some serendipitous inventions -- think “Oscar Meyer” -- made for one of our brightest days.  
Maybe especially because of the other concerns of Adelaide's memorial and Dick and Diane's marriage service and how they bracketed our Pentecost observance,  church was FUN!  
So it was interesting to read these words from St. Paul in the twilight of all the weekend's events and to reflect on them from the sagging and fatigue that a nearly constant 72 hours will cause.  
The "sighs too deep" did one thing in particular; they made room for immense gratitude!  I am so very grateful for so many things that I cannot possibly name them all here, but I am going to call on the Spirit one more time and prayerfully try.
For the way that Ann, Douglas and MG marshaled their hearts' energies to honor their mother and to make room for so many others to join them in so doing, I am grateful.
For the way that Jill, Anna and others stepped up to provide hospitality to all our weekend's guests, I am grateful.
For the way that Dan J. and Jim presented the organ's new voices, I am grateful.
For the way that Dick S. served as field engineer for the construction of the new handicap ramp into the parish house kitchen, I am grateful.  
For the way that Dan M. and the Gloria Deo choir and others graced our worship Sunday morning, I am grateful.
For the way Tim and Brian "ombudsmanned" Adelaide's memorial service, I am grateful.
For the "appropriate" way our Flower Guild adorned the church and parish house in Adelaide's memory and for Dick C. and Diane's wedding, I am grateful. 
For the way Genia and Paul dressed our chancel for worship from Easter white to Pentecost red back to white again all within 24 hrs, I am grateful. 
For the way so many of you -- your names will be known in time -- are responding to the various and important invitations to serve as members of our choir, our vestry, or as deacon, I am grateful.
For the way EVERYBODY has been stepping up or over or on or in to help this place and its people "stay on purpose" and keep becoming more than it was a day, a week, a month, a year, and an age ago, I am grateful.  
That's the thing about this Spirit and the sighing it urges; for sure from within our strength and perhaps even more so from within our weakness we are becoming more than our own prayers can name for us. And we can trust what we are becoming.  ". . . because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." (v. 8:27b) And because of Pentecost we are those saints.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Good Church

From Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, Volume IV
God is a spirit; consequently worship of God should be in spirit and in truth. The customary Sunday service these days, however, is rather strongly designed for a sensate effect. Even more so, on the great festival days of the Church, on precisely these days the worship service moves even farther from the spiritual. Trumpets and every possible appeal to the senses are used – this is because it is one of the great festival days of the Church. What nonsense, what an anticlimax! 
And from our lessons for this Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost:
And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Acts 2:6 RSV 
Between these two readings could be an important lesson for us these days. Especially as we muster our best for the Ponders, hear the new non-pipe organ voices and celebrate with Dick Cottrill and Diane Sebba, all in the space of just slightly less than 48 hours.

My own inclination will be to work hard so that when the dust has settled I can utter my happy phrase, “that was good church!”

Maybe another way to get at that moment between the readings is to use the famous line about making God laugh, “Just show God your plans.”

Pentecost is just one of those “great festival days of the Church” that seemingly begs us to strive for a “sensate effect.” The multiple languages referred to in the reading often find their sensate effect by members of the congregation reading portions of that and the surrounding verses in as many foreign languages as can be found from within the parish population.

Specific to our current setting is our using this multi-lingual Sunday to introduce the work done by Dan Jubelt and others to add by way of the built-in electronic components twenty new voices to what has been for us up to now “just” a pipe organ. Like a C.F. Martin is just a guitar or a Stradivarius just a violin.

But before I create an anticlimax we do not desire or deserve let me ask this: what else are we to do? If God is a spirit to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, then what are we to do in these few moments we set aside on Sunday mornings but to add as many voices as we can? Heck, we have our second ad hoc choir singing, too! 

Part of our answer should come from understanding Soren’s setting. Copenhagen’s churches were state churches. Bishops were paid through offerings AND taxes. Sundays were days for politics, socializing, “being seen,” fueling the rumor mills, and patting one’s self on the back.

The sensate effect Kierkegaard derides was like a junkie’s heroin, a fix of “good church” so that one could follow one's urges and one's less-than-holy inclinations during the week.

We need not be bewildered. Maybe the “what else we are to do” is to strive for a balance of God’s spirit and truth Monday to Saturday. When the music dies down and the many voices are not singing, when the families are home and the flowers are alone something remains.

Not by addition but by subtraction, not by exuberance but by vulnerability we can put our hearts and minds into a space between the trumpets and foreign tongues, between our orchestrated worship and evocative flowers.

God’s laughter is not AT us as much as it is FOR us. God loves us so that our Mondays through Saturdays can be with God as much as our Sundays should. God is already and always with us in spirit and truth no matter how we enfold and elaborate our worship and call it “good church.”