Monday, June 27, 2011

So You Think You Don’t Know One…

Most of us, if we know anything about the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), know that the organization was engaged to do a feasibility study for Fulfilling the Vision. (I understand that ECF has been engaged to help run the latest capital campaign.) ECF does more, however, and it maintains a Web site called ECF Vital Practices. The introduction to this site begins
ECF Vital Practices offers vestry members and other people of faith, resources and tools to respond to the changing needs of the Church. Building upon the spiritually grounded, practical Vestry Papers articles that have inspired and informed vestry members since 1995, Vital Practices uses the Internet to both expand its offering and its audience.
There is a good deal of material on the ECF site relevant to running an Episcopal parish. I must sheepishly admit that I haven’t read much of it, but then I am neither a priest nor a Vestry member. Apparently, a good place to start reading is the home page for the “Vestry Papers” section. The big topics on which you will find essays there include Administration, Buildings and Grounds, Communications, Conflict, Finance, Hospitality, Stewardship, Worship, and others.

One of the essays I found interesting on the site is by the retired Bishop of Maine and former St. Paul’s parishioner from long ago Chilton Knudsen. It is called “So You Think You Don’t Know One….” The essay is about addition, not simply in relation to pastoral care, but in relation to how members of a parish family treat one another. (Knudsen is a conflict mediator and is co-author of So You Think You Don’t Know One? Addiction and Recovery in Clergy and Congregations.) It is no secret, of course, that interactions in some parishes are healthier than in others. Knudsen enumerates unhealthy behavior, among them
  • Lack of transparency, secret-keeping (about many matters in congregational life)
  • A culture of manipulation and power-struggling
  • Image-obsession, relating to buildings, reputation, or prominence of congregation
  • Patterns of ignoring or suppressing new ideas and new possibilities
Likewise, she lists more desirable behavior, such as
  • Truth-telling (without scapegoating)
  • Entering a time of self-examination, in the form of reviews, leadership development, planning, discernment
  • Evaluating current policies and practices, and adopting of new ones
  • Adopting of methods of assuring accountability and mutual responsibility
Depressingly, her first list is longer than her second. The essay nonetheless makes interesting reading. Check it out.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Observations on the 10:30 Service, 6/26/2011

Neither Lou nor Kris was in church today, so the 10:30 service was the John and Mabel show. It was good to see John Thomas back in church after his recent operation. Mabel Fanguy gave a nice sermon on not being judgmental, which she based, somewhat surprisingly, on the story of God’s asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.

It was a good day for music. Bryan Sable played the prelude on the Clavinova—I was told the piano was out of tune—and played the postlude on the organ. Tenor Rich Williams sang “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people” from Handel’s Messiah at communion. The choir’s anthem was Doug Starr’s setting of former rector Bill Pickering’s “St. Paul’s Mission Prayer.” It’s too bad this prayer has fallen into disuse, as it touches all the important bases (I have taken some liberties with punctuation):
Almighty God, who has called us to be one body in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, send your Holy Spirit to encourage us to worship joyfully; teach the mighty acts of God; proclaim the news of Jesus; reach out with love and concern; and give our time, talent, and treasure to build the Kingdom of God; through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We began and ended the service with stirring hymns: Luther’s “A mighty fortress is our God” as the processional and Henry Emerson Fosdick’s “God of grace and God of Glory” as the recessional. (Everyone knows about Martin Luther. Fosdick deserves more fame—see my post of his most famous sermon.) We sang two less familiar though lovely hymns, “Put forth, O God, thy Spirit’s might” (#521 in the hymnal) and “Lord Jesus, think on me” (#641 in the hymnal). The words of the latter are worth reproducing here:

Lord Jesus, think on me,
and purge away my sin;
from harmful passions set me free,
and make me pure within.

Lord Jesus, think on me,
with care and woe oppressed;
let me thy loving servant be,
and taste thy promised rest.

Lord Jesus, think on me,
nor let me go astray;
through darkness and perplexity
point thou the heavenly way.

Lord Jesus, think on me,
that, when the flood is passed,
I may the eternal brightness see,
and share thy joy at last.

I was delighted that we sang the first hymn (“A mighty fortress”) without anyone’s announcing that we were going to sing it. As best as I could tell, everyone stood on cue and sang the hymn without instruction other than what appeared in the bulletin. Likewise, we sang the presentation hymn sans announcement. The congregation is apparently smarter than it’s given credit for.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Covenant Report

This afternoon, I posted on Lionel Deimel’s Web Log, my other personal blog, a post titled “Pittsburgh Diocese Unexcited by Covenant.” It deals with comments made by parishes concerning the Anglican Covenant. All parishes of the diocese were asked to hold discussions on the Covenant; only six did. They included neither Calvary nor St. Paul’s. That’s too bad, as adopting or not adopting the Covenant could have serious consequences for The Episcopal Church. If you want to see what other Pittsburgh Episcopalians said about the Covenant, read my post.

No Anglican Covenant

Get your No Anglican Covenant merchandise at the Farrago Gift Shop.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Room Numbers

We don’t use room numbers much at St. Paul’s. We talk about Kris’s office or the lounge or the conference room. Nonetheless, rooms do have numbers. In fact, most rooms seem to have two numbers. The pictures below illustrate the problem (click for a larger view):

Room numbers at St. Paul’s
The communications office is Room 21, or is it 214? The sixth grade Sunday School room is Room 32, or is it 309? The room that houses John Thomas and Sandy Ritchie is 26/225. Apparently, these two staff members don’t even rate a new door sign. I don’t know if Kids Word (or is it Kid’s Word or Kids’ Word?) meets in this room or not. (Aside: Today’s bulletin mentions child care and busy bags but says nothing about Kids Word. Is this a glitch in our welcoming program?)

Anyway, shouldn’t we give each room a single number? Mostly, we simply have to remove the old brass numbers from the doors. In some cases, we may need to update signs. Why hasn’t anyone attended to this problem, which has been with us for years?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Us and Them

Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral (London) and Director of the St. Paul’s Institute, wrote an interesting essay that appeared in Church Times yesterday. The essay is “When us-and-them can seem unwelcome.”

Fraser, of course, is associated with a famous church that, in many ways, is quite different from the average parish church, whether in the U.S. or the U.K. He explained that “85 per cent of the congre­gation are visitors.” I don’t know what the corresponding number might be at St. Paul’s on average, but I suspect that it is closer to 2 or 3 per cent.

Neither St. Paul’s Cathedral nor St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, has the “right” proportion of visitors in its congregation; the churches have different missions. Being responsible for greeting visitors to his cathedral has gotten Fraser to think more deeply about the welcoming procedures at places of worship, however:
For instance, I really don’t like being overly welcomed in church. Of course, I don’t want to be made to feel unwelcome, but I am not a fan of church greeters and similar meas­ures. While having the best of inten­tions, the message that they supply is often that the greeter (as a repre­sentative of the members of this local church) welcomes you (an outsider, visitor) to “our” church. When this happens to me, a little irritated voice in my head reflects that, although I have never been to this place before, it is as much my church as theirs.
Giles’ reactions gives us something to think about. Are we welcoming visitors to “our” church or to Christ’s church?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Ministers of the Church

Who are the Ministers of the Church?

That’s how the June 5 essay “The Ministers of the Church Are…” by Bishop Pierre W. Whalon begins. The question, as you may know, is from the Catechism in our prayer book (p. 855). And the answer given there is
The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.
Whalon, a former Pittsburgher who is now bishop in charge of the convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe and a frequent contributor to Anglicans Online, goes on to give his take on the proper roles of both laypeople and clergy.

Again quoting the Catechism, Whalon gives the official church postion on the ministry of the laity:
The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.
From this point of view—the correct one I think, St. Paul’s is correct in heading the staff listing in its weekly bulletin with
Ministers, The Entire Congregation.
What then are clergy all about if they are not the primary ministers of the Church?

To answer this question, Bishop Whalon eschews the specific laundry lists of duties in the Catechism for more abstract analysis. Using a corporate metaphor, he speaks of the laity as delivering the “goods and services” of the Church. He describes this as the “creative edge” of the organization, which has to be managed if it is to retain its effectiveness. “Some small fraction of the whole is called to serve the needs of the ministers of the church, so that they can be well-equipped for their work.” But, he warns, there is a danger. “Insofar as the churches have allowed their focus to move from investing in the creative edge, the ministry of the laity, to the management of an institution, i.e., the clergy, they have set themselves up for failure.”

Bishop Whalon sums up the task of the clergy this way: “The ordained ministry, of which episcopacy is the taproot, exists to serve the needs of the Church’s ministers.” Put another way, the job of the clergy is to empower the laity for ministry.

Application to St. Paul’s

Bishop Whalon’s essay led me to ask the question whether I thought St. Paul’s was equipping me (and other parishioners) for ministry. In some ways, it is. Lou’s series on homosexuality shortly after he came to St. Paul’s and the lay-led (but poorly attended) Saturday Bible Study come to mind. The Education for Ministry (EFM) program, which was recruiting students last Sunday, surely qualifies as a mechanism to empower lay ministry. (It, too, is lay-led.)

On the other hand, most people experience St. Paul’s most of the time in worship. The Eucharist surely provides “food for the journey,” as Father John is wont to say, but what about preaching? The sermon offers the most direct mechanism for providing support for mission. Unfortunately, our Episcopal tradition seems to downplay the importance of preaching, and St. Paul’s is well in line with that unfortunate tendency.

I cannot speak knowledgeably for other services, but I don’t generally feel empowered to carry out my mission as a Christian from listening to sermons at the 10:30 service. On Pentecost, for example, the emphasis was on our 175th anniversary and on being a welcoming congregation. Surely hospitality is part of ministry, but putting bodies in the pews is a narrow institutional view of the mission of the Church. As a worshiping Christian, I an looking for insights into how I should be living out the 167 hours allotted to me each week that I spend outside of church.

I am not suggesting that we need more preaching on doctrine to tell us what we should believe. Converts are seldom attracted by dogma. Instead, Christians are won primarily through how we live our lives and by what we stand for. “Christian” has come to be identified with tolerance for corporate corruption, education that teaches what is demonstrably false, limitations on speech and action, and taxing the poor to support the rich. In such an environment, what would Jesus have his followers do? Isn’t this the sort of question for which sermons should propose answers?

Of course, well-prepared ministers also need to know about the Bible and the Church. How many parishioners know that, for example, Paul did not write all the letters attributed to him, that the Bible contains many irreconcilable contradictions, and that there are other gospel books that were not accepted into the Christian canon? How many parishioners know that the doctrine of the Trinity is not set out in the Bible, that Christianity was more diverse in its first three centuries than it is now, or that the Church showed little interest in marriage for a thousand years, except possibly to discourage it?

I was perplexed on Sunday when Lou cited the two stories about the gift of the Holy Spirit and suggested that we could simply choose between them. A teachable moment passed, and some worshipers surely left the church confused over two stories that seemingly could not both be “true.” Those folks were not empowered for ministry.

I suspect that being “welcoming” at St. Paul’s includes avoiding giving offense to anyone. Sometimes, Christianity offers clear answers, but, sometimes, sincere Christians come to very different conclusions. (The abortion issue comes to mind.) Avoiding controversy, however, whether involving societal issues or theological ones, is not a means of empowering the laity for mission. A church that offers refuge from the world is avoiding mission, not facilitating it. We are in danger of being the lukewarm church of Laodocia spoken of in Revelation 3.

Parishioners should demand more challenging preaching at St. Paul’s. If worshipers leave the church arguing among themselves about what has been said, we will be showing signs of success in creating excitement about being Christian in a broken world.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost 2011

Today is Pentecost, and many worshipers at the 10:30 service wore red. From the chancel, in fact, one looked out on a sea of red. Appropriately, all the hymns were about the Church and the Holy Spirit:
  • “Hail thee, festival day!” (Hymnal 225)
  • “Come down, O Love divine” (Hymnal 516, to the lovely tune Down Ampney, by Ralph Vaughn Williams)
  • “The Church’s one foundation” (Hymnal 525, though, unfortunately, only the first two verses)
  • “O Holy Spirit, by whose breath” (Hymnal 501)
  • “Holy Spirit, ever living” (Hymnal 511)
“O Holy Spirit, by whose breath” was sung as a communion hymn. It was new to me, to the choir, and, likely, to the congregation. Unfortunately, we did not sing all of this hymn either. Both the words and music are exquisite. The words are an English paraphrase of Veni Creator Spiritus. The music is from the sixteenth century. Here is the hymn as it appears in our hymnal:

Hymn 501
The tune, played using slightly different rhythm, can be played blow.
If you find it difficult to appreciate the poetry from the hymnal page, you can read the words alone here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Watching the Kids Grow Up

One of the joys of being at St. Paul’s for many years is watching our young musicians mature. Over the years, I have seen a number of our children grow up to become professional musicians.

It was an e-mail message to the choir from Doug Starr that got me to thinking about this. Cellist Alexandra Thompson will be playing Bach and Purcell at this Sunday’s 10:30 service. Allie has just graduated from Cleveland Institute of Music and will play with the National Repertory Orchestra this summer. She then moves to Miami’s New World Symphony, whose music director is Michael Tilson Thomas.

I first remember Allie playing cello in church when she was about 12. She then played a cello that was not even full-size. (Allie wasn’t full size, either!) Her playing was impressive, and not only technically. She already played with with great sensitivity to the material she was working with. Over the years, Allie became more and more accomplished, and I found myself mesmerized both by listening to her and watching her play. (Cellists are much more fun to watch than violinists!)

That St. Paul’s offers opportunities for our youth to exercise their musical skills in church is, in itself, a ministry of our parish. That it is meaningful is illustrated in this story that Doug related in his e-mail:
My favorite “Allie story” happened during one summer of her high school years at the prestigious Interlochen music camp in Michigan. After hearing Allie expertly accompany Baroque music (as she will do in Sunday’s offertory anthem by Henry Purcell), playing the continuo bass line giving both foundations to the harmonies and providing a weaving solo bass line against those lines in the upper parts, her teacher asked where she learned to play continuo. “In church!” she gleefully answered, which should give us all pride in our support for a music ministry that gives glory to God in worship and thanksgiving for God’s blessings in our talented youth.
Worship at St. Paul’s at 10:30 Sunday, and you can hear and support Allie. Some day, you’ll want to say you knew her when ….

Update, 6/5/2011. Allie played two Bach pieces for unaccompanied cello in church today and accompanied the choir in Purcell’s “O God the King of Glory.” Below is a picture of her playing the Gigue from Bach’s Suite IV:

Alexandra Thompson at St. Paul’s, 6/5/2011