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.    

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Book Review: The Leadership Difference by Robert E. Logan

Bob Logan's new book, The Leadership Difference, is the alpha-to-omega guide to Christian leadership. This work is easy to read and accessible, yet delves deeply into a wide range of topics necessary for effective leadership in Christian ministry. Helpful for both pastors and lay leaders, Logan combines the best of secular wisdom with an unblinking call for leaders to deepen their own discipleship in order to be effective.

Logan's first chapter recognizes that "many of what we consider leadership issues are actually discipleship issues."  He spends time looking at discipleship competencies that leaders need to develop for themselves and pass on to their congregations before beginning to look at various leadership competencies.  This focus is too often skipped, yet Logan is correct that the personal discipleship of the leader is the foundation of any further Christian leadership.

Logan's second chapter deals with the leader's personal development in basic life skills that are essential for successful ministry.  Even experienced, effective leaders benefit from taking another look at our ability to manage time and money, set priorities, say "no", and similar topics. 

Undergirded by the leader's own personal formation, Logan moves on to topics including team recruitment and development, discernment, leading change, communication, organizational development, and basic finance. Each chapter combines good stories, a helpful approach, and concrete details that contribute to success, while offering a manageable list of other resources.  Wherever a leader is in their current ministry, something in the book will be directly applicable at this moment.  As I read it, during one chapter I had to put down the book, pick up a pen, and write a list of next steps in a particular area that Logan's discussion had made me think about.  I expect that if I read this book again next year, I will be forced to stop in the middle of another chapter as it helps unknot my thinking about that particular season's challenge. 

The Leadership Difference's final chapter is entitled "Empowering and Releasing Others: Giving It All Away." Here we see the power of Logan's overall vision of discipleship, leadership, and empowerment. The chapter's four topics of servant leadership, developing others for mission, fostering kingdom cooperation, and releasing and empowering well are all covered in ways highlight how the work we do moves beyond us to the build up all of God's kingdom.  As Logan writes, "Real leadership -- biblical leadership -- is about giving away ministry responsibility and decision-making authority, not keeping it for yourself.  It's about equipping others to do what you do."

I highly recommend The Leadership Difference to anyone wanting to make their ministry more effective, from experienced pastors to lay people stretching themselves with a new assignment. This book will offer something you need to hear today, while pushing your vision further for tomorrow.

The book may be purchased from LoganLeadership, Amazon, or other booksellers.

(Disclaimer: I have worked with Bob Logan for more than a decade and received a review copy of The Leadership Difference.)     

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book Review: "Walk in Love" by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe

When I read a draft of Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices, I was elated.  Here, finally, was the book about the Episcopal Church that I had wanted to give to inquirers for my entire ministry. The love that Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe have for their church infuses the entire volume, and their desire to explain their beloved church to others is thorough, readable, and insightful.

Three qualities make Walk in Love particularly valuable to anyone looking for a book about the Episcopal Church.  First, this volume focuses on the key elements of who we are from the perspective of what is most important to us, instead of trying to differentiate us from other flavors of Christianity.  The book opens with the liturgy and the sacraments, which are the central elements of our worship and a key experience for our common life.  

Second, this volume is thorough, covering a lot of ground to describe many important aspects of our faith. After the sacraments, Gunn and Shobe look at how we pray at different times, our basic beliefs, how the church is structured, the Trinity, and how we live out our faith more deeply. At 338 pages, the book is long, but the chapters are short, with each section broken up into easily digestible pieces.    

Finally, the book is accessible, with a clear organization, personal stories, reflection questions, pull-out boxes, and a writing style that doesn't assume any particular background. Reading Walk in Love is like having two dedicated guides leading you through their favorite community, explaining what is happening, why it is happening, and why it is so important to them.  Gunn and Shobe are sharing how the Episcopal Church embodies and proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ.  Their work is generous and expresses the breadth of our traditions, lifting up aspects of our life that could be recognized in almost every Episcopal congregation.  

The cover design is beautiful, and the binding is solid, especially for a large paperback volume.

As I noted in the blurb I gave to the editors after my initial reading, I believe that this book is the most comprehensive, and comprehensible, guide to Episcopal faith and practice available. It is perfect book for new comers, long-time members, and anyone in between.

Forward Movement is also publishing a free curriculum called Practicing Our Faith that is based on Walk in Love.  This curriculum will be available in the spring of 2018.  

To order copies of Walk in Love, including bulk discounts, or to find out more about Practicing Our Faith, go to:

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Lifting Burdens Hard to Bear

This weeks Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Question is from Luke 11:46.

“Jesus says to the religious authorities of the time, ‘You load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.’  What burdens does the church carry or load on people today that it needs to ease?”

The major burden that the church often lays on people is focusing on its own needs instead of the needs it is designed to serve.  The church is extremely important, but the church thrives as it gives itself away in mission and ministry (both to "members" and to "non-members").  When our church focuses on others, we can trust God will give us what we need for that work.  When we focus on ourselves, we do not serve those who need us and we facilitate our own decline.  

Here are a few examples:

Stewardship.  We often find congregations linking budgetary needs and giving.  God, however, is perfectly capable for sustaining any truly worthwhile ministry.  All the money is, after all, already God's.  We, as individuals, need to tithe for our own faith and financial well-being.  We need to learn to trust God even with our bank accounts, and we need to put God first on our priority list in a way that happens more completely with first-fruits giving than with any other single spiritual discipline.  Nobody needs the burden of keeping their church's heat on or roof repaired. We need the joy of tithing, along with the confidence that the church is there to generously aid those with emergency needs.  The church's disciplines of stewardship can be a vehicle to exuberant generosity and financial freedom, not stress and anxiety.   

Children's Formation.  Too often, churches are try to shoehorn parents living 21st century lives in mid-20th century children and youth programs.  A lot of energy and reminder emails are sent to round up the little ones for 9:00am Sunday School or a youth outing.  While these can still be valuable, they do not work for many families.  Instead of guilt, these families need resources that help them grow their own spiritual lives and form their children in ways they can access.  The website Grow Christians is one way that family spiritual disciplines are being shared to reach people who aren't able to bear the burdens of traditional "family ministry."

Buildings. In the old days, church activities filled up every nook and cranny of the building, with new education wings built and basements transformed into classrooms and meeting rooms.  Many of those spaces in our facilities are no longer used consistently, or used beyond once a week.  Too often we still expect a declining number of people to maintain this property.  Yet, as many churches have discovered, the community often has need of spaces like the church's.  Various schools can use our Sunday school wings, families need places for graduation parties, showers, and other events, healthy eating groups need commercial kitchens to teach classes, and any number of non-profits need accessible meeting rooms with adequate parking.  Smaller churches and church plants are also looking for worship space (often at a time that isn't Sunday morning).  We can open up our churches to others, but not with an eye toward rental income.  Ideally our goal is allowing people to be served by the church such that they become part of our extended church community.  Instead of an income stream, we are offering people a chance to be part of our overall ministry -- loving God and loving neighbor.  As we allow others to have a piece of ownership in our facilities by being part of who we are, we give people the opportunity to contribute and take responsibility our physical plant in whatever ways God prompts them.  As we give away our buildings (at least for a scheduled time), we allow others to help us maintain them. When we burden our congregations by holding them tightly, we weigh them down with a very heavy load.

Blog Force Participant

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Jesus Teaching Prayer: Luke 11:1-13

In Luke chapter 11, Jesus' disciples ask him to teach them how to pray. He responds with a slightly condensed version of what has become known as the Lord's prayer.  Then Jesus  relates the parable of the guy pounding on his neighbor's door for bread in the middle of the night.  He writes the lyrics to the second verse of Seek Ye First ("ask and it shall be given unto you; seek and ye shall find").  Finally, he says that when our children ask us for good things, we don't give them bad things, so, if we ask, God will give us the Holy Spirit.  

This week's BLOGFORCE question only deals with the Lord's Prayer, but since Jesus didn't stop there, neither will I.  These instructions of Jesus tell us four important things about prayer.

1. While the Lord's Prayer could be expounded line by line at great length, the basic format tells us something important.  We can have a short, easy to memorize, rote prayer that covers the most important bases and can be used as often as we wish.  We can't spend fifteen seconds, rush through Our Father, and be done with our prayer for the day.  Yet we also don't have to spend fifteen minutes finding the exact right words to say.  If we are uncreative, if we don't know what to say, if we don't even feel like praying, Jesus gives us a simple way to come before God and enter into his presence through prayer.

2. Jesus also says something about the opposite situation, when we really know what we want to pray for.  In the parable of the guy who finally gets up to throw a loaf of bread out the door at his neighbor in the wee hours of the morning, Jesus tells us to be persistent.  Keep asking, keep praying, keep the angels of God up all night until the Almighty sends them down with whatever we need.  Make clear to God what we want and that we really want it.

3. The parable moves seamlessly into Jesus' next point, which is that we only have to ask and we will receive.  The stress seems different, however.  Seek and you will find feels a lot different to us than bang on the door all night.  In reality, however, it may not be.  Part of this instruction is that God wants to give us what we want, especially when what we want is good.  We may have to tell him what that is, however.  Part of prayer can be clarifying our desires, since we often want different, and even contradictory things.  We want nothing to change but we want a better job.  We want to lose weight and eat more ice cream.  We want to support a charity and to go on a cruise.  God is inviting us to ask for what we really want so he can give it to us.  Maybe we need to knock on God's door repeatedly until we are clear in our own minds.  Our persistent prayer is more for our sake than for God's.

4. Jesus says that our heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.  Since no one had been talking about the Holy Spirit so far this chapter, Jesus' must think this point is particularly important.  In the midst of all our other prayers, we should ask God to give us his Holy Spirit.  As we receive the Holy Spirit, we activate our spiritual gifts to build up the church and reap the benefits of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  If we want love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control and the other fruits of the Spirit, we need to ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus says he will.

Blog Force Participant

Friday, August 11, 2017

Heading Home -- Dominican Republic Mission Trip 2017 Day 9

This is the last of nine daily blog posts from our Diocesan Mission trip to Santiago, Dominican Republic from July 21-29.  I'm posting one a day now that we have returned to the states.  A daily bog from others of our team can be found on our Diocesan blog:

July 29
Our plane finally arrives in Santiago!
If you are reading this, I have made it home.  As I write this, however, I’m not as sure.  I’m at the Santiago International Airport waiting for our flight, which had been delayed 2 hours waiting for the plane we are supposed to be leaving on.  Right now, we are schedule to arrive in Newark 15 minutes before our flight to Pittsburgh takes off.

The week has been good.  We have had well over 70 children attend Vacation Bible School, with the numbers increasing as the week has gone on.  We have seen 20-30 people each day for our vision clinic.  We have given glasses to young people who could not clearly see the first line on an eye chart (the huge solo letter “E”).  We have given reading glasses to a woman who didn’t know how to read but needed them to see for cooking and sewing.  We have given glasses to senior citizens with significant correction needs who have never had glasses.  We really did help some people see this week.

"The Gatekeeper"
Our good-byes were difficult.  Over the week we have worked closely, and lunched daily, with a great group of teachers and others who help out at the church, including the “gatekeeper,” who had all the keys and locked and unlocked everything for us. We also developed great relationships with Randy our translator, Lazarus who ran the hotel we stayed at, the children of the teachers and others at the church, and Father HipĆ³lito.  I think everyone on the team would love to come back next year and see our new friends again.

Post Script
We did make it home.  We landed in Newark about 10 minutes before our flight to Pittsburgh was supposed to take off but, thanks be to God, it was delayed about 50 minutes and was now to take off at 9:10pm.  So we moved as quickly as we could through immigration, customs,  and to security.  When we looked up, the flight had been delayed until 9:15pm, and those five minutes were an answer to prayer.  Going through security, not only did the X-ray machine in our line break, but they were particularly interested in our diagnostic equipment.  Our vanguard ran to the gate -- on the other side of the terminal -- to fall down and tie their shoes in the doorway if need be.  When all but the last two people had made it, we talked to the gate agent, who said that he had to close the doors in less then five minutes.  Then the last of our company arrived and we got on our aircraft in those final minutes between 9:10 and 9:15pm.  Thanks to all those praying for safe travel and a good week!

Post Post Script
The day after we got back to the States, Adrian Beltre became the first Major League baseball player born in the Dominican Republic to reach the 3,000 hit plateau.  It is probably unrelated to our trip, but still a nice postlude to spending a week in his homeland.