Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Miles to go . . .

It's a different season but a sentiment similar to Frost's on that snowy evening  accompanies this mid-term of my tenure as Priest-in-Charge.  In order for us to do what is required when there is still nearly a year to go, stopping and listening even to the near silence seems almost like a mistake.

"Let's just keep going" some would say and "It's all good."  Others have particular interests but still are inclined not to examine or question our basic intentions.

However, stopping with miles to go may help us to understand and focus more sharply, to listen more intently, and to ask better questions.

In order to do this work of asking better questions we are forming a team of parishioners young and old,  long-time members and people fairly new to worshipping with us.  As the team comes into shape we will present them to the parish and pray God's blessings on their work.

Before they have their first meeting there is already on my mind a question that they'll need to help us all ask and answer.  It is a tricky consideration because it has to move through some more immediate and automatic appraisals.

Here it is:  Is the church God is calling Advent to become best served by a priest with Fr. Dann's gifts and talents, skills, habits, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, etc, etc.

The more immediate or automatic question is do we like each other.  From my perspective the answer is yes.  Do we love each other?  Again the answer is yes!  Thanks be to God the answer is yes in both directions!  We shouldn't go another step unless we felt this way.

But our continuing in ministry with each other can be -- some have said should be -- chosen from a larger context.   We need to ask in as many ways as we can questions about Advent too, beginning with what God is calling us to become.  Perhaps more specifically, who God is calling each of us to become, together?

Asking that opens up an even larger set of considerations and pretty soon we're having the same "what is our purpose?" kind of conversation Bishop Wright has been hammering for most of his episcopate.   To some degree we've already been having our own parish-wide version of this since the Dinners with Dann.

Those conversations rendered answers more in the program and activity direction.  These new questions will want us to look at our history, the healing we've experienced and the strength and renewal we are recovering.

So . . . who is God calling us to become and IS frDann the one best suited to walk with us and lead us as we make this new road?

Don't be afraid.  We want our "rector letter of agreement" to be drafted from a place better than the Facebook standards of friending or liking.

We also want to acknowledge that the way in which we have served with each other has already brought us at least a mile or two. To say it another way, we are not at the beginning of our journey with each other.  Yet what remains may need something else from us and with miles to go we may need to re-solve those promises in order to keep them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Agonists, Instead

I know I took a risk last week using "protagonist" as the category to name our part in this mission and ministry God is calling us to share.  Really, God -- and especially God as revealed in the life, death and ressurrection of Jesus of nazareth -- is the protagonist.

I was working through Brian McLaren's thoughts about our "making the road by walking," and I was hoping to motivate us to keep moving even when we are dissuaded by obligation or pedantry, by standards and forms that seem to reduce our lives to the most common denominators of one size fits all reports and records.

The risk is important to note because we have to be honest about the other roles we play in this pilgrimage with God.

Sometimes we are just agonists, struggling no matter whose bidding we follow.  Life does that and we know it when we say things like "getting old ain't for sissies."  Most of us are able to at least be grateful to be IN the struggle.  Like many of us say when asked "how are you doing?"  I thank God for getting me up this morning.  Or when others share their insights or epiphanies from learning to live in the world in the present and not some fictionalized past or future.

These and the other "agonists" who are the Church of the Advent are not IN agony at all times. Indeed most of us are on more of a steady march than a limping trudge.  Yes there are plenty of challenges but there are also plenty of joys and lots of neither in between.

The root word "agon" comes through Latin from Greek and originally meant contest or competition.
So before we break it down too much let me share this.  I am competitive.  I love competing and loved it even more when I was younger.

In high school I was more jock than prep or nerd. Until I broke my leg in a game my junior year, football was my prefered fall sport.  Basketball got me through the winter, then spring was a balancing between track and golf.  In college I competed for Furman's Cross-Country and Track & Field teams all over the southeast and beyond from Gainesville, FL to College Park MD. to Columbus OH.  I have the scar tissue and bad knees to prove that I trained hard and raced when I shouldn't have run at all.

I learned something during all those laps on the track.  I learned that the competition in running is different than in most other sports like football, baseball, tennis.  The other sports I loved were the ones where my opponents were more fellow agonists, and not antagonists.  Their efforts and my efforts did not obstruct or limit each others' but promoted the whole to a better result.  We ran in the same direction and the faster runners helped us all be faster runners.

So maybe instead of holy protagonists -- I'm feeling that's Jesus' role -- we should think more in terms of those struggles as a shared striving WITH each other.

There are plenty of difficulties along the way and we needn't create extra obstacles for each other.  Instead we can share the loads and keep each other waking up and help each other see the light we see and continue to "make the road."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Holy Protagonists!

The joke goes like this:  Q. Why did it take forty years for the children of Israel to get to the promised land? A. Moses wouldn't stop and ask for directions.

But before we forget we should admit that the sojourn was made as long as it was because of the people's AND Moses' lack of confidence in God.
“Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word; but truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the proof these ten times and have not hearkened to my voice, shall see the land which I swore to give to their fathers; and none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” Numbers 14:20-24, RSV.
And so for 40 years a new people were made by their walking.

This comes to mind because I have been rereading portions of Brian McLaren's "We Make the Road by Walking."  Right at the very beginning McLaren says
"I believe that all of us play a role in choosing and creating our futures— as individuals and as communities. We don’t need to wait passively for history to happen to us. We can become protagonists in our own story. We can make the road by walking." 
It's OK for both to be true at the same time but it seems like the Exodus was a lot less "McLaren-ish road construction" and much more "God's people forming."   It's OK for us to say we make the path by walking as long as we also say that while walking together, the path makes us.

It is especially OK as we are at the mid-point of our two year long agreement to walk together.

The review for which our agreement calls is kind of like asking for directions AND sending spies AND trusting God AND doing our part.

So I like how McLaren talks about us being "protagonists in our own story."  Sometimes more Joshua and Caleb than even Moses.  He's also talking about a kind of energy as much as he's talking about particular roles.

That energy, the energy of a protagonist, can be our energy.  That energy is an energy of resolve.  We can want it.  We can choose it.  Once chosen, we can act on it.

You can probably count on us responding to this mid-term review with a tweek in our direction or effort.  We may even have to make some bigger changes.  But do not think us lost or punished.

We are making the road God is calling us to make by walking and trusting God together.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

God's Dream

The dust is settling but we still have a long way to go to live together with so many things changing around us.  Horrible events in Charleston's Mother Emmanuel church, all the cries to remove confederate flags from all sorts of venues, rulings from our Supreme Court that will have lasting effects on many of us, and our own church in General Convention responding to the ruling by the Supreme Court and fashioning a standard for marriage that no longer regards male AND female as necessary distinctions.  We have voted to divest from fossil fuels.  We elected our first African-American Presiding Bishop. Heady days for what once was known as the Church of the Frozen Chosen.  Whew!  

One clergy opinionator and friend wrote in a Florida newspaper that we were experiencing a revival in the Episcopal Church.  Rev. Fishburne closed his column saying, Bishop Curry says we are called to be evangelists to spread that hope: 'Jesus has shown us the way out of our nightmare into God's dream.' There is no reason this dream cannot be realized in Tallahassee and in Charleston.  

Bishop Curry was talking about the hope that his father experienced in first worshipping with the woman who would become Bishop Curry's mother.  

It's a great story that speaks from a level greater than all the legislation of General Convention, greater than all conversations about change, greater than all the ways we have chosen to respond to the a troubled world around our beloved denomination.  

It is important for us to continue to let the dust settle and when our turn comes to start telling our own stories about how we have found something precious in this house of God's.  Maybe even better, to learn the story that tells how we were found instead of our doing the finding.  

What happened in Salt Lake City, Charleston, Washington DC and Columbia these past weeks will bring about many changes in the lives we share officially, canonically, structurally, nationally.  But it will likely not match the story we are called to tell the world about our part in this dream of God's.  

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.