Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Saturday
Nov162013

The Church’s Influence in Society

How might a parish church influence society?

Below is material from two sources touching on the question.

From draft material -- Interventions: Methods and Processes for Developing Healthier Parishes by Michelle E. Heyne & Robert A. Gallagher, Ascension Press. Anticipated release in 2014

Power from the Center Pervades the Whole Pervades the Whole [i]

In Light the Dark Streets, Kilmer Myers wrote, “One of the main tasks of the parish priest is to train the militant core of his parishioners in such a way that they understand as fully as possible the true nature of a Christian parish.” He understood the importance of that core group. There need to be people of Apostolic faith at the center of each parish. 


Health in the parish church is finally measured not by extraordinary acts of prayer and service but by ordinary and routine acts. The call is to proficiency, a capable efficiency, a baseline ability to participate in the core spiritual practices of the Anglican tradition. 

The process is one of immersion not possession. The parish is a community in which the baptized are soaked in the ways of holiness; and being so saturated, the Spirit’s ways fill us, and seep into and pervade our lives.

The prayer of the Apostolic—those at the center—streams outward, flowing through the parish, touching members in seen and unseen ways. 

In a healthy parish, members are caught up in the stream—some swim regularly in the currents, some stand near the shore, others find stepping stones that permit them to approach the depths from a safe distance. But the stream is where members are drawn and where attention is focused in the search for refreshment. 

How is it that the parish influences society? How does the parish have an impact upon the daily lives of men and women?

This principle of things flowing from a source was picked up by William Temple and applied to the church’s impact on society—“the stream of redemptive power flows out from the church through the lives of its members into the society which they influence.” (What Christians Stand for in the Secular World)

Pope John XXIII said this about the laity:

Here once more We exhort Our sons to take an active part in public life, and to work together for the benefit of the whole human race, as well as for their own political communities. It is vitally necessary for them to endeavor, in the light of Christian faith and with love as their guide, to ensure that every institution whether economic, social, cultural or political, be such as not to obstruct but rather to facilitate man's self betterment, both in the natural and in the supernatural order… And yet, if they are to imbue civilization with right ideals and Christian principles, it is not enough for Our sons to be illumined by the heavenly light of faith and to be fired with enthusiasm for a cause; they must involve themselves in the work of these institutions, and strive to influence them effectively from within.[ii]        

________________________________
[i] In Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation Martin Thornton presented his understanding of the parish church as the Body of Christ, “the complete Body in microcosm,” and his Remnant Concept, “in which power from the center pervades the whole.” The holiness and love of a Remnant at the center of parish life is for Thornton what makes a parish a true parish

[ii]  Pacem in Terris.  Encylical of Pope John XXIII on Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity, and Liberty.  April 11, 1963.  

                  ---------------------------------------------------

From Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church. Robert A. Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008

This book focuses on the dynamics and vocation of the parish church. Within that arena the primary way in which the church influences society is through the lives of the baptized as they play their roles in families, with friends, in the workplace and in civic life. To a lesser extent a parish may also have an impact as an institution by how it invests its funds, uses its purchasing power, and educates its members, and engages in corporate ministries of service.

The wider church, in convention, frequently takes positions on issues facing the region and nation and may form vehicles to act in support of those positions. What are some of the principles upon which the church might base those statements as it attempts to influence government and other institutions? Here’s a sampling from a few Anglican thinkers.

The stream of redemptive power

In Christianity and Social Order, in 1942 William Temple wrote that what he was offering were not “an expression of a purely personal point of view but represent the main trend of Christian social teaching.” He suggested considerations such as these:

  • The world...results from His love; creation is a kind of overflow of the divine love.”
  • “The aim of a Christian social order is the fullest possible development of individual personality in the widest and deepest possible fellowship.”
  • In a chapter on “How Should the Church Interfere?” he began with an affirmation of the lay apostolate. “Nine-tenths of the work of the Church in the world is done by Christian people fulfilling responsibilities and performing tasks which in themselves are not part of he official system of the Church at all.”  In a later work, Temple wrote of the organic reality of the Body, “the stream of redemptive power flows out from the church through the lives of its members into the society which they influence.” (What Christians Stand for in the Secular World)
  • “It is of crucial importance that the Church acting corporately should not commit itself to any particular policy. A policy always depends on technical decisions concerning the actual relations of cause and effect in the political and economic world; about these the Christian has no more reliable judgment than an atheist…”
  • His answer to how the church should interfere had three parts: 1) through its members fulfilling “their moral responsibilities and functions in a Christian spirit;” 2) its members exercising their civic rights in a Christian spirit; and 3) offering its members “a systematic statement of principles” to guide the first two.
  • Cautious about utopian approaches. “...no one really wants to live in the ideal state as depicted by anyone else.”
  • “The art of government in fact is the art of so ordering life that self-interest prompts what justice demands.”
  • Every child should “find itself a member of a family housed with decency and dignity” without having to face lack of food or conditions that are overcrowded, dirty or drab, and “have the opportunity of an education…as to allow for his peculiar aptitudes and make possible their full development.” Every citizen should have an income to “enable him to maintain a home and bring up children,” “have a voice in the conduct of the business or industry which is carried on by means of his labor,”  “have sufficient daily leisure with two days rest in seven,”  “have assured liberty in the forms of freedom of worship, of speech, of assembly.” “The resources of the earth should be used as God’s gifts to the whole human race, and used with due consideration for the needs of the present and future generations.”

No one Christian way to run a country

In The Christian Moral Vision (1979), Earl Brill offered these comments on influencing public policy

  • “It is difficult to talk about ‘Christian’ public policy because there is no one Christian way to run a country. There is no political program which all the faithful ought to support.”
  • “There are, however, some Christian presumptions concerning public policy. They would include a concern for social justice; a bias in favor of the poor, the oppressed, the outsider; a commitment to the solidarity of the whole human family; an investment in the freedom of individuals to develop their own gifts and interests; and a commitment to equal treatment under the law.”
  • On work – “.. all God’s children should have  a chance to work … society itself has an obligation to provide work for everyone.”. Work can be seen as vocation with its opportunities to serve others and “ can enable us to express that creative urge within ourselves that is the image of God.” Leisure – “… leisure is also good. It also affords an opportunity to express our creativity. In leisure we also imitate God, who, after he had created the `world, rested on the seventh day.” Labor unions – “represent legitimate expressions of the corporate concerns of American workers. … They have conferred a measure of dignity upon the worker who can assert, through the union, the right to bargain on equal terms with the employer.”

A hallmark of Anglicanism

 In the Christian Social Witness (2001) by Harold Lewis

  • “Does not God want us to show the same love and compassion for others that he has shown to us? … The concept that we call ‘human rights’ is basically grounded in our belief that God places value on each person. The recognition of one another’s human rights is the cornerstone of justice, which in turn is grounded in love. We are, therefore, called upon to as Christians to uphold and execute justice as an expression of the love that God holds for all of us.”
  • He raises a concern about a dynamic within the Episcopal Church that seems to undermine our social witness. “A glance at General Convention resolutions over the past two or three decades revels that the church has flitted from one concern to another.”
  • A commitment to social justice has always been a hallmark of Anglicanism. . ." (p. 33).

 

Michelle E. Heyne & Robert A. Gallagher

On the Feast of Margaret, Queen of Scotland, 1093

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Friday
Nov082013

Changes in the Liturgy

I want to explore the process of making liturgical changes and its impact on the parish’s spiritual and emotional maturity.

Let me offer a story

The parish has an excellent choir. There’s a core of professional musicians, mostly not members, and a few others from within the congregation. The resulting music is beautiful.

The liturgy is generally sung. This has been true for many years. This includes the congregation’s singing of most of the usual elements of the Eucharist—Gloria/Kyrie, Sanctus, and the Benedictus. Singing the Creed has been the one surprising exception. The rector, in consultation with the choir director, decided to begin singing the Creed.

It was introduced on a Sunday with a brief rehearsal of the congregation.

Over the next few weeks it was apparent that people were having a difficult time learning the setting. It’s not clear to what extent the rector or choir director noticed this. There were no additional rehearsals; no acknowledgment of the difficulty, and it took several weeks before the mass setting music was printed in the Sunday leaflet.

Then a couple of people complained to the rector. The rector started thinking about giving up on it. As I understand it no one came to the rector with anything positive to say about the change.

Then there was a meeting of about ten members around an important environmental ministry issue.

Before the meeting began one person said to group: "How do you feel about singing the Creed?"

First response: "At first I found it hard. Now I'm starting to get it."

      Heads nod in agreement.

Other person says" "I like singing it a lot more than saying it."

      Heads nod in agreement.

Not one word of complaint from anyone in the group.

Also, no one reports the conversation to the rector. In fact it appears that no one even considered saying something to the rector. After a bit another priest in the parish heard about it and passed that onto the rector.

The 101 of change strategy about such things

1. It takes time to develop the new needed competence. Most people don't like feeling incompetent. When they begin to learn a new skill they need encouragement, appreciation, rehearsal, and coaching. Depending on the difficulty of the change there may be a need for quite a bit of all this, especially rehearsals for music and training for liturgical actions and presence. And with it all, follow up coaching. In many parishes we confuse the impact of the competence of the choir with music or the competence of the servers for liturgy with the congregation’s sense of confidence and proficiency for singing and Eucharistic practice. The first will not substitute for the second.

2. Congregations have people who tend toward complaining and others who tend to a stance of "I'll be cooperative and try to make things work." Clergy hear from the first and not the second unless structured, formal conversation processes are used. There is a special skill in using such processes effectively.

3. It makes all change more difficult when parish leaders fail to stay with a change long enough for the new skill to be learned and the practice to feel normative.

4. One aspect of the above is that those who are trying to "make things work" end up feeling cut off at the knees when we back away from the change. They are then hesitant to be supportive in the future. 

5. The result is a parish in which the least cooperative, least mature and biggest complainers control the emotional climate. 

Stay with it

This is to expand upon #3.

If you believe they will “get it” your leadership responsibility is to help them stay with it.

During the 1990’s I was the vicar of a congregation that used a liturgy that was an integrated mix of Rite 2 (modified), a lot of silence, shared homilies, jazz, and communal dance (sort of like Jewish or Greek line dancing). Surprisingly it all came together in a manner that was appropriate for that community and fed their souls.

We were experimenting with hymns and songs that could be used as a communion hymn. Because we received communion as we stood around the altar in a circle the lyrics needed to be from memory.

We picked up on the refrain in Tracy Chapman’s “All That You Have is Your Soul.”

Don't be tempted by the shiny apple 
Don't you eat of a bitter fruit 

Hunger only for a taste of justice 

Hunger only for a world of truth 

'Cause all that you have is your soul

Here she is on Saturday Night Live in 1989 - All That You Have Is Your Soul  and in 2009 

While this may have been one of the most edgy, progressive, and open congregations in the church, it was like any other group of people in a community. They could be very resistive to change.

They started out receptive. I asked that those willing gather around the piano during coffee hour and allow Becca, the parish musician, to teach them the song. They were very cooperative.

But after a few weeks it was clear that the song wasn’t easy for some people. The grumbling and murmuring started. A couple of weeks later, Becca came to me and said she was ready to give up. I was tempted. But my sense of it was that they were close to getting it. So, I asked her and them to stay with it. I didn’t make any promise that if they did that for a time I’d agree to let go. Within another three weeks they had it.

Most of you know what came next. A year later we tried to introduce a short hymn as something to alternate with the “All That You Have is Your Soul.”  Grumbling, murmuring, even outrage. It all calmed down and they picked up on the new piece. It helped that this was a rather reflective community with a sense of humor about itself.

I think that “staying with it” had a few significant outcomes in the parish.

-People ended up feeling good about themselves and each other.

-Their confidence in my leadership increased

-Having experienced success in the one change later changes were easier for people

Introducing change requires all the traditional virtues, especially persistence and courage, and in terms of contemporary emotional intelligence it calls for self-awareness and social awareness. Wisdom might be useful too. Leaders need to see the difference between persistence and stubbornness.

Of course if there had been substantial underlying tensions or destructive congregational behavior patterns it would not have gone so well. This was a rather small change. But small changes can become the vehicle for big fights. Three things to especially watch out for:

1)   When there already a high level of tension between the clergy and lay leaders

2)   When there is a small group of members willing to damage the congregation’s harmony because they “must” have their way. (This is the “Being so Right that You’re Wrong Phenomena”)

3)   When over a long period of time, with several different clergy, there is a pattern in the parish of troubles between clergy and lay leaders.

That doesn’t mean don’t make any changes but it does mean, “take more care.” Wisdom!

Change methods that work include:

1. Understanding that you are helping people learn a new skill. That once they get the new skill they feel good about themselves and the new way becomes normal.

2. That you need to stay with any liturgical change that has a solid rationale for at least 6 months. 

3. That it often helps for people to experience some level of choice. So, if you are introducing something like singing the creed (no choice in that), you can provide choice about the setting to be used. Have those willing gather early some Sunday and try out different settings. Note: The assumption about what in behavioral science is known as "free choice" is that it is based on experience and information. So there is no "free choice" if people have never tried singing the creed. If after doing it for six months there is a survey and discussion, and people overwhelmingly say to drop singing the Creed, they may be liturgically "wrong" but it is informed "free choice."

 

The Episcopal Church shares, with Roman Catholics and many Lutherans, the ancient practice of singing the Mass settings -- Gloria, Nicene Creed, and Sanctus. There are some parishes that drifted into a practice of singing all except the Creed. So, in recent years many of those parishes have started to sing the Creed. It's recovering the traditional practice even if it seems "new."    There are at least three reasons why singing the Creed is an important practice to reintroduce in those parishes -- 1) Beauty; 2) it makes it easier for younger new members and those experiencing doubt, and 3) humility.

Singing the Eucharist as a congregation is an act of beauty. Once we learn how to do it something begins to work in our soul; a kind of release, a peacefulness, and maybe, by grace a sense of being part of something ancient and wonderful.

Bishop James Pike once said that when he had difficulty saying the Creed he found he could still sing it. On a blog comment about how it was easier to be receptive and open and when said it all became a bit literal sounding. As though we were pledging allegiance to something (which misses the point of the Creed). Some parishes report that new, younger members seem to find this approach helpful.

Increasing spiritual and emotional maturity 

My concern in this posting isn’t really about singing the Creed or not singing the Creed. It’s about how in the process of making changes a parish both shows its maturity and also has an opportunity to increase its maturity

We grow in humility as we allow ourselves to be open to spiritual practices that are grounded in the traditions of the church. The call is to patience and perseverance. We are to "try it" for several months. We are to give ourselves to make it work; for the good of the parish as well as for our own spiritual health. We are changed for the better when we decide to set aside our inclination to grumble and murmur and we try to make things work.[i]

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. And the complainers, what Benedict wrote of as "grumblers," are not offered the opportunity to grow if the environment of the parish nurtures the worst part of them. 

rag+


[i] I’m assuming that we are speaking of changes that are thoughtful, grounded in our tradition and useful in contemporary life rather than the faddish changes some clergy are so inclined to promote. 

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Friday
Oct252013

Order of the Ascension: The development of parish churches

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. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Susan Latimer, OA: feeds my soul—feeds my mind

I made my profession to the Order of the Ascension in May of 2011, but my journey to the Order began about ten years ago when I began CDI (Church Development Institute ) training.  The congregational development training that I received through CDI, and the associated lab training through LTI has continued to inspire my life and ministry.  With this background, I am able to use tools from organization development and psychology that are geared towards our Anglican polity and spirituality.  

Joining the Order of the Ascension became a logical and organic extension of my development as a parish priest and a congregational development practitioner.  Being a member of this dispersed order, wherein each member practices their ministry separately but remains connected to the whole, grounds me in Anglican spiritual practices that enhance the health of individuals and parishes.  The Order feeds my soul with our annual retreats, mutual spiritual direction, and prayer and care for one another.  The Order feeds my mind with ongoing continuing education as a part of our common life:  from reading a book together (The Nearness of God, Mother Julia Gatta ),  to utilizing tools such as Myers-Briggs and FIRO-B to learn more about my personal leadership style and the way I function in groups, as well as to analyze how our members work together as a group.  The Order feeds my heart with a vision for ministry that I embrace and hope to embody.

Susan is the rector of St. Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church, Temple Terrace Florida


Scott Benhase, OA: They have loved me and stayed connected to me 

The Order of the Ascension has shaped my priesthood for the 25 years I have been a member. Since becoming a bishop of the Church nearly four years ago, I continue to benefit from both the community and the disciplines by which we live. The Order has helped me develop greater capacity and competency as I participate in community, to understand myself better in my role in a particular group, and to appreciate the multi-layered (and often quite complex) dynamics in play whenever any group is formed and sets out to accomplish its tasks. The Order has helped me be proactive rather than reactive around my leadership in the mission of the Church.

This capacity and competency has come through the training I’ve received with the Order as part of our shared values and our expectations of one another. There have been countless times over the years when I have walked into a hostile vestry meeting or a tense meeting with a group of clergy that I have realized the benefits of my being part of the Order. While on those occasions I have been disappointed, sometimes even disgusted, with what some people see as acceptable behavior in the Church, I have rarely felt ill-equipped to deal with the situation or at a loss for understanding why certain dynamics played out the way they did.

Most of all, the Order has grounded me in the catholic faith through Benedictine practice. I’ve experienced God’s grace embodied in my sisters and brothers in the Order. They have loved me and stayed connected to me often in spite of myself and far beyond what I have deserved. We all need regular reminders that God’s one-way love is real in this world. Those reminders occasionally show up in the books we read, or in the movies we see, or in a particular experience we have had, but those reminders have always showed up for me in my sisters and brothers in the Order. 

Scott is the Bishop, of the Diocese of Georgia

Michelle Heyne, OA: renewal and maturation in my own baptismal identity and vocation 

My introduction to the Order of the Ascension came early in my CDI training.  I had found CDI extremely powerful and was attracted to the idea of continuing to have connection with people who would share that perspective on parish development.  One of the consequences of getting intensive training was figuring out that many people have strong opinions about parish health but those opinions don’t necessarily stem from actual knowledge of either organizational dynamics or sound pastoral and ascetical theology.  I thought it might be cool to hang out with Episcopalians who knew about both.

As a lay person whose apostolate is clearly church-focused I also experienced some stalls and bumps and I worked through how to be an effective voice in my own parish in spite of what I saw as some institutional and personal barriers to participation for non-clergy.  It would have been easy for me to shift into snarky distance or unhelpful agitation, but OA grounded me in the disciplines of the Church, and also provided structured opportunities to consider my life with committed brothers and sisters able to offer both challenge and support.  The result for me has been a greater willingness to be more measured, more persistent, more thoughtful, and I hope more effective.

Working as a consultant can be a lonely business and takes a lot out of me personally, both when consultations seem unproductive or difficult and when they seem quite fruitful.  I have to find ways to shore up my own sources of resilience and to be intentional about methods of getting better without lapsing too much into paralyzing perfectionism.  The renewal I experience with OA is critical to that process.  It helps me reconnect to the rhythms of daily prayer in community, of learning quite literally how to bring my own voice into harmony with the voices around me. 

It also helps me consider the issues in front of me—those in my parish, those in the wider church, those in my work, and those in my personal life—through the lens of the Benedictine Promise.  OA’s shared commitment to Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life, and the Order’s shared understandings about the value and health of the parish church, are for me invaluable frameworks for an ongoing renewal and maturation in my own baptismal identity and vocation.

Michelle is a principle and managing director of Precedent Consulting

 

My comment -

I see a thread in all three pieces. Each mentions how the Order has shaped their spiritual life and has helped increase their competence for the ministry of parish development.  

That’s why the Order of the Ascension exists. It is our way of serving Christ and his church.

For more on the formation process:

The Promise and Our Charism

Becoming a Member 

Formation

 

 

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Friday
Sep062013

A Compassion and Justice Award

Today is the Feast Day of Blessed Allan Rohan Crite.[i]

He was an Anglo Catholic, African American artist. He died on this day in 2007.

I think Allan Crite[ii] was possibly the most significant artist of the Episcopal Church in the past 100 years. One of his gifts was an ability to illustrate a relationship between worship in heaven and the Anglo Catholic mass. It was as though for him a high solemn Eucharist, or possibly a quiet mid-week Mass, came as close as humanity can come to the worship of heaven – graceful, glorious, beautiful, joyful, enchanting—worship that takes your breath away or brings you to the still place within. Solemn joy. Worship that centers and grounds, that sustains and nurtures human dignity. Worship “to make music in the heart.”[iii] Crite captured all that in his art.

He also did something else in his work. He connected the African American experience with Christian Faith and Episcopal liturgy.

My first exposure to Allan Crite’s work was at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia around 1964 or 65. He was producing the front of the Sunday bulletin each week. He did that for several parishes.[iv] The parish also had Stations of the Cross he had done and a banner of Christ standing by the church building.  Years later  friends gave me a copy of his 1948 “Three Spirituals” and a print he did on the theme of Saint John the Evangelist.

 

The Compassion & Justice Award

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. The parish continued that award until at least 2007.   The person or group receiving the award was given one of the prints and $1000.

Allan Crite’s art seemed to be a perfect fit with the award. An article in the National Catholic Reporter,  “Allan Crite had a profound sense of our common humanity, a lived philosophy that evokes the Pauline language of the Mystical Body of Christ. ‘We are part of each other. So anything that happens to any part of us, we all feel. But the thing is, we think that we’re doing something to somebody ‘over there’ who’s different from me,’ he said. ‘Actually what we’re doing is doing something to ourselves through that person. So if we do an injury to that particular person, we’re hurting. And if something happens to that particular person, we feel it. That probably accounts for, you might say, the extreme and sharp pain that a lot of us feel. We’re thinking we’re doing to somebody else, but it’s happening to us. That, in my opinion, is the real tragedy.’”

 

Later I moved over to another part of the city to become Vicar of Saint Andrew’s. The parish had within it a Eucharistic community that gathered at 9:30 on Sunday, the Community of Julian of Norwich. That community began to give it’s own Compassion and Justice Award. Sadly we had no Allan Crite print to offer. What we began to do there was to offer a $1000 award and also to work with contacts we had with the local paper, The Trenton Times, to run a full-page article about the organization or person receiving the award.

Later the parish became St. Peter’s IGBO Church an Organized Mission of the diocese.

The following is lifted from “Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church.”

A Compassion & Justice Award. The parish gives a yearly award to a person or group in the region that has done outstanding work for compassion and/or justice in the past year. This allows the parish to point to, and affirm, the efforts already going on in the community. The award might include three elements: 1) A print done by a local artist that expresses the theme and has a small plaque on the frame noting the award and date. One urban parish made use of Alan Crite’s work. The Boston African-American artist was known for creating drawings of a Risen Christ among the people of the city. Often he would include a small image of the parish. 2) A financial award of a couple of thousand dollars, enough to be meaningful and within the means of most parishes. The check is given to the person or group to be used in any way they think best. 3) Arranging for a newspaper article about the award. The news release and “pitch” to the reporter would focus on the work of the award recipient rather than the parish. p 78 Section on the "Organic Nature of Christian Action"  This section included examples of sustainable and useful justice-related activities in parishes.

Most of us, most of the time, have a primary vocation in the arenas of our daily life. We are instruments of compassion and justice in our workplace, with family and friends, and in civic involvement. This is a process that is largely organic and subconscious. We are light and salt to the extent we have become light and salt. We are invited to love and serve in the places we find ourselves. The process isn’t at its core a matter of our planning and awareness; rather it is dependent on our status as people incorporated by baptism into the Body of Christ. It is living as an extension of the sacrament that is the Church in which God’s compassion and justice is offered through us in the routine and ordinary places of life. p. 22 

Set aside the life of grumbling and loneliness and seek the life of community and solitude. Let go of anxiety about making members happy and serving their needs and turn instead toward making members holy and being a community of compassion and justice. p 72 section on "Developing a Healthy Parish" 

The organic relationship of holiness and Christian action was expressed by James Huntington, OHC. “Holiness is the brightness of divine love, and love is never idle; it must accomplish great things. Love must act as light must shine and fire must burn.”....This organic life of the Body can have more play in our institutional life as we contemplate what is already present in our life as a parish. Seek within the commitments and decisions of regular parish life opportunities for compassion and justice. This may allow us to see the lonely, grieving, and overburdened among us. It may help us give attention to the day-by-day decisions that relate to compassion and justice. We can use union contractors and union businesses, provide meeting space for groups working for compassion and justice, and be more environmentally responsible.    p 80

 

Here are some of the things that happened as we offered the award over the years.

  • We saw how important it was for some of the recipients. It mattered to them that others noticed.
  • Because we worked at getting news coverage for those receiving the award there was a multiplier effect. Others would contact them.
  • Our approach with the newspaper of focusing on the recipient helped build trust with reporters. This wasn’t just another church trying to get their annual fair in the news.
  • It caused a conversation within the parish community. Why not use the news coverage to get more coverage for the parish? Or for others, why not avoid having us mentioned at all?
  • We developed relationships with a broad range of servers and advocates. We learned about our city through the eyes of others.
  • We developed less compulsiveness about having to ourselves be a service center and a greater appreciation for what others are doing and how the baptized of the parish were instruments of compassion and justice in their daily lives.
  • The awards and the news coverage reinforced the parish’s self understanding of its identity and moved others in the area to see us in that light.

Many parishes could offer such an award. It might be modified to fit the context.

  • If in a large city it might not be possible to consistently arrange for news coverage that is citywide. Use the web, Face book, neighborhood methods of communication
  • If a parish is more called to connect with the arts the award could be focused on that vocation.

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[i] Well it’s not really his feast day on anyone’s calendar except mine. I just think it should be in the Church’s calendar.  Here’s another person who has jumped ahead of the church regarding the Feast of Allan Crite

[ii] Interviews in 1979 and 1980 Oral history interview with Allan Rohan Crite, 1979 Jan. 16-1980 Oct. 22, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.  The February 29, 1980 interview gives the most attention to his religious work—“ Through the liturgy, you see, events of the past are made a part of the present. The celebration of the Mass, etc. is a form of the drama. In that way the past is made present. Or you might say we are made part of an ever-growing congregation of people. All of that is behind us, behind these illustrations.” And “The spirituals are quite valid even today. The point of them was: they stressed the idea of a person's humanity within a system which denied that humanity. That happened to be the formal system of slavery. Today, we have a formal system of technology which does practically the same thing in many ways. It denies your human dignity. Something like spirituals are needed to reinforce the idea of the fact that we're human beings.” He also comments on his liturgical art in other interviews especially those of August 1980—“in the liturgical drawings -- those of the Mass, the story of the Way of the Cross, and so forth -- I was telling the story of man through a Black figure.” Also see -- "Artist as theologian"  And in NCR “The spirit of the spiritual” 

[iii] From “The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman (1926)

[iv] ALLAN ROHAN CRITE “Oh no, I'm always doing it. I'm doing these church bulletins, and [He laughs] that's a continuous operation and it ain't small! [Laughs again] I've been doing that for about 30 years, serving about six or seven parishes. Which means that continuously, maybe somewhere in the neighborhood of around 3- or 4- or 5,000 people are looking at the stuff every Sunday. I mean, that's a continuous operation.” From the interviews noted above. A page about the bulletins for St. Stephen’s and the Incarnation, DC

 

Tuesday
Jul302013

Mary and Martha: The relationship of action and contemplation

 To give Our Lord a perfect service Martha and Mary must combine  Saint Teresa

A standard sermon

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. 

What needs to be said is more this, “In our spiritual journey some begin more inclined to action and others to contemplation. God draws us all toward a life in which awe and adoration are the ground for our action.”

Sadly most of our congregations don't have much humor about this. It's a brave, and usually foolish, preacher who will say, "Martha is a workaholic, compulsive, unable to stop herself. Mary is not dependable. She refuses to accept responsibility for her share of life's work.”  Worse yet is to suggest that most people in any parish are spiritually immature. It's true but we really do need to watch how we say things. 

Still leaders need to stay clear and ready to persevere. It is simply true—that the "all activist” person, the one with little reflectiveness, with little sense of perspective or wonder—can do great harm. Their weak hold on the reality of human limitation and sin makes them arrogant and dangerous. Saint John of the Cross said, “But without prayer, all they do amounts to nothing more than noise and uproar; it is like a hammer banging on an anvil and echoing all over the neighborhood. They accomplish a little more than nothing, sometimes absolutely nothing at all, and sometimes downright evil.”

On the other hand, in practice, the “all interior” person is likely to do little damage and may serve us by example and in prayer.  It’s partly that there are usually so few of them and the few there are tend to not take up a great amount of the parish’s emotional space.[i]

This is not a polarity to be managed. Nor is it a balanced be maintained. It is a synthesis to be created at the center of parish life. It is a synthesis to be lived by a critical mass of the parish. It is a synthesis to show itself in the general climate of the parish. We do this person by person. We do this by nurturing those of apostolic faith and by loving and inviting those who are not of apostolic faith, to move forward. It is an invitation done with great gentleness and patience.

The standard sermon expresses an understanding that is comforting for most parishioners. “You are fine as you are. No growing necessary.” The new sermon says, “God loves you just as you are. And God calls you to grow into the person you can be.”

Growing

The story of Mary and Martha is all too frequently twisted by preachers to avoid making us uncomfortable. They offer the ways of Mary and Martha as equally valid paths. But that’s not the story. Our Lord gives us a challenge — “Mary has chosen the better part.” To receive the challenge, and the grace that accompanies it, is to enter into our own life in a new way. We come to see and understand that the Eucharist is not only about us being fed so we might feed others; Eucharist is an end in itself. Just being with one another and God in communion is the purpose and completion of life. We come to understand that sitting on a porch drinking fine Scotch or cheap beer is not just a break from the struggles of life, but is a taste of eternity.[ii] Robert A. Gallagher

The strange tilt in many parishes of endless appreciation and "welcome wherever you are on your spiritual journey" undermines spiritual and emotional health and development. What we do with Mary and Martha is one case.

The honest preacher[iii] will want admit that Jesus did seem to be more appreciative of Mary than Martha--only one thing is needed and Mary has chosen it. In the end the kingdom doesn’t need our activism. The kingdom doesn’t require our good works. The kingdom is friendship, communion, and companionship. It is the banquet. It is the New Jerusalem in which God is fully with us and there is no more death, no mourning or crying or pain. All the tears have been wiped away. 

There is a point in our spiritual growth where we seem to be either mostly Martha or mostly Mary. We do need to begin someplace. Early on there are "two ways." We are mostly one or the other. Later it may be more that there are "two aspects." That's when the syntheses is taking place. It is Teresa’s wisdom being fulfilled, “To give Our Lord a perfect service Martha and Mary must combine.”

For me the most significant result of this inner growth is that we move more and more into reality. It is Henri Nouwen’s movement from Illusion to Prayer. In his system it is intertwined with moving away from hostility and loneliness. 

It is from an inner life fed by prayer and reflection that we can better see things as they are. People as they are in themselves, and as they are “in God,” rather than as they are in relation to my needs. This is learning to be free, to see the world and other people less through our own confusion and desire to control, acquired and achieve.

The Civil Rights Movement

The movement was rooted in Christian understanding prayer. You could see it in the witness of John Lewis, Martin Luther King and many others.

For Jonathan Daniels it was the backdrop for his action. It was during Evening Prayer and the singing of the Magnificat that he knew he was going to Selma.

“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." I had come to Evening Prayer as usual that evening, and as usual I was singing the Magnificat with the special love and reverence I have always felt for Mary's glad song. …Then it came. "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things." I knew then that I must go to Selma.

He had a Prayer Book spirituality—The Eucharist and the Daily Office provided the ground for his natural reflectiveness. 

Charles Eagles describes the feelings as Daniels and the other Episcopal seminarians arrived in Atlanta on the way to Selma for the second march. “Emotionally, they resembled soldiers preparing for battle—though anxious, even fearful, they were at the same time excited about the prospect of participating in the march to Montgomery. Some were silent, while others chattered nervously. An inveterate smoker, Jon Daniels had innumerable cigarettes while sitting rather quietly.”[iv]  In this climate, and during those days, they would say the Office and seek ways to be present at the Eucharist. In one of his reflections he wrote, “As Judy[v] and I said the daily offices day by day, we became more and more aware of the living reality of the invisible "communion of saints"--of the beloved community in Cambridge who were saying the offices too, of the ones gathered around a near-distant throne in heaven--who blend with theirs our faltering songs of prayer and praise.”

In "Standing in the Need of Prayer" Coretta Scott King wrote about the role of prayer in the movement, "Prayer was a wellspring of strength and inspiration during the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout the movement, we prayed for greater human understanding. We prayed for the safety of our compatriots in the freedom struggle. We prayed for victory in our nonviolent protests, for brotherhood and sisterhood among people of all races, for reconciliation and the fulfillment of the Beloved Community. For my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. prayer was a daily source of courage and strength that gave him the ability to carry on in even the darkest hours of our struggle."

It wasn't that everyone in the movement was a Christian. They certainly weren't. There were many religious Jews and there were secularists of all kinds. But there was a critical mass of faithful people There was a habit of  prayer and understanding that held the movement grounded in a notion of the Beloved Community. Or at least it did for a while.

Over time some became more frustrated as the struggle dragged on, the resistance to change proved stubborn, and more died.  In some places the critical mass shifted to groups with little interest in the Christian faith, the image of the “beloved community,” and the methods of non-violence.

All struggles for justice require a critical mass of people who in prayer and reflection have focused their attention on God and God’s reality. Without that the actuality of human limitation and sin will draw the movement more and more into willfulness and illusion. Spirituality and justice are to be a seamless garment. Prayer and action are called to be inseparable.

Competence

Change is resisted until people have the abilities they need to live in the new place. If I want to live in Mexico it will help to learn the language and culture. If a leader is trying to make her company more responsive to the needs of customers there are new skills and attitudes to learn before the employees will be at ease.

The Benedictine Promise is a true picture of the spiritual dynamic among stability, listening and change; or more accurately stability, obedience and conversion of life.  We do need to tell people that conversion is necessary in the Christian life. But hearing that does little good without having the skills and knowledge that allows us to navigate the Promise, especially the task of endless change. To do that well we need competency in certain areas. For example, learning to give ourselves to the present and developing the habit of taking practical action here and now, or learning to reflect upon death, or learning to make a commitment to our own maturity by performing the "work we have been given to do” and seeking to accept responsibility and take action.

We can help people open themselves to the inner life by:

- Giving them an idea of what that might look like. Helping them identify moments in their experience. Providing images.

- Helping them find the dissatisfaction within them. Change is in part motivated by a gap between where we are now and where we could be.

-  Providing specific first steps they might take—begin to experiment with the Daily Office, come to the session on Eucharistic Practices.

- Developing related skills and habits. Probably the first set of skills has to do with learning to be still and silent.

Our growth in the Christian life is not a project we undertake. It’s not us achieving a goal or feeding our ego.  It is about being still and sitting at the feet of Jesus. It is about wasting time with Jesus. It is about giving our best to Jesus. It is Mary’s way.

The fact is that the Holy Spirit nudges and draws us into maturity in Christ. It is the Spirit’s work.

But life remains odd and paradoxical. So, we must also give ourselves to the new path. We must become proficient in the ways of the Christian life. And so, there we are—we have a project.

Along the way we may find ourselves caught up in awe and adoration. We may find ourselves so swept away in the Liturgy that all our foolishness is for the moment gone.

Parish development

One’s first duty is adoration, and one’s second duty is awe and only one’s third duty is service. And that for those three things and nothing else, addressed to God and no one else, you and I and all other countless human creatures evolved upon the surface of this planet were created.[vi]

Things to do:

1. Stop telling them that the two are equal. They're not equal. Mary's is the better choice. And in God's graciousness, in time, we will all come there.

2. Develop a critical mass of people of apostolic faith and practice. People who have taken responsibility for their own spiritual discipline and grounded the discipline in the ancient ways of the church and adapted that to contemporary needs.

3. Teach people how to engage in Eucharistic practice and how to say the Daily  Office.

4. Coach and train people in being reflective.  Help them see how they currently engage in wonder, awe, and adoration.

5. This one is critical -- Do liturgy in a manner that opens people to awe and adoration. You want people to be swept off their feet every Sunday and brought to their still place day-by-day in Office and Eucharist.

 

rag+

 

A List of All Postings


[i] What may be generally true isn’t always true. I have on rare occasions seen parish’s that are so quiet, so restrained, so passive, that life comes to a halt. The parish begins to disintegrate.

[ii]Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church” Robert Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008

[iii] We preachers might begin with ourselves. From St. John of the Cross, “Let the men eaten up with activity and who imagine they are able to shake the world with their preaching and other outward works, stop and reflect a moment. It will not be difficult for them to understand that they would be much more useful to the Church and more pleasing to the Lord, not to mention the good example they would give to those around them, if they devoted more time to prayer and to the exercises of the interior life.”

[iv]Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama” by Charles Eagles, Page 34. Eagles description is echoed in David Halberstam’s book on the civil rights movement, “The Children.”  His account of the training of those preparing to sit in at Nashville’s lunch counters in 1960 mentions skills of how to respond when attacked, how in the training process they were forming a community and “learning to be responsible for one another.” They learned the tradition of non-violent civil disobedience. They learned to do reconnaissance missions so as to see the places they would be and assess the amount of resistance they would face. (pp.76 – 81) This was a movement they had given themselves to and it would change them. Early in the book Halberstam writes of the life members of the group had as they aged. Some became famous and served as politicians, doctors and educators. Others had more mundane lives and the years of the movement would be the most “exciting and stirring of their lives.” And others “were not unlike brilliant combat leaders in America’s wars who never handled in peacetime an existence which was routine as well as they handled the one fraught with danger.” p. 8 Halberstam also wrote “The Coldest Winter” on the Korean War. The connection between the young Marines and soldiers in Korea and the civil rights “soldiers” sound alike even though the one used violence and the other non-violence.

[v] Judy Upham was another seminarian. She had been asked by Daniels to go with him to Selma.

[vi]Concerning the Inner Life” Evelyn Underhill, page 22 One’s first duty is adoration, and one’s second duty is awe and only one’s third duty is service. And that for those three things and nothing else, addressed to God and no one else, you and I and all other countless human creatures evolved upon the surface of this planet were created. We observe then that two of the three things for which our souls were made are matters of attitude, of relation: adoration and awe. Unless these two are right, the last of the triad, service, won’t be right. Unless the whole of your...life is a movement of praise and adoration, unless it is instinct with awe, the work which the life produces won’t be much good