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.