Church

Christian Piatt 11-26-2013

Methodist minister Rev. Frank Schaefer (not to be confused with Frank Schaeffer) has come up against what some might call a conflict of interest in living out his call as a minister of the gospel. Some might even call his experience a crisis of faith, but for Schaefer and his son, Tim, the struggles they have faced in recent weeks and months have yielded beautifully unexpected blessings.

Schaefer's troubles with the larger Methodist Church go back some six years to when he performed a wedding ceremony for Tim, who is gay. Although his son realized this would present Schaefer with a dilemma (the United Methodist Church does not allow their ministers to conduct same-sex marriages), he also knew that it would hurt his father deeply not to be asked to perform the ceremony, regardless of whom he was marrying.

The wedding was performed in Mass., where same-sex marriages are legally recognized.

Though it took some time, charges were brought against Schaffer within the denomination, and he has recently had his license for ministry suspended. He is now facing an ultimatum: either he has to renounce his support for the performance of same-sex marriages or he will be defrocked within a month.

Janice Lloyd 11-22-2013

“Families and Faith” book cover photo courtesy of Vern Bengtson

Baby boomers might not be that different from the Greatest Generation when it comes to religion. Like their parents, many boomers will attend religious services later in life. But unlike their parents, baby boomers are more likely to describe a deep, intense spiritual connection from a personal experience than a religious one from an institutional practice.

Many of them don’t know it yet, said a researcher at this week’s annual conference of the Gerontological Society of America in New Orleans, but growing old, regardless of what generation you belong to, brings on dramatic changes that can propel people to seek new meaning in religious services.

Vern Bengtson is the author of the recently published Families and Faith with co-authors Susan Harris and Norella Putney. He based his findings and predictions on a 35-year longitudinal study of 350 Southern California families and interviews with a subset of 156 families. The study’s scope spanned six generations from 1909 to 1988. The conversations explored spirituality, religious beliefs, intensities, and practices.

Tom Ehrich 11-19-2013

The word Sunday in cut out magazine letters on a cork board. Photo courtesy Thinglass via Shutterstock

In a tech newsletter I read, two colleagues addressed the end of the world of the personal computer that they spent three decades mastering.

There will be no more building PCs from scratch, no more tinkering with the innards, no more fine-tuning the operating system.

“The evolution of the PC industry over the last several years has not been good to the old-school PC professional, particularly for those whose careers have been heavily hardware-oriented,” said the writer.

Many clergy and lay leaders are in exactly this position.

George Carey, former archbishop of Canterbury. Photo by James Rosenthal / Anglican Communion News Service

A former archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the Church of England faces extinction in less than 25 years unless it can attract more young people now.

Talking to 300 churchgoers in Shropshire, West England on the eve of a church agreement to start a campaign to evangelize England, Lord George Carey said: “We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We are one generation away from extinction and if we do not invest in young people there is going to be no one in the future.”

Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the world’s estimated 85 million Anglicans from 1991 until 2002 when he joined the House of Lords (Britain’s Upper Chamber of Parliament).

Tom Ehrich 11-12-2013

Riverside Church in New York City. RNS file photo

On a Greenwich Village street where male prostitutes seeking customers shout out their dimensions, I walked past an open but empty church on my way to the subway.

In times past, flocking to church on Sunday morning was a beloved family routine, even here in bad old Gotham. Now they’re trying nontraditional worship on Sunday evenings.

It’s a struggle, both here and elsewhere in the 21st-century Christian world. Buildings with “beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God,” as Luke described the temple in ancient Jerusalem, are falling into disuse and disrepair — not because Caesar attacked and took revenge on an alien religion, but because the world changed and gathering weekly in “Gothic piles” no longer seems necessary for finding faith.

Debbie McLeod 11-05-2013

Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic. Knopf.

Tony Lapp 11-05-2013

What your church can do to address abusive behaviors.

Michelle D. Bernard 11-05-2013
Zwiebackesser / Shutterstock

Zwiebackesser / Shutterstock

Are churches helping to stop domestic violence—or enabling it?

More and more African-American women are called to ministry—yet still excluded from the pulpit.

Tripp Hudgins 11-04-2013
robodread / Shutterstock

"I am entangled and grace comes and unravels all of that — whatever 'that' is — and sets me free." robodread / Shutterstock

Autumn in Berkeley is not what lovers of changing seasons might recognize as autumn, but it is upon us no less. Days are are shorter. Television programming has changed. The air is a little crisper. The currents in the Pacific have shifted and that great body of water tinkers with our meteorological hopes somewhat differently every day. The leaves don't change so much as drop. And, as usual, there are flowers in bloom. 

As someone who loves the northeast coast change of seasons, I find it challenging to unravel my expectations from reality. I find the two so intertwined that I may be tempted to try to change my environment to suit my expectations rather than paying attention to what is actually going on in the world around me.

I am reminded of my neighbors who will be spraying fauxsnow on their windows to celebrate the winter holidays. "It's just not Christmas without snow," some will proclaim. This is an obvious example of what it may look like to insist on our expectations being met all the while our world around us is trying to show us something different. We literally paint the windows to the world around us so we see what we want to see. 

We push our environment around and in the process run the risk of missing the grace being offered up in new and rich ways.

Katherine Burgess 11-01-2013
RNS photo courtesy of Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

The church as it stood before it was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. RNS photo courtesy of Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

Twelve years after falling rubble from the World Trade Center towers destroyed St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, images have been released showing the design for an elaborate new building.

“We want people to feel like this is their house,” said the Rev. Mark Arey, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “I do believe what Jesus said, ‘My house will be a house of prayer for all people.’ Even though it is a Greek Orthodox church, it will be open to all people of all faiths, a place of solace for them.”

Santiago Calatrava, the renowned Spanish architect who designed the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub, is designing the new St. Nicholas Church, which will include a nondenominational bereavement center as an open place for rest and meditation.

Originally housed in an old row house, the original St. Nicholas Church was a narrow, largely unadorned building. The new designs, however, show a luminous domed building modeled partly on the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, both in Istanbul.

The designs had to meet two criteria, Arey said. First, the church had to look like a Greek Orthodox church. Second, it had to fit in with the environment surrounding Ground Zero.

Photo courtesy of RNS

Supreme Court building in Washington, DC (2009). Photo courtesy of RNS

WASHINGTON — In a case that could determine restrictions on expressions of faith in the public square, the Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider religious prayers that convene government meetings.

At issue in Greece v. Galloway is whether such invocations pass constitutional muster, even when government officials are not purposefully proselytizing or discriminating.

Can a town council, for example, open its meetings with prayers invoking Jesus Christ, as happened repeatedly in the town of Greece, N.Y.?

“There’s a whole lot at stake here,” said Ira Lupu, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in the First Amendment’s religion clauses.

“This case is about first principles: whether the government of a town, acting through its town board, can advance a particular brand of Christianity or any other faith,” said Lupu.

On the other side of the question, Jeff Mateer of the Texas-based Liberty Institute invokes free speech rights and hopes the court will reason that government has no business parsing the words of those who wish to pray in a public forum.

Stephen Mattson 10-29-2013
SNEHIT & hxdbzxy / Shutterstock

Academic on the outside looking in. SNEHIT & hxdbzxy / Shutterstock

In a world where people are craving inspiration, growth, and information, many churches maintain a cyclical pattern based on redundancy, safety, and closed-mindedness. Unfortunately, many pastors and Christian leaders continue to recycle old spiritual clichés — and sermons — communicating scripture as if it were propaganda instead of life-changing news, and driving away a growing segment of people who find churches ignorant, intolerant, absurd, and irrelevant.

As technology continues to make news and data more accessible, pastors are often failing to realize that they're no longer portrayed as the respected platforms of spiritual authority that they once were.

Instead of embracing dialogue and discussion, many Christian leaders react to this power shift by creating defensive and authoritarian pedestals, where they self-rule and inflict punishment on anyone who disagrees, especially intellectuals.

Tripp Hudgins 10-24-2013
Worship illustration, orestpath / Shutterstock.com

Worship illustration, orestpath / Shutterstock.com

We're all exploring and asking, "What's next?" This particular question serves us well when we ask where our young people are.

"What's next?" and the related, "Who will take us there?"

So, this morning I was primed and ready to read "What Millennials don’t want from the church" by Rachel Sloan. It's a quick and worthy missive in which she says, "The most frustrating part of being a Millennial is that my church does not understand me." What specifically doesn't the church understand? Well, "Millennials (despite the terrible things you are told to believe about us) want real authentic, worship and real, authentic churches. We want churches that want to have a relationship with us."

Having made the same mistake many, many times, this time I decided to get my Millennial friends to chime in on the post. Some rightly reminded me that speaking on behalf of any one generation is an impossible task and presents certain rhetorical problems.

Stephen Mattson 10-23-2013
Hands of senior citizen, HixnHix / Shutterstock.com

Hands of senior citizen, HixnHix / Shutterstock.com

In an evangelical Christian climate obsessed with change, cultural trends, and trying to stay up-to-date and relevant, it's easy to undervalue the elderly. The bestselling authors, the hottest worship bands, the superstar conference speakers, and megachurch pastors are all youngish, or at least certainly not elderly, and they’re mainly marketed towards younger to middle-aged audiences.

In many ways, Christians have suffered from the sin of apathy, being guilty of ignoring a large segment of believers — the elderly — who are continually forced into the shadows of our ministries, leadership structures, publicity campaigns, vision, and dialogue.

In an era where fast-paced technology rules the world, elderly Christians are losing their platforms for communication — and the rest of us are too busy to reach out to them. Social media, blogs, websites, tablets, and smartphones continually shrink access to an elderly population that is unable to keep up — and we aren’t waiting for them.

Mallory McDuff 10-18-2013

Image via /Shutterstock

Skeptics might say that as a perimenopausal woman with a teenage daughter, I’m apt to cry at the slightest provocation, which may be true. But I believe something different happens when we expose our vulnerabilities in a community of faith.

A close friend told me her theory that we are being “seasoned” in church each week, preparing to be broken open in ways we cannot anticipate. So we pray the liturgy, sing the hymns, go through the motions. Yet this seasoning of our spirits prepares us to be tender-hearted, open to prayer working on us.

This makes sense to me. There are so few places where we can bring our raw emotions without a self-conscious need to explain or escape to the nearest bathroom, which happens when we get teary-eyed at work or in line at Home Depot. Perhaps church is one of those last safe havens, where we can cry in public for no reason.

Tom Ehrich 10-15-2013

The path ahead. Photo by Elena Schweitzer / Via Shutterstock

I had the privilege of teaching a pastoral theology class at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, last week.

I had the entire senior class: 13 young, promising, enthusiastic, veterans of church wars, and yet eager to get started.

Like any speaker with a full deck of PowerPoint slides, I probably said more than was needed. But I wanted to make, reinforce, clarify, and leave no mistake about my main point: Business as usual is off the table.

After nearly 50 years of relentless decline in mainline churches, business as usual is a sinking ship. The way forward lies in fresh ideas, turnaround strategies, entrepreneurial enthusiasm for risk, and learning from failure.

Kathy Khang 10-14-2013
Church with cross in the foreground, sunfun / Shutterstock.com

Church with cross in the foreground, sunfun / Shutterstock.com

There are few things as exhausting, draining, and disheartening as family drama. I’m not talking low-level sibling rivalry over who gets shotgun all the time. I’m talking deep-rooted family issues that go generations back. That kind of family drama shows up in the most inopportune times in the most inappropriate places — at someone’s wedding or funeral, at the family reunion, or while grocery shopping.

But when family drama shows up in the church, it grieves me. It riles me up like nothing else does because it is in my identity as a Christian and Jesus-follower where I am all of who God created me to be and has called me to be — Asian and American, Korean, female, friend, daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt, writer, manager, advocate, activist. The church is the place where I and everyone else SHOULD be able to get real and raw and honest to work out the kinks and twists, to name the places of pain and hurt, and to find both healing and full restoration and  redemption.

So when the church uses bits and pieces of “my” culture — the way my parents speak English (or the way majority culture people interpret the way my parents speak English) or the way I look (or the way the majority culture would reproduce what they think I look like) – for laughs and giggles, it’s not simply a weak attempt at humor. It’s wrong. It’s hurtful. It’s not honoring. It can start out as “an honest mistake” with “good intentions,” but ignored, it can lead to sin.

Fortunately, there is room for mistakes, apologies, dialogue, learning, and forgiveness.

Micah James 10-13-2013
Community illustration, Sweet Lana / Shutterstock.com

Community illustration, Sweet Lana / Shutterstock.com

I love October. As a teacher, it was that time of year where rhythms were becoming established and the seeds of learning were beginning to sprout. In ministry, it is the time where I find myself riding the waves of my student’s school schedules in an effort to connect and converse. In either case, education, shapes not on the schedule of my life but the purpose.

As I breathe in the crisp autumn breeze, it reminds me to consider the larger partnership between the educators and the church. When we, as ministers and church leaders, consider what role education plays in the life of the church, we have to consider the active part of the church in the education of not only the church community, but its larger context.

Education, in the public context, is a constant topic of political struggle and strife. Education, in the ecclesial context, in its best is in-depth Bible study and at its worst is education by osmosis and observation. What is the call or consideration of the church to the topic of education? What role does the church have in the education of the community?

Photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaks during the LDS General Conference. Photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

SALT LAKE CITY — It is wrong to assume that Mormons who leave the faith “have been offended or lazy or sinful,” a top leader told members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Saturday during the church’s 183rd Semiannual General Conference.

“It is not that simple,” said Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the LDS Church’s governing three-man First Presidency.

Some struggle with “unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past,” Uchtdorf explained. “We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of church history — along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable and divine events — there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.”

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