Friday, June 12, 2020

Preaching Racial Justice and Reconciliation for the Long-Term

I'm very grateful for Earth&Altar for publishing my piece on preaching racial justice and reconciliation for the long-term. The piece applies principles in my book, A Way With Words: Preaching That Transforms Congregations, to one of our time's most pressing preaching concerns.  If you have additional thoughts or ideas about preaching racial justice, please note them in the comments below.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Promoting Racial Justice and Reconciliation Even When the Protests Are Over

Promoting Racial Justice and Reconciliation Even When the Protests Are Over

On May 30, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry declared the church’s commitment to racial justice and reconciliation when the cameras are long gone. While our present moment has brought into great clarity the evils of systemic racism in numerous areas of American life, we also know there is no guarantee that this focus will result in long-term change. As Christians, especially as white Christians who make up most of the parish and the denomination I serve, we must maintain our faithfulness long after the cameras are gone if we want to reshape our nation into one were the dignity of every human person is respected and all are recognized as God’s beloved children. Here are six ways we can strive for racial justice and reconciliation beginning today and continuing into the future.

1. Pray. Prayer remains our most powerful weapon in the battle against the powers of racism, injustice, and oppression. Powerful prayer, however, takes time and commitment. Prayer includes confession of our own sinfulness and complicity in both personal and systemic racism. Prayer implores God to change our own hearts and lives. Prayer involves praying for the needs, hopes, and dreams of others, which may require work if we don’t know already what those needs, hopes, and dreams are. Prayer may require going to prayer meetings and worship services where we aren’t entirely comfortable. Prayer may call us to walk through neighborhoods we normally avoid as we ask God to bless and protect them. Prayer will almost certainly open doors to us that require great courage and love to walk through. True prayer involves lighting a fire that will burn away all that opposes God’s love and justice, beginning with what opposes God’s love and justice in our own hearts and lives.

2. Listen. We cannot expect our nation to come together if we are not willing to do so in our own lives. We need to cross bridges that divide us and listen to one another. Especially for those of us who are white or otherwise privileged we need to make time in our schedules regularly to hear the stories and experiences of people whose lives are different from our own. We need to know their pain and their anger. We need to know their hopes and joys. We need to see ourselves from their perspective. Such listening is brutally hard. If we are doing this work well, we will likely be angry, defensive, and confused at times. We will probably want to deny experiences that sometimes seem so different and threatening to our own. And we need to sit there and be quiet and be grateful. Hopefully, if we listen well enough, those with us will feel comfortable enough to share deeply with us and we will hear what we really need to hear. As we do what feels like very hard work for us, we also recognize that those sharing with us are doing even harder work and we need to respect that work. If we are in professional positions, like church leadership, we should find ways to pay people for their time at the same level we would pay our spiritual directors, coaches, or consultants. At the very least, we should be making donations to non-profits, churches or other groups in their name in the range of $100/hour for their efforts. What they offer us is that important.

3. Give. We cannot expect to overcome the economic inequalities in this country without a cost to those of us who are better off. In the absence of comprehensive national economic and tax policies designed to fight inequality, we are left making our own individual financial commitments to racial justice. While particular choices will depend on our personal situations, the basic outline of this duty is to live more simply and so we can give more. We may be buying used cars instead of new, eating more pasta and less meat, or buying a less expensive house so we can maintain a lower standard of living than our income would allow. What we save, we give. Our money may go to African-American churches and community groups, scholarship funds, historically black colleges, or as investment in minority-owned businesses or other development efforts. As we listen to those who differ from us, we can find the places where our assistance can make the most difference and we give generously. Such financial commitment should be difficult and sacrificial. Those difficulties will also be but a piece of what many of our brothers and sisters deal with every day.

4. Vote. Long-term systemic change in the United States still depends on elections. While no candidate is perfect and all political parties with any chance of being elected have an investment in the status quo, we also know that who our elected officials are matters. National policies on everything from the enforcement of anti-red-lining laws to air quality standards to federal consent decrees against local police departments matter. So does who sits on the local school board, who the local district attorney is, and who is making zoning decisions in minority neighborhoods. Especially in an environment where voting rights are threatened, ensuring that we exercise our right to vote and protect others’ right to vote is crucial. Beyond just voting, we have opportunities to be involved in the political process in other positive ways. We can do voter registration in minority communities. We can support and fund-raise for candidates who are newer to the political process but bring important perspectives to the table. We can introduce people to our family, friends, and neighbors. We can do the work to support and uphold the best in our democracy.

5. Advocate. Specifically, advocate for best policing practices and racial justice throughout the criminal justice system. Many of our current protests are focused specifically on the killing of black men and women by police officers. We can work to ensure our police departments follow best practices and have the necessary trainings, including de-escalation training and unconscious bias training. Psychological testing and removal of officers who have not shown restraint is needed. We also need to recognize that as local tax revenues have shrunk in recent years, many forces are understaffed and underpaid. We cannot have the police forces our communities need without commitment and investment. More broadly, we need criminal justice reforms that end the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans. As individuals, we can also prepare ourselves to respond effectively when we see harassment happening in our communities. Bystander training, such as that offered by Hollaback!, is one way to prepare ourselves to support those targeted by harassment of any kind.       

6. Be Counted. The 2020 Census will determine electoral votes, funding distribution, and a variety of other important matters over the next decade. Fill out your own census form, and work with the census to ensure that those who are traditionally underreported are counted, as well. If we get the Census wrong, any efforts toward racial justice and reconciliation in the next decade become that much more difficult.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Go Home and Tell

Reflections from Father Adam: Go Home and Tell
March 14, 2020

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him.  But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 
--Mark 5:18-29

These lines from gospel lesson appointed for evening prayer today struck me hard. Jesus has just healed a demon-possessed man whose life was so out of control that he was living in a cemetery. Jesus drove a legion of demons out of him, and ended up killing a herd of swine and upsetting the local farmers.

As Jesus is getting in the boat to go home, the healed man begs Jesus to be with him. Jesus refuses and tells the man to go home.

I feel like this man tonight. Worship tomorrow is canceled and the church is closed. I am heartbroken, as I know many of you are. I want to go and be with Jesus, and on Sunday mornings Jesus always shows up in the Eucharist and in the people of God at St. John’s. But just like the former demoniac, Jesus is telling me to go home instead.

Of course, Jesus continues, saying to tell your friends how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy he has shown you. These words of Jesus may be the commission for us in this time. What if we actually went home this Lord’s Day and told our family and friends how much the Lord has done for us? What if we took the time to remember and share the mercy God has shown us?

For those of us who have to stay home from church this weekend, we have a few options. We can read morning prayer or other devotions. (Forward Movement offers helpful resources). We can watch a service on TV or the internet. (The Presiding Bishop will be at the National Cathedral at 11:00am here). Whatever we do, however, we also have the challenge to talk about the incredible love and mercy of God with those closest to us. This discussion doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as easy as taking turns answering two simple questions:
  • Where have you felt closest to God this week?
  • Where have you felt most alone or afraid this week, and how has God been with you there?

If we share God’s love and mercy for us, I believe we will find our spiritual lives deepened and enriched. Such sharing may become a regular practice that opens our homes and our families to a profound awareness of the presence of God. These godly conversations can remain an important part of our lives when this current crisis is past and church life returns to normal.

Even with churches closed, we can use this weekend to grow closer to Jesus and to our family and friends. We just need to do what Jesus says: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Book Review: The Church Planting Journey by Robert E. Logan

The Church Planting Journey by Robert E. Logan
Book Review

Bob Logan has spent his ministry planting churches, coaching church planters, and helping church leaders disciple Christians and multiply churches. In his new book, The Church Planting Journey, Logan draws on his experience and wisdom to describe a successful approach to church planting in our current environment. He concentrates on preparing the planter and creating disciples, since, as he says, “Church planting is a byproduct of making disciples” (p.11).

The Church Planting Journey is broken into four parts, each with multiple chapters. Every focused chapter contains scriptural support, important concepts, practical examples, and concrete steps, all of which are relevant to a broad range of plant styles in any denomination. A Journey Guide closes each chapter. The Journey Guide contains a “Checklist for the road ahead”, a focus for the planter’s own personal discipleship, questions for the planter and the planter’s coach, discussion questions for the planting team, and prayer focuses for the planter and the team.

The first part, Get Ready: Personal Commitment and Readiness, focuses on the church planter. Chapters in this part focus on development of the planter’s vision and values, confirming a call to planting, learning and understanding of the planting process, and persevering through inevitable challenges and discouragements.  Part two, Get Set: Preparing and Planning, looks at the organizational foundations underpinning a plant, including building the core team, identifying the target audience, designing the ministry, securing financial support, and developing a proposal. Part three, Get Going: Living Out the Mission, discusses the plant’s ministry while getting started. Themes include vision casting, engaging culture, making disciples, multiplying disciplemaking communities, and preparing for the launch of public worship services. Part four, Keep Going: Ongoing Development and Multiplication, helps continue a plant’s development while it prepares for multiplication. Chapters in this section cover leadership development, ongoing evaluation and development, planning strategically, and dealing with growth and change. The final chapter in this part focuses on one of Logan’s key themes, which is creating a multiplication movement of churches.

While The Church Planting Journey focuses on church planters, almost everything in the book is helpful for any pastor who wants their church to make disciples and bear fruit. Depending on the pastor’s particular situation, different chapters will be more relevant at different times. The Journey Guides, especially, ask questions that established churches leaders need to ask themselves and their congregations for ongoing growth and development.

If I had to pick only one book to sit on my desk next to my Bible to guide me in leading a church that lived out its calling and multiplied disciples effectively, The Church Planting Journey would be that book. This volume is a true gift to the church, and the fruit of a lifetime of faithful ministry by one of the contemporary church’s most effective leaders.

This book may be purchased from Amazon or other booksellers.
(Disclaimer: I have worked with Bob Logan for more than a decade and received a review copy of The Church Planting Journey.)

Monday, July 16, 2018

My General Convention Wrap-Up

I have just returned from The Episcopal Church's 79th General Convention in Austin, TX. While much happened in the almost two weeks I was there, I wanted to share a few highlights. (For a fairly comprehensive set of articles and news reports about what happened day by day at convention, go to Episcopal News Service or the House of Deputies news. Total church nerds interested in seeing what happened to particular resolutions, the budget, or other legislative items can look at the General Convention virtual binder.)

1. The Way of Love.  In his sermon at our opening Eucharist, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry introduced the Way of Love.  This seven-step path offers a rule of life that helps us walk in love as disciples of Jesus Christ. The seven step: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, and Rest are all designed to develop our capacity to walk along our own way of love.

2. #churchtoo. Two important activities happened during convention to make the church a safer place for everyone, especially for women and others who frequently experience abuse, harassment, and discrimination.  First, the bishops held a listening session embedded in a liturgy.  They solicited stories of abuse, harassment, and discrimination from a wide variety of people. A number of those powerful stories were read aloud.  Second, the House of Deputies Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation brought together more than 50 women who addressed issues of theology and language, structural equity, clergy discipline and training, truth and reconciliation, and social justice for women through a series of concrete resolutions designed to make the church a safer, more equal, and more just place for all people.  Many of these resolutions were enacted by convention. (Church nerd alert! If you want to see the final disposition of the committee's resolutions, I've noted it at the bottom of this post.)

3. Texas Revival. On Saturday night we were treated to a Texas style revival. The Presiding Bishop preached, a couple thousand people showed up, and at the end of the service people were invited to go to numerous prayers stations surrounding the auditorium.  The sense of the Holy Spirit showing up was palpable.  One person in our deputation told us afterwards that there was a row of people behind her who had come to hear the "Royal Wedding" preacher.  When the invitation to prayer came, she heard them talking about wanting to go for prayer, but not knowing how and not feeling like they were really allowed.  So she turned around and offered to pray with them right there, an invitation they gratefully accepted.  They prayed, among other things, to accept Jesus into their lives that night. 

4. Prayer Service at Hutto Detention Center.  Austin isn't particularly close to the border, but a half-hour ride from Austin is the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, which holds women who are trying to immigrate into the United States.  The Center's residents includes women separated from their children and families, and it has a history of incidents of abuse by guards. The Reverend Megan Castellan and others organized a noonday prayer service at a ball field adjacent to the detention center.  Readings and prayers were offered in English and Spanish, and Bishop Curry preached. Afterwards a letter was received from women inside the Center saying that they watched until the last buses departed, grateful to know that they were not alone. (To support the ongoing work with women at the Hutto center, go to     

5. Budget. We passed a budget. Among other noteworthy items is $3 million to continue the work of church planting and evangelism begun three years ago.  This work has proven effective, and we expect even more fruit as we increase our investment in this area.

6. Prayer Book and Liturgy. Much discussion going into Convention centered around proposals for beginning work on a new prayer book. In the end, in substitute resolution A068, Convention decided not to begin that work immediately, but to create a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision (TFLPBR - pronounced "tafel-puber"?).  This task force will look at and propose structural ways for the church to be more adaptive in its future worship life to a wide variety of needs. At the same time, diocese are encouraged to create liturgical commissions that will experiment and create liturgical texts appropriate to their circumstances as resources for the church going forward. Convention also said that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer will continue to be used going forward and that any liturgical revisions will adhere to our Anglican tradition and the Baptismal and Eucharistic theology of our current prayer book. Importantly, we also allocated funds for new, dynamic-equivalence translations of the Prayer Book and other resources into Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole.  In a separate resolution, inclusive and expansive alternatives for Prayers A, B, and D in Rite II were adopted.  (For more on this Convention decision, see Derek Olsen's post.)

7. Same-sex blessing and marriage rites.  Rites for same-sex marriage have now been authorized for use throughout the church, with provisions even in dioceses where bishops have previously forbidden their use. 

8. The Pigeon. OK, @gc79pigeon was not a particularly important outcome of Convention, but it did provide some needed comic relief along the way.  Thanks to the Reverends David Sibley and David Simmons for their sense of humor and good work

Given all the hard work by so many people on so many issues, I am sure I have missed more than one important Convention item.  Thanks to everyone behind the scenes who made Convention happen this year, and kept the work of the church moving ahead for another triennium!

Final status of Special Task Force resolutions (for details on the resolutions, go to the virtual binder, click the resolutions button, and type in the resolution number):
   Adopted: A178; B011 as amended; C041 as amended; D016 substitute; D017; D021 as amended; D031 as amended; D032 as amended; D087; D037 substitute; D046 as amended; D045 as amended; A284; D076 substitute; D067 as amended; D034; D023 as amended; D025 substitute.
   Take no further action: D020 (merged with D016); D026 (replaced with A284); D075 (partly included in D076); D080 (unofficially headed to interim body); D099 (duplicates D040); D022
   Referred to interim body: D033, D073; unofficially D080; D100
   Rejected: D035


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Book Review: "Resurrection Matters" by Nurya Love Parish

Many books about cutting-edge, transformational ministries are told after the fact.  A new opportunity arose, the Holy Spirit nudged a few faithful, gifted leaders, and, looking back, the whole enterprise seems almost inevitable.  Resurrection Matters: Church Renewal for Creation’s Sake by Nurya Love Parish takes a very different approach.  Nurya tells her story of starting a farm-based ministry while still in its early phase.  Instead of three easy steps to replicate this ministry in your own context, we are blessed by the courageous account of someone struggling to answer her call in a confusing time for the church and critical time for the environment.  How God has led her smack dab into the middle of the fledgling Christian food movement is both challenging and inspirational.

Throughout this book, we are introduced to Nurya’s deepest passions.  Her central passion is her faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Flowing out of that faith are her dedication to the renewal of God’s church and the stewardship of God’s creation.  In Resurrection Matters, we journey with Nurya through the personal stories and the facts and figures that led her to taking a huge risk with her family’s home and savings to start a farm ministry.  Along the way we learn about the infinity loop of organizational renewal, the contemporary church’s “rummage sale”, the modern history of Christian farm ministry, and why millennials seem more interested in organic farming than churches.  Most importantly, we share a Christian leader’s struggles as she finds the necessary wisdom and courage to begin a non-traditional ministry that is beginning to make a difference in the church and the environment.

Resurrection Matters’s engaging style makes for an easy and enjoyable read.  The book contains appendices with a study guide; planning processes for households, congregations, and judicatories; information on community supported agriculture; and lists of resources for further study.  I highly recommend this book to those interested in how the church might engage creation care, as well as to anyone feeling like God may be calling them to start something new.   

(Disclaimer: I have worked with Nurya Love Parish on a number of projects, and I received a review copy of Resurrection Matters.) 

You can order Resurrection Matters from church publishing or Amazon.