Church

On the Inside Looking Out

Peshkova / Shutterstock.com

Young man looking on city. Peshkova / Shutterstock.com

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — We did a focus group here as part of strategic planning at Trinity Episcopal Church.

Question: if you stood on the edge of your church’s property and looked outward, rather than inward as we usually do, what would you see?

A public school kindergarten teacher spoke about kids who come to school hungry and wearing shabby clothing. She started to discuss the family chaos her kids describe during sharing time, but she began to weep and couldn’t speak at all.

Sorry To Burst Your Bubble

Bubbles, Sarahbean / Shutterstock.com

Bubbles, Sarahbean / Shutterstock.com

Life inside a bubble can feel complete, even dynamic, as the bubble’s surface shimmers and yet retains form.

When the surface is breached, the bubble collapses immediately, shattering into a liquid spray faster than a metal object can fall through where it used to be. What looked like a permanent structure is, in fact, uncertain and quickly lost.

We saw a ”tech bubble” burst 13 years ago. What had seemed durable and laden with value turned out to be vapor. The “housing bubble” came next. Some think another “tech bubble” is about to burst.

The bubble I see bursting is establishment Christianity in America. It is bursting ever so slowly, even as millions of people still find life, meaning, safety, and structure inside. But one failing congregation at a time, the surface of shimmering shape is being breached.

As Flu Outbreak Spreads, Faith Leaders Preach Caution

 Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

Man holding a communion cup. Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

As the flu outbreak spreads across 48 states, some religious leaders are advising their flocks to take precautions, but others say avoiding infection is just a matter of common sense.

Several Catholic dioceses, including Manchester, N.H., Boston, and New York, are advising priests to consider not offering the shared chalice of consecrated wine at Holy Communion at Masses. Communicants would only receive the consecrated wafer.

In addition, Manchester Bishop Peter Libasci had other suggestions, reported The Eagle Tribune of North Andover, Mass.

“The faithful should be encouraged to share the Sign of Peace without touching hands or kissing,” he said. “This may be done with smiles and a bow of the head in reverence to one another.”

When Radical Welcome Gets Messy

Photo: Downtown Portland, DRGill / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Downtown Portland, DRGill / Shutterstock.com

It’s easier to guide the vision and mission of a church you start. It’s another thing to help a 135-year-old congregation reimagine what it means to be a downtown urban church in a world that has changed dramatically all around it. At Milagro, the church we founded in our living room some nine years ago, we set the course for what we wanted that community to look like: a refuge for the spiritual walking wounded, safe haven for questions, doubt, and a culture of mutual encouragement, support, and accountability that would allow people to explore their own relationship with the Divine. We have since set that community free and already, it is becoming something different.

As well it should.

Now we find ourselves at First Christian Church in downtown Portland — a different animal entirely. In some ways, the two communities are very complementary, in that one has what the other tends to lack. But we’ve discerned that, first and foremost, our job is to help cultivate a spirit of radical openness and welcome. But what does this mean, and how do we even begin to change the makeup of an institution that has exited for more than five generations before us?

Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that say the most. We had a tradition at Milagro of “mugging” people when they came for the first time. This meant one of our hospitality stewards (AKA, “muggers”) would approach them and give them a coffee mug filled with candy and some information about the church. With First Christian, however, most people know we’re here; the bigger question lingering in the public mind is why.

In this case, instead of a brochure describing programs or institutional history, Amy included the welcome statement that follows, which she borrowed and adapted from a Catholic community.

Fred Phelps’ Son Condemns Westboro’s Plan to Picket Newtown Funerals

Religion News Service photo courtesy of Nate Phelps

Nate Phelps, shown here with fiancee Angela Feldstein. Religion News Service photo courtesy of Nate Phelps

The estranged son of a Kansas pastor famous for protesting the funerals of soldiers and AIDS victims has condemned his family’s plans to picket the funerals of the 26 people — including 20 children — who were killed when a gunman stormed a Connecticut elementary school.

In the wake of Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Conn., members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., posted Twitter messages saying they would picket outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The messages provided no information on the time of the planned picketing.

"Westboro 'God hates Fags' Baptist Church is planning to picket at Sandy Hook, to praise 'God's judgment,'” was posted by Margie Phelps, the daughter of Westboro leader Fred Phelps Sr. Her sister, Shirley Phelps-Roper, tweeted Saturday that the group would "sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment."

Eucharist: A Call For The Church to Be One

Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

Christian woman receives communion wafers in Kashmir, India. Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

When it comes to sharing the Eucharist among faithful but separated Christ followers, I wonder if Jesus is waiting for the churches simply to be the Church?

For the sake of this uncommon meal and the One who gives himself to us in it we can partake together, not on the shaky foundation of our present tragic divisions but on the firm ground of our promised unity by joining now in the Great Feast we will celebrate with him forever in eternity.

It is, after all, his table. It is a table set not only in the presence of our enemies in this world but set also in the unseen realm of Christ’s anticipated future rule that in a mystery comes to each of our houses of worship simultaneously as we gather in hope to encounter his resurrected person, week in and week out.

In this scenario, we remain mindful and respectful of our present divisions yet act on the coming unity we know is ours now by promise because no prayer of Jesus, certainly not his prayer that we be "one," can ever fail (John 17).

Why Women are the Key to the Church’s Future

Photo: Woman praying, © John Wollwerth  / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Woman praying, © John Wollwerth / Shutterstock.com

I’ll preface this piece my saying I know I am making some broad generalizations based on gender, and that there are always exceptions to every trend. But despite that, I do think there are some cultural trends that can offer us some useful insight.

Anyone who has been paying attention has noticed that, of those left within the walls of most churches, the majority still hanging in there are women. Some, like the advocates of so-called Masculine Christianity, see this as a crisis. The Christian faith and its symbols are becoming softened, feminized, compromised into being something other than what they were meant to be.

Granted, when you take a faith whose principal authors historically have been men and then place that same faith in the hands of women, some things will inevitably change. Personally, I welcome the exploration of other, feminine expressions of the divine and values such as embodied spirituality that many female Christian leaders value. But aside from these assets, I think that women bring something far more critical to institutional religion.

Without them, it may cease to exist.

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