The blog

The blog—informal opinions and chat about the parish

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Our response to Charlottesville

When I was a boy, the pastor of our white, suburban Presbyterian congregation of peaceful, middle-class government workers would take time off to participate in civil rights protest marches.

My father thought that was terrible.

I realize now that our pastor was right.

It is very easy, particularly in peaceful Ashland, to assume that these troubles are "out there" and that we can get by with just blending in. We can't do that if we want to follow Jesus.

Here is where the Episcopal Church stands on white supremacy, "just blending in" and our duties to our fellow humans.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Work is never done

Turns out that cool word montage on the church's welcome page was only the left half. The right half (which includes the words "neither do we") didn't get included, and the only version I can find is a slide show that alternates between the two pictures. That means I have to learn how to do slide shows.

Sigh. Work is never done.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

We Have Almost Made It

Rev. Kay returns from her sabbatical in a couple of weeks (I hear she got to Ireland as part of it), and my worst fears didn't materialize.

People in general—and particularly in churches that make a vivid distinction between the roles of the clergy and the laity—are tempted to think of the church as the priest/minister's private project. Their attitude is that the church is like that little local shoe store: Paul owns it; Paul sets it up his way; if Paul isn't there the thing just sort of stops. The cultural attitude toward churches is the same. (How many church ads and signs do you see that really highlight the minister's name and picture?)

So I was afraid that with Rev. Kay gone, the whole thing would come to a hideous, screeching halt. It didn't.

Our numbers have been typical for a summer. The offering plate is doing well (always a concern for a treasurer). Recent newcomers have kept attending, and so have the regulars.

Those special Saturday events were well-attended (surprise!), yet the following Sunday Morning Prayer also had people (bigger surprise!). We have one more of those this weekend (Saturday at 11 AM) because this Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday (a big deal in our church) and we couldn't get a priest to do Eucharist on Sunday.

Aside from the usual glitches (mainly focused on problems getting the Sunday program printed), it all went well. We did have one odd Sunday when we all thought we were going to do Morning Prayer, and we had people prepared to officiate and to preach—but then a priest showed up, having gotten dates confused.

I'm glad it all worked. I'm glad we were able to pull together and actually depend on one another and cooperate with one another.

And I'm glad Rev. Kay is coming back. We did miss her.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Reading Suggestions

The whole idea of the new website design is to be more friendly and accessible to newcomers and outsiders. When I looked at the thing, one whole section that I loved (but didn't fit into that "newcomers" idea) was the "Further Reading" section. I don't want to lose it, so I'm going to put it in the menu on the right on this page.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Sense of the Holy

The church website is making progress, bit by bit. I think I've got the appearance of the thing tamed, and it really is pretty. (I cannot take much of the credit for that. I'm using a free pre-formatted template from HTML5 UP! and it's beautiful. The artwork is mainly scrounged from the Internet.)

I would really love for it to go live early next week, to try to catch the new arrivals at Ashland University.

Right now, I'm still struggling with the concept of Episcopal DNA. We're an odd bunch.

  • In a lot of ways, we are more Celtic than the Church of England, and this leads us to a deep respect for the environment. Prayers for the physical world are part of normal Sunday worship. I think I should stick in something about Bellwether Farm, the new camp and retreat center the Diocese is building. Part of the ethos of Bellwether is that it will be a working, sustainable farm.
  • The Three-Legged Stool illustration probably should go in because it emphasizes our focus on tradition and scripture and intellect. Some of the finest minds of the age have been in the Anglican tradition.
  • We're willing to laugh at ourselves. Want to hear a good joke about Episcopalians? Ask one of us.
  • I have read more than one comment saying that the younger generation is seeking a sense of the holy, a sense of worship. The shallow, all-about-me themes for worship seem to be losing out. (Certainly, this aspect is what drew me to the Episcopal Church). This poster isn't from St. Matthew's, and we don't use incense, but it gives an idea about this return to tradition:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Episcopal DNA

Like most of my projects, the website revision has grown and multiplied to a point where it threatens to become unworkable.

A friend looked at our current home page and said, "Wow! That's really dated!" Well, OK. I never did put myself out there as a designer, and the page's general appearance hasn't changed in years. So I began all over again, this time with a web search for a template that will do well with both desktop computers and phones. I found a really pretty one. The next task is filling it with material that will work for us.

I asked myself what a first-time visitor would like to know about a new church. Here's what I came up with:
  1. Where is the church?
  2. When do they do things?
  3. Will they accept me?
  4. What am I getting myself into?
The where part is pretty easy, but previously I depended on a link to a Google map. Now we will have easy written turn-by-turn directions for the person who just wants to get here. The when part is easy too.

Now we get into the accepting part. That's difficult to write. Yes, we do have four or five gay people who attend regularly, but I certainly don't want to put them on display. When a person walks into our sanctuary, the gay people don't just stand out. That's partly because gay teenagers will present themselves differently from gay middle-aged people, and partly because a person 40 or 50 years old has had a lifetime of trying to fit in. We're mainly a congregation of older white people, so you won't see young people, immigrants, or African-Americans. It's not that we would reject them; it's just who we are and who shows up. If you come to our annual Winter Convocation, you'd see a lot more diversity because people from the whole diocese show up. How do I write all that down to emphasize that we really do welcome folk regardless of race, sexual orientation, or wealth? That's a challenge.

A pastor at a church I used to attend would refer to the church's DNA. I like that term. What are the basics that are baked into the mix—not just layered on the top? How do I write about that DNA? That's even more of a challenge than the article on accepting. Do I go all the way back to King Henry VIII and comment that a church started by a guy who had six wives isn't likely to be judgmental? Do I point out that we're really more Scottish than English because we didn't have a bishop of our own after the Revolution, and the English church refused to consecrate one for us, so the Scots did? (Thus beginning a tradition of our being the "loyal opposition.") What about immigrants? What about electing leaders who are not always drawn from he pool of straight white old men? How do I convey, in just a few words, our tradition of thoughtful response to both Scripture and tradition? It's quite a task.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Not One of Them

I read recently on Facebook that Christians are the major cause of people becoming atheists. Reading further, the article made the point that Evangelicals preaching hatred, particularly toward the LGBT community, drive younger people away from the faith. That keys into this Religious News Service article about Eugene Peterson, a retired Presbyterian pastor and author who is best known for his Bible paraphrase, The Message. The article discusses the pressure tactics, both financial and personal, deployed by the Evangelical community as a result of his comment that he would probably marry a gay couple if he were a pastor today. Christianity Today reported that Peterson's reported shift in opinion was actually a misrepresentation.

But the damage was done. The Evangelical troops were released and Peterson is now under attack.

In Judges 12, the Bible says that the Israelites used the word "shibboleth" to distinguish friends from enemies. The word itself is actually a very common word, but the point is that the Israelites pronounced it differently from the Ephraimites. You say it wrong, and we kill you.

Down through the ages, American church folk (I can't speak for other countries) have come up with a number of shibboleths to try to distinguish "true believers" from those terrible outsiders:
  • "Real" Christians don't read novels.
  • "Real" Christians don't play cards.
  • "Real" Christians don't smoke.
  • "Real" Christians don't go to movies.
  • "Real" Christians don't drink alcohol.
You notice that none of these terribly important distinctives are mentioned in the Bible. (And these rules prohibit activity that the good church people didn't feel like doing anyhow.) A few others (like prohibiting all work on Sunday) do get a biblical mention, but mainly in passing, and mainly in the Old Testament.

All this line-drawing has two terrible results.

The first is that it tempts people to say, "Well, I don't drink and I don't smoke, so I must be a Christian." No comment about Jesus, the Bible, or how one deals wit the poor or the rest of one's ethical life. No smoking and no drinking equals entrance into heaven. Or in our age, hatred of sexual minorities and hatred of abortion.

The second is that all this hatred and line-drawing is designed to keep people out of the sanctuary. There's nothing about a loving, welcoming Christ in all this—it's all about identifying and victimizing the outsiders.

No wonder that article said that the christian church (I'm intentionally using lower-case "C" here) is a major force in making atheists.

Reclaiming the language

Maybe the damage is already done and we just need a new word or two.

I miss "Evangelical." Its root is a Greek word that means "good news" (though you'd never guess that from the behavior of modern Evangelicals). In the 1970s, the label was used by a movement to distinguish Fundamentalists from a newer group wanted serious Bible scholarship and a radical devotion to Jesus along with reaching out to the poor and disadvantaged and showing real care for God's earthly creation.

I also miss "Christian" as a term that would unite Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics and Episcopalians around the core values. Now it's not about core values; it's about who we vote for. And I always feel awkward when I say, "Evangelical Christian is not really the right word for me. I'm an Episcopalian who believes that Jesus loves all of us and invites us into his Kingdom."