Sir, give us this bread always

Over the weekend, I had the honor of serving as one of the Eucharistic Ministers for the Episcopal Ordination of J. Russell Kendrick, IV Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast.  I was partnered with a new priest in our diocese, who thankfully has a sense of humor similar to mine.  When faced with the question of who would distribute the bread and who would have the cup we used the only reasonable means to settle the issue: rock, paper, scissors.  I won, and chose to distribute the bread.  Being on sabbatical means that this was the first time I’ve distributed bread since the end of May.  I was a chalice bearer a couple of times while at Sewanee and once while at General Convention, but for the first time in my seven and a half years as a priest, I’ve gone more than three weeks without having the pleasure of sharing the broken body of our Lord with my fellow hungry souls.

Photo by Robbie Runderson

The logistics weren’t perfect, which meant there were several distractions (running out of bread not least among them), but there was, as always, a deep sense of connection and call as I took part in communing part of the crowd of nearly 1,500 who had come to celebrate, to offer thanks and praise, and to be fed by Word and Sacrament.  Together, we joined with generation after generation of disciples who have come to ask of Jesus, “give us this bread always.”

As we will hear repeatedly over the next several weeks, Jesus is the bread of life.  Those who are hungry for righteousness, justice, compassion, healing, and love will find their fill in the Eucharistic Feast.  The Bread of Life is broken and shared that the whole world might receive their fill now and always.  I miss my table ministry, and am excited to return to share the family meal with the good people at Saint Paul’s and our new bishop on August 9th.  I’m grateful for the chance to share the feast with so many on Sunday, and I look forward to many years of taking my part in sharing the bread of life with a hungry world.

On vacation

Dear Readers,

As much as I want to write everyday, spending time with my family while on vacation is proving a much more valuable use of time. I’ll be back to writing on Monday, July 27th.

Grace and Peace,

Steve+

Perplexing words we like to hear

As the calendar flipped over from June to July, the internet in my hotel room at General Convention quit working.  I’d been fighting with it for days, and ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the effort for a 256k connection that 16 year-old Steve on a dial-up modem in an AOL chat room would have scoffed at.  So I’ve been remiss in keeping up with my duties here at Draughting Theology as of late.  I apologize to my regular readers for my failure to maintain my usual pace, but I hope to get back in the habit again.

I missed blogging about several things at General Convention during my internet blackout, but what I feel saddest about was not getting to tell you how excited I am about the election of the Rt. Rev’d Michael Curry as the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.  In his Vision Statement (see page 11), Bishop Curry wrote these words about the future of our beloved Church:

At a deep level I am suggesting a church-wide spiritual revival of the Christian faith in the Episcopal way of being disciples of Jesus. While not the only player in this, I believe a significant role of the Presiding Bishop is to provide leadership, inspiration and encouragement for that revival. Obviously the Presiding Bishop has CEO (Chief Executive Officer) responsibilities that must be exercised clearly, collaboratively and effectively. But in this mission moment of the church’s life, the primary role of the Presiding Bishop must be CEO in another sense: Chief Evangelism Officer, to encourage, inspire and support us all to claim the calling of the Jesus movement.

In his first public sermon following his election, at the Closing Eucharist of the 78th General Convention, he preached a sermon based firmly on this vision.

We are all a part of the Jesus Movement, called to go and make disciples, and we are going to hear that call again and again and again over the next nine years.  At an event like General Convention, it is easy to get swept up in the energy of it all.  We cheer and applaud when Bishop Curry calls the impromptu mega-church to Go, but the reality that for most of us, the call to evangelism is downright scary work.  The words of Bishop Curry feel easy because he fervently believes them, he lives them, and he offers them in a medium that makes us feel like we can live them too, but as with any prophet, the words of Bishop Curry are perplexing, even if we like to hear them.  They are, in many ways, like the words of John the Baptist, whose arrest and death we hear about in Sunday’s Gospel lesson. They push us out of our comfort zone.  They invite us to see the world differently.  More importantly, they invite us to see ourselves differently.

As General Convention fades into the past and we prepare for the seating of the Presiding Bishop-elect on November 1, 2015, it is my prayer that a we will, over the next nine years, move beyond being enamored with the medium of Bishop Curry’s message and fall deeply in love with its content.  I pray that we will allow his words to perplex us, challenge us, and propel us into the world as evangelists; heralds of the Gospel; bringers of the Good News.  May we have the grace to follow our Chief Evangelist and Go!

A Double Word of Warning for #GC78

Yesterday was, by and large, a great day for The Episcopal Church.  The House of Deputies accomplished quite a bit of business, including passing all 5 Episcopal Resurrection resolutions that came our way: D003, Amend Article V of the Constitution; D004, Task Force to Study Episcopal Elections; D005 Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches; D009, Revitalization of Congregations; and B009/D019, Conducting an Online Evangelism Test.  By an overwhelming majority, we said that we wanted our Church to be about evangelism, making disciples, and sending apostles.  Thanks to Deputy Melody Shobe from Rhode Island, we stopped short of replacing our Calendar of Saints, though we did make some changes to the criteria for inclusion on such a calendar a bit wider than I would like.  Still, it was by and a large a good day except for one very uncomfortable moment of snark and back biting.

Simon Cowell would have been proud, but I don’t think Jesus was.

An amendment was made to a resolution calling on the Development Office of The Episcopal Church to focus its fundraising on evangelism.  Deputy Van Brunt suggested that we not be so bold as to “direct” that office but rather to invite it to “consider” the opportunity.  Things got ugly when another Deputy, whose name I can’t recall, made a 2 minute long speech that was full of passive aggression, snark, and vitriol.  This was followed by a Deputy who poked fun at the previous Deputy’s speech and “considerable humor, but I wish to speak to the merits of this amendment.”  It was a side time to be in the Church, when a young women rose with a Point of Order and asked the President of the House of Deputies to call on the Chaplain to pray about “how we are speaking to each other.”

In today’s Daily Office Lectionary as well as Track 2 for Proper 9, Year B, we are assigned Psalm 123, which includes these words, “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy, * for we have had more than enough of contempt…”  The days are getting long.  The topic of conversation will only get more controversial: structure comes today, as does substance abuse issue, and same-sex marriage will be before us tomorrow; and the words of the Pslamist from 123:4 should be on our lips repeatedly over the next few days.  It comes to us as a double warning today, an invitation to think before we speak; an opportunity to give up contempt, passive aggression, and bitterness and to embrace the call of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Or, if the case requires it, the words of Psalm 123:4 might be a call to follow the command of Jesus an love our enemy.

Episcopalians as Apostles – Sharing the Good News #GC78

I did it.  I went to the Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F) meeting and I testified.  I engaged in the very system I hate, so that I might call the Church outward and upward toward evangelism.

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As I finished my brief testimony, there were shouts of “Amen!” and applause.  It is the mind of this Church to move beyond the either/or mentality that says if we talk about Jesus we can’t talk about social justice and instead embrace the reality that talking about Jesus brings with it changed hearts and minds and moves us toward a more just society.

Today in the House of Deputies, we have a chance to turn the mind of the Church into concrete action.  We are scheduled to take on four resolutions, B009 – Digital Evangelism; D005 – Church Planting; D009 – Revitalization of Congregations; and A012 – Mission Enterprise Zones which combined, call the Church to put its money and energy into spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.  These resolutions come with a big price tag, $11.7m over three years, but the reality is that even at nearly 10% of the triennial budget, this is just a drop in the bucket.  We must embrace evangelism, not in order to save the Church, but in order to fulfill the commandment of Jesus to “Go!” and to live more fully into our identity as his followers, disciples, and apostles.

In the Gospel lesson for Sunday, Jesus sends the 12 out two-by-two.  Mark tells that they followed his directions and “went out and proclaimed that all should repent.”  Those who had been disciples became apostles, that is “one who is sent,” by following the command of Jesus to go into the neighborhood, traveling lightly, to share the Good News.  The Episcopal Church has a similar opportunity.  We are being called to go, to share the Good News, and to change the world to the honor and glory of God.  It is time for the Church to stand up and re-commit itself to evangelism, not just by passing resolutions that make us feel good and not merely by throwing money at it, but by each member becoming an Apostle: taking seriously Jesus’ call to “Go and make disciples.”

Excelling in Generosity at #GC78

Today is the Big Day, the one we’ve all been waiting and praying for.  No, not the Presiding Bishop election, though that is a big event.  No, not the House of Deputies 230th Anniversary party, though that will be full of delicious vanity M&Ms.  No, not the first four hour legislative session, though that’ll make your rear end fall asleep.  Today is the Big Day because today is the Program, Budget & Finance (PB&F) Committee’s hearing on expenses.  The day when Deputies, Bishops, and registered guests wait in line for hours to take their part in an awful theology of stewardship and scarcity.

I took part in the event that makes Jesus weep three years ago.

Fat Steve took part in the Event-that-makes-Jesus- weep three years ago.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Corinth imploring them to excel in generosity by giving out of their abundance.  The Episcopal Church has abundant resources, however the vast majority of them are in the wallets of our members.  Despite the inroads made by groups like TENS and the Alabama Plan, the reality is that most Episcopal priests and the congregations they serve have succumb to popular pressure and avoid talking about money like the plague.  Coupled with the fact that our young leaders are members of a third generation of an un-churched, de-churched trend, this means that even those who care deeply about the Church, her ministry, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, don’t have any clue what it means to excel in generosity.  They’ve got no concept that the tithe is the biblical minimum for giving to the building of the Kingdom.

This means that by the time money trickles to the top, there is less and less money to do bigger and bigger things, which leaves us standing in line to beg for the scarce resources, afraid that our favorite thing won’t get funded.  A theology of scarcity is a terrible theology.  It has developed, in part, due to pressures from the wider culture, but the real reason tonight’s PB&F hearing will make Jesus and not a small number of deputies cry is that we’ve gotten here because of a lack of leadership.

Paul encourages the Corinthians to give generously to the needs of others.  He lays before them a vision of what it means to be a member of the body of Christ and asks them to live into it.  He offers them a compelling reason to be generous.  Instead of casting a vision for the Church, our leadership has, over the last, well as long as I’ve been in the Church, allowed 1,000 competing voices to create their own vision to the end that no one knows in which direction the Church is headed and instead we walk in one giant circle every three years.

The time has come for a compelling vision.  The time has come for a Presiding Bishop who will confidently lead us toward that vision.  The time has come for us to fund that vision boldly; to stop competing for line items, but rather to give generously to the glory of God, no matter how it impacts the bottom line of our pet project.  Let’s excel in generosity this triennium, and the rest will take care of itself.

Our faith will make us well #GC78

Median ASA

According to the Report of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, between 2001 and 2013, the Average Sunday Attendance of the average Episcopal Church has fallen from 80 to 61, a 24% decline in twelve years.  Twelve years?  Where have I heard that number before?

“Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.” Mark 5:25

It may seem crude and crass to compare the state of the Episcopal Church with the struggle of the hemorrhagic woman, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an apt comparison.  Over the course of twelve years, thanks to our very public internal struggles over human sexuality, a growing culture of unaffiliated nones, and, as the State of the Church Report says, “The advanced — and still advancing — age of the Church’s membership, combined with a low birth rate, means that the Church loses the equivalent of one diocese per year through deaths over births” The Episcopal Church has, on the whole, been hemorrhaging members for a dozen years.

The hemorrhagic woman lives on the margins, she is destitute, she is desperate for healing and so she does the only thing she can think of, she reaches out to touch Jesus.  In the midst of such a large crowd, all she can manage to do is get a finger on the hem of his robe, and immediately her bleeding stopped.  Jesus turns to her, realizing what she has done, and says these most powerful words, “Your faith has made you well.”

How I long to hear those words from Jesus for my beloved Episcopal Church.  The Living Church published an article yesterday entitled, “Jesus for Presiding Bishop,” in which they argue that the “walk-about” with the Presiding Bishop Nominees showed that The Episcopal Church is ready to return to and outward and visible faith in Jesus.  It isn’t so much that we haven’t had faith in Jesus all along, but more that we’ve been so preoccupied elsewhere that we’ve nearly forgotten about it, which is, to my mind, the true source of our decline.

Our faith can make us well, but we must be willing to put our faith in nothing less than the saving love of God through Jesus Christ.  Doing so will change our lives individually and our culture corporately.  We need not be afraid of the name of Jesus, but in his name, be willing to be healed, and through his name, be willing to be saved, and using his name, be willing to share the Good News.  I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to reach the hem of his garment and find our bleeding stopped.  Won’t you join with me in praying for the renewal of the Church?