fain | fān | archaic

fain | fān | archaic: adjective: 1. pleased or willing under the circumstances, eager. 2. obliged. adverb: gladly

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Eight in a Series

The Fount of Every Blessing
Robert Robinson was born in 1735. While young, his father died. He became uncontrollable as a young man and finally his mother sent him to London to learn barbering. He quickly became an excellent student of drinking and gang life instead. A chance encounter with the great preacher, George Whitfield sowed the seeds that three years later changed Robinson’s life.
At age twenty, he entered the ministry and wrote “Come, Thou fount of every blessing” as a hymn to go with his sermon for the Day of Pentecost, 1758. Having discovered God’s purpose for his life, he worked faithfully at it until his death at age 54 in 1790.
I begin here where our last All Parish Gathering ended, with the singing of Robinson’s beloved hymn. It was a moving and powerful conclusion to the night with included a bible study on the parable of the sower.
Now there is a nice Holy Spirit coincidence, singing Robinson’s hymn, with his life’s trajectory redemptively altered by Whitfield’s sermon and the seeds sowed therein, and studying the parable of the sower to focus our evening reflection on God in our lives, individually and collectively at Good Shepherd.
We want very much to make a difference in the lives of others in the name of Jesus Christ and this parable certainly informs missional ministry in the new apostolic age of the 21st century where each of us, rather than the institution of the church, may be called upon to sow the seeds of God’s good news in Christ in more intentional ways each day.
I’ve written of how the evening ended, now let’s turn to how it began as Ginny Inman offered these words of challenge at the start of our meeting.

Agents for God
A few weeks ago, I brought my two year old into church for communion. Upon reaching the pew, he looked around and pronounced in a whisper so loud that the choir could hear, “I don’t see Jesus anywhere.” “Look,” I said, pointing to the beautiful stained glass window depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd that hangs above the altar. “Ohhh,” he said, with wide eyes, before launching into a robust version of “Jesus had a little lamb (to the tune of Mary had a little lamb).” Of course, you know the powerful ending of that revised song. “And everywhere that Jesus went, the lamb was sure to go.”
Where will we go now? Where is Jesus leading us? This church is founded on the powerful promise made by Christ to the beloved community recounted in John’s Gospel: “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. I am not like the hired hand who scatters at the first sign of danger, but have come so that the sheep may have life and have it abundantly.” (paraphrase of John 10)
The Good Shepherd stands at the center of our common life. This powerful and precious image of our Lord stretches back to the God of Israel who cared for his people with compassion, steadfastness and gentleness. Recall the words of Psalm 100, “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his, we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” We belong to the Good Shepherd. The shepherd not only leads his sheep, he sustains them. In the familiar words of Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, ironically becoming the sacrificial Paschal Lamb so that we might be saved.
The Good Shepherd asks only that we, his sheep, follow his voice. In a world where it is hard to find still waters, when the demands of each day drown out goodness and mercy, we are listening together for the voice of the Shepherd. As the daughter of a cattle farmer, this in itself is remarkable. Sheep actually respond to the voice of their shepherd, coming when they are called. For the last year, this church has committed to exploring where Christ is calling us and how we might answer that call. There is no question that Church of the Good Shepherd is a community of continued worship and service, strength and refuge. In fact, the first stage of this parish-wide process began last spring when 350 people gathered in one another’s homes to share their thin places at Church of the Good Shepherd, places where heaven and earth met, where they encountered Christ in this community. These stories, filled with hope and light and laughter, witnessed to how Christ lives among us. But the challenging thing about shepherds is that they never set up shop; they are always on the move. In a church that is stable and healthy, but not growing, the real task at hand is to challenge our complacency. To that end, we have engaged in several exercises this fall – each designed to awaken our senses, our sight and hearing, our awareness of what it means to follow the Good Shepherd here in 2010 at the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Now a word about process. It is astounding that Jesus changed the whole world with twelve disciples (eleven when it was said and done). Even more remarkable is the fact that he chose ordinary fishermen to proclaim the Good News of God to the ends of the earth without so much as a phone interview. He doesn’t solicit resumes, run a background check or require a proficiency exam. Face it. These were not members of MENSA or the Harvard brain trust, these were ordinary people who said yes to a rabble-rousing rabbi. He empowered and charged these disciples to heal and teach and proclaim, as the Holy Spirit does us even now. Discipleship is not the job of clergy or church professionals, it is the call of all baptized Christians. At baptism, we pledge to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ and are marked as Christ’s own forever, the sheep of his pasture. It is up to you to discern and respond to the Good Shepherd’s call.
I was talking with the adult confirmation class last week about how Jesus is a man of strong verbs. Do. Love. Repent. Heal. Give. Pray. Sow. Feed. Clothe. Forgive. Trust. Welcome. And perhaps the most difficult of all, follow. Follow me, Jesus says. Following Jesus means going where he goes, touching who he touched. In August, we gathered to explore “Who is our neighbor?” Presented with data about the 30904 zip code where we are located, we learned, among other things, that the poverty level here is higher than the national average and that there is a high number of single mothers and non-traditional families. Even more interesting than the data may have been our resistance to it. We protested and qualified that such a snapshot did not represent the members of the parish who live in at least ten various zip codes, the largest percentage of parishioners coming from outside our immediate geographic area. But that misses the point or perhaps reinforces it. Are we a vital faith community right here where we sit? How are we proclaiming the good news of God’s grace to our own neighbors? Are they finding God here? Is this lovely Victorian church on the hill a sign of God’s presence in the world? That exercise illustrated that there are a number of lost sheep right here in our own pasture.
Next, we named our gifts, recognizing that God is the good giver who endows us with resources, talents, skills. Those gifts become blessings when they are shared. We will discuss the parable of the sower in a few minutes, the one who chooses generosity over efficiency. God does not meticulously till the earth and line up the seeds, but instead God flings them forth with excessive abundance. Our shepherd is a God of staggering grace. Look at our walls – those post-its are not inexpensive wall art, they are manifestations of the abundance of God, God’s gifts to the people of this parish. It is time to do something with them. Last month, we shifted the looking glass and were stretched to see in new and creative ways how God is at work in the world. Like detectives of divinity, we used our collective vision to challenge old perceptions and see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Follow me, Jesus says, and we are commanded to do the gutsy, fabulous work of serving the Shepherd, of caring for the flock, of seeking the lost sheep. You see, it is not enough to display a sign that says “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” or create catchy literature that describes the Church of the Good Shepherd as a place of purpose. We must mean it. We must live it. We are not just a pretty place to sing in Summerville each Sunday. We are more than a well-dressed group of polite people with good taste in liturgy. We are the Body of Christ. Our call is not just to welcome those who cross our threshold, but to walk outside these walls to meet the needs of those who are hungry and thirsty, lonely, sad or sick. The Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to retrieve the one who has strayed. When the lost one returns to the fold, he doesn’t say, “where have you been”, but instead, “welcome home.” Finding a single stray is a reason for rejoicing.
I am tired of all the books and blogs and seminars about why mainline Protestant churches are declining. When Church becomes a consumer driven encounter where clergy market their Christ to shoppers seeking the best deal, we have failed to embody the truth that the Gospel of salvation is alive. Jesus Christ walked among us, was crucified and rose again so that we might have life. That is good news worth sharing.
There is an old story of two men who recounted the 23 Psalm before a large audience. The first, a polished orator delivered the Psalm with eloquence and was met with great applause. The second man, older and less polished, then spoke the same words. He was met with complete silence. The great speaker rose to his feet and said, “Friends, I wish to offer an explanation of what happened here tonight. You gave me your applause, but when my friend had finished, you remained reverently silent. The difference is, I know the Psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”
We know the Shepherd. We were created to participate in Jesus’ saving mission for all the earth. If we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world, as Theresa of Avila writes, what is our witness? What are we teaching others about the Good Shepherd who leads us? Are there lost sheep in our own parish? When we encounter people at work or school, at the soccer field or golf course, will they know we are Christians by our love, by the way we care for one another, for the least of these, for the lost? At the end of the day, we fail to follow if we do not live the incarnate love we proclaim.
You already know that you can live the love of Christ. The cottage meetings last spring revealed that you have seen the face of Christ in one another. You have bound up one another’s wounds, made casseroles and knitted prayer shawls, you have prayed for those in trouble, spent the night with those who have no place to lie their heads and stocked food pantry shelves. You live in a place endowed with assets and opportunities – an army base, medical school, an internationally known golf tournament. You are a people blessed with bountiful resources and tremendous faith, intellect, skill and compassion. You already have everything you need to answer Christ’s call now. We have discovered our neighbors, named our gifts, seen our community of faith with new eyes. What Jesus asks of each of you is the courage to commit. He asks that you follow the Good Shepherd.
At the close of John’s Gospel, the resurrected Christ appears to the disciples on the seashore and shares a bread fish breakfast with them on the beach. Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter replies “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him: “Feed my lambs.” A second time Jesus said, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” Again Simon Peter responds, this time sounding like a hen pecked husband, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” Jesus said to Simon Peter a third time, “do you love me?” Peter felt hurt at this question, but replied “Lord, you know everything: you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
The shepherd is calling.
What will you do?

A Sower Went Out to Sow
Following Ginny’s remarks, we read Luke’s account of the parable of the sower (Luke 8:5-15). Nearly 140 parishioners engaged several questions about the parable. Groups were asked to give particular attention to and report back on their responses to the question: What deeply matters to the Church of the Good Shepherd?

What’s Next?
We have now completed the All Parish exercises in this process of renewal and discernment that began early this year. In December, a small group of parishioners and Vestry will begin the process of reviewing and sorting all the information that the exercises have provided us about our life and ministry, reporting back to the congregation in late January or early February.

Tune Our Hearts to Sing Thy Grace!
While we await the report of this group, one thing we know for sure – Good Shepherd is filled with people who know of God’s amazing grace and are deeply grateful for it. As a parish we know that God is the fount of every blessing that we have received and we are determined that our hearts shall sing of his marvelous grace.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Seven in a Series

What Do You See?Of the five senses, seeing is arguably, the most critical to our functioning in the world. Sight is a veritable superhighway of information to our brains. So overwhelming and profound is the place of physical sightedness in our lives that it readily lends itself as a metaphor for comprehension and understanding. Who can argue against the notion that seeing a full moon on a clear night, or a mountain vista, or a baby’s face conveys far more than just an image to our mind’s eye.

In this metaphorical sense, not seeing is a source of frustration and confusion. How many times do you talk to (or yell at?) a politician or a commentator on your televison screen because they don’t “see” something? We are affirmed when others see what we see and when they don’t, well, most of the time we try to get them to see what we see, as contrasted with, asking them “What do you see?”

The Lord Does Not See as Mortals
A steady, persistent theme of scripture however, is that God does not see as human beings do. Humans typically look on the surface or the appearance, where God looks into the heart, the soul, and sees the character of a person
(I Samuel 16:7). God’s ways are not our ways and what seems right to us is often an offense to God. Hmmm . . . we humans have a significant disconnect here!

The good news of course, is that the Holy Spirit will assist us to see the world and people in it as God does. And seeing as God sees, can move us to act in ways that are pleasing to God.

At Good Shepherd we are involved in the work of trying to “see” what God would have us to do at this particular moment in our life and ministry. While we will not all see everything in the same way, none the less it is important to share a common vision that unites us in common mission for the love of Jesus Christ.

Everyday Creativity
Obviously, the starting point for seeing the world as God sees it is holy scripture, but sometimes because of its familiarity, we think we already know what the bible says even as we are hearing it. To get around this tendency we viewed a short movie titled, Everyday Creativity. In this film, National Geographic photographer DeWitt Jones, uses the art of taking pictures as a vehicle to see the extraordinary. Along the way he introduces nine key concepts that apply equally to your life, or your business, as well as they apply to seeing things with God’s holy perspective.

The Key Concepts

• Creativity is the ability to look at the ordinary and see the extraordinary.
• Every act can be a creative one.
• Creativity is a matter of perspective.
• There is more than one right solution.
• Reframe problems into opportunities.
• Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
• Break the pattern.
• Train your technique.
• You have to really care.

After the movie, those seated at tables were given one of the Key Concepts to discuss around these three questions:

1. How did you see this concept appearing in DeWitt’s film?
2. How do you see this concept at work in your world?
3. How might this concept guide and shape our life and mission at Good Shepherd?

As is becoming usual now, 75 parishioners were very creative in their responses to the assigned task. The movie was very well done and provided a terrific jump-off for conversation about Good Shepherd.

Key Point
This interesting film effectively helped us to see, that engaging the world and its challenges is largely a matter of perspective and that shifting perspective can unleash energy and creativity. Holy Scripture and particularly the story of Jesus are ever inviting us to see things as God sees them with his perspective and unleash in our lives his grace.

Significant and useable wisdom resides in the people of God. Parish life and ministry in the 21st century must avail itself of this resource and in the process invest God’s people in God’s redemptive mission in the world beyond the parish threshold.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Six in a Series

What Can I Give Him, Poor as I Am?Christina Rossetti asks this question in her poem, “A Christmas Carol,” which is known to us as the hymn text “In the bleak midwinter.” (The Hymnal 1982, #112) She reflects on this question as a response to God giving his Son as the Incarnate, Jesus Christ. The Christian scriptures are persistent in their regular asking of a similar question, “Who do you say that I am?”

The Usual Approach
We are all familiar with the stewardship approach that invites members to make an annual financial commitment to the work of the parish for the upcoming year by completing a pledge card. In fact, those cards and letters are going out, or will be going out soon, to more than 300,000 Christian congregations all across America. Sometimes these pledge cards are accompanied with a request to complete a “time and talent” card as well.
These cards normally list the various ministries the congregation is carrying out and invite the member to find their “spot” and “fit in” with what parish leaders have determined constitutes the life and ministry of the congregation. For several decades this has been the standard approach to meeting the financial and people needs of the institutional congregation and it has worked well. It inadvertently however, limits members to thinking of the gifts they can offer only in terms of what the congregation is doing when unbeknownst to them, they have so much more to offer.

Another Approach
Asset mapping is the name of another approach to identifying the gifts that we can offer to God’s glory and service. A couple of preliminary understandings:
● An asset is a gift known for its usefulness
● There are five types of assets:
- Individual
- Associations
- Institutions
- Physical
- Economic
● The asset questions are simply:
- What are you good at doing?
- What do you like to do?
- What do you have that’s useful?

Key Points!
The kinds of assets we are thinking about here might also be considered as blessings, things like: I love working with young children; I am a breast cancer survivor; I speak Spanish; I have a van; or I am good at fixing things.

Key, Key Point!
A blessing from God remains a blessing only if it is offered to glorify God and to benefit others, elsewise it is no longer a blessing and may even become a spiritual burden! Blessings are to be shared. God has blessed us for his purposes not just for our own benefit.

The Exercise
About 100 parishioners took up magic markers and post-it notes and began to list the assets they could offer to God. It started slowly and gathered steam. Soon the parish house walls were covered with sheets of newsprint, themselves covered with yellow post-its, nearly 1500 in all! You could feel the energy rise in the room as those seated at tables engaged each other in conversation, light bulbs going off in people’s minds one after the other, as it became clearer and clearer to them the gifts that they and others at the table had to give Emmanuel.
When this was completed and the sheets of newsprint were posted all around the room, our leaders pulled off five post-its at random. Reading them out loud to the group, they asked each table to create a ministry plan with those five assets to be shared later with the whole group. It was quite amazing to witness the creativity involved as each table “cooked up” a ministry making use of a coach, someone with military experience, someone who likes to tell jokes, a big kitchen, and someone who loves to teach art to children. (HINT: Something to do with military families and Wounded Warriors.)

Key Point
This was fun! Our eyes were opened to see ourselves and what we could offer for God’s glory and the benefit of others in a different light. We are the people God has blessed and sent into the world to be a blessing to others. Don’t let your blessings stop with yourself but be a blessings conduit!

Christiana Rosetti saw herself as poor compared to the great God who gave his only Son for the world. Oftentimes, we too, see ourselves as poor, but not in comparison to God but to others around us. Consequently, we don’t believe we have anything of value to offer God, or when it comes to our collective ministries we are anxious that there is not enough.
All those post-its presented us with a very different dilemma: how can we possibly use all that God has put in this place for his glory and the welfare of his people?

Next time we explore seeing the world with God’s holy perspective.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Five in a Series

Quirinius who?Luke tells the story of the birth of Jesus by locating it in human history, in time and space, when Caesar Augustus was emperor and while Quirinius was governor of Syria (6 - 4 BCE). The God who has created everything that is and who transcends all limits has entered into human history, come among us redemptively , as Jesus born in Bethlehem. In the world, God’s activity occurs in a context, in a particular place and at a particular point in time; therefore, efforts to renew our congregational life, or efforts to serve others in the name of our Lord, must take the place and time in which we live seriously. The context exercise was designed to do that by looking at Augusta, the place of our ministry.

The People in Your 30904 Neighborhood
Good Shepherd is located in the 30904 zip code of Augusta and draws members from 10 zip codes. Making an intentional difference in the lives of others, or making life easier for others involves knowing something about the people you wish to serve. Fortunately today, there are a number of resources that provide detailed demographic information about the people living in a particular area.
We use information provided by the Percept Group who have been providing ministry area profiles for over 20 years. For the purpose of this exercise we confined ourselves to reviewing data obtained only from the 30904 zip code, though clearly, a complete ministry plan would require studying the information for the other nine zip codes where we have members. Through the generosity of our diocese we have easy access to this information. If you would like to see the Percept data for the 30904 zip code, it is available by calling the parish office.

What Did We Learn?
About 190 participants were asked to list any new information or surprises from the data that were different from what they already knew about our neighborhood. Some of the observations were: the population is decreasing, the poverty level is higher than the national average, the average age is younger than expected, there is a higher percentage of single mothers and non-traditional families and a high percentage of church goers attend for recreational purposes.
From this information each table was asked to identify five issues that Good Shepherd might address on behalf of the community. Some of the suggestions included: literacy programs, single parent support and education, mentoring programs, home repairs and life skill training.

Key Point
Effective ministry and outreach requires knowing the needs of people and their life circumstance. Decisions about ministry plans should be data driven and led by the Holy Spirit.

Every Sunday we are sent out to serve in the name of the risen Lord and to share his love by loving others. There are significant numbers of people in our own neighborhood, even at our very doorstep, who need a helping hand and to hear good news.
It is all too easy to ignore their situation (Luke 16:19-31) but surely a parish named in honor of the Good Shepherd must be willing to follow the Good Shepherd’s own example and actively seek out those who struggle with the many manifestations of lostness (Luke 15:1-7).

Friday, September 10, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Four in a Series

Mining for the Mind of ChristWe begin this process believing that God had already given us everything that is necessary for Good Shepherd to join with him in his mission to the world. The people of this parish are collectively, the repository of these insights and assets for mission. All that is needed is a way to discover or uncover what is already here. The five exercises and the year-long time frame provide one method to “mine” what God has revealed to the people here in their common mind. Entering into this discernment we hope to be inspired by Paul’s guidance to the church at Philippi: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

Getting Started
You can never go wrong by reflecting on the grace of God who has ordered, sustains, and purposes our lives and that is how we began this work at the start of the year. Once an Energy Team of 16 parishioners had offered themselves to manage and shepherd this renewing work on behalf of the parish, we prepared for the Thin Place Exercise.

Thin Places
The idea of thin places is taken from Celtic Christianity as practiced in Irish and British churches until the seventh century. The Celts believed there were actual, physical places where the boundary between heaven and earth, between this world and the next, was so thin that you could get a glimpse the other reality. People visiting these places often experienced something like a door opening between the two worlds, cracked for a moment, offering understandings of things constantly hoped for, and only rarely seen.

So, we were introduced to the idea that the Church of the Good Shepherd, at 2230 Walton Way, is a thin place, a place where every once in a while, in ways subtle and profound, people here experience God’s own presence. All jokes aside, it is an awesome notion that people might actually experience God in this church or among its people! The Thin Place Exercise asked small groups of parishioners to gather in the host homes of fellow parishioners and invited them to share their best experiences of God either at Good Shepherd or through the life and ministry of this parish.

Thin Places at Good Shepherd
This past Lent, 350 parishioners of all ages were involved in a cottage meeting for the Thin Place exercise. Many participated even though they were skeptical, or did not quite understand what we were trying to accomplish, or are basically shy or reserved persons. Some gladly looked forward to the opportunity to meet other parishioners and to engage in conversation that matters.

Some shared their experiences of God at Good Shepherd, some did not. All spoke or listened appropriately. Some people enjoyed the exercise and expressed hopes that something like it could continue in the parish. Others were amazed by the depth of experience, and some were surprised at how much God is present around Good Shepherd and in the lives of people here! This preference of God to act and be present in the ordinary more often than in the extraordinary, was evident. All drew encouragement to look further for the signs of God’s presence around and among us.

Key Points!
We are all very busy, so busy in fact that we miss a lot of what God is doing in the world. Because we miss it, we might become habituated to not even look for it. Scripture is persistently telling us to wake up! Open our eyes, seek and trust God.

There are all “sorts and conditions” of people at Good Shepherd, each one unique, each one having much in common. Yet, nurturing and encouraging each one in their discipleship of Jesus will require nimbleness and creativity from parish ministries.

In the new apostolic age, some of us will need to move beyond the instinctive Episcopal reservation about talking about matters of faith and learn how to winsomely engage others in conversation about Jesus and our Christian practices. We have all promised to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

See! We are already making progress at strengthening broad ownership and increasing stakeholders in the mission of God at and through Good Shepherd. The Energy Team of 16 planned and prepared for this exercise. Thirty-four Good Shepherd parishioners offered to open their homes for cottage meetings, 45 volunteered to be trained to facilitate the meetings and 350 of you participated. Not a bad start!

One of the hallmarks of Anglican theology is the understanding that the great eternal God, who is beyond time and space, makes himself known in time and space through the use of the things of this world: art, music, bread, wine, water, creation itself can all become outward, visible and apprehendable signs of a God whose reality is beyond our comprehension. The Thin Place exercise affirmed for us that our church building is itself a sacramental sign of God’s presence sought, desired, and experienced by those who have gone before us in this place. But more importantly, it affirmed for us that the Body of Christ in this place is built of the living stones who share this time and their lives with us. Together, we are a living sacrament set forth to share God’s love and grace made known to us in the most amazing sacrament of all - Jesus Christ our Lord.

Next we will take a look at the neighborhood and community we live in which is the context, or the place where God has put us for mission.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Three in a Series

Where do we go from here?There is a saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, then any way will get you there.” The Vestry has resolved that this will not be true of Good Shepherd! We are presently involved in a year-long process to accomplish three things:

1. We hope to renew and replenish the sense of energy and excitement at Good Shepherd about the mission God has given to us. Our goal is to move to the early Prime stage of the Congregational Life Cycle. (See Part II.)
2. We hope to discern more particularly how God would have us be the church in Augusta, Georgia. (More later about our context in Augusta.)
3. We hope to become an effective and faithful parish for Jesus Christ in the early decades of the 21st century. (See Part I.)

The five All-Parish Gatherings that have been planned for this year are designed to work together to help us realize these hopes and aspirations for our parish. Again, they include:

Thin Places: Sharing our best experiences of God in this place
Context: Looking at Augusta, the place of our ministry
Asset Mapping: Identifying the gifts we want to offer to God
Everyday Creativity: Exploring the holy perspective God has given us
God in Our Lives: Discovering God’s purposes for Good Shepherd

Please note the active verbs that characterize this effort: sharing, looking, identifying, exploring, and discovering. The process depends, to some extent, upon as many of us doing these things together as is possible, hence the all-parish nature of these gatherings. Broad ownership is the key to renewing energy about out mission here!

Key Point!
Broad ownership, increasing stakeholders, is the key to energizing the mission and life of the parish. The more people feel that they are a part of, they have a stake in our efforts to make disciples of Jesus Christ, to serve others in the larger community and world in his Name, to care for, support and encourage fellow parishioners, to catechize our children and youth and to worship Almighty God both in our lives and in our liturgy, the greater will be the sense of excitement about God’s purposes in and through Good Shepherd.

Unlike much strategic planning, where a process is initiated and…presto!…out comes a plan 12-18 months later, this is a rolling process. By which we mean, we are actually getting to where we hope to get as we do the work together, rather than waiting for an outcome some months hence. This can prove a little confusing, even frustrating, when we would prefer “map quest”-like directions to our destination. We are reminded of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-16) where Jesus compared the uncontrollable movement of the Spirit to that of the wind: it blows where it chooses, which can be disconcerting enough for all of us!

Next we begin to consider individually, the five exercises that give form and structure to our discerning work.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Two in a Series

“To everything there is a season”These well known words from Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) acknowledge that God is the one who determines events, their time and their timing. This refers in equal part to those events that just happen to people, like being born and dying, and to occasions to which people must respond, like planting and harvesting. The words also describe poetically the journey that each person makes as their own life unfolds from birth to infancy, to childhood and adolescence, to young adulthood and the prime of life; from maturity to old age and finally to death. Books describing the stages of life use this imagery and are thusly titled The Seasons of a Man’s Life and The Seasons of a Woman’s Life. While every person is unique, there are enough similarities between persons that allow for useful generalizations to be made about life’s different stages.
Just as people move through the phases of a life-cycle, some have observed that the birth to death progression could also be used as a way of thinking about the vitality of schools, businesses, organizations, programs, or even relationships. Marti Saarinen is one such person who has devised a way to apply the life cycle concept to religious institutions.

The Congregational Life Cycle

This diagram illustrates how the life cycle could be applied to a congregation like Good Shepherd. Some explanatory notes are in order to help interpret the diagram:
1. Religious organizations have a “gene” structure made up of four major components: energy, program, administration, and inclusion. Energy refers to the level of excitement and participation in the life and ministry of the congregation. Program includes all the organized ministries in a parish and those to the larger community, things like Sunday School, fellowship, outreach, etc. Administration includes communications, fund raising, maintenance, staffing and all those functions necessary to sustain an organization’s life and purpose. Finally, inclusion names that part of the community’s life that has to do with attracting, welcoming, involving, and serving members.
2. At each stage there is a presentation of the gene structure that describes and defines that phase. An upper case letter indicates increasing function in that particular area, the lower case indicates diminished function.
3. Please note that each stage of the growth side of the cycle is always characterized by an upper case “E” for high energy. Correspondingly, the decline side is always characterized by a lower case “e” for decreasing energy.
4. A congregation like Good Shepherd, 141 years young, has undoubtedly been through this life cycle several times already! Unlike human beings, organizations are always cycling through the stages.

Key Point!
Moving to the decline side is inevitable and unavoidable for congregations. The challenge for leaders of these organizations is to recognize when that has happened and to begin to take the necessary steps to renew and revitalize the congregation’s self-understanding and purpose. The further the congregation descends on the decline side, the greater the dynamic of denial in the congregation about its true situation. It also follows that correspondingly the deeper the descent into decline, the greater or more radical change that will be needed for rebirth.

Application Beyond Good Shepherd
Before applying this to our parish, I’ll offer a few opinions as to how this way of looking at religious organizations might be applied to some other religious organizations that interest us, such as our diocese and our national church.
I think that the Diocese of Georgia is in the Birth stage of the life cycle. We have a new bishop who is just beginning his ministry and there is much excitement about how the Diocese of Georgia might renew its mission and purpose. Diocesan leaders are reassessing programs, the Diocesan staff has been restructured and new efforts are underway with respect to administrative functions. We’re just getting started! Yet no one can know how long, or how challenging, even bumpy will be the journey to Prime, fully firing on all our cylinders, so to speak for, the sake of Jesus Christ and this church in South Georgia.
How about the national church? In my opinion, and there is sure to be disagreement with this assessment, the Episcopal Church is in the Bureaucracy stage. Like all mainline denominations experiencing decades long numerical decline, we are caught in important controversy, incurring significant legal expenses, and stuck in Christendom (see Part One) assumptions about the church. Again, in my opinion, denominational leaders are in deep denial about the state of our denomination and it seems that many of them are pursuing authoritarian approaches to try to stem the hemorrhaging of people, assets and energy out of the church. As noted in Part One, our denomination is significantly impacted by the dramatic shifts well underway in our culture.
Remember: the Anglican Church has been on the American scene for four hundred years and has been constituted as the Episcopal Church since 1789. Obviously, the Episcopal Church has been through this cycle before.

Application to Good Shepherd
So, where do you see Good Shepherd in the congregational life cycle?
When the Vestry and Staff first asked ourselves this question in early 2009, almost all of us placed Good Shepherd somewhere between the Maturity and Aristocracy stages.
We have struggled for some time to interpret some parish trends. For instance, Average Sunday Attendance at Good Shepherd has declined from a high of 575 in 2002 to 480 in 2009, yet Great Wednesday participation has been going up and remained steady all throughout this past year. The average financial pledge keeps increasing year after year, even in the down economy, from an average of $2,837 in 2002 to $3,839 in 2010; but the number of households financially contributing has decreased from 539 in 2002 to 467 in 2009. Our membership has held steady and we have even experienced 1% growth. Participation in service ministries has remained strong but participation in Christian Formation opportunities has been soft.
The Congregational Life Cycle model was helpful to us as we worked to understand and interpret what was going on at Good Shepherd. More importantly, this model offered a way to renew and redevelop parish ministry and move us forward to the energy side of the cycle again.

A Last Piece
There is one last piece to assembling the puzzle of what is going on at Good Shepherd. As Christians we follow Jesus who said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) We are called and sent into the world to share the love and revelation of God as it is presented to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. In Christ, God is loving and saving the world for his purposes. Put another way, God has a mission to the world and he also has a church that is to be an agent of his redemptive project in the world.
This point was powerfully made for the Vestry at the retreat at Kanuga in January of 2010. The Reverend Dr. Reggie McNeal spoke convincingly about the full blown post-Christendom culture in the United States (see Part One). The Vestry enthusiastically received his comments as both accurately descriptive and a call to congregational response. A series of articles have since appeared in The Shepherd’s Fold reviewing Dr. McNeal’s book, The Present Future, that addresses the shifts in emphasis that congregations need to make in order to partner more faithfully with God in his mission to the world in the 21st century.

Putting it Together
The Vestry participated in the annual Vestry Conference at Kanuga in January 2009 and January 2010, not expecting anything more to happen than having a good team building weekend together, reviewing the past year at Good Shepherd and establishing some goals for the upcoming year. Little did we know that the presentations there on two separate occasions, each separated by a full year, would each speak to us clearly and in tandem of the call to renew and refocus congregational life and ministry at Good Shepherd so that God’s purposes might be honored and that people might be led to more intentionally follow Jesus as Savior and Lord in these times.

Key Points!
Since moving back into a wonderfully renovated Parish House in November of 2004, parish leadership has sought new focus for Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry. A number of worthwhile and productive efforts have been undertaken, but none of them have successfully addressed the sense of complacency at Good Shepherd, most widely experienced as diminished energy about the parish, its life and its mission.
The Congregational Life Cycle as a tool helped the Vestry and Rector to name its sense of what was happening in the parish and to begin to address it creatively and constructively.
Reggie McNeal’s inspiring and exciting vision of a God of mission on the move in the world persuaded the Vestry that Good Shepherd should ask God to show us a way to more faithfully and more fully align our energies and efforts with his purpose, at this moment, in this place.

We began this section of the series by quoting Ecclesiastes, “to everything there is a season,” and acknowledging that God alone is the one who determines the who, what, where, when, and how of his purposes. Exciting things are happening all around the world where Jesus Christ is concerned. There is a new movement of the Holy Spirit at work in the world. We have determined to discern how Good Shepherd, by God’s grace, might be part of it. As much as we would all like to know exactly where this is headed we must remember that God’s call never comes with a detailed plan but only with the assurance that if we say yes, that he will be with us.
Look to Part Three for an introduction to the year long process of discernment, now in progress, to renew and refocus our mission and ministry in Augusta.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part One in a Series

In October 2009, the Rector and Vestry agreed to work with the Reverends Randy Ferebee and Alan Akridge in a year-long process that would replenish and renew the energy and sense of excitement in the parish about the mission God has given to us.This process consists of a series of five exercises for the whole parish that began with the “Thin Place Exercise” in Lent 2010. Over 350 Good Shepherd members met in fellow parishioner’s homes to share their best experiences of God at Good Shepherd. This fall, this process resumes – with the four remaining exercises, one scheduled for each of the months of August, September, October, and November.
The purpose of this series is to communicate, in greater detail, the context, goals and hopes for this work and the promise in Christ that it offers to Good Shepherd.

“The times they are a-changin’”
When I was a boy, men and women wore hats in public. Even the small town I grew up in had several hat stores. Not anymore! Somewhere about 1960 fashion changed and the demand for millinery collapsed. One can only hope that hatters saw this coming and were prepared.
People in business know how essential it is to keep a keen eye on how the wind blows with respect to their particular enterprise. Staying on top of, or better yet, ahead of trends can pay dividends. Failing to discern the signs of the times (Luke 12:54-56) can cause problems, even catastrophe.
Although Good Shepherd is certainly not a business, the analogy still applies to the Rector and Vestry as leaders of the parish, tasked with keeping an eye on the life and ministry of the parish. Part of this shared oversight means paying attention to what is going on in the parish, the local community, and the world around us. Part of this involves understanding the culture that surrounds us so that we might engage with it and share with it the Good News of God made real in Jesus Christ.
Most importantly, the Rector and Vestry must seek and listen for God’s particular call to Christ’s people in this particular parish at this particular moment. Once that purpose is discerned, we pray for the grace and courage to respond with trust and obedience to what God has for us.
We believe the wind has shifted for the church in North America and it’s time to adjust our sails.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”
When Dorothy and Toto were blown into the Land of Oz, it was clearly apparent to her that they were no longer in the familiar landscape of Kansas, but had entered an entirely different world. If this was lost on anybody viewing the movie, the shift from black and white to color film dramatically emphasized the changed reality. Her famous observation to her little dog is a classic understatement.
Something like that has happened to the Christian church in North America. Those of us who are of a certain age recognize just how much America’s deference to Christian sensibilities has changed. We attended schools, where prayers or devotions were often a part of each morning. Friday night football games began with an invocation by a student member of the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes.) Many stores and movies were closed on Sundays. It was assumed that almost everyone was a Christian and went to church. Many laws and morals had biblical basis. You could “catch” the Christian perspective from the culture whether you attended church or not. TV and radio were free of sexual innuendo and profanity.
However you choose to characterize it, Christianity has lost that privileged place in American culture and people are increasingly uncomfortable with any references to religious, and particularly Christian, points of view in the public square.
Church historians and other religious observers of the culture have noted and commented on this shift for several decades. Loren Mead, an Episcopal priest, wrote a book in 1992 that has become a classic on the subject titled The Once and Future Church. He argues that the social and communal shifts which are changing the nature of how the church relates to the surrounding culture are real, profound and lasting changes. He offers three models or paradigms, to help us organize and bring 2000 years of Christian experience into useful focus and application to this new situation.

The Apostolic Era
The first model that Mead identifies is commonly called the Apostolic Era. This covers the period of time from the resurrection of Jesus to the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 314.
In this era, the church understood itself as existing in a hostile, antagonistic, and persecuting world. Early Christians saw themselves as following the “way” of Jesus which offered very different values for behaving and believing, making Christians distinct from others in the world with them. The marketplace of ideas was chock full of competing ideologies, religions, and philosophies.
Life in the early Christian communities was intense and personal with each of its members aware that they were called to witness to God’s love in Christ to that hostile world. The early church saw its mission as right outside its front door. Every member was a missionary. The mission of communicating the Gospel was a task for every member. The congregation sought to build up and equip its individual members to engage in that mission.

The Christendom Era
As Christianity became, in both name and law, the official religion of the Roman Empire, the church and the western world became virtually one and the same. The church no longer existed in a hostile and antagonistic environment, but one which supported the work of the church and at times, regrettably, co-opted it for the purposes of the state. Mission now took place at the boundaries of the Empire and was engaged in by missionary specialists sent out to convert barbaric tribes and nations.
The congregation became a parish, the church in a geographic area, and everybody born in that area was a member of the parish by birth. Being a Christian meant being a good citizen and law and government described and enforced Christian values. The differences between the secular elements of the society were not easily distinguished from the religious elements.
Christendom, a term that refers to the global community of Christians and is also used to describe the informal cultural hegemony that Christianity has enjoyed in the world for nearly 20 centuries, is the word used to describe this long time period which dates from the year 314 to the mid-twentieth century, over 1600 years!

The New Apostolic Era
The old Christendom paradigm is not working. Something new is needed and is emerging. What that will finally look like is not yet clear and may take some time to finally emerge. What is known, is that in the new paradigm, no longer can it be assumed that all people are Christians or know much about following Jesus. Sometimes negative stereotypes are all that people know of Christians and consequently they reject the church as having any interest or value for them.
The congregation is no longer a geographical area and the front door of the church once again marks the boundary of the mission frontier. Some have suggested that the dearth of biblical or theological understanding inside the Christian community means that the congregation itself may be the area of mission!
Clergy do not hold high status roles as chaplains in the community. Lay people are once again missionaries, not members, and everyone is called to ministry beyond the congregation.

Loren Mead refers to this last model as the Emerging Paradigm. Others call it the Post-Christendom or Post-Modern Era. Several of my colleagues have taken to naming it the New Apostolic Era because there are many similarities between the world of the first century and the twenty-first, and there is the opportunity for a new and vital Christianity to emerge that has much in common with the first century of Christian believers.
Mark Twain has famously said, “Nobody likes change, except a baby with a wet diaper.” Once we Christians are past the grief of what has changed or been lost; or the frustration about being marginalized in the large culture; or the anxieties of what is to come for our children and grandchildren; or realize that Christendom cannot be restored in America by political means; perhaps then, we can begin to look around the larger world and see that God is on the move; that amazing things are happening in other places and that through the power of the Holy Spirit and grace of God they may happen here too!

Key Point!
Many of us have grown up shaped and formed by the Christendom paradigm of being and doing church. Most congregational, denominational, and even ecumenical structures assume a Christendom reality. While many can see the clear evidence of the shift in culture and context that Loren Mead describes, conceptualizing a new model of how the church communicates the Gospel in this context is very difficult. It is clearly a work in progress!

Look to Part Two for a description of some other dynamics at work in Good Shepherd.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Here I go...

I am looking forward to opening this blog with equal measures of excitement and trepidation! Please keep a novice blogger in your prayers.