Jefferts Schori: Both Science & Religion Essential

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, spoke Thursday night before a crowd of about 250 people at Oregon State University, drawing on her experiences in both the scientific and the religious worlds and concluded that both are essential.

“Both science and religion have important things to say to all human endeavor … and at this stage in human history, we may not develop an adequate response to the dilemmas of existence without attention to both ways of knowing,” Schori said.

Creating a world of peace and justice and one in which human beings can survive physically depends on the ability of science and religion to talk to each other and build alliances that can respond to suffering the world, according to Schori.

“Both science and religion lead people to see the world with enormous awe. The response can either be a burning desire to understand the workings of the physical world, or an equally burning desire to connect with whatever has brought this world in existence.

“Both kinds of passion can help us to care for this world and all its inhabitants and both are going to be needed if we are going to relieve the suffering of many and bring increasing hope to our own species and all others,” Schori said.

Read it all.

Growing Christianity in South Reno

Pooling the resources of former missionary dioceses, neighboring congregations, and the Diocese of Nevada, a new congregation called St. Catherine of Siena has formed under the leadership of the Rev. Laurie Chapelle and several lay people in suburban South Reno.

Described as “evangelism on a shoestring,” the effort reveals a corporate approach to mission with laity “on loan” from nearby parishes to help with leadership and to build up the congregation, the mission has been in existence since Lent. The area is a fast growing area with 35,000 residents, 43% of whom have no church background whatsoever and of those 65% say they would prefer, were they to be in a church, a traditional-type experience.

A story in Episcopal Life On-Line by Pat McCaughan tells of their work.

[A] tri-parish coalition contributed financially and provided secretarial support as well as St. Paul's treasurer Dick Stufflebeam, who helped write a grant proposal to the Domestic Missionary Partnership (DMP).

The DMP is a group of former mission dioceses which receives yearly funding from the churchwide budget in support of mission projects. The dioceses -- Alaska, Eastern Oregon, Eau Claire, El Camino Real, Idaho, Mississippi, Navajoland, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah, and Western Kansas -- pool the funds and redistribute them as grants to support missions like St. Catherine's.

Chappelle found worship space for a nominal monthly rental fee at the chapel at Bishop Montague Roman Catholic High School and February 4 was the target start-up date.
"We did what they call in retail, a soft opening, using word of mouth, newsletter articles and had 102 people at the first service," she said. "We realized that a lot of people were there who probably wouldn't be with us every week, but it was a lovely show of support for us."

"It was an interesting opportunity to help grow Christianity, so I volunteered to go," recalls Barsalou, 48, a St. Paul's vestry member. "I'm one of those people who likes to fill gaps. My son Denis said he wanted to lead, instead of to follow. For me, it was getting a chance to help people realize, you can do this."

St. Catherine's offers an 11 a.m. traditional Rite II Eucharist on Sundays without prayer books because they couldn't afford them and "there's no place for us to store them," Chappelle said. Everything necessary for worship is contained in the bulletin. "There's no Episcopal gymnastics, no book juggling and we're using recycled paper and are recycling the bulletin in an attempt to at least reduce the impact," Chappelle said. The service is preceded by 10 a.m. adult and youth Christian education.

Attendance averages 50 to 60 weekly, enough that Chappelle is considering creating a stewardship team. Eventually, St. Catherine's will transition from worshipping community to parish status and create its own vestry.

Episcopal Life OnLine: New Reno Church Taps the Unchurched.
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Somewhere Near You

The Episcopal News Service has posted a PDF version of a display ad that was placed on the op-ed page of May 12 editions of The New York Times. The ad marked the beginnings, 400 years ago, of the Jamestown Colony and connects that mission with the Episcopal Church's mission in North America today.

Somewhere near you, there’s a blue-and-white sign bearing the familiar slogan: The Episcopal Church Welcomes You. It represents some 7,400 congregations that trace their beginnings in North America to small but hopeful group of English Christians who arrived May 14, 1607 at a place they called Jamestown — the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

See it here.

Risky Worship

The Church Times reports on efforts to reach young people:

Holding short services, going to night clubs, and finding language that is appropriate for the 21st century are three of the many suggestions made in three new books about working with young people. The books have been published by the Church of England this week.

They challenge Christians to take part in risky worship that could allow “tawdry youth culture” into the church, if young people are to feel at home in the pews.

In the first book, Young People and Mission: A practical guide, Diana Greenfield of the Church Army, one of 12 contributors, writes about nightclub chaplaincy, a field she describes as “untapped”. She criticises churches for their lack of work in what she says some Christians call “dens of iniquity”.

Other sections include a challenge to speak in contemporary rather than special Christian language, even at the risk of upsetting older members of the congregation, and to meet young people outside church premises, on their own territory.

Read it here.

Related, on our side of the Atlantic:

On the Feast of the Ascension, the historic Church of the Ascension [Atlantic City] — now also known as Ascension on da Strip — installed the Rev. Timothy “Poppa T” Holder as its rector in a ceremony that was a combination of High Church, African-American gospel and hip-hop.

Holder, a founding priest of HipHopEMass, most recently served in the South Bronx. The goal of the group is to use the language and music of the streets to bring young people to the church.

“It is a venture in faith,” Bishop George Councell of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey said in introducing the new rector to the congregation.

Read, also, Father Jake's wonderful account, High Church Hip Hop.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, Church Times is also reporting on the strife at Wycliffe Hall seminary surrounding attitudes towards women:

The complaints centre on the management style of the Principal, the Revd Dr Richard Turnbull, and his appointment of the Revd Simon Vibert as Vice-Principal. Mr Vibert had made public his belief that women should not teach men.

He co-wrote, with the Revd Dr Mark Burkill and the Revd Dr David Peterson, a Latimer Trust paper that argued that a woman on her own should not teach men about faith or lead a congregation (Ministry Work Group Statement concerning the ministry of women in the Church today).

Since Dr Turnbull was appointed in 2005, six full-time or part-time academic staff have resigned posts.
...
The governing Council of the theological college, a permanent private hall of the University, is chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones. This week it said that it had embarked on a review of the college’s governance.

Innovations in being a church

Item 1:

Every Sunday morning, a pickup truck quietly pulls up to the front door of a middle school just east of Leesburg [Virginia, Diocese of Virginia].

Soon, more early risers arrive and begin unpacking the trailer attached to the truck. Large wooden contraptions - giant boxes with wheels - roll down the trailer's ramp and into the school.

All is abuzz as people unpack the boxes, transforming Belmont Ridge Middle School's auditorium into St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church.

I am an active member of this church - a fact that a few years ago would have surprised me. Though I grew up going to an Episcopal church, religion always seemed impenetrable and forbidding.
...
A friend mentioned Jeunee Cunningham, pastor of St. Gabriel's, and had only positive things to say about her. So I e-mailed her.

Jeunee replied immediately. Probably sensing my trepidation, she set me at ease by telling me that she and her husband didn't belong to a church when they got married. They attended a service at an Episcopal church they liked and said, "Hey - let's get married there!"


Item 2:
Ostlund has lived in Loxahatchee for eight months.

The Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida recognized the growth of the western communities and anticipated the establishment of the Callery-Judge Grove community, so it committed her to the area to establish a ministry.

She is living in a home bought by the church that also serves as her office and meeting space for the congregation.

A group she calls The 15:58 is helping her to get a church established in the community. "They are named after Corinthians 15:58," Ostlund said. "Basically, the Scripture says that if you keep working, your work will pay off."

For Pearson, gospel of inclusion is costly and joyful

The friendliest, trendiest, most radically inclusive worship experience in all of Tulsa, Oklahoma, takes place at Trinity Episcopal Church. No, not at that service! The other one...the one that meets at 1 p.m. Sundays and on Wednesdays at 7. The New Dimensions Worship center led by Bishop Carlton Pearson, worships at Trinity with a blend of Gospel Music and Pentecostal worship that also preaches what their pastor calls a Gospel of Radical Inclusion.

Pearson was a rising star in the Church of God in Christ, the largest African-American denomination in the US and also on the evangelical-pentecostal circuit. Known for his music, dancing and flamboyant preaching style. But that was until he began to preach a “Gospel of Radical Inclusion.”

Soon he found himself having to defend his views before the congress of the Joint College of African American Pentecostal Bishops, a group made of leaders of independent Pentecostal churches and congregations affiliated with the American Baptist Churches U.S.A. and the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.

He told the panel, "In the biblical and classical Christian theology, salvation is sometimes pictured in a restrictive sense, belonging only to those who respond in faith. A more careful study of Scriptures will reveal that salvation is also. … pictured in a universally inclusive way, in which God is redeemer of the whole world or creation, including all human beings."

At the time, he was pastor of a 5,000 member mega-church called Higher Dimensions Family Center. But as he began to preach and teach his Gospel of Radical Inclusion, he found that his speaking engagements on the evangelical circuit went away, he was condemned in the evangelical press and, he said, “everything I spend my whole life working for went up in smoke.”

Now his smaller group now rents space from Trinity Episcopal Church, Tulsa, but, as Toby Jenkins of Oklahomans for Equality said to CNN, "he is courageously suffering and lost so much... for people like us... Now that's our hero."

He used to preach that homosexuality is an unqualified sin, prayed for the healing of gay and lesbian people, until his best friend—whom Pearson describes as a believer and deeply spiritual person—came out to him. In an interview on CNN, Pearson said he also looked around Tulsa and saw that with the levels of divorce, substance abuse and teen pregnancy in the area, and concluded that “all this hyper conservative fundamentalist religion is probably not working.” In the video clip he asks that if God does not count sins against us, then why do Christians and religious leaders?

He says “I thnk we have idolized the Bible, turned it what I call Bible bullets to shoot down anything we don't like, anything we are comfortable with. I would like for that to be corrected in the Christian consciousness.”

Here is a longer, more in-depth profile on NPR's This American Life.

Beliefnet ranks Pearson as one of the ten most influential African-American religious leaders. He is now associated with the United Church of Christ.

Swapping identities?

Mainline churches seeking to ape the the techniques of megachurches should be aware that megachurches are just beginning to ape the mainline's commitment to social justice. Jason Byassee noted this intriguing dynamic when he accompanied a group of Methodist ministers from North Carolina on a visit to Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago.

He writes:

Willow has as much enthusiasm for “social justice” as I’ve ever heard at a Methodist annual conference, and it’s only started at social justice, while United Methodists have been pursuing it since, well, since there was Methodism, and have long been good at it. So as United Methodist ministers are shuttled off to go copy church-growth methods, church-growth guru Hybels is charging into “our” territory: reading the Bible holistically, touting diversity.

The point: these are things United Methodists are good at.


Self-silencing Christians

Why don't mainline Protestant denominations do a better job at evangelism? The Christian Century (its own drowsiness a reflection of mainline decline) touches on this question in reviews of two new books on the topic.

Lillian Daniel, senior minister of First Congregational Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, makes this excellent point in her review of Unbinding the Gospel by Martha Grace Reese:

It has long struck me that the same mainline church members who pass resolutions on gay marriage and propose solutions to conflict in the Middle East suddenly shrink in silence on the subject of their faith, and they do this—here's the irony—so they won't offend anyone. For too long, our noble impulses toward tolerance and inclusivity have turned us into spiritual illiterates who, being out of practice, have forgotten how to speak the words of our faith.

William Willimon, a Methodist bishop, praises Bryan Stone, author of Evangelism After Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness for "an incisive critique of what passes for evangelism in most of our churches."

... Stone notes notes that we've tried to evangelize via two main paths, which he calls "Christendom lite": establishment of the intellectual respectability of the gospel in essentially secular terms that are allegedly broader or more plausible than traditional theological phrasings (as in James R. Adams's So You Can't Stand Evangelism), and assertion of the practical value of Christianity for individuals, where value has been determined by a market economy (as in Walt Kallestad's Entertainment Evangelism). Against such desiccated, overly rationalized, market-driven approaches, Stone says that the most evangelistic thing we can do today is to be a vibrant corporate embodiment of the kingdom of God.

On the one hand, who can defend "desiccated, overly rationalized, market-driven approaches" to anything. On the other hand, one gets the feeling from talking to many evangelism experts that they imagine that if Christians would just "do church" the right way people will magically find out about it and start knocking the doors down.

Younger generation finds religion

At Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix the ushers have noticed a pleasant trend--more and more twentysomethings are coming to the Cathedral. Is this a sign of a more faithful generation? According to USA Today, many younger adults are turning to faith despite less religious parents:

Pamela Moss worships every Sunday at Messiah Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., where they preach the Bible straight up, sing the old hymns "and then let me get on with my day."

But her son, George, 24, is a fervent Evangelical, witnessing to strangers and praying "in a church that looks like a gym. To me, he's just out the gate," his mystified mom says.

Stephen Rochester, 32, grew up "Jewish lite" in St. Louis, says his father, Marty. "So I was stunned when Stephen went religious with a capital R," switching to his Hebrew name, Shaya, and adopting the black hat of Hasidic Jews.

Mari Beth Nolan, 22, grew up a "Christmas and Easter" Catholic. Now she plans to go to work at a missionary clinic in Ecuador, leaving her parents proud — but confused.

Small wonder parents are befuddled. Though Gallup polls dating to the '50s say young adults are less likely to attend services or say religion is very important in their lives, clergy of all stripes say they are seeing a small wave of young adults who are more pious than their parents. And they're getting an earful from boomer moms and dads who range from shocked to delighted.

The USA Today article profiles the stories of several young adults--Protestant, Catholic, Jew and Muslim--who have surprised their parents with their faith. Read the entire article here. Listen to their stories on NPR here.

The average age of the typical Episcopal congregation is well above the national average. What are we doing to attract what may be a new faithful generation? What should we be doing?

A church for all

We have all heard the joke--that Episcopalians are Presbyterians whose investments have done quite well. Behind the joke is a troubling issue--is our church really the church for all? Rob Dreher of the Dallas Morning News observes in his Beliefnet column that the class divisions within denominations is also affecting Catholic and Orthodox churches, and he asks why:

I'm generalizing, of course, but where I'm from, the religion of the working class and the poor is Pentecostalism -- and I use the term broadly to mean charismatic, non-denominational Christianity in the Protestant tradition. It's not that only the poor and working classes are drawn to Pentecostalism, but rather that if you are poor or in the working class, and you go to church, chances are the church you go to is Pentecostal, or at least Evangelical.

I was thinking about how unlikely it would be that Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Presbyterianism or other forms of the Christian faith that attract the middle-class intellectuals I know would appeal to the Ricky Sinclairs of the world. This is a complicated topic, and I don't have any conclusions to offer, so I'm just going to throw out my own thoughts, and invite yours. There is a spiritual depth and intellectual complexity to these forms of Christianity that appeals to middle-class intellectuals who have grown weary with the emotionalism and trendiness of much popular religion. On the other hand, I've thought for years as a Catholic, and still think as an Orthodox, how hard it would be for a working man who was broken and who needed Jesus to walk in off the street and find him at one of our churches. Oh, Jesus is there, make no mistake -- but he's a lot harder to find than at one of the charismatic churches.

Along those lines, Catholicism and Orthodoxy both have been the traditional religion of tens of millions of the world's poor, and still are. The question that I thought about yesterday, then, is probably primarily one concerning North American middle-class white people. And yet, the charismatic and Evangelical churches are having tremendous success in Latin America, winning converts from historic Catholicism. . . .

Why? I ask as a sociological question, not a theological question. What is it about our time that makes the heavy old forms of Christianity -- Orthodoxy and Catholicism -- so apparently ill-suited to compete with the amorphous Pentecostalism that's sweeping the poor? Is it the case that the very complexity and depth that appeals to middle-class North American intellectuals makes the faith relatively inaccessible to the masses? Is it the case that we live now in a demotic age, in which any institution that depends on hierarchies and traditional authority will struggle for the hearts of the common man? . . .

Is it the case that the more demotic forms of Protestant Christianity preach a gospel that, however twisted in some of its manifestations (e.g., the prosperity gospel), nevertheless holds out to suffering people the hope that their lives can change for the better -- whereas the older, more traditional forms of Christianity are more accepting of suffering as part of the human condition, to a degree that tips over into fatalism?

I do wonder if the poor (excluding the immigrant poor from Latin America) have any entry point into Catholicism or Orthodoxy. And why that is. And how it should change within the tradition, because it's impossible to imagine a Christian church that has no room for the poor and working classes. And: why does it seem that the Christians who sound most concerned about the welfare of the poor and working classes are those least likely to share their instinct toward traditional sexual morality? It's undoubtedly true that many of the traditional churches have ministries to help meet the material needs of the poor. But how many of the poor are becoming Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Orthodox, etc., because of them? Are these churches places where the poor could see themselves becoming a part of the congregation, or are the poor more likely to see them as vendors of charity, but only that? And if the latter, who's to blame, and why?

Read the entire essay here.

It seems to me that the hard question that Dreher asks about Catholism and Orthodoxy and the working class and the poor is equally applicable to the Episcopal church. Anglicanism, of course, is attracting the poor across the world. Are we doing enough to reach out beyond the middle class here in the Episcopal Church?

Church dropouts

Will they ever return? Or is their fate still unknown? USA Today reports,

Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, according to the survey by LifeWay Research. And 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church.

"This is sobering news that the church needs to change the way it does ministry," says Ed Stetzer, director of Nashville-based LifeWay Research, which is affiliated with the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"It seems the teen years are like a free trial on a product. By 18, when it's their choice whether to buy in to church life, many don't feel engaged and welcome," says associate director Scott McConnell.

Emphasis added. Read it all here.

Evangelizing Ethically

A world wide gathering of representatives of several Christian traditions in Toulouse, France, representing Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions met to develop a common code of conduct for those seeking converts to Christianity. The group is an initiative of both the Vatican and the World Council of Churches

An Ecumenical News International release describes the gathering in Toulouse was is an intra-Christian event on the theme, "Towards an ethical approach to conversion: Christian witness in a multi-religious world".

Present are about 30 Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal and Evangelical theologians and church representatives. They hope to formulate something that will show what a common code of conduct on religious conversion should look like from a Christian perspective.

"Conversion is a controversial issue not only in interreligious relations but in intra-Christian relations as well," said the Rev. Hans Ucko, the WCC's programme executive for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. "In Latin America it is a source of tension between the Roman Catholic Church and the Pentecostal movement, while in other regions Orthodox churches often feel 'targeted' by some Protestant missionary groups."

Ucko said, "Since there are many accusations of 'sheep stealing' among Christians, we will most likely also focus on this issue. The consultation in Toulouse will be the opportunity for doing so."

The three-year study project, jointly being undertaken by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the WCC's programme on inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, bears the name, "An interreligious reflection on conversion: From controversy to a shared code of conduct". The study began in May 2006 in Lariano/Velletri, near Rome, and aims to produce a code of conduct on religious conversion commonly agreed among Christians by 2010.

Question to ponder: What is the line between proclamation and coercion? Is it ever appropriate to target other Christian traditions in our evangelism? What would you consider ethical evangelism?

Archbishop debates religion in bar

Lisa Jones, writes in the South Wales Echo, that

the Archbishop of Wales met drinkers in a city centre bar for a debate on the pros and cons of religion.

Dr Barry Morgan led the debate, Is Religion Bad? at Dempsey’s Bar, Castle Street, Cardiff, last night at Solace, the church in a bar.

Foregoing high church dress, Dr Morgan conducted the Kilroy-style debate in front of around 50 people, wearing his dog collar and a sports jacket. A mixture of believers, atheists and drinkers from the bar downstairs combined to create a lively debate.

Dr Morgan said: “The questions were quite hard-hitting. There was no clunkiness there.

Read it all here

This is becoming a popular idea around the world. Cafe churches and pub churches as well as discussion groups held in public spaces reach out to those who might want to know more about Christianity. Have you tried it?

i don't pay, i get paid

The Church by the Glades has been in the news lately. First, a few days ago it was running near the top of the Squidoo's list of most innovative churches. (At this moment it's not even in the top 60.) Not that we know what Squidoo is, mind you. But you might want to pop over and nominate your church if you feel it's deserving.

Anyhoo, second, we read in Gizmodo (via ) that the Church by the Glades pays you to attend its iServices. "What would convince your good selves to stop reading Gizmodo on a Sunday morning in favour of attending Holy Communion? A $15 iTunes voucher, you say? Church by the Glades, in Florida, hears you. In an effort to bribe new members, Church by the Glades will be handing out $15 iTunes vouchers to attendees of their iThemed services."

We figure that the bribe is just the front-end of a mutually beneficial relationship between the church and future tithers.

What we don't understand is why there are no Episcopal churches that have websites near as slick any you'll find on the Squidoo list. Surely it's not because of a cash flow problem. Isn't just because the investment wouldn't pay because the product behind the marketing is so poor?

St. Arbucks - a "third place"

A "third place" is a safe place between home and work, or home and school. Think soda fountain, barbershop, the pub, even church. Today Starbucks and its worthy competitors are playing that role:

Regulars at St. Arbucks are greeted by name and the baristas may have their favorite drink --Asimakoupoulos is a grande-drip purist -- ready when they reach the counter. Many modern churches have grown so large that people cannot know the names of many people with whom they are praying.

It's also crucial that these coffee sanctuaries are open to all kinds of people. At the Starbucks a short walk from his church, the pastor, people watching over the top of his laptop screen, has even seen believers reading their Bibles.

Writing in Leadership Journal, Asimakoupoulos noted: "At St. Arbucks, I've seen a rabbi mentoring a Torah student. A youth pastor disciplining a new convert. High school girls working on a group assignment. A book club sipping mochas while discussing a fiction author's plot." Could churches try to be more open to outsiders?

Why not?

Read it here in Scripps News.

See also Getting religion at the pub.

Mormons exposed. Literally

A group of young Mormons, out to counter their church's stodgy image have hit upon the idea of a beefcake calendar. As they explain it:

The 2008 Men on a Mission calendar features twelve handsome returned Mormon missionaries from across the United States who, for the first time ever, have dared to pose bare-chested in a steamy national calendar.

Usually seen riding their bicycles and preaching door-to-door, these hunky young men of faith explode with sexuality on each calendar page. Hand-selected for their striking appearances and powerful spiritual commitment, the "devout dozen" are stepping away from the Mormon traditions of modest dress, and "baring their testimony" to demonstrate that they can have strong faith and be proud of who they are, both with a sense of individualism and a sense of humor.

Hat tip Andrew Sullivan.

Halo as bait

Instead of a video game that shoots up a church, some evangelical churches are using a violent first person shooter video game in attempt to 'hook' teenage males into the Gospel message.

The New York Times reported yesterday how some congregations set up marathon sessions that allow groups of teens to play Halo 3, the mega-best-selling X-Box game that features the main character known only as the Master Chief who is armed to the teeth with all kinds of exotic weapons as he shoots up aliens in a mythical war. The game combines elements of a story-telling video game and a classic first-person shooter.

[In] the basement on a recent Sunday at the Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, where Tim Foster, 12, and Chris Graham, 14, sat in front of three TVs, locked in violent virtual combat as they navigated on-screen characters through lethal gun bursts. Tim explained the game’s allure: “It’s just fun blowing people up.”

Once they come for the games, Gregg Barbour, the youth minister of the church said, they will stay for his Christian message. “We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell,” Mr. Barbour wrote in a letter to parents at the church.

Evangelical churches have been adept at experimenting with marrying popular secular culture with a gospel message, but this has many evangelical leaders unhappy. For one thing, the game is rated "M," which means that in theory the game should not be bought by those under 17 years of age. Some parents wonder at the wisdom of a church supplying and sanctioning a game that they would not allow in their own homes.

A more basic question is whether the theme and game play of relentless violence can be appropriately connected with the Christian Gospel.


But the question arises: What price to appear relevant? Some parents, religious ethicists and pastors say that Halo may succeed at attracting youths, but that it could have a corroding influence. In providing Halo, churches are permitting access to adult-themed material that young people cannot buy on their own.

“If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it,” said James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. “My own take is you can do better than that.”

Daniel R. Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes that churches should reject Halo, in part because it associates thrill and arousal with killing.

“To justify whatever killing is involved by saying that it’s just pixels involved is an illusion,” he said.

On the other hand,

Hundreds of churches use Halo games to connect with young people, said Lane Palmer, the youth ministry specialist at the Dare 2 Share Ministry, a nonprofit organization in Arvada, Colo., that helps churches on youth issues.

“It’s very pervasive,” Mr. Palmer said, more widespread on the coasts, less so in the South, where the Southern Baptist denomination takes a more cautious approach. The organization recently sent e-mail messages to 50,000 young people about how to share their faith using Halo 3. Among the tips: use the game’s themes as the basis for a discussion about good and evil.

At Sweetwater Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., Austin Brown, 16, said, “We play Halo, take a break and have something to eat, and have a lesson,” explaining that the pastor tried to draw parallels “between God and the devil.”

Gregg Barbour, youth pastor at the Colorado Community Church wrote in a letter to parents, tthat God calls ministers to be “fishers of men.”

“Teens are our ‘fish,” he wrote. “So we’ve become creative in baiting our hooks.”

Read: Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church

New statistics about the Episcopal Church released

News from the Church Center (815):

"Latino and Asian populations are among the fastest-growing in North America, and should become greater priorities for Episcopal Church evangelism, members of Executive Council said October 27 while reviewing church membership and attendance statistics for the year 2006.

Overall U.S. Latino/Hispanic population is projected to grow by 34%, and Asian by 33%, in the decade 2000-2010, compared with 13% Black, 7% White, and 3% White, non-Hispanic, according to statistics presented by Kirk Hadaway, the Episcopal Church's director of research.

Multicultural mission is essential in these contexts, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told the Council, gathered in Dearborn, Michigan, for its regular fall meeting.

The seven Latin American and Caribbean dioceses of the Episcopal Church's Province 9 posted a 1,741-person gain in membership in 2006 for a 72,084 total, according to the aggregated Parochial Report data reported by Hadaway. 

Four overseas dioceses -- Colombia, Dominican Republic, Micronesia, and Puerto Rico -- posted growth in membership and average Sunday attendance in 2006, Hadaway said. Domestic dioceses posting similar gains for 2006 numbered 11: Alaska, Central Pennsylvania, Eastern Oregon, Eau Claire, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Upper South Carolina. The Navajoland Area Mission also reported growth.

Other upturns for Episcopalians included a 2.5% increase in plate and pledge offerings churchwide to more than $1.3 billion in 2006 in domestic dioceses, with the average parishioner's pledge increasing to $2,088 from $1,979. The value of total investments of all domestic congregations also climbed to nearly $4.2 billion in 2006, up from more than $3.9 billion in 2005."

Read the rest here: Episcopal Life Online

"Black Jesus Church"

Claudia Mair Burney, writes of her search for a spiritual home and how an Episcopal Church, and the artwork it had on the side of the building has drawn her in.

"Every city has its mythology. Inkster is no exception. Said Anglican church is called St. Clements Episcopal Church (see piccha above). I've never been to a service there, but I'm going to venture to say that it's probably predominately African American (Inkster is very segregated. We just don't mix it up like all that). Now, I could be wrong about St. Clements members, and if I am I'll gladly report back. So think of this African American Episcopal church in the heart of Inkster. And the mythology attached to it? Weeeeeeell, all my life people who don't go to St. Clements Episcopal church has called it, Black Jesus Church."

[snip]

I don't know why, but in the materials I collected today, and from a peek at the online history they give of the church on their website, nobody mentions that big, honkin' black Jesus.

Nuthin'!

Not how long he's hung there. Was he there from the very beginnings of the budding parish? A gift that came later? I dunno. And why can't you see Him on the church's piccha!? No photo of Him in the parish photos on the website, either.

Maybe it's taken for granted that everybody in Inkster knows he's there. Maybe they're a little salty that people call their parish Black Jesus church, totally dissin' its patron saint. While there is a drawing of him on a flier, I could get no satisfaction finding any history of him.

Still. You gotta love something that homey and delightful. I plan to attend Holy Eucharist on Sunday morning. Maybe someone will tell me about him then.

Read the rest the story and see the pictures here.

Appealing to "emerging adults"

In the most recent issue of Christianity Today's Books & Culture magazine, Christian Smith writes:

There is a new and important stage in life in American culture, and it is not entirely clear that the Christian church understands or particularly knows what to do with it. I am talking about what scholars call "emerging adulthood." This is the time of life between ages 18 and 30, roughly, a phase which in recent decades has morphed into quite a new experience for many.

The key passage in his persuasive essay, at least for church leaders, reads:

Jeffrey Arnett explored the religious beliefs and practices of the more than one hundred emerging adults he interviewed in various locations around the country. Here is what he concluded:
The most interesting and surprising feature of emerging adults' religious beliefs is how little relationship there is between the religious training they received throughout childhood and the religious beliefs they hold at the time they reach emerging adulthood … . In statistical analyses [of interview subjects' answers], there was no relationship between exposure to religious training in childhood and any aspect of their religious beliefs as emerging adults … . This is a different pattern than is found in adolescence [which reflects greater continuity] … . Evidently something changes between adolescence and emerging adulthood that dissolves the link between the religious beliefs of parents and the beliefs of their children.

Although the transmission of religious faith is not a central concern of Arnett's, he still finds this observation startling. He writes, "How could it be that childhood religious training makes no difference in the kinds of religious beliefs and practices people have by the time they reach emerging adulthood? It doesn't seem to make sense … . It all comes to naught in emerging adulthood? Yet that seems to be the truth of it, surprising as that may be." Need I say that these findings raise serious questions? To be sure, Arnett is not working with nationally representative data, and so his findings must be viewed with some skepticism. Even so, the very possibility should make Christians sit up and notice.

Read it all.

Pub based evangelism

It's becoming increasingly common of late to hear of Episcopal clergy going out of their parishes to local pubs and bars as a way of connecting with people with questions about God. Often the event will start by posing a provocative question and then letting discussion flow organically from that. Today's news brings a report of just such an event in Walnut Creek CA that's notable because it included the diocesan bishop as one of the clergy:

"The ale flowed as Episcopal clerics, including the bishop, went to a downtown pub recently to talk faith with 20- and 30-somethings.

Churchgoers on a mission to sober up sinners? Not at all. 'Faith on Tap' is about bringing together young adults hungry for community, rousing discussion and a meaningful life. It's spreading across the country faster than a moonshine delivery.

In the Pyramid Brewery's Diablo Room, Bishop Marc Andrus, the Rev. Phil Brochard, and parishioners from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek, and more than 20 others gathered around tables laden with glasses and pitchers.

The topic amid the cacophony spilling in from the adjacent main room: 'Is there a God pill?' It was the second installment in a three-part series called 'Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll.'"

Read the rest here.

Church shopping

"Church shopping has been rightfully attacked as a consumerist, individualistic approach to faith—as a shopper, I do what 'works for me' on a Sunday morning, and I can change churches as fast as my preferences change. All the same, we’ve nearly all done it to some degree or another," writes Amy Frykholm on Theolog, the blog of The Christian Century.

Read about her recent experience.

Mystery worshippers coming to a church near you

The Sunday Telegraph this week reported that measured by regular attendance, Catholics now outnumber Anglicans in England. Church of England representatives disputed the figures, but even by their numbers it's close and average Sunday attendance is less than 1 million. (In a touch of irony, in the same issue the Telegraph ran lists of suggestions for Midnite masses.)

Why don't people attend church? Is it bad memories from childhood? Ruth Gledhill of The Times reports that,

The research organisation Christian Research has commissioned the company Retail Maxim to send mystery worshippers in unannounced to judge the sermon, welcome, atmosphere, warmth, comfort and appearance of churches around the country.

First to be assessed were churches in Telford, subject to a recent pilot. Early next year, mystery worshippers will visit churches in the West Midlands.

The scheme mirrors that run by the satirical Christian website ShipofFools, the main difference being that ShipofFools uses volunteers who are Christian. [Retail Maxim will be paying its worship/shoppers £30]

Christian Research wants non-Christians to assess the churches because, in common with increasing numbers of church leaders, the organisation wishes to find out what does and does not work for the reluctant churchgoer. Christian Research is working with ShipofFools to promote the project.
...

The non-church goers will be experienced mystery shoppers who are used to assessing the service offered by hotels, shops and restaurants.


Based on the pilot, there's anecdotal evidence that nonchurch goers don't know what they're missing.
The Telford pilot involved a range of denominations and styles of service from Anglo-Catholic to a service involving a “lot of people lying on the floor and being healed.”

The results had been “amazingly positive”, she said.

Mrs Hewitt, whose background is in commercial research, said it was essential that the churches gained an insight into how they were viewed from the “outside-in” by non-churchgoers.

She said: “We have had some of our mystery worshippers saying that they were really amazed by what they found - by the atmosphere and the welcome before the service, when they went in and after the service and the fellowship.

“It was all so far from their expectations that they had before they came in - often based on childhood when they saw the church as a boring experience where you were made to feel guilty.”

See also the Church Research (UK) press release here.

Asian people and the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal missionary work among asian people began more than a century ago in the western parts of the United States. Over the years the Episcopal Church has been key in creating evangelical foundations, worship sites and congregations that are specifically sensitive to the needs of asian american and recent immigrants.

Asian Week has a feature this week that covers the history of the Episcopal Church's evangelism efforts in this area.

From the article comes the account of the most recent work:

"In 1973, the Episcopal Church’s general convention established the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry to serve the growing numbers of immigrants from Asian countries.

Today, the Ministry has 120 missions, congregations or ministries that are served by more than 100 Asian or EAM-related clergy, including two bishops. The Asian church members, including 18 Chinese congregations, comprise approximately 1.8 percent of the 2.5 million Episcopalians.

‘I see the rise of Asian American leadership in the Episcopal Church, the increasing level of their involvement in all aspects of the Church’s life and at all levels of its activities,’ the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara says. Based at The Episcopal Church Center of New York, Vergara has served as the current missioner for the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry since 2004.

Vergara also predicts a ‘golden age’ and the ‘flowering of Asian American ministry’ in the Episcopal Church. At its 158th convention, the Diocese of California adopted a five-year plan to develop multiethnic and multicultural ministries. The diocesan convention also called on Bishop Marc Andrus to install a multicultural commissioner by June 2008. California clergy and lay leaders were asked to complete two sessions of anti-racism training over the next two years."

Read the rest here.

Image problem

Adele Banks of Religion News Service writes:

Almost three-quarters of Americans who haven't darkened the door of a church in the last six months think it is "full of hypocrites," and even more of them consider Christianity to be more about organized religion than about loving God and people, according to a new survey.

Almost half those surveyed--44 percent--agreed that "Christians get on my nerves."

But the survey of "unchurched" Americans by LifeWay Research also found that some 78 percent said they would be willing to listen to someone who wanted to tell them about his or her Christian beliefs.


Read it all.

God thinks it's cool

The Episcopal Church of the Advent in Logan Square offers a service for dogs and dog walkers every Sunday. Check out the video here. The story is here:

"It came out of this observation that we have so many people in the neighborhood who are dog owners," says Rev. Sandra Castillo, rector at the Episcopal Church of the Advent and La Iglesia Episcopal de Nuestra Senora de las Americas. "We thought this might be a good way to reach out."

"We used to have an 8 o'clock service, but it ended in September and we figured why not try this?" adds Sonia Davidson, a member of the congregation, dog person and moving force behind the idea. "It's kid-friendly, pet-friendly. If you're walking your dog, you stop in."

The services are short -- 15 or 20 minutes -- and simple. Some readings, prayers and announcements in a corner of the beautiful century-old church.

"We went through the prayer book and it's basically the morning prayer service," says John Medenwald, one of the five church members who take turns officiating at the service, which is lay-organized and led.

There is blog devoted to The Episcopal Church of the Advent & & Nuestra Senora.

Where everyone knows your name

Theology on Tap is a Catholic program that's been around for over a quarter century, and in Boston, the lecture series is becoming increasingly popular. Several churches take turns sponsoring the event at various bars around town; most recently, Church of the Advent, an Episcopal church on Beacon Hill, sponsored the event at Cheers as part of its "Portraits of Jesus" series:

The series at the Beacon Hill Cheers is the 14th for Church of the Advent, said Gray, who aims to organize three series a year. Summers feature a series called “The Gospels According to . . . ,” drawing on such influences as the Simpsons, J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Matrix” and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“It’s incorporating culture, arts, hot topics,” said Sarah Livingston, 25, of Jamaica Plain, who attends Park Street Church. “It’s intellectual and stimulating. It’s relevant.”

Theology on Tap is just one way that churches are reaching out to adults in their 20s and 30s. The Friends at the Advent, for example, sponsors community groups, a Flannery O’Connor reading group and a dart night at a local bar.

Park Street Church’s Cafe (for 20-somethings) and Crosswalk (for 30-somethings) ministries draw 200 people total most weeks, according to assistant pastor Dr. Chris Sherwood, who pointed out that Park Street has had young-adult programs since the early 1900s.

“Once you hit a critical mass, it becomes a gathering place for folks,” added Rev. Jeff Schuliger, Park Street’s minister of small groups. Currently, associate minister Rev. Daniel Harrell is leading a group of parishioners blogging about “Living Levitically” in conjunction with his sermon series (www.parkstreet.org).

At the packed midweek Theology on Tap session, Christa Carter, 25, of Roxbury, pointed out that often the church feels like it belongs to the previous generation.

“People our age are disillusioned with the church,” said Carter, who doesn’t attend Advent but regularly attends Theology on Tap. “I want it to be mine . . . to see how it fits in with our generation.”

“It’s a healthy place for a skeptic to walk into,” added Cleveland. “They can ask a challenging question and not be brushed off.”

Read the full story.

Opportunity, not Crisis

Tom Ehrich sees opportunity where others have voiced frustration when looking at the results of the recent Pew survey on Religion and Public Life. If people are seeking and moving from church to church, rather than bemoan the fact, we should be getting prepared for those who are going to be coming.

"The Pew findings that religious behavior is marked by 'fluidity,' not consistency, might frustrate institutional managers who had hoped brand loyalty would last a lifetime. But it strikes me as good news that people take their faith seriously enough to examine it and to go in search of real bread.

Rather than pout about brand disloyalty, I'd suggest that denominations and congregations prepare themselves to receive these seekers when they go seeking. After all, it was the refusal of major denominations to notice that baby boomers started leaving in 1964 that caused their steep decline in membership. If you don't see the churn, how do you examine your enterprise and respond to the churn?

If 'none of the above' is the fastest-growing American religious affiliation, then we need to ask: What do adults in America find missing? What movement of the human spirit are we in the religious world failing to sense? What matrix of needs are we ignoring in our stubborn insistence on tradition? What questions are we unable to hear?

Rather than complain about the inadequacies of young adults in failing to grasp the virtues of Protestantism, for example, Protestant course-setters should examine the lives of today's young adults and build bridges to them. There is no virtue in ignoring one age cohort in order to keep an older age cohort satisfied. We should try self-examination, not blame."

We covered the release and some initial reactions to the Pew Reports earlier on the Lead.

Read the rest here.

Faith on campus

There are plenty of anecdotal stories about hostile responses to any attempt to talk about Christian faith on today's college campuses. There are also stories about how that sort of conversation is gratefully received by students. Which view, hostile or grateful, is right?

Most people tend to imagine that hostility toward faith and christian belief is the more commonly encountered reception.

But new evidence shows something different:

"The conventional wisdom, as it turns out, is not quite right.

From the pollsters come recent data showing that religion and spirituality are alive and well at colleges and universities. A recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA finds that more than half of college juniors say 'integrating spirituality' into their lives is very important. Today's juniors also tend to pray (67%, according to the UCLA study) and 41% believe it's important, even essential, to 'follow religious teachings' in everyday life.

In these and similar measures, the college population tends to lag behind the population at large, but not by much. Other new research suggests that one's experience in higher education is not the cause of any falling away from faith. Survey results from University of Texas researchers find that students are less likely to be secularized than others ages 18-25. In other words, navigating the working world takes a larger toll on a young person's faith than braving the nation's supposedly godless college campuses.

It's not just trendy Eastern or New Age religions to which students are gravitating. Christianity is holding its own, too, in part because many campus Christians are showing a different side of their religion than the one that has lent irresistible fodder to comedians and given it a bad reputation in some quarters.

Young Christians, college students or otherwise, tend to emphasize different public concerns than the old-guard Christian Right. Like the older Christian generation, they do consider abortion an important issue, according to a survey by Relevant magazine, but the same survey finds that they tend to care less than their elders about asserting Christian prerogatives in the public square and resisting the advance of gay rights."

Read the rest here.

Late to Matthew's party

We are awfully late to this party, but fortunately, it is still in full swing. Father Matthew Moretz's You Tube ministry is among the most creative evangelism and formation efforts under way in the Episcopal Church. Visit him here. He's currenlty in the midst of a series on the sacraments, and these pieces are both edgy and substantive--Have a look at the video on Baptism. You will never look at being "received" into a congregation the same way again.--but don't miss earlier installments like the Scripture, Tradition and Reason puppet show, the Super Mario Carrilon or the Episcopal Sign Switch.

He gave a plenary session and a few workshops at the annual meeting of Episcopal Communicators in Seattle last week and drew big crowds. So perhaps we will see some video blogging on church-related sites in the not-too-distant future.

Mission in a Virtual World

Mark Brown is sharing a paper on how he's been able to do mission and evangelism work in the online world of Second Life. If you've ever wondered how the church needs to modify or just tweak its message to connect with people, then this paper is worth reading.

Mark's blog post at his site "BrownBlog" says:

"In May I am heading off to the UK for a meeting hosted by the Bishop of Guildford that will discuss in some detail the ministry I am involved with in the virtual world of Second Life. I have written a background paper for the meeting, ‘Christian Mission to a Virtual World’"

Read the rest here (and follow the comments).

If you're just interested in accessing the paper (which is available in pdf format) you can find it here.

An invitation

If you are going to be in the Washington D. C. area on June 7, please join us at the Diocese of Washington's Evangelism Conference, featuring a keynote presentation by Brian McLaren, who gave a preview of his presentation in an interview with the Washington Window. You can register here.

The conference is being held at the 4-H Youth Conference Center, 7100 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD, and registration begins at 9 a. m.

The conference also will feature a workshop on personal faith sharing led by the Revs. Heather Kirk-Davidoff and Nancy Wood-Lyczak, authors of Talking Faith: An Eight-Part Study on Growing and Sharing Your Faith, and a how-to session on parish communications and marketing, led by Carol Barnwell, director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Carol is also a member of the Cafe's editorial board.

Evangelism: marketing or recruiting?

The Telegraph's George Pitcher

What [aggressive evangelism of the Victorian variety] leads to is a sales-performance mindset for the Church, obsessed with the headcount in the pews rather than what the household of faith does with its ministry. And we end up with enjoyable but rather pointless poster campaigns about Jesus Christ as Che Guevara or Mary's "bad-hair day".

A great former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, famously said that the Church was the only institution to exist for the sole purpose of its non-members. This could be taken as a command to evangelism, but Temple did not say that its purpose was to make new members. What he was saying was that the duty of the Church is to serve the world in which it finds itself.

So, if marketing is not the correct management discipline, what is? I would suggest that the Church of England abandons the marketing department in favour of the personnel function, or Human Resources as it is more often known these days. The HR department of a company looks after job descriptions and contracts and the Church of England needs to understand its contract with the people. The HR staff will have a diversity policy and a concern for the work/life balance and the welfare of its employees; in extreme cases it should sack people who grossly misbehave. And, yes, HR is responsible for recruitment, a much better word than conversion or evangelism. Recruitment is an offer, not a command, and is attractive and responsible. It invites people in rather than shoving something down their throats.

Read it at the Telegraph's Faithbook blog. The subject of the post is the call by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, to do more to convert British Muslims to the Church of England.

Witnessing in the postmodern world

As part of its Forum series, the Washington National Cathedral last weekend hosted Thomas Long, author of Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, for a conversation about, well, conversation, and the role it plays in faith. More evangelistic models are better at "witnessing," but mainline folks should see testimony just as central to their faith as worship is.

Long recommends worship as one way for more Christians to find their voices and identify common ground. He also encourages conversation. “Honest testimony does not sound like, ‘Hey, brother, are you saved?’” Long says. “It’s woven into the fabric of everyday conversation. It takes place at the breakfast table, it takes place on the subway, it takes place at work, it takes place in the classroom.”

Long does not favor stark demands that people believe. “There is no irrefutable proof of the Christian faith,” he contends. “There’s simply the trustworthiness of testimony. It began with those who came back from the tomb on Easter, it continued through the apostles, it carries on through preaching and worship, and it lives on in the community of faith.”

Christianity continues because someone had the courage to talk to others. “If Christians stop talking, then the Gospel stops spreading,” Long says.

The complete event is available as a video or as an mp3 here.

On dogs and God and "what sort of Christianity Episcopalian is"

A few weeks ago, the New York Post published a bit (filed under "entertainment") about the Church of the Holy Trinity, an Episcopal Church on the Upper East Side where canine congregants are commonly in attendance.

Fast forward to this week, where Huffington Post columnist Verena von Pfetten gets a kick out of the story, but digs a little deeper and discovers that this "Episcopalian" church is more than dog schtick:

A canine-friendly congregation. It's almost too good to be true!

But I've gotta say that in checking out the Church of the Holy Trinity's website, I found one little gem that seemed far more worthy of our attention:

Whoever you are, parishioner, friend, neighbor, or seeker, we are honored that you are visiting this website. We invite you to become part of the ministry and spiritual growth happening at Holy Trinity, a community embracing all people, across the spectrum of cultural, ethnic, racial, gender, sexual orientation, and class diversity, as full members of the household of God.

Now, I don't know if this is common, or if this is an episcopalian thing (because, to be honest, I'm not even sure what sort of Christianity episcopalian is), but I'm a lot more excited about this than I am about the chapel being Cheeseburger-friendly. Dogs don't care if they can go to church -- dogs are just as happy sneakily curled up on the sofa chewing a Nylabone while their owners are off saving their souls. And I'm also pretty sure it's not possible to make any sort of cogent argument about the history of discrimination against dogs. Humans, on the other hand, have a sordid and sickening history with prejudice in many and most churches.

So, let's turn our attention and our applause not to the inclusion of our canine companions who, let's be honest, could not care a less, but to the understanding and compassion this church has shown towards its human companions. It's long overdue.


You can share your applause here.

The Church is not always in church

Phyllis Tickle talks about going to "Beer and Bible Tuesdays" at a small neighborhood pub where about eight or nine, often more, people gather to kick around "everything from hell to salvation, Christianity to Zoroastrianism, the relative validity of experiential truth to that of empirical truth, etc., etc."

There are usually eight or nine of us regulars around the table at Kudzu's on Beer and Bible Tuesdays. Sometimes there are more of us than that, of course, and sometimes we are joined by an in-house "visitor" or two who hear our racket, leave their barstools to eavesdrop, and -- inevitably -- join us. We've had a preacher or two come by to try to figure out what we're up to, and even a trained theologian or two. But by and large, we are just finding our way toward a form of being together that has no pre-existing aims and certainly no set pattern to follow or expectations to fulfill. I can say, however, that in all my years as a professional religionist, I have never heard theology more earnestly or more intelligently talked than it is at Kudzu's.

She writes that she has spent a lot of time talking about the situation of the Church in 21st century, and knows that many people worry about it's decline.

It would irreparably offend most of those distressed people if I were to say to them, face-to-face, that the church is not necessarily in churches anymore. In fact, church is increasingly more active and fully present in places other than sacred buildings than it is in them. But I can say so here.

I can say here what I know to be true: Christianity has never been more alive and vigorous than it is right here and right now. And Kudzu's is but one of thousands of vibrant proofs that that is so.

Beliefnet: Beer and Bible Night at Kudzu's (by Phyllis Tickle)

Evangelism in action

The Rev. Dr. Patrick Malloy, a priest in the Diocese of Bethlehem (PA) writes of what it was like for a number of congregations in that diocese to set up an evangelism event at a regional gathering of GLBT people.

He reports:

"Yesterday, about 40 members of the Diocese from six parishes (Grace, Allentown; Mediator, Allentown; St Andrew’s, Allentown; St. Anne’s, Trexlertown; Trinity, Bethlehem; and Trinity, Easton) hosted our booth at the Lehigh Valley Gay Pride event. It was a remarkable show of solidarity. Of the 40, only four or five were themselves gay. That sent a clear message that the Episcopal Church, not the gay members of the Episcopal Church, welcomes everyone into our community. Other parishes that contributed to the two-page ad in the Pride in the Park booklet and to the cost of the tent and materials were the Cathedral, Bethlehem; Christ Church, Stroudsburg; St. Margaret’s, Emmaus; and Trinity, Mt. Pocono; as well as the Safe Spaces Committee of the Diocese.

[...]The Episcopalians at our booth did not try to convince our visitors of any theological position about any issue, including the issues related to sexuality that trouble our Church and the Anglican Communion. (The staffers may not even have held the same position. They did not discuss it.) What our Sisters and Brothers did was extend a welcome to everyone who would receive it. They handed out brochures for all the congregations that sent them, as well as literature from Integrity concerning the conversation in our Church about GLBT people and their place in our common life.

At the entrance to the park, fundamentalist street preachers with large placards stationed themselves. They spewed hate and berated those who passed by. Our Diocese, along with a few other individual congregations of other denominations, painted a far more flattering picture of Christianity and offered a real Gospel witness. Whatever your view on issues of human sexuality, I think you would have been proud of our Brothers and Sisters. They represented us exceedingly well."

Read the full article here.

Another rector in the YouTube racket

From the Winston-Salem Journal:

On YouTube, you can watch video of a chewing-gum sculptor from Romania and an office badminton match among cubicle dwellers.

And then there are the videos of the Rev. Steven Rice, who ponders such theological questions as why we pray and whether observing the pagan ritual of Halloween is OK for Christians.

Rice, 29, has been the rector at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church since June. He has been writing a blog for three years and creating videos and posting them to YouTube since January 2007. He said that he sees the blog and videos as a way to reach an audience that may not look for God in such traditional places as church.

The Rev. Rice is following in the footsteps of the Rev. Matthew Moretz of Christ Church in Rye, NY.

"A Plea for Parishes with Porches"

The Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon published an essay yesterday that asks congregations to try to maximize the possibilities for seekers to connect with them. He uses the metaphor of porches to describe what he calling us to do:

"To do better, churches need to provide porches. Although disappearing in many American homes recently, porches play a vital function. They are an intermediate ground in which people who live in the house come out of the house and can be seen, and indeed talked to, by passers by on the sidewalk.

It is a big risk to go into someone’s house, but not to talk to them on their porch. Indeed, most people when invited will go onto a porch and speak with people who ask them to come.

Such a safe intermediate ground is exactly what parishes need to provide. What will it look like? One example is the Alpha course, used in many Anglican parishes worldwide. It involves a meal, it has small group discussion after a presentation, and it seeks in its format to bend over backwards to allow people who do not consider themselves as Christians to partake."

Kendall goes on to list other sorts of ways that he sees happening around the Diocese of South Carolina such as Agnostics Anonymous and Questions from the Heart.

Read the full article here.

What if Starbucks used church marketing?

This video from the blog Beyond Relevance suggests how off-putting a church can feel to newcomers. Hat tip to Think Christian.

The Christmas Story in 30 seconds

Can you tell the Christmas story for radio or video in under 30 seconds? That's was the challenge the Church Advertising Network gave churches, youth groups and individuals in advance of Advent and Christmas. The winning radio was set to a YouTube video below.

Listen to the runner ups here.

The Church Advertising Network also this downloadable poster of the nativity in a bus sheter.

bus_shelter_nativity.jpg

Learn more here.

Bad times draw crowds

The New York Times reports this morning a fact that churches across the country already know: bad times draw crowds into church--especially evangelical churches:

Read more »

An unlikely author argues that Christianity can save Africa

Matthew Parris, an atheist, argues that only Christianity can save Africa from "the crushing passivity of the people's mindset."

[T]the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosophical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.


Storming the gates

Church planter Gary Schokely says that a person coming to a congregation for the first time faces many barriers of peculiar ritual, internal group dynamics and even, at times, resentment coming from both clergy and laity. He suggests that weddings, funerals and baptisms may be an opportunity for congregations to welcome the unaffiliated when they come to us for a service.

My own experience of visiting with other churches has helped me realize what a huge step it is for "unaffiliated" people--the ones we say we are trying to reach--to show up, especially on Sunday mornings, and find their place among us. It has got to be about as uncomfortable for many of them to come and feel connected to what we are doing as it would be for us churched folk to show up at a Hindu shrine and be expected to jump right into the ritual.

He says that many unaffiliated people are open to visiting a church but often need an entry point like a baptism, wedding, or funeral to do so. These can be opportunities for us to connect with the unaffiliated--to build a bridge to where they are. He says that after they join us, we can then lead them to begin to take responsibility for themselves--to understand about our history, to study our traditions, to learn how to spiritually feed themselves.

The problem, Schokely says, is that we often meet the unaffiliated with suspicion and communicate a "club mentality."

Read more »

Radical Welcome

Hospitality is key to growing any organization, but women in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are looking beyond sociability to the much deeper relationships needed to sustain a Christian community’s alternative values according to a story in Ekklesia today.

The Women of the ELCA network facilitating and online and in-person discussion of the provocative book Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other and the Spirit of Transformation, by the Rev Stephanie Spellers (Episcopal Priest). The online deliberations will include live chats and a blog supported by downloadable resources.
To find out more click here.

To see Spellers discuss her book see read more:

Read more »

Brian McLaren: sneak preview

Brian McLaren is giving the keynote address today at the Diocese of Washington's annual convention. The diocese will have video available in the not-too-distant future, but here is a little taste of what McLaren proposes to talk about, lifted from my story in the recent Washington Window:

Internationally acclaimed evangelist Brian McLaren has a few questions he'd like to ask:

"What if the Episcopal Church is poised and positioned for its greatest season of ministry ever?

"What if difficulties of recent years were actually like pruning on a vine, making way for great fruit and new wine to come?

"What if historic values and virtues have become like a treasure hidden in the Episcopal Church, waiting to be rediscovered and shared?

"What if there were a few obstacles or barriers that needed to be removed so that future could unfold?

"What would it mean to rise to that occasion?"

It is so refreshing to hear from someone who is optimistic about the future of our church, especially someone of McLaren's stature. Stay tuned.

#1. Don't be a jerk

Father Matthew Moretz, the Episcopal You Tube Star, has a few thoughts on evangelism.

Bishop John Chane on trusting God and learning to walk again

During his address to the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's annual convention, Bishop John Bryson Chane told the story of his physical and spiritual recovery from the catastrophic injuries he suffered 13 years ago while racing sprint cars.

Church of England called to convert non-Christians in England.

The Church of England Synod voted on Wednesday to urge its members to reach out to their non-Christian neighbors in an effort to share the gospel of salvation offered uniquely in Christ Jesus. The vote represents a break from the previous stance of focusing on what was common and shared between people of different faiths in the community.

From the article on the Times website:

"The Church’s General Synod, meeting in London, overwhelmingly backed a motion to force its bishops to report on their ‘understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain’s multifaith society’ and offer guidance in sharing ‘the gospel of salvation’ with people of other faiths and none.

[...]The Rev Nezlin Sterling, who represents the black-led churches and is a minister in the New Testament Assembly, said that the marginalisation of Christianity was proceeding at a rapid rate, with further examples reported every day.

She said that the churches were so anxious to be politically correct that they were in danger of forgetting their mission. ‘We have positioned ourselves like the disciples did immediately after the death of Christ, behind closed doors, paralysed with fear of the world.’

Evangelisation should be a priority, she said. ‘Every person in my mind is a potential convert.’"

Read the full article here.

Brian McLaren on The Episcopal Moment

Today on the Daily Episcopalian blog, we are featuring the full-length video of The Episcopal Moment, Brian McLaren's keynote presentation on faith-sharing and evangelism to the annual convention of the Diocese of Washington. If you have any interest in helping our Church find a way forward in its effort to improve its evangelism, please make the time to watch.

Is church membership an outdated concept?

At Theolog, the blog of the Christian Century, Amy Frykholm asks whether we need a more rigorous concept to church membership, or a more flexible one:

A pastor of a large and dynamic congregation recently told me that church membership was for his congregation a "largely outdated concept." The church, he suggested, had become a more fluid place, where lifelong commitment to a specific body of believers was not central. He was convinced that the church could be a loving, vibrant, whole community without an emphasis on membership.

I wasn't shocked to hear this. It took me more than eight years in my small Episcopal church, during which I became a lay leader and my son was baptized, to become an official member. It was the first time I had formally joined any religious body, so I am familiar with a degree of discomfort around the question of membership.

Edwin Chr. Van Driel, writing in Theology Today, advocates for a more rigorous understanding of church membership, something more on the order of divine covenant than free choice (article not available online; but the current Century Marks includes a short summary). Disgruntled members who want to transfer their membership, for example, might be told, "We cannot do this... We are fully committed to working on this, however difficult and painful it might be for all of us." How likely is that to take place in your church?

Being a tribal church

Over on the blog RevGalBlogPals, Carol Howard Merritt posts about her book Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation. She writes:

My day job is working as a pastor at Western Presbyterian Church. And, like most of you, I also write and blog in my spare time. I wrote Tribal Church because I was tired of hearing about how the only way to reach out to a new generation of young adults (adults under the age of forty) was to get out the praise choruses, ditch the pews, and ignite a worship war in your congregation. It seemed like the only way that it was possible to minister to them was to throw out all of our traditions, and plant a booming, Gen-X church, with lots of imagery flashing on a powerpoint screen.

But that was not what was happening in the congregations that I served for the last ten years. When I talked to young parents, they said they liked being at the church because it gave their kids a chance to be around old people. And people told me over and over again that they appreciated the traditions and the liturgy. They enjoyed being a part of a community that was not about a charismatic pastor, but it was more like they were stepping into a stream, a deep current of faith and doubt that had been flowing before them, and would be flowing after them. They longed for sacred traditions like contemplative prayer.

Their words echoed my own experience. As a woman, growing up in the midst of various churches—conservative Southern Baptist congregations and mega-churches—I longed for the beauty, art, liturgy, and social justice traditions that mainline congregations had to offer.

More ways to see McLaren

Folks who had trouble viewing our Brian McLaren video might want to try one of the new formats now available.

IamEpiscopalian.org

As Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season,
IamEpiscopalian.org shares faith stories, personal thoughts

[February 25, 2009] – Sisters laughingly talk about growing up, growing away and growing back to The Episcopal Church. A prison chaplain calls The Episcopal Church a thinking church. One person shares that he joined The Episcopal Church decades ago because the girls were cute.

These are just a few of the 30+ Episcopalians who share their faith stories of celebration at IamEpiscopalian.org, debuting today, February 25, Ash Wednesday at noon Eastern time (11 am Central, 10 am Mountain, 9 am Pacific, 8 am Alaskan, 7 am Hawaiian).

Visitors to the IamEpiscopalian.org site are immediately greeted with a welcoming video, enhanced with music by Daron Murphy, a well-known composer.

Developed by the communication office of The Episcopal Church, IamEpiscopalian.org provides a place for people – some famous and some not-so-famous – to share the stories of what excites them about being an Episcopalian.

“With this site we will begin to tell our story as each person relates his or her personal, emotional connection to our Church,” explains Anne Rudig, director of communication. “Ash Wednesday was chosen for the launch of IamEpiscopalian.org since it is a time for many people to examine their spiritual life and perhaps connect or reconnect with a church. IamEpiscopalian.org shows how others have made those connections.”

As the web site states, “The Episcopal Church is a big, colorful, vibrant church. We hope you will see that in the wide spectrum of its members represented here on this site. In our Church you may touch ancient traditions and experience intelligent inquiry.”

The video vignettes, 30 – 60 seconds each, reflect that “big, colorful vibrant” church by focusing on the joys, gifts, and the challenges facing The Episcopal Church. As noted on the web site, “Our controversies and conversations have been public. Our governance is transparent. You are free to see our imperfections, as well as share our joy in that which unites us – our openness, honesty, and faith.”

IamEpiscopalian.org will continue to grow throughout Lent as videos are invited for anyone to express the richness of The Episcopal Church in their own personal way.

# # # #

IMPORTANT NOTE: IamEPISCOPALIAN.ORG WILL GO LIVE AT NOON EASTERN, 11 AM CENTRAL, 10 AM MOUNTAIN, 9 AM PACIFIC, 8 AM ALASKAN, 7 AM HAWAIIAN

Watch one below:

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Sorting through The Big Sort

The bishops of the Episcopal Church spent some time last week with Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the clustering of like-minded Americans is tearing us apart.

Bishop's thesis is summarized cogently in his sub-title. His chapter on religion (read a few paragraphs here) begins like so:

Rick Warren's wildly popular book The Purpose-Driven Life begins with a challenge to Americans' post-materialist self-centeredness: "It's not about you." In the sense of the Great Commission, that is exactly right. Life and the church are about finding salvation in Christ. The imperative of "like attracts like" evangelism, however, caters to the individual from the time the convert first answers the call to worship. Whenever the evangelist Billy Graham issued his altar call, inspired people would stream to the foot of the stage to pledge their lives to the church. At that first moment of their new faith, Graham made sure the freshly converted were met by volunteers of the same age, sex, and race. The shepherding of people into their proper "homogeneous units" begins at the beginning. Which raises a question: in this world of segmented Sunday school classes, stopwatch-timed sermons, "people like us" altar calls, and preachers in market-tested cruise ship attire, isn't there something very pervasive that's all about you?

What are the implications of the Big Sort for the Episcopal Church's efforts to reach out to new people?

(You can find a ton of Big Sort links with a quick Google Search, but here are a few that caught our eye: The New York Times , Talking Points Memo and the Economist.)

The Lead covered The Big Sort last year: here and here.

Good things happening in NE PA

Episcopal parishes and a local television stations are working together to develop an advertising campaign and web-presence that highlights the churches in the station's viewing area. The Episcopal Churches in the Northern Tier of the Diocese of Bethlehem have partnered with WNEP-TV in Scranton, PA as part of that station's Good Things Are Happening project.

The Rev. John Major, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church of West Pittston, PA, and Prince of Peace Episcopal Church of Dallas, PA, explained the project:

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Person to person evangelism works best, survey says

Cathy Lee Grossman of USA Today reports on some helpful findings from a survey conducted by the Southern Baptist Convention:

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Evangelism, identity and theology

Dean Ian Markham of Virginia Theological Seminary gave the initial presentation in the Diocese of Washington's evangelism series. He spoke on the book Why Liberals Churches are Growing, which he co-edited with Martyn Percy, among other things. The video is about 50 minutes long, and I have to admit that the sound isn't as good as we would like it to be.

If you have trouble viewing it, it is also available on the diocesan Web site in Windows and in QuickTime.


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Diocese of Bethlehem takes to the airwaves

The Diocese of Bethlehem is running some advertising on WNEP TV in northeastern Pennsylvania. Have a look.

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Methodists launch $20 million ad campaign

From the United Methodist Church:

Rethink Church, the next evolution of The United Methodist Church's "Open hearts" welcoming and advertising campaign, will kick off on May 5 and 6 with major launch events in New York City and Washington, D.C., and other cities nationwide.

Audiences will see and hear more than $20 million in new advertising over the next four years on television, radio, print, and in new media, including banner and keyword advertising on major secular Web sites.

The messaging, targeting 18- to 34-year-olds, highlights the many opportunities for involvement within United Methodist churches - from community hunger programs to basketball leagues. Meanwhile, the denomination is engaging in dialogue within its churches about enhancing those opportunities.

Why we are shrinking

Mark D. W. Edington writing for Episcopal Life Online:

Step outside the church into the world they deal with every day and it's easy to see why. They confront the challenging of living and working in a world where organizations that succeed in responding to change are being ruthlessly flattened, collapsing old hierarchies in favor of structures more supple and responsive to the needs of the people they serve.

And – especially among the generation now rising – their skill at using information technologies to assess alternatives, no matter what the need, makes them significantly less devoted to, and more skeptical of, the old virtue of brand loyalty – Ford, Ivory, Sunoco or Episcopal.

Their purpose in finding a church is, in short, very different from what ours appears to be in being a church. We want to work from the basis of our faith to articulate faith-informed positions on issues of the day. But they are looking primarily for a way into relationship with God and God's people; to be in a community of faith that looks something like the communities that they know from the other spheres of their lives.

Those other communities have characteristics that make our churches seem alien, even forbidding. First, most folks outside the church are quite accustomed to living and working in communities where people hold a great diversity of views on social and political issues. They live in neighborhoods and communities, they work in offices and classrooms and laboratories where they have become adept at making relationships with people with ideas and commitments different from – even sometimes in conflict with – their own. And they are not threatened by this.

Bullhorn evangelism

Bosco Peters in New Zealand offers new models of evangelism he calls "permission marketing" or "participation marketing."

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Denominations attempt to respond to membership losses

The last half century has not been kind to the mainline denominations. Membership in their respective churches has declined significantly in terms of percentage of population. There are many reasons for why this has happened and though many programs have been tried, none have reversed the situation. Now the mainline churches are looking to their evangelical and free-church cousins and thinking about finding new ways to communicating their message to the community.

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I love to tell the story ...

Alban Institute discusses the importance of sharing the Christian story - from the earliest days of the followers of Jesus to our experience of the story today:

When I find myself feeling disillusioned about Sunday mornings I often wonder when worship as celebration became "going to church" as an act of obedience that appeases God. If we approach worship, Bible reading, participation in rituals, financial donation, or other "religious activities" as attempts to win God's favor, they become magic, every bit as much as dancing around a fire chanting incantations on moonlit nights. If, on the other hand, we approach these practices as ways to spend time with God, then we are involved in relationship.

...
It is more important than ever that we know and share our tradition. The risen Christ is actually present in the telling of the Christian story. It is essential that we tell the story—not talk about the story, not give directives based on the story, not modify or abridge the story—but tell the story. We need to tell the story with our words, through our relationships, and in our actions, and to trust its power as a vehicle of Christ's presence.


Read it all here.

Evangelism: the boxed set

All four presentations in the Diocese of Washington's evangelism series are now available online. The presenters were Brian McLaren, Dean Ian Markham and Professor David Gortner of Virginia Theological Seminary and the Rev. Terry Martin, better known to some of you as Father Jake.

These are Windows Media files. We hope to have Quicktime available soon.

Soong-Chan Rah on the next evangelicalism

Soong-Chan Rah, thought of as sort of prophet to the Evangelical mainstream, is interviewed about what is next for evangelicalism. He has a lot to say in critique of the Emergent Church movement and the new Monasticism.

From Part 2 of his interview:

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Is the future of the church in disorganized religion?

Why are even the Baptists back on their heals when it comes to church health? Gary Hamel says it's because organized religion has a management problem:

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The Practicing Church

A video from The Practicing Church

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Come for Christmas, an advertisement with an edge

Some Episcopal churches in Bucks County, Pa., are pooling their money to buy advertisements in local newspapers during Advent.

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Dwelling in her father's shadow, she pursues her call all the same

You would think having the world's most recognized preacher for a father might help you get your own ministry started. But Anne Graham Lotz, founder of AnGeL Ministries, tells Washington Post "On Faith" reporter Sally Quinn that her dad, Billy Graham, was not always supportive of her desires to get into teaching Bible.

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Closeted Christian no longer

Ada Calhoun writes a thought-provoking and quite profound piece in Salon.com about her journey to becoming Christian, and her journey to being able to admit that she is Christian:

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I love to tell The Story...

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori discusses the new communication strategies and how they relate to one of our primary ministries of evangelism in the current issue of Episcopal Life Online:

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Of beach clubs and life-saving stations

The Rev. Tom Brackett, the Episcopal Church's Officer for Church Planting and Ministry Redevelopment, was scheduled to give the keynote address at the Diocese of Washington's annual convention Saturday, but due to a snow storm, he was able to speak only briefly. Yesterday, he wrote out the presentation he was planning to make from notes and a Powerpoint. It is well worth a read. To make complete sense of it, however, you will want to read the Parable of the Life-Saving Station by clicking Read more.

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Ashes on the go

Updated. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. The imposition of ashes is a powerful symbol of our "mortality and penitence" and a powerful reminded of our need for God. We have heard of several churches in Chicago and St. Louis who have found ways of bring the ancient rite to busy places where people live and work.

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Church rater: a Consumer Reports approach to church shopping

From the ChurchRater Web site:

Every Sunday close to 350,000 churches open their doors to the public. How do you know what you’re walking into? What will the pastor be talking about? What kind of people attend?

ChurchRater lets you read what others say about the church and rate your own experience. ChurchRater lets you talk back after sitting through a sermon.

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Ignatian Spirituality for Inmates

Having entered the season of Lent last week, many Christians are taking up the challenge and opportunity of a deepened prayer life to cultivate the awareness of God's presence in our lives. In one LA correctional facility, seminarian Karri Backer, is leading Ignatian Spirituality groups in the midst of a most distracting and challenging context.

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The Language of God

Here is a new video from the United Church of Christ called "The Language of God" as part of their "God is still speaking" series.

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Open letter to Latino Episcopalians in Arizona

Bishop Kirk Smith writes to the Spanish-speaking Episcopalians of Arizona.

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Attracting young people to church. Or not

You may have noticed that in industries in decline the workforce becomes increasingly older. It's attrition. New typically younger workers are not hired, while existing workers hang onto their jobs as their skills age out and become less relevant to industries that are growing and adopting new technologies requiring new skills.

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Recognizing the diversity of the unchurched outside the church walls

In Oregon this past weekend 170 church workers attended a workshop on church hospitality sponsored by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals gathered for the day at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral the Sentinel reports.

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Letter from the annals of self justification

The Civil War naval blockade of the South cut that part of the Church off from its missions in Africa and China. In an 1862 pastoral letter from bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate states to the laity and clergy of those states the bishops this effect of the blockade, and turned to what message God might be sending about where their evangelistic mission ought to be.

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Episcopalians and the 'e-word'

We're not sure who the Rushings are (or their dog, for that matter), but would they maybe want to come to church? Or ...

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How to get people in the church door

How does one go about inviting people into the church building to begin creating a relationship with them? Find something they might be interested in talking about and offer conversation.

A congregation in the Diocese of Delaware is doing just that. Check out this press release that was carried in their local news paper:

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Tattoos, motorcycle and a "rock star" priest

How do we reach the younger adults who aren't really sure if they'd be welcome in the Episcopal Church? How about lifting a young priest who doesn't exactly look like the typical Parson Weems sort?

The Diocese of Hawaii is installing a new priest,Paul K. Klitzke, from Alaska who was called to a new parish plant to reach out to the 20-somethings who aren't typically found in congregations:

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Promising evangelical leaders taught media literacy, theatrical skills

A hand-picked group of 13 potential "Christian thought leaders" (see anyone you know?) sponsored by Veritas Riff (itself sponsored by Harvard-derived Veritas Forum) were recently put through an interesting proving-ground. They were given lessons in improvisation, theater, and media relations, one of the event participants, David Skeel, writes in The Wall Street Journal.

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Evangelism and the under-30 crowd

Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook's essay for the Alban Institute features the work of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts:

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Seminarians organize to evangelize young adults

Seminarians are organizing for young adult evangelism according to Otis Gaddis III writing at Episcopal Life Online:

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Skateboarding priest a "hit"

Newslite reports:

A Hungarian priest who performs skateboard tricks in a bid to encourage youngsters to go to church has become an online hit.

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Not in my pew

David Briggs, writing in Ahead of the Trend on the Association of Religion Data Archives writes about how the Empty pew next to poor children limits benefits of faith.

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Can you have church with no church?

BBC reports on a new style of church:

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Nuestra Vision: Latino/Hispanic congregations encouraged

Episcopal Life Online reports on the Episcopal Church's commitment to Latino/Hispanic ministry:

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Seize the Day! Christmas that is

The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi, writing in the Anglican Journal, offers his ideas about Christmas as an evangelistic opportunity. Below are his suggestions:

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Twitter goes both ways

Are you sure you're ready to take the Twitter leap to market your parish?

Your church doesn’t need to be on Twitter, but if you’re on there (and promoting it on your home page), you should at least be paying attention when people send you messages.

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Why don't men go to church?

In the Church of England, the Diocese of Oxford wants to deal in a substantive way the decline in the percentage of men who attend church.

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Icon

Icon rocks on:

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Brewing up church community

Back in the day Episcopal Church congregations used to organize themselves into Foyers groups (small dinner groups) to find ways to get to know each other, and maybe to invite someone new into the congregation. These days congregations are looking for new ways to connect. In Hamilton-Wenham Mass. two priests are leveraging their interest in home brewing into a way to build community:

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Are you numpty?

Bishop Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia (Western Washington state) urges his diocese to take note of these tips from Tamie Field Harkin for attracting youth and young adults to your church:

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Ringing the wrong Bell

By now you've heard of Rob Bell, and have perhaps heard of the stir caused by the prominent preacher's emerging views on hell.

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Surfing with and for Jesus? S'now big deal

Last summer, we made mention of a skateboarding priest, so it was only a matter of time before someone lifted up a snowboarding one. We waited until winter, and - presto! - one appeared, bringing with him some serious academic cred.

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Megachurches pulling mega numbers

The nation's largest megachurches are only increasing, The Houston Chronicle's "Houston Believe" blog reported last month.

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Spiritual explorers and base camps

According to Gallup, church membership is down while (self-reported) religious observance is up. Why the disconnect? Episcopal Bishop Greg Rickel says that the 20th century model of the big-staff, big-program church is no longer normative nor sustainable in a world characterized by loose connections and informal networking. Congregations will need to think about membership in new ways. Rickel says we need to think of congregations as base camps for spiritual explorer.

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Could a non-Lenten meatless Friday be in your future?

Following a May plenary meeting, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales are seeking to propagate the practice of abstaining from meat as "Friday penance," even outside of Lent.

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Christians issue evangelism code of conduct

Reuters:

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Keeping the faith, quickly

What do you make of this idea reported in The Telegraph?

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Catch the buzz!

Anglican Church of Canada, Anglican Journal reports:

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Catching up with the Wild Goose Festival

We didn't really know enough about the recent Wild Goose Festival to attempt to make sense of it for you. But thanks to the Odyssey Networks we can let the festival speak for itself. Here is a brief description of the enterprise, followed by a video. What do you make of it?

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The language of faith: rich, complicated, historically layered

CNN's Belief Blog asks, Just what do Christians mean when they use certain terms? Answers, of course, vary from person to person and denomination to denomination, school of thought, or existing political commitments.

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Dutch reform, 2011-style

Exodus Church, in Gorinchem, central Holland, is the site of a turn in Dutch Protestant theology, the BBC's Robert Pigott reports.

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At 106, she's renewing her baptismal vows

From United Methodist News Service:

Jean Christy celebrated her 106th birthday by renewing her baptismal vows Aug. 21 at Andrews United Methodist Church, where she has been a member since she was 12 or 13 years old.

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Macho Jesus

Andrew Sullivan reports on the "macho Jesus" movement.

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An overall decline in #s of the faithful

There is an overall decline in numbers of the faithful, according to "FaithCommunities.org."

Does this mirror what's going on in your local communities?

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"Why?" is proclamation's starting place

Bishop Scott Benhase of Georgia reflects (via Facebook) on the impact of Steve Jobs approach to innovation and how this relates to how we might communicate the gospel.

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An advent oasis

The Diocese of Montreal is setting up an advent oasis in a major mall as a buy-free zone. Seminarians and young clergy will staff the storefront ministry from December 1 through Christmas Eve.

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Reviving our church: Budde interview kickstarts conversation

Lisa Miller's recent story on Bishop Mariann Budde of the Diocese of Washington has kicked off some interesting conversation in the On Faith section of The Washington Post's website.

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Padre Alberto on Preaching the Latino gospel in the US

The Rev. Alberto Cutié has written an article for CNN on preaching the Latino gospel. He writes:

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Diocese of Georgia remembers MLK

From The Rev. Frank Logue, Canon for Congregational Development for the Diocese of Georgia, this text and video chronicling the commemoration of MLK Day in that diocese.

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An elevator speech for the Episcopal Church

In a conversation on the email list-serv maintained by the Episcopal Communicators, a member noted that he had recently come across some language describing the church in its brand style guide. Turns out he was referring to the "brand strategy statement. It reads:

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Three things mainline denominations should do now

Jake Dell, manager of digital marketing and advertising for the Episcopal Church, thinks about thing that the mainline churches can do together right now which will deepen our reach and improve how we communicate our Gospel message.

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A note for churches from their visitors

In an "Open Letter to Churches Seeking New Members" blogger Lyda from "See Lyda Run" details her and her husband Brian's expectations (and reactions) to the ways that congregations go about caring for visitors.

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Indifference? Meh.

Barna Group religion data-compiler David Kinnamon (author of unChristian and You Lost Me) talks about a growing apathy for Christianity that he's seeing in his research: "not so much, 'You Christians are judgmental and hypocritical,' [so much as] 'So what? Why should I care?'"

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The word 'Christian' as a too-broad brush?

In The New Republic, Timothy Noah wants to know just when it was that the word "Christian" came to be exclusive and synonymous with evangelicalism.

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What we talk about when we talk about Easter

We would like to try a little experiment this morning. We are celebrating the holiest season of the Christian year, a season we enter after seven weeks of preparation. We’d like to ask you to do three things here. 1) Describe what this experience, or some piece of this experience, has been like for you. 2) Think about how you would alter this description if you were speaking to someone who wasn’t currently attending a church, but might want to. 3) Think about under what circumstances you might feel comfortable offering such a description to such a person.

Do you feel comfortable taking it from here, or no?

Reaching out to young adults collaboratively

A news story highlights an aspect of evangelism we often forget and that is that evangelism is more than just selling your denomination.

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Christianity after religion

Some history to absorb before restructuring and budgeting at General Convention. Diana Butler Bass talks about her new book, Christianity After Religion, at All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA:

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Young adults will mess up your church

Adam J. Copeland, blogging at A Wee Blether, believes most churches don't really want young adults.

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The power of hello

When we think of church growth strategies we tend to imagine marketing plans and hired consultants. But there are a number of very simple things any congregation can do that will make a huge difference. And they don't require any clergy involvement or probably permission.

In a series on "Internal church marketing" the "CMS" blog gives a list of simple things that welcome and invite newcomers into the congregation's community:

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Is your church dangerous to the Gospel?

Alan Hirsch talks about mission and ministry and the church's temptation to being risk averse in Communitas not Community:

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Is $2 million for church planting a good idea? Yes! No! Help!

I would love to hear today from people who know something about church planting. The Presiding Bishop has included a new $2 million line item in the budget document she submitted to the Program, Budget and Finance Committee, and I have had a difficult time forming an opinion about it.

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New breed of street evangelists share ministry of presence

A new breed of evangelism is hitting the streets, characterized by progressive Christians sharing a ministry of prayer and presence. Adrian Dannhauser says this is not about "trying to change anyone’s mind or belief system. I will pray with anyone of any faith in whatever mode they’re comfortable.” From Episcopal News Service:

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A growing church is a dying church

J. Bartlett Lee, writing on his blog The Theological Wanderings of a Street Pastor, reminds us that no amount of cleverness or pluck will grow your church. First, your church will have to die.

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Episcopal evangelism: let's get started

We almost never publicize conferences on the Cafe, but this one deals with a subject that is particularly close to my heart.

Missional Development Conference

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Is the Good News bad news?

In the Comment is Free section of The Guardian's website, Theo Hobson has a few things to say about Francis Spofford' new book Unapologetic. He writes of Christian faith:

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Reaching out to spiritual refugees

Tom Moran, the editorial page editor of the Newark Star-Ledger, is a cradle Roman Catholic who now refers to himself as a spiritual refugee. In a moving column in yesterday's Newark Star-Ledger, he talks about how the Catholic hierarchy's teachings on divorce and homosexuality drove him out of the church.

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"Nones" not on the bus

Interview with religion scholar Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity After Religion, about the religious implications of the rise of the religiously unaffiliated on PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly:

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Point of personal privilege: A plug for Speaking Faithfully, our editor's new book

CokesburyCover.jpg

My business partner Rebecca Wilson and I have written a book that we hope will persuade the church to bring the techniques and insights of mass communications to bear on the challenge of evangelism. We believe that evangelism is the principal challenge facing the church, but that the church has demonstrated little capacity or commitment in confronting it.

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Through the kitchen door

Will Scott wonders if it is easier to come to church through the kitchen? From the Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices:

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A few ways in which the church cultivates irrelevance

Here’s something that worries me:

Every weekend kids all over the country get out on fields and courts and chase up and down and do something that makes them feel incandescently alive, and the response of much of the church is to worry not about whether these kids are having a formative experience, but whether holding youth sports on Sundays is cutting into our market share.

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A calling card for the Episcopal Church?

Here is the Facebook page of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy, where my business partner and I had the pleasure of giving a communications workshop on Saturday. You'll notice that the cover photo features Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and another woman giving Holy Communion. (PS: why not "like" it while you are in the neighborhood.)

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Experience, community and evangelism

Harriet Baber makes a couple of provocative claims in a comment on yesterday's item about why people don't go to church. She notes:

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Mark Osler: Christian arrogance is driving 'nones' away

Mark Osler, who describes himself as an evangelical Christian, believes that arrogance on the part of the faithful is driving more and more people to identify themselves as "nones" who affiliate with no organized religion. Writing at Huffington Post, he says:

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Invited and welcomed

Mary Palmer told the 2011 Wardens & Vestry Conferences in the Diocese of Texas how she was invited to come to church, and as important, was welcomed by that community.

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Bring your cell phone to church

Last Sunday, St. Andrew’s, Pearland, Texas, asked congregants to “Please use your cell phone.” to church, because when they take pictures of the service and post them on social media sites, live blog the service or e-mail their friends they are also bringing their friends to church.

ENS has the story:

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Are current church-goers scaring others away?

Andrew Brown has written a wide-ranging column for the Guardian that asks whether it is the presence of so many older people--and the prevalence of services geared to their tastes--that keep younger people from coming to church. He isn't thumping the tub of liturgical change, or bashing recalcitrant lay people. He's examining the issue in a sociological sort of way, and I'd be interested to hear what people think about the article.

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VTS risking to reach out

Tomorrow, the campus of the Virginia Theological Seminary will host over 1,600 people who will come to play quiddich and listen to a Christian rock concert,

Dean Ian Markham reflects:

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Traditional churches and non-traditional worship

David Murrow likes his mega church and really appreciates the depth and quality of the small traditional church he sometimes attends. So it was a shock when he found the traditional church trying to do what a mega-church does but not very successfully.

His advice: do what you do best.

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We quit being a welcoming church

Rob Moss at Neighborhood Church says they will no longer be a welcoming church:

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The Christian Century reviews Speaking Faithfully

Please forgive a brief excursion into self-promotion. Daniel Schultz has reviewed Speaking Faithfully: Communications as Evangelism in a Noisy World, a book by me and my business partner Rebecca Wilson, for The Christian Century. Here is a bit of what he said:

How can churches and other religious institutions speak effectively to let the world know that something is happening with church people that they might want to be a part of?

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10 things you can't do and follow Jesus

Mark Sandlin lists 10 things you can't do while following Jesus. Sojourners carries the story:

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"To announce my presence with authority"

Last weekend was the 25th anniversary of the great baseball movie Bull Durham. I've been hoping for an opportunity, or perhaps an excuse, to post a clip from the film here on The Lead, and I think I've finally concocted one. My business partner, Rebecca Wilson, and I spent the weekend with Nina Nicholson and the good people of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark talking about using the tools of contemporary communications for the purposes of evangelism. One of our workshops focused on visibility, and explored ways to make your congregation more noticeable and more fully engaged in the life of your community.

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Bumper sticker ministry

Katie Sherrod, writing at Desert's Child, relates an experience of how her bumper stickers shared the story of the Episcopal Church:

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Inside Alpha: an atheist tries on the well-known evangelism program

Tabatha Leggett didn't believe in God when she enrolled in the well-known Alpha program at a church in East London. She describes for the New Statesman what happened next.

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Flat Jesus: where will he go today?

St James Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Michigan has started a Flat Jesus project for summer. Take Jesus along with you wherever you go:

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Does your congregation resemble your neighborhood?

Yesterday I attended church at an urban parish that, like many Episcopal parishes, is sustained by members who drive at least a few miles to attend services. By chance I was present for a quietly momentous event: the baptism of a mother and her three daughters from the immediate neighborhood. Looking around the church, which I attend from time to time when I am traveling on business, I noticed that it had become somewhat more reflective of the neighborhood than it was when I first began to visit. Which is to say it was a little less affluent and a little more racially diverse.

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Is your church ready to reach unchurched people?

Carey Nieuwhof tells us about 9 Signs Your Church is Ready to Reach Unchurched People. How ready are you?

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What can the church learn from these Apple ads?

I saw the first of these two Apple ads before a movie this weekend and thought immediately that Apple is thinking about the experience of the people whom it is trying to engage and the nature of the relationship it wants to have with those people in ways that might be useful for the church to consider.

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Keep church "uncool"

A response to the articles on making church "cool" to attract new members. Brett McCracken in the Washington Post says: "How to keep Millennials in the church? Let’s keep church un-cool."

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About those post cards...

Updated: The Episcopal Church has produced advertising that can be used as post cards, print ads or billboards. Are they clever and witty...or snide and unwelcoming?

Adam Trambley at Black Giraffe is not impressed.

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Rachel Held Evans, Hemant Mehta debate millennials and the church

Rachel Held Evans and Hemant Mehta debated why millennials are leaving the church on CNN's Faces of Faith this morning. Have a look.

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Evangelism and "white boy acoustic rock"

The Rev. Mike Angell went to hear some "white boy acoustic rock" at the 9:30 club in Washington, D. C. last week and got a sermon out of it.

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Nadia Bolz-Weber gets some mainstream love

Nadia Bolz-Weber, who has been the talk of folks who are looking for ways to made Christianity more compelling to young people who don't trust the church, has finally caught the attention of the mainstream media.

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Is youth ministry killing the church?

New studies show that children and youth who are involved in the life and worship of the church are more likely to stay into adulthood while those with strong "youth programs" drop out.
Kate Murphy reflects in the Christian Century:

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The Crossing

Leigh Foster, a member of the Boston-based congregation The Crossing talks about how she feels welcomed:

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Moving "the front line" of your ministry forward

Bishop Steve Lane of the Diocese of Maine has asked clergy and members of his diocese to move "the front line" of their ministry out into the community. In Windham, the Rev. Tim Higgins is getting out of his office and into bars and cafes. The Lake Region Weekly reports:

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"The church service alone probably won’t convert anyone"

The Rev. Gary Manning called my attention to an essay by Sarah Wilson on Lutheran Forum. It is about attending church in a strange congregation. Much of the article will be familiar to folks who have read previous items on The Lead about the importance of welcoming strangers who appear at our church on Sunday mornings, but this passage was new to me:

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Church words

As some readers know, I make my living as a communications consultant, working primarily within the church. I frequently write and edit copy intended for church audiences. As a result I come across words, phrases and rhetorical strategies that are distinctive to the church. For instance, people in the church “live into” things more often that people in the wider culture, and our prayer is “deep” as unfailingly as the children in Lake Wobegon are above average.

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Mormons send a mission to Facebook

The Atlantic reports on an ongoing pilot program the Mormon Church has undertaken to determine the usefulness of social media in their missionary work.  

Formerly, young people engaged in their two-year missions were forbidden from any media at all: no television, no telephone calls except for twice a year, no books except for the Scriptures, no Internet use, and only a limited number of handwritten letters from home.  

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Doubts about the concept of Ashes to Go

Are Ashes To Go really such a great idea? The Rev.Michael Sniffen of The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn is not sold:

Before you put on your gear and head out with the Lenten swat team, can we be real for a moment? I know you are chomping at the bit to "meet people where they are" at your local commuter hub, but please pause with me in the sacristy for just a second.

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Ash Wednesday: taking it to the streets

As churches are preparing for Lent with the last parties of Shrove Tuesday pancakes, Mardi Gras beads, Carnival masks, Taco Tuesday, and Fat Tuesday, they are also burning the palms from last year's Palm Sunday processions, smashing the ashes with mortar and pestle and sieving out the larger bits. All to get ready to offer the news that we remember we are dust and to dust we shall return. Here is a round up of activities and thoughts about the season of Lent and why it is more than just giving up chocolate:

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Arms Wide Open documentary features St. Aidan's in San Francisco

Arms Wide Open, an 11-minute documentary, explores the lives of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community who actively practice the Christian faith. It focuses on St. Aidan Episcopal and Glide Memorial churches in San Francisco and explores how despite a history of discrimination, LGBTQ people have found churches that they can call it home.

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What can we learn from the Generic Brand Video?

The Generic Brand Video that has been hot on social media lately has nothing specifically to do with the Episcopal Church, but it's smart and funny and may help you to avoid cliches when promoting your own parish, assuming that is something that you do. What can we learn from it?

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The Episcopal Church in an Elevator

This past week, the Acts 8 Movement threw a challenge into the Episcopal blogosphere: explain why you are an Episcopalian in 250 words or less, in a way that makes us sound attractive.

The results trickled out, one by one--some talking about our historical roots, some speaking of personal experiences of Christ, all moving in their own way.

Here's one:

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GTS embarks on the 'way of wisdom.'

Believing that the ways of academic specilization and business-style management is leaving the church bereft, the Dean and faculty of General Seminary are embarking on an experiment to integrate theological education with the daily, lived experience of the church. They are calling this exploration "The Way of Wisdom."

A statement from the faculty:

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Taking compline to the streets

Two seminarians took compline to the streets on Monday night during Lent in Berkeley. Maggie Foster and Spencer Hatcher, both first-year students at Church Divinity School of the Pacific were discussing ways to attract people to local churches when they decided instead to bring one of the church's ancient liturgies out to the people.

From the CDSP website:

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'Roses to Go' takes Resurrection to the streets of Shaker Heights

Tuck this terrific idea into your evangelism team's futures file. The Rev. Peter Faass, rector of Christ Church in Shaker Heights, Ohio, wrote this in response to our post about Compline being brought to the public square:

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What if your church never gets another member?

What might happen if your church never gets another member. Thoughts from Derek Penwell at D-mergent. When your dreams cannot be fulfilled as a church or personally what can you do?

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How about planting churches in the city?

Efrem Smith poses a radical idea: Instead of abandoning the city or giving over the urban church scene to a variety of small established- and store-front congregations that don't make a dent in their communities, how about planting churches among the urban poor?

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New Movie has Episcopal roots

This week, thousands of young people swarmed movie theaters in New York, Miami, Cleveland, Nashville and Dallas to attend a sneak preview of the soon-to-be released film “The Fault in Our Stars.” Based on a New York Times best-selling young adult novel, it is a simultaneously hopeful yet tragic tale of teenage cancer patients who fall in love.

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RC archdiocese buys a drone

The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Washington has bought a drone, in a bid to expand their offerings in a social media age.

First used in the beatification celebrations for Pope John Paul II and John XXIII, the drone flew around the procession from Basilica of the Immaculate Conception to the National Shrine and captured video that later was used in a YouTube video. All of this is part of a new push by the church to get more into social media, but it is not without its challenges.

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"All y'all come unto me": Bishop Curry talks about the Eucharist

The Scholar Priest Initiative is producing a series of videos "to communicate -- clearly, compellingly -- what The Episcopal Church believes and does, to 'show and tell' our way of faith and our way of life." The series will feature "everyday Episcopalians addressing and exemplifying what we believe and how that belief shapes they way we live."

The first video, on the Eucharist, features Bishop Michael Curry. We will have another one, featuring Ellen Davis on Scripture, this evening.

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Ellen Davis: Scripture makes a claim not objectively provable

In the second video of the New Tracts for Our Times series from the Scholar Priest Initiative, Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke University Divinity School, talks about how Episcopalians encounter Scripture.


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Evangelism in nursing home

Religion News Service relates how one church evangelizes at nursing homes:

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Happiness and Religion

Freakonomics correlates happiness and religious giving.

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