Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Keep the Incense

At our recent Diocesan Convention, we were taking our part in discussions related to the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church.  TREC is working on adapting the structures, governance, and administration of the Episcopal Church to better reflect the mission challenges of today and the future.  The question before us was something to the effect of what we should keep and what we should let go of.  We were doing our best and saying the usual about Scripture, Tradition, Reason and being inclusive.  All right as far as it goes, but somehow, fairly predictable.

Then someone at the table said, "Keep the incense."  We all laughed from the heart and it felt like we had struck something deeper than the earnest things we had been offering.

My impression of the use of incense in worship in the Episcopal Church is that it has moved from being used all the time in a few places, to being used a few times in (not quite) all places, and the frequency of use is growing.  At the Cathedral of Saint Paul, we are now using it (in a non fussy way, of course) on most Sundays.  There are all kinds of reasons and all kinds of witness around that incense and other traditional forms of ritual are being welcomed, especially by younger people.  "Keep the incense."  We wrote the comment down. Wonder if it will make it into the report and proposals?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Church Buildings: Ruins or Resurrection?

This week I attended a presentation by Bob Jaeger from Partners for Sacred Places.  He was in Erie for the Non Profit Day sponsored by the outstanding local organization, the Nonprofit Partnership.  I had heard of and read about Partners for Sacred Places before, but it all becomes more real in person.

To me, many of our church buildings are ruins of Christendom (maybe most of them in these parts).  Some are fine examples of architecture and art which are drenched in the histories of their communities.  Others may not be so artistic or historic, but they have been centers of worship, faith, and mission for years.  And yet community and economic changes have often resulted in deferred maintenance.  Sometimes the cost of upkeep and updating is beyond the resources and capacities of the congregation.  And often, even if the buildings could be properly repaired and brought up to code, they would still be ineffective for the life and mission of their congregations today -- too many stairs, too much space, old, inefficient, unwelcoming.

Many congregations lost the resources to support paid clergy during the last few decades.  Often this was met by new forms of partnership and/or the use of ecumenical, retired, or locally trained and ordained clergy who serve with little or no pay.  It worked for a while.  But now, or looming soon, comes the lack of resources to pay for the building.  The serious consequences cannot be avoided -- there is no cheaper way and deferred maintenance, even if possible, only pushes more difficult decisions on to someone else.  It is another form of "kicking the can down the road."

Partners for Sacred Places brings a determined and hopeful perspective to this.  First of all, they believe in the importance of our historic church buildings and what they mean to a community.  And they are working on ways to maintain and sustain them that values the congregation but opens up to the wider community in new ways.  I commend their work wholeheartedly.  I especially commend their growing work on the economic impact of churches, even small ones, on their communities. Here is a link from their web site if you wish to learn more about the Halo Effect.  I will be writing more about this and the implications for our understanding of mission.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Life After Life After

With the advent of a new web site for The Cathedral of St. Paul, it seems a good time to resurrect this blog. Poking around the ruins took me a few weeks ago to Coventry Cathedral.  I was there as a part of my Doctor of Ministry in Preaching project, which has to do with preaching in cathedrals. After all, what could be more a ruin of Christendom than a cathedral?  And yet, cathedrals in the Church of England are experiencing an unanticipated vitality (see the report Spiritual Capital).  Does this have any significance for our cathedrals in North America?  What about our relatively small cathedrals around the Great Lakes?  And what, if anything, does this have to do with preaching in cathedrals these days?

I went to Coventry because of its unique setting with the bombed ruins of the former cathedral incorporated into the complex of the "new" cathedral built in 1962.  What an image of resurrection on the other side of Christendom!  And yet I found it was more complex than that.

N.T. Wright has been challenging the common understanding of life after death in recent years.  He contends that the biblical view is not so much about "life after death," as in going to heaven when you die, but rather, "life after life after death," or, as the Nicene Creed puts it, the resurrection of the dead.  What does this have to do with Coventry, or with us?

The "new" Coventry Cathedral is, in many ways, still a Christendom cathedral.  Large crowds of tourists and pilgrims came after it opened, out of curiosity for sure, but more significantly, because the ruins and the bold new building drew deeply on the older spiritual capital as well as the profound experiences and emotions of the WW II generation.  Now that all seems to have run its course.  Pilgrims (like me) still arrive, but not nearly as many, and resources are not available to support the scope and number of  local and international reconciliation initiatives undertaken in previous years.  Leaders there know this is a time to go deep and seek what the Spirit is stirring up now for Coventry's unique witness and mission.  Poking around these ruins, I wonder if many of us are at or approaching some kind of  "life after life after," signalling a time to go even deeper than we thought we would into what arises from the Cross and the Tomb.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reenactment or Resurrection?

I have been haunted for a good while by the comment of a friend and colleague.  He said that sometimes we in the Church are like Civil War Reenacters, dressing up and acting like we are in a Church that no longer exists.  No congregation, large or small, urban, suburban, or rural is immune from this possibility.

At the same time, I am convinced that there is something good (bene esse), even essential (esse) about the fact that the Church, while appropriately expressed in many cultural forms, nonetheless has a culture of its own, which transcends time and place.  One example of this would be clergy vestments.  It is historically interesting that the priestly chasuble derives from an outer garment during the Roman Empire.

But it is more important that it has come to represent the priestly ministry, even to those who have no clue where it comes from.  Liturgical form and ritual actions rise above locality alone.  And so I knew what was going on at Mass in India, even though I didn't understand a word of the language.  This is part of being baptized into the dying and rising of Jesus.

All of this is good, and we need not be ashamed of it, or of expecting people to learn it as they take up and grow in Christian faith.  But it is good as well to be haunted by the prospect that we can get it quite wrong and indulge ourselves in a fantasy world.  The ruins of Christendom are challenging us to sort this out.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Full and Running Over -- Back from India

Just a few weeks ago, Sharon and I returned from a trip to India.  We were there to see a new church building for which our Cathedral had provided most of the funding and to meet face to face with the people of that village parish -- St Paul's, Edayattupadam, Kottayam, Madhya Kerala Diocese, Church of South India.  In addition to visiting this congregation, we were guests of the bishop at the Diocesan Convention (more like a conference to us) and also attended Liturgy at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kottayam.

In 2008, I had the privilege of attending the Holy Fire Ceremony in Jerusalem on Easter Eve.  Being with the people of St. Paul's, Edayattupadam as they welcomed us and we celebrated with them, in Eucharist and after, now ranks for me alongside the Holy Fire Ceremony as astounding, even overwhelming, experiences of the Resurrection.

Here is some video of the procession around the church following the Liturgy:

The Church of South India is the result of a successful merger of Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Methodists.  These former divisions are part of the ruins of Christendom that came to India with the missionaries.  But their coming together over 60 years ago is a sign of the Resurrection, despite the controversy it provoked at the time. Now, all these decades later, we experienced a Church which is ecumenical, evangelical and catholic.  It is thriving as a minority within a multi-faith culture.  We have much to learn from them as we poke about our own ruins.  We heard their children singing, "My cup is full and running over," and that song continues in our grateful hearts.