fain | fān | archaic

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

Monday, July 18, 2011

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Final Report in a Series

“Get up, let us be going”
After the last supper, on the night that he was betrayed, Jesus and his disciples retreat to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus undergoes an agonizing time of doubt and struggle prior to his trial and execution. That time of uncertainty ends however, with a clear, decisive, resolute and imperative command to his disciples: “Get up, let us be going.”

With these words, Jesus fully embraces the way of self-giving love that will redeem the whole world and bear witness to the amazing grace of God the Father and he calls us to follow his own example.

For all of its sophistication, complexity, antiquity and ambiguity, sometimes Holy Scripture can be blindingly clear in what is expected of God’s people:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Our time of discernment and prayer regarding God’s call to us in this particular place and time is at end. It is time now for us to get up and be going. While we do not presume to possess the kind of clarity that marked Jesus’ own times of prayer and discernment, nonetheless we go forward, if not confident in our discernment, then confident that it is Jesus who calls us and goes with us.

Becoming a Missional Congregation
The word used to describe those congregations that are attempting to shift their emphasis from program to people, from being church focused to kingdom focused, moving from Christendom1 assumptions about ministry to those suited for the new apostolic era2 is “missional.” Missional congregations are preparing the people of God for caring service to others motivated by God’s love and for sharing Good News of Jesus with others as the Holy Spirit leads and gives opportunity to do so. Good Shepherd aspires to be a missional congregation.

Taking it out on the road
We have had our eyes opened to see clearly that our world and the world our children and grandchildren will inherit has changed substantially from the world we have known. Ways of being the church that have served the cause of Christ well enough for 1,600 years are no longer working and we believe the Holy Spirit has been nudging us to try other ways of joining with God in his redemptive work in the world.

This fall we begin responding to some of those Holy Spirit nudgings, trying some other ways, emphasizing some other aspects, of being Christ’s people in this place.
Look for these first steps this August and beyond:

Unrolling the Scroll
The bible Jesus knew, read and quoted was made up of the books we call the Old Testament or Hebrew scripture. The writings of the Torah and Prophets were carefully and painstakingly copied by scribes on parchment and rolled up as scrolls for storage and safekeeping. These texts, though copied by hand, have been faithfully transmitted over centuries with a high degree of accuracy and few scribal mistakes.

In the synagogue today, this scripture is read in Hebrew from scrolls which are reverently displayed in the Ark, which occupies a place of honor in the synagogue, much like the altar in a church. Much ceremony attends the removal of the scroll from the ark for public reading and it is a great honor and responsibility to be selected to read from the Torah. Carefully and reverently is the scroll handled and unrolled and the reader uses a pointer to keep place rather than touching the scroll with a finger.

This is all in keeping with the belief that God still speaks to his people through his written word. Given this understanding one experiences a sense of anticipation as the scroll is unrolled: perhaps God will once again speak to his people or even speak to me!

To be intentional about sharing Good News of Jesus requires us to know and experience that Good News in our own lives. Knowledge and familiarity with the scriptures is essential to this ministry. The lack of basic knowledge of the bible stories is well known in our time and widespread across all denominations. If the people of God at Good Shepherd are to engage God’s redemptive mission in the world by sharing Good News of Jesus it will require us to become more knowledgeable of our story as it is recounted in the bible.

To this end and beginning on August 21st, we will begin a fourteen week program of reading in sequence the key stories of Hebrew scripture. These stories will be our sole focus in worship, preaching and study until Advent where we will turn our attention to the story of Jesus. The whole parish, across all ages, will undertake this study together. We are calling it Unrolling the Scroll as our focus for the fall will be on the Old Testament.

Service Sundays
The parish gathers and prepares people for caring service in Jesus’ name. Good Shepherd as a congregation has a long tradition of generosity when it comes to community and world ministry. This will continue and increase! But caring service will increasingly become a part of the ministry of smaller parish groups like Sunday school classes or the men’s group, or youth. Individuals will look for ways to serve each day. Families will seek their own opportunities to share God’s love with others together as a family.

To hold this emphasis before our parish, the whole parish will be invited periodically to join the procession from church to go out into the world to serve together. Sometimes service can be offered on our campus. Other times we will load the buses and go somewhere in the neighborhood, returning to the parish after an hour or so for lunch and celebration.

The first Service Sunday is August 14th following the 10:00 am service.

Sharing Good News of Jesus
We will begin to be more intentional as a parish and as individuals in our willingness to talk about our faith experiences with each other and with others. Once or twice throughout the year we will invite the whole parish to meet in parishioner homes again for fellowship and sharing using the “thin place” model used at the start of this process. We will offer classes and other opportunities that help us to find our own “voice” that allows us to share Good News of Jesus.

This September 20-21, we will partner with other congregations in welcoming Anne Graham Lotz to Augusta for a retreat of refreshment and renewal with women of our community. Anne is a popular speaker and writer and the daughter of Billy Graham.

Formation: the main work of the church
Decades ago when the Episcopal Church decided it was time to get serious about financial giving, it adopted the tithe as the standard of giving. It adopted a slogan too: Stewardship is the main work of the church. In this new apostolic era, formation is the main work of the church and parishes, individuals and families had best get serious about forming ourselves as followers of Jesus if we are to withstand and critique the barrage of cultural assumptions constantly coming at us, subtly subverting Christian manners.

To enter that wide-open marketplace of competing ideas, ideologies and philosophies, Christians must know our life shaping narrative well enough to give an authentic and inviting account of ourselves and of our faith if others are to consider following Jesus themselves.

Good Shepherd will begin to steadily emphasize our own formation efforts preparing our parishioners to live as Christ’s people in this culture. This year’s Parish Retreat Weekend at Kanuga, September 9-11, will have some time set aside for exploring with parents and others, ways of nurturing our faith lives in our own homes.

Wait a minute!
You may be thinking “Episcopalians don’t do this!” “Other Christian denominations may talk or act this way and that’s why I joined the Episcopal church in the first place!” If so, then terrific! You also, are beginning to awaken to the realization that has taken hold of the Vestry and Staff, namely that old ways of thinking of ourselves and of our ministry are signs in and of themselves of how captive we all are to Christendom assumptions about the world and consequently, how we minister in that world. We have to regularly remind ourselves that world no longer exists, and we have to discover the adjustments to be made so that we may be faithful in our ministry in the new situation.

All will be well
Julian of Norwich was born around 1342 in England. Thirty years old, she was gravely ill, even given last rites, when suddenly on the seventh day her pain left her and she experienced fifteen visions of Jesus’ suffering that brought her great peace and joy. Her writings can be found in Revelations of Divine Love, a tender and touching reflection on God’s love exhibited in the life of Jesus. Often Julian refers to Jesus as “our courteous Lord.” Many people have found strength in the words Jesus gave to her:

“I can make all things well; I will make all things well; I shall make all things well; and thou canst see for thyself that all manner of things shall be well.”

Even though the world has changed so quickly and profoundly as to be disorienting and disheartening, and even though the church, not even Good Shepherd, can escape this vortex of change, may our courteous Lord give us eyes to see that in him all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well. God is on the move. Get up, let us be going.

1 The word “Christendom” is used throughout this series as short hand to describe a number of assumptions (see Part One) about the culture that have shaped and formed Christian practice and mission over the last 16 centuries. The church has been slow to recognize that a Christendom culture no longer exists which presents significant challenges and opportunities for Christians today.

2 The expression “new apostolic era” is short hand for those assumptions (see Part One) being made about the present culture and their implications for Christian practice and mission today. Some use the expressions “post-Christendom” or “post-modern” to describe this culture. “New apostolic era” reminds Christians that the first four centuries of the church’s life and mission took place in a culture that had much in common with today’s context and therefore may provide guidance for how the church goes about its mission today.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

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

Good Shepherd has now completed a two year process of discernment and is committed to making those shifts of emphasis necessary to be an effective congregation for Jesus Christ in the early years of the 21st century. One of our many learnings has been the recognition that in the post-Christendom context of the new apostolic era, it is the People of God, deployed and dispersed in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities, who are the primary vehicle of sharing the Good News of Jesus in the world. This represents a shift from the Christendom model in which the physical place of the church, through its programs and clergy, in an attractional model, is the primary vehicle for sharing the Gospel in the world.
What does this look like for Good Shepherd?
Hopefully this picture can sum it all up memorably and succinctly. Click on the picture for a larger image.

First, the Church of the Good Shepherd, specifically meaning the People of God gathered in this particular place, are directed, pointed and focused on the task of engaging God’s redemptive mission in the world. As recognized in the opening paragraph, it is our individual members who are now the point of the spear so to speak, rather than the place, or the clergy professionals, or the program that is offered on site. The work of the staff becomes coaching, encouraging, and preparing people to answer God’s call to them at this moment in history so that they may be sent into the world.

God’s redemptive mission is first and foremost, nothing less than “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 859) Many Christians are awaking to realize that God is already about this work in the world with or without the church! Rather than starting ministries and asking God to bless them, God’s people need to get out of their churches and meet God in his world to discover what God is already doing there. Congregations then discern ways to partner with God in his mission (not the Church’s emphasis added).

Engaging God’s redemptive mission in the world takes place around three equally important and equally supported areas of ministry and action:

-Building up the Parish Community
-Caring Service in the Community
-Sharing Good News of Jesus

The notes on the illustration say a bit more about each of these three foci of action.

Building Up the Parish Community
Since the end of the Second World War in America Building Up the Parish Community has received the vast amount of time, energy and resources from Christian congregations. All you have to do to be convinced of this is to drive around our community and see all the buildings, with their construction costs, maintenance costs, and staffs busy creating programs and ministries to attract and retain members (Good Shepherd included!). Truth is Building Up the Parish Community became an end in itself rather than a means to ends, those ends being offering caring service in the community and sharing Good News of Jesus.

Churches are beginning to rediscover their first and true callings again expressed in service motivated by agape and a desire to invite others to follow Jesus Christ.

Caring Service in the Community
For over two decades now Good Shepherd has intentionally devoted itself to making a difference in other people’s lives in the name of Jesus Christ through community and world ministry. Since 1992, somewhere between 23% and 29% of annual giving in any year has been given through the parish budget for caring service in the community. That is a total of $5,308,342 given for God’s work in the wider world since 1992. Mainly through COGS and Interfaith, parishioners have also engaged in hands on ministry for others.

All and all through God’s grace and blessing we have tangible evidence of our desire be a Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) parish.

Sharing Good News of Jesus
Despite saying for many years that we aspired to be a Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) parish, we have not tangibly demonstrated that we are serious about the work of inviting others into life giving, life changing relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Yes, like almost all other Episcopalians and mainline Christians, we have implicitly shared Good News of Jesus by hoping others would be attracted to him through our worship, fellowship, programs and service. We are very comfortable with this Christendom, low key, low commitment, attractional approach to evangelism.

Yet, in the new apostolic era characterized by a wide open marketplace of loud and competing philosophies, and ideologies demanding people’s loyalty and allegiance, we shall have to taken a different approach. The attractional model may have worked in its day, but that day is now past.

Marching Orders
Well, there you have it! As best we are able to figure, in conversation with you and with others in other churches, prayerfully and with humility, we believe we now have our marching orders. If we are mistaken in any of our working assumptions, no harm can come to the parish. If we have rightly read the signs of the times, then by God’s grace and almighty providence we may have just set Good Shepherd on a path, in 10 - 20 years time, to be a vital, useful and continuing place for God’s purposes in the world and to the glory of his incomparable Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May God make it so. Amen.

Next: Part Eleven: Get up, let us be going.