Snoring in the Realm of God

by Maria L. Evans

O heavenly Father, you give your children sleep for the

refreshing of soul and body: Grant me this gift, I pray; keep

me in that perfect peace which you have promised to those

whose minds are fixed on you; and give me such a sense of

your presence, that in the hours of silence I may enjoy the

blessed assurance of your love; through Jesus Christ our

Lord. Amen.

--Prayer for sleep, Book of Common Prayer, p. 461

For the last couple of years, now, I've found time to volunteer at least minimally for a cold weather shelter ministry in Columbia, MO, called Room at the Inn. As I preparing to drive down recently and overnight there, I was thinking, "Just what is it that draws me to drive 90 miles away to participate in this ministry, besides the fact I wish we did a similar one in my town, and would invest my time to help start one?"

This year, I realized what it was, about 3:30 in the morning. It was sitting in the quiet, hearing the sound of roughly 40 people snoring.

You see, snoring has a universality to it. Anyone can do it. Most of us don't even realize we ARE doing it. (Unless, of course, we have a bed partner who is annoyed by it and proceeds to wake us up and inform us of it in vivid detail.) Snoring is not restricted to any race, belief system, or socioeconomic status. It's simply the result of the combination of certain anatomic characteristics of the head and neck, combined with deep sleep. Yes, it can be a sign of pathology--things such as sleep apnea--but sometimes it's just the way we lie in bed. Not all snoring is the same, but it's certainly something that crosses a lot of social boundaries.

In some ways, it's a sign that we feel safe enough to sleep that deeply, and perhaps that is where the difference between rich and poor come in. I suspect the homeless don't always get the chance to sleep deep enough to snore, for as long. It's probably hard to sleep that deeply when you are being rousted off of benches and out of parking garages by police and security. In the cold, there's a danger in falling asleep that deeply if one is not covered well enough to withstand the possibility of hypothermia. It's hard to feel safe enough to sleep soundly when there is always a risk of being rolled by passers-by and your fellow homeless.

I suspect there were other universalities among us in their dreams. I imagine some were dreaming of people long gone, some of flying, some of searching for something. A few might have been dreams where everything is safe and warm. However, I just as likely suspect that not all the dreams were necessarily good dreams. Perhaps some had monsters, some were about loss, and perhaps even someone was dreaming the infamous "final exam dream."

This is all part of what we discover when we participate in ministries where we are given opportunity to meet people where they are, in a way that we discover who they are, by listening to their stories and about their lives in the hours before they fall asleep. We discover that the Realm of God inches just a wee bit closer to the realm of humanity, when we help make the things happen that reveal the universal natures of all human life.

As I sat there in the wee morning hours, I simply enjoyed the din of the nasopharyngeal evidence of deep repose, feeling honored that I was one of the shepherds that was helping make this happen for 40 people who don't often get that opportunity. I can't fix very much at all in these people's lives. I can't avert them from the tragedies that started them on the road that led them to this shelter, nor can I dissuade them from poor choices that also may have contributed to that journey. I can, however, give them a safe place to snore.

What are the tiny intangibles that reveal the Realm of God to you in the mundane noises of life?


Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Thoughts on the future of campus ministry

by Karl Stevens

Part 2 of 2

Part 1 is here.

What can parishes do for students? And how can those of us who specialize in campus ministry help parishes engage with the students in their midsts?

To begin with, campus ministers need to understand that a big part of their role is to act as translators between the classroom and the pews. Scholars are always figuring out new ways to encounter the world, or digging in the past to show that the innovations that seem so frightening are actually based on very old questions. A few months ago I went to a talk given by Don Hubin, a philosophy professor at OSU. Don was talking about the way in which new social phenomena tap into very old questions, and he used Grand Theft Auto to raise this question: do the things we do in our imaginations matter in the world outside of our imaginations? There’s a whole philosophical and theological tradition built around this single question. Imagine what it would be like if parish priests were able to speak from that tradition to every grandmother who’s worried that her grandson is playing Grand Theft Auto? The academy is often more tuned-in to real world concerns than the church is, and one way in which we can learn to turn our gaze to the world outside our parish doors is by following the academy’s lead.

So a chaplain or campus minister needs to be engaged on campus - going to lectures, sponsoring lectures, taking classes, working with student groups. But they need to do more than that. They need to find a way to convey what they’ve learned while on campus to the church as a whole. This might mean writing newsletter articles and blog posts. It might mean finding compelling ways of inviting people in the surrounding parishes to those self-same lectures. It might mean regularly going and speaking in parishes about the things that the chaplain has learned. Or it might mean podcasting, or tweeting, or creating a Tumblr, or taking advantage of any of the myriad of communication tools available to us today. Doing so might have a double advantage - it might mean also managing to reach students who aren’t on any campus, but pursuing their studies online.

Because of the changing nature of campuses, and the decreasing engagement of students, many chaplains are finding that the old model of organizing a ministry around a group simply isn’t working anymore. Students will come to church but not to campus ministry dinners or Bible studies. They’re taking classes, working full-time, and, in some cases, trying to raise a family. The amount of time they have to give to any other interests has gotten very small. But they still want to be engaged somehow, and they still want someone to talk to about their faith. This means that work with students has become much more person-centered, and much less group-centered. A campus minister or chaplain’s job comes to include many more one on one meetings with individuals - lunches, coffees - and many fewer big group events. This is time intensive and requires a different kind of accounting for a ministry’s work. Five coffee dates per week don’t look as good as twenty students at a Bible study. But it’s much more in keeping with the emergent church, which is decentralized, non-dogmatic, and draws its authority from relationship. And this is another thing chaplains and campus ministers can translate from the margins into the center of the church. Imagine what a parish would be like if it had trained pastors in the pews. Episcopal worship is only mysterious if there’s no one who’s willing to explain it. But a stranger entering our churches can get it easily if someone will sit with them and guide them through worship, and get to know them in the process. The very nature of a chaplain’s job makes her well-suited to teaching others how to engage in this kind of ministry. The listening and conversational skills gained through many, many cups of coffee with individual students can be passed on to any parish member, and those skills can help parishes engage anyone who comes through the doors, let alone students.

Finally, the work and experience of campus ministers can help the wider church, and parishes especially, to discover new forms of assembly. It is true that where two or three are gathered together, Christ will be in the midst of us. But it’s also true that Christianity has, since it’s beginning, been about assembly - the bringing together of groups of people to worship and engage in acts of charity and justice. We are at a moment of disruption, when our old patterns of assembly (i.e. Sunday morning church) aren’t working as well as they used to, and don’t bring us into contact with the world outside of the church. Emergent campus ministries have had to rethink the idea of assembly, and not assume that it means the same set of people coming together for the same purpose every week. An emergent assembly might be a weeklong mission trip, or an art gallery opening, or a winter retreat. Maybe the people who assemble don’t see each other again for a month, or a semester, or even a year. But there are certain things that we can only do as Christians when we are together as a group, and there’s great value in being with groups, immersed in diversity and learning from a multitude of voices. Campus ministries explore many different kinds of assembly, and can encourage parishes and other church organizations to do likewise.

There is no set model for doing campus ministry well. In some places, particularly private liberal arts colleges, the old model, meant to cater to four year residential students, is still more than viable. But in many places, it is not. There is no single model that can replace it, since a set of ideas that will work well in one place may not work at all in another. But I hope I’ve outlined three ways of thinking about campus ministry (as translation between church and academia, as expert in interpersonal relationships, and as experimental in finding new forms of assembly) that will benefit students, those sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning, and the church as a whole. This period of disruption will not end in the near future. But we don’t need to fear it. It brings new opportunities to changing ministries, and opens the center of the church up to hearing the voices from the margins and benefitting from them.

The Rev. Karl Stevens writes at Praxis. He is an Episcopal Priest and a writer and illustrator. He is exceedingly fortunate to be the Missioner for Campus Ministry with the Diocese of Southern Ohio. He also got lucky when he married the lovely Amy Stevens, with whom he has one glorious child. Early in the summer of 2013 he and a bunch of parishioners from Saint James's in Columbus set themselves on fire to demonstrate the properties of propane mixed with bubbly water and, of course, the power of the Holy Spirit. Everyone else got fantastic flames up and down their arms. Karl found that he had to cosset his flame like a small bird. He's trying not to read too much into that.

Thoughts on the future of campus ministry

by Karl Stevens

Part 1 of 2

Campus ministry used to be easy. In the beginning, no such thing had to exist, because most colleges and universities in America were founded by specific denominations, and populated by members of those denominations. Then, in the late 19th century, students at state institutions began forming denominational groups. Some of those denominations called ordained chaplains to minister to them directly. The Episcopal Church didn’t, with some notable exceptions, preferring to establish parishes near campuses and work with student chaplains. And it was pretty clear who those chaplains and parishes were meant to serve - four year residential undergraduates, and graduate students who might stay for longer but certainly lived within the vicinity of the campus and the church.

That model began to break down in the 1960s, as campus unrest led many nearby parishes to disengage. But there was also a larger social trend going on. The mainline denominations began losing members, and the denominational students on campus, who had once created ministries to serve themselves, were now no longer interested in those ministries. The impetus for forming Episcopal communities on campus shifted from the students to church institutions, and this marked the beginning of a decline.
For the past fifty years, the Episcopal Church has tried to keep a presence on campus by hiring campus ministers and chaplains, who sometimes step in to serve healthy and existing communities, but often are charged with creating such communities out of thin air. This has made for challenging work, and the challenge is increasing due to one simple fact: four year residential undergraduates are no longer the majority of American college students.

According to the Higher Education Research Institute only 40.6% of students who enter as full-time undergraduates complete their education in four years. So there goes the idea of a four year education. Couple this with the fact that a growing number of students are part-time or taking online courses, and the percentage of “traditional” students falls to 20%. Yet these are the students that higher education institutions were set-up to cater to, and these are the students that campus ministries have relied on to remain viable. But if they’re not on campus, they can’t be expected to be in campus churches. And for those who are on campus, they don’t value denominational identity in the way that their 19th century forbears did. For the most part, they’re not looking for other Episcopal students to bond with over their shared Episcopalianism.
This obviously presents some very strong challenges to Episcopal campus ministry and to the church in general. But in some ways Episcopalians are more fortunate than our sisters and brothers in other denominations. Because we never separated the idea of campus ministry from parish life, we still have the basic scaffolding that allows outreach to students. While many denominations have closed down the dorms they once owned and sold off their campus ministry houses, we still have viable parishes near campuses that are mostly supported by their own membership, rather than by funding from a diocese or the national church.

Of course, this very blessing requires something of us. Much of what I’ve said about the history of campus ministry in the Episcopal Church comes from a thesis by the Rev. Brian Turner. Brian points out that the clergy who served parishes near campuses in the 19th and 20th centuries were expected to have some scholarship, and to understand “the needs and aspirations and perplexities of youth.” Now that students are of multiple ages and, if they’re taking online classes, are sitting in the pews of churches that are nowhere near a campus, this 19th and 20th century demand that parishes and priests understand students and learn how to speak to them has become universal.

The “needs and aspirations and perplexities” of students are different now then they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The vast majority of students (87.9%) believe that going to college will help them get a better job. They’re focused on their future earnings potential, but they have good reason to be anxious about this potential, since almost a third of recent college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree. They’re not finding opportunities to use the education that they paid so much for (the cost of higher education increases by 7.8% per year, which is higher than medical costs and more than double the rise in consumer prices). They’re worried about their future, and they didn’t necessarily take the time in college to wallow in great books and great thoughts. This should come as a relief to priests and parishioners who are worried that they might have to have PhDs to communicate with students. But it also means that these students probably haven’t been introduced to the great intellectual traditions of Christianity, nor have they had the opportunity to think about their faith’s relationship to the classes they took, the life they want to lead, and the ways in which new academic discoveries are shaping the world.

What can parishes do for them? And how can those of us who specialize in campus ministry help parishes engage with the students in their midsts? (read part 2 next)

The Rev. Karl Stevens writes at Praxis. He is an Episcopal Priest and a writer and illustrator. He is exceedingly fortunate to be the Missioner for Campus Ministry with the Diocese of Southern Ohio. He also got lucky when he married the lovely Amy Stevens, with whom he has one glorious child. Early in the summer of 2013 he and a bunch of parishioners from Saint James's in Columbus set themselves on fire to demonstrate the properties of propane mixed with bubbly water and, of course, the power of the Holy Spirit. Everyone else got fantastic flames up and down their arms. Karl found that he had to cosset his flame like a small bird. He's trying not to read too much into that.

Christmas is Easter

by Sara Miles

I used to really love Christmas as a kid, and couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly be surly about it: sparkly stuff everywhere, shiny presents, fabulous blinking lights, way too much sugar, that bright turpentine smell of pine trees, even—at least where I grew up–– real snow. In my twenties, I realized, OK, there might be a few issues with, you know, capitalism. And families. People complained about depression, dysfunction, debt, the whole tacky Christmas-industrial complex…still, I thought the day was kind of fun. Lighten up! What’s wrong with a little tackiness? Have some eggnog!

But then, in middle age, I started going to church, and I got it: Christmas is just really disappointing, compared to, say, Easter. Holy Week, that’s the real thing. Christmas? It’s almost not a Christian holiday.

Or so I thought. But it turns out Christmas is like Easter. As my friend Gabe, who’s eight years old, explained to me a few days ago when we were discussing the similarities, “Both days are when Jesus comes alive.” Christmas is totally about resurrection.

Which means, of course, that Christmas is also about death.

The week before Christmas is the darkest of the year. Last Sunday, there was a lot of crying at church. People sobbed with the weight of their losses: a father in intensive care, a sister dead after terrible illness, a son in jail, beloved friends in hospice and hospital, a long-gone mother whose absence felt painfully vivid. I held one mourner in the kitchen, weeping with her, then walked home as the afternoon light was fading.

On Monday, I ran into one of the teachers from the elementary school across from my house, who was standing on the sidewalk watching parents pick up their kids. “I just miss my mom so much,” he told me, and pulled out a crumpled snapshot showing him, a 62-year old gay man with long black hair, stroking the face of a tiny little 90-year old Chinese lady in a bed jacket lying under a pile of quilts. “I took care of her as long as I could, dressing her, feeding her when she couldn’t feed herself,” he said, wiping his eyes. “I called her my baby at the end. Oh,” he said, “oh, I just don’t want to do Christmas this year without her.” The sun set by five that night.

On Tuesday evening, we sang evening prayer in the chapel, beginning with the O antiphon: O Dayspring, brightness of life everlasting, and sun of righteousness, come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. A bank of candles flickered in front of the icon of Mary, and we sat in darkness praying for a woman who had just died, leaving behind her wife and a six-year old boy.

On Wednesday, it was colder, and the sun set before five. At night, unexpectedly, the doorbell rang: it was a friend of ours who’d been at the bedside of a friend dying of brain cancer. He got weepy as he told us how she gathered the people she loved to say goodbye. “I’ve been so happy,” she told them, “to be alive. And now I’m just falling, falling into death.”

On Thursday, I woke up in the dark, hauled myself out of bed and went to work. A man came by the church who said he’d lost interest in living after his sister died four months earlier: he wanted to play me a message of her voice saying “Te quiero, I love you”, and then he leaned forward to whisper, “I know everyone dies, but my sister? This destroys me. I have some bad words for God: why would he take her?” Then in the evening another man came and told me about making Christmas bread from a recipe passed down from his grandmother to his mother, who’d died earlier this year, and how he started crying when he realized there was nobody alive left to call for help with the recipe. “Maybe I need fewer memories,” he said. By the time I got home, it had been dark for more than four hours.

On Friday the day was even colder and the dark more complete, and then it was Saturday, the solstice, the longest night of the year. I couldn’t sleep. I prayed: O Dayspring, brightness of light everlasting, and sun of righteousness, Come and enlighten us who sit in darkness, and the shadow of death.

Christmas is Easter. We wait for Jesus in Advent the way we wait for Jesus in Lent. And in both seasons, we have to pass through death in order to find him, blazingly alive, the sun of righteousness.

Death is a fact of life that happens all year long, in every time and place and circumstance. But the reason why Christmas and Easter are actually Christian holidays is because they tell us the truth beyond that fact, and reveal the wild, real promise at the heart of our faith. The promise that, as Gabe says, Jesus comes alive. That Jesus is born to us, dies for us, and rises from the dead, trampling down death by death, to pull us up from our graves, to bestow life.

At Christmas and Easter we get to see more clearly how God is always making light and life out of darkness and death. How life can spring from the womb of a humiliated girl on a winter night, how life can rise before dawn from the tomb of a crucified man. How death has no final power. Because at Christmas and Easter Immanuel appears to those who wait in darkness and the shadow of death: to share our suffering, and to share the love of God.

Last week, before the winter solstice, I had a hard time sleeping. I’d go to bed early and be woken with a start in the middle of the night by the brilliance of the nearly-full moon, its cool light pouring through my window and illuminating the whole room. I remembered how, when my daughter was young and I was working as a journalist far away from home, I’d call and tell her to look outside for the moon. “It’s the same moon,” I’d say, missing her terribly, “that I see where I am. Even when we’re not together, remember we’re both looking at the same moon.”

The moon that kept me close to my child is the same moon Mary saw as she waited, pregnant, in the dark; the same moon that Joseph saw when an angel awoke him from sleep. It’s the same moon that Jesus saw in his longest night on earth. For all humanity, the same moon can be a sign of Immanuel, meaning God is with us: we’re not alone.

Because the moon reflects the sun. Even when we can’t see the sun, we know by the light of the moon that it’s there. And even when I’m sleepless or troubled or grieving, I know that God–-the true sun of the world, ever more risen and never going down––is with us: and I can see God’s love reflected by other people, who shine with it and help illuminate the dark. Who hold me and pray with me and give me a Kleenex when I cry, whose bodies help comfort me through the night.

Today, even by a few minutes, the day will be longer. The sun will give a little more light, and the same moon will shine on all of us, reflecting the glory. Another child will be born today, and tomorrow, and on Christmas Eve, and on Good Friday, bringing resurrection, God’s new life to the world.

Arise, shine, for your light has come.

Sara Miles is the author of Take This Bread and Jesus Freak. Her new book is City of God (Jericho Books, February 2014.) Originally preached for Advent IV.

Raising the bar on pub theology

by Sam Laurent

Talking about church stuff in a bar! Can you believe it? Such is the energy behind innumerable articles and blog posts about pub theology, theology on tap (that one's trademarked, so proceed with that awareness), or any other name for getting together in a bar to talk about church stuff. I've been a leader for one such program, which we call Indulgences, for two and a half years now, with some sessions really taking off into something beautiful, some not so much, and a good amount of trial and error in between. This model has been around long enough that I don't think it counts as edgy or innovative anymore, and my main point here is that it never was terribly edgy or innovative, and edginess and innovation really have nothing to do with good pub theologizing, anyway. Those values, in and of themselves, offer little for the folks who come out for a pint and some discussion, and also don't give much to the life of the church, other than maybe some hypothetical bragging rights.

Right at the top, let me be clear that doing pub theology is terrific, and I don't want to discourage it at all. Quite to the contrary, I think it can be a vital part of how we engage our faith and our negotiation of the complex and mysterious waters of Christianity. Talk about church stuff in a bar! Do it!

But don't do it to make your church look cool. If that's the motivation or expectation, you can expect the engagement with it to go no deeper than the superficial trappings of the event. And it will quickly grow stale. If the novelty of being at a “church thing” in a bar (or “beer church” as one friend calls it) is the primary energy you bring to the event, then you may find yourself casting seeds on rocky soil.

I like to think of our Indulgences sessions as an intentional reclamation of the pub atmosphere as a place to discuss theology. My inspiration for this comes from the beers of England, many of which have rather low alcohol contents, and are termed “session ales.” They're meant for folks who gather at the pub and talk for hours, so they can drink for a while with friends and still possess their faculties. So the story goes, anyway. So, my love for English bitters (on cask!) has an ideological facet to it.

The idea of a pub as a place to gather, enjoy company, and to engage in something more than just small talk has a tremendous appeal, and can be a refreshing thing for churches, where cultures of clericalism or a simple forgetfulness of the fact that church teachings arise from living discussions can stifle difference and conversation. Rocky soil, you see. Pub theology can do some tilling. The informality of the setting, the ritual of having a pint (or whatever...), and the act of gathering around a table all help open up a space for discussion, and indeed it is the discussion that is rewarding.

With this aim at a pub discussion, a few guidelines come into view.

First, it must always be a discussion. Lectures and classes are suited to other venues, but to me, the point of doing theology in a bar is to open up a conversation. At the Advocate, we try to choose topics that are live issues within the church and in the wider world, and we don't shy away from debating. After all, the tradition of debating in bars is time-honored. So folks who lead these sessions need to shift out of traditional Christian education mode, and let things be looser. I make handouts for our sessions, with a few passages of scripture or theology which can serve as grounding points for our discussion, and I generally open things up with a quick introduction of the topic, but that's the extent to which I intentionally plan out the conversation. As a leader, I certainly try to facilitate deep discussion, but I don't need to control what that discussion sounds like.

A lot of this, especially for folks accustomed to a more traditional role of teacher or instructor, is a matter taking on the discipline of letting it be a pub conversation. Unlike some other program offerings, pub theologizing will often actively resist any attempt to end up with a designated belief or doctrine being agreed upon. Rather than insisting on consensus, we aim to get ideas out on the table that we can use in our thinking, praying, and living, to test-drive those ideas and see how they work. We often tackle a genuinely big question and end up in a genuinely ambivalent space at the end of the session. Those have been my favorite sessions.

So go talk about church stuff in a bar. It's a good thing to do, and it's a lot of fun. But don't think of the bar as just a change of venue. It changes the ethos, shifts the tone of the conversation, and inherently decentralizes it, which is to be commended, I think. Moreover, by providing a less formal place, where people don't feel the eyes of church hierarchy holding their every statement up to the yardstick of orthodoxy, pub theology reveals levels of honesty and frankness that often aren't ventured on Sundays. And that is very good. We say that all opinions are welcome, and I feel obligated to honor that, as a matter of hospitality and honesty. If we aren't debating, if we aren't questioning deeply and courageously, if we aren't saying “oh, that's a really great way to think about it”... if we aren't really digging into some aspect of our life with God, then I think we're missing the opportunity that pub theology programs provide us. Frank and thoughtful discussion is a beautiful and engaging thing.

So I'll close by admitting that I often head into our Indulgences sessions with a bit of nervousness, because I don't know what folks will say. As a leader at these gatherings, I'm supposed to be able to help facilitate a good conversation, to ask provocative questions, and to offer something that would seem to justify my years of graduate work. So the necessarily open-ended structure of our sessions is not the most calming, ahead of time. But it really pays off every time someone offers an honest and insightful thought that energizes the whole conversation, and sends us into a space that none of us could have outlined on our own. It's easy to make jokes about doing theology in a bar, and indeed the title of those programs rightfully ought to indulge a little cheesy humor, but when the Holy Spirit gets some traction in our conversations, I'm always glad I didn't try to lecture or indoctrinate. Not in a pub.

Sam Laurent Ph.D. is the resident theologian at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate in Chapel Hill, NC and director of the Center for Theological Engagement

The Most Important Word in the Bible

by Sara Miles

[John 16:12-15]

It’s summer, and I work at a church, so I’m getting a fairly incessant barrage of emails from church youth groups all over the country asking if we have any last-minute volunteer opportunities for their coming mission trips to San Francisco. Can fifteen or twenty of their teenagers come to our food pantry some Friday and work for us? Do we know about any other service opportunities, since they’ll be here for three days and would like to do something for the homeless, or the hungry, or people in need?

They are so nice. And I always feel snappish. Partly it’s that our food pantry really can’t take groups: we’re just not big enough to have tasks for everyone, and I know what a drag it is for volunteers to stand around with nothing to do. But part of my frustration with mission trips has to do with my understanding of the Holy Trinity.

Let me explain. Recently I’ve been reading an article by Samuel Wells [link: http://thecresset.org/2013/Easter/Wells_E2013.html], a theologian from Duke University and a priest currently working in England, who’s writing about a new framework for understanding Christian service. He’s not interested in what Christians want to do, think they should do, or even actually do for the poor. He’s interested what he calls, shamelessly, the most important word in the Bible.

It’s sort of like a theological party game. What’s the most important word in the Bible? Jesus? Love? Mission? God? Sin? Mercy? What do you think?

Samuel Wells, and here is where I think the Holy Trinity comes in, says the most important word in the Bible is…. with. It’s a trick question, but I have to agree: the most important word in the Bible is with.

The Trinity is, at heart, about with: about what Christians call “perichoresis.” This is the dance in which Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one being, existing through their mutual relationship. And God is always gathering all humanity into that undivided relationship, bringing us all into life with God.

Remember, at the beginning of John’s Gospel: “The Word was with God.” And Proverbs: “When God fixed the foundations of the earth…..I was there, ever at play in God’s presence, delighting to be with the children of humanity.” In other words, before time began, before anything else, there was a with. And until the end of time, there is a with, as Jesus promises: behold, I am with you always. With is the most fundamental thing about God.

With. And so we open our worship saying: the Lord be with you. And so we proclaim that the Word made flesh came to dwell with us. And so we call his name Emmanuel, meaning: God with us. And so we bless our gatherings saying: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

Notice: with, not for.

Because God is not actually for us: except in my crazy, private triumphalist fantasies in which God, who takes my side always, will magically appear and smash my enemies. God is not doing nice things for us, like strangers on mission trips who appear, hand out random goodies and go home. God is not for us in the sense that God is always going to be giving us what we want, protecting us from illness and harm, and making us rich.

God’s just with us. God sticks with us. Accompanies us. Delights in us, plays with us, suffers and abides with us. In trouble and in doubt, when everything goes perfectly and when things fall apart: God is with us.

Trinitarian theology has a reputation for being difficult. But I think the real challenge isn’t intellectual or doctrinal–– “Oh, it’s so complicated, how can three be one?” I mean, that’s sort of like saying, how can I possibly be Sara who’s Katie’s mother and Sara who’s Sylvia’s colleague and Sara who’s Roberto’s neighbor? Am I three separate persons, three Saras? No, of course not: I’m just one, existing with different people. All my relationships inform each other—who I am as Sylvia’s colleague affects and is affected by my relationships with my neighbors and family––but I’m actually not three separate persons.

And the Trinity is not three separate beings: God only exists in relationship. With God’s self, and with us. That’s the challenge. Because this understanding of the Holy Trinity, if we model ourselves on it, changes everything. Our lives as Christians must mean being with others the way God is with us. With, not for.

Doing for, as mission groups and lovers and parents know, is super-tempting: it’s easier and often feels safer than being fully with. Let me act on your behalf, doing something for you as if my being were somehow separate from yours. Let me hand you a sandwich at a sanctified distance. Let me solve your homework problems without getting entangled in your other problems. Let me send you some flowers to apologize when I’ve been snappish, without having a real conversation.

Being with is riskier. If I wait and listen and show you what I’m really like, my life becomes implicated in yours: we are no longer separate. And I might get changed by our relationship.

Recently, I was at home working on a deadline. It was a beautiful warm day, and all the windows were open, and I was trying to focus on my writing and not get distracted. And then from the street I heard someone loudly wailing: “Help, help, help, help…” I looked out the window but couldn’t see anything. I waited, thinking that maybe a neighbor, or a teacher from the school across the street would respond. The wailing continued. “Help, help, help.”

“Oh, man,” I thought. “I bet it’s just that drunk lady who hangs out on the corner, but I guess I should go down and make sure everything’s OK,” and I went outside.

It was that drunk lady on the corner…a puffy, bruised, middle-aged woman who bounces back and forth between the street and the hospital and the county jail without ever getting sober; who mostly either sits on the sidewalk and moans, lies on the sidewalk in a stupor, or passes out.

I’d talked with her a few times before, when she was a little more alert and had been able to walk down the block. Once she wanted to chat about the baby she was expecting—this was a total fantasy, as far as I could see––and it occurred to me that she might be really demented or mentally ill, as well as suffering from alcohol poisoning.

But now she wasn’t talking. She was just moaning. “Help, help, help.” I asked if she wanted me to call an ambulance for her. No, the drunk lady said. Did she want me to get food for her? No, she said. Then she started wailing again—not even “help,” this time, just moaning. “Wo, wo, wo, wo.” She was crying. She was impossible. I couldn’t do a damn thing for her. And so I just sat down with her while she wailed. I think I said something stupid like, “I’m sorry you feel so bad.”

And after a while she stopped, and closed her eyes, and we sat there some more. I got up to go home, and crossed the street, and she started crying again, and a neighbor came out of her house and addressed me. “This is very upsetting,” she said, crossly. “I have little kids, and I don’t want them to hear this. Can’t we call someone to take her somewhere they can do something for her?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t think so.”

The neighbor introduced herself to me, and she said again how messed-up and upsetting this was, and I agreed, and we talked together for a while as she walked with me back to my front steps.

Sometimes there is nothing to do for anyone. I hate that. I can’t tell you how much I want to make things better by doing something for people, and how little it turns out I want to just be with them. Because if I have to be with them—well, then someone is drunk and crying, and she just wants another person to be with her in her unhappiness, and I have to sit there. Or she’s upset and worried about her kids, and she just wants another person to be with her in her anxiety, and I have to stand there and let her see how useless I am. Or I’m scared –about meeting my deadline, or not doing the right thing, or being snappish, and I have to let my own weakness and neediness show to all kinds of other people.

Being with people means I can’t leave messages for them on their phones, at a time I conveniently know they won’t be there. I can’t do good deeds for them and go home. In fact I can’t do anything for them: I have to abide with them––even if for ten whole minutes––and allow them to abide with me.

The most important word in the Bible is the most important word in our lives: and it is a word made flesh. God lives with us, just as Jesus lives with the Father, and we with one another, and the Holy Spirit, the very breath of life, lives with us all. Amen.

Sara Miles is Directory of Ministry at St Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco; she's the author of Take This Bread, Jesus Freak, and City of God (forthcoming January 2014.)

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

I Was In Prison and You Visited Me

By Luther Zeigler and Tiffany Curtis

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters; not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
~1 Corinthians 1:26-27

“My relationship with the Other as neighbor gives meaning to my relations with all the others.” ~Emmanuel Levinas

What does it mean to enter the world of another, albeit briefly? What if that world is far away, and yet paradoxically within our own neighborhoods? What if, further still, that world is one rife with shame, violence, fear, and loneliness?

In November 2012, the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard partnered with Harvard Hillel and Partakers, Inc., to launch Harvard Interfaith Prison Education (HIPE), a spiritual and academic accompaniment and mentoring program that brings together students and staff from across Harvard’s campuses to form interfaith prison teams. The teams are matched with an incarcerated individual pursuing his or her Bachelor’s degree through the College Behind Bars program. HIPE team members come from many backgrounds and places in the United States and abroad, and self-identify as Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Buddhist. Despite the diversity of experience and faith, none of the team members have had much interaction with prisons, and they have found themselves moved by the experience of entering the world of someone who seems so “other”, someone who may regarded as “foolish” by the world.

During our project, we have learned a great deal about the American prison system: we have learned that America today imprisons more people (over 6 million) than Stalin did during the height of the Russian gulags; that America imprisons vastly more of her people than any other country on earth, both in total numbers and on a per capita basis, more even than China, a country four times our size; that more black men are trapped in our penal system today than were slaves in 1850; that more women are imprisoned in the United States than any other country on the planet; that every day more people wake up in the cruelty of solitary confinement in this country than could fill Fenway Park; and that America has begun to hand over its prison systems to for-profit-corporations whose economic incentives are the exact opposite of what they should be – their interest is to build as many prisons as possible, to incarcerate as many people as possible, and to keep them there for as long as possible, all to make a buck.

But more important than these impersonal statistics, through our visits to the prison facility in Norfolk, Massachusetts, our team members have experienced in a very small way what life inside a prison is like and what it can do to a person. Through our relationships with our incarcerated companions, we have begun to put a human face on the prison system. We have listened to their stories, we have met their wives and children and brothers and sisters in the waiting room, we have shared their hopes and dreams for the future, we have sought to help them with their studies, and we have tried to be a friend along the way.

HIPE team members visit the Norfolk prison in pairs, and the travel time provides an opportunity for reflection on the experience. In between visits, team members also write letters to those they are mentoring, primarily to coordinate visits, but also to share ideas. Alice Kenney, a junior at Harvard College, and a faithful member of the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard, was so moved by her first visit to Mark (a pseudonym to protect his privacy), that she wrote this reflection:

When I visited Mark in December, I had never been to a prison before, and knew very little about the penitentiary system outside of what I had read in newspapers and seen in films.... During the drive to Norfolk I didn’t think much about the prison itself, but instead worried incessantly that our meeting with Mark would be awkward, that I wouldn’t know what to say, or that I would say the wrong thing. I had worked and talked with many different kinds of people, coming from many different backgrounds, but I had never talked with a prisoner. I was afraid that the questions I usually ask the people I meet would be inappropriate or offensive to Mark. I was afraid that I would make him upset or say something that he felt ashamed about. Was it okay to ask about his family, his daily routine, his childhood, and his life before coming to prison? I was afraid that he would feel the need to prove to me that he was a good person. I was so concerned with making him feel comfortable that I forgot how well simple respect and honesty can forge human connections.

My partner and I spent two hours with Mark, talking about everything from his courses...to the changes in airport security that have occurred since he began serving time (such as the 3 ounce limit on liquids and body scans). He was eager to have friends to talk to, but just as eager to hear about our experiences and ideas. Contrary to my fear that talking about the world outside Norfolk would upset him, Mark was delighted to discuss current events and public opinion. He had followed the presidential election much more closely than many of my politically-oriented peers and was devoted to the Cooking Channel, even though he has no way to cook while in prison. “People seem to be pretty into using seaweed in their dishes these days. Have you tried it? What does it taste like?” He was curious about the books he read for his courses and described himself as a poet and an artist. He explained the Norfolk prison to us without either filtering his descriptions or complaining, seeking neither to protect us from the reality of its difficulties and frustrations nor to elicit our pity. He treated us as colleagues and friends, despite our great differences in age, gender, and life experience. He did not patronize us because we were as young as his children, nor did he shy away from topics that might have been controversial, such as sexual orientation and race.


Alice sent her reflection to Mark, asking him to write back about his own experience with encountering her and her teammates. This was his reply:
My experience in meeting Alice, Hanna, and Omar far exceeded my expectations. Immediately, we seemed to fall into wonderful conversations about current events, our backgrounds, anxieties about meeting, our interests, and more. I found them all to be inspiring and they made me feel very comfortable.

I found this experience to be reassuring to my faith, feelings about humanity, and restorative in giving me the ability to communicate honestly and openly to people out in society.

I am very respectful of this privilege and will honor it so. I have found this experience very rewarding and helpful.


Alice concluded her reflection:
After visiting Mark, I feel I better understand...why [this work is important]. I understand that the program isn’t about tutoring inmates, but is instead about forming relationships that support inmates as they complete their degrees. These relationships involve helping out with academics, but they also involve supporting all aspects of an inmate’s life. [This] relationship is about being academic, social, and spiritual friends. These kinds of holistic friendships are part of what makes a faith-based community so special. Unlike groups of people who are drawn together because of work, school, hobbies, or geographic proximity, communities of faith form around ideas of how to live a good, happy, fulfilling life. Values such as kindness, empathy, and mutual support are expected in a community of faith. An interfaith community like HIPE is particularly special in this respect because it celebrates both diversity of opinion and shared values. Talking with Mark, becoming excited about the friendship we were forming, I felt the joy and peace my Church has promised.

The Reverend Luther Zeigler is the Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard. Tiffany Curtis is the Chaplaincy’s Micah Fellow for Social Justice and a co-founder of Harvard Interfaith Prisoner Education Project.


*Name changed to protect privacy
1. From Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, p.159
2. Statistics taken from 2012 report of Bureau of Justice http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/press/cpus11ppus11pr.cfm

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The church's mission: selling the Church Center and moving

By Dan Webster

Deputies at last year’s General Convention seemed pretty clear about the Episcopal Church selling its New York City headquarters building and moving Church Center offices out of Manhattan.

Last month the Executive Oversight Committee recommended the headquarters stay put at 815 Second Avenue. The report to Executive Council listed several reasons including that it would be financially imprudent—not good stewardship—to move. Plus, leaving New York City would undermine our mission as an international church. After all, from NYC there’s direct air service to the 17 countries where we have congregations.

Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer, said the report took a year to compile and that 75 of the 102 employees at the Church Center would not move to another city. I could not help but notice how only senior staff at 815 make up the Executive Oversight Committee.

What was missing from the report was any information about what effect leaving NYC had on the Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and United Church of Christ. The Lutherans even operate their three international and national relief agencies from Baltimore, a city not on Sauls’ list of 15 possible sites for a new church headquarters.

And just last month the National Council of Churches announced it was leaving the “God Box”—the Interchurch Center on Riverside Drive in NYC—and moving to Washington, DC.

“The critical NCC policy work can be coordinated from any location but to be the prophetic ‘voice of the faithful’ on the ground in the places of power, it is best served by establishing our operations in Washington,” NCC Transitional General Secretary Peg Birk said.

Our Deputies appear to be closer to new realities in 21st century congregations. Across the Episcopal church they see parishes closing, sharing clergy leadership, offering only part time salaries (or no salaries), and telling dioceses they can no longer pay their assessments – the source of the funding dioceses send to 815. Some parishes growing in membership may be seeing more pledges but for fewer dollars.

I suspect if Executive Council were to direct an independent special committee to look into selling and moving they might be surprised by the findings.

For example, the building next to the National Cathedral that housed the College of Preachers is not being used. Other dioceses in the northeast and mid-Atlantic probably have vacant church buildings that could be rehabbed into office space in locations proximate to Washington and NYC.

That independent group might also discover the wisdom shared last month by NCC President Kathryn Lohre,

“This consolidation will free us from the infrastructure of a bygone era, enabling us to witness more boldly to our visible unity in Christ, and work for justice and peace in today’s rapidly changing ecclesial, ecumenical and inter-religious world.”

Maybe we can find a way for the Episcopal Church to do that.

[See also the 2 previous essays on Daily Episcopalian. ~ed.]


The Rev. Dan Webster is canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Diocese of Maryland. He is the former media relations director of the National Council of Churches.

Mission: finding grace at the garbage dump

by Jesse Zink

She was leaning on the door of our clinic for support, weak, gaunt, and emaciated—the first time I laid eyes on Pakama I knew she had AIDS. Her collar bones poked through her shirt and she labored for breath. Pakama lived in Itipini, a shantytown community on a garbage dump outside Mthatha, South Africa, one of the poorest parts of a country that has more HIV-positive people than any country in the world. I was working at a community center in Itipini as a Young Adult Service Corps missionary of the Episcopal Church.

Pakama did, indeed, have AIDS, along with tuberculosis. She had come to our clinic for help in getting started on both the life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and the simultaneous treatment for her TB. Starting TB treatment was a relatively easy thing for our small clinic to do. Starting ARVs, however, is a complex process involving a labyrinthine health system, one nearly impossible to navigate for someone like Pakama whose health had deteriorated so far.

But it was not so impossible a process that we gave up hope. Even though there was a fairly substantial language barrier between the two of us—she spoke Xhosa and I was still barely functional in it—over the next several weeks, I helped Pakama get to the various appointments necessary to be given the ARVs—chest x-rays, blood work, counseling sessions. Taking ARVs is a significant commitment—patients take them every day for the rest of their life—and the appointments were to ensure she knew what she was getting herself into. But as the weeks passed her condition continued to worsen. She lost the energy to walk and I had to lift her in and out of the car and carry her to appointments. She lay in bed in her shack the rest of the day, complaining about the cold.

In the eight months I had been working in Itipini before I met Pakama, I had known many other patients with AIDS. All who had been as sick as Pakama had died before being given ARVs. Indeed, not two days before Pakama walked in the clinic the first time, another patient had died after a difficult—and unsuccessful—journey through the health system. The longer I worked with Pakama, the more I began to worry Pakama wouldn’t make it through the system in time. Each morning, as I drove to Itipini, I mentally prepared myself to hear the news that she had died the night before.

When it finally happened—in the midst of a busy day at the hospital from an overwhelmed doctor—receiving Pakama’s ARV prescription was somewhat anticlimactic. But we had it! We filled the prescription and headed back to Itipini. There was no sudden shift in her condition, however. She was still weak and thin—but alive. Soon, other patients in similar situations began to occupy my attention and I saw less of Pakama. Then, I was away for a few weeks. When I returned, the first thing I did was seek her out.

I found her in front of her shack washing clothes. She smiled broadly to see me again and asked how I was.

“I’m fine,” I said. “But I want to know how you are. Can you walk?”

“Yes,” she replied, clearly somewhat embarrassed to recall the time she had been so sick. As it was, she was supporting herself just fine washing the clothes. Still, I needed to see for myself.

“Show me,” I said.

She rolled her eyes and gave me a look that said, “What does he think? Of course I can walk by myself.” But she humored me. Without struggle or undue effort, she casually sashayed down one side of the shack and back to the door. She turned to look to see if I was satisfied. I was. She was like a whole new person.

That evening, I thought about Pakama’s improved health. As much as I had wanted her to get better, I actually hadn’t done all that much for her. I like to think I had been a supportive presence at times. I pointed her the right direction in the hospital at times but more often than not she could read the signs and knew where to go. Her sister and mother cared for her in her shack, not me. The fact is, Pakama and I were pretty different people. We spoke different languages, came from different cultural backgrounds, and a hugely different set of life experiences. If I had done anything, it was the only thing I could do: accompany Pakama on her journey from sickness to health.

Journey is one of the oldest metaphors for faith, and for good reason. Abraham set out for a land he did not know, Moses and the Israelites wandered into the desert, Jonah took off in the wrong direction, Naomi returned home after years away, Paul sailed around the Mediterranean. As I reflected on my time with Pakama, journey seemed an apt analogy as well. We had been on a journey together, her and I. When I knew the way, I took the lead. When she knew, she led. When both of us were lost, we moved forward together, confident in the knowledge that we were not alone.

In the months and years I spent in Itipini after first encountering Pakama, I accompanied many other people on journeys. Not all of them had nearly as successful outcomes and I can count more people I’ve known who’ve died of AIDS than are still alive. But I don’t consider myself a failure as a missionary. What makes the experience missional is our initial willingness to set out on the journey, to accompany someone who is different, to be converted by the experience.

The word mission is more and more a part of conversations about the future of the Episcopal Church. As I’ve watched the conversation unfold, I think back to my weeks driving Pakama to her never-ending string of appointments. Mission begins when difference is engaged—whether on a garbage dump in South Africa or just down the street. Where it ends up, we cannot control. But it is the fact that we are willing to render ourselves vulnerable to God’s guidance on a journey whose destination we may not know that makes our life as Christians missional. None of us will ever live to see the perfect peace of the kingdom of God on earth. But perhaps if we set out on the journey, we’ll find that the journey of mission truly is its destination.


Jesse Zink is author of Grace at the Garbage Dump: Making Sense of Mission in the Twenty-First Century (Wipf and Stock Publications, 2012), from which this essay is adapted, and is a deacon in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. More information is at his blog.

Of puppies and missionaries ...

By Lauren R. Stanley

We have a new addition in our household, a giant-pawed Great Dane puppy named Julian.

She came into our lives recently as a 10-week-old, gangly, runt-of-the-litter, Brindle-colored baby and immediately wriggled her way into our hearts and minds.

Watching her adjust to her new surroundings, with three new people and two new dogs (who are, as they constantly remind us, Not. Amused.) reminds me of missionaries and the adjustments they go through when they arrive in a new land.

Just as missionaries need to leave behind all whom they love to live with new people, whom hopefully they will come to love, Julian had to leave behind her sire and dam and three brothers, as well as the breeders.

Just as missionaries have to learn to live in new housing situations (sometimes mud huts, sometimes tents, sometimes very Western-style apartments), Julian has had to learn to live in our house, which is very different from the farm where she was bred and spent the first 10 weeks of her life.

Just as missionaries need to learn a new language, with all of its colloquialisms, Julian is learning her own new language: “Come. Out. Sit. Down. Off. No bite. Leave it. No. Good girl!” It is not easy for missionaries or puppies to untangle the nuances of new languages.

You go into a new place, and everything is new: the people; the food; the customs; the language. It doesn’t matter if you are a missionary or a puppy, there’s still a lot of learning going on, and every day is a day of discovery.

Her first night with us, Julian did what most every puppy does when it was time to go to bed: She cried. She sat in her crate, with blankets and toys, and whimpering and cried for a long, long, long time. Eventually, she slept, mainly because she was so very tired.

My first night as a missionary in Sudan? I cried as well. Even though I had worked like the dickens to get to Sudan, even though I really, really wanted to be there, I still cried. Everything was new and foreign and I was so very far from all that I knew and loved. Like Julian, I cried myself to sleep that night. (And did so again when I moved to Haiti, four years later.)

No matter how hard you try, as a new person in a new place, you make mistakes. You go to the wrong places, say the wrong things, do the wrong things at the wrong time. Anyone who has had a puppy knows that puppies do all that – and more – all the time. Missionaries and puppies are constantly learning, constantly striving, constantly attempting to please, to fit in, to not be seen as an “outsider” who doesn’t belong there.

Every day is a day of discovery and adventure, of new things to do, new people to meet. Every day also presents new opportunities to make mistakes, to get lost, to realize that what you “know” may only be what you thought you knew.

The more I watch this Great Dane puppy, the more I see my life as a missionary. Things that scared me at first, or that seemed too hard to do, became so normal that they stopped meriting a mention.

Julian grows at an astonishing rate. Where once she was the same size as the 10-year-old spaniels, she now towers over them. Where once she was confused and timid, she is now confident and bold. She still stumbles around a bit – she’s growing into her body, we like to say – but she stumbles a lot more boldly than when she first arrived. She knows she is loved and cared for, which gives her the confidence to go forth into the world, seeking new adventures, new friends, new challenges.

My life as a missionary was much the same. There was constant growth (not physically; I’d already grown into my body). I, too, was timid at first, and made lots of mistakes, not understanding what was happening to me or around me. But the longer I stayed, the more I learned, the bolder I became, and as I grew bolder, I was more willing to even more new things.

Yep, welcoming Julian into my life has made me realize: Missionaries could learn a lot from watching a puppy. Their lives are, more than I ever realized, so very similar.

photo.JPG

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is a priest of the Diocese of Virginia who spent four years as a missionary in Sudan, and one year as a missionary in Haiti. She now is a missionary and consultant in the United States.

Ministry of small things

by Linda Ryan

The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is due to the fact that an angel might come by and sit on it. ~Thomas Merton

Say “Shaker” to someone and, if they’re over the age of about 50, they’ll probably come back with “chair.” Shaker chairs were popular because their simple lines and beautifully finished wood. The Shakers produced chairs with planed and turned parts that were interchangeable to make a number of different styles: tall, short, wide, narrow, with or without arms, with or without rockers, with or without wheels, etc. No matter the style, though, each piece of each chair had the hallmark of a human being who cared about the piece he produced or the seat she wove or braided. It might have been a small part of the total chair, but it was their part and done as completely, beautifully and precisely as they could make it. Those chairs have withstood the test of time, becoming more and more valuable as the years have passed, becoming important pieces in museums and private collections. I have a doubt that a hundred years from now the the overstuffed recliners and pouffy chairs of today will be sought-after antiques. I wonder, too, would angels come and sit on them? We know that saints in the Body of Christ, the members of the Shaker church, sat on theirs.

Handmade items often have something special about them, most likely the attention to detail that may escape the notice of most but which an aficionado would spot immediately. For the true craftsman, there is nothing too small to be excused from perfection, not a wrinkle, tiny rough spot in a place that no hand would ever feel, spot of discoloration or rust on a tiny gear hidden deep inside a watch case or anything else. It is the mark of someone with passion for what they are doing, even to the level of the very small things.

Small things. Without small things, great things never happen. Small ideas and concepts can lead to great inventions and discoveries that change the world. One person’s passion can ignite a fire that circles the globe. Jesus himself used a mustard seed, not the smallest of seeds, to be sure, but still a small thing, to illustrate the power of a tiny bit of faith growing into a sizeable thing. I wonder what Jesus would have made of a sequoia seed?

When most people consider the word “ministry” they think of ordained preachers, ministers, rabbis and priests. Sure, those are probably the most visible of ministers, in a kind of spotlight when they lead worship, teach classes or model the virtues like visiting the sick and imprisoned, but ministry is more than that. There are ministry opportunities everywhere – the workplace, home, school, church, almost anywhere where two people can meet and interact. Come to think of it, though, there can be ministries that involve non-humans and even the environment that don’t attract a lot of attention but which are really needed. Not every ministry is high profile, but even the smallest of ministries is important, kingdom building-wise. They don’t have to be big things to be effective; the ministry of small things is just as important and, luckily, there are plenty of them to go around. It can be as simple as turning a piece of wood that will become part of a chair.

I’m a firm believer in the ministry of small things, the kind of ministry I know I can do. It would be great to be known as a great preacher, but maybe simply driving someone to the doctor’s office or grocery store, or hearing the words of a friend who needs someone to listen is, to me, a ministry of small things that, hopefully, will make the world even a miniscule amount better. I’d love to write a best-selling book, but perhaps writing essays and meditations is my niche, especially if even one person finds something in the words that gives them some insight or even just a smile.
The Dalai Lama once said, “If you think small things don’t make a difference, try spending a night in a room with a mosquito!” A lot of times mosquitoes get swatted, but they don’t give up being mosquitoes. A ministry of small things may not make a person rich, famous or even earn them brownie points in heaven, and they may get the person swatted sometimes, but sometimes the small things lead to big things that make heaven just a little bit closer.

Oh, and one more thing. Ministries of small things are not limited offers. A single person can do more than one, and there is no expiration date.


Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter

The Church's Mission: Let's Be Honest

by Elizabeth Drescher

You know, I sometimes wonder whether the Israelites heard the call of the psalm we read today as I sometimes do: "Sing to the Lord a new song...? Really?"

I mean, let's be honest, even in the most literal sense, we struggle with this idea, resisting in our churches music that might nudge us even ever so slightly out of the nineteenth century. Oh, I'm not talking here about going all "U2-charist," or bringing in hip hop hymns that'll get the young folks dancing before the Lord. After all, we know that the few thriving emergent communities in our church are more likely to sing songs from the Middle Ages--a little Gregorian Chant, a remix of Hildegard of Bingen, or, to modernize just a smidge, some shape note tunes--than they are to be jamming to the spiritual stylings of Gospel Ganstaz. But they are singing those old songs in a new way--inhabiting them bodily, infusing them with a spirit that is often missing from our churches, truly "lifting every voice" in glorious praise.

Outside of these communities--the Crossing at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston, Open Cathedral at St. Mark's in Seattle, Thad's in Los Angeles, Transmission in New York--"singing a new song" has, in the least nuanced, least metaphorical way, been something of a challenge for us.

And that makes me worry about how far along God's path we may be able to travel these days as we seek to realize the peaceable kingdom Isaiah prophesied. If we can't get the theme song down, what chance do we have to be so much as bit players in the whole new cosmic drama--the heartwarming story of true love realized across the earth that, as Paul reminds us, Jesus narrated with his life, death, and resurrection?

Of course, Paul points in his letter to the Ephesians to what throws us off tune in our efforts to sing a new, harmonious song, to live as one diverse body: barriers and the hostilities they cause among us. What do these barriers look like in our church in particular? If you've just lept in your mind to things like women's ordination or diverse opinions on human sexuality, I'm going to suggest that you guess again.

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure to hear Stephanie Spellers--emergent church leader, writer, chaplain to the House of Bishops, and, as it happens, my editor--remind a gathering of what we may safely assume were progressive Christian hipsters at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco of what separates us as Episcopalians from much of the rest of the world. You can be relatively sure that the folks gathered under the flickering stained glass rainbow on the top of Nob Hill were most likely feeling pretty pleased with their success in sorting out all the fuss over women clergy--indeed, nearly every ordained soul at the altar was a woman--and the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer/questioning people (LGBT/Q, in case you missed our memo on the latest acronym updates) in the church.

I know I wasn't prepared for where Steph was going after her joyfully sung introduction. Pointing to the findings of the Pew US Religion Landscape Survey, she noted that our little denomination--as the joke goes in religious studies circles, there are fewer of us than there are of the Amish--has something of a bizarrely skewed demographic profile. We are merely one percent of the total population, and a slight six percent of mainline protestants. But we pack a demographic wallop.

92 percent of us are white, making us among the least ethnically diverse of Christian denominations
5 percent of us are African American
1 percent each are Asian, Latina/o or mixed race/other
35 percent of us make over $100,000 a year, making us the wealthiest denomination by far, while we are half as likely as people in the population generally to make less than $30,000
51 percent of us have at least a college education, with half that many having earned graduate degrees, making us the most educated of all Christian denominations

And though all of that might lead you to believe that we are a smart, ambitious, hard working, if somewhat pasty, club in which anyone would love to be a member, by the time they reach adulthood, 55 percent of the children raised in our churches will have left--20 percent claiming no religious identity at all as adults. That, by the way, makes us the biggest contributor to the fastest growing religious demographic, "nones"--people who answer "none" when asked with what religious group they identify.

Let's be honest here: we are hardly the 99%. Indeed, of late, I've come to think of too many of our churches as spiritual cafes of a sort--lovely little soul shops where we come once a week (ish) to pick up a nip of comfort, a soupçon of companionship, and a healthy dollop--oh, go ahead, you're not here every day--of the nostalgia encoded in our songs, our lush liturgies, or our beautiful prayerbook.

Don't get me wrong, I am in love with our prayerbook and our liturgical tradition as much as most of the dwindling number of people who visit our churches each week. Or, perhaps, I should say that I'm in love with our liturgical customs. The Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish--a colleague just down the mountain at Calvin Presbyterian Church in my hometown of Zelienople--reminds us in his important book Humble Leadership us that we confuse tradition with custom at our peril. Our prayerbook tradition is that all God's people should have access to the basic forms the liturgy of the church and to the psalms for "the exciting of piety and devotion in the worship of God" (BCP, Preface, 9) among all the people, regardless of vocation, station, class, gender, or other accidental circumstance.

Which is to say that the tradition of the church is to include me--me, with my excessive eduction, my overpriced Silicon Valley home, my access to an endless assortment of advantages, and my discomfort with any recitation of the Lord's prayer that doesn't include the stilted pronunciation of "hallowED." But our customs are not meant to be shaped around my preferences any more than the tradition of giving thanks to God that we will enact later this month can only be handed forward in all places and to new generations with turkey, chestnut dressing, yams, and gravy. As Jesus intended.

Maybe we are not all the 1 %, but, let's be honest, very many of us know how to get to the neighborhood. And God loves us nonetheless. God loves the 100%. Let's be very clear about that. God doesn't hate bankers any more than God hates fags. God certainly doesn't hate Episcopalians, who, after all, have used our privilege not insignificantly in the service of peace, justice, healing, and sustainability not merely across the US, but in every country in the world. Indeed, I like to hope, with all the humility I can muster, that God is well pleased with the way in which we have transformed so much of the tragic architecture of Anglican colonialism into a robust network of service and support in times of crisis and need, as after the earthquake in Haiti and the famine in Sudan.

But God also calls us away from our inaccessible customs and the lives that our privilege have bought us in America and across the globe. We are called, our mission as a church, is to live into the vision shared by the prophets, the apostles, all the saints, and borne out in God's body on the cross as the Christ of unity and peace--"a dwelling," Paul tells us, "in which God lives by his Spirit."

Such a body travels light, carrying "neither purse nor bag nor sandals," Luke insists. We are meant to leave all of our baggage behind--not only the mountains of stuff we have accumulated, but also our divisions, our hostilities, and even the customs of which we are so fond if we are to be true bearers of God's holy peace to those whose language, or culture, or generational experience render our quaint customs--our pipe organs, our Ralph Vaughn Williams hymns, our vergers, and our other hallowED liturgical practices--incomprehensible. We are to be the very kingdom of God when we come near to those we serve.

What might that look like today?

I am no more certain than is anyone else in these transitional times. But, let's be honest, there are those who will say that the new song of Episcopalians will never be written or sung by the likes of us Western Pennsylvanians, with our aging yinzer culture and shaky economy. They look to Boston or Seattle, Chicago or San Francisco, with their edgy, progressive cultures and what often seems like an endless reserve of creativity.

But, not very long ago, I saw something of the sort of enduring, regenerative creativity folks in these parts bring to the ecclesial songfest. My sister and brother-in-law have a cabin near Brookville, where I visited with them a couple months ago. It was the first time I'd been there, and the first time I'd ever heard the song of an elk. Now, you all surely know the story of the elk's return to the Allegheny mountains after horrific decades of unbridled massacre at the turn of the twentieth century.

In a blink of historical time, the over-hunted elk disappeared, unsettling not just the mountain ecosystem, but also significant parts of its economy and its culture. But, of course, someone--Teddy Roosevelt, that kinda-sort Episcopalian president--had the vision to recognize and redress the loss, working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to import pairs of elk from the western US to resettle in Elk County. Now, a few decades later, their songs ring out across the meadows and fields, a whole species brought back into relationship with the land and the people of this region.

Okay, let's be honest, the revitalization of the church in these parts might not include quite as much glitter and glitz as it will in other parts of the country and the world. But it surely can have a certain kind of grit and groundedness that is hardly without the creativity and daring that we need to realize the vision of God's kingdom. Surely, the song of the Pennsylvania elk is but a line of the new song of healing and wholeness we are meant to sing out to all God's people. Surely, the revitalization of the church could start right here, blossoming like the bright crocuses that reach out of the snow after each long winter.

And, just as surely, it is only the beginning of what Episcopalians can do with our education, our privilege, our traditions of love and justice, and our hope for a future where swords are beaten into plowshares, and foreigners and strangers--even hip trendies from San Francisco--join with us in the common household of God. Because, let's be honest, if we can't rouse ourselves to refashion our beloved customs into resonant, relevant, engaging new songs, we won't go the way of the elk, but of the dinosaur. God knows, no one needs that.

Elizabeth Drescher, PhD, is a religion writer and professor of religious studies and pastoral ministries at Santa Clara University. Her research and writing focus on the spiritual lives of ordinary believers today and in the past. She is the author of Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation (Morehouse, 2011). Her forthcoming book, Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse 2012), written with Lutheran pastor and blogger Keith Anderson, will be released in May. Her Web site is elizabethdrescher.net.

This essay was first presented as a sermon at the Convention Eucharist of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern PA, November 4, 2011. The readings were Is. 2:2-4; Ps. 96; Eph. 2:13-22; Lk. 10:1-9.

Chosen to be a blessing?

By Kathleen Staudt

In his book A Generous Orthodoxy--the chapter on “Why I am Missional”--Brian McLaren, makes a point that opened up for me the whole tangled question of what it means to be “called and chosen” as the People of God. Crediting the theology of Leslie Newbigin, he reminds us that when God calls Abraham and promises to make of him a great nation, God’s purpose is that Abraham and his descendants will be a blessing to the world.

Though God’s language in this story is still very rooted in a tribal ethos, the promise is that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3) . They are called out from among the nations, not for special privileges, but so that God can work through them. And at its best, the covenant that God eventually calls them into is, by the standards of the time and place, a new way for people to be together in society, where just distribution of wealth and resources are assumed, family relationships honored, and right relationship between creatures and Creator is valued. At least that’s what the overall narrative reaches for, with its ongoing pattern of embracing and falling away from the covenant that God offers and keeps offering again. I think we can learn a lot be reading Scripture with this pattern in mind.

Like McLaren, and like Verna Dozier, (both of whom, like me, started their careers as readers & teachers of literature), I see this theme of “chosen-ness” as a part of the “arc” of the Biblical story -- perhaps of all the Abrahamic traditions in one way or another. The Biblical story is the story of a God who is engaged with and wants to work through human history. In Hebrew Scripture God does this through the Torah, and the narrative tells of the waxing and waning of the people’s faithfulness, and all the consequences of that. It goes all the way through the story of exile and return, when the people, repentant and redeemed, see themselves again as being called to be “a light to the nations.” And then for Christians, the New Testament offers another take on Hebrew Scripture, through the lens of our call to follow the Way of the Risen Christ. (*Just a note that I hope may avoid some detour in the comment threads: I honestly think that it is possible to embrace this reading without being supersessionist, i.e., without arguing that the call of Christ somehow displaces or negates the call of the Israelites to be the people of God. I hope that the way of reading I propose does not necessarily makes us complicit with the damage this misreading of scripture has done through history. Rather, I think it helps us toward faithfulness to read Scripture at least in part as the story of a God who calls people into covenant and acts in human history. It is a particular and radical theology and it is at the heart of the Biblical story. The New Testament may be our chapter of that story, as Christians, but we need to embrace the whole story.)

In the gospels, we also have stories of calling and again the call is not to special privileges but to participation in a mission – the bringing in of the kingdom, the reign of God. The fishermen become “fishers of men” in Mark and Matthew. When Jesus is bidding farewell to his disciples in the fourth gospel, he says “you did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commandments so that you may love one another.” (John 15:16-17). This is not the conferring of special privilege or magical powers, but a commissioning to a new way of life that will touch and transform human communities.

Obviously I’m picking and choosing passages here – (I hope it isn’t “proof-texting: -- just suggesting some themes that thread through the Biblical story and help to make it our own). When there’s language about God’s call in Scripture, we may want to resist our contemporary inclination to read everything individualistically and consider that in the context of the story, being called and chosen is usually about becoming part of ( or even leading) a new kind of human community, bearing the cost of this, and becoming in some way an example to the world on God’s behalf. True, Christians as a body have not always been a blessing to the world -- we’ve certainly been known to appropriate and distort the language of chosen-ness in destructive ways. But I think it’s important to revisit the idea and try to understand it in a fresh way, rather than to throw it out as contaminated by our past. Just because we’ve failed to live up to it doesn’t mean that the call to become God’s people and to be a blessing has gone away.

Most of us cringe at language about chosen-ness because of all the attention that has been given in theological discussions to more individualist questions about who is and is not chosen and what it might mean not to be chosen. Paul struggles over this himself - and comes to a ringing, hopeful conclusion when he says that in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus .” (Galatians 3:28) It may just be “human nature” to turn a story that it mainly about what it means to be called “the people of God” , , into a story about us and them, who’s in and who’s out. It happens within the story itself, many times. Nevertheless, I think we’re meant to pay more attention to what we’re called for and to, if we see ourselves as part of the Biblical story, than to worry much about who is in and who is out and how God makes that choice, questions which have occupied us perhaps too much in Christian theologizing. . “Your way of life must be different from that of others,” writes that early Christian reformer St. Benedict, “the love of Christ must come before all else.” That is still a Biblically- based reading, related to this understanding of being called and chosen. McLaren’s take on the call to “be a blessing” as the basis for a missional theology offers us a liberating way to read Scripture as a story that is in some sense our story. He uses it as the basis for his claim that the church’s call is “to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ, in community, and for the sake of the world.” And so this way of reading Scripture provides a fresh lens for asking what the Church is called and chosen to be, as the people of God in the real world of the 21st century.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Kingdom of Heaven Bread

By Richard E. Helmer

A few months ago the makings of what looked like a curious science experiment began to appear on the shelves of our kitchen. Knowing our seven-year-old’s propensity for putting things in water and watching what happens – with sometimes rather gruesome and foul-smelling results – I initially thought nothing of the proliferation of jars and their strange contents. But as they persisted, curiosity began to grab hold. In one jar was a layer of swollen raisins floating in water that was slowly turning a golden color. In another was a doughy paste that was starting to slowly bubble.

The coin didn’t drop for me until a few days later when some delicious bread appeared for dinner. My wife and son had, of course, been making bread starters. I discovered the benefits of our car port, where the back-end of our hatchback got enough sun during the day so my wife would put a culture in back to enjoy the warmth. The yeast was completely natural, started from the skins of everyday raisins, gently tended into a culture ready to mix with whole-wheat flour. In a few days, the resulting starter would expand, and a few teaspoons would go into a bread recipe made from scratch.

It was so much fun, I had to get into the act, and soon I was preparing bread starters from next to nothing to donate to our annual parish bake sale. It was great fun, but it demanded patience. The yeast would sit in a new clean jar with the flour for two or three days doing what seemed to be nothing, and then it would – one night when I wasn’t watching – take off, announcing that it was ready to be kneaded into some dough. My wife was far more patient, giving a sometimes daily batch of dough several hours to rise and noting the huge difference a cold, damp day would make.

She was also the one who grasped the theological implications of what we were doing long before I did. As we sat down for dinner one night, she said the experience reminded her of Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13:33, among the briefest of all Jesus’ parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

In our age of store-bought packages of quick-rise yeast, bread-making machines, and impatient schedules, the full meaning of this simplest of parables hadn’t dawned on me until my wife connected Jesus’ words with our making bread-starters and baking simple breads from scratch. In her connection, I discovered a valuable lesson for all our ministries in the church and the wider world: Ministry, working with God’s grace in cultivating the “kingdom of heaven,” requires the simplest of ingredients: like raisins, a bit of flour, and water. . .the yeast is already naturally present, like God’s Spirit waiting to act, if only given the right conditions. Our job is to gather those ingredients and create those conditions, offer the water it takes to build up the sacramental life, the “flour,” the food it needs from our shared stories and experiences, and the warmth of love in community that it takes to spread, take nourishment, and grow.

Ministry requires patience. It’s a no-brainer, but it’s the hardest discipline of the lot in our age of quick gratification and instant success. How many times to we go to the ecclesiastical grocery store to buy our quick-rise “yeast” program off the shelf – packaged and guaranteed to deliver? And how often are we disappointed that our efforts produce a ho-hum spiritual bread devoid of the joy of labor well done, of prayerful work committed over a long period? Waiting for the yeast to take hold is like waiting for the Spirit to act. When we create the right conditions for God’s grace to enter our lives and the lives of others, we are on God’s time. And God comes – as does the “Son of Man” – just like the yeast: a bit of a “thief in the night.” We wake up one morning to find our efforts by grace have taken root, the Spirit has acted, and what began with simple ingredients has blossomed into a culture of abundance, ready to leaven a whole batch of folk and an entire community with the life, hope, and vision of the kingdom.

Ministry is organic. It ebbs and flows with time and conditions – many of which are outside of our control. Yeast works faster when it is warm, slower when it is cold. We have to ride with its cycles much as we do with the cycles of life in our communities of faith and vocation. How often I have brooded over a down year or two in our parochial report! But experience shows that often these down times make room for a new infusion of grace and people, itching to engage in the deep life of the Gospel. We have to keep the best of the culture going, trusting in the natural life-cycle of the yeast. Sometimes, new clean jars are needed. Sometimes, we just have to start over. But faith is measured more in our long-term adherence to the Gospel calling – our kneading together the simple recipe of love of God and love of neighbor, the hope in Christ’s life-giving presence, the promise of grace that hooks into our life-cycles and demands our deepest trust and greatest devotion.

My wife and I chuckled over calling the bread coming out of our kitchen “Kingdom of Heaven Bread.” We chuckled because it seemed silly at first to gather such theological meaning out of something so everyday as break-making. But then, that is what the Christian life is about: God making the ordinary extraordinary; the everyday becomes miraculous. At that point, I suppose our chuckling became a bit more profound, a bit more leavening for life we had discovered, mixed in with three measures, and rising into Christ Jesus.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif., and a postulant in the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs at Caught by the Light.

Annoying mission

By Mark C. Engle

When I hear the word mission, I hear the word work, or job. I work all week long. I get spiritually depleted. I go to church to be fed so I can resume that work. If instead of food, what I get is another set of assignments, I get tired. I suspect that I am not alone in this.
Jim Naughton, August 30, 2010

It is one of the great ironies of our time that we are finding the restorative work of mission sapping our energy and creativity. Jim Naughton has done a service to bring this to our attention. When I hear mission, I hear, periphery. I hear hierarchy. I hear separation. I hear paternalism. All of that makes me tired indeed. I wonder what might happen if mission was recognized as the organizing principle of the baptismal life and of the beloved community?

In its place, the missionary impulse is full of strength, possibility and creativity. If I can imagine that “we have all that we need to do the mission to which we are called,” then congregational life is not about “getting the job done.” Congregational life can be about living into a reality in which we are marinated in mission.

The restorative principle of mission is at the heart of all that we do. Some of us live out mission as outreach: feeding, housing, encouraging downtrodden, organizing. But in everything we do the restorative function of our mission is at work. How does our worship “restore unity with God and one another?” What about the restoring procedures we use in the office? Are there blockages to restoration embedded in the way power is distributed within the congregation? Is our church life restoring the solemn significance of every person?

I want to be a part of a congregation, diocese, province that asks such questions; where one shares a quest with every person it touches. What wastes spiritual energy are all those checklists to which our conformity is expected. What energizes is making common cause is energized mission.

I am helped by a story that Jim Lemler (The Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler was formerly Director of Mission for the Episcopal Church) has told. He speaks about a cocktail reception at which a member of a Scandinavian royal family was in attendance. One of the guests did not recognize “his royal highness.” Tactfully seeking clues, he approached to ask, “So, are you still doing the same thing?” To this the stranger replied, “Yes, I am still the King,” Our mission is not entirely wrapped up in what we do. It is built into our identity, the royal priesthood. I believe we come to a frustrating cul de sac when we ask, “Is there too much mission in the Christian Church?” The pressing question is, rather, are we building the kind of communities in which mission can be a place of energy, nourishment and nurture?

The Rev. Dr. Mark C. Engle most recently served as rector of St. Paul's Church, Marquette, Michigan. He is now retired and living in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Hurricane Katrina and "the rest" of New Orleans

By Todd Donatelli

Like most who visit New Orleans, its identity for me was defined by the French Quarter: the food, the music, the funky vibe of walking the streets. For seven years we lived three hours from the Crescent City, two and half if you didn’t stop. Becky and I spent several anniversaries there with a common agenda: wake up to a leisurely courtyard breakfast, walk the streets, eat lunch, head to antique shops for more walking, eat dinner, and walk the streets some more. The walking was a feeble attempt to balance the amount of calories consumed (forgot to mention the stops at Café du Monde for beignets). On other trips we took our children and widened the experience with the Children’s Museum and Aquarium.

It was only after Katrina that I saw the rest of New Orleans. The first glimpses were the people who took refuge in Asheville immediately after the levee breaks. They were of all socio-economic backgrounds. They had children needing to be in school. Some had aging parents with them. They were all gypsies seeking to navigate, let alone comprehend, the turn their lives had taken.

One of the “resident alien” New Orleans families attended All Souls from August until December 27. They did not just attend. Active in their home parish (one was a Warden at the time), they participated in EFM so as not to lose ground with their course work, participated in fellowship and other education offerings, and never missed a Sunday (better attendance than even the Dean). They did this while working to keep their jobs going back home, getting their kids in school, and working to keep their home parish going. They have remained ‘extended members’ of our church and a human connection to a story full of much political and social opportunity.
They were also the ones who took us through our first visit to New Orleans post-Katrina. All Souls was sending groups to the Mississippi coast. On one trip we ventured down I-10 to have dinner with them and see the city. They had been home for a few months.

The drive into the city drive was like some 1950s sci-fi movie. Unlike the horror of the Mississippi coast which was leveled by Katrina, New Orleans’ damage was primarily flood. Thus, one drove by buildings which were standing, yet empty. One saw apartments and shopping malls basically intact with empty parking lots as far as the eye could see; neighborhood after neighborhood, which from the interstate appeared intact, with no people or movement. It was surreal.

As we exited the interstate and drove along the streets, a severe silence overtook the van. Our friend described aspects of the devastation and the contexts of the neighborhoods. There was still no electricity in most of the flooded areas, no working stop lights, no working street lights. The debris of the yards and streets offered faint suggestions of the internal debris of those who once lived there.

I recall being on an elevated bridge that evening taken aback by the patchwork of city light: large squares full of street and home lights connected to other large squares of total darkness.
After that visit we began sending groups to work in New Orleans. Our trips were planned through the Episcopal Diocese relief office. An amazing community of diocesan staff, college age interns, and local Episcopalians provided hospitable accommodations and carefully, thoughtfully organized work opportunities. Many of these folks were themselves dealing with damaged homes, families and churches.

One family who had taken temporary refuge in Asheville brought us a worksite lunch of New Orleans Po-Boys: muffuletas, fried oysters and even a vegetarian option (New Orleans is not renowned for of its vegetarian cuisine). We slept at St. Paul’s, gathered each day for work assignments at St. Andrew’s and spent Wednesday nights at St. Anna’s for a meal accompanied by the sounds of local jazz bands. St. Anna’s had received a grant to pay for the jazz groups whose income was devastated by the flood: creativity amid the ruins.

Each morning we were briefed on the home to be worked on, given appropriate backgrounds on the persons who had lived there, and given contexts of that neighborhood. Sometimes we met those who had lived in the homes, other times we knew them only by the pictures and photo albums found inside.

We were scheduled in a different neighborhood each day in order to give us a broad understanding of the issues and complexity of the city. Neighborhoods like Gentilly, Lakeview, the 9th Ward, Chalmette, New Orleans East, and St. Bernard were not places I knew before these trips. Now they are etched in memory. Now there are faces connected to names. Whenever news reports of Katrina appear, they are no longer stories about “those folks” but of friends and those we met.

One need not gloss over the issues of New Orleans. Like many cities, their social issues have come through years of choices. Having grown up in Chicago in the 50s, 60s and 70s, names like Cabrini Green are not the ones we Chicagoans lead with when telling you about our home town.

As I watch the reports of the 5th anniversary of Katrina, I hear of issues faced and improved and many issues still with ‘miles to go’ before they will find their rest. As with any work of this scale there will be progress and setbacks. Certainly the spirits of those who live there did not need an oil spill as part of this journey.

Watching and reading the reports, I find myself grateful to have had relationship with the myriad of folks who live there and invited us in. I am grateful to have been allowed to observe their personal journeys with the city and their place in it. Their journey continues.

Dostoevsky said beauty will save us. I believe that. I also believe incarnation saves us; saves us from objectifying, saves us from removed identification, saves us from making judgments of people and groups without being present with and to them. Incarnation is costly. It requires a letting go of distant safety. It requires looking into one another’s eyes.

When I think about it, I am rarely converted simply by reading things. I am converted by human beings.

The Very Reverend Todd Donatelli is dean of The Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, North Carolina. His published writing includes the chapter, “Art and Transformation” in “From Nomads to Pilgrims”, edited by Diana Butler Bass and Joseph Stewart-Sicking. He blogs at Contemplation from the Angle.

Extreme Home Makeover: Diocese of Texas style

By Carol E. Barnwell

Hollis Baugh, a member of St. Christopher’s, League City, (TX) designed and helped to build the largest home yet for ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover. The 5400 square foot structure in Kemah will be home for the Beach family whose home has been unlivable since Hurricane Ike. The family of 15 has been living in a trailer on their property until this January when they were chosen to receive a new home from the popular reality television show.

The home, which Baugh helped to design to the program’s specifications, was completed in 106 hours by a team of vendors and volunteers lead by Blu Shields Construction, and was designed to fit the needs of the Beach family. Members from many Episcopal churches volunteered to work on the home through the unusual subzero temperatures that plagued the first part of the build.

During their 23 years of marriage, Larry, 40 and Melissa, 40; have fostered more than 85 children that adoption agencies were not able to place. They have four biological children and nine adopted children ages 23 years to 22 months. Their son Cody, 19, is currently serving in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan. Several children have special needs and the new home is complete with a therapy room.

Baugh, who was born in Nacogdoches and raised in Houston, started building houses with his father when he was in junior high school. He and his workers are excited about helping the Beaches regain their quality of life after so many months of hardship. “I have been blessed by helping people,” he said.

Baugh joined the Episcopal Church in 1993 after moving to Baycliff near League City when his wife Anne visited and began attending St. Christopher’s. He built his windstorm inspection business and now covers the 12 coastal counties, certifying construction to meet the state’s windstorm requirements. “Just knowing how to build a house isn’t enough,” Baugh explains. “We check the framing, the nailing of the sheeting of the walls and the roof that provides the wind force resistance.”

A graduate of the University of Houston, Baugh is a registered professional engineer and was appointed by the Texas Department of Insurance to do the windstorm certification. While the state holds him to a high level of performance, Baugh said his values, informed by his religion, make daily choices easy. “The spiritual part makes it easy to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. Every three days someone calls and wants you to do them a ‘little favor.’ We can’t fudge.”

Trained as a Stephen minister, Baugh spent several years serving as junior warden and is currently a lay reader at St. Christopher’s. He helped put in the church’s community garden. He has worked with Blu Shields Contruction for a number of years. The family company is committed to design and construction of quality, high-energy efficient homes built within a short timeframe.

“Building houses in 128 hours doesn’t scare them,” Baugh said. “It scares me!”

This was their biggest challenge to date, said Baugh, who prebuilt floors and walls which were then set into place with large cranes during the 24/7 week-long build. The home will have an elevator so all children will have access to all the rooms in the house. “It’s a real Hollywood production,” he said, listing numerous camera crews, a hospitality and VIP tent, crowd control and street closings needed to complete the event.

The Beaches were one of several families interviewed for the show, which will air in March. “Yes, some families will be disappointed, but this is a very deserving family and we are doing a good thing,” Baugh said.

“We couldn’t have done it without him,” said Blu Shields, who walked by during our interview. “You are sitting in front of a good man! Hollis came up with this idea to pre-build, pre-panelize,” he added. Ninety percent of the house was then sitting on trailers in the parking lot, waiting to be unloaded as it was needed by two enormous cranes.

Before I left, Baugh showed me his slide rule collection. “I’m missing a round slide rule, then my collection will be complete,” he said.

Thanks to Baugh, Shields and the thousands of volunteers who made this home makeover happen, the Beach family moved into their new home less than a week after leaving their trailer. That’s gotta feel good for everyone involved.


Work continues in Galveston
To help rebuild other homes damaged in Hurricane Ike, go to http://www.ikerelief.blogspot.com/ and volunteer with Texas Episcopal Relief and Development. Hundreds of families are still not in their homes following the devastation of Hurricane Ike and you and your friends can do something about it. Join us in this effort to get people back home.

Carol E. Barnwell is communication director of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

A journey with angels

Daily Episcopalian will continue on an every-other day schedule this week.

By Margaret Treadwell

Cathy and Lizzie created a Christmas story in July when they took a journey with angels. Buddies from previous St. Columba's Katrina mission trips, they decided to visit the Church of the Annunciation in New Orleans on their own to finish some projects under the aegis of the group.

This decision was fueled by an angel in the form of a neighbor who offered, "If you fix up the RV that's been sitting in our driveway for five years, you drive it free down to New Orleans!" The two road trippers seized the chance, got their vehicle into what they thought was tip top condition and set off early on a hot summer morning.

The flashing red dashboard lights appeared mere miles outside the Beltway, just as they were driving past a gas station. Here two more angels appeared: Asian mechanics who spoke no English fixed a computer glitch and screwed the gas cap on properly. These angels were invited to come along as mechanics for the trip but politely declined - if they understood the invitation at all.

Not much further down the road at their first campground in Salem, Va., the RV bathroom's black water drain valve fell off in Lizzie's hand. The year-round campground resident rigged a makeshift solution and sent the ladies off to Betty's RV Repair instructing them not to trust any other. While Betty's angels worked on the problem, the two travelers sat with Dolly Parton, Lizzie's dog, in 112-degree shade being entertained by neighborly passersby, like the proudly gay Episcopalian who claimed he had slammed his motorcycle into a light pole so hard during a recent accident that it restarted his arrested heart. "That pole was my fribulator!" he maintained.

Travels progressed smoothly until Sunday, Day 3, just south of Birmingham, Ala., when the RV floor became so hot that the terrified friends were overjoyed to look up and see an RV repair shop right in front of them. Another angel in the guise of a very small man came out to direct them 12 miles down the road for expert repair on what turned out to be the muffler pushed against the cabin floor. Burning metal easily could have started a fire which would have caused the gas tank to explode. When they pulled up for help, the owner's wife ran out, saw the predicament and ran calling to her husband, "Open up quick! You need to help these ladies! They don't know what they're doing!"

After this fright, the malfunctioning fridge, broken toilet and finicky generator seemed minor. Lizzie and Cathy's mantra became, "Cope with it!"

As with past mission trips, the most powerful aspect of the pair's time in New Orleans was the relationships they formed with people. Angels they encountered included two staff members - an electrician and a carpenter - who had stopped at Annunciation as they were fleeing the city. Together, these two have made the church's mission work possible with their talents and their witness to what can happen when everyone works together on the same goal: helping people in desperate need. Another church angel is Miss Lily, who was a victim of the hurricane in the worst possible way. She lost everything and was burned by a stove during the storm. Now she covers herself so no one will see her scars when she comes every day to help others at the church that helped her.

Lizzie and Cathy stayed six days and related their hard, hot work to the part of the Christmas story in the dirty, smelly stable where angels, sheep and wise men are witnessing a miracle. While finishing several projects, they experienced a centeredness among the people that allowed for openness and trust. The spiritual process of their journey became as important as the work accomplished, and they returned home grateful and changed by the angels they had encountered along the way. The common thread throughout: "The reason we were going kept us on course: We had our eyes on the prize."

Will you see the angels in your life today?

Margaret M. "Peggy" Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice.

Maintenance and mission, or,
What are we doing here?

By Kathleen Staudt

I have been teaching for years about the ministry of the laity, resonating with Verna Dozier’s writing about “the Church, the people of God” as opposed to “the Church, the Institution.” I have explored with people the implications of our baptismal covenant and more recently reflected deeply on the catechism’s account of the ministry of the laity: “to represent Christ and his church, to bear witness to him wherever we may be, and -- oh yes – almost an afterthought, “according to the gifts given us, to take our place in the life, worship and governance of the Church.” (BCP, p.855) The work of the Church, I’ve been telling people for almost a generation, is primarily in the world, carried out by “the church, the people of God.” The institutional church & its leaders sustain and nurture us in our ministries. That’s the idea, anyway.

And now I find I am taking my own place in the “life, worship and governance of the Church,” by serving as the Rector’s Warden in my congregation. I've thought of myself mainly as a "spiritual formation person.," a mission-minded Christian. So why am I spending all this time on budgets, finance, "maintenance?" As we put all these resources into maintaining and sustaining a building, staff, and program, I need, for my own sanity, to ask: What are we doing here? Here, in this place where the church building stands: on a busy thoroughfare leading into Washington DC, just inside the Capital beltway, on the edge of a suburban neighborhood.

Some insights about this came to me recently on “parish beautification day,” when some of us came over to church on a Saturday morning to do some deep cleaning and setting-to-rights in the aftermath of major work on our new HVAC system, the centerpiece of our capital campaign. My assigned job was to take a rag, a bucket, and some Murphy’s oil soap and wash down the tops of our solid oak pews. I had to empty the wash water every other pew because it was black with the soil from all those human hands, supporting themselves as they stood, sat and knelt at worship. I thought of Gerard Manly Hopkins’s poem, “God’s Grandeur,” where he says that “all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil, /and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell.” Real people, bringing with them all the mess and muck of life, come here to worship and pray and be together at our lively worship services in this place, and we leave our marks. For a moment my job felt like the rite of foot-washing we are called to on Maundy Thursday, acknowledging the soiled humanness of all of us, our need to be washed in order to participate in Christ.

As I worked, together with my friends Quinton and Abudullah, washing floors and pews in various parts of the sanctuary, a woman came in the front door, which we had left open. She wondered if she could fill a bag of food from our food closet; she’d lost her job and this would help her to make ends meet this week. We welcomed her gave her a bag,, and showed her where the pantry was -- and reflected, among ourselves, at our own blessedness at having enough, right now, in these hard times, when so many people are struggling economically.

Indeed, it seems that many in the local community are turning to our presence on this corner in hopes of finding a place of help and welcome. More and more, in these difficult times, the rector reports that homeless people are coming to our door in search of food, warm clothing, access to social services. A community of homeless people is forming under the beltway overpass, just a quarter of a mile down the road. We are clearly being called to some deeper discernment about how we can best and most responsibly provide the right kind of help to our near neighbors in need. The church building, with its carving of Our Saviour, arms outstretched, over the front door, says to the world, “There is help here.” Somehow the building and the people alike are called to give solid form to that help.

“The church is not a building/ The church is not a steeple/ The church is not a resting-place/ The church is a people,” goes a song my children learned in Sunday school. But now it seems more complicated than that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes somewhere that “the church of Jesus Christ takes up space in the world,” and our buildings and the way we use them is one way we do this. As I enter my 2nd year of a 3-year term in leadership, I am praying for clarity about how we are called to use what we have – in building, staff, and other resources—the nitty-gritty, institutional stuff that we support with our regular givings and thanks-givings – to be the presence of Christ on this corner, for those around us and for all who come through our doors.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Plus ca change

By Lauren R. Stanley

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti – I’ve been in Haiti for just a few days now, and already, I am being bombarded with questions: How is it? Is it really different from Sudan?

After serving as a missionary for four years to the Episcopal Diocese of Renk in the northernmost part of South Sudan, I now am discovering the joys – and differences – of living and moving and having my being in the West Indies. Every day, I see something that reminds me of Sudan; every day, I encounter the differences as well. Intellectually, I know I am in a new and different place. Emotionally, I am learning to adjust. Spiritually, I never moved.

The main differences begin with the languages , of course. Here, the people speak French and Creole, instead of Arabic and Dinka and Nuer and Murle and all those other tribal languages spoken in Renk. Here, no one says Salaam aleikum. Instead, we greet each other with Bonjou or Bonswa. And the manner in which we greet each other differs greatly, too: In Sudan, we shake hands – endlessly, it sometimes seems. In Haiti, we hug and kiss on the cheek – something unheard of in my previous posting.

But even more startling than the languages, which I am learning slowly (Creole) or recovering after 30 years (French), with 10 other languages in between, is the freedom, the absolute freedom that you find in Haiti. This nation is very Caribbean in its flavor; the mode of dress alone is enough to startle the eye. But there’s freedom here that is not experienced in Sudan: Freedom to do, freedom to be, freedom to believe. In the portion of Sudan where I lived, there were few overt signs of Christianity. Yes, you could see churches and crosses atop mud huts and some signs, but that was it. Sudan is a land where religion still very much divides the people.

But in Haiti? God is everywhere, openly proclaimed. Churches proliferate. Churches bells ring. Christianity is the main religion, and no one hesitates to proclaim it, no one hides it. Even the tap-taps, the pickup trucks converted into public transportation, are covered in calls to God: Grace be with us; Immanuel; Son of God; Holy Trinity; Saint (fill in the blank with whatever name you wish). Even one of the lotteries played in this country invokes God’s presence and blessing.

And as startling for me is the freedom of the women. They can dress however they like, go wherever they like and seemingly do whatever they like. This is a nation with a female prime minister, Michele Pierre-Louis. At the hardware store yesterday, searching for plumbing parts to fix a recalcitrant shower, the person with whom I consulted, the manager, who knew more than anyone else in the store about plumbing and what I needed, was a woman! This simply is not the case in Sudan, and even though I am an American, I’ve lived overseas for a long time and am very adapted to the subservient role women take in many places. To be in Haiti, to see such leadership and freedom enjoyed by women, is both thrilling and a bit unsettling; it is something to which I will have to become – joyfully – adjusted.

But setting aside those major differences (there are others – various customs and foods come to mind), there are even greater similarities. The people are, for the most part, dirt poor here. But they try – they scramble every day – to get through the day. They work however they can; they take their children to school; they gather to talk and debate. I’m not foolish enough to say the people are happy; I am discerning enough to see the small joys they find in life and to hear their laughter. I see an intense devotion to and trust in God; an intense desire to not only survive for another day but to get ahead, even just a little bit; an incredible hunger for education.

Yes, I have moved thousands of miles, from the largest nation in Africa to one of the smallest in the world. I’m changing cultures and languages and even foods. But I am still living in the fields of the Lord, still serving God’s beloved children, still astounded at God’s grace and how it is received and displayed. Much has changed, but through the love of God, even more has joyfully remained the same.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an appointed missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in the Diocese of Haiti in the West Indies. She began her new ministry there last week..

Hey friend, got 80 cents?

By Lauren R. Stanley

My mother always told me: Be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it.

Since she was always right in the past, I’m hoping that she will be right once more.

And what was I asking for this time?

A mere 80 cents – per person – per year – from every Episcopalian in the United States.

Why?

So we can double the number of missionaries serving Christ in Christ’s far-flung world.

See, it turns out that the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, also known as The Episcopal Church, also known as us, only has about 80 missionaries serving overseas at any given moment. Some of those missionaries serve for one year; they belong to the Young Adult Service Corps, a special program for young adults ages 22-30. Some are Volunteers in Mission, and serve for one or two years. About 30 of our missionaries are full-time, long-term missionaries, like me, who serve for three or more years overseas.

Did you notice that I mentioned we – the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, a Church with more than 2 million members – have only 80 missionaries?

What has happened to us?

Why are we, as a Church, not supporting more people who are willing to go to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel?

Well, there are a variety of reasons, from a bad economy (a most recent development) to a growing interest in short-term missions to a decision that perhaps full-time, long-term missionaries no longer are needed.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains: We have too little money invested, as a Church, in preaching the Gospel in all of God’s very good creation.

But if each of us gave a mere 80 cents per person per year, we could double the size of our full-time missionary corps, and go to that many more places, doing that much more of God’s work among God’s beloved children.

I related this fact to a small parish in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, St. Luke’s in Hot Springs. This parish has been supporting me, along with many other parishes and individuals, as a full-time missionary in Sudan. I was with this parish in late May, and we were talking about how we were going to continue working together on God’s mission, now that I am not in Sudan any longer. I mentioned that we don’t have enough missionaries, and that it costs nothing – nothing – to fix that problem.

“Eighty cents per person per year,” I said. “That’s all it takes.” Light bulbs began to go off over people’s head at that moment, although I have to admit, I missed them.

But by the next morning, I couldn’t avoid seeing them. Members of St. Luke’s started phone calling and e-mailing, and by Monday afternoon, a new mission had formed for them:

They would lead the effort. They would challenge the entire Episcopal Church to participate in “The 80-Cent Solution for World Mission.” They would coordinate the whole thing, help get out the word, send a resolution to General Convention, work with the Church’s treasurer to get the right kind of account set up so that money coming in could only go to new missionary endeavors.

By Monday night, the people at St. Luke’s had asked another small parish, Christ Episcopal in Buena Vista, Va., to co-sponsor the effort. Within days, invitations went out to two other small parishes, St. John’s in Glasgow, Va., and Good Shepherd in Blue Grass, Va. All four of these parishes qualify as small congregations, with average Sunday attendance at 40 or fewer people. But their small size isn’t deterring them from taking on this large task.

Within two weeks, all four parishes had signed on, and were gathering support from other parishes.

Their idea is that because they are small parishes from a small, rural diocese, they best represent the mustard seed approach to mission. Like that small seed, they intend to grow and grow and grow, until not only the birds of the air but the entire Church can nest in its spreading branches.

The 80-Cent Solution for World Mission is simple: Each person gives 80 cents per year. The money is collected by parishes and sent directly to the Church Center in New York, where it goes into a trust fund that can be used only for new missionaries. The money is not intended to support current missionaries, who are in the triennial budget (although they deserve more support, too). No, this effort is geared toward returning the Church to its historic roots as a mission church. Not a mission-oriented church, but a church that exists explicitly to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. That’s what the Episcopal Church used to do … we used to have hundreds of missionaries out there. Now, there are only 80.

Already, we’ve been asked: Exactly what would all these new missionaries do? They would go forth, on behalf of the entire Episcopal Church, to preach the Gospel, care for those in need, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison. They would teach and build and most important, they would be present, showing the Episcopal Church’s love for all of God’s very good creation.

What does the 80-Cent Solution for World Mission mean to those who give? It means they, too, can be the missionaries they are called to be. They, too, can go out into the world, through these missionaries, and partner with their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, people who are related to them not by the blood of their birth but by the waters of their baptism.

We are all, by definition, missionaries. Jesus told us that. Our very name as a Church tells us that.

All it takes is 80 cents – per person – per year – to participate in this answer to the Great Commission.

If you or your parish would like to learn more about this grass-roots program, or want to participate, contact Jean Seymour at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Hot Springs, Va., via e-mail: foxtrotfarm@tds.net.

It will only cost you 80 cents.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of The Episcopal Church. For the last four years, she has been serving in Sudan. In August, she begins her new assignment in Haiti.

0.7: Put it back

By Lauren R. Stanley

Last January, the Executive Council made a very difficult decision: Cutting out the money the Episcopal Church pledged toward the Millennium Development Goals. That 0.7 percent line item totaled $924,000 in the last triennial budget.

Now, considering that since the last General Convention, much was made of the Episcopal Church’s working hard to make the MDGs become a reality around the world, cutting that money from the proposed budget, which is but a draft being forwarded to General Convention 2009, seems quite harsh, not to mention contradictory to our very ethos.

But with the economic times being what they are, with money seemingly disappearing overnight, with the endowment and pledges falling, what else can be done?

To be fair to the Executive Council, this decision was not made lightly, and it was not the only portion of the proposed budget to take a hit.

But just because we don’t have the revenues right now does not mean that we can’t have them. It simply means we haven’t tried hard enough, or been creative enough, in our teaching of stewardship, in our presentation of the Gospel, in our fund-raising not for ourselves but for God and God’s beloved children.

So here’s an idea that if we were bold enough to try, just might help: Pennies from Heaven. (No eye-rolling, no sniggering, please. Pennies may not have much value on their own, but if you put enough of them together, you get a lot, and I mean a lot of money. So control your laughter and pay attention, please, because this could work, if we all bought into it.)

Here are the numbers: We have approximately 2 million members in the Episcopal Church. If we were to set up a program and ask each person to set aside a mere 25 cents per day – just one quarter, less than the cost of a newspaper, less than the cost of just about anything except a gumball these days – the Church would gain an additional $182.5 million – per year! That’s more than three times the proposed budget for 2010 (which is $53.1 million). And what would it cost each person? $91.25 per year. We’re not talking major money here … we’re literally talking pennies per person.

OK, so maybe getting all 2 million members to participate is going to be tough. So let’s say that only half of our members participate. That would still be $91.25 million.

Still too optimistic? Well, what if only one quarter of our members participated? Net gain: $46.6 million.

Maybe this is all pie-in-the-sky. So let’s drop the numbers even more. Let’s ask each person to give 1 cent – one penny – per day. How do the numbers work out then?

Two million members each participate, each giving a paltry $3.65 per year. That still nets the Church $7.3 million. One million participants: $3.65 million. Half a million participants? $1.825 million.

Which is nearly double what was cut from the Church’s budget for the MDGs.

In other words, asking each of us to give mere pennies per day would more than make up the cuts made to fulfill the MDGs.

(If the numbers sound staggering, and you’re wondering why the MDGs have to get all the money from a program like this, my answer is simple: The MDGs don’t. Raise a $182.5 million and you get to split it up: Fifty percent to the parish, 25 percent to the diocese, 25 percent to the world through the MDGs. It doesn’t matter; it would still be a bounty worthy of the Lord.)

Is it a crazy idea, asking each member to make a commitment of this kind, too pie-in-the-sky? Perhaps. But how else is the Church going to fulfill the Gospel imperatives that are so eloquently expressed in those goals?

Yes, the Church has a lot of work to do. We haven’t sold the idea of the MDGs as well as we should have or could have. (The April 12 Living Church reported that in response to a survey on its news service website, an astonishing 67 percent of participants said the MDGs are “not on their parish’s radar.”) And we certainly haven’t sold the idea of giving to the Church very well, either. After all, how many of us – lay and clergy – actually tithe from our total income?

But just because we haven’t sold stewardship as well as we should have doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because this is a program that could work, if we were serious about it. If we asked each member to contribute pennies per day – not to write one extra check per year, but to intentionally put their pennies in their piggy banks or used water bottles or cardboard boxes or whatever they want to use, so that each and every day, each and every one of us stops to think and pray about those in need – this program would be successful beyond our wildest dreams.

In the last six months, I’ve heard from dozens of friends, lay and clergy, about how their parishes had to cut budgets, how stewardship campaigns are so very hard because the economy is in a freefall, how difficult it is to stand up in front of a congregation and announce that the budget is $40,000 or $50,000 or $60,000 short. I’ve heard anger, I’ve heard regret, I’ve heard fear. And I know that if I were sitting in the pew and my leaders told me we needed another $40,000 (or whatever the sum would be), I’d panic. Because I don’t have that kind of money. And I’d feel regret, and I’d worry. But if those same leaders stood before me and told me, “OK, here’s what we’re short, and here’s how it breaks down: We need another 25 cents per day from you,” I’d say, “OK, that I can do.”

Even more, by asking each of us to give this small amount, so that it takes all of us to accomplish the goal, each of us knows that we are members of a community, that we don't have to solve the problem all on our own. We have a whole capital-C Church to help us do this. It’s not just about putting a roof over our heads or making sure we fix the church basement leak; this is about doing God’s work and caring for God’s people wherever they are.

Our problem is not that we are in a serious economic recession. Our problem is that we simply don’t solve problems the right way. We look at the biggest picture possible and overwhelm our people and ourselves, and then … well, then we fall short of our goals and things like support for the MDGs gets cut from a shrinking budget.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can do so much better, if we simply stop overwhelming ourselves with the seemingly impossible and remember that all things are possible with God.

It’s not as though we have a choice, to be honest. From the very beginning of time, God has instructed us to care for those in need. Terence E. Fretheim, professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, speaks eloquently of these imperatives in his book The Pentateuch. He writes that Deuteronomy especially understands that human life is at odds with God’s intentions for creation, and that the law is the “divine ordering at the cosmic level” for what happens in the social sphere. Thus, he says, Deuteronomy “focuses on the stability of the community and its flourishing” and cites the “recurring refrain: the widow, the orphan, and the resident alien.”

“Caring for the disadvantaged,” Fretheim writes, “is more a theological matter for Israel than a sociological or political one; these commands come from God above, not from the government, and the integrity of God’s creation is at stake in the way in which these people are cared for.” And then he quotes from Deuteronomy 15: “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand … Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor ...’”

Opening our hands to our poor and needy neighbors: that’s the goal of the MDGs. That’s what the Church formally committed to at last General Convention: Working with the United Nations and the rest of the world to end extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental stability; and develop global partnerships for development.

Those are the things we’re giving up, simply because of financial constraints. But when Jesus commanded us to care for the least of our brothers and sister, he didn’t add the codicil “but only if you can afford it.” He simply told us to do it. So we really don’t have the right to get excited about doing God’s work in one triennium and then walk away from that work the next triennium simply because we think we don’t have the money.

We do have the money … one quarter, or even just one penny, at a time. Together, in community, we can do all the things that God has commanded us to do.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church from the Diocese of Virginia, temporarily serving in the United States.

Saying "Please" in Sudan

By Lauren R. Stanley

RENK, Sudan – We’re coming to the end of the semester at the Renk Theological College, which means that the students here are frantically trying to wrap up assignments, read books, study notes and write papers.

Because they study in four languages -- English, Arabic, Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek – and have to write papers in Systematic Theology, Christian Ethics, Stewardship and the Synoptic Gospels, never mind face final examinations in six of their 11 courses, there suddenly is not enough time for everything.

So the other day, a student asked if we could skip Greek class that day (it’s a pass/fail course, and nearly all are passing right now) so that they could have an extra hour in the library, researching and writing.

I told that student to bring the rest of the class to the classroom within two minutes (time is a loose thing here in Sudan, and getting to class on time often seems impossible). Once everyone arrived – with literally five seconds to spare – I asked the first student to repeat his request. Everyone wants more time to research and write, he said; could we not have this time to go to the library? I asked who wanted more time for research. They all raised their hands. And then came the hard part:

“Say ‘please,’” I said. They looked at me blankly.

“Ask me nicely,” I said. “Say ‘please.’”

One student, who knows me better than most, suddenly caught on and piped up: “Please!”

But the other 14 students looked at me blankly.

“Really,” I said. “If you want me to do this for you, you need to say ‘please.’ I mean it.”

So they all sounded off together: “Please!!!!”

Which is when I let them go off to study. (For all lovers of Biblical Greek, fear not: We will catch up later on.)

The lesson here is that in Sudan, “please” is a foreign term. It’s simply not part of the daily vocabulary. Nor is “thank you.” Sudanese tend to live in an imperative world: “Come here.” “Sit down.” “Bring me water.” “Get me a soda.” When they’re not in the imperative mood, they’re in the vocative case: “Awok!” “Deng!” “Grace!” It is simply how they function – no “please,” no “thank you,” no asking if you would like to do something, no invitation to do another thing.

Just a bunch of orders, coupled with your name (always followed by a vocal exclamation point).

It is very hard to get used to this way of communicating, for if nothing else, it makes this place seem very harsh and unfriendly, without a trace of decency displayed for the other.

It’s one of the many things you have to accept if you’re going to live in this country: Abrupt orders. Curt name-calling.

You also have to get used to seeing hand gestures that here mean “Wait a minute,” and in the United States are considered rude Italian slurs. And folks of all ages spitting incessantly. And children squatting down in the middle of the dirt road to go to the bathroom. And donkey-cart drivers beating their donkeys (which have quite the reputation for stupidity and stubbornness). And people almost reflexively throwing stones at dogs. And everyone interrupting everyone else just to greet you.

But most of all, you have to get used to the imperative and vocative way of life. It’s very disconcerting to be in church and have the officiant order everyone to sit down, in the same tone of voice we in the West use to command a dog to sit. Or to be talking to one person, have another walk up and demand – demand – that you stop what you’re doing to greet them. (And if you don’t, be prepared to be lightly punched. Or to have a hand suddenly reach across your face to get your attention.)

Which is why I took my stand the other day and demanded that the whole class ask me, nicely, using what my mother used to call the “magic word.” Every once in a while, I simply want to hear some politeness, the kind drilled into me as a child.

My Sudanese friends actually laugh at me when I do this. Every time I ask someone to do something for me and add minfadlik (“please” in Arabic), someone always makes fun of me. I’ve even been asked, “Why do you do that? Why do you ask? Why do you say ‘please’?”

In part, it’s a habit. In part, I’m probably afraid of facing my mother one day in the next life and having her ask me why I wasn’t being nice to other people. But most of all, what I really want is the sense that each of us is honored, respected, treated well, treated not as a servant who can be ordered around, but as an equal.

I truly believe that little gestures of politeness count for a lot, that they help build the community, and that not using them helps destroy communities. I believe that every time we take that extra step, every time we ask instead of order, every time we show even the slightest bit of respect to another person, we live more fully into God’s image of love and community, the image in which we are created.

It’s a small thing, I know.

But sometimes, it works.

The very next day, my students once again wanted more time in the library. We gathered in the classroom. I looked at them and said, “Who wants to go to the library to research and write?” Every single hand shot up.

“What’s the magic word?” I asked.

And resoundingly, with great laughter, they responded immediately.

“PLEASE!!!”

Oh, that sounded so very nice.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Greek, Old Testament and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

I am not a doctor,
but I play one in Sudan

By Lauren R. Stanley

“Playing doctor” … when we were little kids, that phrase meant pretending to do just that: one child would be the “doctor,” one would be the “nurse,” one would be the “sick patient.” We had pretend stethoscopes, used pretend thermometers, dispensed pretend medicine.

When we were older, it meant … well, it meant something our parents didn’t want us to know about, experimenting, perhaps, with some kissing and whatever else. (I’ll leave the rest to your memories and imagination.)

Today, “playing doctor” has taken on a whole new meaning for me, for now, on a daily basis, I am asked to be a doctor, even though I am woefully both under-trained and under-equipped.

But living in Southern Sudan, where there are not enough doctors and medicine can be either hard to come by or way too expensive, I’m considered an expert. It all started with a colleague ripping open his finger while we were starting a generator. After we staunched the bleeding, I told him he needed to see a doctor, to have it sutured. But he refused. “You fix it,” he said. “I trust you.”

So we went to my house and I pulled out my medical kit and proceeded to clean the wound and bandage it, using homemade butterfly bandages. I slathered it in antibiotic cream, bound it up, and prayed like crazy.

When his hand swelled up the next day, I thought I had not cleaned the wound properly, so we started all over again. It took me a while to figure out that the swelling was not from infection, but from bruising (that generator was, and remains to this day, a beast). The wound healed so well it is almost impossible to see the one and a half inch scar. That’s when my reputation as a “doctor” began.

Then my students at the Renk Theological College started getting sick. They had headaches and aches and pains and coughs. One of them got caught in a dust storm and was nearly blinded by all the grit in his eyes. Each time, the students would ask for my help, and I would do what I could: give out ibuprofen, with careful instructions to eat first; share some muscle creams; put drops in their eyes. And so my reputation as a “doctor” continued to grow.

One night, a friend came to my compound; could I fix her cut hand, she asked. She had cut it the day before and had no money to see a doctor, so I cleaned it up and made more makeshift butterfly bandages. The wound healed well. Now, this friend shows every visitor the scars, which are minimal, and retells the story of me cleaning and bandaging her wound with great pride. My reputation soared.

It’s not that I know a whole lot about medicine, but I do know enough. Once upon a long time ago, I was a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Kenya. Part of our training included medical instruction, for ourselves and our co-workers.

I have two “bibles” here in Sudan … one, the Holy Scriptures and one entitled Where There Is No Doctor, a gift from Peace Corps that I have always kept around. In the former are the prayers I use whenever I am trying to be a healer; in the latter are the instructions for the various medical problems that confront me.

The hardest part for me is when my Sudanese friends trust me to do things that I know are beyond me. Such as when I was asked, at 4 o’clock one morning, to deliver a baby – by Caesarian section. (The book recommends against that.) Or when a student asked me to extract his rotting molar (my dentist warned me never to do that). Or when one friend, knowing that I had had an emergency appendectomy while in the United States, decided that meant I was qualified to do the same for one of his relatives. In each case, I chose instead to provide the money for the procedures from funds I have received for just that purpose from American supporters.

Even though I often don’t want to “play doctor,” it’s not as though we have much choice here. Money is scarce, medicine scarcer so. The few doctors we have are either woefully under-trained themselves, or lack the medicine we need. What can I do but pray and try and then pray some more?

A lot of times, I actually do know what to do. I’ve lived in Africa long enough to learn a lot about treating illnesses and wounds. I’ve even learned – and used – traditional medicines. But there are times when my prayers are more informed than my knowledge.

That was especially the case the other night, when a friend brought her daughter to me. The girl had cut her hand; the wound was serious, deep, already infected. Part of the cut ran between her fingers, where I knew I couldn’t suture, couldn’t bandage. I thought she might lose the use of her little finger completely. I cleaned the wound as best I could and sent her to the doctor. But the next night she was back; the doctor didn’t know how to suture it either. That’s when I remembered that I had some dermal glue, so I cleaned the wound again, applied the glue, wrapped the hand, and prayed. If I hadn’t cleaned it enough … if the glue wasn’t applied correctly … if I hadn’t positioned her fingers just so … I might have done more harm than good. And even though I am not a doctor, I do believe in the Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm.

By God’s grace and a lot of help from friends who have provided me with medical supplies and knowledge, the girl’s wound is healing well. Her infection is gone and the skin is slowly healing. With more grace, she will retain use of her little finger.

Now, of course, the story is going around town of how I “saved” this child’s hand. It’s not true … but the story will grow and grow, and more people will come to me, and I’ll have to “play doctor” again and again …

And I am left to wonder: Do my “patients” realize that the most important gift I bring to my “doctoring” is my prayer?

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Greek, Old Testament and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

An exchange of missionaries

By Lauren R. Stanley

More than 1,000 Anglicans went to Jerusalem last month for the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). They were going, they said, to defend the faith. In the end, they claimed that they alone knew the truth, and as a result, have set up a new movement that they claim is one of the Spirit.

The participants, from the Global South, have many beefs with the Global North. In the South, they say, the Spirit is moving; in the North, they have decided, it is not. In the South, they say, true Anglicans are being faithful; in the North, they claim, faithfulness has been set aside. In the South, they say, the “true” Gospel is being proclaimed; in the North, they declare it is discredited by culture and militant secularism.

Many of those bishops who attended GAFCON will not be at Lambeth later this month, because they feel the Anglican Communion has erred and strayed too far from what they say the Gospel means.

But if they don’t attend Lambeth – and latest reports show that scores of these bishops, many from Nigeria, will not – how will they ever get to know what those in the Global North really believe? And how will those who attend get to know those who stay home?

What we have here is a lack of understanding, not only of each other’s interpretation of the Gospel, but of each other. Those in the Global South simply do not know those in the Global North very well, and those in the Global North know those in the Global South hardly at all. Instead, people on each side proclaim what they say those on the other side believe, and refuse to engage, refuse to seek the truth, refuse to let God work God’s wonders upon the relationships.

This truly is at the core of the misunderstandings and disputes taking place in the Anglican Communion today: A refusal to enter into real communion with each other.

So how do we resolve this problem? How do we get to know each other better, so that we can understand each other better? How do we enter into each other’s lives so deeply that in the end, we not only seek Christ in each other, but find Christ in each other as well?

One answer is to go live and move and have our being with each other. To send people from each side to serve as representatives of their churches in those areas of the world where the disagreement is strongest. In other words, to send missionaries forth, not just from the Global North to the Global South, but from the Global South to the Global North as well.

As an appointed missionary of the Episcopal Church, serving in the Episcopal Church of Sudan, I can tell you that actually living in another culture opens your eyes to whole new understandings of God’s love for all of God’s very good creation. Living and moving and having your being in a place that is foreign to you in almost every aspect forces you to look at God’s people in new ways. It forces you to let go of all those things you are used to, all those things you have always taken for granted, and makes you reset your priorities. Sometimes, those priorities are small: clean water for bathing, for example. Sometimes, they are huge: How do you proclaim a Gospel of God’s wild, radical, inexplicable, never-ending love among a people who have lived in a state of war for five decades, where death is an ever-present companion and hatred is a norm?

When you go to a new place, you take all your baggage with you, regardless of Jesus’ instructions to take nothing along on the journey. Packed in that bag is your hermeneutic, the cultural forces that formed you as a child. Going forth from the United States, where religious freedom and pluralism are taken for granted, to a country where religion not only divides the people, but is still being used an excuse to harm and sometimes kill those same people, makes you think about your religion, and your faith, in whole new and much deeper ways. It forces you to decide what is important, and what is not, what you will cling to, regardless of the harm that may come your way, and what you can let go of, because in God’s greater scheme, it’s not all that important any more.

And living in that new place, as a member of the Anglican Communion, does one more thing: It reinforces the great joy of being a member of something that is so much bigger than you.

The Episcopal Church – the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society – does send forth missionaries. Not enough, I grant you; I wrote about that last month, and will continue to write about that in coming months. But even though we don’t have enough missionaries serving in the fields of the Lord, we have some, and the ones we have are making a difference. They are the face of the Episcopal Church, and in the places where they serve, the people with whom they serve do not see some monolithic Global North church trying to dictate to them what to believe and how to act, which is what the participants in GAFCON would have them believe. Rather, they see people who are doing their best, however limited that might be, to live into the Gospel imperatives to love God and love neighbor, to seek and to serve those most in need, to preach the Gospel with their very lives.

It is not enough to simply go and visit with each other. Visits help, to be sure, but far too often, when someone visits us, we put out our best china, we clean the house, we make sure that the odd uncle or crazy aunt is hidden away. Visiting gives us only a glimpse of how other people live; it is like seeing through a mirror darkly.

Living with each other, long-term, helps us to see more clearly. Only when we live together do we discover that the best china has been borrowed from six different neighbors, that the house rarely looks this good, and that the odd uncle and crazy aunt not only live with you, you are responsible for caring for them daily. Living together makes both sides adjust to each other. The formalities fall away, the realities come to the fore, and very soon, real communication – and real communion – take place.

If we truly believe that this Communion is worth saving, that we are stronger by working together as messengers of the Gospel, then we need to act. We need to be brave enough to go where angels fear to tread, counting on those same angels to catch us before our feet strike the ground

We need more people to go forth on long-term, full-time mission assignments. We as a Church need to put our money where our mouths are, to fully support missionaries – hundreds of them, not mere tens of them – so that people around the Communion can get to know us better. And we need to bring missionaries here from other portions of the Communion, so that we can get to know them better. That is the only way to strengthen this Communion of ours, and the only way to truly serve the Gospel -- together.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Liturgy and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

Communication begins in song

By Donald Schell

Two days after walking, singing, and praying with eleven Anglicans and one Lutheran across a hundred and fifty miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, my wife and I flew to Malawi, Africa where we’re driving distances on two lane highways crowded with pedestrians, heavy trucks, and bicycles (often laden with multiple riders or huge loads of charcoal for market) to visit community-based responses to Malawi’s AIDS crisis. When we turn off the pavement, we bounce along dirt tracks to visit village home-based care (HBC) programs, orphan feeding programs, AIDS education programs, ARV (anti-retroviral programs), and other locally generated responses to the AIDS crisis. Our Spanish pilgrimage and African project visits feel like one, and music is part of what makes that so.

My wife Ellen is the International Programs Director for Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance. Her day-to-day work is communicating with Malawi leadership (typically via email) on project development. Annually she visits to talk with local coordinators who are skilled in program and capacity development and with them she visits as many projects as possible.

Today our plans have changed, cutting short our last day’s visits in the Lilongwe (central) region. The husband of GAIA’s southern region project officer died last night, so we’re driving down to Blantyre this afternoon for the funeral tomorrow. Sr. Gertrude, GAIA’s central region coordinator will join the wake before the funeral, a whole night of singing to send the deceased man on with blessing, an old African custom that fits well with Christian hope and practice. Gertrude is a Roman Catholic. Alice, whose husband died, is CCAP (Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian). I’ll wear my collar to the funeral tomorrow, as other Anglican clergy will. Baptists and Living Waters (African Pentecostal) Church members will join the singing. African Christians take easily to ecumenism. And tomorrow’s funeral will be full of singing. Mourning or joy, sorrow, or hope – African cultures greet all with singing.

Prayer and singing have greeted us at nearly every project we’ve visited. Four iterations of All Saints Company’s "Music that Makes Community” workshops – two in San Francisco and two in New York with another coming up in Iowa have me listening carefully for how people make the music we’re hearing.

Here’s a typical scene: a lead singer makes a quiet opening call and sets up a rhythm with her or his feet, the group responds with feet shuffling in simple step laying down a gentle but steady percussion. The leader then offers a strong call – singing out the central refrain. A couple of other leaders join in harmony and they sing it through to a moment of sung cue when the whole chorus joins in – sometimes forty singers. Leaders continue to improvise. The melodic and harmonic paths are known and give a frame for improvisation. The English words we hear are about our visit, about the work the people are doing together - caring for orphans or doing AIDS education, and they’re nearly always about the grace of God, and giving thanks. The music practices shared authority. Learning and singing are completely continuous. Harmonies weave men and women, boys and girls together.

In all the fractious debate in our Anglican communion, we have managed, at least sometimes, to remind ourselves that ‘communion’ isn’t something we make or earn. Sometimes, at least, we remember that communion is what we do together that makes us one. I hope bishops at this summer’s Lambeth Conference will remember that communion is neither an enforced human artifact of pure unity nor a reward for agreeing that everyone like us is right and everyone not like us is wrong. But can we find our way without singing together when music is an essential nutrient in the fertile ground from which communion springs? Does this sound like overstatement? I do mean it.

Walking the Camino we began each day with teaching our group (eight out of twelve of us speaking no Spanish) the Padre Nuestro, The Lord’s Prayer in Spanish. We found this a surprisingly grace-filled exercise in old-fashioned rote memorization. It gave us all a way to pray with our Spanish sisters and brothers when we attended pilgrim masses along the way. And our pilgrims prayed the prayer, phrase by phrase as they walked (and sometimes we sang too, even walking alone).

Singing (like our day by day memorization of the Padre Nuestro) offered us freedom and trust in a caring relationship growing from learning by imitation. Each morning before our daily Padre Nuestro, our group sang together, exploring treasures of hymnody that recall the way to God as journey and pilgrimage. We also drew daily from Church Publishing’s soon to be released Music By Heart, Songs for Evening Worship. Music by Heart is All Saints Company’s first published contribution to a church-wide and international recovery of music we learn by ear and by heart. In this we gratefully follow John Bell’s lead. From the Iona Community he and others in other settings are also at work building community by singing together.

In Music that Makes Community (with a conscious nod toward traditional singing and African choral folk music) we’ve worked with a group of musician-liturgists from around the U.S. commissioning, collecting and teaching people to lead congregations in the music that comes to us by hearing and imitation, listening that takes the mind directly to the heart.

But what has this got to do with communion? In his book Singing Neanderthals Stephen Mithen argues compellingly that melody and ritual gesture were the fertile soil of humanity’s primal communication and community. Speech began in tonal expressions of hope, request, urgency, frustration, command accompanied by demonstrative gestures. Primal sentences expressing desires, fears, requests, warnings, and exhortations were the sea from which living words and powerful abstract ideas emerged. There’s a good summary review of Mithen’s book on-line in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology – Mithen’s book fits beautifully with Louis Weil’s (Liturgy Professor at Church Divinity School of the Pacific) observations, “Our bodies are the instruments of prayer,” and “The meaning of the ritual is learned in the experience itself.”

Human communication begins in singing together. Language, which began singing, has been our essential means of discovering and describing truth. Our church crisis is the crisis of a “not-listening process,” the opposite of singing together. Our divisions deny the personal and relational quality of truth. We’ve fallen to thinking with the mind in the head rather than in the heart. (“Thinking with the mind in the heart” is Parker Palmer’s insightful appropriation of the Eastern Church’s teaching in the Philokalia that true prayer begins when we pray with the mind in the heart.)

Music is communal, and making music together builds relationship (and shares authority among all who sing or play). I’ve heard this shared authority and community making in the kitchen at Wendel’s Guest House where we’ve been staying this week in Lilongwe. The guys in the kitchen sing and talk as they work, trading musical phrases, familiar songs, ideas, and gossip back and forth.

And every project we’ve visited – school, church, or village has greeted us with song (and often song and dance). Women, men, and children’s voices begin in simple response to a refrain, drums support and encourage, bodies move. Words and tunes are modeled by a leader, picked up by the group, and improvised. ‘We sing a song of welcome, welcome our dear vistors, welcome dear GAIA!’

Singing is a natural and graceful practice of community building and spiritual formation. Imitation and memorization give us a framework of relationship and a means of thinking together.

Where has music gone in Western and particularly American culture? Why do we imagine that there are people who can’t sing?

Our technologically shaped, individualized culture has forgotten that truth is ultimately relational. Could this relational (and musical) quality of truth be what makes the Nicene Creed more believable to some people when it’s sung together rather than when it’s said? Singing together enacts what the creed teaches – that God in Trinity is a perichoresis (the Greek word for a circle dance that the drafters of the Nicene Creed used to describe the personal and relational quality of the mystery of God).

At dinner here in Malawi we were talking with a distinguished Malawian physician who did her advanced training in the Great Britain. ‘People in Europe and America don’t seem to notice how fragmented their societies have become,’ she said. ‘Here in Africa we assume that we are in relationship with everyone. We talk. Your society is framed to minimize person to person contact, to make it all optional or by choice. One week in England I decided to see how little I could talk to people I didn’t know. I bought a weeklong bus pass that I had only to flash to the driver to get on the bus. I used the automated teller. I shopped for my groceries without saying a word.’ She wondered what we are doing when we allow ourselves to choose whom we will be human with.

So, we argue in written prose (not even using the melody of our face to face speaking voices). Do we actually believe we can enact church union without singing together, without the gestures and movements that make sacraments?

Unlike today’s church, Jesus didn’t think music was a decorative luxury. When looking for an image for an unresponsive generation, he pointed to the people in the marketplace annoyed with the children playing at ‘weddings and funerals.’ What sort of generation doesn’t welcome the kingdom? A commerce-preoccupied marketplace culture that can hear the prophet weeping and won’t mourn, and can hear the messiah piping and singing and won’t dance. It’s no surprise in Mark and Matthew’s accounts of the Last Supper, to hear Jesus and the disciples singing a hymn together before they went out to the mount of olives, that is, before their teacher went out to face betrayal, imprisonment, torture, and death. Seeing what was coming, Jesus didn’t offer his disciples a last word, after he’d taught and shared the meal again, he sang with them, making a community to gather God’s strength and blessing. Liturgical scholars tell us they probably sang Psalm 136 that night, a hymn of victory to mark the end of the ritual meal with a celebration of God’s unfailing love in the face of adversity.

Commands or exhortations to sing come up repeatedly (and emphatically) in the epistles – Romans 15:4-14; I Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:11-21; James 5:8-18; and the apocalyptic vision of God’s triumph in Revelation is also punctuated with song (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 15:3). Two of the most powerful theological formulations in the New Testament – John 1 (‘In the beginning was the Word…’) and Philippians 2 (‘Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus…’) claim theological authority for the community’s hymns.

Music is relational and of the moment. Listening to one another as we sing, our music unfolds in time, in breath, and in rhythm. Timeless ideas, concepts without heart cannot live or build community. Truth that is not relational marginalizes and kills for the sake of ‘consistency.’ Our world came to be in song lines, hearing and imitating, call and response, and improvisation. Singing is humanity’s original listening process, knowing the other in love.

We can’t make music without sharing authority. Everyone contributes to a consensus of pitch and rhythm. Our primal language counts on my relationship to you and yours to me for us to work together. Any language in which I can be all alone in my right opinion or doctrine has severed itself from the human root of music and gesture. We may suspect the other churches in the communion don’t get our ‘baptismal covenant’ but it looks to me like our grassroots, democratic church, for all the important discoveries it HAS made about relationship and love, needs the nurture of much more African-style singing.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is Creative Director of All Saints Company, working for community development in congregational life focusing on sharing leadership, welcoming creativity and building community through music. He wrote My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago.

Spreading the Gospel on the cheap

By Lauren R. Stanley

Quick: How many missionaries does the Episcopal Church have serving full-time overseas?

If you don’t know the answer to that question, don’t worry: Most Episcopalians aren’t even aware that the Episcopal Church has full-time overseas missionaries. Not because they aren’t paying attention, but because, sad to say, we don’t tell the story well enough (and by “we,” I mean the entire Church, top to bottom).

The fact is, the Episcopal Church has 70 missionaries serving full-time around the world in more than 30 countries. Each missionary is sent forth by the Episcopal Church of the United States, and thus represents not just his or her sending diocese, but the entire church.

The issue is not how many missionaries we as a Church have; there are far too few laborers in this field. The issue is how they are supported, or not supported, by the very same Church that is sending them forth.

(Full disclosure: I am one of those 70 missionaries, serving in the Diocese of Renk in South Sudan. This is not a letter from an unbiased observer, but from one who is affected deeply by the issues here.)

Each missionary gets some financial support from the Episcopal Church. Appointed Missionaries, who are commissioned directly by the Presiding Bishop, receive more than others, including stipends (which are small), transportation, visa fees, language training, and full participation in the Pension Fund, which depends on whether that missionary is lay or ordained. Volunteers for Mission receive health benefits only. Any shortfalls in expenses are covered by the missionaries themselves, who have to raise the rest.

The brutal truth is this: The Episcopal Church, which says that mission is its heart and soul, and both proclaims and encourages mission constantly, does not provide enough funding for the missionaries it has.

No missionary gives up everything the United States has to offer – jobs, security, safety and job benefits, not to mention such niceties as clean, running water, decent food, health care that you can trust, etc. – to make money, to live high on the hog, or to pump up the résumé. Being a full-time missionary overseas means living closely with the people of God as one of them, often in circumstances that would appall most Americans.

It is not easy to be a missionary overseas. It means leaving behind family and friends and jobs and security and sometimes safety. It means brushing your teeth using bottled water because the water you have will kill you, or cooking over charcoal stoves, or having electricity at most just a few hours per day, or bathing out of buckets, and then washing your clothes in those same buckets. It means setting aside the taken-for-granted privileges of the Global North to live as the majority of people do in the Global South.

Admittedly, few missionaries live on less than $1 per day, which is the truth for so many Global Southerners, but all live on considerably less than they would in the United States, and many missionaries live very close to the bone financially.

And yet, while the Episcopal Church proclaims that mission is at the very heart of our ministry, that same Church is not supporting those willing to go the farthest for the longest period of time.

Once again, by “Church,” I do not mean the “national Church” or “those folks at 815 in New York.” I mean the whole Church, the 2 million-plus members of this portion of the Anglican Communion. I mean all of us.

Earlier this year, the Mission Personnel Office in New York, looking at the budget that was set for missionaries, tried to figure out a way to make the pay system more equitable. In an effort to ensure that lay missionaries had access to the Pension Fund, it proposed that henceforth, all missionaries would receive full benefits and Pension Fund benefits, and that’s it. No longer would there be a differentiation between Volunteers for Mission and Appointed Missionaries; all would be treated equally in the financial realm. All other money – for stipends, living expenses, travel, visas, language training, etc. – had to be raised by the missionaries themselves. In essence, the Mission Personnel Office was trying to make the best of a bad situation. That plan, thankfully, has been removed from the table. The Standing Commission on World Mission now is seeking a different way to fund the missionaries more fully.

The question is, why was the Mission Personnel Office put in that position in the first place? Why isn’t the Episcopal Church more willing to fully fund missionaries, so that they don’t have to raise money to go off and answer the call God has issued to them? The Church allocates less than $1million per year for these 70 people. To fully fund them all – so that missionaries would receive full health and pension benefits, a stipend (which hasn’t changed in years, despite the constantly rising costs in living expenses), support, travel, visa fees, language training, etc. – would cost approximately another $1.8 million per year.

That sounds like a lot of money, and in overall scheme of the Church’s budget, it is. But if instead of looking at the “Church” as just those folks in New York, we looked at the “Church” as all of us, it would mean, literally, pennies per year per person. Really. Raising that amount of money would mean asking each Episcopalian in this country to give eighty cents per year just for missionaries.

The theology for sending forth full-time missionaries to labor in the fields is sound: Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel.” That wasn’t a suggestion; it was a command. He also was clear that the laborers deserve to be paid. And he did say that there aren’t enough laborers to begin with.

In these days of such great difficulties in the Anglican Communion, where we don’t always understand our sisters and brothers in Christ overseas, and our brothers and sisters in Christ overseas don’t always understand us, we need these missionaries more than ever. They are, in most places, the very face of the Episcopal Church. They are the ones who not only build the relationships with people in the pews around the world, they transform those relationships, and in turn are transformed by them. People living overseas, who may have heard that Americans are arrogant, or who have been told that the American church is the embodiment of (fill in the blank to your own satisfaction), discover, upon not only meeting but living with missionaries, that Americans are the same as them: beloved children of God. And that Americans, and by extension the American church, care about them enough to come be with them, work with them, worship with them, and if necessary, suffer with them. You want to change how Anglicans around the world see us? Send a missionary. There are many who are willing to go, if only the support existed.

So here’s what we need to do:

First, we need to make it known to one and all that the Episcopal Church has missionaries, and they are doing good work in all the world. Jesus calls all of us to tell the story, so let’s start doing that.

Second, we need to put our money where our mouths are. If we are going to proclaim that mission is who and what we are, we need to pay for it. We missionaries aren’t asking for the world; we simply would like enough money to live on, and to have our basic expenses covered so that we don’t have to spend all our time acting like members of Congress, constantly raising money just so that we can continue to do that which the Lord has called us to do.

And third, we need to send more people. Is it too radical an idea to ask each diocese to support, financially, one missionary overseas, perhaps just paying the stipend and expenses, while the national Church paid the health care and pension benefits? (That would cost approximately $20,000 per diocese per year – a lot for some dioceses, I know, but then again, aren’t we supposed to be all about mission?) A commitment to that alone would put another 30 (thirty!) missionaries in the field! Each missionary would then be assigned to a diocese, either his or her sending one, or another one, and would be in close contact with the people of that diocese on a regular basis.

Our mission as Christians is to go into all the world to preach the Gospel, and if necessary, to use words. If we are going to live most fully into this mission, shouldn’t we at least be willing to pay for it?

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Liturgy and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

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.

Bringing the ONE campaign to life

By Lauren R. Stanley

RENK, Sudan – On my left wrist, I wear two bracelets that I never take off. One is a black-and-white beaded affair that is quite popular in Sudan right now, called ajok, a symbol of the beauty of contrasting colors. The other is the white ONE campaign bracelet, which I have been wearing for over a year.

Recently, one of Sudan’s Episcopal bishops asked about my bracelets. He knew about the ajok bracelet, for it is part of the Dinka tradition and he is from the Dinka tribe. But this other one, he said, pointing to the ONE campaign, what is that?

So I explained that if everyone in the world actually donated1 percent of his or her income, we could end poverty, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, provide medicine and education, build up local businesses, reduce child mortality, combat deadly diseases and become real stewards of the environment.

In other words, I said, for mere pennies per person per day, we could change the world and help bring about God’s kingdom.

Where would the money go, the bishop immediately asked.

To programs that are proven to work well and that deliver on their promises.

This is a good idea, he said. How can we teach our people this?

So I pointed him to our newest project, the building of water cisterns to catch rainwater from the roof of St. Michael’s Chapel at the Renk Theological College. I pointed to the seemingly huge hole in the ground, dug by an older man named John Tho who showed up every morning and every evening for five days to dig 2 meters down, 1.5 meters around, with perfectly straight sides. John dug that hole, and is digging three others, all by hand, slowly, surely, with great professionalism.

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Then I pointed to our contractor, Mohammed, and his two assistants, Solomon and Idriss, young men who are learning the craft of brick-laying and concrete-pouring. Normally, the three of them dig and build pit latrines. These water cisterns are new to them, but the idea of storing water in underground cisterns, where it will stay cool and clean, instead of in 55-gallon plastic barrels or rusted metal tanks, appeals to them. Already, they are thinking of how all this clean water will change the lives of all the people who have access to it.

And I pointed to those who gave life to this project: ECWs in two parishes in Winston Salem, N.C.; two congregations in the Diocese of Virginia; one men’s group in Southwestern Virginia; one family in Northern Virginia; and one individual, who combined their resources to finance underground water cisterns that will catch rainwater off the chapel’s zinc roof.

It’s not a huge project; the funding for the initial work was $5,400. And the cisterns, while good ideas, certainly won’t change the world.

But they will make all the difference to the students and staff at the Renk Theological College, to their families, and to the surrounding neighbors who come to take water from the College. During the rainy season, the White Nile River becomes the “Big Muddy;” the water on which all of us depend often is a dirty brown, and that is after it has been “filtered” at the water plant. It can take up to six months for the river to cleanse itself, during which time anyone drinking from the water, or bathing in it, is exposed to at least a dozen different diseases, many of which are deadly.

Catching the water off the zinc roof of the chapel will mean clean water, possibly for up to six months. During the long dry season, water from the taps (which comes intermittently at best) can be stored in the cisterns, where the silt will settle to the bottom, the water will be clean, and those who depend on it will not have to go without.

That’s the idea behind the ONE campaign: To take a little bit of money and make it go a long way to change the lives of as many people as possible. Nothing big needs to be done; grand plans do not need to be made. Instead, the focus is on little actions that change lives quickly and for the better.

Four contractors, working in brutal heat under a searing sun, are combining their professionalism with the funds and prayers and support from approximately 200 Americans who heard the story of the water shortages here in Renk and decided to do something about it.

That, I told the bishop, is how we make the ONE campaign work: We see the need, tell the story, create partnerships, pray constantly, work together.

Are we changing the world?

Not yet.

But we are changing one small piece of the world, and we are helping a whole lot of people here in Renk.

We think this is a good start.

And we hope – we pray – that once people see how well these cisterns work, they will want to do the same thing, which means we can start a small company here that will specialize in this work, thus providing jobs and training for one group of people, and clean water for another group.

Will we need more partners in this?

Yes. But that’s part of the ONE campaign: Bringing people together in the community in which they have been created, crossing all boundaries because there are no boundaries in God’s very good creation.

Our little informal portion of the ONE campaign is based on our hopes and dreams: We began this project in the hope that it will join people together across 8,000 miles. We are continuing it to help the people in most need right here in Renk. And we dream it continues to grow, with future partners who will fund the purchase of pumps to replace the ropes and buckets we will use at first. Perhaps we will even find the start-up money for a new company.

Whatever happens, we know that with these cisterns, we’ve begun something new among the people of God in the name of God.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Liturgy and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

7 steps in discipleship

By Greg Jones

In the Diocese of North Carolina, our diocesan motto is “Making Disciples and Making a Difference.” We are encouraged by Bishop Michael Curry to follow an intentional program of “Gospel Based Discipleship,” at every level of our ministry here. Thanks to Bishop Curry's spiritual leadership, our parish has also adopted a new parish motto – in lieu of a highly detailed mission statement. We believe we are called to be 'Following Christ in Discipleship and Mission.'

So what is discipleship all about? For me, I believe there are many steps on that walk with the Lord, but I have found seven to be very important ones.

Step 1 – Deciding to Follow Christ

Discipleship begins with surrendering one's life to Christ. Dying to self, taking up one's cross, and following Jesus – this is the place where all disciples of Jesus Christ begin. The old hymn that comes to my mind here is: “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back. The world behind me, the cross before me.” The choice to follow Jesus is not the strange fixation of fundamentalists, but is the key to being a Christian disciple at all.

Step 2 – Trusting Christ

Submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is a whopper! Especially to those of us individualistic Americans living in a consumer society where the customer is always right. “Who are we gonna follow for very long?” It is just so hard for us to submit to anyone at all, willingly, let alone to a mystical Christ. Or maybe it's not hard – maybe it's just that we won't do it. Maybe we won't do it because we're afraid it's gonna hurt. How can we trust that following Jesus is a good idea – a sane idea – a true idea? How can we be assured? Can we believe we've been given a living relationship with God? Can we really believe that what ails us is in fact that we live sinfully in a broken world – but that there is help and hope and life in Christ? Can we really trust and hope in something that good?

Yes we can. But we'll only begin to trust, by giving it a try, by taking a leap of faith, and actively seeking a relationship with Christ – humbly, obediently, expectantly. We will begin to trust, after we've leapt forward in faith -- and after we've tasted some spiritual fruit-- had some kind of experience that following Christ is good. And we will.

Step 3 – Listening to Christ

Indeed, as we walk with Christ as disciples, we must continue to seek his mind, and we must believe there is a way to do this. We must believe we can listen to Christ, and that Christ has something to say. Listening to Christ is possible and fruitful, and it’s a major step in the path of discipleship. Moreover, while many of us have mystical moments in prayer or amazing coincidences where we believe God is talking to us – disciples first believe that in coming together at the holy table, and in prayer, and in listening to God's Word in the Bible – we will hear from Christ.

Simple as that. No one's left out – all may hear the same voice in sacrament, prayer and scripture. Nobody's got secret access. Trusting that God speaks through the sacrament, scripture and fellow Christians – this is essential for Christians. Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh – which means he is all about talking, and speaking, and inspiring, and connecting with us.

Step 4 – Talking with Christ

Disciples pray. Christ listens. Those who follow Christ speak to Christ. Just as Christ prayed and prayed, he invites us to do the same.

Step 5 – Joining with Christ

Christians cannot live alone – for long. We are one kingdom, one people – not an archipelago of islands.

We are called by Jesus himself into being, and he has called us his Body – and that Body of Christ – that Assembly of People Following Jesus – that Gathering of Jesus People is called the Church. We cannot be a Christian outside the Body of Christ. It's not possible. And as the Body of Christ, we belong therefore to Christ, and to each other. This is essential folks.

Disciples are called to give themselves, their souls and bodies unto God and each other “In Christ.”

Step 6 – Imitating Christ

Followers of Jesus are called to live according to his commandments to love God, neighbor, self and enemy. Are we doing that? Are we seeking to imitate Christ – whose teachings are so clear today in the sermon on the plain? Or, are we yielding to temptation, abiding more in our own will than God's? Walking with Jesus – seeking his mind – requires an honest assessment of one's own failings and shortcomings. And an honest assessment of how we might follow Jesus better.

Step 7 – Serving Christ

But our lives are not just about resisting temptation. No, temptation and sin are the distractions from our purpose. But each of us has a calling to serve Christ - what might you be called to do with your life if it weren't for all the sinful distractions? What might you be called to do as a follower of Jesus? Isn't your life supposed to be different in some way?
Friends – there is much work to do in this world – but we cannot make a difference in it – we cannot do a thing for it – on our own. We can only make a difference in this world – if we follow the Master – the Lord and Giver of Life.

Episcopal Church -- let's follow Christ in discipleship and mission.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") is rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.

Changing others, changing ourselves

By Sam Candler

On a recent Sunday, a group of Jewish high school students visited the Christian church I serve, the Cathedral of St. Philip. The students had made polite inquiries and arrangements beforehand, asking one of the clergy to meet with them afterwards; and it was clear they were with us to explore the presence of God in traditions other than theirs. I was glad they were with us, and I explicitly welcomed them during the parish announcements.

What I discovered during their visit was that our service changed. Our service was different because this group of Jewish students was with us. I do not mean, of course, that we said any different prayers or sang any different hymns, or consecrated bread and wine any differently.

No, the difference was within ourselves. When I said my prayers that Sunday, I heard those prayers differently. When I used the name of Jesus (which I do often!), when I used images of the cross, when I sang about resurrection, I found myself reflecting –ever so quickly—upon how those notes met Jewish ears. As I spoke and prayed and sang, I did not regret a single word. I simply heard them differently. I might even have heard them more definitely and clearly. I certainly realized the power of the name of Jesus again.

That Sunday, I remembered that context changes the way we hear things. Context even changes our comprehension of things. When any two members of a family, for instance, are discussing a third member of that family, the discussion will be quite different if that third member is actually present. When our nation’s leaders discuss other countries, it matters when we know the other countries are listening!

The Episcopal Church has been re-learning this principle during recent years. When Christians are discussing homosexuality, for instance, the tone and attitude of the conversation changes dramatically if gays and lesbians are actually part of the group! And the same goes for global community. The conversation among global western Christians changes dramatically when global southern Christians are present. It is probably the case that global western and global southern Christians are, for the most part, just learning how to have such graceful and truthful conversations together!

Many of the more strident arguments occurring globally are occurring because some people did not realize that other people were “over-hearing” the conversation. Some people did not realize that other people were in the room. Of course, these other people weren’t literally in the room. These other people were listening to the television coverage and following internet coverage on the world wide web.

Context changes things. Context changes both the way we say things and the way we hear things. And it should. Our context is our community, and community is where we have civil and graceful and truthful conversation. One of the challenges of our time is that Americans really do not know much about the people who are listening to our conversations. Those listeners might be Muslims or Jews. Those listeners might be Iraqi citizens, they might be Nigerian Anglicans, they might be Palestinians, they might be Chinese village farmers, they might be gays and lesbians (who are certainly, and thankfully, in our communities of faith already). They are “the stranger,” who is closer to us than we think!

How can the Christian Church meet this challenge of understanding other cultures? We cannot do it by watching television and looking up items on the internet.

The Christian answer is mission. We must be strong and courageous enough to leave our homes and comfortable culture and to travel out in mission to the world. That is where we learn. Last week, that group of Jewish high school students learned much more about the Episcopal Church by visiting one (and staying all the way through our worship service!). They didn’t just google the Episcopal Church or read the latest blog about us.

The Episcopal Church has taught me that Christians are being called to mission again. We are being called to go out into the world in the name of grace and service.

“Get up and go,” the angel of the Lord said to Philip the Deacon (Acts 8:26). And Philip did. Philip dares to speak to a stranger, a stranger in terms of culture, race, and gender. The stranger is an Ethiopian eunuch. But he is reading the same sacred scriptures as Philip knows. Philip is led to teach and to baptize. The Ethiopian eunuch is changed by this encounter, and so is Philip! Philip is snatched away by the spirit and finds himself at Azotus; Philip becomes a new man setting up a new home. The Christian Church was changed by Philip’s encounter with the stranger.

Christian mission is not merely about changing other people. Christian mission is also about changing ourselves. Though missionaries throughout history have differed mightily in their tasks and character, they do seem to share one experience. Every missionary has a story of how he or she was changed by serving in another culture. He or she was changed by speaking Christian words in a foreign context.

“Get up and go,” said the angel of the Lord to Philip. “Get up and go,” says the angel to us today. Go to that lonely teen-ager playing video games that you do not understand. Go to the south! Go to the southern hemisphere, to Nigeria and Brazil. Get up and go to England, to South Africa, to Tanzania, to China and India.

“Get up and go,” and we will all be changed. We will be changed by that spirit of Jesus who said “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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

"Public work" at Ground-Zero

By Donald Schell

For two wonderful days at the beginning of this month, I helped lead a workshop on Music that Makes Community at St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church Wall Street, the colonial church that fronts on Broadway and whose churchyard faces the World Trade Center/Ground Zero site. Sunday after the workshop I sat in the congregation at St. Paul’s for their 10 a.m. liturgy. It was one of the most powerful experiences of our church’s work and worship I have ever had. The murmur of visitors, the impossibility of handling four to five hundred pilgrims an hour with greeters, the pilgrims themselves finding their own way and having their own private reasons for their visit all destroyed any hope that the church could be a place of seclusion, refuge or pious meditation. This was the great work of the church, the public work of liturgy.

When I first visited St. Paul’s in the late 1960’s, it was essentially a museum, George Washington’s Church in New York City. The stunning human losses of 9/11 changed that beyond recognition. When Trinity’s staff saw that St. Paul’s Chapel was undamaged by the fiery collapse of the twin towers next door, they boldly chose to dedicate the historic chapel for the duration of demolition and recovery as a holy place of hospitality to the New York firemen, police, and construction workers at the Ground Zero site. Trinity staff and hundreds of volunteer chaplains from around the country offered rest, comfort, counsel and help for those whose brutal work was combing through hot rubble for genetically identifiable fragments of the dead that grieving family members might bury.

Trinity’s hospitality to a nation’s heroes made St. Paul’s a pilgrimage site. Something like a million and a half visitors a year - imagine an unbroken stream of 400 strangers an hour - wander through to remember, see and reflect on 9/11 displays. As at the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington D.C., some do come to pray, but few kneel or make any outward show. Others seem to be tourists, muted tourists who want to include this bit of history in their trip and tell people at home, ‘I was there.’

For any who remember the pre- 9/11 St. Paul’s and haven’t been there recently, I should add that less than a year ago, Stuart Hoke and the other Trinity staff took another bold step to make the chapel’s welcome more evident – hoping to gather people into a circle of prayer, they removed the long forward-facing pews from the 1960’s to make space for a barrier-free oval of chairs around a central altar. St. Paul’s website has a good slide show picturing the changes and giving its rationale at http://www.saintpaulschapel.org/

Twenty of us, clergy and church music leaders from around the country gathered in this open space round the table for our workshop to talk, and reflect and make music, specifically developing a practice of the most traditional and modern kind of church music – singing we learn by ear and by heart, singing without books. All day our workshop sessions, our worship and even our mid-day meal was at the center of a swirling sea of people, all of America, the world. When we were singing we could feel the music touch them (and sometimes we forgot they were there and lost ourselves in music-making and praise). Sometimes we saw curiosity, joy or even healing on people’s faces. It came in swells, both for us and in their response. Sometimes they walked with their backs to us, continuing their quiet murmur of background conversation as they surveyed the 9/11 displays and the story of workers and a city who turned the terrorist attack into a sign of mutual support and courage. Then a piece of sacred song, something hearty or haunting, maybe some improvised bluesy jazz on a text from the Bible, or even our laughter at a shared discovery, something drew their attention and they were with us in church – both the community of people and the place of worship. So it went all day, hundreds of people an hour and flashes of grace and glory as our little group joined our Public Work to Trinity’s.

In the evening I thought of how strangely intimate and public the days were. Trying to describe our experience on the phone to my wife, I said it felt like street preaching on Times Square, or maybe like participating in a life drawing class with a nude model in the main rotunda of the Metropolitan Museum. We were aiming for truthfulness and Gospel, but we were unequivocally doing intimate, heart work, speaking and singing our faith, in a very public place. The work itself guided us from our fear and self-consciousness.

Even two full days of our workshop didn’t prepare me for the joyful wonder of 10 a.m. liturgy in this place of pilgrimage. I sat in the third or fourth row of the oval seats so I could both join in and watch the congregation and the pilgrims on the perimeter. The busses don’t stop just because it’s Sunday, and as a worshipper and part of a larger, more diffuse group, I felt the strangeness (and joy) of it very strongly. We were a hundred or so people, a solid, diverse congregation, and we were together in faith, in prayer as publicly as if we’d made our circle in Grand Central Station.

Marilyn Haskel, the musician, offered us welcome, guided us through the service leaflet, got us singing with piano and a capella and encouraged us. The Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones, a Jamaican Anglican priest new to Trinity’s staff presided and preached his first liturgy at St. Paul’s. His sermon and the way he engaged us all was breath taking, bold and comforting, confrontive and sweet. And even as he drew our hearts into the center of the circle to hold one another in our reflection on scripture, he might generously, and without the least notice, lob a word or prayers over our heads to the sea of pilgrims.

The liturgy was an even stronger magnet than the music workshop. Strangers slipped into the circle to join us. Many stopped to listen and pray and seemed to wish they could linger longer. A few seemed perplexed to hear a Gospel of such forgiveness, inclusion and challenge. Many blessed themselves with a touch of water from the front.

I wish everyone thinking about inclusion and welcome in our church could spend a Sunday with St. Paul’s, Manhattan. Having experienced it as a blessed and unequivocal Public Work, I don’t think our liturgy will ever look the same to me again.

Public work, as it turns out, may be a better translation of ‘liturgy’ than the ‘public work’ I learned in seminary in the 1960’s. In the 1960’s and 70’s our church was beginning to make our liturgy shared, collaborative work in new ways. ‘The work of the people’ was a useful etymology. It turned our attention to from the priest’s performance to what WE were making together.

Now friends who teach liturgics and history have been telling us that leitourgia (‘liturgy’) in the first century Mediterranean world was ‘public work,’ more like we think of with a DPT, Department of Public Works making or fixing a road or a bridge. In fact in the ancient world public work often referred to the generous works of public-minded rich people, like the medieval queen of Spain who built a bridge at Puente la Reyna for the pilgrims walking to Santiago or like Andrew Carnegie building libraries across America.

Today in 2007, we’ve found enough shared authority in liturgy-making to begin recovering this other, earlier sense of liturgy as work for or on behalf of the people. What we have to offer is holy, vibrant, and flexible enough that it can truly be public work. At St. Paul’s the ‘public work’ made very good sense. For me every question we can frame about welcoming strangers to liturgy will look different to me after three days of singing and praying at St. Paul’s Chapel.

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

What is the Church for?

By Kathleen Henderson Staudt

What is the church for? In a 1938 lecture series on the BBC, collected in her book The Spiritual Life, the British writer and retreat leader Evelyn Underhill answered the question in a way that has challenged the church for the past century:

The Church is in the world to save the world. It is a tool of God for that purpose; not a comfortable religious club established in fine historical premises. Every one of its members is required, in one way or another, to cooperate with the Spirit in working for that great end: and much of this work will be done in secret and invisible ways. We are transmitters as well as receivers. Our contemplation and our action, our humble self-opening to God, keeping ourselves sensitive to his music and light, and our generous self-opening to our fellow creatures, keeping ourselves sensitive to their needs, ought to form one life, mediating between God and His world, and bringing the saving power of the Eternal into time.

Underhill appropriately focuses on the church’s mission in and for the world; to her mostly Church of England audience, she is challenging the image of the Church that became comfortable during the long centuries of what Loren Mead has labeled the “Christendom” paradigm, when most people were nominal Christians, even churchgoers, and the mission of the Church was seen as being overseas, far away and directed toward people distinctly “other” than the people in the pews. Mission was done by the institution; for the people in the pews, church attendance was a regular social obligation, to be taken with more or less seriousness depending on one’s particular spiritual needs and dispositions: to be part of a church was to support “a comfortable religious club.”

But Underhill recognizes that the institutional model, the “comfortable religious club,” is not a true embodiment of what the Church is called to be. Rather, each of us has a part to play in the mysterious work of God in the world, the Spirit’s work to restore, reconcile and heal. Her work focuses on the spiritual practices of the individual as guaranteeing the health of the “cells” in the Body of Christ on earth. For her, ordinary Christians, each of us pursuing the work that has been given us, are the ones who carry out the saving work of the Church, “bringing the saving power of the eternal into time.” In this short paragraph she lays out a theology of the ministry of all God’s people – the laos (λαός) – in the world.

Underhill’s image of the Church in the world invites what I might call a “poetic” way of looking at the church, the people of God – seeing the Church as a kind of work of art that communicates something to the world. It might seem that our disputes in the Anglican community about whom we may ordain and who decides how we should read Scripture have little to do with the ministry of the people in and for the world, but actually, poetically, they are important. Because we are an ordered church, our disputes about who we are and how we serve the world have focused, for the past 50 years, on whom we ordain. This may be appropriate to some extent since the ordained leaders of the Church do function as “metonymies” for our corporate identity – they are the parts standing for a whole. So if we claim to be an inclusive community, living and proclaiming the gospel in and for the world around us, it makes sense poetically that our visible leaders should reflect the diversity of the world we live in and the world we serve.

If the world looks at us as a corporate body and sees inclusiveness in our leadership and our practice, then we are communicating something about the hospitality of God. If they see us finding ways to stay together in Christ while holding a diversity of views, that is a revolutionary witness for our deeply polarized times. On the other hand, if all that the world sees is fighting and schism and mutual recrimination, then we are losing track of our real identity and purpose.

I turn to Underhill’s description of the purpose of the church in my prayers for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion at this time, remembering that we are part of something much bigger that we believe God is trying to do through us, the people of God, in the world. I take comfort, too, from a beloved hymn we sing pretty often these days, and appropriately so – not least because its title reminds us of who we are: “The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord”. I was particularly glad that it was part of the Commencement liturgy at Virginia Seminary last June:

Though with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed
Yet saints their watch are keeping. Their cry goes up,”How long?”
And soon the night of weeping will be the morn of song. (Hymnal 525)

These words remind us that our tradition’s vision of the church as a “mystical body” is meant to give strength and energy to us as we try to live up to being the “Church visible -- the Communion of Saints “in the world to save the world, a tool of God for that purpose.” This vision does not deny that we have struggles and divisions. But both Underhill’s writing and the hymn call us back to awareness of our greater purpose and calling. It is a vision that sometimes seems improbable, but it is one that we are called to return to and refashion in our own generation, as faithfully as we can.

Dr Kathleen Henderson Staudt teaches courses in literature and theology at Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture. Her blog is at poetproph.blogspot.com.

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