Means of Grace, Hope of Glory: A list of postings
Richard Baxter, the seventeenth-century Puritan, saw the “building up of the converted” to be of the greatest importance, and he particularly emphasized the care of the strong Christian, which is so often neglected. – From True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality, Kenneth Leech
Possibly the biggest gap in the training of clergy is our failure to help them develop a workable practical/ascetical theology. Clergy need a way of seeing the parish church as a system, and while systems theory from the behavioral sciences is useful in that regard, it isn’t enough. The need to for an understanding that grounds the parish church in the church’s self understanding.
"Often neglected" – four more reasons why rectors neglect the “strong Christian”
In addition to the two factors noted in the earlier post, here are a few more reasons why rectors neglect people of apostolic faith and practice
Every Monday at Evening Prayer the second reading is from Ken Leech’s True Prayer. Recently the reading included his comment about the importance of nurturing the faith and practice of the “strong Christian.”
There are two mistakes frequently made in parishes involving how we manage polarities in decision making.
I've just returned home from Evening Prayer. Four of us tonight; Bob K officiating, Mother Sara and Abbot Basil in the congregation. I read from John -- "I know my own and my own know me." Words about the ways of the Divine Charity. Maybe also about leadership in any sphere.
Most rectors and vicars experience it – people in line to greet you as they are coming out of church, they lean in and offer an idea to improve the parish, or someone we really need to visit, or a “small complaint” about the liturgy. During the week we receive emails, text messages, and informal conversations with ideas, suggestions, questions, concerns, advice, complaints, and wonderments. It's all overwhelming. And it's easy to feel resentful toward those offering these things.
The new rector knew he wanted to have a public daily office in the parish. As he came to understand the rhythms and geography of his parishioners he decided that the best time to do it was at noon Monday through Friday. That part was easy. No one was going to speak up against praying – “if some people feel a need for that.”
The hard part came when he insisted that the parish office close at noon for 25 minutes and that groups that had become accustom to meeting over lunch had to wait until after the Office to begin their work.
I see four broad ways in which parishes are doing adult formation — lecture, interesting conversation, experiential, and entertainment.
Experiential methods are going to have the most impact if we want people to develop Christian proficiency. They need the opportunity to actually try a practice and then in a disciplined manner reflect on, and learn from, the experience. That process is the one in which people can learn to engage the Eucharist, say the Daily Office, find effective ways of being reflective about life, participate in community and serve others.
What we need to look for in a parish priest
So, the new priest has started and the honeymoon is underway. That means the new vicar has some emotional space - right? The new rector will be given the benefit of the doubt - right? The new priest-in-charge will not be getting assessed by members - right?
Well .... The first two - right! The last one - wrong!
People are noticing and assessing immediately. They can't help it. They are having responses to what the new priest does and doesn't do. They notice that the new priest is warmer and friendlier than the last one. They notice the level of skill the new priest has in conducting meetings. There's a necessary, low level of trust offered in giving the benefit of the doubt. That begins to shift right away into a deeper trust (or mistrust) based on decisions being made and encounters experienced. Is the new vicar reliable, responsive, congruent, mutual and connected? Deeper levels of trust are built on those foundations
Sharing ourselves – TMI and TLI; personalness and openness
The parish community’s ability to develop trust in the new rector will in large part depend on how the priest shares his or her stories, feelings and thoughts.
In Part II I suggested that 90% of how the priest and congregation come to know one another is in two ways. First, how we manage the initial difficulties that arise in the relationship? And secondly, how we share ourselves, our stories, our feelings and thoughts? Here are a couple of ways of thinking about it.
It can be useful for people to hear that there are two broad ways of considering the tradition.
The tentacles of disappointment
I thought about how those thirteen priests and parishes were entering into the honeymoon. The honeymoon is not a time of deep trust. You can destroy the honeymoon within weeks. You can also attempt to manipulate the system to extend the honeymoon beyond its natural life. The phase of inflated hopes is necessary and will in most parishes unfold event by event. We don’t really know one another.
Soon enough we begin to know one another. Some of that will be done by the new vicar having meals and coffee with members. Early sermons may include parts of the priest’s story. There will be passing conversations at coffee hour and after weekday Offices and Masses. That’s all necessary. But it’s 10% of what will matter.
The other 90% comes in two ways.
She didn’t survive the honeymoon
I think about there being three broad phases in the initial relationship between priest and parish community.
Inflated hopes – Also called “the honeymoon.” The priest tells us how glad he is to be at Saint Mary’s and what a special place it is. We tell the priest we are delighted with his arrival and certain he will provide what we need for this next step on our journey. The focus is on the positive. We give one another the benefit of the doubt. We allow for mistakes. We excuse errors.
It’s an Anglo-Catholic parish. A dispute has developed over whether to use incense at all primary liturgies (9 and 11 am). It’s a debate that erupts in some parishes during times of transition or stress. The debate usually takes shape along these lines -- "there are some people in the parish who are allergic to incense and therefore we should not use it." The response may be, "we have used incense for many years and that is part of the tradition here at Saint Mary's." There are variations on and cases to make related to each position.
To get collaboration you need a positional leader and a critical mass of people with the required skills and the stance. Possibly the most important skill is learning how to seek the positive and underlying concerns of the parties involved instead of jumping to a position.
I invite you to join members of the Order of the Ascension in silence this week. In the joyful and unsettling silences of tomorrow’s Eucharist I hope you’ll remember Fr. Ken Leech.
Ken died this past Saturday (September 12). In recent times Ken has been part of the Eucharistic community at St Chrysostom’s in Manchester. Fr Chris Hartley, one of the curates, gave him the last rites a few hours before he died.
May his soul, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Some new Anglican Christians have a longing for holiness. They enter the parish seeking to become different and better persons. As the months go by they face two temptations.
The first temptation is a longing for an unattainable purity. The longing may be focused on themselves or on the church. They are so excited and invested in the Christian enterprise that hope may outrun reality.
The second is cynicism. As they spend more time in their parish church they begin to see the flaws of people and of the church as a whole. Feelings of discouragement can set in that undercut the new Christian’s progress.
Saint Benedict knew something about shaping a Christian community.
When a parish engages Benedictine spirituality it can feel like returning home. What was partial and veiled is now fuller and revealed. It’s an experience of what we learned in early strategic planning (pay more attention to your strengths and opportunities than to your weaknesses and the threats) and Appreciative Inquiry’s insights about building upon what you do well. It’s part of our DNA. Something to be accepted and in this case embraced.
On our ethos and on doing the daily office -- I know some of you are working at communicating the ethos of your parish. Expressing an ethos that is both firmly grounded in Anglican (and Benedictine) spirituality and unique for that parish community can increase loyalty and reduce conflict.
The Chinese government has a law against “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” It uses the law to suppress dissent and undercut the development of civil society. Given the country's history it's understandable for leaders to be concerned about maintaining harmony. Our St. Benedict had the same concern for harmony. He wanted no grumbling in the monastery.
The problem comes when we maintain harmony and neglect taking counsel.
There will always be grumbling in the parish. Always.
I suspect that the reason Saint Benedict wrote so much about grumbling was because there was so much of it in the monastic community. I doubt Benedict ever believed it would stop. I do think he had a few useful ideas about how to contain it and reduce the damage it did. He also seemed to know how to harness the energy of it for the well being of the community. Some containing and a lot of harnessing of energy might be useful for our parish churches.
Is it really necessary for those in the parish of Apostolic faith and practice, and those progressing toward that, to go outside the parish for food? When that happens our parishes lose something of the grounding these people can provide for parish life.
Whenever anything important is to be done in the monastery, the abbot shall call the whole community together and explain what the business is; and after hearing the advice of the brothers, let him ponder it and follow what he judges the wiser course. (Rule of Saint Benedict Chapter 3:1-2) I’m assuming that our parish churches would benefit if the rector and vestry did more face-to-face consultation with the whole community?
Our need is to keep conflicts at low levels. We want the tensions to be at levels that permit the parish to better generate and harness productive energy arising from the parish’s hopes, expectations, new ideas and existing challenges. This involves helping leaders establish processes, structures and a climate that allow these normal and inevitable sources of tension and energy to enrich the life and ministry of the parish instead of moving into depression or destructive conflict.
Don’t go on the attack. Don’t get pissy with the other person. Allow your feelings to be what they are and manage them. Put a guard on your tongue. Pray for the person offending you. Forgive before they ask for forgiveness. Don’t seek apologies before being willing to let go. Better yet, don't seek apologies. Find the lightness in yourself. Above all pause. And then pause again.
The parish had a major conflict several years ago. People left. The rector resigned. Friends were on opposite sides. It was awful!
Attempts to “talk about it” have generally resulted in a reactivation of all the feelings and positions that existed during the dispute. So, the parish has settled into a norm of not having any conversation about what happened.
It's difficult to manage a parish conflict when too many people are taking side trips.
Side trips are flights from the actual situation in front of us. They are called into play in high level conflict when our anxiety has the best of us. Instead of staying with the very difficult work at hand we flee into illusions where we truly know the "truth" about what's happening and have more control. It helps us feel better. Like a tranquilizer.
Conflict at any level rises out of a competition. Two groups or two individuals each wanting something that is in competition with the needs or wants of the other. This is true at all levels of conflict whether we just have a problem to solve or we face an intractable situation.
The danger for the parish system is that this competition becomes a win-lose struggle.
The parish conflict has moved to level 4 or 5. There have been blow ups and people are moving among the standard options -- terminate ("I have to get out of this place," withdraw (emotionally, physically - "It's just too painful"), fantasize ("can't we just go back to the way it was?").
Lines have been drawn. Positions stated and misunderstood by the opponents. Informal contact reduced, maybe non existent. Outside parties are being drawn into the fight--Bishop's, parishioners, maybe even the newspaper [At General Theological Seminary - students, alumni, PB, Episcopal Cafe, the New York Times]
With the announcement of the rector’s departure there emerges two broad pathways for the parish—acceptance or denial. The acceptance pathway accepts the complexity of feelings and tasks. There is anxiety and excitement, grief and anticipation. There’s a kind of balance.
The denial pathway is focused on anxiety. People avoid their feelings and consider various forms of withdrawal as a way to manage their anxiety.
Related - Worship that swept us off our feet
Worship that swept us off our feet
So what’s transferable?
Small issues with large consequence
Instinctual and intuitive leadership
The role of the bishop and the diocese
Saint Paul’s, Seattle: the search process #1
There’s a task for the parish church—the creation of a “free space.” Space in which people might find their place in the Body and grow in holiness of life.
How are we to make such a space in parish churches?
I think the point of the Ascension is two-fold
First – Accept responsibility for your life and your world.
Second – There is, in God, peace, love, harmony and justice. Accept that even with all your best efforts and those of millions of others – you will not bring complete peace, harmony, love and justice to the world or even fully to your own life. That is in God’s time and God’s way.
Keep your church from discouragement in the day of small things, knowing that when you have begun a good work you will bring it to a faithful conclusion.
Don't allow your feelings to control your spiritual life!
That leads onto the idea of basing our spiritual life in a spiritual discipline that we establish for ourselves.
- Power from the Center Pervades the Whole Pervades the Whole
- The stream of redemptive power
- No one Christian way to run a country
- A hallmark of Anglicanism
This is about the emotional climate we create in how we introduce and persist with changes. It's not about the clergy and musicians having their way about some liturgical element. It is about shaping a parish into its own best and healthiest self. The emotional and spiritual core of a parish will either be held by the more mature people or by the complainers.
The Order of the Ascension has recently revised its formation process. Some of you may find it of use in your own thinking about the formation of parish priests and those in other roles that support the work of parish revitalization. A few may be called to enter the discernment process for membership.
I asked three members of the Order of the Ascension to write a few paragraphs about the impact that being a member had on their lives—and one was a priest, and one was a bishop, and one was a financial compliance officer/consultant.
Today is the Feast Day of Blessed Allan Rohan Crite. He was an Anglo Catholic, African American artist. He died on this day in 2007. ... In 1988 Crite produced an image of Christ as the High Priest holding the bread and chalice in the midst of the City of Trenton (NJ). He made 244 copies for Saint Michael’s Church. We sold the prints to develop a small fund that was used to offer a Compassion and Justice Award each year.
There’s a standard sermon about Mary and Martha. Martha is about doing something, engaging in good works, and helping people. Mary is about being still and listening, giving ourselves to prayer and piety. Martha is about action. Mary is about contemplation. One thinker suggested that Martha is about loving the neighbor and Mary about loving God.
So far, so good. They serve well enough as images for two aspects of the spiritual life. Then we go off the rails into customer service religion. The preacher tells a spiritual lie—“We need both the activist and the contemplative. God calls some to the one and some to the other.”
Well, maybe it’s not quite a lie, more a spiritual half-truth and an avoidance of the whole truth.
There are three primary assumptions in an Anglican approach to Christian action.
1) Civic involvement is a good thing.
2) The primary way in which the church carries out this ministry is in the daily life of the baptized member.
3) The more our action flows from a life of prayer the more faithful and useful the action will be.
An invitation to remember, celebrate and act
During the next three years the Parish of Saint Clement of Rome, Seattle, will weave into its liturgical life times of recollection in regard to the events 50 years ago.
Those years are holy years. They were a time in which the eternal cause for human dignity was focused in the American struggle for voting rights, jobs, and equal treatment.
We invite you to join us.
· Come to St. Clement’s and join us in common prayer
· Add these times of recollection to your own parish calendar
· Invite parishioners to recall these days as they say the Daily Office
· Take some action to advance voting rights, jobs, and equal treatment for those facing oppression and injustice
Parish churches get healthier when they begin to live into their own true self. That “true self” consists of elements that are already strong and valuable. Often there are other elements that are of the larger and wider tradition that the parish has lost connection with.
Both the “warm and welcoming” parish and the Anglo Catholic parish need an appreciative strategy for what they already do well. They require an enriching strategy with lots of experiential training and hands on coaching so they might ground themselves in a more Benedictine spirituality. Affirm and build upon the particular, introduce and import the more universal and ancient.
Independence Day 2013: Piety and the Unfinished Work
The behaviors are outward and visible actions that are connected to inward realities. An outcome of piety is warm duty rather than cold duty. Things visible related to things invisible. They express a stance and attitude. Richard Holloway, one-time Presiding Bishop of Scotland, saw piety as, "A kind of fondness or love, a recognition of what you owe the land that bred you." ... In many cases the problem is that the clergy simply don't know how to address what they face. Many are doing the best they can. Many work very hard. But they lack three broad things that would give them a way forward.
Two misleading mental models on leadership
There are a number of mental models about leadership that undercut some priests and bishops. Here are two.
1. They will do more if I do less
2. It's possible to have a human system without a hierarchy
Turning a Congregation into an Audience
Ten steps toward producing dependency and passivity
The Christian Life Model
The four most common mistakes. In each case there is something useful the person is trying to get at.
Glory in holy living and divine mission
This fear of Glory shows itself in our hesitation about or resistance to reverence in worship and in life. It also is seen in our difficulty with speaking the truth with honesty and humility or in listening to things we don't want to hear.The needed conversations require a humble frankness and receptive listening. Much of the conversation we see is rationalization of our fear and an avoidance of the Glory in holy living and the divine mission.
Worship that swept us off our feet
How can most of our parishes become healthy, faithful, growing communities?
Our talks weren't really about "look what we've done at St. Paul's" but what can most parishes do to revitalize their life? We were seeking to name the attitudes, knowledge and skills that others could make use of in efforts of parish development. We were using what has happened at St. Paul's as a way of grounding the discussion. We
were naming the habits of renewal.
What I'm sharing now is a glimpse, a few thoughts based on those conversations and my own experience. This is not a systematic attempt to present how we might go about revitalizing most of our congregations; it's more of a foretaste.
Worship that swept us off our feet
So what's transferable?
Small issues with large consequence
Instinctual and intuitive leadership
The role of the bishop and the diocese
Introducing the Daily Office into a parish's DNA
Two responses - introducing the Office is pretty simple: offer some training and resources. Getting it into the DNA is trickier, and much more complex
Conversations parishes need to have: Three Things
As a parish moves into decline it's common to see a cycle between hyperactivity and passivity. This can begin when the parish is still relatively stable but things have become static. This stagnant condition is self-reinforcing. We get use to it. We spend energy fussing over small things and are somehow unable to have sustained, fruitful
conversations about making needed changes.
A reflection on the baptized person’s cycle between renewal and apostolate
"And what most feeds my ability to carry that vocation into the world, week after week, and day after day, is my participation in the Eucharist and in the daily prayers of the Church. I attend worship to renew and rediscover my identity as God’s own and to restore the inner resources I need to go back out to do the work I have been given to do."
Twelve assumptions on the spiritual life
1. We all have a spiritual life.
2. It is a significant act of spiritual growth when we accept responsibility for our spiritual life.
Coffee hour: to the glory of God and the sanctification of the parish community
There are two activities that make up the routine "common life" of most parishioners— Sunday Eucharist and coffee hour. They are also the standard entry points for new members.
So let's do coffee hour well. It doesn't have to be five stars, four will do. Three stars is unacceptable but sadly the norm in many parishes.
The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life
Explore the map of spiritual life that Henri Nouwen offers in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. Along with theBenedictine Promise his three movements of the spiritual life is one of the most useful resources for understanding and assessing the spiritual dynamics of a parish church as well as in the life of individual baptized person
The "People's Procession" to Communion
Given the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives—and in our parishes—I've been reflecting on a basic question: how do folks get from the pews to the altar for communion, and what are the formation implications in how that
happens? In my experience, this one issue—which can seem sort of trivial on the surface—gets at a whole host of assumptions about dependency, competence, and formation.
the world itself begins to turn into renewal
Many parishes struggle with where to give their attention. We try to manage our fears and our passions. Parish sub-groups press their interest upon the whole wanting more people to attend their programs and more money to use. The budget is made by now, or not.
What can a parish church do?
When faced with events such as the Sandy Hook shootings, what can a parish church do?
The first responses are rather obvious – if you're the parish in that town you comfort the afflicted, you bury the dead, you grieve with those who grieve. If you are someplace else, you show solidarity, you change the sermon you had planned, you listen to the anxious, and you sing the names of the departed in the Prayers of the People.
And we cry.
Not a nice man but a kind man
Niceness, being nice, is seen by many as a kind of virtue; maybe as a kind of spiritual gift and practice. There are two errors here.
How does commitment really work? Part One: The Content
How does it work? How do we get the commitment we need from people to accomplish what we need to do in the parish? Even more importantly, how do we build commitment for the inner life, for spiritual practice, for
compassion and justice?
Passion and Articulation
In our parish meeting with the Bishop, there was no lack of love for the Episcopal Church or for our parish. There was obvious commitment and energy about this particular way of being a Christian. But there was little common language, and little common understanding of how we might share it with others. That common language and understanding will not spring forth spontaneously. It requires careful strategy and specific action by parish leaders.
Things that go bump in the night
Not so much about dying. Many of us know something about that. Maybe it's about whether new life is possible. I loved one of the questions put to the Bishop. It was something like, "What does `the new' look like?"
Yes, the old is dying. We get that. But "what does `the new' look like?" And if that's what it looks like "do we want to live there?" And even if we might be willing to live there, "How do we get from here to there?"
The Parish Church: worship, building up the living, and remembering the dead
There's a relationship that grows among the three elements of members, the property, especially the sacred space, and a vicariously related population of people who are not of the congregation, but are of the parish. There's a dynamic set loose by the interdependence of the three that we can understand and engage through Benedictine spirituality.
For most of the baptized, the week-by-week, day-by-day, fulfillment of the prayer takes place in relation to their parish church -- what is experienced in its worship and life and what through that Eucharistic life is revelaed about all of life.