Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lent in Christmas

I saw the Valentines for sale in a drug store.  I hear Easter Candy can be found in stores now too.  And its not even New Year's Day!  Oh well, not really worth lamenting or ranting, but interesting to notice.  Interesting as I spend the morning of New Year's Eve finishing up some Lenten meditations for an upcoming diocesan publication.  And in my email there is a note from a staff member that we need to get our Lenten program planned and publicized.  And indeed we do.

Much of life is like this, imagining ourselves in the future, getting ready, even living there to some extent, however out of sync it may be with everything around us.  This is one way to think about what I mean by "poking around the ruins of Christendom."  Many of the institutions, understandings, and practices that carried and supported the Christian Church and Mission are collapsing and dying before our very eyes.  Christian charity calls us to care for the dying with dignity and respect.  At the same time, Christian hope calls us to imagine God's future, to get ready, and even to live there to some extent.

Many of us will spend the rest of our lives doing this very thing.  If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, it can be a rich and rewarding time.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Complexities of Mission These Days

Yesterday I had a good bit of time in the car, so I listened to several podcasts of leaders in Church Growth, Congregational Development, Revitalization, whatever you want to call it.  All of them weighing in and usually working hard as well to see our congregations reverse the long term decline we are so familiar with.  Most of them have had some success at it too, or they wouldn't have been on these programs.

I thank God for these people and the places they serve, and I do learn from them, but I am always left wondering.  How do we sort out the mix of motives in the mission?  When is it driven by response to what the Holy Spirit is stirring up?  When is it an expression of institutional anxiety and the unreflected assumption that because something was there in the past it must be there in the future?

These are real questions for me, not rhetorical ones.  I am not presuming to have a clear answer.  Poking around the ruins makes me aware of the complexities.  I am pretty convinced that there is no one way into the future and no one shape it will take.  Most importantly, I want to encourage hearts that are open to God's initiative, and then willing to respond.

One of the ways the future may unfold can be found here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What is it About Christmas Pageants?

Last Sunday was Christmas Pageant day at the Cathedral.  It is growing every year and, as often happens, I now notice how important Christmas Pageants are in many places.  I am just amazed at the depth of commitment to it by so many.  Almost every child and young person who can takes part -- it seems only those who are away on the day aren't involved.  I don't think anything we do all year with families has such wide participation and support.

This all points to something deep, even in times like these.  I can't even begin to unwind the mix of joy, pride, awe, nostalgia, hope, love, and so much more that the Christmas Pageant pulls up.  Most of all, it surely is the story itself; still speaking the hopes and fears of all the years -- including these years on the other side of Christendom.

A wonderful note from our Cathedral Christmas Pageant this year.  I have pointed out for years that the Bible says nothing about "Three Kings."  It is purely legend (but not a bad one -- I'll put them in my Creche and sing  "We Three Kings" with all my heart).  What the Bible does say is "magi," which is probably closer to wizards than kings.  So, this year, we had wizards (looking very Harry Potter inspired) following the star.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Small Town Friday Night -- Then and Now

Last Friday evening I went to my home town of Corry, about 35 miles from Erie, to have dinner with my parents.  Afterwards we went downtown where a community holiday celebration was going on, with all the stores open, the chance to ride in a horse-drawn wagon, and Santa in the lobby of one of the banks.  A fair number of people were there, even lines of kids with parents all the way out to the sidewalk waiting for their time with Santa Claus.

I couldn't help but think of Friday nights in this same town decades ago when I was a child.  Then "downtown" was busy every Friday night.  Local factories were still open and prospering and malls and fast food were coming soon but not quite yet.  Folks ate at local restaurants and shopped, but mostly saw each other walking about.  Those days are gone and most everything has been affected, including the churches.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church was the one I grew up in, where I learned to love God through the Liturgy of the Prayer Book and heard the first summons of a call to ordination.  Last Friday night, current members of the parish took a risk and opened their church to the community, offering hot chocolate and cookies, and not knowing if anyone would bother to stop in.  But they did stop in, most of them, I'm sure, through those doors for the first time, especially the many youth and children.  And the people of Emmanuel were ecstatic.

Such a simple thing, but nonetheless a sign of resurrection on the other side of things that used to be.  A sign born of the determination of people in the church and the community to celebrate and humanize in the midst of and even in spite of it all.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Picture from Schull

On a beautiful day, my wife Sharon, daughter Sarah, and brother Jeff were poking around the ruins of the parish church in Schull, County Cork, Ireland.  We were looking for Downey graves in this little seaside town my ancestors emigrated from.  From there they went to New Jersey, then Oil City, Pennsylvania, and on to Corry, Pennsylvania, my hometown.

Not far from the ruins are the two parish buildings in town -- Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland.  We were aware that, at one time, this ruined church just was the parish church of the town -- no Protestants, no Roman Catholics in the Counter Reformation sense (which for me is one among the denominations, as much a child of the Reformation as the others).  No Protestants, no Roman Catholics, just the Church, the local folk of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

And so these crosses, marking graves, some of them my ancestors, point to a time of greater unity in the past, and to a hope of greater unity in the future.  This is what I mean by "poking around the ruins," and what I am always on the lookout for.