Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy Week: Thinking of Martyrs

Holy Week brings into sharp focus the ways in which Christian faith can be a life and death affair.  As we hear and grapple with the passion and death of Jesus, we know of numerous men and women throughout the centuries who also took up their crosses, followed Jesus, and lost their lives to save them. 

Janani Luwuum
We know too that the witness which began with Stephen and James in Acts of the Apostles didn't stop with early martyrs like Peter and Paul, Polycarp and Alban, or Felicity and Perpetua.  Even down to today, men and women in various parts of the world are persecuted and even killed for attempting to live their faith with integrity, to love those God is calling them to serve, or to share the good news of Christ's resurrection that could transform the lives of the people around them.  Our Holy Week devotions would benefit greatly by spending time learning about martyrs of the past and praying for martyrs of the present.

For those who have been following Lent Madness, martyrs from Ignatius of Antioch to Janani Luwuum were in the brackets.  A more comprehensive approach can be gained from Foxe's Book of Martyrs (Protestant), Butler's Lives of the Saints (Catholic), both available on-line, or similar historical works.  One of the best sources, however, is FOXE: Voices of the Martyrs, 450 pages of readable, inspiring vignettes of martyrs from Stephen the Deacon through the 21st century.  The book is an edited version of Foxe's 16th century work, updated through today. Also included is a persecution survey of nations throughout the world where either Christians specifically or religious minorities generally face oppression, imprisonment or worse.

An additional resource is the work of Voice of the Martyrs.  This group provides information on current persecutions the church is facing and the political climate in nations where Christianity is restricted.  They also provide opportunities to contribute to the needs of persecuted Christians in a variety of ways.  Their mission is: “Serving the persecuted church through practical and spiritual assistance while leading Christians in the free world into fellowship with them.”  Their iPhone and Android app provides a daily prayer need, as well as other resources. 

Holy Week, when we follow Jesus to the cross, is a good time to draw closer on the way to those holy women and men who experience the intensity of the cross in their lives every week.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reimagining the Episcopal Church

Although many things came out of last summer's General Convention, two stand out.  The first was the unanimous (!) commissioning of a task force to look at the overall structure of the Episcopal Church and recommend changes to the 2015 General Convention.  The second was the recognition of an Acts 8 Moment, with two gatherings during the convention to dream about where the Holy Spirit is leading the church.  Both are of those initiatives are moving forward.
The special task force has met and chosen a name, Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC).   While still in the early stages of their mandate, they have organized and have set up a website, a facebook page and a twitter feed to provides updates on their work and receive comments. 

Meanwhile, a leadership team of about fifteen clergy and lay folks have kept the Acts 8 energy alive since General Convention.  A number of places, including Maine and Indianapolis, have held Acts 8 sessions during their Diocesan Conventions.  Various ministry resources, creative blogposts, and ecclesial commentary can be found on the Acts 8 website and facebook page. Perhaps most exciting, Acts 8 is about to hold its first mission gathering.

This gathering, themed Re-creating a Missionary Church, is an opportunity for interested people to come together for three days of prayer and discernment to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the renewal of the Episcopal Church.  This mission conference is open to clergy and laypeople, to those who have been to other Acts 8 events and to those who haven't.  Looking at the successful mission societies of the past while thinking about modern communication techniques, we want to discover the particular call of this vibrant group of people for the revitalization of our church. 

The mission conference is April 22-24 at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona.  In addition to prayer, discernment sessions and community building, workshops will include topics such as historical overviews, missionary prayer, planting new churches and reinvigorating existing communities.  For registration and more information, go to the Acts 8 Website or the registration page at Eventbrite.  Look forward to seeing you there.