Stop Complaining About Sunday Morning Sports

An article from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership:

It’s a common complaint among clergy types, “Sunday morning sports are taking people away from worship!”

This lament and the exasperation that accompanies it go deeper than just whether a family shows up on a particular Sunday. It is the lament of the loss of the privileged place that the Church — and clergy — once enjoyed in our culture. And in our lament we risk alienating the very young families we seek to engage.

The emergence of Sunday morning sports is just a symbol of a shift that’s happening in our society where the church is no longer given deference. Clergy resent this loss and mourn our own diminishing cultural position and privilege. That’s what I hear just under the surface when clergy complain to each other about Sunday morning sports — it’s the loss of our place, our privilege, our position.

Full article here.

Memorial Day 2011 – The Noble Call

One of my cherished memories of my father was taking him for a visit to the World War II Memorial which is flanked by the Washington Monument to the East and the Lincoln Memorial to the West.

It was a beautiful spring day in 2006 and he was deeply moved by the graceful and solemn design of the Memorial that honors the sacrifice of those we have come to call “the Greatest Generation.” At the age of 17, he did what so many of his generation did, enlisting in the U.S. Navy and dedicating his immediate future to preserve the liberties we still hold today.

I came across a wonderful essay for Memorial Day by a seminary classmate of mine, The Rev. William M. Shand, Rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac.  His words resonate with me:

Political discussion today is fraught with acrimony. It is not worse than in former years, despite the protestations of some to that effect. When America is at war in various parts of the globe, the temptation is irresistible to those who would rewrite history to deprecate the armed forces of the country. Reasonable people can and do disagree as to the proper aims of military action, and no President has an easy time making decisions as Commander in Chief. But as we come to Memorial Day, it is worth remembering words spoken by General Colin Powell to a group of elite intellectuals in Davos, Switzerland in 2003. If one wishes to find the central motivation for so much of Memorial Day, General Powell, speaking as Secretary of State, put it eloquently:

“We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan [2002]  and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace. But there comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works.”

Fr. Shand, “Billy” as I know him, captures a sound understanding of selfless service. Those who act upon that understanding, are the reasons why on Memorial Day, we remember them, honor them, and pray for the day “when nation will not rise up against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). Until that brighter day, we are required, in spite of all our human limitations, to defend the weak, cherish our liberties, and carry out policies and actions that will best promote the welfare of all. It is fitting and right that we honor those who gave everything for that noble call.

Rowan Williams Offers a Challenge in Rome

RowanblackThe Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, speaking at a congress in Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, called for a renewed effort in promoting greater visible unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

“Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church has been involved in a number of dialogues with other churches – including with the Anglican Communion – which have produced a very considerable number of agreed statements.  The strong convergence in these agreements about what the Church of God really is, is very striking.  The various agreed statements of the churches stress that the Church is a community, in which human beings are made sons and daughters of God, and reconciled both with God and one another.  The Church celebrates this through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion in which God acts upon us to transform us ‘in communion’.

Therefore the major question that remains is whether in the light of that depth of agreement the issues that still divide us have the same weight – issues about authority in the Church, about primacy (especially the unique position of the pope), and the relations between the local churches and the universal church in making decisions (about matters like the ordination of women, for instance).  Are they theological questions in the same sense as the bigger issues on which there is already clear agreement?  And if they are, how exactly is it that they make a difference to our basic understanding of salvation and communion?  But if they are not, why do they still stand in the way of fullervisible unity?

At the conclusion of the lecture, Dr. Williams stated :

All I have been attempting to say here is that the ecumenical glass is genuinely half-full – and then to ask about the character of the unfinished business between us.  For many of us who are not Roman Catholics, the question we want to put, in a grateful and fraternal spirit, is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain. And if it isn’t, can we all allow ourselves to be challenged to address the outstanding issues with the same methodological assumptions and the same overall spiritual and sacramental vision that has brought us thus far?

It is an excellent lecture and an important response from the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion.  The full text of the lecture can be found here.

Stewards of God’s Mysteries

cloisterIn early October, I had the good fortune to attend the clergy retreat of the Diocese of Virginia and hear meditations offered by  both Br. Curtis Almquist (Superior) and Br. Geoffry Tristram from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE).  I was particularly struck by Brother Geoffry’s meditation on “Stewards of God’s Mysteries,” in which he probed the practice of leadership within the Church.  The value of leadership in much of our contemporary culture is measured by performance.  Brother Geoffry reminded us of the writing of  Herbert Marcuse, the 20th century philosopher and political theorist, who wrote that modern society has been dominated by “the performance principle.”

“We are as a society anxiety-ridden because under this rule, society is stratified according to the competitive performances of its members.”

Marcuse argued that almost inevitably, we begin to regard our essential value as human beings in terms of how we perform or how much we produce.  Life lived under the “performance principle” is life seen as essentially earned, a life by which we justify our existence by how well we perform and by what we produce.  Brother Geoffry stated:

What about us who are called to be leaders in God’s church?  Is “performance” the right and appropriate criterion for judging how successful we are as leaders?  And in any case, what it the product?

I think St. Paul gets closest to describing the product and also our role as leaders in 1 Corinthians chapter 4:1, “Think of us in this way–think of us as stewards of God’s mysteries.”  And he goes on to say, “It is required of stewards that they should be found trustworthy.”  So for St. Paul, in some ways the product, if you can call it that, is the mystery of God, and the criterion for successful leadership is not performance but being found trustworthy or faithful.

It is difficult to resist the pressure to apply the criteria of secular leadership to what it is we have been called to.  If the “product” is God’s mysteries, and if the criterion of good performance is not successful sales or profit, but being found trustworthy or faithful, what does that really mean?  Brother Gregory answers:

It means we cannot sell God’s mysteries, but we can teach them as merciful revelation, we can celebrate them in the liturgy, we can invoke them as healing and pardon, and we can live them as the deepest meaning of our lives (emphasis mine).

A great deal of the tension I find as a leader, and I know this to be true for many of my parishioners, is establishing a consistent rhythm of life where nourishing the contemplative dimension of one’s life is priority number one.  I quoted Sarah Coakley in a recent post, but her words resonate again with me in light of Brother Geoffry’s helpful teaching:

Often even ministers don’t think enough about how Christian life is magnetized and electrified by being lived prayerfully. When you meet a priest or a minister who is living prayer, you never forget that person. That person may be bumblingly inefficient on the budget, useless about remembering to come to appointments, all other kinds of things that they’re meant to do right, and yet have the most fantastic impact on people’s lives.

It seems to me that in order to pursue a contemplative way of leadership, one needs to keep a regular pattern of prayer, personal care, and accompaniment with other like-minded friends.  When you think about it, this was the way that Jesus himself made the journey and so must we.

Virginia Bishops Write The Diocese

The Diocese of Virginia has released letters from its three bishops.  Our Bishop Coadjutor, Shannon Johnston will become the Diocesan Bishop in October.  Below is his letter.  All three letters can be read here.n668806496_1129110_456

A Letter from Bishop Johnston

Dear Diocesan Family,

With the conclusion of General Convention, the beginning of my time as your diocesan bishop fast approaches. Having just returned to the Diocese from the Convention, I want to express to you my thoughts on the two resolutions from the Convention which are garnering the most attention in the media. The first speaks to the current state of our Church’s relationship to the Anglican Communion (D025) and the second addresses same-gender unions (C056 substitute).

Resolution D025 strongly affirms not only the Episcopal Church’s commitment to its relationship with the Anglican Communion but also our Church’s appreciation and support of the roles that gay and lesbian people have in the ministry of our Church—including all levels of ordination. This resolution passed with a 2-1 majority. I voted against it. As I said during the floor debate, I absolutely agree with every word of the resolution itself. Even so, I was convinced that the actual effect of D025 across the Anglican world would be to weaken the bonds of our worldwide Church and, more importantly, to compromise our international mission and ministry in the very places that need us so very badly—and we so need them. The problem for me with D025 was how it would be seen in its implications rather than being understood for what it actually says. Such is the nature of legislative reality, and this is the very reason why I do not believe the legislative process is the best process to address these issues. Still, I have great hopes that the Communion will recognize the resolution as it stands—a statement of where we really are as a Church at this time, all the while hoping to build upon and strengthen our ties with the larger Communion.

Resolution C056 calls for gathering theological and liturgical resources with respect to offering the Church’s blessing for same-gender unions, which will be brought to the next General Convention in 2012 for study and consideration. The fact is that several states have legalized gay and lesbian unions, and others will likely follow suit. This resolution responds to that reality. It also allows bishops the exercise of personal discretion in providing for a “generous pastoral response” for gay and lesbian persons in the Church. I voted in favor of this resolution because I am convinced that it is both realistic and right. Monogamous same-gender unions are now a reality, and we should provide for the Church’s response, with blessing or without. The resolution allows for either. Bishops must also have the ability to respond to what is actually true in all the various locales and contexts in which this Church ministers. It is important to remember, however, that no official rites of blessing that wholly sanction same-gender unions have been approved for the Church. In fact, it would take years to develop such rites.

It is not so much the actual content of these two resolutions that may be problematic. The potential for difficulty follows from interpretation of the resolutions. The plain reality is that very little is actually changed by either one of the resolutions in themselves. Both statements address what is already true in the life and witness of the Episcopal Church. The Convention is overwhelmingly of the mind that the Episcopal Church will be the stronger for the realistic and clear perspective of these resolutions.

Just how that will be so is now put to each diocese. Together, you and I will explore what these resolutions mean more precisely for the Diocese of Virginia. I look forward to the way ahead, and I welcome your input. Most importantly, I treasure your company in the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. I remain,

Faithfully yours,

The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
Bishop Coadjutor

Study Shows Why Americans Drift From Religion

shift1From the Executive Summary:

Americans change religious affiliation early and often. In total, about half of American adults have changed religious affiliation at least once during their lives. Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than once. These are among the key findings of a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. The survey documents the fluidity of religious affiliation in the U.S. and describes in detail the patterns and reasons for change.

The reasons people give for changing their religion – or leaving religion altogether – differ widely depending on the origin and destination of the convert. The group that has grown the most in recent years due to religious change is the unaffiliated population. Two-thirds of former Catholics who have become unaffiliated and half of former Protestants who have become unaffiliated say they left their childhood faith because they stopped believing in its teachings, and roughly four-in-ten say they became unaffiliated because they do not believe in God or the teachings of most religions. Additionally, many people who left a religion to become unaffiliated say they did so in part because they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money. Far fewer say they became unaffiliated because they believe that modern science proves that religion is just superstition.

My own experience in talking with people who are unaffiliated with a community of faith leads me to believe that many encounter interpretations of Christian doctrine they can no longer own or accept.  Where the original sources of the Christian faith–sacred Scripture, lived tradition, human reason–are not allowed to engage in creative dialogue with the insights and sensibilities of the emerging culture of the twenty-first century, there is a huge credibility gap.  People will always search for community and moral grounding, but in today’s world, that search must be met with radical welcome and a willingness to grapple creatively with the most difficult questions of life and faith in the world as it is today.

By the way, I’m personally glad that “dissatisfaction with the clergy at congregation” wasn’t number one on the survey!

Read it all here.  Pew Forum Full Report here.

Holiness Abides

bishop_leem The 214th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia has adjourned  sine die – without a day specified for its next session (though we know it will most likely be in late January next year).  It was a memorable Council on several fronts.  The most significant, was Bishop Lee’s announcement that he intends to resign his office as of October 1 this year.  Bishop Lee spoke of the many privileges of his ministry as our Diocesan Bishop summarizing it this way:

As I enter these last months of our active ministry together, I am increasingly aware of what is unfinished.  At nearly every church I visit, I think of ways that I might have been a more effective bishop and pastor.  I would like to finish this ministry with a sense of accomplishment and completion.  But that human desire to finish exposes the distance between what we want and what our faith requires.

By placing the cross in the midst of life, Christian faith says that God is met in wholeness and in love just at the places we experience brokenness, incompleteness and alienation.  Christianity goes further and says that unless we walk along paths that take us through these valleys of the shadow, we cannot learn that the way of the cross is the way of life.  Our desire for neat and tidy endings can trap us in a past that becomes illusion and that same desire can blind us to a future that could become a promise.

(See his announcement on You Tube here).

The Annual Council had its share of difficult resolutions and debate over the place and ministry of our gay and lesbian members, yet another report on the Windsor Listening Process, the reality of ongoing litigation over property currently occupied by non-Episcopal congregations, and the challenge of creating a balanced budget in a climate of economic fear and uncertainty.  There were no “neat and tidy” endings at the end of this Council, but there was an unmistakable reminder of the gift of tested faith and unyielding hope in the figure of a man who has given his all in service to the Diocese of Virginia for the last 25 years.

It has been said that a person’s greatest legacy is not found in the outward signs of accomplishment, such as programs, buildings, and organizational reforms (and admirers of Bishop Lee can legitimately point to these).  In the Christian community what abides is holiness.  We are given the rare privilege of seeing the kingdom alive and real in a person, in the way they have served others, in the way they have met hardship, in the ways they were tested and still persisted in the work of forgiveness and reconciliation.  This is what I have  known and seen in the leadership of Peter James Lee for most of my ordained ministry and his example will continue to be a source of guidance and inspiration for years to come.  Holiness abides.