Advent podcasts

By Susan Fawcett

This Advent, you may spend time each day with the daily readings. You may have a devotional book of some sort. You may light the candles on an Advent wreath. Or, you might just find yourself plugging in your iPod.

Last year, a group of young priests, recent graduates from Virginia Theological Seminary, created daily Advent podcasts. The Rev. Lonnie Lacy and the Revs. Casey and Melody Shobe came up with the idea.

Lonnie explains: "When I was in college, only 7 or 8 years ago, we didn't have iPods. Walking across campus, you'd pass people and say hello. Everyone was engaged with one another. But now that I'm on this large campus as a chaplain, everybody walks around with their iPods on and their earbuds in. It struck me as an opportunity because I thought, if people are walking around so isolated because they've got the earbuds in and they're not engaging one another or the world-maybe we can put out some good content that would challenge them to think about what it does mean to engage the world."

Additionally, communicating a spiritual message through a tech-savvy platform meets people where they already are. "We wanted to create something that would be relevant and accessible, to fit into daily life and work," said Melody Shobe. Lonnie agreed. "These podcasts are an attempt to integrate the holy into our daily lives and activities. Driving to Walmart isn't in itself a holy experience. But to invite God with you, to try to shape your perspective in a way that is absolutely contrary to the way Walmart shapes our perspective, IS a holy exercise. There is nothing wrong in the world with people trying to integrate the holy into their everyday ordinary activities."

Just 5-7 minutes long, with a focus on a brief segment of the daily readings from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and always including some piece of contemporary music, the 'Devo-to-Go' podcasts were available on iTunes. The creators got very positive feedback, and expanded their base of contributors for a Lenten podcast series. By the end of Lent, their listenership was up to 600 people. "What blew my mind," Lonnie said, "is that we had listeners in Japan and South Africa; they must have found it via iTunes. I felt like we were just a bunch of kids playing with headphones and computers. But the fact is that we give these 7-minute glimpses into what life can be life in the midst of a culture that is becoming more isolated. So it's a gift."

Melody said that, as opposed to preaching, podcasting "gives me the freedom to have a little more fun-to be a little more creative in how I respond to a text. It's partially the anonymity of it-I can tell a story about my childhood that I might feel a little less comfortable saying in a worship setting. It's the distance that technology gives." Lonnie added that podcasting can be a surprisingly more intimate medium than preaching: "You're talking right into someone's ear. So, writing for a podcast is more like trying to share something intimate with a close friend, rather than trying to shape the hearts and minds of a large group of people."

Casey Shobe, another of the original creators of Devo-to-Go, said that "As the weeks of Advent went on, the effort of writing and mixing the podcasts became a sort of spiritual practice in itself. It was very fulfilling that something that spoke to my personal spiritual life was then able to speak to others and help them experience the seasons of Advent and Lent."

With an expanded list of over a dozen writers, clergy and lay, from all over
the country, the Devo-To-Go podcasts will be available again this Advent at several locations, including the Diocese of Washington’s online Advent calendar, and on iTunes.

"I think that this exercise has been a good example of how much the young clergy of our church have to offer, both to the church and to the world," Melody said. "Most of the contributors are under 30 years old, and their work is definitely quality. I listened to every one and was fed by every one. It was a gift that the young clergy of the church have given me. It's a reminder that experience isn't the only voice that has to speak; the fresh
perspective and enthusiasm and passion that we have to offer is important too."

Preach it, sister.

The Rev. Lonnie Lacy serves as Episcopal Chaplain to Georgia Southern University and the Assistant Rector at Trinity Episcopal Church, Statesboro, GA. The Rev. Casey Shobe is the Priest Associate, Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, Texas. The. Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is the Assistant to the Rector at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas. The Rev. Susan Fawcett keeps the blog This Passage. She serves a parish the Diocese of Virginia, and supports the work of the General Convention publication The Center Aisle.

Is Rowan Williams right about Luke?

By Deirdre Good

Rowan Williams' book, Christ On Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement, published in 2000 has become a classic, as Alison Goodlad observed recently on the Web site of Ekklesia. It is a best seller, read throughout the Anglican Communion. I saw it recently as a Lent reading choice on the library table of the parish I attend in Maine during the summer.

Stanley Hauerwas has nothing but praise for the statement in it that "the hardest thing in the world is to be where we are." He commends this as an invitation to learn to live in ordinary time, in the confusion and complexity of the present in his new 2007 book The State of the University: Academic Knowledge and the Knowledge of God. Williams asks, he says, how can our ordinary lives express the truth that violence has been overwhelmed and silenced by Christ? Dramatic gestures will not make our lives more authentic. Instead we are called not just to speak the truth but to the more demanding task of hearing the truth in each other by overcoming distrust and so to work for peace.

"We constantly try to start from somewhere other than we are. Truthful living involves being at home with ourselves, not complacently but patiently, recognizing that what we are today, at this moment, is sufficiently loved and valued by God to be the material with which he will work and that the longed-for transformation will not come by refusing the love and the value that is there in the present moment." (Christ On Trial pp 85-6)

Williams' book discusses the trial scenes showing how, in each of the four gospels, the interrogation of Christ is reversed and the interrogator becomes, unsettlingly, the interrogated. In Mark's gospel, Jesus' declaration to the High Priest's question, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" is an affirmation that overcomes all the secrecy of Mark's gospel about Jesus' identity: "I am," he says (14:62). Jesus' declaration at the trial and not earlier in the gospel means that he cannot be misunderstood as a wonderworker in competition with other sorts of power in the world. The one who says "I am" in the trial is neither wise nor holy nor admirable nor impressive. If we listen to Mark's Jesus as the voice of God it is we who are silenced.

In Matthew's gospel, Jesus' answer to the question about his identity, "I adjure you by the Living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God" is "So you say" or "the words are your own" (26:64). Jesus' answer reverses the question: the High Priest has the language and the means to make sense of the world but no actual understanding of the words. That language in Matthew is the language of what Wisdom has done through human agents; it is a question to all who are religious insiders who cannot read this story although it is part of their/our tradition.

Each chapter includes references to poets, novelists, movies and writers. The chapter on Mark opens by noting that the mood of Pasolini's film, The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, best represents Mark's gospel. The chapter on Luke opens with the lines from Sydney Carter's song Knocking on the Window. Alison Goodlad astutely observes that Williams' approach to the trial narratives of the gospels indicates that they are not the starting point for his reflections but rather as points that distil "the understanding he has derived from other sources such as the gospel narratives as a whole, general scriptural reading, Christian tradition and reflection, and wisdom derived from poetry and fictional works."

This is most evident in his approach to Luke's gospel in which the words of Jesus to the council's questioning whether he is the Messiah, "If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I question you, you will not answer" (22:67) are construed as "I have nothing to say to you that you will be able to hear or to which you will be able to respond. Luke's Jesus places himself with those whose language cannot be heard." (Christ On Trial p. 54).

In this answer, we are told that Jesus indicates God's presence with those who do not have a voice and who are left out of our ways of organizing our own moral and social life. In a following section, "Allowing the Rights of Others," stories from those who have little or no experience of being insiders amplify Williams' approach to Luke. If we are unsettled by someone who cannot speak our language, by those who are mentally and physically impaired, for example, or by making space for children, then it is we who are on trial. In a subsequent section, "The threat of Jesus," Williams observes that Jesus' mistreatment in all the Gospel narratives including being beaten, flogged, and crowned with thorns is not surprising: he is beaten because he is powerless; his powerlessness is not in competition for the same space that his judges and captors are defending and he is thus a bigger threat than any rival because he calls into question the whole world of rivalry and defense.

The problem with this reading of Luke is that Jesus is never flogged or crowned with thorns in Luke's trial narrative. True, Pilate announces his intention to have Jesus chastised and released (23:16) but commentators note that this chastisement is a "minor beating" and not the flogging of which Matthew (27:26) and Mark (15:15) speak that is part of the sentence of crucifixion Jesus undergoes. But in Luke's narrative this chastisement is never carried out. Herod's soldiers treat Jesus with contempt and make a mockery (23:11) but Pilate in the next section views Herod's treatment of Jesus, including the putting on of a robe, as an indication of Jesus' innocence. The result of Jesus' being sent from Herod to Pilate is that they both became friends on that day with one another.

Of course, Luke's gospel does describe God's compassion for the socially and economically marginalized and its disquieting consequences for us but the trial narrative may not be the best place to locate this concern. Instead, Luke's account of Jesus' passion presents a Jesus in control of events where he would in general be passive: Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane is the agony of a heroic martyr not the anguish of Mark or Matthew; the arrest in Gethsemane includes Jesus' interruption and healing of the violent cutting off the ear of the High Priest's servant; the crucifixion scene includes Jesus' dialogue with the criminals on either side of him; Jesus' last words on the cross indicate confidence not abandonment: "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit."

I am not suggesting that this is the only or the right reading of Luke's trial narrative, only that it offers a disconcerting reading that takes more of that narrative into account. Jesus' words to the council are of a piece with Luke's portrait of Jesus' composure under duress. Jesus expects a negative response: the authorities will never believe and never answer. Neither here nor in response to an earlier question by what authority he does things like cleansing the temple (20:1-8), does Jesus cooperate. Indeed, Jesus' declarations in response to his interrogators may be the only weapon he has. But Jesus' answer, couched in the appearance of control, is a Lucan allusion to a larger narrative of healing and forgiveness from and around the Savior for the slave of the High Priest, for Herod and Pilate, for the criminal on the cross, and extending to those who seek to slaughter other martyrs like Stephen in Acts. Yet underneath Luke lies an alternative account in which the Spirit blows where it wills and Judas repents. What is perhaps uncomfortable for all of us is grappling with the implications of Luke's contrived stability.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. While she is an American citizen, she grew up in Kenya and loves marmite which may explain certain features of her blog, On Not Being a Sausage.

Listen to reason

By Greg Jones

The 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 which many have cited in the recent divisions over human sexuality -- as being the normative Anglican teaching -- also committed the entire Anglican Communion to something called the 'listening process.' According to the official Anglican Communion website, Lambeth 1998 "recognised that there are people who recognise themselves as having 'homosexual orientation' and that that they look to the church for pastoral care, moral direction and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships." As such, Lambeth 1998 1.10 says,

We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.

This is as important as any other teaching of the Church affirmed at that conference. The Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in 2005 called for a facilitator to monitor and check up on the process "to honour the process of mutual listening, including 'listening to the experience of homosexual persons' and the experience of local churches around the world in reflecting on these matters in the light of Scripture, Tradition and Reason."

At the last Primates meeting further movement on the process was called for, and the Lambeth 2008 meeting of bishops is supposed to have a study guide to consider from all of the findings.

In all the focus of the past fews years on the Episcopal Church's supposed shortcomings, it has frequently been ignored that several provinces of the Communion have not at all fulfilled or participated in this process -- thus ignoring the supposedly 'normative' teaching of the Communion on the matter. Notably, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, the Southern Cone, and a couple others perhaps, have markedly rejected the process, just as they have rejected key portions of the Windsor Report.

The mother Church has done significant work in the process, however, and one of the valuable British submissions, in my view, is this report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists .

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is "the professional and educational body for psychiatrists in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland." Their findings mirror reports from the American counterpart organization.

The value of such a report goes to the area of 'reason.' If Anglican theology is to include reason -- which includes 'reasoned response to experience' -- then the findings of a prestigious scientific organization do have obvious possible implications for our theology.

The importance of the listening process is that there is a complexity to the moral issues of the day, especially those that currently divide the Church, which invites far more consideration and discernment. It has long been the Anglican way to employ the gift of reasoned discourse in our discernment of God's will.

I believe that it would be as hard to discern the meaning of Scripture without faith in Christ as it is to discern its meaning without the gift of reason.

We have been through this kind of thing before -- which is what makes today's situation so disappointing. After all, Copernicus discovered that the earth was not the center of the universe and the Roman Catholic authorities tried to squelch his findings in the name of Scriptural literalism. When Galileo put forth Copernicanism -- he was charged with heresy, made to recant, and spent his life under house arrest.

Yet, today, even the Roman Catholic Church fully acknowledges that Copernicus was right, that Galileo was wrongly treated, and that the earth does rotate around the sun. Amazingly, the Roman Catholic Church -- and all we else who agree with Copernicus -- have managed very well to cherish the Gospel and profess Christ as the incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended Lord -- whether the earth rotates 'round the sun or no.

The use of reason and the willingness to reinterpret Scripture in light of certain 'scientific' findings is not inherently wrong. It is not inherently a capitulation to culture or the adoption of paganism.

The calling we all share -- who love Christ and call Him Lord -- is to set our hope on Him, and pray that our minds will be illuminated by the Holy Spirit as we discern how to live rightly. Anglicans have always believed, I always thought, that not every scenario is scripted in Scripture, nor is every letter of the Law the self-evident vehicle through which the Spirit of the Law is mediated. As such, we have always sought to learn God's will for our lives by the careful interpretation of Holy Scripture, in light of the traditions of the Church and the gift of reason.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") became a member of Christ's Body at St. Columba's in Washington, D.C., and he was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. Greg is husband of Melanie, father of Coco & Anna, rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.

To Lambeth or not to Lambeth?

By Steven Charleston

At their most recent diocesan convention, the people of Utah voted to request that the next Lambeth Conference be cancelled. In a nutshell, they expressed the opinion that no good could come from hosting Lambeth at this time. In fact, they expected that just the reverse could happen: that Lambeth would prove to be another cause for a further rift in relationships. Therefore, they asked that we just call the whole thing off.

Will this request be acknowledged? Will the powers that be take it seriously?

In the ever shifting tides of political positioning that has come to be considered normal in Anglican church politics, it is too soon to tell. But if the ground swell of dissatisfaction with the way things have been going continues to rise, it could very well be a genuine possibility. The current Archbishop of Canterbury has approval ratings close to the dismal performance evaluations of George Bush or the U.S. Congress. It is not hard to imagine that people, being justifiably suspicious of his ability to be clear, fair and effective, might decide that Utah doesn’t have such a bad idea after all.

But would cancelling Lambeth be a mistake? Should we not come to the table, perhaps most especially when we disagree? The knee jerk answer should be yes, that sounds right, but the realities of past experience should caution us to think twice before we respond. The performance of some bishops at Primates’ gatherings demonstrates that unless there is a firm hand at the tiller of Lambeth, any amount of childish posturing and manipulating is likely to reoccur. In addition, the sad sight of bishops refusing to worship with one another is hardly a global invitation to join such a fractured community. And finally, with special authority being granted and cited for pronouncements coming from non-legislative meetings like Lambeth, running the risk that some partisan “resolution” will be adopted and enshrined into dogma is a risk not worth taking.

But perhaps the most persuasive thing about the Utah suggestion is that it forces us to confront our own dysfunction. More meetings enable more silly behavior. The waffling of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the manipulation of meetings by some bishops, and the lame rhetoric of other bishops who have made a cottage industry out of doom and gloom prophecies has to be faced. For too long we have all been watching this soap opera called Anglican leadership and wondering when the adults would come back into the room to make the kids play nice.

That may not happen unless we take some serious steps. What the diocese of Utah raised is an idea for just this kind of wake up call and action. Perhaps if we call off the party, some people will sober up. It may be disconcerting to many that we have decided not to have another Lambeth right away, but after all, when did we start to worship Lambeth anyway? Even more disconcerting would be the spectacle of global religious leaders playing political gotcha over issues that most Anglicans find pointless and diverting from the mission of the gospel.

Should we stay home with the folks from Utah? I wouldn’t mind keeping them company. How about you?

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church.

The moral example of Desmond Tutu

By Howard Anderson

Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu was at the National Cathedral for five days to help us celebrate our Centennial year. He was given the first annual Cathedral Prize for The Advancement of Religious Understanding and Action. This physically diminutive man, in his 76th year has more energy, ideas, joy and wonder at the world than any three or four of us. What struck me most about him as I was privileged to spend much of his five day sojourn here with him, was the way he moves through time and space.

He prays! He prays in a daily Eucharist. He prays before and after any event, auto trip, talk, visit or meal. He prays for hours each day! In John Allen's excellent and authorized biography of the archbishop, aptly entitled Rabble Rouser For Peace, it is revealed that over his entire ministry he has dedicated hours each day to simply sitting in prayer, listening to what The Holy One might have to say to him. He waits with great patience. He waits in silence or in outwardly voiced prayer. He waits with a smile on his face. He is not impatient like so many of us.

I was driving him to the White House for a meeting while he was here. The traffic was bad, and I was feeling responsible to find a way to get him through it. He seemed not to be noticing much of anything, because he was working on his address on "The Spirituality of Reconciliation," but without looking up, sensing I suspect, my anxiety, patted my hand and said, "Father, count to ten slowly. Breathe. God will get us where we need to be when we need to me there. Be patient." And I realized how right he was. I often repeat that one of my favorite theologians, Lilly Tomlin, has said, "The trouble with this rat race of a life of ours, is that even when you are winning, you are a rat!" Even more poignant is the reminder from Brother David Steindl-Rast in his book Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness, that the two Chinese characters for busyness are "heart," and "killing." Clearly, the Archbishop has this in mind, as he moves peacefully through a most hectic schedule that would wear out someone in their forties, let alone someone in their seventies.

But what is most striking about Archbishop Tutu, is what a radically different vision of how God works in the world, and what the Church should be he has than some of the other Primates of Anglican Provinces in the Global South, and Africa in particular. Let's compare. Archbishop Tutu was the Primate of the Province of Southern Africa. Archbishop Peter Akinola is Primate of the Province of Nigeria. Comparing the two you see stark differences in the spirit of the province as seen in the stances and theological positions each primate takes. One could scarcely believe that these two men belong to the same religion, let alone the same Communion on the same continent.

In his address to the National Cathedral, Archbishop Tutu spoke of a loving God whose divine intention for us is liberation. He speaks of a God who loves us as we are, yet calls us far beyond where we are to do God's work and live a life emulating God. We are to combat injustice, oppression, evil, "those aberrations of divine will," and live lives where the norm is the good, love, compassion, laughter, generosity, caring. Most poignantly, Archbishop Tutu challenged us to love those we would call enemies, and in a moving set of stories told of forgiveness offered by victims of the violence of both the Apartheid government and the liberation movements, sins and harm far beyond the human threshold, but through God's Holy Spirit, they were able to move on, even befriending those who harmed them or tortured and killed their loved ones. The message is about a God infinitely mysterious, infinitely beyond any human ability to emulate, and yet, so loving and forgiving that we would still strive to "Be ye perfect as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect," (the title of one section of his address).

When I read Archbishop Akinola, and for that matter, people like Bishop Duncan, I see a model of a God I do not recognize. A God who would ask God's people not to emulate compassion, or combat injustice, oppression and evil, but rather, to judge those who fall outside of what can only be called a modern version of purity codes. It is an Old Testament God of wrath, of judgment, of tribe and clan that emerges. "You aren't as we are and so we will not reach out to you. In fact, we want nothing to do with you. It is as if the Body of Christ's arm is saying to the foot, "we have no need of you. You are not an arm and so be gone. We will not only not share Eucharist with you, we will condemn you and try to harm you because God is on our side. You are wrong. We are right. We are righteous." What sort of God is it that Archbishop Akinola proclaims? I do not recognize that God. This is not the God revealed in the "big story," the whole sweep of Scripture. Let us grant Archbishop Akinola the dubious claims he makes. Is he not duty bound to pursue the apostate Episcopal Church rather than dismiss it to such an extent that he will not even engage in important mission with us?

There is none of this venom in Archbishop Tutu. He speaks for a Church, the province of Southern Africa that is deeply engaged in combating oppression, disease, sexism, even homophobia, those things which harm the children of God. And Archbishop Akinola? He has advocated for a law that would criminalize any manifestation of same-sex affection. Where is reconciliation in that? It is power being exerted against the marginal, the rejected, the despised of his society. Didn't Jesus reach out to those who were rejected by the Temple?

It is about time that voices other than those of Archbishop Akinola and other "neo-Puritan" Primates from the Global South are heard. We all know that the terrible carnage of colonialism will lead to a rejection of the colonizing power's ways. We all know that the missionary society that was responsible for evangelizing an area has great impact on the theology which emerges. But are we not, as Anglican Christians, called by bonds of affection to forebear in love with one another even when we differ? I think Archbishop Tutu's voice, and other voices from the Global South need to be heard. While the intimidating presence of men of power like Archbishop Akinola thunder, Anglicans by the thousand in Nigeria leave the Church to find the "Good News" being lived out and preached in Pentecostal and other churches. Nigerian friends of mine tell of visits home in formerly Anglican areas that are now predominantly Pentecostal, for those churches are trying to meet the needs of the people, not to find new ways to condemn others.

Franz Fanon, the Algerian psychiatrist who took part in the revolution in Algeria as they pushed the French colonizers out of their nation wrote a book that still deserves a wide reading, The Wretched of the Earth. In this prescient book, he predicts how the "native elite, more French than the French or more British than the Brits," will emerge to lead, but be swept away by a second wave of leaders who are in reaction to the colonial powers. I think Archbishop Akinola is one of the latter. But the good news is that Fanon suggests that this type of reactionary, reactive leader will soon be replaced by a more thoughtful and purely indigenous leader, who draws from the tradition of the people the style and method of leadership. In the Church, that would be Jesus last time I checked!

While Fanon is writing about government, I think it applies to the church in post-colonial areas of the Global South. I think the Akinolas will soon give way to a less power hungry, more egalitarian leader, and with that, a polity which is more democratic, where clergy and laity, not just primates and bishops, discern God's will for the Church. We must be patient. And even as men like Archbishop Akinola castigate us, reject our way of being Anglican Christian, we must pray for them. I must be patient like Archbishop Tutu told me to be. So I say to myself, "be patient Father, count to ten slowly." Amen. I will. God's time is not our time.

How does one account for a Desmond Tutu and a Nelson Mandela to emerge to lead South Africa to freedom without a blood bath? How does one account for someone like Archbishop Tutu who frequently risked his life to save those who were against the cause of freedom for all South Africans, the spies of the Apartheid government? When asked such a question, Archbishop Tutu shrugs, smiles, and tells the story of a white South African woman who was crippled and blinded by a bomb set at a whites only country club by African National Congress "soldiers." She came to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and said, "I want to meet the people who did this to me, because I want to forgive them and tell them how being disabled has enriched my life and made me realize that I must rely upon God alone." Then he says with his hands making the appropriate motions, "Wow. Wow again. No doubt she was a part of God's cosmic movement of love." How does one account for this very different Primate's voice from the Global South? I say, "Wow! And Wow again. It must be a part of God's cosmic movement love."

The Rev. Dr. Howard Anderson is Warden and President of the Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral.

The discipline of thanksgiving

By Jean Fitzpatrick

Rutting season has arrived in the Hudson Valley, and police are warning drivers to keep an eye out for deer who are crazier than usual. Frantic to breed, they chase one another through woods and across meadows, darting out from stands of golden birches, sprinting across winding roads. If you spot a doe, you'd better brake for a stag in hot pursuit. It's a glorious time. We're living in a wonderland straight out of Bambi, love busting out all over the forest, the whole leafy world gone goofy.

Remember those days? Remember when you first fell in love and felt an irresistible pull toward your partner, who was surely the most wonderful and amazing creature God ever created? And yet almost as irresistibly, somewhere along the way you came to recognize his or her flaws -- the annoying tendency to leave underwear on the floor, to arrive late, to hog the remote. At that point, it can feel as though an early winter has descended on the relationship.

Not so fast. That's where Thanksgiving comes in. Thanking our partner is one of the most powerful ways to restore joy and closeness in a marriage. I know, Thanksgiving is supposed to be about thanking God: isn't that the easy part sometimes? Thanking God seems to enlarge us, to remind us we're blessed. Thanking our spouse, on the other hand, is another story. Lacking a special occasion -- a clean garage, a perfect roast turkey, a gift -- we often assume our appreciation is unnecessary, or obvious. Or, worse, we keep score: Why should I think my partner? Look at all the thankless tasks I do! Nobody thanks me. Besides, look at all the annoying things my partner does, not to mention the chores he or she doesn't accomplish. And so on. It's exhausting. What happened to the breathless joy of the chase?

Well, it's over. Marriage, like any spiritual path, demands a willingness to open our hearts and the discipline to move beyond instant gratification. The good news is that, like any spiritual path, it rewards us with deep sustenance. Understood from this perspective, thanking our partner becomes a daily practice, a response to ordinary things -- for putting in a day's work, for picking up the kids, for giving a back rub, for buying the groceries, for taking out the garbage, for doing the laundry. We can't express our thanks enough. Over time, we discover we're growing closer. Our partner feels special, important to us. We're filling up a reservoir of good will for the times when we do want to raise concerns. Say thank you several times a day, and there's no telling what might happen. The two of you might even feel young and goofy again.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Thank who?

I wrote this column a few years ago for Beliefnet, and it is reprinted here with permission.

By Jim Naughton

A few years ago, while I was on an academic fellowship, my family and I spent Thanksgiving with other fellows and their families. In religious terms, we were a mixed bunch: Christians, Unitarians, Jews, agnostics, and atheists.

A multi-religious dinner table always presents a bit of a problem when it is time to say the grace before meals. But Thanksgiving presents a particularly sticky situation, because it is the one occasion on which even the irreligious feel that some sort of invocation should be made. But who, or what, should we invoke?

After several minutes of communal hemming and hawing, one of the braver of our number delivered a prayer to the earth, thanking it for its bounty and seeking its forgiveness for our environmental sins. In all, it sounded more Green Party than pagan. Having crossed that hastily improvised bridge, we tucked into our feast.

But the moment stayed with me, for it illustrated what a peculiar, not to mention sneaky, holiday we were celebrating.

Thanksgiving is not a purely civic holiday like Memorial Day or Independence Day, although we are, in part, celebrating the fortitude of our Pilgrim forebears. Nor, like Christmas or Passover, does it come freighted with the content of a particular faith. Rather, Thanksgiving straddles these two categories; it is civic and religious. To paraphrase Jesus, Thanksgiving gives both to Caesar and to God.

In doing so, it discomfits believer and unbeliever equally. For giving thanks assumes the existence of one (One?) who deserves our gratitude--anathema to atheists. But giving thanks as a nation assumes that we stand before God as citizens of a country, as well as members of a faith. And that should offend anyone who believes that salvation flows from the church and not from the state.

Thanksgiving, in other words, assumes the existence of something that doesn't exist: an American faith.

On these grounds, I suppose one could argue that this holiday violates the establishment clause of the Constitution. I leave that task for some particularly dogmatic member of Americans for the Separation of Church and State. What interests me is the ubiquity of gratitude, the understanding, even among witnessing atheists, that it is important to be grateful for our good fortune.


For me, the desire to give thanks is evidence, at a minimum, that human beings are innately religious. The theologian Karl Rahner wrote that there is a "God-shaped hole" in every one of us. With Rahner, I believe that it is God who put it there.

You can take that argument or leave it. But if you leave it, help me to understand why we experience this particular species of gratitude. I'm not talking about the kind of gratitude we feel toward someone who has done us a favor. I mean the sort of global gratitude inspired by gifts we could not have known enough to ask for, or the kind we feel when matters beyond our control end well for us.

Who do you thank for your sweetheart's brown eyes; for growing up where it snows (or doesn't); for being alive at the same time as Bruce Springsteen; or for seeing your children born into a country that is prosperous and at peace?

You might argue that there is no one to be thanked. Maybe all our purported blessings are a matter of random chance. Perhaps the desire to extend gratitude beyond the human is an evolutionary glitch--a useful social trait that got too big for its britches.

Perhaps.

Or perhaps we awaken one day and realize that we are not now, nor have never been, masters of our own destinies; that our successes were not entirely of our own making; that our souls magnify the Lord, whether we like it or not.

Again, you can take this argument or leave it. It is easier to believe in chance than in grace. Chance requires nothing from us. In fact, if life is a succession of random events, than any response to good fortune is superfluous.

Grace is different. In receiving grace, we are challenged to become channels of grace. This is more than a matter of a few good deeds (although those help); it is an invitation to place one's self in God's hands, and devote one's self toward what we perceive as God's ends.

Thanksgiving, then, is a call to action: a gentle poke to awaken our collective conscience from its postprandial slumber. To whom much is given, etc. etc.

In a county as religiously diverse as ours, we may never be able to express our gratitude in words that are acceptable to everyone. Fortunately, deeds work even better.

For all we do not need
Oh, Lord, we thank thee.

By Sam Candler

It’s that time of year. It’s time to wear everybody down by asking incessantly what we are thankful for. From kindergartens to garden clubs, everyone will be pressing themselves to consider all the things we are – or should be—thankful for.

Isn’t giving thanks supposed to be a lovely activity? Well, not always. During this upcoming season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I remind myself that what we give thanks for can also affect our spiritual lives negatively. For example, there may be a problem with giving thanks for over-abundance and over-supply. Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector reminds us that merely thanking God indiscriminately may not be the best prayer after all.

Therefore, I have decided this year to thank God in another way. I propose to thank God not for all the things I have. I want to thank God, instead, for all the things I do not have. I want to thank God for all the things I do not need!

I do not know about you, but I have received about a hundred pounds of retail catalogs in the last few weeks. The same catalogs are in the doctor’s offices. They are in the seat pocket of the airplane I flew a few weeks ago.

I thank God that I do not need all the products that those catalogs are offering. Have you noticed how much stuff is in those catalogs that you absolutely do not need?

Here’s a few of the items I thank God that I do not need: I do not need an all-in-one breakfast machine. This machine has slots for toast and eggs and sausages. Apparently, you put everything in, wash your hands, and then out pops your own ready-to-eat breakfast. I do not need that. In fact, I enjoy a breakfast that requires a little time to prepare. It’s usually just enough time for me to wake up. Machines that claim to save me time usually cost me a great deal more anxiety.

I am also thankful that I do not need a fifteen-thousand dollar exercise machine that promises to make me lose weight if I use it only ten minutes a day. Have you seen the advertisement for this machine? It looks like something the absent-minded professor has invented, full of arms and cables and strange hooks.

I must admit that I am actually a bit overweight myself. I should exercise some more. But I think good exercise should not cost fifteen thousand dollars. It really costs only time. I am thankful I do not need that contraption.

I am also thankful I do not need the fanciest GPS –global positioning system—in my car. Have you seen how complicated and fancy they have become? For one thing, I like to know where I am going before I start driving the car.

For a second thing, I really don’t want a strange voice telling me about every turn and every local attraction we pass. A friend of mine has one of these devices, and he took me for a ride in his fancy car. I could hardly have a conversation with him, due to that strange voice mildly droning out directions. Actually, we were up in north Georgia, and –I swear—we ended up on some God-forsaken dirt road that led us through a roller-coaster. I am thankful that I do not need a GPS voice in my car.

Here’s one. Mini-helmets. A six-inch football helmet signed by my favorite football player. I am thankful I do not need that. If I had one, it would probably be signed by Michael Vick.

Here’s another item I am thankful I do not need. It’s a new kind of shoe with industrial grade absorption springs in the heel. The ad says it defies gravity. Yeah, that’s just what I need. I hop over a crack in the street, and I end up bouncing into a plate-glass window. I am so thankful I do not need to wear gravity-defying shoes.

How about the world’s largest write-on map of the world? Do I need that? Actually, I thought I did need one of these, about ten years ago. We had children at home, and –how great!—we could have a huge map on the playroom wall, so they could actually learn something while they were staring into space! So I bought one. “World’s Largest” has to be correct. It was thirteen feet long and nine feet high. We didn’t have a wall it would fit on. We ended up trying to install it by curving around the corner and up into the ceiling. We did not need that thing. I am thankful I don’t need another one. By the way, I do not need a television screen that big either.

I am thankful that I do not need a runaway alarm clock. Have you seen it? Its cousin is an alarm clock that starts flying around the room when it goes off. The idea is that you have to get out of the bed and search for it in order to turn off the sound. That way, you are definitely awake. I am so thankful that I do not need that.

I am thankful that I do not need a “garage elevator.” Apparently this device is a steel platform that you install in your garage. After you put all your garage clutter into it, you hoist it up to the ceiling, so it’s out of your way. That way, I suppose, I can put more clutter on the floor and fill every cubic foot of the garage with other things I do not use. I don’t need a garage elevator, and I cannot imagine how to install it anyway.

I am thankful I do not need a nose-hair trimmer. Well, I take that back. My wife would probably say I do need a nose-hair trimmer. Would I pay more attention to that area of my personal hygiene if I had paid forty dollars for a special machine? Let’s give it another year before I put it on the Christmas list.

I am thankful I do not need a backpack bicycle. This little bicycle apparently folds up so you can put it in your backpack …and add twelve pounds to what you are already carrying. I guess if it got too heavy you could unfold it and try to bicycle out on the trails, but I am not sure the six inch tires would let you do that. I am thankful that I like to backpack and I like to bicycle, but I do not have to do both of them at the same time!

I am thankful that I do not need that new language teaching series that will have me speaking Portuguese in ten easy weeks. What a great headline: Learn Portuguese today! Today? I would have to spend a year in Portugal or Brazil before I could get by. I am thankful that I do not need a language teaching tape to prove to me how un-disciplined I am!

What else is being touted this year as “Gotta have it”? I actually do not need a pick up truck that has ten horsepower more than the one my neighbor has. It doesn’t need to be six inches wider either. I am so thankful that I do not need a cell phone with two hundred different ring tones.

Think of all the things we do not need this year! I do not need to paint the kitchen another color. I do not need another sweater. I do not need another channel on my cable television menu. I do not need to spend more money.

I simply do not need all this stuff that the world tells me constantly I do need. I am thankful, so thankful, that I really don’t need it! What a liberating experience it is to realize what I simply do not need. It makes me feel free!

Maybe this is what it is like to be close to the kingdom of God, where all is made new. When I realize how much I do not need, I am that much more free to acknowledge the simple wonders God has for me right now – the simple gifts like love and family, friends and community.

Maybe this is what real thanksgiving feels like. Thanksgiving is freedom from the unnecessary clutter of our lives, freedom from what we do not need, so that we can see anew the simple gifts God has for each of us.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He helped start that city’s interfaith group, and leads regular community bible studies. He is also inspired by playing jazz piano, hunting, astronomy, and poetry. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Displacing the blame

By Heidi Shott

It all started when Jerry Hames decided to retire as the editor of Episcopal Life at the end of June. My friend Tracy Sukraw, editor of the Diocese of Massachusetts’ paper The Episcopal Times, and I wormed an invitation to his goodbye party in New York as the surprise guests. We figured a surprised and delighted Jerry Hames would be a marvelous sight to behold. And, you know, it was.

On the morning of, Tracy flew from Boston and I flew from Portland, Maine. We found each other and took the AirTrain (seven bucks from JFK to Manhattan!) to midtown. Because this was just a quick trip and we’d be walking around all day, we limited ourselves to one shoulder bag. Mine was stuffed, and I kept needing to take things out of it to get to what I wanted at the bottom. I sensed this was not a good way to live, but without a convenient place to drop our bags (we were spending the night way uptown), I had no choice. Perhaps that I would lose something was inevitable. But, as I discovered when I tried to start my car back at the Portland airport several days later, losing my key ring was truly unfortunate.

If Jerry Hames was less wonderful and if Tracy was less game, I would never have gone to New York last June and lost my all my keys…keys to both of our cars, keys to the Diocesan House, keys to the Genesis Fund and its post office box and the key to my mother-in-law’s house that I’m still afraid to tell her I lost. The only reason I didn’t lose the key to our house is because we never lock our doors. That small mercy compensates for hardly anything at all.

Three weeks ago when I arose at 4 a.m. to drive to Stittville, New York, (same state – different universe) to take my mother to the hospital for surgery, I jiggled my coat pocket to listen for my keys. Clang, clang they sounded and I figured I was good to go. At 5:30 a.m. when I inserted my car key into the ignition after a coffee run at the Kennebunkport rest stop, I thought, “Gee, this feels funny.” I turned on the light and discovered I was holding my husband’s key ring.

Rut-roe.

Because I had lost my key to his car in June, one of the keys splayed out on my palm was the only key to his car in existence. That his keys were in my coat pocket is an uninteresting story that involves impatience, laundry, and designated driving and I won’t bore you with it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was on a trip of undetermined length with the only key to my beloved’s car in my possession. Actually, when I woke Scott up at 6:30, he took it well. He knows Jerry Hames and likes him very much, “It’s Jerry Hames’ fault,” I said into my cell phone somewhere on I-495.

“I don’t think so,” my car-less husband said.

Scott borrowed a friend’s car to take our son to school and I fed-exed the keys from the road.

So yesterday afternoon, when I couldn’t find my wallet in my mother’s hospital room in Utica, New York, I thought back to the moment earlier that day as I sat in my car in the parking garage. “Should I take my wallet into the hospital or lock it in the car?” I pondered a moment, consulting my wiser self. “Take it, because you need someplace to put the money you get back from the cafeteria.”

Ah, the wisdom of moi.

The previous evening my brother Brad, his girlfriend Lisa, and I were in the hospital dining room while they were working on our mom in the Intensive Care Unit. It had been quite a bad day with a worrisome close shave with the dreaded and invasive ventilator. Three weeks after surgery and we were back to the ICU. Brad hadn’t eaten and the cafeteria was closed for business, but you could buy sandwiches from a sort of automat machine. “Here, Sweetie,” I said, “I’ll buy you a sandwich. The turkey doesn’t look too bad.”

I put a ten in, retrieved the $2.25 sandwich, and waited for my $7.75…which didn’t come. The maintenance man patrolling the dining room told me to return the next day and the cafeteria people would refund my change. So that’s why I took my wallet into the hospital - because of the turkey sandwich situation. My wallet, it turns out, probably never made it past the parking garage. Later, I retraced my steps, talked with Security, poked through the garbage cans and finally left my name and number at the main desk. My mother had 20 bucks stashed away that I could use for tolls and I had a gas card in my glove compartment. I would make it back to Maine and I did.

Before I left the hospital, I called Scott at home. That morning we’d had a little tiff on the phone about some wet laundry I thought he should have noticed and put in the dryer without being prompted. “How do you walk past a basket of wet laundry a dozen times and not notice it?” I asked, befuddled.

“How was I supposed to know it was wet?” he cried.

From the parking garage I called to ask him to cancel our credit cards, I said, “Hi, it’s me. Please don’t be mad.” And when I told him what had happened, you know, he wasn’t.

Blame is a funny thing. As someone who has worked for the Church for a long time, I’ve seen a lot of blame passed back and forth. Anyone who follows the episcoblogs can’t escape the winding gyres of blame that circle each new development. I’ve always been pleased that I wrote an essay about which both Gene Robinson and Kendall Harmon seemed to agree.

The need to place blame is so human, so natural we’re hardly aware when we’re doing it.

Over the weekend I started reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith.” Though I still work for the diocese as a consultant, my family and I, once so involved in parish life, have kept our distance for the past few years. Scott was senior warden and chair of the last Search Committee. He played guitar at the family Eucharist every Sunday for years. Then suddenly something broke for us, and we’ve never quite been able to figure out what it was. We’ve visited other nearby churches, warm and welcoming all, but ultimately we believe in being involved in the community where we live. This is our church, but we feel removed from it and we’re stuck in a hard, sad place.

Taylor’s book is certainly told from a clergy point-of-view but, having lived the oxymoronic life as a “lay professional,” I understand her journey. The need to blame others for my lapse as a churchgoer is palpable. If only, if only. But ultimately I’m responsible for my own stuff. That’s what we’re trying so hard and so rigorously to impress upon our young teenage sons. You don’t like that grade in math? Oh…maybe you should try harder. You want an I-tunes gift card? Oh…maybe you should mow a neighbor’s yard.

But here’s the thing: I hate being responsible when it’s so comforting to blame others for bad things happening or good things not being done. On Saturday night if Brad hadn’t said, “Let’s go down to the dining room,” I never would have lost my wallet. In June, if Jerry Hames hadn’t retired, I never would have lost my keys in New York.

But here’s one more thing: Once you start owning up, it gets a lot easier. On Saturday morning, I stepped into my mother’s hospital room with a chocolate frosted donut as a peace offering. The word on the sibling street was that she blamed me for all the complications that had caused her to be back in the hospital instead of living independently in her own home. I had pushed her into a dangerous surgery and look what had happened.

But when I stepped to the threshold of her door, she held up her index finger to me, as though she were on an important phone call…but she wasn’t. She was in the midst of a very, very serious bout of congestive heart failure and had called for help. Nurses and respiratory therapists streamed into the room on either side of me.

Her struggle for breath was frightening. It reminded me of the brief days seven years before when my father was poised between this life and the next: the feeling that together we – he on one side and I on the other – were on the verge of something else, something unknown and slightly reckless. On Saturday my mother struggled for breath under the oxygen mask while we waited for a room in the ICU and for the three diuretics they had given her to kick in to relieve the fluid buildup in her lungs. I sat on her bed and sang all the old hymns I still knew by heart. She pulled off her mask and whispered, “Sing ‘How Great Thou Art’”, and I obliged the best I could.

If, as my siblings had warned me, she blamed me for pushing her into this awful, vulnerable place, she didn’t say it then. My mother held my hand and whispered, “I knew you’d come.”

Maybe I am to blame for the complications of my mother’s medical condition. Maybe we’re to blame for our restlessness with our congregation. Maybe we are all to blame for the current fracture of our church. But maybe blame doesn’t matter. Maybe blame is irrelevant to God. Maybe what’s important is simply showing up to church every Sunday and to every goodbye party we can manage whether we’re invited or not.

Maybe Jerry Hames isn’t to blame for my lost keys after all and maybe ten dollars isn’t too much to pay for my brother’s turkey sandwich.

Heidi Shott is press officer to Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine and communications director of the Genesis Fund, a revolving loan fund that provides expertise and low-interest loans to nonprofits engaged in community development. Her essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

Growing Episcopal congregations, Part II

By John B. Chilton

This essay is the second half of my review of FACTS on Episcopal Church Growth, authored by C. Kirk Hadaway, Director of Research for The Episcopal Church. FACTS on Episcopal Church Growth is based on a 2005 survey. The survey was completed by 57% of congregations surveyed, usually by clergy. The 4,102 responses were weighted to reflect size and location in the population of Episcopal churches as a whole to improve the representativeness of the sample.

Growth in membership can be measured either as a rate or as a change. Small congregations can show large growth rates (or decline) even if it is just a change of a few members. And large congregations can have large growth in numbers with a small growth rate. Congregations were therefore classified as growing if they had “substantial growth in numbers” and at least a 5 percent rate of growth comparing 2000 membership to 2005.

Hadaway’s results are presented in five groupings of characteristics of congregations: demography, worship, orientation towards growing, conflict, and clergy leadership. In Part I of my review I focused on demographic factors. Here I consider the other factors. I find it curious, though, that one of the factors asked about in the survey, outreach, is not covered in the report. Wouldn't be interesting if churches with focus on mission were among those that were most likely to grow? Why outreach is not discussed is not explained.

Purpose, spiritual vitality, and openness to change. Churches that view themselves as fitting any one of these descriptors were very likely to grow.
Joy. Congregations that affirm their worship is joyful are more likely to be growing.

What direction, though, is the causation? Growth surely increases self esteem, sense of purpose and joy of the congregation. No doubt joy is attractive and causes growth. But can you choose joy?

Can a congregation choose to be open to change, or is that a characteristic that’s in its DNA? Likewise, spiritual vitality. All organizations face such questions. A course of action for growth may be clear to the leadership but it’s another thing to change the culture of the organization.

Conflict matters. Two sources of conflict were examined, (1) conflict over the actions of the General Convention 2003, and (2) conflict over the leadership style of the priest. Conflict is not conducive to growth (Hadaway writes “apparently even minor conflict tends to lead some people to leave the congregation”). Leadership conflict appears to have been more debilitating than conflict over GC2003. That is intriguing.

I wonder, though, if some respondents reported conflict over GC 2003 even though conflict was not so much within the parish, but with the diocesan or with the national church. Conflict with an external group could cause growth. Conflict within a parish over GC2003 could be worse than conflict over leadership style. The survey question on GC 2003 does not distinguish internal and external conflict.

Drawing a conclusion about the effect of leadership style of the priest is also problematic. It could be that decline or slow growth causes conflict and blame is placed on the priest. Alternatively, it could be that congregations that are falling below their potential are more likely to be confronted by the priest – it’s not the style, but the context.

Nevertheless, we all know of anecdotes where it was the rector’s style of leadership and failure to adapt a new style that was harmful to the health of the congregation. The survey result is consistent with this anecdotal evidence.

Clergy Enthusiasm. It helps.
Cooperation. Congregations whose rector or vicar “knows how to get people to work together” are most likely to grow.

For both enthusiasm and cooperation above causation could go both ways.

Clergy Tenure. Growth is unlikely in the priest’s first two years. In this sample, the likelihood of growth improved with tenure up to the fifth year. Thereafter it falls off.

This is useful to know. Your new rector cannot replace your old rector. Not everyone in the congregation will find the old rector suits them. This pattern is normal: there's nothing necessarily wrong if it happens.

Number of services. The more services, the greater the growth.

Size is related to number of services so this could be saying that larger congregations are more likely to be growing rather than that the number of services causes growth. Smaller congregations more likely to be in rural locations and smaller towns that are not growing, or not growing as fast as urban and suburban areas are.

Contemplative, formal liturgy, absence of percussion, predictable. Congregations affirming any of these characteristics were less likely to be growing. (Yes, even contemplative.)

Could it be that “stuffiness” hurts church growth and should be avoided if your desire is growth? Or could it be that churches do desire grow and are choosing the character of worship most conducive to growth but that “markets”- mission fields - where formal liturgy (for example) is best are not likely to be growing? The data cannot tell us. What we are alerted to is that if you want to grow it’s worth asking the stuffiness question and even to experiment to find out what works in your market. (As long as it doesn’t cause too much conflict in the congregation!)

Variety. Among churches with more than one weekend service the ones where the services differed considerably were most likely to be growing.

There is the suggestion that adding variety would help growth. And several services makes it easier to experiment and compare which service attracts newcomers. But again we cannot exclude the possibility that churches are making the best choice given their mission field and some mission fields aren’t growing.

Children’s participation. Churches in decline seldom have children or youth speak, read or perform during worship.

How much of that is due to choice as opposed to lack of children is not stated. The survey did also ask about the age distribution of the congregants. Thus the question of availability could have been addressed.

Desire. Congregations that affirm they welcome growth are more likely to be growing.

Evangelism. The greater the participation of the laity in seeking new member the more likely is growth.

Communications. Among congregations that opposed a website only 12% were growing.

That’s not to say websites make a difference; it could be that lack of a website is a better signal that the congregation isn’t interested in growth than asking the congregation if it is.

Visits. Churches that don’t make phone calls or visits to newcomers or visitors aren’t likely to grow. Half of all Episcopal churches make 2 or less such contacts per month. The number of ways of following up with visitors also matters (mail, phone, email, visit, handouts).

Family enrichment. Congregations offering parenting or marriage enrichment as a key program were much more likely to be growing.

Correlation, again, is not causation; it could be that these programs are not a draw to newcomers, but rather exist because the congregation is comprised mainly of younger families.

Throughout this essay I have taken a skeptic’s perspective on what a survey of this sort can tell us. There is the question of the direction of causation. There is the question of what things are within the control of the congregation. I have pointed out that correlation can arise because of an omitted factor (such as the underlying conditions of the local market).

At the level of the congregation it would be easy to take these arguments and take a complacent attitude, or an attitude that the status quo does not need to change, or that whatever we do it’s not going to make a difference. Or that surveys like this simply aren’t useful to a congregation.

My conclusion is different. My conclusion is that there are no easy answers. Surveys like this are useful. First, they permit some degree of benchmarking for the congregation. How are you doing in comparison with similar congregations, be it similarity in terms of demographics or in terms the factors discussed above? Are you lagging behind similar congregations? If so, are there local conditions that might explain that? Are you ahead of other similar congregations? If so, this is something to feel good about and to share.

Second, while such a survey cannot tell you that, say, adding percussion to the worship service will lead to growth, it does plant the suggestion that it might. In conjunction with local knowledge of the congregation and its mission field the congregation must decide what course of action to take if it wants to grow.

I'm no expert in evangelism nor do I think of myself as a good practitioner. I've offered my thoughts on some of the research available from The Episcopal Church and urge you to take a look for yourself if you are interested in seeing your church grow. Here are some links to follow:

Studying Your Congregation and Community

Research & Statistics

Dr. John B. Chilton is an economist specializing in applied game theory. In January he will conclude six years of service at the American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) and return home to Orkney Springs, the location of Shrine Mont Episcopal Conference Center of the Diocese of Virginia.

Questions we meant to ask

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Your responses to two questions in my previous column about preparing for death, were inspirational and helpful. Here is a sampling, and to all of you who wrote in – thank you!

I asked: “What do you wish you’d asked your parent before he or she died?”

Readers responded:

I’d ask my mother:
* How she learned to survive with my father all those years?
* To tell me more about her faith in God, which sustained her and held Dad up.
* If she would write a letter to my sister and me? (She died when we were teenagers.)
* How did you show such fortitude and calm during your last illness?

I’d ask my father:
* What he thought about his relationship with Mom – only duty and interdependence?
* About family heirlooms disconnected from meaning discovered after his death?
* About the other women in his life and how many half siblings I have?
* About his childhood after his mother died and his stepmother treated him cruelly?

I’d ask each parent:
* What they believed about life after death?
* About my grandparents and all relatives whose history is lost with their deaths?
* What was your life like when you were young?
* What were your favorites things to do? The disappointments, roads not taken?

I asked: “Did you leave anything undone that you wish you’d done?”

And this reader’s words beautifully summarize many responses: “I wish I had done more to reinforce with my mother her value to the family and to me with words and more hugs and anything else that would have helped reassure her of her own worth. She often thanked me for the help I was extending to her and my response was that I was doing it because I loved her. Then, we simply went on with whatever it was we were doing. That would have been the perfect time, however, to talk more about her value from a whole variety of perspectives. I think I was somewhat lazy in not thinking of this until after her death.”

Another reader wrote a testimony to peace: “One thing I learned from my mother’s death is how to be when my own children gather round (I hope!) to see me off. Let them know I’m not disappointed or fearful or needing anything more than their presence...going with grace. Mother was a clear writer, but I never read anything more perfectly worded from her than this final letter she had left on her desk…the clear intention being to free us from worry and regret:

To my family, my physician, my clergyman, my lawyer – If the time comes when I can no longer take part in decisions for my own future, let this statement stand as the testament of my wishes: If there is no very good expectation of my making an excellent recovery from physical or mental disability, I demand that I be allowed to die and not be kept alive by artificial means or heroic measures. I do not fear death as much as I fear the indignity of deterioration, dependence and hopeless pain. I ask that drugs be mercifully administered to me for terminal suffering, even if they hasten the moment of death. You who care for me will, I hope, feel morally bound to follow this mandate. I recognize that it places a heavy burden of responsibility upon you, and it is with the intention of sharing that responsibility and of mitigating any feelings of guilt that this statement is made. In case of cardiac arrest which is instantly detected, I permit two minutes maximum attempts to resuscitate me."

And if you do have regrets? Many people have found it helpful to write letters to deceased loved ones, then to write another letter from that person back to themselves. This process can be freeing, like the following words from Canon Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918):

“Death is nothing at all: I have only slipped away into the next room: I am I and you are you: whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by my old familiar name; speak to me in the easy way, which you always used…. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.”

Margaret M. (Peggy) Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice. She writes a monthly column for Washington Window
and teaches a course, "Congregational Leadership: Family Systems Theory for Clergy" at Virginia Theological Seminary's Center for Lifetime Theological Education.

Anticipating Advent

By Kit Carlson

It is mid-November. Halloween is past, and Veterans' Day is just behind us. Down my street, my neighbor has illuminated his Christmas display. The seasonal banners are hanging from street lights all over town. "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" has already aired on TBS.

It makes me feel extremely Grinchy.

I used to love Christmas, the sense of eager anticipation, the joyous hustle and bustle of much to get ready in a short time, of a great festival lurking around the corner like the eschaton ... almost here but not quite.

But of course, that was when the season started on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. That was before radio stations started playing 'round the clock Christmas songs starting in the middle of November. Although this all had roots in pagan celebrations to fight back the darkness of the winter solstice, our current celebrations now dawdle their way through the crisp and colorful autumn, practically from the equinox. It makes one wonder ... hmmm, shall I blow leaves, or shall I inflate the penguin snow globe on my lawn?

We have lost the sense of holy anticipation, one that was once evoked even by our culture ("Only 22 shopping days until Christmas!") until just a few years ago.

But I find myself feeling all kind of tingly inside anyway. I am anticipatory, looking forward with great joy and eagerness to the upcoming season ...

to Advent.

Advent is coming! Four weeks of secret retreat and refreshment among the cultural commercial festival. Four weeks of quiet prayer, of hymns that have nothing to do with Santa Claus coming to town, but that sing instead of Jesus coming to town, often in a big and judgmental, wrapping-it-all-up-in-a-big-finish-kind-of-way. Forget the drive-through light festival in the local park. We've got the moon running red with blood and stars falling from the sky.

Advent is coming! With hairy, scary John the Baptist filling two full weeks with his cries of "hurry up!" and "turn around!" and "the Messiah's coming right quick!" It's urgent, it's important, and it has nothing to do with getting my shopping done. It's bigger. It's cosmic. It's fantastic.

Advent is coming! And this year we get Joseph, mulling and puzzling -- not over what to get old Aunt Martha -- but what to give Mary, his fiancee. A quiet divorce, an annulment of their betrothal, or the gift of a name, a husband, a father for her child? Will he share in the gift that God wants to give the world, or will he turn away, caught up in the demands and dreams of the culture that surrounds him?

Advent is coming! With carols and hymns you'll never hear on the local, all-Xmas, all-the-time radio station: "Lo, he comes with clouds descending," "Creator of the stars of night" "On Jordan's bank, the Baptist's cry," "Wake, awake, for night is flying." With candles lit, one by one, week by week -- lights shining in the darkness. With early twilights and trees etched like black lace against the fading sunsets.

Advent is the church's gift to us this holiday season, a holy, sacred, secret observance nestled quietly in the heart of ho-ho-ho and Santa Baby and too much angst and stress and nonsense.

Advent is coming, and I can't wait!

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary. In 2003, she played the apostle Paul on the world's first internet reality series, The Ark, a project of the Christian humor website Ship of Fools.

An account of our hope

By Derek Olsen

Join with me for a moment in a dream, in a vision. We’ve been talking more and more in the Episcopal Church of that dreaded “e” word that strikes terror into the hearts of the staid faithful—evangelism. For some it conjures fearful scenes of complex theological refutation, of fast and furious verbal sparring until—pressed and pinked by verbal weapons of dialectic—our opponent throws up his arms, confessing Jesus as an act of intellectual surrender. The prospect of such a thing makes the average church-going heart quail—is that really what’s expected? How do they expect me to do that?!?

The answer from calmer quarters is: relax, that’s not what evangelism is fundamentally about. Evangelism isn’t about beating opponents into submission—intellectual or otherwise. At its heart, it’s about sharing love, communicating who God is and how God is about the work of redemption and reconciliation. It’s less about what we know than who we know—and how he has made himself known through the power of the resurrection at work in our lives. That having been said, there is some knowledge, there are some fundamentals that have to be covered.

Turning to the Scriptures, St. Peter suggests that among the basic equipment of the Christian is having at hand and in mind “an account for the hope that is in you with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). That is, when questions arise about our faith we need something to fall back on, something to guide our way in explaining what we believe. Now—here’s my dream; here’s my vision. If I were the Evangelism Czar for the Episcopal Church, I’d try and put together a brief yet comprehensive statement of what we think on things. I’d want it to be broad—we need to cover our major bases, and yet I’d want it to be beautiful too. I’d want it, in its simplicity, to hint at depths of thought and experience that could be evoked and not exhausted by a tantalizing turn of phrase. If I could pare it down to something around one hundred words, I’d send out this “account for hope” to all the Episcopal churches with instructions that it be memorized so it could be readily called to mind whenever a useful opportunity might arise.

But, hey—why stop there? Why not have a second version as well? Maybe something twice the length of the first that might clear up a few more connections but also evoke greater mysteries and introduce some language that cuts to the heart of the human religious experience—light, breath, life abundant… Embed some deeper poetry, some metaphors to be chewed upon and savored, and you might have a worthy follow-up to the first that again, isn’t just about knowledge, but that evokes a new way of being and relating to the world in which we live. Of course—I’d want that one to be memorized too.

Who am I kidding, though, right? There’s no way this crazy scheme could work, is there?

Actually…it’s already been done. The texts have already been written. Not only that—they’ve already been infiltrated into your Book of Common Prayer. Many of you have already even accomplished the hard part—the memorizing part. There’s just one little catch. The infiltration has been so successful, has been so complete, that few realize the treasure that we got. Instead of recognizing this amazing “account for hope” for what it is, it’s something that we mumble through between the sermon and prayers at Eucharist, or stick between prayers in the Daily Office.

Yes, I’m talking about the creeds. We’ve got them. Many of us know them by heart—by rote, even—and therein lies the problem. We know them so well, have become so accustomed to them, that we’ve lost sight of their power—and their potential when it comes to evangelism. So let’s review quickly what it is that we have and how we might begin the process of rediscovering them.

The Apostles’ Creed was an early baptismal formula of the church in Rome. This was the basic outline of faith that converts (and in those days they were all converts) would embrace in order to be received into the faith. It served to nail down some fundamentals to establish Christian belief and to refute some potential misunderstandings. First, it asserted that God, the good God, the Father of Jesus Christ was also the God who Creates in distinction from philosophies that suggested that created matter was not just indifferent but downright evil—that bodies were prisons for souls. No, the creed affirmed, the good God made us bodies and—not only that—second, God even took on a body in the person of Jesus the Messiah. Like us, he was born, lived, and died as a historical person in a real place with Roman officials and everything. Third, that the breath, the spirit of God isn’t just a good idea or a nice metaphor—the Spirit is the reality of God moving, living and active.

Our other creed—what we call the Nicene Creed—is more properly called the Nicene-Chalcedonian Symbol. That sounds pretentious but is really just an affirmation that the church called together four world-wide councils to make sure that the faith they were handing down was the faith that they had received from their own teachers extending back to the apostles. Built on the framework like the Apostles’ Creed, it introduces the language of Greek philosophy, not for the sake of getting all complicated, but to somehow encapsulate in word and thought how the church had experienced the power of God moving in its worlds and ways.

Please—don’t underestimate second and fourth century people, though. Even without particle physics or flush toilets they knew that there were things in these affirmations that were at odds with the daily world they experienced; for the creeds—both of them—invite us into a mystery that they neither solve nor resolve: a mystery that begins with the assertion that Jesus is both God and man. Born, yes, but of a virgin—a clear impossibility according to the mechanics of the life we know. Died, yes, but rose again on the third day—another impossibility. Ascended to the Father? We know that can’t happen…unless our grasp of the mechanics of life is somehow incomplete. Unless there is a more full understanding of reality to which we may awake, to find ourselves caught up in, a reality where life wins, where love wins, despite what our senses tell us. Even back then, they knew that these affirmations were asking them to step beyond the threshold of life as they knew it into a bigger, a broader, a wilder world where they didn’t know all the rules.

What the creeds evoke, what they invite us into, is hope. Hope that there’s more to reality than what can be touched and quantified. Hope that death does not win in the end. Hope that we are not merely isolated islands in trajectories of decay but that as our life is caught up in the reality of God we are somehow bound closer to our fellow creatures as well. But the creeds do not simply give us hope; they give us language and a framework for understanding the spiritual stirrings and movings that we detect in our lives. They give us a vocabulary to understand the movement of the Spirit, the breaking forth of resurrection power. For the creeds are grounded in our experiences of the God of whom they speak.

This, in turn, is our own offering to a world that is in need of hope: the hope and the promise that there is a reality, a deeper reality, than what can be measured, quantified, and mathematically modeled. Actually—this is evangelism; it’s the sharing of the hope that we find in Christ Jesus. It’s telling the stories of how God has shown us a deeper reality in our lives. It’s communicating the hope of resurrection even in the face of death. So next time you find yourself in worship or in prayer and you encounter the creeds, take a minute, I beg you. Think about the words. Think about what they say and the realities and hopes to which they point. Ponder the phrases and fit them to your own life’s tale . And lastly, share them. With gentleness, with reverence, give an account for the hope that is in you.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University where he is an adjunct professor at the Candler School of Theology. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.

The language God speaks

By Kathleen Henderson Staudt

I’m teaching an Honors seminar at the University of Maryland this semester called “Ideas of God in Scripture and Literature,” and we spend the first six weeks or so on Scripture and interpretive traditions in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I brought in a Muslim colleague and a Jewish rabbi, on separate days, to speak to the class on the idea of God in the Qu’ran and on the rabbinic interpretive tradition, or midrash.

Describing the rabbis’ attention to the Hebrew text, every “jot and tittle” of it in their often creative interpretations, the Rabbi told the students “the conceit is that God speaks Hebrew,” so the words of the Hebrew text are themselves sacred. At the previous class, the students had heard from my Muslim colleague that in effect God speaks Arabic, since Muslims regard the text of the Qu’ran as literally God’s words, dictated to the Prophet Muhammad. In conversations with these colleagues and my students we also explored the idea that each monotheistic tradition reveres a means of revelation – a way that the transcendent, distant God has made godself available to human perceptions: for the Jews, it is through Torah. For the Muslims, it is through the Qu’ran. For Christians, it is through a human being, Jesus, the Word of God incarnate. Whenever I engage in these interfaith conversations (as I do each time I teach the course), I find myself believing, and joyfully, that deep down, it is all the same revelation, that God just keeps trying to get through to us, calling us home.

Each time the class comes to this interfaith conversation, I gain new insights. This year it has been about this question of the language God “speaks.” If the Jews say that God speaks Hebrew, and the Muslims that God speaks Arabic, what language do we Christians say that God speaks? Our revelation is not so much through a text as through a human being, Jesus, (and, however unlikely this seems sometimes, through his body, the Church visible and invisible). What is the human language that translates this revelation? What is the language God speaks, for us?

After some reflection, I decided that the language God speaks, in Christianity, is the language of Pentecost: the gospel is proclaimed in all the languages, through all the cultural frameworks, of the world. As people learn to read Scripture for themselves, in translation, this is magnified, as each reader brings his/her own life experience and point of view to the reading of the story of the gospel. But we read the gospel story, revealed in Scripture, each in our own language, in order to come to know and follow the Living Christ.. That has made the interpretation of the gospel both challenging and lively as Christianity has spread across classes and cultures, some core of it always surviving, miraculously it sometimes seems.

The Rabbinic tradition of midrash holds that every new interpretation of Scripture, if it is faithful and connected to the text, adds to the sum of human knowledge of the divine revelation – even when the new insight contradicts the insight of other rabbis. Without admitting it, I think Christians at our best also adopt that attitude: Brian McLaren, in A Generous Orthodoxy, speaks of 21st century Christianity as a potluck supper to which each tradition brings something valuable, and the point is that we share the feast together, I would add, we share it in the company of the same Host. Not that truth isn’t important; of course it is. But since none of us will ever completely grasp the mystery of God and God’s love for us, isn’t the most important thing the lively and engaged pursuit of understanding, and of genuine Christian discipleship, in fellowship with one another?

I don’t think this is the vision that my Honors students have of Christianity. They see us as being mainly occupied with who’s in and who’s out, who is going to Heaven and who is going to Hell. And that is the underside of the language of our faith: that we have heard the gospel in so many different languages, we scramble to find some kind of ordering principle that will distinguish "us" from "them," "myself" from the "other."

But, good Anglican that I am, I believe that there is a "both/and" that is the bottom line in our faith, the one we should be claiming in the 21st century. We quote Galatians 3:28 in the service of many agendas, but it continues to hold out a vision for us of who we are called to be. When will the world see Christians living as if this were truly our core belief: that God speaks the language of every people and every nation, and that differences, though real, are not the bottom line: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:28-29)

Dr Kathleen Henderson Staudt works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area, and teaches courses in literature and theology at Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture. Her blog is at poetproph.blogspot.com.

Playing to our strengths

By Howard Anderson

I’ve always thought that institutions should focus on what they are best at. When you don’t you end up backtracking. St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota, for instance, banned Archbishop Desmond Tutu from speaking on their campus because he compared the treatment of Palestinians in Israel to the treatment of non-whites in apartheid-era South Africa. Banning a Nobel Peace Prize winner takes amnesia about academic freedom. They forgot what a university does. Happily, not everyone forgot, and they had to re-invite him when local Twin Cities Jewish groups, their students and alumni and scores of others advocated for St. Thomas to have the archbishop speak after all.

Now there are some institutions who have been very successful at keeping people out of their ranks. My wife, Linda, comes from a long line of Missouri Synod Lutherans. They have managed to keep women out of their ordained ranks as successfully as the Roman Catholics have. There doesn’t even seem to be much pressure to ordain women, even among female members and only very recently, in a very few places, have women claimed any significant lay leadership roles. Missouri Synod Lutherans also deny communion to those who do not believe as they do about matters of faith, and sometimes will even require an interview, in advance of a service, to determine if you are orthodox enough to be admitted to communion with them. They are very good at keeping people out.

How different we Episcopalians are from that. We are simply TERRIBLE at keeping people out. We banished African Americans to the balconies of our churches, only to find, somehow, before the end of the 18th Century even, Absalom Jones and a great host of gifted and committed African Americans not only on the main floor, but leading congregations with great skill. And when we tried to keep African Americans from the Episcopate with the clever little suffragan gambit, that didn’t work either. Some of the most effective, most inspiring bishops in the last century, and certainly today, were and are African American. What a failure we are at keeping people out of leadership in our church! Gee, we even elected the Rt. Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris the first female bishop in the entire history of the Anglican Communion…not only a woman, but African American to boot! We are the leaky sieve in the Anglican wall trying to keep people out of leadership! Thank God those Primates in the Global South are showing some ability to keep people out. We surely are not.

Up in the part of the world I come from, we tried to keep Native Americans out of the Church. Rascals like Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple, the first Bishop of Minnesota, was encouraging Native people to become Episcopalians, at the time the state of Minnesota was perpetrating the largest mass execution in U.S. history on the losing side in the Great Sioux Rebellion in 1862. Why, Bishop Whipple was ordaining Enmegahbowh, and scores of other Native clergy, many trained at Seabury Seminary, which in the 19th Century was in Faribault, Minnesota. And across the country Native clergy were being ordained and giving fine leadership. Heavens, there have even been a host of Native American bishops, beginning with The Rt. Rev. Harold Jones (Lakota) of South Dakota, and including such bishops of native ancestry as Steven Charleston, (Choctaw), Mark MacDonald (several tribal lines), the late Steven Plummer (Navajo), Fred Borsch (Mohawk), Creighton Robertson (Dakota), Michael Smith (Pottawatomie), William Wantland (Seminole), Lani Hanchett (Native Hawaiian) and others whom I know I have forgotten. Better yet, we could not only not keep Native American men out of the episcopate, but the Rt. Rev. Carole Gallagher, (Cherokee) became the first indigenous woman to be elected bishop in the Anglican Communion. We are terribly inept at keeping anyone out. Why we tried to keep kids out of the General Convention and being considered full members, and now we baptize and chrismate them at Baptism, and we even succumbed and allow 16 year olds to vote. Once again, our ineptitude stymies our best efforts to keep people out.

Oh, but we can keep the gay and lesbian community out of leadership, right? Ooops…it turns out that while we all know we have always had gay bishops, we cannot even keep uncloseted gay folk from the episcopate. Gene Robinson is anything but the first gay bishop, but he was the first to be honest and out of the closet before his election. I guess The Episcopal Church is not only terrible at keeping people out of our pews and leadership ranks, we are also terrible at lying. No matter how hard we have tried, no matter how much pressure conservatives in our church or the wider Anglican Communion have tried, they cannot help us get any better at excluding people. People threaten us. People leave the Church. People withhold money, and darned if we still fail to figure out creative ways to keep people out.

Right from the beginning, when the colonies won the American Revolution and the Brits tried to strangle the Episcopal baby in the cradle, they failed to keep the Scottish Episcopalians from consecrating our first Episcopal bishops. We couldn’t even keep the Scots out of the U.S., and off we went on our long tale of woe and failure at keeping people out.

Maybe, just maybe, we should think about our Episcopal DNA . We inherited it from the British Isles. What were the British to do with Picts, Angles, Celts, Normans, Saxons of every stripe, some Vikings mixed in just for flavor. One size church did not fit all. And as the state church they had to figure out how to accommodate wide differences. So they took the only logical path, and began to accept differences as being okay. Militarily, they would like to have kept out all the invaders, but failed, and adapted. And when the English Reformation led to a period of see-sawing between Catholic and Protestant, with bloodshed and disruption being the result, it took a woman, Elizabeth I, to say, ‘Boys, boys, stop fighting. We are both Catholic and Protestant. Now go pray together! And don’t let me see you fighting over this again!” And The Church of England emerged as a non-confessional church that believed that praying shapes believing and did not require intellectual assent to a particular set of doctrines as a requirement for membership. Wouldn’t have worked if they tried. One also sees a great humility in our Anglican forebears about what we can know for certain about God. God is essentially a mystery in our tradition. And we still believe that the Holy Spirit moves in the Councils of the Church to guide us just as Jesus said.

We are a both/and church. It is in our DNA. We inherited it. We are just no damn good at keeping people out. Why not look at it this way. We are good at including people. Just like Jesus was good at including people the “decent,” law abiding Temple goers wanted to exclude.

Maybe the Holy One is saying, “My Spirit led New Hampshire to elect one of my dear ones as Bishop. He is a tiny bit different in one small way, and that has made the “decent” orthodox folks mad. But Jesus showed you that I rather enjoy breaking down barriers that you all set up thinking you are doing a good thing. Okay, just in case you thought Gene Robinson was a mistake, My Spirit is going to lead you to elect, oh let’s see, how about a Woman as Presiding Bishop. I think you are getting cold feet. You passed that B-033 at your convention restricting some people from being leaders in My Church (uh..remember, it IS MY CHURCH), so I thought it would be a good thing to burn some bridges so that you can’t go back to the same old ways you human beings have used to exclude people from leadership in MY CHURCH. Now-be MY CHURCH. Be the Church Jesus showed you--one where your petty little intellectual doctrines do not become more important than my love commandment. Be MY CHURCH and let all of humanity, gifted by My grace and able to lead can be called out by My Spirit and MY CHURCH to show the world that we are all one, that I love each and every one of you. I love those who are mad at you because you are following the guidance of My Spirit. I love them just as much as I love you. Don’t worry about them. I am God, you aren’t. Your Bishops aren’t either. I know they are trying to keep the family together. But right now, I want you to follow My Spirit, even if it is painful, and besides, you aren’t any good at keeping people out anyway. And that may just serve My purposes well.”

The Rev. Dr. Howard Anderson is Warden and President of the Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral. He was a long time General Convention deputy and most importantly, is grandfather to a five year old theologian, Will.

Growing Episcopal congregations

By John B. Chilton

What do we know about how or why Episcopal congregations grow? We can start by asking which congregations are growing and what are their characteristics. I say “start” because correlation does not prove causation. For example, congregations with parenting programs are likely to be growing. But is this because congregations with parenting programs attract newcomers, or is it because congregations with young growing families adopt these programs?

In 2005 the research and statistics office of the Episcopal Church issued a report, FACTS on Episcopal Church Growth, authored by C. Kirk Hadaway, Director of Research. Faith Communities Today (FACT) is a project of Hartford Seminary and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Thus far, FACT has conducted surveys of congregations in participating denominations in 2000 and 2005. FACTs on Episcopal Church Growth reports the results of the 2005 survey of Episcopal congregations. In this essay I summarize a portion of the report and offer some of my own thoughts.

The FACT 2005 survey form given to congregations is here. The survey was completed by 57% of congregations surveyed, usually by clergy. The 4,102 responses were weighted to reflect size and location in the population of Episcopal churches as a whole to improve the representativeness of the sample.

Growth in membership can be measured either as a rate or as a change. Small congregations can show large growth rates (or decline) even if it is just a change of a few members. And large congregations can have large growth in numbers with a small growth rate. Congregations were therefore classified as growing if they had “substantial growth in numbers” and at least a 5 percent rate of growth comparing 2000 membership to 2005.

Hadaway’s results are presented in five groupings of characteristics of congregations: demography, worship, orientation towards growing, conflict, and clergy leadership. In this essay we focus on demography. For my purposes this will include location (rural, suburb, etc.), year of establishment of the congregation, the age distribution of the membership, ethnicity, gender balance, the theological conservatism of members, and the conservatism of the diocese.

Location matters: New suburbs of cities have the largest proportion of growing congregations (39%). In downtowns the proportion was 30%. In other categories – rural, small town, old suburb, older residential in a city – the proportion growing ranged from 21 to 24 percent. Hadaway does not state whether, say, downtowns had both a large proportion growing and a large proportion in substantial decline.

Newer congregations grow: Of congregations formed since 1990, 48% were growing over the period 2000-2005; dioceses plant new congregations where the capacity for growth is greatest, often new neighborhoods. Of those formed earlier the proportion growing was 28% or less depending on the age interval examined. Older congregations in new suburbs are less likely to grow than new congregations in new suburbs. This may reflect behavioral differences between new and old congregations, or it could reflect the fact that dioceses choose to plant churches in those new suburbs whose residents are most likely to be open to the Episcopal Church, or simply that older congregations often literally don't have much room to grow. The clear suggestion however is that existing churches in growing neighborhoods should ask if they appear insular to outsiders.

Immigration and ethnicity: US Census figures tell us the white population is growing slower than the black population, the Hispanic population, and populations influenced by immigration (e.g., Asian). Hadaway finds growth of congregations is related to their ethnicity but “the relationship tends to be stronger in other denominations.” It has been said more than once that growth will not be found by going after the traditional constituency of mainline churches.

Presence of children: Of congregations with over 40% under the age of 18 the proportion that are growing is 40%. Other categories are much lower. Even in congregations with 20 to 40% under the age of 18 the proportion growing is 26%. But is it the presence of kids that attract new families? Or is it merely that congregations with children have many families that are growing? Or are we perhaps also seeing the effect that in new suburbs there is population growth and most residents of new suburbs are younger families?

Aging congregations don’t grow: In congregations with less than 25% of the membership over age 50 the proportion growing was 42%. Of congregations with 26% to 50% over the age of 50 the proportion drops to 31%. And it only gets worse if more than 50% of your congregation is over age 50. As Hadaway has underscored elsewhere, the birthrate among Episcopalians has fallen below the replacement rate. With that as given the age distribution membership of the typical congregation will shift towards older cohorts unless we evangelize. Yet many aging congregations are a reflection of their community so it is easier said than done that to grow these congregations you must attract young families.

Gender balance matters: It’s well known that regardless of denomination more females than males attend church. What Hadaway finds is that gender balance matters to growth. Of congregations that were more than 60% female, 50% were in decline. The proportion in decline is 45% if the congregation is more than 60% male (however unlikely that might be!). 40% are in decline in the “balanced” category (40 to 60% female). Since age is not held constant, it could be that we are merely seeing the effect of age combined with the fact that females have a longer life expectancy. If not, there could be a policy suggestion here: think harder about strategies that bring men to church.

Theological orientation of the parish matters: Congregations were asked what is the “theological outlook of the majority of your congregation’s regularly participating adults?” There is a stair-step fall across categories from “predominantly conservative” in which 48% of congregations were in decline, to “predominantly liberal” where just 34% were in decline. That would be consistent with the presumption that conservatives are most likely to be leaving the Episcopal Church and growth is occurring in those parishes that most reflect the liberal direction of the national church.

Conservatism of the diocese matters: If you are in a conservative diocese (in Hadaway’s classification there are eleven such dioceses) your congregation is more likely to growth. At the same time, if you are in a conservative diocese your congregation is more likely to be growing if it is left or right of “somewhat conservative.” It appears that conservative dioceses are more successful at holding onto conservative members than are other dioceses. In addition, I suspect part of what we are seeing in conservative dioceses is polarization due to conflict, where congregations towards the ends of the spectrum are picking up members from congregations in the middle, as well as from each other.

There are several questions on the survey form which Hadaway does not report on, probably because they had no strong effect on growth. These included questions on political conservatism of the congregation, household income, proportion of adults with college degrees, encouragement of personal piety, programs, outreach, and clergy.

There are also questions that could be asked that were not. For example, what other Episcopal churches, or churches of other denominations, are nearby? Where there is more opportunity for people to choose a congregation according to their theological preference are congregations in the middle growing slower? Or might it be that some people are attracted to diverse congregations or congregations that offer variety in worship?

A way to add value to the survey would be to match the congregation’s responses with the data available at from the national church at Studying your Congregation and Community. As stated there,

In order to know who you are, you need to examine where you are and where you have been.

Looking at the social and demographic characteristics of the local community sheds light on the people to which we hope to minister. Looking at trends in membership, average worship attendance, and financial giving sheds light on congregational strength and whether current patterns indicate growth, decline or stability.

The social and demographic characteristics of the local community – household income, ethnicity, education are garnered from U.S. Census data. The data by themselves are useful – for example, there’s no point following a strategy of attracting young adults if there are none in the community. What makes for a sensible evangelism strategy will differ in each context. And these factors may have more to do with the efficacy of different growth strategies than characteristics of the congregation itself.

But it would also be possible with census data to group the surveyed congregations by community type. One example: group congregations according to the ethnic mix of the community (not just to the ethnic mix of the congregation). A question that could be asked then is which congregations in ethnically mixed communities are growing – those that focus on the traditional white higher income segment in the community, or those that take a less traditional approach? What makes for a sensible evangelism strategy will differ in each context. And these factors may have more to do with the efficacy of different growth strategies than demographic characteristics of the congregation itself.

More will be said about growth strategies in Part II this coming Monday. See, also, my essay from last week is here.

Dr. John B. Chilton is an economist specializing in applied game theory. In January he will conclude six years of service at the American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) and return home to Orkney Springs, the location of Shrine Mont Episcopal Conference Center of the Diocese of Virginia. He maintains two personal blogs, The Emirates Economist and New Virginia Church Man.

The homeless veteran

By Andrew Gerns

The classic TV series “The Naked City” used to end with this line: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” I was way too young to see the show when it was on, but that line sums up city ministry just the same. In a city church there are a million stories.

Here is one more.

One Advent‐tide, our parish was getting ready for the Christmas celebration that we host for the guests of our Saturday soup kitchen. The Ark Soup Kitchen serves an average of 75 meals a week and the hosts are volunteers from Trinity and from other churches and community groups in our area. But everyone who eats at the Ark comes to Christmas. They await the visit from St. Nicholas who gives out presents we have received from donors in the parish and matched to guests who signed up before Thanksgiving.

But this particular year, strange things were happening. The wrapped presents under the tree in the rear of the church had become “peekages.” Someone not‐so‐carefully pulled aside the wrapping to peek at what was inside. Little things in the church did not go missing but were just in a slightly wrong place as if someone had picked it up and put it down again but not quite sure as to where it belonged.

We stepped up our lock‐up procedures but as the strange events moved into the second week, we found our answer when a person came into pay the nominal rent we charge to community groups who use our space. She gave our secretary glowing reviews for the new sexton we hired.

“Oh?” said our puzzled secretary. “How nice.”

Then another rave review came in. And we began to wonder just who this angel was.

It seems that the outside group was met by a polite middle‐aged man dressed in a jeans and a flannel shirt. He would accompany them as they unlocked the door, help them set up their tables and chairs, make the coffee, and then at the end of the meeting re‐appear, clean up the coffee, put away furniture and take out the trash. He would wish the group good night and promise to take care of the lights and the doors.

And he did because he was spending the night.

We decided to find out who this fellow was. And so after choir practice—the one time he did not appear—we combed our darkened building. We found him asleep on one of the relocated pews that lined our parish hall. As soon as he saw us, he bolted out the door leaving his belongings behind.

Besides a few clothes, there wasn’t much. And most of that he got from us.

He had soap, shampoo and a shaving kit from what we collected for the homeless shelter, ironically enough. He had picked food from our food basket and pantry. He had cooked on our stove using our utensils and ate using our plates and flatware. When we found him, he had not cleaned up for the night, but clean up he did because everyday our real sexton checked the space and there was never any sign of him. We found that he stashed his stuff way back under the stage behind the table carts. He used an alarm clock that he found with the other Christmas gifts.

And he left his identification.

Our secret live‐in sexton was a Viet‐Nam era veteran. Another homeless vet had made our church his home for a little over two weeks.

We called the police. We did not want him arrested, but we wanted him to get his stuff back. Besides, he had done such a good job, maybe he’d like to get paid for it? But it was not to be. That very night he got into a scuffle with another homeless person and landed in jail for the night. The officer who came, himself a vet, said that this was not a surprise. Together, we –-the officer and a few of us at church—tried to reach out to the man, but he took back his stuff with a nod and went away.

Oh, how I wish we could have turned this into a heart‐warming Christmas story! Alas, there was no redemption here. He just took off into the night.

One can only guess at his story. Was he homeless because of addiction, or stress‐related mental illness? There was no alcohol or drug anywhere in his stuff and he never tried, as far as we could tell, to break into the places where we kept our valuables. Did he have a family? Was he able to hold down a job but just not have enough to afford his own place to live? Clearly he was inventive and able to deal with people on some level, but here he was, living on the street –and for a time in our parish hall.

As so he left, becoming another story in another city church. His story, though, is not unique.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, who studied patterns of homelessness among veterans, veterans make up a disproportionate share of the nations homeless population. They tell us that in 2006, approximately 195,827 veterans were homeless on a given night—an increase of 0.8 percent from 194,254 in 2005. More veterans experience homeless over the course of the year. We estimate that 495,400 were homeless in 2006.

While vets make up only 11 percent of the civilian population, one quarter of all homeless people (26%) are veterans. An estimated 44,000 to 64,000 veterans are chronically homeless in this country.

The popular picture of the psychologically scarred, dysfunctional vet does not account for the high incidence of homelessness. Nearly half a million vets are paying more than 50% of their income for rent, and half of these live below the poverty level, and 43% were receiving food stamps.

“Female veterans, those with a disability, and unmarried or separated veterans were more likely to experience severe housing cost burden,” the Alliance reports. “There are also differences by period of service, with those serving during the Korean War and WWII more likely to have severe housing cost burden.”

The reasons for homelessness among veterans are the same reasons that homelessness is widespread in this country. But like those who go before us to protect our nation and our freedoms, these vets go before us as a living sign that in the most affluent nation in the world there are far too many of us who have no place to live.

I have no doubt that among the routines of ministry among caring churches there is some kind of outreach to a homeless vet hidden among the faces of those seeking food, shelter, a handout or a little work.

On Veterans Day, we will mark the graves of the honored dead; we will have parades to honor those who have served our country in the armed forces at home and abroad. We will remember the sacrifices who served with flags, ribbons, and car magnets. But it may be that the most effective way we can honor veterans is to work for accessible, quality healthcare for these women and men; and, most of all, work to end the scourge of homelessness that falls disproportionately on this group and others.

The Rev. Andrew Gerns is the rector of Trinity Church, Easton, Pa., and chair of the Evangelism Commission of the Diocese of Bethlehem. He keeps the blog Andrew Plus.

The stigma of AIDS in
the Global South

By Donald Schell

Traveling in Africa with my wife, Ellen Schell, the International Programs Director of the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA www.thegaia.org) last fall, I had the privilege of meeting the Rev. Fletcher Kaiya, General Secretary of the Baptist Convention of Malawi, enjoying tea in his home, and watching a performance by the chorus of AIDS orphans that he and his wife are raising as their own children. It's through the GAIA connection that I saw this note from Fletcher Kaiya to Bill Rankin, Ellen's boss and President of Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance.

Fletcher writes:

I was recently on the radio with an Assemblies of God pastor, an official from National AIDS Commission and also from Ministry of Health. Our on-the-spot-audience included those that were HIV positive. They had no kind words for the church because they said there is rampant stigma and discrimination, made in secret innuendos, yet preaching the opposite. Some of the audience thought as far as stigma is concerned, the church has done nothing. I could also understand their anger and frustration having been targets of these bad habits by so-called “God's people.” We did not try to defend the church but we cleared the name of Jesus as having been compassionate and kind. If His followers are doing this to those living positively [with HIV], then it is a gross misrepresentation of the Master they claim to represent.

Thank God that others called in and saved our faces by reporting that the majority of the pastors who do that are not trained theologically, or if they are then they are not committed to helping those who are suffering.

They gave me an opportunity to be the last to speak and I took the opportunity to apologize for those that have suffered hurt from churches and I also strongly warned my fellow church leaders that if they do that, they have missed the path Jesus is walking now. For He sympathized and had compassion with the outcasts of His day, be they lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes etc. He was setting an example for His true church to follow. "If we are not following Jesus then it is a misnomer for us to be called the ‘Church’”

Later, I met one person who said he thought the Spirit of God led me to say those words, for they struck deep. I now think that we need to be speaking against this vice on the radio for I did not know that other churches are doing this to their own people.

God bless,
Fletcher

Both as a Christian believer and as a U.S. Episcopal priest, I want the church in the global North to hear voices like Fletcher's. Secular media's simplistic reporting of the great church divide - North vs. South, liberal vs. orthodox, culture Christians vs. Biblically faithful Christians - misses the real anguish and struggle of Christian leaders like Fletcher Kaiya coming to terms with AIDS.

In Africa today, just as in our own church and culture twenty years ago, many people are dealing with AIDS by blaming, judging and scapegoating. Fletcher Kaiya, an open-hearted, generous man has suffered personal losses from AIDS (as nearly everyone in Malawi has). He has spoken repeatedly about AIDS education, encouraging people to get voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) and asking that all of us treat those who suffering from the disease with compassion. In his email, the man who has taken 15 AIDS orphans into his own home, and who has spoken more openly than most about family members dying of AIDS, writes of becoming a lightning rod as AIDS patients (in the anonymous safety of their radio voices) tell the painful story of abuse and scorn they have received in Jesus' name, and of rigidity and judgmentalism preached against them in Jesus' name. Fletcher finds words to acknowledge the church's failure and yet insist that what these sufferers have experienced is also the cruelest possible misrepresentation of the compassionate, welcoming Jesus Fletcher knows and calls the whole church to follow.

Sometimes I hear Episcopal Church liberals say, “we should just forget about Africa - they've written us off and we have our own work to do.” Knowing the courage and outspoken compassion of African church leaders like Fletcher Kaiya, I imagine his hearing our words from the North. In our genuinely holy and called concern for justice and the full inclusion of LGBT people in our church's life, can we faithfully say we don't care about Fletcher and the anguishingly slow change that the African churches are making as their people are dying in the worst epidemic in human history? Rather than writing off a continent, stripping people like Fletcher of their humanity, can we listen and claim his voice as a gift to us too?

As North and South both struggle to remember Jesus’ open-armed, forgiving welcome to all, Fletcher’s voice resonates as prophetically in the North as in the South. He preaches Gospel compassion so simply and courageously that we hear he’s ready to listen and learn from any Christian, or for that matter any stigmatized, marginalized, and excluded person. Here is one of the many witnesses from the Global South of the continuing work for a Baptist and a wider Christian witness to real, day-to-day inclusion of all in God's embrace.

The Rev. Donald Schell is founder St. Gregory's Episcopal Church, San Francisco and consultant and creative director of All Saints Company, San Francisco.

The story of The Prayer of St. Francis

By Martin L. Smith

Serendipity. A peculiar word, from an odd source. An English writer of the late 18th century, Horace Walpole, concocted it from the Arabic name for Sri Lanka after he came across it in an old Persian folk tale! The story dealt with fascinating discoveries we stumble across accidentally while we are looking for something else. Recently, browsing on the internet, I came across—serendipitously!—the intriguing account of the origin of the famous “Prayer of St. Francis,” which is now in our prayer book (p. 833). It is known and loved the world over: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”

The story illustrates how grace works through odd, accidental ways and surfs the waves of human error. Apparently (it feels a bit like telling a child there is no Santa Claus!) the prayer was not written by St. Francis. It is a modern prayer originally composed in French. It first surfaced in 1912 in a devotional newsletter called La Clochette, piously recommended as a “beautiful prayer to recite during Mass.” We can picture devout subscribers cutting it out and using it throughout the devastating war-torn years that followed. But the author remained unknown. It was just one prayer among thousands of devotions like it.

How on earth did it spread across the world? Well, not long after World War I started someone sent it to the Pope and then it was printed in the Vatican newspaper. And then around 1920 a French Franciscan friar decided to print up some holy cards to circulate the prayer, now entitled the Prayer for Peace. He happened to use cards with a picture of St. Francis on the front. One of these cards must have fallen into the hands of an ardent group of Protestant peace activists, because when they started using the prayer in their movement committed to radical non-violence, they gave St. Francis as its author! It was an easy mistake, to assume the famous saint had written the prayer on the reverse. In 1936, an American Disciples of Christ minister called Kirby Page included an English translation in his book Living Courageously, based on the same mistaken assumption that St. Francis was the author. After that it was taken up during World War II as the most favored prayer for peace and spread across the globe, borne along by the reputation of the beloved saint of Assisi, becoming in every sense of the word a living classic of prayer and an ecumenical treasure, loved by people of every tradition.

Is it a let-down to learn the prayer is not by St. Francis? Not for me. The serendipitous discovery reinforces the truth that deep, creative spirituality isn’t confined at all to the saints who achieved fame. The Spirit is like a vast underground aquifer, and while many who have drilled their wells deeply to draw on it became known and loved, there are countless numbers who in their time dug just as deep, while carrying on their lives in the same obscurity as most of us do.

Our own cultural bias in modern North America is so ludicrously geared to celebrity, to notoriety, that we need to compensate for it by learning to rejoice in the mysterious contributions that flow to us from the anonymous and obscure. And surely no one would encourage us more than humble St. Francis, who is presumably more than happy to have played a part in spreading, through a blunder, a prayer which reveals that some unknown author had as deep a gift for prayer as he had!

Embracing this as a modern prayer, a prayer emerging at the beginning of the blood-soaked 20th century, a prayer that faces into the staggering challenges posed by human entrapment in the cycle of violent retaliation, jolts us into realism. Perhaps in some quarters the association with St. Francis actually weakens the impact of the prayer by linking it with a nostalgic sentimentality, since he is so often suffused with a pious haze of sweetness and light—the simplistic saint who preached innocently to the little birdies, the patron of pets; charming, but quite impractical.

I’ve decided to learn the prayer by heart in the original French. Sometimes using another language in prayer helps us really attend to its meaning. The original version, at least to my ears, encourages us to point quite specifically at the situations in which we are promising to practice gospel reconciliation. Là où il y a la discorde, que je mette l’union. As if to say, there! just here! in that place where I see discord, may I take responsibility to act as a reconciler. It is not a prayer of pious generality but a demanding pledge of commitment to the crucified Messiah to whom we owe our vows as peacemakers.

Martin Smith is well-known in the Episcopal Church and beyond as a priest, writer, preacher and leader of retreats. Through such popular works as A Season for the Spirit and The Word is Very Near You, he continues to explore a contemporary spirituality that encourages a lively conversation between new knowledge and the riches of tradition.

What has the Bible to do
with sexuality?

By Deirdre Good

Despite all attempts to make it so, the Bible really has very little interest in sexuality.

At the end of October, I went to a conference at The Jewish Theological Seminary to honor the work of Professor Tikva Frymer-Kensky, "For There Is Hope: Gender and the Hebrew Bible." One of her legacies is the books she wrote. In her 1992 book, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth, she argues that since Israel's God incorporated all the character and functions of the female goddesses, gender disappears from biblical monotheism. Consequently, in the recitation of Genesis' creation narrative for example, humans need not be concerned about creation or continuity of fertility in the earth. Epitomized in the creative word, God has power over fertility, creation and reproduction. Israel's heroes, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson and Samuel are all born after divine action opens wombs that were closed. Stories of their birth convey the message that God alone can cause conception. As for gender, she argues that the Bible does not see men and women as being different in essence. They are socially unequal, and women are subordinate, "but they are not inferior in any intellectual or spiritual way." She sees the Bible's positive evaluation of women as one of the beneficial effects of Biblical monotheism, but she also notes negative effects of the Bible's removal of gender from the divine, particularly the fact that the Bible, and Judaism and Christianity in general, have so little to say about such important things as human sexuality and reproduction. "The Bible never really incorporates sexuality into its vision of humanity or its relationship with the divine," she writes.

Similarly, the New Testament says little about human sexuality. A Christian doctrine of marriage developed well after the time of the New Testament, namely, in the patristic and early medieval periods. Attempts to ground Christian definitions of the sacrament of marriage in Paul's counsel that marriage was safer than unconsidered celibacy (in I Cor 7), in the metaphor of the marriage of Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5 and in Jesus' prohibition of divorce (Mark 10:2-9; Matt 19:3-9 & 5:31-32; Luke 16:18) are made well after the time of the New Testament. These texts do not together or separately comprise a coherent statement on marriage nor were they intended to. Attempts to use, for example, Jesus' statements to uphold the sanctity of heterosexual marriage must heed one thing: Jesus' statements link marriage and divorce. Jesus never considers marriage apart from divorce. Even if Jesus' prohibition of divorce views it as a concession to human failure to live out marriage, divorce/marriage is a given in all three gospels.

Exhortations to practice acts of charity are far more prevalent in the Bible than injunctions to be fruitful and multiply.

If sexuality is marginal in biblical tradition and the Bible has no vision to help integrate human sexuality, and if a Christian theology of the sacrament of marriage is patristic and medieval, what might be the consequences for our contemporary debates about sexuality in the church and elsewhere? One is that since sexuality seems to be of no great concern to either God or Jesus according to the biblical record, we need to recognize this gap before we rush to fill it. Minding this gap helps us understand that while the Bible recognizes the power of the erotic (think of the biblical laws regulating sexual behavior and the statement in the Song of Songs "for love is stronger than death"), it is in fact the ideations, imaginations and fantasies of scholars and religious people that have created modern discourses about sexuality in ancient Israel or in the New Testament. Rather than promoting discourses that regulate and restrict human sexual behavior, we could affirm that a gap is a space into which we must put different discourses, and we can be intentional about what we are doing. Minding the gap helps us understand that we have no biblical mandate to argue on the basis of sexual practice for the exclusion of anyone from Christian communities or for the exclusion of ourselves from community with others. Precisely because of this gap we can afford inclusion to differently constituted families and households.

Deirdre Good is the author of Jesus' Family Values (2006) and a professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary in New York City. Her blog is On Not Being a Sausage.

Here comes the Consumer of Bridal Products

By Ann Fontaine

I would rather do a funeral than a wedding. People are often startled when I say that. They respond but a funeral is so sad and a wedding is so happy – why do you prefer funerals?

A current issue of Newsweek speaks to some of my problems with weddings:

Fast Chat: the Price of Marriage

Why are brides spending so much money—and losing their minds?

We live in a consumerist society. You're not a bride, you're a consumer of bridal products. And second, there's something very profound psychologically happening. A wedding once marked a major transition in a person's life—the first time you slept with your spouse, lived with your spouse. Today, you're just not that different the day after the wedding, so the wedding planning has to function as a traumatic experience. So you can say, "I've been through this experience that was so demanding, it must mean something."

Is it fair to say the bridal industry took over the sacred space that religion left behind?

The bridal industry has filled a vacuum of authority that used to be important to how weddings are conducted. If you talk to ministers now, they hate doing weddings. The brides want to change the vows. They want to put flowers where they don't belong. They don't listen. What's so interesting is that one of the things the bridal industry says it's selling you is tradition. But if you asked your grandmother if she needed a personalized aisle runner when she got married, she'd say no.

As a priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with a beautiful chapel in Grand Teton National Park, I became even less enamored of weddings than I had been before. The large window over our altar shows a spectacular view of the Tetons. The Chapel of the Transfiguration is a 1925 log building with buck and rail fences surrounding the property. It is featured on most of the wedding planning sites in Jackson. Although we had a strict policy and required pre-marital counseling, those who were looking for a destination wedding would question every guideline. One secretary spent much of her time managing the 2-4 weddings per weekend held from Memorial Day until the end of September. Families spend amazing amounts of money on bringing families and friends for a week of festivities in the Jackson area. The wedding is almost an afterthought. And that is where I have difficulty.

I love a wedding when the couple sees it as place to make their vows to God and to ask their community to support them in their marriage. When this happens, discussing the wedding is a joy and the wedding is a celebration of their commitment to marriage and caring for one another. In the one same sex blessing service where I presided, that couple was one of the most involved in having a rite that reflected these ideals.

The money spent is not so much an issue except when families go into debt to buy the perfect wedding and all the trappings. The issue for me is what the church is doing to support a couple in the making of their commitments. When we respond in The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage to the question “Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?” I want the church to mean it when we say, “We will.” This is not a one shot ceremony attached to a party. It is heartfelt and for the long haul. Others can officiate at weddings, for me the church offers more. In 2006 Newsweek wrote of the post wedding blues for many brides. Maybe our offering can cure these blues.

And what is it about loving funerals more than weddings? At the time of death and during planning of the ceremonies for saying goodbye to a loved (or even on not so loved) one there is openness to the presence of God. There is an awareness of what is truly meaningful in life. People look at the importance of family and friends in their lives. If these elements are present at weddings I could learn to love weddings, too.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Demography and time trends in membership in the Episcopal Church

By John B. Chilton

In 2004 C. Kirk Hadaway, Director of Research for The Episcopal Church Center published “Is the Episcopal Church Growing (or Declining)?” The title may suggest the report is trivial. It is not. First, it carefully documents membership in the Episcopal Church 1930-2002. Thus, we know we stand (circa 2002 at least). Second, Hadaway uses the report to point to a core fact behind the decline in the growth rate of the church: the demography of its members.

To answer the question posed by the title of the paper, Hadaway had to first develop a consistent time series for membership. (The period covered is 1930 to 2002.) Over several decades there had been changing formats in the annual Parochial Report that the national church administered to gather numbers on membership from parishes, and changing methods of using those reports to calculate total membership in the national church. (Further, non-domestic dioceses have not been included in membership numbers since 1985 so Hadaway’s series excludes them prior to 1986 as well (adding back in Hawaii and Alaska).) Much of the report is an account of how Hadaway identified and corrected for the changing definitions and formats. It makes for rather mind-numbing reading, but the careful documentation is absolutely essential if we are to have confidence in the time series, and whether it tells us anything about the changing state of the church over time.

The corrected membership time series shows that, like other mainline churches, the Episcopal Church grew rapidly during the post-World War II baby boom. But in the late fifties growth slowed and by the mid-sixties had turned negative. Hadaway summarizes (pp. 11-12, describing Figure 6 in the report):

The [growth] trend line for the Episcopal Church has tracked quite closely to other mainline denominations. Growth rates declined precipitously from the mid-1950s [2.5%] to the mid-1970s [negative 1.5% for the mainline as a whole] and then began to moderate. From 1950 to 1974 the only meaningful difference between the pattern for the Episcopal Church and other mainline denominations was that the Episcopal decline [negative 2 to 3 percent growth] was more severe during the early-1970s. … After bottoming out in the early 1970s, the Episcopal rate of membership decline began to improve greatly [between 0 and 1% decline annually] and by 1980 the loss rate was consistently better than the United Methodist Church and other mainline denominations. So even though the Episcopal Church has not seen consistent membership growth, we are not declining at the same rate as other mainline denominations—a state of affairs that has existed for over two decades.

Thus, over the decades of the eighties and nineties membership in the Episcopal was at virtual plateau. This plateau was obscured by the issues surrounding Parochial Reports and highlights the importance the work Hadaway did in resolving them to establish his time series. The decline over the sixties and seventies did not continue.

In Hadaway’s analysis the reasons for the decline have to do with demography, not theology or church growth strategy. Or, rather, where he would place emphasis in a church growth strategy is in broadening our constituency. The membership of the Episcopal Church has been predominantly white. And the birthrate among whites has declined substantially since the fifties. Hathaway finds (p. 13) “the association between [white birthrate and mainline membership growth] is so strong that it produces a correlation of .94 (0 being no relationship and 1.0 begin a perfect relationship). In statistical terms, 88% of the year to year variation in mainline membership can be explained by the birth rate.” (He finds the correlation .89 between white birthrate growth and member growth in the Episcopal Church.) Further (p. 16),

As noted earlier, all denominations—mainline and conservative—were affected adversely by social changes occurring in the 1960s and 1970s. However, mainline denominations were hit hardest by the changes because declines in the birth rate were much more severe among the more highly educated white population. (Among conservative Protestants and Mormons the birth rate remained much higher than for the mainline, insulating these groups from the full effect of declines in fertility).
and (p. 17)
The Episcopal Church has the highest proportion of members among mainline denominations who are college graduates and in households earning $75,000 or more. As a result, the birth rate among Episcopalians is much lower than the national average—and even lower than the population of non-Hispanic whites. A reasonable estimate, based on education and race, is approximately 1.5 children per woman (compared to the replacement level of 2.1) for Episcopalians.
Hathaway concludes (p. 17), “sustained growth is increasingly unlikely unless we begin to reach out beyond our historic constituency.”

Earlier I reviewed recent academic work on church membership trends in mainline and conservative churches. It echoes what Hadaway concludes about the Episcopal church demography. That work also suggests that mainline churches have lost another source of growth: dropouts from conservative churches. As I wrote,

It's a great irony that after differential birthrates, the second most important fact in explaining the rise of conservative membership relative to the mainline is that a portion of conservative youth that in the past would have converted to mainline in their adulthood now drop out of Christianity altogether.

This raises an interesting empirical question: is the Episcopal church an exception? How many of its new members come from other Christian denominations?

Next Monday, Part II: an examination of Hadaway’s “FACTS on Episcopal Church Growth.”

Dr. John B. Chilton is an economist at the American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) specializing in applied game theory. In the summers he resides in Orkney Springs, Va., home of Shrine Mont Episcopal Conference Center of the Diocese of Virginia. He maintains two personal blogs, The Emirates Economist and New Virginia Church Man.

Every day diplomacy

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By Joel L. Merchant

Countries, like people, make friends with others one at a time. This is a story of one failure. In fairness to an unknown visitor to our country, imagine yourself in his place. The scene is on a recent Amtrak trip between New York City and Boston. The conductor collects tickets, requests identification, folds destination stubs into seatbacks, moves on to other cars. An older man across the aisle, traveling alone, shows his passport. It is clear from their conversation he doesn’t know English.

After decades as a frequent traveler, I have thousands of pictures -- scenery, buildings, people, architecture, from around the world. Today the train passes a lovely stretch of Connecticut shore, tidal marshes, nesting ospreys, the Long Island Sound. What little attention I pay as the visitor takes pictures, is that I’m impressed with his equipment. He and I, unknown to each other, are members of a picture-taking culture, fellow citizens of a show-and-tell world. I wonder if his will join the thousands on YouTube. I imagine, after his return home, how many friends he will impress with stories and pictures of this mild, early autumn, Saturday morning journey along the New England shoreline.

The train is a half hour west of New Haven when the conductor, having finished her original rounds, reappears. She moves down the aisle, looks, stops between our seats, faces the person taking pictures. “Sir, in the interest of national security, we do not allow pictures to be taken of or from this train.” He starts, “I…….” but, without English, his response trails off into silence. The conductor, speaking louder, forcefully: “Sir, I will confiscate that camera if you don’t put it away.” Again, little response. “Sir, this is a security matter! We cannot allow pictures.” She turns away abruptly and, as she moves down the aisle, calls over her shoulder, in a very loud voice, “Put. It. Away!” He packs his camera.

Within a minute after our arrival in New Haven, two armed police officers entered the car, approached my neighbor’s seat. “Sir, we're removing you from this train.” “I….;” “I……” “Sir, you have breached security regulations. We must remove you from this train.” “I…,” “I…..” “Sir, we are not going to delay this train because of you. You will get off, or we will remove you physically.” “I…..”

Nearby passengers stir. One says, “It’s obvious he doesn’t speak English. There are people here who speak more than one language. Perhaps we can help.” Different ones ask about the traveler’s language; learn he speaks Japanese. For me, a sudden flash of memory -- a student at International Christian University in Japan, I took countless pictures without arousing suspicion.

The police speak through the interpreter, with the impatience of authority. “The conductor asked this man three times to discontinue. We must remove him from the train.” The traveler hears the translation, is befuddled. Hidden beneath the commotion is a cross-cultural drama. With the appearance of police officers, this quiet visitor is embarrassed to find he is the center of attention. The officers explain, “After we remove him from the train, when we are through our investigation, we will put him on the next train.” The woman translates. The passenger replies, “I’m meeting relatives in Boston. They cannot be reached by phone. They expect me and will be worried when I do not arrive on schedule.” “Our task,” the police repeat, "is to remove you from this train. If necessary, we will do so by force. After we have finished the investigation, we’ll put you on another train.” The woman translates. The traveler gathers his belongings and departs.

My earlier suggestion that you imagine being in his place leaves you free to respond and draw your conclusions. Remember: you’ve been removed from the train, are being interrogated, perhaps having your equipment confiscated; while I continue to do what I take for granted – traveling unimpeded, on to Providence.

The more I replay the scene, the more troublesome it is. It is the stuff of nightmares. Relations between people and countries lie at the heart of the issue. The abstract terms that inform political and social debate appear, as if in person, unexpectedly, near enough to hear, touch, feel. Taking no position is not an option. As an educator, I would prepare and deliver a lecture on how others perceive America in the world community, then seek an audience. I'll spare you. But -- I just watched armed police officers remove a visitor from the train for taking pictures. I don't understand this. I’m disturbed – no, shaken – to bear witness to these events. Other passengers react with surprise and anger. “Since when is it illegal to take pictures?” “Nobody’s ever bothered me about it.” “Is the only photography allowed from the space station and Google Earth? These people take pictures of everything, including my house, without my permission, and they’re instantly available on the internet.” An older traveler reflected, “I witnessed this personally in police states during the war in Europe.”

In The Terror Presidency, Jack Goldsmith says it is right for a country to meet a threat in a way that keeps us safe, but must also “minimize unnecessary intrusion on …life, liberty and property.... and all those who are enjoying them with us.” One passenger asked, “Would someone please explain the threat posed by taking pictures from the train?”

In Matt Stoller’s review of A Tragic Legacy, he says the current administration has “transformed the way (people) speak about our country and its role in the world.” The good-versus-evil mentality has “altered the political system of our country” and our relationship with the rest of the world – in ways which are “inappropriate for a modern power in a time of global turmoil.”

It doesn't take more than five minutes, in any airport in this country, before I hear the loudspeaker, "The current terror threat is elevated." We hear “terror” endlessly – traveling, at home, on television, in the news. Recent political campaigns have reminded – no, badgered – us, to be very afraid. What did Franklin Roosevelt say, that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Terror. Paranoia. We can no longer differentiate between terrors. Is this our generation’s enlightened contribution to American culture?

Watching police escort a visitor off the train, I felt anger, not comfort. This action was beyond irritating. It is intolerable, unacceptable. If it bothered me, it paled in comparison to the way it inconvenienced, and will long trouble, this visitor to our country. We disrupted his travel plans and family reunion. Even greater than the psychological damage we inflicted is the harm we’ve done to ourselves. We missed an opportunity to show kindness, to be ambassadors of goodwill. The visitor will return home. He will indeed impress many people – not with pleasant memories and pictures of a quiet morning trip along the New England coast, but with a story of being removed and detained by American police for taking pictures. Do we imagine we’ve gained anything because a single visitor returns home with stories of mistreatment?

We engage in diplomacy whenever we have contact with visitors or travel abroad ourselves. If we conduct ourselves poorly as daily ambassadors, it is no wonder our country suffers a tarnished relationship with the world.

Joel Merchant is a teacher, business consultant, and essayist. He is currently working on "The Other Side of Time; Letters to My Daughter" at a-reminiscence.

When a pet dies

By Jean Fitzpatrick

Spotted with tumors, hobbling around the kitchen with his hips out of whack, sixteen-year-old Toto was too tuckered out to even bark anymore, but he still nuzzled up to us, still refused to touch his dog food until we grated fresh Parmesan over it. He was a small dog but with tons of spirit, everyone said; too much to be put down. Palliative care was what he needed, we told the vet, and when she put him on steroids we started calling him "Arnold." Finally, the day before our parish's St. Francis Day pet blessing -- where Toto, a low-slung mop of shaggy cairn terrier fur, made a spectacle of himself every year, doing his best to hump every yellow lab and golden in sight -- he lay down beside his water dish and couldn't get up. My husband and I carried him on his final visit to the vet, who injected him twice, then pressed a stethoscope to his belly. "His heart's stopped," she said, wrapping him in his blanket. "He's running around in doggie heaven."

Sweet of her to say, I thought, as we hugged her and said goodbye, but the words sounded sentimental, like a story about the tooth fairy. To be honest, whether we're talking about humans or animals, my spiritual inclination is to turn not to promises of heaven, but to the divine presence in the here and now. Still, although I'd petted Toto's lifeless body, I was struggling to grasp how so much sheer terrier exuberance could just vanish. On the drive home I remembered how a clergy friend once told me that at funerals he preached the law of conservation of energy: that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only changed from one form to another. Maybe that applies to Toto, I thought for a split-second, then pushed away the thought. Even in grief, I told myself, no need to turn into a flake.

That night in yoga class, one pose after another -- Down Dog, Up Dog, Old Dog -- was a sad reminder. I was beginning to wish I'd stayed home. But as we began our meditation, the teacher said, "Your breath and heart are the portal to boundless joy." Boundless joy: I couldn't think of a better description of Toto racing across the lawn, yipping at passers-by. Breathing deeply as I sat cross-legged on my mat, I had a sense -- a holy sense -- that somehow he and I were still connected in the love of God. It wasn't the first time I'd been surprised by the awareness that grace is far more abundant than I, with all my self-conscious fears of sentimentality and flakiness, can begin to imagine. After class as I put on my shoes, I wondered why in church, St. Francis and the cows in the manger aside, we don't talk about that deep bond between ourselves and God's other creatures. Time to do a little research, I decided. I wanted my head to catch up with my heart.

I started with All God's Creatures: The Blessing of Animal Companions (Paraclete Press), by Debra Farrington, a spirituality writer, retreat leader, and member of the Episcopal Network for Animal Welfare. If God created all, Farrington reasons, "I'm just as likely to encounter God's presence in a cat, dog, or other animal as a human being." She quotes St. Basil, who called animals "our brothers," and St. Bonaventure, who wrote, "For every creature is by its nature a kind of effigy and likeness of the eternal Wisdom."

How, I wondered, could that sacramental view translate into pastoring a family like ours? I contacted Rev. Margaret R. Hodgkins, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, New Providence, New Jersey, which maintains a pet cemetery rumored to be the final resting-place of the famous MGM lion. "We can't know if there is a special pet heaven," the Rev. Hodgkins told me. "But we do know that our pets are God's creatures, and that God loves them. He made them and he called his creation good. And just as we believe that God's love continues to unite us to those departed persons whom we have loved and no longer see, I believe it is the same with animals who are members of our families. We entrust these creatures into God's hands when they pass away, and that helps us let go." Although at St. Andrew's a simple graveside blessing -- the Prayer of St. Francis or the Lord's Prayer -- is offered in thanksgiving for a pet and for the comfort of the mourning pet owner, she says, they have "no special rites or liturgies for pet burials. No such rites have been authorized by the Episcopal Church."

Happily, I discovered, that doesn't stop people from writing them. After presiding over hundreds of services at the Hartsdale (NY) Canine Cemetery, the Rev. Rayner "Rusty" Hesse of St. John's in New Rochelle, New York, and his partner, Anthony F. Chiffolo, wrote We Thank You, God, for These: Blessings and Prayers for Family Pets (Paulist Press). The book is a collection of lovely prayers for all kinds of pets -- cats, dogs, ferrets, mice, snakes -- at various life stages. "O God, Creator of all things bright and beautiful," reads one blessing, "Bless all living things around us, especially the animals that you have given into our care, that our interaction may be one of peace and harmony in living; help us learn from them, and they from us, about your purpose for this world; and may we remember that we are created from the same primal dust, to which we all return. In a life replete with challenges, a life of joy and sadness, of great gatherings and lonely places, surround us with the Spirit of mutual respect, one for the other and make us companions along the way."

Inter-species blessings you could call these, it occurred to me; why wouldn't the church authorize them? For a theological perspective I wrote to the Rev. Andrew Linzey, a member of the Faculty of Theology in the University of Oxford, who holds the world’s first academic post in Ethics, Theology and Animal Welfare and was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree by the Archbishop of Canterbury in recognition of his "unique and massive pioneering work in the area of the theology of creation with particular reference to the rights and welfare of God's sentient creatures." Strange that a tradition that has countenanced the blessing of cars, houses and foxhunts has no liturgies for the death of a companion animal, the Rev. Linzey observed. "Our very worship bolsters an exclusive view that only humans matter," he wrote in an email. "I wince when I hear the UK Eucharistic line that humans are the "kings" of creation -- in fact the biblical view is almost entirely the reverse. In Genesis 2, the garden is created and humans are put in the Garden to till it and serve it (Gen. 2:15)." Linzey referred back to early Eucharist prayers in the Apostolic Constitutions (4th century) that "genuinely celebrate and give thanks for the whole of creation -- indeed it is the purpose of humankind to offer the Eucharist for 'all things' and to articulate and represent the voices of creation before God. The truth is that our God is too small. We think that God is only interested in one species that she has made. The result has been a narrowing of our spirituality. We foolishly think that spirituality is about cultivating of our souls rather than caring for the creation that God loves. We have become spiritually impoverished without recognising it."

Nothing flaky about it: an awareness of God's love for all creatures is a long-standing part of our tradition. It was an Anglican clergyman, Arthur Broome, who called the first meeting in 1824 that led to the founding of the then SPCA, the world's first animal protection society, Linzey noted in his book Animal Theology (University of Illinois Press). "Broome was the Society's first secretary, resigning his London living to work full-time for the cause, employing inspectors out of his own pocket and ending up in prison trying to pay for the debts of the Society." He also cited the conclusion expressed without dissent at the Lambeth Conference of 1998 that "the redemptive purpose of God in Jesus Christ extends to the whole of creation." As if that weren't clear enough, Linzey said, "I can be sure – as sure as I am of anything – that the merciful God disclosed in Jesus Christ will not let any loved creature perish into oblivion. To deny this gospel of hope to all other species except our own strikes me as an arrogantly mean doctrine of God."

Given that God's compassion is far greater than our own, how can God not love Toto as much as we did?

The Rev. Linzey offered a prayer from his book Animal Rites: Liturgies of Animal Care (The Pilgrim Press), written after the death of his own dog Barney. We'll be saying it when we scatter Toto's ashes.

Pilgrim God
who journeys with us
through the joys and shadows
of this world

be with us
in our sorrow
and feel our pain;

help us to accept
the mystery of death
without bitterness
but with hope.

Among the shadows
of this world,
amid the turmoil of life
and the fear of death

you stand alongside us,
always blessing, always giving
arms always outstretched.

For this we know:
every living thing is yours
and returns to you.

As we ponder this mystery
we give you thanks
for the life of (Name)
and we now commit him/her
into your loving hands.

Gentle God:
fragile is your world,
delicate are your creatures,
and costly is your love
which bears and redeems us all.
Amen.


[(c) Andrew Linzey, Animal Rites: Liturgies of Animal Care published in the U.S. by The Pilgrim Press. Used with permission.]

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Saints and Souls:All of them

By Marshall Scott

A few years ago I was asked to preach and celebrate at the local United Methodist seminary. The occasion was a worship planning class. This was to be the demonstration of an Episcopal student in the seminary of his skill in planning a service. He had chosen the date carefully: October 31, the Eve of All Saints; and, of course, had chosen to use the lessons for Feast.

As I began my sermon that day, I looked out at the congregation. I paused and looked intently from face to face. Then I opened by saying, “I’m looking for Jesus.”

The point I sought to make that day – a point I continue to seek to make – is that the recognition of all the Saints and all the saints is about looking for Jesus, not only incarnate once so many years ago, but also “incarnate” by the indwelling of the Spirit, again and again down to our own day, into our own midst. We are, after all, a people who claim with Paul that the Body of Christ continues in all the baptized. We look at his descriptions of the Body, its various “organs” endowed with various gifts, and then quote Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now but yours No hands, no feet on earth but yours Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

It’s not that we always know Jesus when we see him. That’s part of what we recognize in Matthew’s image of the last judgment. All will ask the king, “Lord, when? When? When did we do that?” “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did [or did not do] to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did to me.’” (Matthew 25:40) We won’t always know him immediately. But we are, I think, still called to look.

That is integral to how I understand my ministry as a hospital chaplain. When I’m at my best, that’s part of what I take into the room with me. Somewhere in that room, somewhere in that suffering soul, I need to look for Jesus looking back.

Understand that it’s not a matter of the patient’s faith. I commit as a chaplain to respect the faith, or decision not to have faith, of each patient. We pray often enough in the Episcopal Church for “those whose faith is known to [God] alone” that I’m not worried that a non-Christian’s faith will get in the way of the Spirit. Christians have long argued about whether and/or how the Spirit might be working in non-Christians. In my work, I would never assert that there was someplace, some set of circumstances where the Spirit could not go. So I continue looking for Jesus, even – especially – where I might least expect Jesus to be.

We live these days, both within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion and without, in polarized times. At times the rhetoric gets bitter, even vicious. Sometimes it even gets to the point of, “That person, that group, is surely lost. That person, that group, has departed from Christ.” Such language is, I think, to say, “I can’t imagine how I might see Jesus in you.”

Now, there’s nothing really new about that language. I remember the oral portion of my canonical exams, long ago now. The examiner in Scripture started one part of the discussion with, “What do you say when a stranger comes up to you and asks, ‘Are you a Christian?’” The follow-up question from this hypothetical stranger was, “So, are you born again?” Being young and foolish and thinking I had to come up with something, I kept responding; but to each response there was another follow-up question, reflecting a very narrow view, doctrinal, liturgical, and behavioral, of what it meant to be a Christian. Finally I sighed, and said, “I guess I can’t convince you; but God bless you;” which was, of course, exactly what the examiner wanted me to realize. Go back through the history of the Church. Go back to the earliest days (Galatians, anyone?). One group has wanted to say to another, “I can’t imagine how I might see Jesus in you.”

I think it significant, though, that such contemporary groups are not groups that would meaningfully celebrate All Saints. There are certainly not the type to worry about leaving someone out and hedging their bets by celebrating All Souls.

We, on the other hand, do celebrate All Saints, and celebrate All Souls, just to be sure. We do pray regularly for “those whose faith is known to [God] alone,” and for “all the faithful departed.” We provide in The Book of Occasional Services a service for “Burial of One Who Does Not Profess the Christian Faith.” The rite includes this collect for the deceased:

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to your never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that you are doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

“For this life” as well as for “the life to come,” we trust that God is indeed working in those around us. Whether or not they are Christian by our understanding, we believe that if we look at them we might well see Jesus. If we serve them, we might well serve Jesus. If we better know them, we may well better know Jesus.

I pray we can continue to hold to that, even in difficult times. Around us we see in the world, and in our own midst, claims that this leader or that, this institution or that, better shows the truth of the Gospel. Sometimes those visions are narrow. Sometimes those voices are strident. So it goes; so it has gone before. We, however, have committed to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self. And how shall we serve, much less actually love, someone we haven’t seen? So, we must keep looking, looking carefully from face to face, and discovering him again and again and again. For that’s how living and sharing the Gospel begins: by looking for Jesus.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

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