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.

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.