Called to ordination in the hinterlands of the Holy

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Pied Beauty"

The Rev. Pat Henking made some great observations about the advantages to a residential seminary experience in a recent Daily Episcopalian article, and she's right. Yet, at the same time, there's hope and excitement in the various other ways priests are being formed in our church. Both options, I believe, are needed in the 21st century institutional church.

I did have to chuckle, though, at the idea that the phrase "formed for the priesthood" implies a tidy little process. I am only five months into my postulancy, but it's safe to say that my process has been anything BUT tidy. It started with a call that literally was concealed for at least two years like Moses in the bullrushes (there were good reasons for that), followed by a convoluted four year discernment process, and punctuated with a cancer surgery and radiation. The untidiness continues as I juggle life as an online student at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific with my long-time job in Kirksville, MO, and my life as a grateful member of my home parish. When we insert Clinical Pastoral Education and Field Ed in this sometime in the future, we're going to be moving from untidy to downright messy--possibly even chaotic. Frankly, I've never had a single delusion of tidiness in all this.

But you know, as raw as this all feels, as uncertain as all this is, and as unsettling as all this seems these days, I'm settling into the pied beauty of it all, and discovering that even in the chaos, one can begin to discover an authentic spiritual center that, (to borrow from William Countryman,) can illuminate the fundamental priesthood of others--one that can "guide each person living and ministering in the border country that is the very presence of the holy."

Have there been times I wish I could have just packed up the truck like Jed Clampett and moved to a residential seminary experience? You bet I have. With a quarter-century of formal schooling under my belt, I KNOW how to go to school, and there are times I ache to be formed by a spiritual journey within a somewhat cloistered academic milieu. I have friends within the larger church that would have preferred this version of the journey for me, and they have not been shy about expressing that opinion. Yet at the same time, it also makes sense that, if we're serious about the institutional church being out there at the margins, it's equally as important that some of us be formed in the border country.

These innovative formation processes also create opportunities for wonderfully dappled formation communities. Clearly, the people in my home parish and my vicar are active participants in my formation. (I even manage to wheedle a little help in my academic studies from a couple of folks there.) Yet my formation community also includes my online formation group at CDSP, the Morning Prayer Webcast crowd at, the members and companions of the Anamchara Fellowship, and a whole slew of people in the larger church who share a social media life with me. I suspect all these people would claim a stake in my formation process, if asked. Granted, at times the introvert in me finds this incredibly public--I have days where I really do wish I could disappear a little out of the eye of these people who know my faults and rough edges oh too well, slipping out of view and returning at an unspecified date looking all spiffy and priestly. I wish I didn't have to display the awkward uncertainty of all this in such plain view. Yet, this may well be part of how the luminous radiance of a formation community's own fundamental priesthoods as believers shine. I am grateful for their light.

An additional discovery has been that God has been providing formation experience outside the residential seminary experience for a long time, but when residential seminary was the norm, we simply didn't pay as much attention to the rich formation substrate out there. For me, so far, this has mostly been illustrated in the process of learning to trust in others and beyond my own delusions of self-control--particularly as it pertains to the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit and in the power of imperfection. Anything (and I do mean anything) can become fertile soil for a formation experience, if we only remain open to possibility. Just recently it was manifested in an unplanned encounter between a deer and my Ford Escape, seven hours from home, as our vicar and I returned from a conference. We were catapulted into an alternative universe of waiting for a day and a half in a small town in southern Illinois until the repair could be made. Within that alternative universe, it was necessary to depend on the kindness of strangers and figure out how to live in community for a period longer than we'd anticipated. It brought me to a greater understanding as to how even having a workable vehicle buffers us from the plight of homelessness--something I pondered as I wandered the streets on foot in search of snacks and sundries. I worried I might get rained upon. I had to ask for information from complete strangers. I fretted that when I walked into the Dollar General for the third time, they might think I'm a shoplifter. Yet the flip side of that unplanned wait was it also gave me some wonderfully unencumbered time to listen and learn from my vicar and about some of the experiences that formed her.

We are an imperfect people in imperfect communities, called to be the church on the hinterlands of the holy. Yes, I believe we do need people called to Holy Orders who are led through this process of learning in the traditional way--and we also need some who have meandered along the blue highways. Glory be to God for the freckled, speckled mess that is priestly formation--in whatever form it takes.

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.

A Paradoxy Church

by Paul Bagshaw

What is it with institutions? You can't live in 'em, can't live without 'em.

I wish to suggest that institutions – specifically churches – are inherently paradoxical structures and, while it's hard to live in the midst of paradox, nonetheless paradox has helped the church survive.

Some paradoxes are inherent in all human structures. Time itself creates a central paradox: decisions about the future can only be made retrospectively. Decisions made yesterday in response to a problem which arose the day before are effectively determinative for the following day. Organizations that are ostensibly forward looking are in fact and inevitably walking backwards through a dark forest making blind guesses about its next steps.

Paradox is also built into the role of churches. Churches sustain and validate Christian identity, sponsor mission and substantiate faith, judge innovation and sustain continuity. None of these is a matter of Solomonic judgment. Validation, mission, faith, development and authenticity – the continuous enactment of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church – are not so much decisions as agonistic processes that always remain unfinished. Canons and constitutions, decisions and declarations are merely truces for the time being. The practical consequence is that faith and holiness are evoked and sustained by horse-trading, argument, devotion and bitterness.

206px-Church_of_Saint_Simeon_Stylites_01.jpgMoreover: a church that struggles together, that fights together, is a church that stays together. The quickest way to schism is to proclaim absolute and unnegotiable Truth. (Even this is paradoxical: the proclamation of Truth in such terms entails a claim to power greater the church which nurtured the claimant.) The second quickest is to stop talking to those who disagree with you. For the most part unity and identity depend on pragmatism and conflict: on accepting the coexistence of incompatible expressions of faith within the same organization, and on agreeing to disagree on proper and possible embodiments of God's will, all the while seeking to promote your own judgment against others'.

Churches are always insufficient for the formation of faith: they are also all we've got. Faith is both mundane and transcendent. The most sensitive formation can do no more than teach, lead, prompt, predispose, canalise faith. Faith is essentially God-orientated. In the evocation of faith churches point beyond themselves and yet, simultaneously, churches insist: 'keeping looking at the pointing finger'. Thus they fulfil and frustrate their own goal.

Churches are also always inadequate to the challenges they face in the realisation of faith. The challenge is perennial: to evoke, disclose and validate Christian faith in changing circumstances. Yet digitisation and global communication means that everything is changing so rapidly – think the invention of printing raised to the power 10, at least, – that no institution can possibly keep up. Decisions made yesterday are barely relevant today and forgotten tomorrow.

This is an emotional process. Evocation and realisation of faith has gone into a state of corporate shock. Consequently it can seem perfectly rational to react by diving back into barricaded redoubts and to reassert eternal verities to hold back the chaotic tide of change. It won't work: but it might give some breathing space. It also seems equally rational to articulate and embrace new Christian paradigms and emerging practices. They won't last, though they may enable some adaptation.

Schism and new unities, reclaiming the past and reinventing the future, are aspects of the same processes of uncontrollable change. And no-one can know where, or even if, we'll emerge from the storm. There is only now: all we can do is our faithful best in the moment.

And yet, curiously and positively, it may be that institutional paradoxes are themselves a hope in times of trouble.

Historically the church has repeatedly dragged words, formulae and the gospels themselves out of one intellectual and cultural world-view and re-articulated them in another, sometimes with horrendous violence, sometimes with hardly anyone noticing. It can and will happen again. The lack of a one-dimensional, single-meaning foundation for faith, the polyphony of biblical voices, that Jesus told stories rather than expounded a philosophical treatise, the paradoxical instability and persistence of the institutional church, the capacity of members to reach outside the institution for criteria of validation and action that can only be recognised inside the institution, all give hope for the future. Praise God for uncertainty.

Of course, whatever emerges in some new world, we will still be tormented by paradox and destabilised by doubt. We will still (if we live to see it) love and hate the institution, its heirs and successors. We will still make self-contradictory demands and resent each ambivalent answer. Our battles will be forgotten and new ones will have taken their place. Churches will still be necessary and insufficient, domineering and broken.
But that's the way of institutions: they give life and they stifle it; and hope remains.

The Revd. Paul Bagshaw Paul Bagshaw is priest in two parishes in North Tyneside, UK, not far from the North Sea coast.

"Church of Saint Simeon Stylites 01" by Bernard Gagnon - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

Part 2: The Pearl

Donald Schell

Part 2 of 2 (Part 1 is here.)

Preparing to lead children enacting Jesus’ parable of the Pearl Merchant, I struggled to find a dramatic entrée. The parable is very compressed, just barely a story. It seems to hang entirely on a moment of purchase and taking possession of a pearl. What gestures and movements could our actors offer to show what’s happening? Paying out a price and having something in hand didn’t offer us much for a specific, wholly embodied improvisational scene.

Looking back, I realize I was struggling with an interpretation of the text I’d heard repeatedly, a formula for what we must do to possess the kingdom of God. The day before we’d be working with the Pearl Merchant, our Godly Play teacher for Friends of God Day Camp told me, “tomorrow I’ve got to tell a parable that has never made any sense to me. The man ends up with the pearl. Then what? Does he retire to look at it? Does he starve?”

I agreed with her. Over the years I’d heard fundamentalist and liberals preachers alike stick to a literalism that killed the story by preaching this parable was about “paying the price” to gain and possess God’s Kingdom as our own. And is the kingdom of God something we possess or a context for action, for living?

That evening, reading and re-reading the text, my mind kept drifting away to scenes from January, 2007, when I was with a Episcopal church lay and clergy leaders in the Mercato in Addis Ababa. The Mercato is Africa’s largest open-air market occupying many, many blocks and streets of Addis Ababa. I was trying to find a way to enact possession of the pearl, which, I assumed was the point of Jesus’ parable, and felt frustrated that my mind kept going to rich, sensory memories of the Mercato.

The Mercato wouldn’t let go. It had seized my imagination - its push of people, the noise, the smells of people, goats, donkeys, and diesel exhaust, savored whiffs of fresh roasted coffee beans and the incense vendors bins of resin. When I finally let myself enter the scene my imagination was making, a pearl buyer presented himself, pushing through the modern Mercato to find a stall where he’d heard someone new to Addis was selling precious gems and pearls.

I followed my imagined merchant down a narrow alley lined with coffee sellers. A donkey train laden with sacks of coffee pushed into the alley, swaying to its own complex music of clattering small hooves and jangling warning bells, it crushed us into coffee stalls. When they’d passed, the merchant rushed on As the alley opened out into a wider street of the Mercato, a blunt-nosed diesel produce truck beeped and just avoided him in a slow motion swerve. The crowd parted and when it came back together the merchant stopped to greet a someone pushing a wheelbarrow mounded with big sacks of tef flour (for making injira flatbread); behind his friend two women waited stock still with produce purchases balanced on their heads. The cook at some cafe is expecting those three, I thought.

As the merchant hurried on, I realized this was return visit to the stall where he’d already found the pearl and where the seller had quoted a high price. I was following him as he returned with more in his purse. After he’d bargained to the limit of the money he had in hand, realizing as he bargained that, even with the high price, he saw the value of the seller’s treasure more clearly than the seller.

I realized that, although Jesus only tells of the merchant seeking and finding the pearl, gathering more resources and then returning to buy it, first century listeners would certainly have supplied a first scene of lengthy and even heated bargaining and a second scene of renewed bargaining when the buyer returns to the stall.

And would he return and pay the last price the seller had asked? Of course not. He might even make a lower offer than the last one he’d made before! He’ll continue bargaining carefully and strategically hoping to bring the seller’s last price down further.

Real, impassioned Mediterranean/Middle Eastern bargaining means strategy, drama, and dynamic relationship. Jesus’ listeners would know the buyer’s bargaining moves, how ever they imagined them. Their experience would supply bargaining and a buyer’s eye for pricing pearls to complete this brief parable. I smiled to think that Jesus’ listeners would be as baffled by a store with non-negotiable marked prices as some of us American Episcopalians in Addis Ababa were at bargaining in the Mercato.

Our group’s Ethiopian guide (who had visited the U.S. more than once) was well aware of this cultural difference and asked us to leave our sense of “price” behind. She told us “price” in Ethiopia meant something quite different than the display place in a U.S. store. Neither buyer nor seller thought the opening offer should name an actual market value. The first asking price began a game and initiated a relationship. “The merchants feel disrespected when you don’t bargain. If you pay the first asking, the seller feels offended that you think he actually believes his inflated asking is a real value. The seller’s first price is only supposed to start a conversation. When you don’t take it that way, they feel personally rejected, as if you were saying, ‘I’ll pay you more than both of us know this is worth so I can avoid having to really deal with you.’”

At the beginning of our trip, she’d bargained for us so we could learn to bargain ourselves. When we saw something we wanted to buy, she explained, “Note it carefully with cautious glances, act you might be interested in something else. Then be a little disappointed or distracted as you walk away. Come and find me. Point out what you’re interested in discreetly, and then watch carefully while I get you a proper Ethiopian price.”

A good-hearted artist in our group protested, “I’m happy to pay the first price they ask because I know their prices are absurdly low. Even paying their full asking price, I feel bad because I’m paying so little. Bargaining just seems rude to me.”

Our guide shook her head “no.” She was a fierce bargainer, proud of what she could do bargaining on our behalf even with sellers who were old friends of hers. Rudeness would be seeming not to care about the price and buying casually.

That last day in Addis, when one of us showed her a lot of crosses and small icons he’d just purchased from one stall, she asked what he’d paid. She was outraged at what she heard and said, “NO!” and took our American friend back to the stall shouting at the merchant in Amharic. For a while the seller shouted back, but eventually he got quieter and just listened. Finally he gave her a handful of cash that she took with a nod of acknowledgment and handed to our friend.

Later, when I asked what she’d said, she replied,

“I called him a thief. I said that if he charges prices like that, I’d never bring my guests to his stall again. I said that when our friend compared what he’d bought with what his friends had bought, he would learn he’d been cheated. I told him that hurts me and shames Ethiopia. I named him a fair price, and told him if he didn’t pay back the difference, I’d tell all the other guides what he’d done.”

Remembering her teaching and how she enforced traditional market values of respect and relationship (our relationship with the merchant and the merchant’s with our group and guide) began to open up the Parable of the Pearl Merchant for me.

I started to wonder -

When there are no price tags, who decides what’s a fair and legitimate price?

What’s the bedrock of relationship between seller and buyer?

And what does the buyer do when the seller doesn’t seem to realize the full value of what he’s selling?

Next day at Friends of God Day Camp, before making ourselves pearl merchants and pearl sellers, I talked asked the children whether they’d seen their parents bargain in flea markets or antique markets, the remnant of ancient practice in our country. They had seen how different those markets were from regular stores. From experience of flea markets, the children explained offers and counter offers to me. They knew your opening offer should be much less than you were willing to pay. Then we wondered whether in the parable, the merchant would literally sell everything to buy just one pearl - did he sell his house? his furniture? his clothing? everything? really everything? Just what has he gained?

The Pearl isn’t the kingdom of God. The kingdom is like a merchant who has learned to live in the wisdom and freedom of graced moments of chance and choice. The pearl merchant enters, lives into, the kingdom as he seizes the moment of grace. Being able to buy that pearl and knowing how to buy it changes his life completely - that’s the kingdom.

Of course he’ll sell the pearl a few days after he’s bought it. He probably knows who he’ll offer it to when he’s buying it. Someone who will see its enormous value, is passionate about pearls, and has the money to pay for this one and more. The day of his purchase, our merchant has bought the winning lottery ticket, he has become an important person, suddenly he has wealth enough to see to the needs of family and friends, and his work as a pearl merchant will be changed for ever with this huge boost in his own net worth. His word will have real weight. People will send new pearl lovers to buy from him because people will know that he’s an astute buyer and seller of pearls.

When we got to playing the market scene and the children imagined they’d sold nearly
everything they owned to make a better offer on the pearl, I asked them if they offered everything they now had available for purchase. “No way,” they responded. I know I’ll pay it if I have to, but I’ll start out offering less.”

Wise as serpents, innocent as doves, the kids were becoming pearl merchants in the kingdom.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Part 1: The Joys of F.O.G.

by Donald Schell

Part 1 of 2

Last month my congregation offered a free week-long day camp called F.O.G, an apt name for a summer gathering in San Francisco with perennial summer weather report, “Foggy near the coast, clearing by noon.” I think the joke is deliberate, but as an acronym it also refers to the teaching of Gregory of Nyssa that Christian life in community makes us “Friends Of God.” To the fourth year of our summer F.O.G, Sylvia Miller-Mutia, St. Gregory’s associate rector and the founder of F.O.G. asked me to lead daily Bible drama workshops for the children, each day exploring a different Gospel parable through improvised dramatic enactment of that day’s Godly Play story.

Until F.O.G. my only experience of Vacation Bible School had been summers growing up in a fundamentalist church. I still treasure that first learning of Bible stories, and am also grateful for good support in conversations with my parents for shrugging off the creationism, anti-Semitism, and horrifying interpretations of the atonement some of the teachers offered. What caught my heart, even in that fundamentalist setting was the offering generous-hearted teachers made when they really gave us the stories with room to ask questions and make our own interpretative discoveries. And as we come back to the stories, the discoveries seem to on through a lifetime.

Over the years between that long ago Vacation Bible School and my happy experience with F.O.G., I’d begun doing drama work with Bible stories, starting in summer camp chaplaincies – Family Camp summers in Idaho when I did my first parish work there, and then a couple of decades of summers of both Family Camp and Kids’ Camps in the Diocese of California.

Improvising theater to encounter and interpret Bible stories uses imagination something like Ignatius Loyola’s method of using imagination and the senses to read ourselves into familiar stories to feel how the stories live for us when we’re in them. For my drama workshop version of Ignatius Bible study I’ve worked with stories about Jesus and with the stories Jesus offered as a story teller, the parables.

As preacher/teacher/theater director I learned to spend time ahead with the text, reading it over and over slowly and looking for ways to guide actors recruited from the congregation or gathering to make simple, wholly embodied, interpretative gestures and actions to flesh out the stories.

Sometimes the Gospel story gives specific gestures, for example, in Matthew’s version of the Syrophonecian woman,“…a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’”

The Gospel says she “came and knelt,” two simple gestures to offer our actors in an improvisation. But each gesture contains more choices - HOW does the woman come and HOW does she kneel?

Does she approach very respectfully and kneel as if in church?

Or does she run to Jesus and throw herself at his feet?

And if she throws herself at Jesus’ feet, does she touch him?

Acting gestures need to be energetic and, as actors say, “specific.” How ever the preacher/director, actor or congregation decides the gestures should be enacted, “kind of walking” toward Jesus and “sort of kneeling” won’t give life to an improvisation.
Sometimes specific choices aren’t just the “how” of a gesture in the story, but discovering spatial arrangement and response of one character to another that aren’t given, but still have to be specific. As in Ignatian Bible study, we mae choices about gestures and movements that the Gospel story omits.

For example, in the story of the resurrection appearance to Thomas in John’s Gospel, does Thomas take Jesus’ invitation to touch the wounds in his hands and put his hand in the wound in his side? When I’ve worked with this text and asked the congregation, we discover that some people feel strongly the text assumes that he did reach out and touch Jesus’ hands and side. Others feel equally strongly that for Thomas hearing Jesus’ invitation and seeing the wounds was enough – often those people feel the writer of John wants us to picture Thomas dropping his skepticism and doubts in a moment of overwhelmed worship.

Some questions of “how” only show up when we’re planning or even guiding the congregational volunteers creating an improvisation. In this same resurrection appearance, it simply says that eight days later Thomas and the other disciples were gathered again in the upper room. And then, “Jesus appeared.” Embodied enactment demands more specifics. Different, specific blocking (the placement and movement of our actors) shapes the story differently. If the actor playing Jesus “appears” by slipping in to stand between or among disciples facing our Thomas, Thomas may see Jesus’ first. The actor can use his face and body to show his startled transition from not seeing Jesus to seeing Jesus. The other disciples might see Thomas experiencing something before they see Jesus. But if our Jesus actor comes and stands directly behind Thomas --where other disciples see him before Thomas, perhaps Thomas seeing his friends’ faces makes him turn to face Jesus, even before Jesus speaks. Neither is the “right” answer of how to enact it, but we do experience something different either way.

In the first instance, perhaps we’d find ourselves wondering how the other disciples might see Jesus’ presence through Thomas’s revelatory moment, while in the second instance, we might sense how the other disciples’ faces and faith move Thomas to a very literal turnaround conversion.

GP1.JPGOne of our stories this year was Jesus’ parable of the pearl merchant. I’d never worked with that story before, in my difficulty preparing to work with that particular parable made some unexpected interpretative discoveries. The essay that follows this describes my difficulty, the process of discovery and what I and we learned about the parable from enacting it. But to conclude this first essay, I’d like to encourage readers to visit the F.O.G. website to learn more about embodiment in prayer and teaching. Sylvia Miller-Mutia has been developing Friends of God Day Camp for the children of St. Gregory’s and other children in the church’s neighborhood. Sylvia’s approach to inter-generational liturgy and storytelling, like mine guides a congregation to embody text and song together. You can see additional ways of praying with our bodies and our senses Sylvia has developed at the resource website she’s made for F.O.G. leaders and parents.

Seeing what she’s creating for children and adults, you won’t be surprised to learn that before becoming a priest, Sylvia danced professionally with the Utah Ballet and then in modern dance was a member of Carla de Sola’s Omega West Dance Company. Improvisational interpretation of Bible stories and Sylvia’s embodying prayer in movement invite experience and questions, like a Godly play “I wonder.” Rooting interpretation and reflection in imagination, feeling and intuition leads us to discover new possibilities in familiar readings.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Ten things you need to know about group bullying

by Eric Bonetti

One of the great tragedies in any church is when it becomes, rather than a place of safety and comfort, a place of pain and anguish due to bullying. And while there are many articles out there on how to deal with individual bullies, group bullying often goes unrecognized and unaddressed, and it is surprisingly common in churches.

Here's what you need to know about this tragic phenomena:

1. There's a great description of group bullying in the Bible

Just look at the events leading up to the crucifixion. A group clamors for the death of Jesus, who is considered an outsider based on the notion that he is king of the Jews. Emotions run high, and the group conveniently forgets that Jesus is, in fact, also a Jew and presumably also suffering under the Roman occupation. Pontius Pilate, who has authority to quash the uproar and clearly is sympathetic to Jesus, is an enabler who goes along with the crowd, despite the pain and suffering his decision causes.

Similarly, in a church setting, the group often is a specific program, ministry, or group of staff members. The victim usually is someone, perceived not as a fellow parishioner and Christian but rather as an outsider, who like Jesus does something, either on a one-time or recurring basis, not to the group's liking. Despite the victim's good intentions, the crowd closes in and acts to punish the victim via a hailstorm of criticism and other bad behavior. The situation quickly gets out of hand if clergy, the wardens, or others in authority "pull a Pilate" and fail to act decisively, or even worse participate in the bullying.

2. Group bullying often involves an array of behaviors

While group bullying may not involve physical violence or threats, there's typically a range of equally troubling behaviors, ranging from the "cold shoulder," to the arched eyebrow and pointed sigh, to threats of suicide and other manipulative and sometimes truly outlandish behaviors. Raised voices are not uncommon, as are hyperbole and speculation about the victim. A favorite: The explosive outburst. The precipitating event is invariably innocuous, since the bully knows that the tantrum works best when it comes out of the blue.

These behaviors may not, as isolated instances, be particularly troubling, but when used consistently and deliberately, can have a profoundly hurtful effect on the victim and, ironically enough, on the bullies, who lose track of our shared humanity and the components of healthy, loving relationships. This is turn leads to a toxic parish, with the result that even those not directly involved suffer.

When you confront the bullies about their behavior, don't be surprised if they try to throw the victim under the bus or question the veracity of others, or resort to tears and other camouflage. Remember, bullies believe the best defense is a good offense!

3. The bullying group often justifies its actions

Just like hate crimes, in which the perpetrator often appears genuinely surprised when apprehended and responds with something ludicrous such as, "But she was a lesbian," or "But he's a Muslim," bullying groups often attempt to justify their actions: "She disrupts my work," or "He didn't ask us first," or "But my grandfather hung that painting dare someone move it?"

The latter, which is the appeal to tradition and the recitation of some personal connection to the issue (typically long forgotten by others), is particularly common in churches. My experience suggests that both group and individual church bullies often see themselves as guardians of tradition, the only persons in the parish who know how things have always been done and, for that very reason, justified in their behavior. This is the case even if those involved have no formal role in the organization. Indeed, this real or imagined lack of power in the organization, in the minds of the bullies, warrants especially strenuous behavior, since others are seen as not appreciating their unique insight.

Another justification that's often used is stress. Bullies respond to stress by offloading on others, which in turn leads to self-justifying behavior. "Just look at all the interruptions I have to deal with!", or "he is always late getting things to me!", the bully proclaims as he or she torments others.

4. Some telltale signs of group bullying

In addition to the "us-versus-them" paradigm and other factors described above, look for situations in which the reaction is out of all proportion to the issue and the focus is not on resolving the underlying issue. Indeed, bullying groups often cite some ludicrously small event or complaint as the reason for their behavior, such as changing lightbulbs in the parking lot, the food for a parish event, or some other issue that, on its face, is inconsequential.

Neither are facts an obstacle. Bullies will claim, for example, that they are physically unable to clean up after themselves, even if they have done so for years and there is no reason to believe that their physical capabilities have changed. And if you ask them to do so, they will explode in rage at your purported lack of compassion.

Also, just as the mob appealed to Pilate to do what it could or would not do, look for triangulation, or reaching out to persons other than the individual involved as folks demand retribution. For instance, vestry members may be the subject of complaints to clergy, or clergy may get complaints about other clergy. But in almost every case the one thing that will be notably absent is an effort to speak directly with the victim of the bullying, at least in any meaningful, positive way.

The victims of group bullying are, sadly enough, often truly gentle people who may be reluctant to complain or fight back. Bullies being what they are, they are most likely to attack those they they sense will pose an easy target.

5. Look for ringleaders

Just as the chief priests begin hurling accusations at Jesus in the hours prior to the crucifixion, so too are there usually one or two key people behind the bullying. These often are strong-willed persons, and not uncommonly hold jobs in which the ability to remain in control is prized, such as teaching and law enforcement. Because these personalities often are high achievers, they may be well embedded within the church and have many friends, as they tend to be very involved.

If the ringleaders don't manage to arrange for their victims to leave the church or suffer a meltdown, they often will turn around and, ironically enough, lead efforts to resolve the problem. While this may seem paradoxical, it actually makes sense. The bullies wrap themselves in the cover of sweet reason, claiming the moral high ground, strengthening their "leadership" within the bullying group, all the while reserving the right to return to the fray down the road, more powerful than ever.

6. Bullying groups often comprise truly decent individuals

Groups that bully often are made up of persons who, as individuals, would utterly oppose bullying. Yet, when a group invokes a common, outside threat, they rally around their friends and quickly join forces, abrogating the responsibility to "respect the dignity of every human being."

Groups that are prone to bullying behavior typically are very close-knit or have an intimate working relationship, often structured around a specific ministry or job function that, rightly or wrongly, perceives itself as essential to the functioning of the church. This sense of camaraderie makes it easy to close ranks and go on the warpath--so much so that folks will make statements like, "You really don't want the food pantry folks as enemies."

Enemies? In a church? This sort of comment speaks volumes about the dynamics behind group bullying.

7. Group bullying may arise in times of crisis or change

Often, a church that has experienced an unexpected death or other crisis will fall into a group bullying situation. Emotions already are running high, and normal outlets for pent-up emotion may be displaced as folks deal with their loss and sorrow. In such cases, groups may transfer their feelings, assigning them to real or imagined slights, then over-reacting, often without even realizing that they are doing so.

This happens, too, in the midst of a major change, such as the retirement of a beloved rector. Without a central focus point, groups begin to jostle for position within the church, and react badly to an interim clergy person or other perceived interloper.

8. If you ignore the problem, you are part of the problem

Let me preface this with a caveat: Bullies, whether groups or individuals, often are good at concealing their presence. For example, some of the most egregious bullies out there are those who would otherwise appear to be sweet, maternal or paternal souls. Yet right beneath the surface lies a tiger, ready to spring into action.

But once you realize that bullying is occurring, you cannot and must not ignore it. Bullying groups tend to repeat their behavior over time, and they cause immense suffering and disruption. Those in power have a duty to act quickly and decisively to shut down the bullying and make it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated--even if that risks having individuals or groups leave the church. Church has no value at all if it cannot be a place of physical and emotional safety.

It's also important to recognize that bullying, especially group bullying, is like a fire and quickly spreads if not extinguished. You may think your issue is in a particular program, office, or ministry, but ignore the matter, and it will quickly pop up elsewhere in your church. And there's no hiding from a bully--even if you aren't personally attacked, the bad karma is more than enough to go around, and it will erode your love for your church, your ministry, and other things important to you.

To make matters worse, rolling back a tide of bullying is a little like dieting: It goes on quickly and imperceptibly, but comes off slowly and only with effort. So don't delay. The longer you do the bigger a mess you will have on your hands.

9. You can help

Besides making clear that bullying behavior is unacceptable, bullies must understand that bullying will result in consequences, whether it is potential loss of employment or, in egregious cases, being asked to leave the church.

It's also possible to head-off both bullying and other forms of trouble by asking those who come to you to complain about others, "Have you spoken directly to this person about your concerns?", or "Why are you telling me this?". Bullies are famous for triangulation and forum-shopping, often going from person to person as they look for a toehold from which to cause trouble.

10. Outside help is available

Bullying is a common change management issue, and there are many experts in organizational, church, and nonprofit management who have specific training in addressing these situations. And because bullying groups often treat their complaints as life-or-death matters, you may save yourself a lot of wear and tear handing the issue off to someone who does not have to deal with the individuals involved over time.

Eric Bonetti is a former nonprofit professional with extensive change management experience. He now works as a realtor.

Plastic Christ: songs of absence

by Derek Olsen

My daughters, 10 and 8, are approaching the end of their first year at a Christian school. It’s been a bit of a shift for us, moving from the public school system. One of the chief things we’ve been adjusting to is contemporary Christian culture. While the school is non-denominational and has a roughly even blend of Roman Catholics and Protestants (and, yes, both are equally puzzled by the appearance of our Anglo-Catholic girls who don’t fit any of their paradigms!), there is a general embrace of the evangelical-flavored Christian subculture.

When my younger daughter arrived in her second grade class, she was quickly asked whether she preferred TobyMac or Justin Bieber. It was a culture question: do you participate in “Christian culture” or “secular culture”? Predictably for her, she said, “Neither one,” messing with their simplistic paradigm. (I still don’t know who TobyMac is…)

I do understand the desire behind the construction of a distinctly Christian subculture. Parents who choose to go in this direction can feel secure knowing that their religious values will be reinforced by the culture their children consume. It represents a way to conform externally to the same kinds of entertainment as the broader culture, but without the culture’s more problematic content. That's their choice; that's not the road that we have taken.

While there can be something very comforting about a “safe” Christian subculture, in the end I find its intention to insulate Christian culture from the broader culture misguided and ultimately dangerous. Yes, there are philosophies and attitudes antithetical to Christianity and Christian living in modern culture, especially in pop culture. Yes, there are songs and movies and such that I don’t let my girls listen to and watch. But ignoring them won't make them go away; attempting to hide your children from them is not a tenable long-term strategy. We regularly discuss the lyrics of the songs on the pop station in the car on the way to ballet, and I model for them what it looks like to listen and critique, noting what is both positive and negative.
More generally, though, we do a disservice to our work of evangelism, and to our own deep wrestling if we ignore what the culture is saying generally, and in particular what it is saying about and to the church.

images-1.jpegI drove the girls to school in my wife's car this morning. The radio was on, and, in an attempt to avoid the disc jockeys’ gossip about the latest pop princess, I switched over to the CD. I didn’t know what Meredith had in there; as a result, the soundtrack for our drive to school was Suicide Commandos’ “Plastic Christ”:

Do you believe,
Praying to a plastic Christ,
Do you believe,
That God will hear your cry?
Do you believe
In eternal life?
Do you believe
That you will never die?
Do you believe,
Praying to a plastic Christ,
Do you believe
That God will save your life?

The name of the band might tip you off to the fact that this is not a Christian group; half the moms in the second grade class would probably freak if they even suspected its presence in our car. However, there is no doubt that the lyrics wrestle with fundamentally religious questions.

My wife and I have never been into pop music. For my part, I find most of it musically and philosophically anemic. I much prefer the Goth and Heavy Metal from my youth, and, these days, much of the new music I listen to is best characterized as Industrial.
Industrial and its related genres like EBM (Electronic Body Music) aren’t all that common here in the US; it tends to be a more European and continental phenomenon. Nine Inch Nails is probably the best-known American representative of the genre. Like metal, it's best listened to at loud volumes; like Goth, it tends to wrestle with emotion, meaning, and aesthetics. Characterized by a heavy use of electronic instrumentation, sampling, and computer manipulation, as a genre it investigates the philosophical hole at the center of industrialized society in a post-certainty world. That is, in the aftermath of the 20th century when we saw the two great pillars of the Western social contract, the state and the church, fail humanity in dramatic fashion, where do we turn now for certainty, authority, and meaning? One possible answer is a Nietzschian nihilism trending towards hedonism as exemplified in the lyrics of folks like Marilyn Manson and Thrill Kill Kult. And yet, there are also much more articulate and nuanced approaches that explore humanism, spirituality, and post-Constantinian faith. Particular standouts for me are Assemblage 23 and VNV Nation.

While I'm sure some of the parents at my children's school would be scandalized by our choice of music, I see it asking some deep and important questions that the church needs to both hear and be able to answer. The lyrics to “Plastic Christ” can be read in at least two ways. One interpretation can see it as straightforward mockery of a simplistic faith. A better interpretation, I think, reads it as deeply ambiguous. The act of posing the question—rather than simply making an assertion—invites the listener into the question itself. Do you believe this, or don’t you? It invites soul searching. My answer is, naturally, “yes”—but the act of investigating the question, seeing how I qualify and interpret it, is an exercise worth conducting.

At its root, I see this song as participating in a body of songs in this genre that grapple with the question of the presence and/or absence of God. Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumours” and VNV Nation's “Gratitude” spring quickly to mind as other examples. We can, like the Christian subculture, try to duck the question. Or, as people of faith in but not of the world, we can listen to the question with integrity and attempt to respond to it in kind.

Indeed, I find this season of the year, as we walk through the last days of Lent and move towards the cross in Holy Week, the question of the presence or absence of God in the midst of suffering to have a particular poignancy.

Assemblage 23, brain-child of Seattle-based Tom Shear, confronts listeners directly in the catalogue of his own deeply personal struggles with this issue in “God Is A Strangely Absent Father”:

Depend on me
And I will let you down
You'd think you'd have learned by now
In your hour of need
I'm nowhere to be found
And while you bleed
I'm indifferent

[Chorus] God is a strangely absent father
His back is turned perpetually
All the orphaned sons and daughters
Abide in their suffering

That is the first verse and the chorus; there are two additional verses in the same vein.

What do we do with this? Some would simply write it off as modern impiety. But is that the best we can do? I’m a grown-up—I’ve heard blasphemy and impiety, but what I’m hearing here is pain. I’m hearing someone who has looked to God for solace and hasn’t found it.

First, I choose to treat this song as an honest question that people—particularly seekers—bear in with them through our doors (if they make it that far). Do we have an honest answer for them? If Tom Shear walked into your parish, sat next to you in your pew, and asked you point-blank questions about where God was in the world and in our lives, would you be able to give him an answer that doesn’t sound glib in the face of personal pain?

Second, hearing his lyrics remind me of others. Try on these:

[God,] Take your affliction from me;
I am worn down by the blows of your hand.
With rebukes for sin you punish us;
like a moth you eat away all that is dear to us;
truly, everyone is but a puff of wind.

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears.

For I am but a sojourner with you,
a wayfarer, as all my forebears were.
Turn your gaze from me, that I may be glad again,
before I go my way and am no more.

Or, perhaps, there’s this set:
Lord, why have you rejected me?
why have you hidden your face from me?
Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the
point of death;
I have borne your terrors with a troubled mind.
Your blazing anger has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me;

They surround me all day long like a flood;
they encompass me on every side.
My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me,
and darkness is my only companion.

Recognize them yet? If not, here’s your final clue:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer;
by night as well, but I find no rest.

These impious lyrics, these words which Jesus uttered from his own lips in his last moments, are all from the Psalms. That’s Psalm 39, 88, and 22 respectively. Usually psalms of lament will have sections like this, then make a turn that praise and thank God for his presence and salvation. Psalm 22 does this, and the end speaks of the vindication of the sufferer.

But Psalms 39 and 88 lack this completely. The sections I’ve excerpted contain the ends of both psalms. There is no happy turn. Psalm 88 literarily leaves us alone and in darkness.

Hearing “God is a Strangely Absent Father” gives me new ears to hear these psalms again. It helps me to be confronted and challenged by these scriptural words which confess the experience of divine absence spoken by unknown Israelites sometime over 2,500 years ago. It reminds me that our tradition made the deliberate choice to include and retain these psalms as words to be heard for posterity. These psalms give us no glib or easy answers, and they take on new poignancy as words from the cross itself, words spoken by the dying Christ.

In turn, the psalms lead me back again to the song, and ask me how I would hear it if it appeared under the rubric “psalm of lament”? Does it really sound so foreign alongside the words of the psalms? The psalms remind me that this is no new song—songs of absence have been sung by believers and non-believers alike throughout recorded religious history.

How often are we guilty of trying to shelter the church from the difficult words of Scripture and, in so doing, lose hold of the very passages where we see our forebearers—and our Lord himself—wrestling with these same hard questions that do not resolve themselves with easy answers?

If we were to cut ourselves off from the music and the art (and—dare I say it—the Scripture?) that asks us the difficult questions, does that makes us safer or more complacent and ultimately more afraid to face the hard questions ourselves?

As we enter the last days of Lent and the period of Holy Week, Jesus calls us into a place of suffering. It’s a suffering very much experienced in the world around us—as well as in our selves. Sometimes we are blessed by the power and presence of God in these moments.

Sometimes we’re not.

Sometimes we need to ask with Jesus “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Sometimes we need to hear it and take it seriously from the lips of those around us.

Dr. Derek Olsen is a layperson in the Diocese of Maryland where his wife is a priest and his daughters are an acolyte and boat-bearer respectively. He serves on the vestry at the Church of the Advent, Baltimore, and as Secretary of the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music. An IT specialist by day, Derek created and maintains the online Daily Office site The St. Bede's Breviary. His reflections on life, Anglo-Catholic identity, and liturgical spirituality appear at Haligweorc.

Asking too little

by Ann Fontaine

In the course of my interim ministry and training work I have been observing churches and their lives. I am coming to a conclusion that we ask too little of people and the result affects our church growth, both in numbers and in our depth of life in Christ. I do not have any hard evidence or measurable data just my experiences.

My thinking about "are we asking too little," came from a person who started attending church with her husband. He had grown up in the Episcopal Church but she had grown up in what we now call the “none” church. She had no knowledge of or feelings (positive or negative) towards church. After they had attended for a while she wondered to me why they did not ask anything of her. She felt they were nice and welcoming but shouldn’t there be more? I have heard this from others since that time.

This was the beginning for paying attention to what I see as a failure to ask enough of those who are coming to church to find something more than a social club. In the old days church was just a thing people did. They joined to find friends or for business contacts or to look like a good person. Now none of those reasons for church are necessary. At least in the Pacific NW people get those needs met elsewhere. The only thing we have to offer that is different is Christ and a way of life.

As I see growing churches I see churches who raise the bar on membership. Just showing up occasionally and having ancestors who were once active is not enough. All are welcome but to really be a member requires more. Can we be totally welcoming as a church, offering all we have: sacraments, ministry, and care, unconditionally, to those who walk through the doors? At the same time can we ask more of those who want to be part of the decision making and shaping of the life of the church? It is a fine line and one that invites continual reflection.

"Below the fold" is an example of one church's process. The result is increased numbers, more commitment, and increased depth of faith. The essential steps were looking at the core values of the church and if they are the values it wants to continue, developing a mission statement, in the language the church uses, that reflects those values and asking people to make a commitment to be present and support the church through service and giving.

This example is just one way a church can develop a process of deepening faith and life and commitment. Development will vary according to the core values of each church. I believe it is essential to do the work of discovery before any other steps.

What I have come to believe is that we often ask too little of people. And they go away saying, “is this all there is?” Instead let us be bold and share the gift we have been given so people will find spiritual nurture, a place to center their hearts and exercise their gifts.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine lives on the Oregon Coast and oversees communications for her local St Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church. She is a trainer and mentor in the Education for Ministry program and an editor for Episcopal Café. Her book is Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on scripture

Read more »

Summer Camp is Young Adult Ministry, Too

by Martha Korienek

This past summer I had the joy of being the Spiritual Director for Camp Chicago, the summer camp for the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. My job description was three-fold: make sure that there is worship offered daily, work with the volunteer clergy to offer formation experiences, and be the chaplain to the staff. It was in this last role (as chaplain) that I heard repeatedly that camp matters a great deal to the staff, most of whom were young adults; camp was one of the few places where they could benefit from being in Christian community with their peers, since their experience is that communities of young adults are few and far between in the Episcopal Church. Nate (a staff member) put it this way: “Just being in a really Christian community, in a camp community, where you’re safe, it makes it really easy to see your own gifts and to see gifts in others, which is also very important as a Christian—seeing Christ in other people and seeing gifts in other people.” This is the church at its best—a place where people grow closer to God and others, and through that, grow into the person they were created to be. The young adults who staff summer camps are drawn to this kind of church, where people seek and serve Christ in one another.

These staff members loved their ministries (being a counselor, teaching archery, etc.) but were also at camp because of what camp offered them: quality young adult ministry. They had a chance to “be church” with people who were more or less at a similar place in their discernment of what God is calling them to do with their lives. And so, they had access to countless conversations about calling and purpose, something for which they had been longing. Reflecting back on these conversations, one staff member, Anna, told me, “I believe the staff saw gifts or talents in me that I had not yet discovered and they did everything to help me grow and realize the potential I had.” For Anna, similar to Nate, being in Christian community had a direct impact on her self-understanding, especially when considering what Spirit-given gifts they might have, and how they can use these to become the person God has created them to be. And for Anna, who is not a regular church attendee, staffing at Camp Chicago was her only opportunity to explore these questions.

And following a trend of other camps (thank you Camp Wright and Camp Stronghold for this idea!), we ended each week with a Bible study that helped the staff to see where God had been at work the previous week. Heather (a staff member) shared me with how our Bible study on Galatians 5:22-23 affected her: “when it came to actually communicating with God, building my own relationship, I felt that was hard because God wasn’t something that I could see… especially this year at camp we did a lot of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ and took time to recognize where we saw God—the Holy Spirit working throughout camp, and that was helpful for me to take a step back and be like, ‘God is here.’” In conversations that I had with them after camp, they all said that this simple Bible study was a spiritually enriching experience, and helped them to connect their personal efforts with God’s building of the kingdom, which is a connection that they’ve hopefully learned to see in the rest of their lives.

Let me be clear: these young adults were not at camp for self-serving purposes. They were dedicated to their ministry at camp, whatever it might be. And it was this combination of discerning gifts in community, as well as serving others, that really made camp an experience to grow closer to God through understanding better who God is calling them to be. Nate shared that serving at camp was crucial to his understanding of himself as a follower of Jesus: “Even though you’re in a place where everyone is loving, everyone is supportive, there’s no judgment, you’re still feeling yourself pushed to be a better person by the community…no one is pressuring you, other than yourself. You really feel an innate desire to serve as Christ for these kids.” And not only did these young adults desire to serve as Christ served, they also had multiple opportunities to serve other people, all of which they accepted and did with grace. Since this group of young adults had this kind of desire to serve others, they were grateful for the chance to do this at camp. As their chaplain, I learned a lot about Christ by witnessing the way they tried to be Christ-like in their service to others.

Throughout the Episcopal Church, summer camp has a strong tradition of being an excellent ministry for the campers (usually children and youth). Through the reflections of members of the Camp Chicago 2013 staff, it is clear that church camp is a critical ministry of the Episcopal Church, not just for the campers, but also for the young adults who staff the camp, so that they can grow in their faith and vocation, and fulfill their ministry in the church for the building of the kingdom and to the glory of God. After witnessing the transformation that took place in the lives of the staff members this summer through their intentional conversations about vocation with their peers, their considering what Scripture means in their individual and communal lives, and the ways that they lived out their Christian calling, I wonder: is it possible for the diocesan summer camps throughout the Episcopal Church to also develop a tradition of being an excellent ministry for the young adults who staff it?

The Rev. Martha Korienek is the Associate Rector at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Burlingame, CA, as well as part-time M.A. student at Virginia Theological Seminary, with a focus on ministry with young adults.


by Donald Schell

Our oldest grandchild is three, or more accurately three and a third. Many readers won’t be surprised to learn that his word of the day (and week and month) is

- Why?

When our own youngest was this age, I discovered that if I didn’t try to respond his questions with answers, but paused

and then asked,
- What do you think?

He’d often have an answer that he was glad to offer. And sometimes that answer told me that the answer I was ready to give wouldn’t have actually addressed his wondering. I’m making that my default response with the grandson and finding again that a child (maybe our inner child too) asking “why” frequently wants to talk and think aloud.

My wife teases me when I slip into being a pedagogical and theological Piaget, and yes, I do think of Jean Piaget as I notice what startlingly fertile reflection on human learning and our insatiable drive to find meaning in our experience I witness in our grandson’s learning process.

His three year old answers to his own questions of why (and how) move freely among Aristotle’s four kinds of causation –

Material cause (“when ice melts it becomes water”)
Formal cause (“because she’s your mother and parents make those decisions”)
Efficient cause (“it fell because you dropped it”)
Final cause (“because saying ‘thank you’ makes you and the person you’re thanking happy”)

(I’m happy for comments or refinements to this sketch of the four causes from any philosophers or Aristotle scholars who’d like to offer them as a comment here.)

What I often notice in conversation with my grandson is that my adult default answer (the “because…” that often gets left unsaid when he supplies us with a more satisfactory answer) tends to be an efficient cause, the “what started it all” in a chain of cause and effect. My grandson’s “why” is a richer question than we adults usually let ourselves ask so nakedly. He’s asking for (and often offering) an answer that’s part of a whole spectrum of meaning, how things fit together, how they work, why we care about them, what we’re committed to.

Aristotle’s cluster of possible answers may hint what our own internal three year old is looking for as s/he keeps asking “why.” We’re not actually hoping for “The Answer.” There are all kinds of answers, many of which we can frame for ourselves. Maybe we want to tell our answer. Maybe hearing someone else’s question prompts us to discover an answer we hadn’t yet framed. What we’re looking for is the pleasure of engaging with someone we’d like to talk with about what it all means and how.

In Sunday by Sunday church practice in the Episcopal church, are we in danger of rushing to offer and assert “the answer.” I fear that partisans of the Nicene Creed in the liturgy have lost sight of the process that runs through the historic liturgical action, inviting the Spirit to come among us as we become and partake of the Body of Christ. We come to the point in the service where we all articulate our faith in ancient words (not a story, not a prayer, a series of finely tuned philosophical and Biblical points). We’ve unconsciously shifted the public work of liturgy to deliverables (proclaiming the Word, defining the faith, receiving the sacrament).

Was the liturgy of the first five centuries in the East and the first eleven centuries in the West defective for not having its moment of reciting the answer? What does it tell us that the liturgical use of the creed began when Monophysites in the East introduced it as a protest against the Council of Chalcedon? Why did the West resist using it liturgically for half a millennium? And what about finally introducing it in the West with the filioque added in (“who proceeds from the Father AND THE SON”) so that the recitation of the Symbol of Christian Unity cemented the division between Eastern and Western Christians. Is the creed like answering my grandson’s question when he wants to talk? What I notice talking with him is that the faster I offer answers, the more “why” he throws back. Answers aren’t giving him what he wants or needs.

Let me rush to add that the content of the creed makes sense to me. All I’m questioning is its liturgical use. When I’m in a congregation that uses it, I do say (or more happily sing) the creed. As a text and theological formulation, I welcome what it adds to our understanding of (and wonder at) our faith in Christ.

But I think the “why” question we’ve been asking since we were three years old and are all still asking, our craving to get closer to “what it ALL means” and to get closer to that meaning in the company of people we’re also learning to love and may be better “answered” by the Prayers of the People (where prayer and the action that flows from it are our shared response to what God is doing), or the Peace (our physical celebration and enactment of God’s reconciling work), or the Eucharistic Prayer (that tells the same story as the creed but does so as a prayer in, to and with our loving God).

I also suspect that what a Godly Play “I wonder” session or an EFM theological reflection conversation touches is truer to our ceaseless why than something that thinks we’re looking for “the answer.”

My grandson is asking me to join him discovering and reflecting on what the world and everything in it means. Whether I’m preaching and presiding or happily attending and sitting in the congregation to pray and sing and listen and share, what I find enlivening, satisfying, and sustaining is feeling and knowing that we’re plunged into that discovery together. Prayers and intimations are truer to our discovery and fit the richness of our “why” better than anything that presents itself as “the answer.”

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Why do they come for communion when not baptized?

by Jennifer Phillips

Why do they come and not receive? Why do they come and receive when not baptized?

Today a visitor appeared at the rail with hands out and I fed her not knowing who she might be- after the service she came and told me she was Jewish, a friend of someone who had recommended she visit, and hoped she hadn't offended by coming forward but she had a sense of the presence of God in the service and sermon, (which was on the Good Samaritan and the blessing brought by the hated outdsider/'unbeliever') and thought it would be right to do what others were doing around her. So I reassured her that God might draw people to the altar in many ways and she shouldn't worry, and that I'd love to sit down with her and tell her more about church and our customs and beliefs if she'd like. Who knows what grace passed to her this morning? I trust the power of Christ in the Sacrament in any case.

I have a Presbyterian wife of a member who is on chemotherapy and who comes forward for a blessing- not ready to join the church just yet, but a believer, a bit fearful of eating or drinking anything other people have handled.

I have, on the other hand, a school child whose parents are of two different faiths, in the midst of a contested divorce, and one parent has refused to let the child be baptized though she desires it (about 9) and her other parent brings her to church regularly. I giver her Communion before her baptism, knowing her great desire to be baptized, to be close to God through Jesus, and to belong fully to our church community awaiting the resolution of the parental conflict before baptizing her, since to do so may endanger custody for the member parent - and she doesn't understand all these legal parental issues.

I have a member going through a crisis of faith who comes to the rail to be blessed but in good conscience does not think himself in a state to receive the Sacrament. We are having ongoing conversations. In the meantime I am happy to touch and bless this pained person who still desires the connection of the community on a visceral level.

I have some Spanish members who come from a Catholic tradition of first Communion at 7 and bring their children to the rail with them, but haven't yet come to understand our belief and polity and practice - it will take them a little time to absorb, and in the meantime, I will bless their children.

I have a Roman Catholic spouse of a member who in her good conscience doesn't feel she can receive, yet wants to accompany her ancient spouse to the rail and kneel beside him - I bless her there; I think it would feel unkind to present the elements with the word of administration knowing she believed yet didn't feel permitted to take them.

All sorts and conditions of people are drawn to the rail for all sorts of reasons conscious and unconscious, in a great variety of states of preparedness and unpreparedness. There's always lots of teaching going on to help form people in our sacramental life, but the plain truth is that the power of God in the liturgy touches, moves, transforms, and attracts people right then, and at the rail doesn't seem a good place to question beyond "do you desire to receive the Body of Christ?"
 At the heavenly throne I'd much rather be explaining why I fed some people inappropriately than why I failed to feed some who hungered and thirsted for God and put their hands out; and I'd rather give an extra blessing with a touch to someone who is drawn forward than explain they should be satisfied with a general blessing at the end. Like grain, in full measure, poured out, spilling over into one's lap, this love and graciousness of God in the sacrament of the altar. 

The Rev. Jennifer Phillips has been the rector of St. Francis Church, Rio Rancho, NM for two years, and served a 12 year term on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. She is a past APLM Board member, and an Associate of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and a poet. She has helped author many contemporary liturgical texts now in use in the Episcopal Church.

Called to Ministry in the World: what if we ordained the laity?

by Lisa Fischbeck

In this season of graduations and ordinations, I am once again given to reflect on my own ordinations. I remember how excited and humbled I was to receive the blessing of the church, to be set apart for ministry, first as deacon, then a year later, as priest. The Church really knows how to lay hands on a person, literally and metaphorically, to let them know in prayer, song, sermon and action, that God has called them, and it is good.

But even as I was receiving that ordination embrace and being sent forth, I wondered what the church would be like, what the world would be like, if we did something comparable for our laity who are called by God to vocation and ministry in the world. What if we set apart, prayed over, laid hands upon, sent forth, gave gifts and had a cake, for the teacher, the nurse, the lawyer, the retiree, the shop keeper, the stay-at-home parent, the social worker, the person living with a disability? What if we encouraged them to invite their family, friends, colleagues and neighbors to the celebration? What if we gave the church a chance to say that we believe this person is called to this ministry and that we will do all in their power to support them in it?

Verna Dozier’s pamphlet, The Authority of the Laity, published by Church Publishing in 1982, still speaks volumes beyond its 42 pages today. In it, Dozier proclaimed: “What’s important in the Gospel is a new world, not an institution.”

Too often, the church has been about the work of preserving or growing the institution more than equipping the laity to transform the world. To wit, when the church commissions lay persons, it is usually for their ministry within the church: as vestry, altar guild, Sunday school teachers, etc. Occasionally, the church will commission a group heading out on a one-week mission trip. But rarely does the church commission laity for their ongoing mission and ministry in the world. In the liturgy, we send them out, “to love and serve the Lord”, but do we really challenge them, help them, to see their particular daily life and work as a vocation, a calling worthy of the Church’s blessing and embrace?

Baptism is certainly the foundation of our vocation and ministry. Our confirmation and the recitation of our Baptismal Covenant challenge and reinforce that primary call. But only the marriage rite comes to mind as comparable to ordination, with specific vows to a particular calling, with a public accountability to the church, to God, and to those we love.

Some vocations have developed rites and rituals of their own: doctors recite the Hippocratic oath, elected officials swear that they will uphold their office, expectant parents receive a baby shower. Each of these is powerful. But they are the exceptions, not common to every call, and they do not connect a person’s faith or awareness of God’s presence and blessing to the particular work they have been given to do.

Of course, it would be a significant logistical challenge to designate a separate liturgy for every lay member of the congregation, even if such a liturgy were limited to the season when a layperson claimed and began to live into her or his vocation. We would have to sort through whether such celebrations would occur on a weeknight or Saturday, as ordinations often do, or on a Sunday, as part of the regularly scheduled liturgy. In a congregation of more than 100, it could take a decade or more for a church to “ordain” everyone. And doing so on Sunday would certainly distract from the readings and emphasis of the liturgical year.

Logistics may limit possibilities. But that doesn’t mean we give up the opportunity to name, bless, and send forth a person to a particular calling in the world.

The Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a mission church of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, begins to respond to this challenge in its Sunday liturgy throughout the Season of Epiphany. At the end of the liturgy, after post-communion prayer and before the blessing and dismissal, laypersons are invited to come forward to be prayed over, commissioned, and sent forth. Each commission includes a call and response between the sponsor or celebrant, the congregation, and the one being sent forth. Each week in a season that already focuses our attention on taking the Light of Christ out into the world, the Advocate focuses on a particular category of calling for doing so. Given the variety of vocations and the limited number of weeks in the Season of Epiphany, we have to use pretty broad strokes. – one week, those who take care of others; another, those who teach and study; another, those who engage in business or commerce; etc.

Some years, when there are fewer weeks in the Season of Epiphany, the call and response is brief, allowing for more than one commission each Sunday. Other years, the commissions are more embellished and detailed, and therefore, more personal and meaningful. At the start of the season, we let everyone know who will be commissioned on which week, allowing people to adjust their schedules in order to be there. And those who brew the liturgy are certainly open to changing the order of the commissions in order to accommodate the calendars of the laity as needs be.

There is a lot of talk these days about the church needing to get out “beyond the church walls”. The truth is, the church has been out there for a long time. We just haven’t effectively made it known to others and ourselves. Commissioning the laity for their work and ministry in the world can help us more fully to realize and to make known that what the people of God do in the world is not only important, it is essential to the work of the Kingdom of God.

The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck is the Vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a 21st century mission in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Sample Commissions

If we did wedding preparation like confirmation preparation

by Laura Toepfer

“It’s time for you to get married,” my mother said to me one afternoon when I came home from school.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Yes,” Mom continued. “I’ve talked to the priest about it because it’s time for you to get married. I got married at your age and if you don’t get married soon then I’m worried you’ll leave the possibility of having a committed relationship behind you forever.”

This was news to me. Up until five minutes earlier, I had not been told the window of opportunity was closing. I was 14 and had a lot of questions about what my future would hold. I figured marriage would be part of it. After all, I had lots of friends and was learning to tell the difference between the ones I trusted and the ones I didn’t. I was testing things out, making mistakes, sure, and discovering that some playmates from childhood maybe wouldn’t hold up as friends for the rest of my life. Surely all of this was part of deciding – eventually – on the person I would settle with forever.

I didn’t know how to say this, though, so I just said to Mom, “I don’t think I want to get married right now.”

“Oh, there’s so much you need to learn about getting married. The priest has already set up a series of classes and I’ve signed you up to go.”

“What if I don’t want to go?”

“Don’t argue. Just go to the classes and get married. That’s all I’m asking.”

What could I do? I was 14. I went.

“Meet Jordan,” the priest said to me. “Jordan’s the person you’re going to marry.”

I eyed Jordan warily. We’d been in Sunday School together and even had a lot of fun, play dates, that kind of thing. But being forced to marry…that was a whole different story. I wanted to make sure we really knew and loved each other first before that happened. I thought Jordan would feel that way too, but we didn’t actually get a chance to talk.

“Let me tell you all about Jordan,” said the priest who spent the next hour telling me all about Jordan: Jordan’s family background, Jordan’s favorite things, Jordan’s pet peeves. “Now, tell me what I just told you,” the priest said to me. “Actually, why don’t you write an essay about Jordan and bring it to our next session. I’ll see you then.”

I figured the next week would be my turn and I wondered when the priest would ask me all about myself and my family and the things I like and don’t like. Given how much the priest knew about Jordan, I figured I’d be interviewed for hours. But when I showed up for our next session, the priest just took my essay, read it over, and then started talking about Jordan again. Jordan, Jordan, Jordan.

Week after week, I took quizzes and wrote essays all about Jordan. I had questions and the priest answered them, but mostly I would have liked to say something about myself. And I would have liked to talk to Jordan directly. But it never happened.

It made me mad at Jordan, I have to tell you, which wasn’t really fair, since Jordan just sat there quietly and the priest did most of the talking except when I got asked to repeat what I’d been told.

The day of the wedding was coming up and Mom had a party planned. The priest walked me through what I needed to do. But no one ever asked me whether I wanted to get married or not. It was all just assumed. “Uncle Bert and Aunt Mildred are coming,” mom said. “They’re so looking forward to seeing you get married.”

I showed up at the church, but I wasn’t happy about it. I went through the motions and said I do. But no one knew what I really thought, which was, “What does this have to do with me? No one knows anything about me. I’m marrying someone who doesn’t know what I’m like and no one cares.”

But I got married. And after the party, I never saw Jordan again. I didn’t think that’s what getting married was going to be like. I thought it would have something more to do with me too, not just passing quizzes about Jordan and making sure my aunt and uncle were happy. But I guess not, since I got married. I guess that’s all people really wanted.

The Rev. Laura Toepfer is the Managing Director of Confirm not Conform.

Memorization and formation

by Lisa Fischbeck

The year after I graduated from college, I worked for a marketing research firm in Dallas, Texas, where I befriended Pat, a woman who worked in the firm and whose husband was in the final stages of his life. By the time I knew him, Pat’s husband had already been ailing with emphysema for years, and he was fighting hard to stay alive. As the months passed, it became clear that his body was ready to die, but his spirit was not.

I don’t remember whose idea it was, but somebody had the idea of giving Pat a book that went through the 23rd Psalm – line by line, image by image – to share with her husband. And she did. She read each line, each phrase, and talked with him about it.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside still waters.

Pat said it was amazing to see her husband relax more and more as they went through that Psalm.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me….

She said that reading this Psalm together gave them the opportunity to talk with each other about their faith and their fears in ways they had never talked with each other before. She said that she watched her husband come to a place of sweet acceptance, of comfort, of peace. He died that night. And was received in the arms of the loving shepherd. The Good Shepherd.

I’ve thought of this story through the years, especially on the fourth Sunday of Easter each year when we read the 23rd psalm as part of our Good Shepherd Sunday.
I’ve thought of this story as a priest, too, when I’ve had occasion to be with people as they prepare for death, or as they slip slowly into dementia. I have been repeatedly amazed how the poems and songs of childhood and young adulthood stay with us until the end.

Last year, I visited an elderly member of my congregation, now in a nursing home. For most of the visit, Jane just sat there, staring off into space. And when I offered prayers, her affect did not change. But when I started to say the Lord’s Prayer, she turned and looked straight at me, and started to say the words along with me. Not all of them, but some. Same thing when I sang the doxology.

I thought about these experiences as events unfolded during the week of the Boston Marathon bombing as well. If I, or someone I loved, were injured in a blast, If my house were evacuated while heavily armed police searched for a terrorist, a) would I remember to pray? and b) what would my prayer be?

What would your prayer be?

The prayers we learn in our youth stay with us in our old age. The prayers we learn in our time of comfort stay with us in our time of need. I wonder, then, what are we learning now that will be with us then?

And more…. We say that we are formed by our liturgy. The words we say in our Sunday liturgy are not offered willy nilly. They have been written and vetted and selected with great care, not just the care of our congregation’s liturgy brewers, but with the care of the Anglican Communion from whose prayer books and conventions gathered they come. Anglicans take the words of our prayers very seriously, because we deeply understand that these prayers form our faith and us.

Ideally, too, the words and the phrases and the prayers themselves get so deeply embedded in our memory and our soul, that they pop up in our time of need or celebration and make us mindful of God’s presence with us.

God is with us in our times of sorrow and in our times of joy, at our beginning and at our end. As the psalmist says, The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in. How do we prepare ourselves to remind ourselves of this?

One of the downsides of the move toward more contemporary language in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is that we lost some of the classic and what were then the more familiar translations of these psalms, canticles and prayers. Parents were left to wonder which version of the Lord’s Prayer to teach their children. The Psalter version of Psalm 23 doesn’t ring as poetically as the old King James. Add to that our commitment as a mission church to use different rites from one season of the year to another, which makes it harder to “inwardly digest” the words or phrases of any one rite. They don’t then get into our bones.

Beyond the Creed, the Sanctus and the Lord’s Prayer, probably what we repeat the most are the songs: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and What Wondrous Love. Good. We would benefit from more.

So the Advocate is trying something new in our life together. We are identifying some canticles of the church and verses of Scripture to commit to memory. Psalm 23 for starters, then the Phos Hilaron (O Gracious Light). Then maybe Psalm 121: I will lift up mine eyes to the hills… Or Psalms 139 (selected verses). We are going to make a list and focus on one each month. Then gather to recite them together at the end of each month. For our purposes, we are going to use the King James Version of each, finding those words that endeth in “th” to be a bit more poetic and soothing or inspiring, and therefore more suited to our purpose.

This commitment dovetailed nicely with something else we have decided to start.

The Angelus Revisited

It is not uncommon for Episcopal communities to provide a regular gathering for Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer during the week. These peaceful rites are an important and formative part of our Anglican tradition (some would even say central), They provide an anchor in the midst of weekday busyness, a comfort and blessing even for those church members who aren’t able to get there every day. Increasingly, though, especially in urban and suburban churches, membership is scattered far and wide during the week. As a mission without a building, my congregation is further hampered by not having a single identifiable public neighborhood location in which to gather through the week.

Still, we are finding a way to prayer together.

There is an old custom of the Roman Catholic Church of praying the Angelus. This custom is perhaps best known because of the painting of that name by 19th century French painter Jean-François Millet. People scattered hither and yon would hear the church bells toll at particular times of the day -- morning, noon and evening. And they would stop what they were doing and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the Incarnation and of petition for God’s grace. Very formative!

A modern-day Angelus is made possible by the gadgets we carry. Clocks of smart phones and computers can be set to give an alarm or reminder at different times of the day. The congregation, or at least a group of those willing to try it, are now setting our clocks at 5:30 PM each day. We have agreed that at that time, wherever we are, we will offer a prayer. Not necessarily the entirety of Evening Prayer, but at least a psalm or canticle agreed upon each month. We do so, knowing that others of the congregation are praying at the same time.

Our hope is that by learning these psalms and prayers by heart, by praying them together, we will be further formed in our faith, and further formed in our life together.
Together we pray. Together we are formed.

The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck is the Vicar of The Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a 21st century mission in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Fixing Adult Formation

by Derek Olsen

The state of Adult Christian Formation in the Episcopal Church seems to be in a state of serious decline. The recent piece on the Lead about a rector who decided to end her adult education programs drew a number of comments both here and on Facebook acknowledging similar challenges in parishes across the country. On the national level, the proposed budget slashes funding for spiritual formation and Christian Education across the board. What are we to do? Is there any way to reverse this decline? What can we do to get things going the other way?

Of course, if this were Hollywood, we know what could happen: a plucky group of misfits would pull together to form a catechetical school, meeting—perhaps—in an abandoned police station in serious need of renovation. They could have a priest who’s a former astrophysicist weighing in on questions about God and the cosmos, a respected New Testament scholar whose traditional seminary folded and who now wanders the world in search of alt music and fountain pens. A former atheist with an operatic background could uncover and introduce the gems of church music. An English vicar battling his own demons and a narrow-minded bureaucracy could handle the pastoral care load. The ordained head of a philosophy department with a taste for fine liturgy could hit the theological heavyweights while tossing out snarky comments about hymn-tune choices and liturgy-fails. Throw in the odd ecumenical figure—maybe a Lutheran civil servant with a taste for heavy metal who ponders theology, pluralism, and the ethics of veganism and the environment. Round it off with an over-educated IT guy who rambles on the trivialities of medieval liturgy and patristics at the drop of a hat. The whole motley crew could be informally presided over by a wily journalist who’s grown tired of the baseball beat who grudgingly takes the position of dean with a shoestring budget, and—ensconced in his crumbling station—proceeds to educate the church. A fulsome cast of extras bringing in a network of eccentric English and Australian voices could be a real plus too. This pitch has got all kinds of promise—and plentiful opportunities for a rockin’ soundtrack.

Reality, as they say, is stranger than fiction. Scrap the picturesque location and move this vision online instead. Oh, yeah—scrap the shoestring budget too; there’s actually nothing that can be called a budget here. What I’m describing is not the future of adult faith formation. I’m describing its past as it’s been for me for the past five years or so—as well as its present.

The majority of my Christian education and faith formation that’s been feeding me for the past while has come from reading (and writing) blogs. There’s a regular circle I visit, informally anchored by the Episcopal Café, and liberally supplemented by the English-based Ship of Fools forums. All of the wacky people above—and several other colorful characters to boot—actually exist and are regular reads for me. Reading the works of others exposes me to thoughts I wouldn’t otherwise think, and writing my own blog forces me to clarify my ideas and communicate them in such a way that other people would want to read them.

Sometimes in the wider electronic discussion I hear people asking what the place of blogs is in an increasingly Facebook-dominated world. This is the place of blogs as far as I’m concerned: they offer a solid essay-driven form of communication that can be both challenged and supplemented by comments. I can offer an essay on a particular topic and know that it will be seen and read by any number of people who are then free to ask further questions or to call me on what I’ve written. I’m held accountable knowing that anyone from the guy-born-yesterday to the world’s foremost authority on the topic could randomly drop by and call me on the carpet. In one sense these writings may be ephemeral and fleeting as blog hosts go up and down but—as anyone who’s penned an electronic drunken rant or seen a horrific third-grade choir photo posted to Facebook knows—“What happens on the internet, stays on the internet.” Forever. In short, I want to suggest that instead of wringing our hands about the state of adult faith formation, we realize that, for those of us reading these words now, a significant effort is happening online and that both learning and formation are happening based on what people find here.

It ain’t your momma’s Sunday School.

What of the budget cuts? An electronic acquaintance has a quote from Margaret Mead in his email signature: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” I’ve thought about this quote frequently as I’ve surveyed the Episcopal side of the internet. What has dawned on me is that every major online resource that I use has been created by an individual with a passion—not by a funded church committee. Take Chad Wohlers’s site on the Books of Common Prayer or the currently anonymous Ditto for Project Canterbury or The Lectionary Page or MissionStClare or or my own office site. Even the Episcopal Café itself—as far as I know—comes out of Jim’s own passion (and that of his dedicated news team)—with only web space coming from the Diocese of Washington, D.C.

The national church? Dunno.

What I’m seeing is a set of resources that work under the open-source/crowd-source model. Good material for adult faith formation is being produced and offered every day for free. It’s available; it’s out there. Am I denigrating traditional brick-and-mortar Adult Sunday School classes and forums? No. And that’s not my intent. Indeed, one of the bright spots of Christian Ed for me in the past decade is a Sunday School class on Romans at the Cathedral of St Philip in Atlanta. It was a fun yet thorough walk through a complex book led entirely by a small group of dedicated teachers—laymen—who educated themselves laid out the various issues and readings and meanings for the rest of us to interact with. It wasn’t from a packaged curriculum and it wasn’t produced by a national or diocesan anything.

I am in favor of the traditional pattern when and where it works but the indications I’m seeing is that those places are becoming fewer and farther between.

So what now—are we good? No, not yet. A few more things need to happen.

First, we need to keep writing blogs. Me and you. We’ve got to keep producing good edifying content.

Second, we need someone who’s willing to bring some organization to all of this.

As a database guy, I’ve long argued that the challenge of our age is not having information or generating content. Rather, we’ve got the reverse problem—there’s way too much information available. The challenge if our age is analyzing and organizing the data that’s out there into meaningful and—more important—useful chunks. While blogs are great, they tend to be occasional in both main senses of the word. That is, they get written occasionally (mine not often based on the craziness of my schedule) but are also occasional in the formal sense. Like Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, they’re prompted by specific events and tend not to be systematic presentations of a single field or idea. What we need is an initiative to group together internet resources and blog posts into clear and helpful groupings. Thus, if someone in a local church wanted to learn about—or to teach a traditional brick-and-mortar Sunday School class about—a given topic, they could go to this resource and see what’s available, perhaps even finding a disparate group of resources balanced with one another in a helpful way.
Could a church funded committee do this work? Well, maybe… but I doubt it. And, looking at what has been done and who has been doing it, it doesn’t seem statistically likely either.

So, if you’re serious about wanting to fix the apparently broken state of adult faith formation, we need a volunteer—what are you doing in your spare time?

Dr. Derek Olsen has a Ph.D. in New Testament and Homiletics at Emory University. Currently serving as Theologian-in-Residence at the Church of the Advent, Baltimore, he leads quiet days and is a speaker to clergy groups. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics. A layman working in the IT field, Derek created and maintains the online Daily Office site The St. Bede's Breviary. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Home church-ing

by Ann Fontaine

Undoubtedly you have heard of home schooling or as it is also called “unschooling.” Whether you have opinions for it, against it or mixed you can read all about how this movement has spread to all areas of the US among both evangelical fundamentalists who want to keep their children away for those who might teach something counter to their beliefs to parents who feel public school is not offering enough choice or providing enough challenge and variety to their children.

What I have noticed lately is a movement to what I call “home churching.” Parents who want their children to have faith and moral guidance and meaning for life, are teaching their children at home rather than sending them to Sunday school or taking them to church services.

Often a day is set apart without television or internet and time is made for family discussions or experiences of spiritual growth. Family meetings and open discussion of questions about life and meaning are held over a meal that is prepared together. Bible stories may be told. Children may work with art materials or other tactile objects.

I think the reasons for this movement are similar to reasons for home schooling. There is the desire to offer something to children that is not available elsewhere or seems deficient or is not nearby. Another factor may be that Sunday is the only day families are not committed to getting up and getting the kids off to school and parents off to work. Of course for home school-ers and parents who work from home there are other reasons that are similar to reasons for home schooling.

From an “unchurch” family:

We didn’t really know we were doing it until you commented on our practice. We tried going to various churches, but the Episcopal ones were too dusty and the UCC/Unitarian ones were too squishy. Our “unchurching” sort of just evolved organically. The no screens (no TV or computers for children and adults) thing came first. Then we started saying grace. So we always say grace at dinner, even when they are restaurants or at friends’ houses. We say dear lord and amen and even though I don’t particularly believe in the deity. There’s something nice and traditional about it, and it really works for the kids. What we usually say is something for which we are grateful or for something that we hope; typical prayer stuff. We also have a family meeting on Sunday. We sing a song, talk about various issues, like what we want to learn about that week, upcoming trips, and any family stuff like problems we had during the week. I guess the main thing is that we didn’t really say the church is not for us, let’s do something different. It was more just a natural outgrowth of our spirituality and experiences. Although church really doesn’t work for us, I’m not sure we think of ourselves as doing something alternative to it.

Since talking with this family I began notice organizations that offer materials to support parents and children who are “home churching.” Religious groups who support home schooling also provide materials about teaching the faith at home. Some churches offer handouts as take home materials. Many families develop their own way of sharing their spirituality with their children.

Candle Press offers resources for families. Godly Play can be adapted for use in homes. Sharon Pearson at Build Faith shares resources for sharing faith at home. She also gives ideas for creating a prayer space at home.

As with home schooling or unschooling – home churching or unchurching has many approaches. The one common element is a desire for a more holistic experience of faith – not one just relegated to an hour or less on Sunday morning.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Interim Vicar, St. Catherine's Episcopal Church, on the Oregon coast, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

The Quiet Group and the Change Group

By R. Channing Johnson

A while back, George Clifford wrote an essay titled “Is the Episcopal Church Going the Way of the Grange.” Like Clifford, I have taught undergraduate and graduate statistics (I call them “sadistics” in sympathy with students). I liked his analysis of the continuing decline of the Episcopal Church and of how budget allocations indicate that the main agenda of TEC is aimed at preserving the status quo of decline.

I maintain that the main problem may be that we tend to ignore the very rapid social change in America since World War II. We now have four different generations and a major cultural divide between those people above versus below the age of approximately 45. While many of us understand that there are some differences in worldview, beliefs, and values, we don’t understand how deep they are and cannot really articulate the differences that affect church participation and membership. As a result, we miss the imperative of change and the nature of appropriate adaptive response.

I became aware of the reality and pain of social change back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, first as chaplain of one of the Episcopal church-related colleges, then as a graduate student at large state university and as the vicar of an experimental ministry at a nearby Episcopal congregation. This was when we became aware that the children of the World War II generation had somehow managed to grow up without sharing their parent’s world-view, values, or beliefs. They declared the dawning of the age of Aquarius, celebrated Bishop Robinson’s little book on “situational ethics,” gathered as a mighty herd at Woodstock, and declared that “You can’t trust anyone over 30.” And now, we realize that this was just the beginning and that there was more generational change coming down the pike!

The experimental ministry at the nearby church brought me face to face with the pain of social change. We were seeking to break out of the “active clergy, passive laity” mode by providing an unpaid team of worker priests to conduct Sunday services but primarily to train the laity to carry out the greater work of the church, including pastoral, outreach and caring ministries. This “team ministry” was accepted with enthusiasm and participation by many, but barely accepted by others as an unwelcomed financial necessity. Then the riots at the nearby university broke out and the Episcopal Church got serious about the revisions to the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not sure which caused more pain and anger, but my Social Science response was to conduct a survey.

One survey statement alone identified two distinctly different groups within the congregation. That statement was, “In a changing world, the church ought to be a place of quiet and unchanging stability.” The group that affirmed this statement opposed the team ministry and the changes taking place in church and society, emphasized church building and staff, and were confident that “Young People growing up today will accept the ways of the traditional church.” The group that disagreed with this statement, supported the team ministry and the changes taking place within the church, supported social activism, and tended to define the church primarily in terms community rather than place. These differences between the “Quiet group” and the “Change group” were statistically significant at the point .001 level on the Mann Whitney U Test. (There, I’ll never mention statistic again!) There was no evidence that these differences were based on age.

This study was reported in 1971. Does it sound familiar today? The point is that, although change is staring us in the eye, change is unwelcomed and threatening to a significant number of people. This is the message of Toffler in Future Shock (1970). Change in modern society is coming so fast and furious that some people simply cannot adapt and are overwhelmed. Change is a threat when the church is seen by some as a place of quiet sanity, to be defended as such.

It’s probably fair to characterize older communicants (who make up the great majority of many congregations) as perfectly happy and at home in their churches. After all, their churches fit their cultural values and they tend to “do church” in the old familiar ways that they have come to love. The only problem is that they are growing older and the younger people and children are missing. Weren’t Little Bo Peep’s sheep supposed to return home after they grew up and married? What’s wrong with them, and why is it so hard to carry on a civilized conversation with them? The typical older communicant is happy with their church because it was shaped by the culture they grew up with.

We need to distinguish between the Gospel of Salvation and the culture within which the Gospel is presented. The Good News of God’s love in Jesus remains the same from age to age, but the culture within which the Gospel is presented has always changed with time and location. The Episcopal Church is 1800 would probably seem as strange to a typical Episcopalian as that strange (you fill in the denomination) church down the street. The Gospel is an unchanging gift. The packaging varies with our culture.

But American culture has changing rapidly from generation to generation. I believe that the rapidity and depth of change is something new, something that happened after World War II. The result is that the cultural packaging of the Gospel that is comfortable to the older generation, that they grew up with and came to love, is strange and unwelcoming to the younger generations. Simple statistics document that the younger of the young are the most deeply alienated from the church and that the overall level of alienation is increasing year by year. Statistics from Un-Christian (2007) by David Kinnaman shows that these young, disaffiliated persons agree that Christians are antihomosexual (91%), judgmental (87%, hypocritical (85%), and old-fashioned (78%).

This past April, Tamie Harkins, former Episcopal Chaplain to Canterbury Club at Northern Arizona University posted a blog item that went viral in its popularity. She outlined 20 actions that are “guaranteed” to bring young persons to your church. It was a magnificent cry for changes by a young post-modern voice. We ignore these changes at the price of our long-term survival.

The changes between generations in our society threaten us with decay and loss if we do not respond. But changes poorly selected and imposed can generate opposition and destruction and “the last state of that congregation is worse than the first” (see Luke 11:24-26).

I believe that change and how we address it is the heart of the crisis faced by the traditional churches today. I know that the problem can be addressed because I have experienced congregation coming alive. I have also seen congregations dying that ignore the challenge and other congregations dying because they did not understand the threat of change and the damage from opposition to change. I’ve written elsewhere about the nature and management of adaptive change. We don’t have to follow the style of the large evangelical congregations. We have a wealth of catholic diversity to dip into as we seek to live the Gospel with a change in the cultural packaging of the Gospel.

Consider the following changes that are far-reaching but non-specific enough that they can be designed for that individual congregation in its uniqueness:

Emphasize the church as community, not organization.
Recognize that life in Christ is more about relationships than following rules.

Understand that I am a forgiven sinner and treat others without condemnation.

Be far more attentive to human need and the brokenness around us.

These four adaptive changes seem to me to relate to learning to live the Gospel. We need more emphasis here. There are two other that seem to be more related to changes in our culture.

Promote greater informality in church.

Realize that worship is moving from the cognitive toward the expressive and joyful.

How can we attract the disaffiliated and the stranger if we do not live the Gospel with joy in their midst? Repentance is changing my life direction from one path to another. How can the stranger repent if he has not seen the great alternative of Newness of Life lived in his presence?

The bottom line is that adaptive change to reach out to the younger generations will involve change is us and how we live toward others. What a glorious opportunity! As we walk the path between death from inaction on one side and death from squabbling on the other, we discover the Shepherd who guides us and leads us into his promises. As Father Abraham said to Sara, “Come, Let’s get packed and find out where He’s leading us! Yeee Hah!”

R. Channing Johnson, PhD, is an Episcopal priest working in the Diocese of Arizona and the author of Where have all the Young People Gone, (2011).

What Project Runway can teach us about Christian formation

By Marshall Scott

So, there I was, watching Project Runway, when I found myself thinking about Clinical Pastoral Education.

Perhaps I need to back up a bit. I'm not a fan of most "reality shows" or "unscripted television." The first such shows, focused on a combination of manufactured events and cutthroat gamesmanship, couldn't hold me. Neither could the next generation, even though I think music and dance have value. Somehow the weekly wager, which seemed less about the contestant's talents than on the confrontation of the contestant's apparent hopes and a judge's rigorous, not to say scathing, response, largely left me annoyed.

I must admit, however, that I do eat and I do cook; and so there's hardly a cooking competition on television that I don't catch. I've been a fan of "Iron Chef" since it was only available dubbed from the Japanese. And I do dress and care what I look like, and even sew a bit (I at least repair my own cuffs when the hems sag); and so I found myself interested when my wife was watching "Project Runway."

I think what I find most interesting in these shows is the interplay of personalities. To some extent, I mean the interplay between contestants, and between contestants and judges. More than that, though, I mean the interplay between each contestant and his or her own work. I find interesting the process of creativity, of how each person sets a vision and pursues it, in light of the demands (the "secret ingredient" or the special client), the limitations (of time and resources), and the qualifications of the judges.

I must admit, too, that I am something of a geek, and in each of these shows there is a "geek moment." That's when some person, whether one of the judges or a special consultant, comes to each contestant in the midst of the process and asks what the contestant is doing. Now, the initial response of the person makes more sense to the geek than to me, with its bare description set in professional jargon. However, there is after that another question or comment, intended to understand how the contestant is thinking: something like, "You're using capers; do you worry that the dish will be too salty?" or "Is a skirt that short going to make your model look cheap?" The comment doesn't always stop or even sway the contestant, but it presses the person to think, and invites the audience to think, too.

That sort of question is also relevant to CPE. For those not familiar, "CPE" is clinical pastoral education. It is an opportunity for students in ministry to experience ministry first hand, and to learn in the process of doing. It's called "clinical" because the first such education centers (and the great majority of centers today) were in hospitals. It's "pastoral" in that the point is for students to learn how to be better pastors, largely by understanding their own gifts and learning needs, and working to improve on both. Most folks in professional ministry have some experience of this sort, whether in CPE or in supervised ministry experiences and internships in congregations. However, since CPE is the primary educational experience for my work as a hospital chaplain, it's the model with which I'm most familiar.

I even thought, for a few years, that I might have been called to be a clinical pastoral educator, a CPE Supervisor (in my program; other programs use the title "Diplomate"). For several years I was in clinical education focused on, not only how I might be a better pastor, but on how I might help others be better pastors. I was deeply involved in educating "reflective practitioners" (some readers will recognize the influence of the work of Donald Schon), professionals who were not only good at what they did, but who were also thinking about what they were doing so as to consider how they might do it better. The goal to which I wanted to call students was reflection on practice, not only after the fact, but in the midst of practice.

And that, I think, is how I found myself watching "Project Runway" and thinking about CPE. I was watching the "geek moment," when the estimable Tim Gunn was asking a contestant both what the contestant was doing and what the contestant was thinking. Connections flashed in short order (sometimes when my wife asks what I'm thinking, I respond, "I'm bouncing."). I found myself thinking about Tim Gunn's tenure as a professor of fashion design, and wondering just how one teaches "design." Then I realized that it had to do with teaching reflective practice, which brought to mind Donald Schon's work (especially Educating the Reflective Practitioner, which was important in my own study). And so I found myself thinking about CPE.

I also found myself thinking about formation. After all, any process of pastoral education (indeed, of any professional education) is about formation. It's more than simply imparting a body of knowledge or a set of skills. It's also about shaping the mind and the heart of the practitioner so as to know what information is relevant, and what skill to use and when.

This is at the core of many kinds of professional practice, really. It's the idea behind the Quality Improvement/Quality Management movement in business and industry. It underlies the focus in healthcare on Performance Improvement and even the current discussion of Comparative Effectiveness. All such programs are really about paying attention to what we do in practice so that we can think about how to do better the next time.

Which is, actually, what all formation is about, including Christian formation. This is not simply a part of the vocation of the religious "professional;" it's part of the vocation of every Christian. Every Christian is called to "profess," which is the core requirement of a professional. We are all called to this sort of vocation, to be formed as "professional Christians."

Now, we might shy away from that title. I fear that the title "professional Christian" has taken on a narrow image; or more specifically an image of a narrow Christian, full of knowledge, with known skills, and prepared to be critical - largely of others.

But that's not really the call of the professional, as entertaining as it can be on a reality show. The call of a professional is to be self-critical, to be a reflective practitioner. The thoughts I'm called to are first "How can I be a better pastor," and second "How can I improve the pastoral work of the Church," and not, "I know what he or she needs to do to be a better pastor." (And, yes, there is a time and place for that question; but it's in the voluntary relationship of student and educator, of directee and director.)

So, I think we are called to be formed as, and to help form "professional Christians." Indeed, I think that it's well established in our faith. Think about Paul's image of the athlete, always in training to do better. Think about our ascetical tradition, with its attention to how we might be ever more open to God in our lives. Think, indeed, about our continuing use of the sacrament of penance. Granted, we repeat that aphorism, "All can; some should; none must," emphasizing most often that "none must." However, the rite itself is about recognizing our failures as grounds for amendment of life, not wallowing in our wretchedness. It is, if you will, a tool for reflective practice and performance improvement.

We are all, I believe, called to be "professional Christians," and "professional" specifically in the sense of being reflective practitioners. Moreover, when we are called to be educators and directors, I think we are called to help others form as reflective practitioners. I know this isn't really new thought; but like many classic thoughts, it's worth returning to now and again. If we can be attentive to our lives as Christians, not only acting but reflecting on our actions; not only caring but attending to our caring; we will discover how we might better live out our lives as Christians. We will discover how we might be more "professional" in our professing. We can make the phrase "professional Christian" representative of the best the Church has to offer, and not of a narrow caricature. It is a part of our vocation to become more professional in our professing. It might even help us attract new folks who want to profess with us.

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.

Welcome the doubters, but challenge them too

By Martin Smith

“Come with your doubts; you’ll find a hospitable community here wherever you are on your faith journey.” Reviewing the Web sites of Episcopal churches you often will encounter a deliberate appeal to those who have difficulties believing in some elements of the Christian faith. Certain churches proudly present themselves as havens from the demands of fundamentalist or orthodox communities. Fair enough, but is it enough to be a haven, which exists only to shelter?

A church which welcomes those who identify themselves as doubters is called to be a place of risk and venture in which the actual experience of questioning is explored with candor and even rigor. A community content to vaguely affirm people where they are and leave their issues unexamined and unchallenged would be just as spiritually inauthentic as a complacently orthodox community. A goal for any Episcopal church would be to develop tools for publicly interpreting the various meanings of doubt. It would be good if in preaching and teaching, pastoral ministry and group discussion we demonstrated skills in diagnosing a wide spectrum of experiences that come under the abstract heading of doubt. Here are some themes about doubt that I would want to see openly presented in any community where I was a member, above and beyond our normal dealing with the doubts that are simply due to misunderstandings of Christian faith.

First, there is the phenomenon of healthy developmental doubt. Human beings mature not by seamless progression but by passing through discrete stages. At each stage we make meaning in a certain way. Sooner or later our ways of making meaning come under stress, turning out to be inadequate to challenges of which we have become newly aware. We experience disintegration. And then a new more adequate or comprehensive way of thinking and believing emerges from the confusion. Doubt is an essential solvent in the process of extricating ourselves from a previous stage of faith. Where would we be without this kind of doubting?

It is the Spirit working with our spirit to clear the ground for new construction. We should always be ready to recognize developmental doubt with empathy. Paul speaks about “putting away childish things,” which we all need to do not only on the threshold of adulthood but several times more in our life-cycle. Rather than repressing developmental doubt we should provide a holding environment for it, letting neither the caustic agnosticism of our 12-year old, nor our mother’s ‘crisis of faith’ in her early 60s scandalize us. We should not panic when the bottom falls out of a certain way of being religious, and we are thrown into doubt. Our churches at their best provide the holding environment for our maturational crises.

Then there is doubt as visitation, a kind of spiritual crisis that comes as a bolt from the blue to jolt us through sudden deprivation into realizing that faith is not the same as believing religious stuff that we are supposed to take for granted. Faith is precarious. Faith is a vulnerable gift. Real belief is something to be “worked out in fear and trembling” and sometimes it takes an eclipse to awaken us to what it really means to be a believer.

There is mystical doubt, which in its acutest form contemplative teachers call the dark night of the soul. In this experience a believer is put through the test of losing her foothold in any and all religious imagery, entering a wilderness of nothing. I remember the spiritual director I had in my early 20s, a truly holy priest who had been a beloved missionary in India for four decades, telling me that once during that time he entirely lost his faith in God for almost two years, and had stumbled on with his life as a priest, praying in total spiritual darkness, blindly trusting he knew not what.

Then there are entirely different kinds of doubt, which instead of serving faith, are defense mechanisms against it. So in our congregations there are those who rely on doubt for keeping Christ at bay. We need to get better at detecting the emotional dynamic that is frequently at work under doubts that are often presented as purely rational problems or even badges of sophistication. There are those whose doubts about the resurrection, doubts about the real presence, doubts about Christ, function as rationalizations for a basic dread of intimacy with the divine. In these cases intellectual agnosticism shields one from the possibility that Christ might actually touch or enter us, making us utterly vulnerable to being loved, moved, led and changed. It is good to keep on setting out good arguments for the truth of basic Christian doctrines, but they won’t be effective unless we recognize the emotional dynamic of fear and resistance that may well be fuelling a person’s unbelief as they take up our offer of hospitality and inclusiveness.

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s, D.C.

Lessons from a grumpy Zen master

By Jean Fitzpatrick

On a recent cherry-blossom trip to Kyoto I went to a Zen meditation class and learned more than I'd expected. The Zen master, a corpulent man who nonetheless looked relaxed in full lotus pose, nodded at the dozen of us North American tourists who straggled in, and Tammy, our local translator, told us to sit on the zafus, or meditation cushions, lined up in two rows on tatami mats overlooking a garden. We all arranged ourselves on the cushions in various awkward poses. One man, spotting a chair in a corner, carried it over to his meditation space. "The master says no chairs," Tammy said, whisking it away.

We all stared at the master, waiting. "The master would like to know if there are any questions," Tammy announced.

Silence at first. "What are the benefits of meditation?" asked Deborah, a psychotherapist and practicing meditator from Texas. I had the sense she wanted to help get a dialogue going.

The Zen master replied quickly in Japanese. "There are no benefits," Tammy said, interpreting. Then, apparently counting on his fingers, the Zen master spoke again in Japanese. "There are various benefits," Tammy said after a while. "But this is not why we do meditation. We do meditation just to do it."

So much for dialogue. Oh, I recognized that he was operating on a higher, if-you-meet-the-Buddha-in-the-road-slay-him plane, all right, but I think our band of wanderers was hoping for a little help reaching those stratospheric spiritual heights.

Next came a series of breathing exercises. We learned to control our spine, breath, our gaze. We sat for three minutes, then took a break, then sat for five more minutes. The Zen master talked for a long while to Tammy in Japanese, then brought out a long wooden stick. They talked for a while longer as we eyeballed the stick and exchanged doubtful glances. (Think Lost in Translation meets Into Great Silence.) "He is going to walk up and down and watch you," Tammy announced. "If you want you can bow to him" -- she showed us how, head down and palms together -- "to tell him that if he sees you are not sitting up straight or concentrating, you would like him to hit you."

We started the third period of meditation -- ten minutes -- and the Zen master walked up and down the room with his stick, his bare feet padding on the tatami. Whack! At the sound of the first hit I nearly toppled off my cushion. John, a twenty-something Hawaiian with a winning smile and an enthusiasm for hot sake, was on the receiving end. "Every time he walked by I was worried he was going to hit me," John told me later, shrugging. "I decided to get it over with."

A few more whacks and we were back out under the cherry blossoms. Having decided not to participate in the whacking tradition, I'd sat up as straight as a board and kept my focus as close to laserlike as I knew how. The purpose of the stick, I read later on, is to focus you on physical sensation, to empty your mind and get you out of your head. I can't say any of us figured that out. "What good did all that meditation do him?" one novice said afterward as we wound our way through incense-filled alleyways toward a noodle shop that came highly recommended. "That Zen master's the grumpiest guy in Japan."

I'm not saying it was the end of the world. To tell the truth, part of me thinks the Zen master brings out the biggest stick and lands the loudest whacks on the classes full of Western tourists. But hitting people with a stick during a meditation class is an approach to adult ed that most of my clergy friends would frown on, I'm thinking. (Not that they might not have fantasized about it once or twice.) We're too sensitive -- too pastoral -- to treat people that way, right?

I wonder. At a time when many people are working long hours, hanging onto their jobs by their fingernails, I'm still hearing complaints from clergy about parishioners who didn't attend every Holy Week service but just showed up on Easter Sunday. When we have all too few years to teach our little ones that they are infinitely precious and lovable, I still hear children being taught about the Crucifixion by having nails rubbed into their palms. As the church shrinks, I'm still meeting people who longed to be part of parish life but found the Sunday morning liturgy more historic than inspiring.

Some might say the way we do things reflects lofty spiritual goals. But are we meeting people where they are?

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at

The Church and young adults: out of sight, out of mind

By Amy McCreath

Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?

People: We will.

Raise your hand if you heard these words at an Easter service recently. OK, that’s over half of you, I bet. These words are taken, of course, from the rite for Holy Baptism, and in many congregations, baptisms are celebrated in the midst of Easter Vigils, in accord with ancient custom.

Raise your hand if you meant what you said when you answered “We will.”

Great. Good for you. But what did you mean? How will you support these persons in their life in Christ, and for how long? Does your obligation mean volunteering to teach Church School regularly? Does it mean contributing financially to the diocesan summer camp they attend? What about after they are confirmed – Will you continue to do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ then? How about when they are off at college or graduate school?

For the past eight years, I’ve been blessed to work with college students, many of whom grew up in Episcopal or Lutheran congregations around the US and Canada. The good news is that, in general, they are hungry for deeper faith, chasing after God with undefended hearts, and thrilled for whatever opportunities the church offers them to learn and to lead. The other news is that the congregations in which they were baptized generally have done nothing to “support them in their life in Christ” since they were confirmed (often at the tender age of twelve or thirteen) and very rarely do anything to help them connect with a faith community when they leave home. I think this is a big problem. I want to tell you why and start a conversation about how to address it.

The folks who study developmental psychology and spiritual development have been telling us for years that late adolescence and early adulthood are critical times for establishing personal identity, probing faith commitments, and developing what Sharon Daloz Parks calls “worthy dreams.” They also tell us that having a “mentoring community” makes all the difference for how successfully one navigates the challenges of this inner work. A mentoring community is a group that helps a person sort through his or her questions and experiences, providing a healthy balance of challenge and support as they work towards a more mature, authentic personal faith. It can be a college chaplaincy, a parish, a Bible study group, a service corps, a summer camp staff, or any number of things; the key thing is that it happens and they can find it.

Now here’s something really interesting: Recent research shows that this work of finding faith and developing worthy dreams now extends well into a person’s twenties. The average age at which people marry and start families has risen in recent decades. Getting through college and graduate school takes longer than it used to. Hardly anyone get a job with a major corporation at the age of 21 and stays put forever anymore. Most people in their twenties haven’t made the transitions historically associated with “adulthood.” (If you want to know more about this phenomenon, read Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s excellent book, Emerging Adulthood.) My observation as a chaplain is that this leaves a lot of graduate students wandering about, unsure where to find community, who to turn to for the mentoring and development of life skills they yearn for, and afraid to walk into churches where, they assume, people have “figured things out.”

When late adolescents and young adults do connect with communities of faith, they milk them for all they are worth: they get involved, ask questions, volunteer, and make lots of (usually excellent) suggestions about how the church can get address injustices in the world. When they don’t connect with communities of faith, they put aside their questions and yearnings and focus on other things, usually their academic and social lives. As Tim Clydesdale explains in a great on-line article, they will “stow their (often vague) religious and spiritual identities in an identity lockbox,” stick the lockbox on a metal shelf, and only return to it after college or graduate school.

We too often assume that if a young adult is not participating in a faith community, it is on purpose. We assume they have made a conscious decision not to connect. Or they have been “turned off” by something. That does happen, of course, but a lot of times, our assumptions are unfounded. Often they simply did not see us. There’s a man who attends the same church I do on Sundays who is an MIT graduate. He asked me one day how long there has been an Episcopal ministry at MIT. I told him it went back to the mid 1950s. “You mean it was there when I was a student there?” he said with astonishment. Turns out, he lived in the dormitory located directly across the street from the Chapel. But he never noticed the sign outside the Chapel listing our services, never saw the posters for our services, and was never personally invited to an event. “I would have loved to have been involved! How I needed it then!” he said with regret.

The students who do find chaplaincies or parishes while they are at college often were referred to them by their priest back home. Here I want to give a shout out to the bishops of the Diocese of Connecticut, who actively assist the parishes in their diocese in getting young people connected to faith communities when they go to college. And they let chaplains and parish priests know to look for the young people who are coming, too. If every diocese followed their lead, I am sure that every year hundreds more young Episcopalians would find faith communities when they leave home.

Parish leaders can also help young adults by simply staying in touch with them. Get their email addresses and send them a note periodically. Take them out for coffee when they are home for Thanksgiving and ask them not just about their classes but about their souls. Don’t be afraid to ask about their suffering, their relationships, their questions. Share stories about your own struggles, too. Let them know that faith is a journey with bumps and challenges and don’t try to convince them out of their uncertainty. Listen well. Let them know you’re praying for them.

Youth group leaders, Journey to Adulthood leaders, diocesan camp directors, Happening leaders, and diocesan youth ministry coordinators have a vital role to play, too. Take time to talk with seniors about what to expect in college. Encourage them to seek out a community of faith and help them figure out how to do that. Bring back alums who are in college now to talk about what college is like spiritually. If lots of your teens go on to a local college or university that has an Episcopal chaplaincy, bring the chaplain or a student leader from the chaplaincy in to talk about what’s happening.

These are some of my thoughts about what it means to “support these persons in their life in Christ.” I look forward to hearing yours.

The Rev. Amy McCreath is the Episcopal chaplain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Christmas pageant

The Daily Episcopalian will be the Somewhat-Less-Frequent Episcopalian during the Christmas holidays.

By Peter Carey

Growing up in the church, I found one that one of the most powerful times in the year were these seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. While Easter may be the more central feast of our faith, for me, the present seasons had more weight. Perhaps it was the sense of anticipation, the sense that while we know that Christ has come, we also have a deep sense that the fullness of that gift has not yet been fully realized. Perhaps it was the way that the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament readings wove together the sense of longing for the Messiah. Perhaps also it was the tangible reminders of the Advent Wreath, the colors of the vestments, and, yes, even the garish Christmas decorations of the stores.

I think, however that the richness of this season was dependent upon that wonderful, and yet so chaotic, practice of putting on the Christmas pageant. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Middlebury, Vermont was and is a vibrant church in a small college town where the Christmas pageant was a big deal. The pageant had the whole cast, from Mary to the wise men, to scads of shepherds to angels, to scores of sheep, to a donkey and a cow. The readings of the Christmas stories from Luke and Matthew alternated with the traditional hymns of Christmas. The pageant was fun for kids, and was (as I now appreciate) a ton of work for the adults in the church, and was a set- up for all kinds of chaos. In my own experience, in that first pageant, I had a hot and smelly paper mache donkey mask on my head, and struggled to see the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes”. Each year, I was able to try on a different role, progressing through being a shepherd, to a wise man, and finally Joseph.

Beyond the cuteness and the fun, what the pageant offered was a space for us to experience the story of Christmas. Whether it was as a donkey nearby Mary and Joseph, or as an Angel proclaiming, “Fear Not,” the pageant carved a place within this holy narrative even for the likes of us. While the costumes sometimes smelled, and were uncomfortable or ill-fitting, they jump-started our imagination. In the midst of the holy chaos of those Christmas pageants spaces were opened for us to see and experience the Christmas story in a real and tangible way, and spaces were opened for us to experience God in our midst.

As I have experienced a couple dozen Christmases since then, I remember the smell of the paper mache, sitting on hand and knee as we sang “Away in a Manger,” and my own imagination was lit with the Holy Spirit in that pageant. Whether we have the chance to dress up as a character in one of these holy plays, we still have the chance to pray for the gift of imagination as we reflect upon the gift of the Incarnation, not as some far-off experience or something that only happens to those blessed people. God has opened up a space even for us, even in our own chaotic and busy lives, in these holy, and yet sometimes difficult seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. May we have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear, and the imagination to experience the gifts that been lovingly and freely given to us.

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

Boomers and the future our churches

By Kathleen Staudt

Our church is celebrating a 50th anniversary and launching a capital stewardship campaign this year. In 1958, no one wondered whether building churches was a good idea; having a church was part of being whole as people and as families.

But people of my own generation have questions: some left church and came back when they had children; some are hovering on the edges of congregational life, wanting a sense of belonging, unsure about commitment. As buildings cry out for major maintenance, and the financial responsibility gets passed from one generation to the next, we “boomers” are emerging as the new elders, whether we like it or not. Raised in the counter-cultural, anti-institutional world of the 1960’s and 70’s, we now have to ask ourselves. “Do we think there should be churches for the next generation? Because if we don’t think so, churches as we know them will become far rarer. It depends on us. And yes, it has to do with money, among other things.

So I’ve been asking myself: Why do I think should there should be a church, a congregation worshipping in this space? Why should I, for example, continue to set aside a percentage of take-home pay for the maintenance of an institution (working toward a tithe, as the campaign encourages us to do). Why should I be encouraging others to do the same, and to give “sacrificially” to a capital campaign centered on building improvements? What does any of this have to do with Christian discipleship?

Asking around at church, I find that the elders who built this church are nervous about how we can possibly raise this kind of money, especially in these economic times. It is clear that it would take more bazaars and fundraisers than anyone can imagine launching now. And they don’t know any other way. Tithing and proportional giving were not part of the stewardship teaching in their time (though I believe this approach to stewardship, grounded in Scripture, will be necessary as we move into the future). In my generation, on the other hand, many –including committed tithers-- will only continue giving to the church if our budget also sets aside a substantial portion for outreach ministries. We understand that the building is for something besides our gathered congregation at worship, and we want capital improvements that will serve mission and outreach.

Reflecting on a vision for what a churches is “for”, I’m remembering dinner at the house of some Carmelite brothers who were students in my seminary class. They proudly showed me their well-appointed, modern house, where they lived and ate together, including the beautiful chapel. When I asked them how they spent their days they reported that most of the brothers spent their days working in the community, mostly among the poor and those suffering from AIDS. They came back to the house to pray together and to be together. Their community life sustained their ministries.

This radical community life is not what most of us expect or are called to commit to in our churches. We have many demands on our resources, depending on our callings in life, and including the needs of family and often other worthy service to the poor and dispossessed in the world. But the monastic model helps me to understand what I rely on my local church for. Church is where I go to worship weekly, and where the preaching, singing, Eucharist, and worship refocus and reorient my commitment to Christian discipleship. I do sometimes encounter contention and controversy there – often over issues related to our common life. It is hard work, dealing with conflict, like the work of a family or, I am told, a monastic community. But it is also part of how church life forms me for Christian discipleship. This church building has been “my Place” for prayer and growth over the years, the place where I have both found and offered support in times of crisis, where I have prayed over and buried good friends, where we have been reminded of the persistent presence of God among us at all turning points in life.

I’ve come to see that being part of the same congregation all this time has formed me in that old-fashioned Benedictine virtue of “stability”: the commitment to stay together as best we can, even in times of contention, and to let our common life form and shape us, because of a shared faith -- whether it is in adapting to changes in worship, or welcoming people different from ourselves, or reaching some kind of agreement about how to replace the dying HVAC system. As I step into “emerging elder” status, I also see that the practice of financial stewardship sustains us in this virtue of stability. In a consumer culture oriented toward “getting what we pay for,” this is an important and counter-cultural part of our formation for discipleship, and one that we need to embrace.

Churches as we know them are bound to change. But a mission-centered church of the future will continue to need an infrastructure, and the money to support that will have to come from committed people who are willing to give back a portion, out of our abundance, trusting that the church has a future, and committing ourselves to discerning the shape of that future. This is not an appeal from the pulpit, but a view from the pew. People – if we think there should be churches, it is up to us.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area, and teaches courses in literature, theology and writing 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.

A disciple-making church?

By Kathleen Henderson Staudt

Over the altar at Virginia Seminary, where I teach, are the words from Mark 16:15. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” (“proclaim the good news to the whole creation” is how the New Revised Standard Version has it.) These words have inspired generations of people called to the ordained ministry of word and sacrament. But as one of the people called to the ministry of teaching in and beyond the church, I find myself drawn, this ascensiontide, to Matthew’s version of the Great Commission, and I wonder what the church would look like if we spent more time reflecting on what Jesus might have meant here. In Matthew 28: 19-20, he says “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

A lot of the literature I’ve seen on stewardship and congregational development seems to focus on attracting more members to our congregations, through programs that meet perceived needs: it’s about “marketing” the church. Young adult ministries, I’ve noticed, focus some energy on encouraging vocations, but often that means raising up young people to be the next generation of ordained ministers in the church. But I have been wondering what we would look like as a church, as congregations and schools and communities, if we focused more energy, not so much on selling the church or attracting new members, but on “making disciples” of the people who come in our doors, and the seekers who inquire about us. What might this call to “make disciples of all nations” mean in our time and culture and in the current theological climate?

The term “discipleship” is probably associated, for some of us, with more evangelical and fundamentalist traditions and “making disciples” primarily with overseas mission, often associated with cultural conservatism. But I believe it’s a term that we in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition should be reclaiming, reframing, and considering in light of our tradition and the culture surrounding us. Brian McLaren, in A Generous Orthodoxy, moves in this direction as he seeks a very Anglican-sounding “generous third way” between Evangelicals’ preoccupation with a personal savior and liberals’ with modern culture. He writes of how he muddled for some time over how to describe the mission of the Church, moving from the familiar language of Evangelicals in his description of the church. He tells how he started with formulaic language: the church’s mission is to make “more Christians and better Christians.” But on reflection he tweaked it further, moving to “To be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ” and then “To be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ, in authentic community, for the sake of the world.” I like his movement away from labels to the affirmation of discipleship as part of our communal identity and our work in the world. And I like the language of discipleship better than language about “the ministry of the laity” (much as I revere the work of Verna Dozier and others of her generation) because it gets us out of ecclesiastical categories back into Biblical language that describes the shared mission of everyone in the Church. How do we understand discipleship in our time? That’s the question we should be asking together, regardless of office or vocation within the structure of the Church.

The idea of discipleship also gets us back to the concept of our faith as something we practice – the great insight of Diana Butler Bass’s influential work. Jesus tells his followers to make disciples of all nations – i.e. not only the Jewish community that they know but ALSO all nations: this is for everyone. And it’s about observing what he commanded. Love your neighbor as yourself; pray; teach, heal, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, seek forgiveness and reconciliation; look at the world through the lens of one who can say “blessed are the poor/ blessed are the meek.” This is not about convincing people to be like-minded or to join-up, nor is it a self-help project, about “becoming a better person.” Rather, the idea of discipleship gets to the heart of who Jesus is or wants to be for us. It moves us beyond worrying about the shape of institutions and back to a focus on the mission that Jesus has promised to support, if we try to follow him: “I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

What would the Church look like if we thought of “disciple-making” as our core purpose, in adult formation programs, in seminary education, in worship? The language of the baptismal covenant and baptism service in the prayer book provides some good language for this, in our tradition – though somehow or other the “ministry of the baptized” has been relegated to a category that goes with “not called to ordained ministry,” in many discussions in seminaries and vocation/formation programs. (Sometimes implying a contrast between the ministry of the ordained and the ministry of the baptized, as if the ordained were not baptized!) But discipleship: that’s something we all share, whatever office we’re called to in the church – it’s something we can reflect on within our tradition and also across denominations. How might the vision of a “disciple-making church” transform and refocus our work, worship and teaching? A question to reflect on as we approach the Feast of Pentecost.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area, and teaches courses in literature, theology and writing 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.

A blessing from the blest

By Melody Wilson Shobe

One of the highlights of my job as assistant rector is the work that I am privileged to do with our church day school. Each week I work together with the lay chaplain to conduct two chapel services, one for the Pre-K and Kindergarten students, and another for the 1st through 5th grade students. Chapel is always an adventure and a joy. With the older students, we follow the service of Morning Prayer from the Prayer Book. With the younger students, we follow the outline of Morning Prayer, but the words are greatly simplified so that small children can memorize them. In lieu of the entire Apostle’s Creed, we recite a children’s creed:

“I believe in God above.
I believe in Jesus’ love.
I believe the Spirit, too,
comes to teach me what to do.
I believe that I can be kind and loving,
Lord like Thee.”

We dance to funny songs, and we pray very heartfelt prayers. When I ask a question in my sermon, no matter what the question is, at least one child shouts out: “Jesus!” “What was the bread that God gave the Israelites in the desert called?” I ask. The answer comes back quickly and forcefully “Jesus!” Not quite what I was looking for, but a great answer all the same. I tell them about manna, but make a point to connect it to Jesus and the Eucharist as well. I find myself leaving school chapel each week with a smile on my face and a lighter heart; it is a truly uplifting experience.

Last week, I had a particularly meaningful “chapel moment.” At the end of the service I stood and turned to the children to offer the blessing. As I said the words and moved my hand in the familiar shape of the cross, something caught my eye. One of the first grade boys seated in the second row was moving his arm with mine. His face was scrunched in concentration, his little fingers shaped just as mine were, his arm also tracing the shape of the cross through the air. He was mimicking me. I’m not sure if he thought he was supposed to mimic my motions, like we do when we sing together, or if he was just being playful. Regardless of why he did so, as I was blessing him, he was blessing me.

In the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob tricks his father into giving him his brother’s blessing, the blessing that is traditionally reserved for the first-born son. Now, the authors of the Bible want you to prefer Jacob to Esau. After all, Jacob is Israel, the one on whom the rest of the Hebrew Bible will be built. So Esau is described as unrefined, both in appearance and manners. And yet, when I read the story, it is Esau who I identify with, Esau who I am pulling for. Because his response when he hears of what Jacob has done is heartbreaking. “When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst into wild and bitter sobbing, and said to his father, ‘Bless me too, Father!’… ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’(Genesis 27.34, 36b) Isaac tries to explain, but again Esau cries out, ‘Have you but one blessing, Father? Bless me too, Father!’ And Esau wept aloud.” (Genesis 27.38) When I read it, the exchange almost brings me to tears. You can hear the pain and confusion in Esau’s voice. He wants a blessing more than anything else in the world, and somehow there is not enough blessing to go around.

As a priest, I am more used to doing the blessing than I am to being blessed. I haven’t been doing this that long, but already I have all but forgotten what it feels like to have the beautiful words of blessing spoken over me rather than by me. I think that sometimes, without meaning to, I feel like Esau felt in Genesis. I want a blessing more than anything else in the world; I yearn for it. But somehow I just miss the blessing. I don’t feel it. So when that little boy in chapel raised his hand and, without even fully knowing what he was doing, made the sign of the cross, I felt blessed perhaps more powerfully than ever before. What I had forgotten was that the act of blessing is not something I do, with my rehearsed motions and scripted words. It is something that God does to and through me.

Blessing doesn’t come in limited quantities, as Jacob and Esau thought. Nor is there just one blessing to be given and one person who blesses. What I learned from that little boy in chapel is that blessing is a two-way street. I can bless someone in God’s name, and I can receive a blessing at the very same time. When I, like Esau, cry out, “Have you but one blessing, Father?” God’s answer is clear: “No.” When I ask, with all my heart, “Bless me too, Father!” The blessing will come. Maybe in an unexpected way from an unexpected person. But it will be a blessing all the same.

The Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.

The Call to Discipleship

By Kathleen Henderson Staudt

I have been trying to create ways to talk about vocation WITHOUT moving immediately to questions about “how am I supposed to make my living,” and especially without moving immediately to the question: “Is God calling me to the ordained ministry?”

It is almost impossible to disentangle these questions these days in our culture, where identity and worth are so tied to our role in the consumer economy, let alone in the Church, where vocation and discernment so strongly tied in people’s minds to questions about ordained ministry. But I insist on disentangling them. I believe it is essential for us as a church to be focusing, not so much on roles and résumés as on the original call of each of us to “follow” Jesus , to practice ever more faithful and intentional discipleship. I’ll probably return to this theme in future posts. For now, here are some Eastertide musings on discipleship and how we experience the call of Jesus.

The gospel appointed for Friday in Easter week tells the wonderful story of the risen Jesus calling the disciples away from their fishing to come and have breakfast with him, on the beach by the sea of Tiberias. (John 21:1-11). Immediately after breakfast, as we know, he repeatedly asks Peter “Do you love me,” and offers him a new, pastoral ministry: “feed my lambs.” One of the things that has always struck me about the story is that Peter and his friends, doubtless disoriented in the aftermath of the Passion and reports of the Resurrection, return to the work that they know, the work that has identified them and sustained them economically, the work they were doing when they first met Jesus. And here as in the Lucan version of the story (Luke 5:1-12), Peter and the beloved disciple recognize the urgency of Jesus’ call by the way the fishermen’s work is transformed in His presence. They have been coming up empty. The stranger on the beach tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, and suddenly there is abundance, and they recognize him – “It is the Lord”, and head for the beach to be with him.

If we attend closely to the language, the story of the calling of the fishermen in Mark and Matthew can also be read as a story about the call to discipleship as transformation. Jesus finds the disciples fishing by the side of the sea, and the narrative tells us “for they were fishermen.” He calls them and, in the New Revised Standard Version, says “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17). What is lost is the phrase I grew up with, in my Presbyterian Sunday school where we used the Revised Standard Version: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It isn’t all that clear what that means, “fishers of men,” and it doesn’t seem to be their reason for following him: there’s no new job description here. But Jesus is promising some kind of change that begins where they are. That’s the literal meaning of the Greek, I’m told: Follow me: and I will make you to become fishermen-of-people. They will be transformed into some new version of what they already are.

Dwelling a bit with these stories, in meditation, and especially with the post-Resurrection version of this call story in John, I think we can gain insight from remembering how the call of Jesus tends to come to us where we are. (“wherever we may be,” as the catechism says of the ministry of the laity (BCP 855)) When I talk about vocation with laity - people whose primary work is in the world rather than in the church as institution, I find they tend to think of vocation as being about something that’s coming in the future, or something that will require a radical shift from all that they know and are. But in fact, I have observed that most people experience the call to discipleship beginning where they are, and the transformation comes in stages, beginning with that desire simply to follow Jesus, for reasons we often can’t explain to ourselves. For many people, though we do find ourselves making changes in our lives, the call to discipleship emerges gradually, as we grow into what it means to be followers of Jesus.

This is something we emphasize in our language at worship, but most of us need to spend more time reflecting on what it means. I have been a scholar, a lover of literature, a teacher; I am a wife and a parent. Gradually, as I’ve grown in faith and deepened my spiritual practice, I’ve learned that all of this is “for Christ,” even though the content of what I teach and write, and the focus of my relationships, is not always explicitly religious. But the call of Christ has gradually changed me, has “made me to become” someone new, and it changes the way that I view the work I’ve been given in my profession and in my relationships. It seems that the transformation in me does touch the lives of others, often in ways I do not see.

So when I speak with people – especially laity – about call and discipleship, I invite them to look at where they are in life right now, not what they wish they were doing or think they “should” be doing. Vocation is not about lines on a résumé. Nor is it about office in the church. It is about identity, community, and spiritual practice. What is it, we ask, in your work, your gifts and abilities and yearnings right now, that makes you feel fully alive? Where is the abundance? Or where could the abundance be? That’s probably the part of you that is hearing Jesus’ call to discipleship, to being “made to become” a part of the new thing that God is doing.

It is true that sometimes people are in a place where they need to “leave their nets” immediately, and “do” something totally different. But usually, vocation is about an ongoing process of transformation, through the practices of discipleship that are summarized in Jesus’ command to follow him. I find this expressed most simply and poignantly in the Easter version of this call story, where the renewed call to “follow me” is preceded by a much more homely invitation: “come and have breakfast.” (John 21:12)

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area, and teaches courses in literature, theology and writing 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.

Meaning of Life 101

By Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick

These days as high school students all over the country tour colleges and scramble to complete their admission applications, one professor says that when they arrive on campus they won't get the spiritual nurture young adults need. No, he isn't a dean at Patrick Henry College

In his new book Education’s End, Anthony Kronman -- a Sterling Professor of Law at Yale who teaches humanities to undergrads -- accuses humanities departments in U.S. universities of dodging their responsibility to help students engage in a time-honored adolescent activity: discovering the meaning of life. Today's students are so driven, he says, that they are missing the opportunity to consider the future "from a point of view outside the channels of their careers." Kronman calls for universities to remind students that a job or profession does not equal a life: "For a young person on the threshold of a career," he writes, "nothing could be more disturbing or helpful." It's time to put humanism back into the humanities, he says, and encourage each student to engage with the books they read as steps on the journey to becoming a whole person.

Instead of encouraging students on a personal exploration of meaning, Kronman says, departments of literature and philosophy are approaching great works of literature and philosophy through the prism of a quasi-scientific, highly specialized "research" model. Academicians, he adds, trapped in "the modern research ideal" borrowed from science by way of social science, believe that "the question of the meaning of life is not a professionally respectable subject. It is not a question that a research specialist can pursue without appearing to be a self-absorbed dilettante..."

So far, so good. What college student doesn't think all-night bull sessions in the dorm mean more than most of what happens in a lecture hall? As I drove home after dropping my daughter off at college and listened to an interview with Kronman on NPR, his comments certainly hit home with me. They brought me back to my own days as a budding Ph.D. in literature, when I happily immersed myself in timeless books, eager to ponder their words and wisdom. After a few years, I'm sorry to say, I concluded that we were spending more time dissecting texts than digesting them, and I dropped out of the program. Fortunately, my love of literature didn't go away. Today, as a pastoral psychotherapist, I often find that the words of Dante or Sartre come to mind as I'm listening to someone suffering a loss or grappling with conflict or simply yearning for something more in life. Sometimes I speak those words aloud and people respond in different ways: they frown, nod, smile, shake their heads, and sometimes quote them again later on, playing with the words and ideas -- cherishing as well as questioning them. We've all had intense experiences like these with books. It's the difference between living and breathing literature and merely developing a critical expertise.

Eager though I was to get my hands on Kronman's book, when I sat down to read it I was surprised and disappointed. Although he speaks of a contemporary "crisis of spirit," he portrays religion as uniformly dogmatic and fundamentalist. "[T]he humanities' loving but unsentimental study of the mortal facts represents a more honest and honorable response to the crisis than either the churches or their critics offer," he writes. He calls for colleges to "reclaim their commitment to the human spirit without the dogmatic assumptions that religion demands." The humanities, he says, should "reclaim the tradition of secular humanism as a confident and credible alternative to the fundamentalism of the churches."

Why paint religion with such a broad brush? Far from being fundamentalist or dogmatic, it's not exactly news that we Episcopalians find plenty of room for intellectual discussion, heartfelt inquiry, and passionate disagreement. For us, a spiritual journey demands living the questions, as Rilke wrote. Great literature, music and art offer nurture and challenge along the way. (My own adult return to parish life took root in the context of an Episcopal congregation's lively adult education class on Hugo and Pascal.) That Kronman ignores Christian humanism is especially puzzling in light of the fact that the assigned readings for his own course at Yale include Dante, Kierkegaard, and Eliot. A church is not a university, of course, but that need not be an obstacle to mutual respect and common dialogue.

Kronman's message is important for all of us who care about young people and especially for college faculty, whose students, coming of age in a time of competition and change, too easily forget that a college education is much more than career preparation. We can all hope that humanities departments sit up and listen. In the meantime, we in the progressive religious community who share Kronman's concerns -- chaplains, parents, parishes -- will stand right beside our young women and men, encouraging them to struggle with the tough questions and walk an authentic path.

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

Earning adulthood

By Missy Morain

Being a teenager in the world today is a mixture of opportunities and expectations. Each person encountered has a different series of expectations and desires, which range from useful to downright ludicrous. At the start of a new school year we as members of the Body of Christ have an opportunity to make new commitments to the young people in our worlds.

Manhood and Womanhood are free gifts from God. Adulthood is earned. These are the two basic premises of the youth formation program the Journey to Adulthood; one of the most popular youth formation programs in the Episcopal Church. This gift of manhood and womanhood like most free gifts comes with some strings attached; much like a “free gift with purchase” offer. That purchase is adulthood. Adulthood is only learned through relational community. One learns to be an adult through others and with the help of others. Our Judeo-Christian tradition provides some of the best models within which to become an adult.

This model of becoming an adult begins in one of the first biblical stories, the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were the first to get this free gift of manhood and womanhood from God but they too had to learn their adulthood. Their time of learning occurred in Eden and their rather harsh introduction to adulthood occurred just prior to leaving. The world of introduction to adulthood is perhaps only slightly less difficult now and yet teenagers are still filled with the fire and energy of creation in the same way that Adam and Eve were. It is no wonder that God chose a teenager, Mary, to be the vessel by which God came into our world. Who else but a teenager would have had the fire, determination, and sheer gumption to say “yes” to God? Who else but a teenager would have been able to say “This is totally going to flip my parents out…sounds like a great idea!”?

We as adults have a special charge when it comes to teenagers. We have to guide with intelligence the young people of our world. We have an obligation not to use this gumption to our advantage, to not manipulate the young people in our midst. We must assist in the learning process, model the behavior of adults and walk with youth in their formation pilgrimage as we continue in our own formation. Maybe through this mentorship we can earn back a little bit of that fire and gumption, earn back that energy to continue to change the world and to continue the creation of God’s world which began back in Eden.

Missy Morain, Program Manager for the Cathedral College's Center for Christian Formation at Washington National Cathedral, is keeper of the blog Episcopal Princess. She is on the board of directors of the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors and works with the Colloquium of Episcopal Professional and Vocational Associations.


By Susan Fawcett

We have just barely gotten into the swing of October, and yet I have December on the brain. Why? I get to go to this year's Winterlight Conference at Kanuga as a member of the clergy/chaplain staff. Being from the Diocese of Virginia, I had no idea that Winterlight existed until I met some folks from North Carolina in seminary, and now, lo and behold, I get to go spend the week after Christmas with a whole bunch of good people in a beautiful place. Woohoo!

For those of you who have never been to a youth conference of the Episcopal variety, here is a snapshot of what you might do if you were a youth participant: lots of genuinely good live and interactive music, small group discussions and games and initiatives*, meeting new people, eating ridiculously, staying up late and being silly, going to workshops on anything from swing dance to sexuality to stargazing, some sort of outdoorsy hiking experience, an interesting speaker who makes you think about God and the world and yourself in a different way. Also, worship/prayer/bible study with your peers that is somehow more vibrant and meaningful when you find yourself in a room full of 200 high schoolers (as opposed to adults). And, most of these events include a dance (often with hysterical/creative thrift-store outfits), a talent show, and some sort of rite-of-passage ceremony for seniors who won't be able to come back until they can be counselors. Realizing that there is life and a whole wide world beyond the more depressing aspects of high school and high school relationships, and that that other kind of life calls something new and different out of you. Calls you to be yourself in the way God sees you--the kind of self that you'd be proud to be, and want to share.

(*'initiative' is code for a group-building or leadership-development activity. Think of the low-ropes courses that some corporate teams do on retreats. Think of the trust-walk, trust-fall, etc.)

If you are an adult at these functions, you might find yourself doing things along these lines: participating in or leading any of the above activities, doing behind-the-scenes set up work, coaching some other young person as they lead the above activities, taking someone to the ER, coaching other adults through various aspects of the weekend, sitting still while everyone else moves about so that you can observe the tenor of the conference, troubleshooting behavior issues, eating lunch with young people who remind you of your own dreams and hopes and fears, eating dinner with young people who have fallen in love with the new community they have found, and eating breakfast with a young person who really needs his meds. And staff meetings after lights-out, where you get to debrief what has gone well and what we can do better next time, how you have been so thankful to have worked with each particular new colleague, and some very silly regression, thanks to utter exhaustion. Wonder why you thought it was a good idea to spend the whole weekend running in circles just to go back to a full plate at your real job. Wonder why these teenagers forgive your squareness and talk to you anyway. Wonder why your real job seems somewhat pale and dry in comparison to this sort of (insane, beautiful) Real Life.

There are all kinds of events along these lines, all over the Episcopal Church. Each has its idiosyncrasies and particular culture. And each has devotees, youth who have been in church their whole lives, and youth who may not darken the door of a parish sanctuary for many many years. Adults who have found themselves changed and challenged. Clergy who thought they were getting a respite weekend away from the parish, and who come back because they find themselves re-energized by the chaos of youth events. These communities are the Church in their own way. A youth event is not a parish, and yet for some people, ongoing events like Winterlight and diocesan summer camps offer a primary worshipping community. I reiterate: there are plenty of Episcopalians who would not be so were it not for the experiences they had at camps or youth events.

Point made. Now, to find a good thrift store...

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.

Advertising Space