Here’s a story author Paul Young wrote this week on his blog:
Bill was asked by a member of his church to visit a relative who was mentally unstable and had tried to kill herself four times in one afternoon. He arrives to find her strapped down in the medical psych ward, her abdomen bandages where she had used a knife to stab herself repeatedly. She then had taken an overdose of pills and smashed the glass she drank them with and used the edge of the broken glass to saw her throat open. Now she lay there strapped to a bed with a tracheotomy and unable to speak. Bill had no idea what to say. He pulled up a chair next to her and this is what he finally said to her:
“You belong to the Father, Son and Spirit. You always have. You always will. He loves you and likes you. You are his beloved child.”
He waited and then said it again and then again. He said it to her about ten times and huge tears began running down her face. Over the next weeks she was transformed. Her family marveled at the changes in her.
The truth of what Bill spoke to her is what each of us is coming to understand. Father, Son and Holy Spirit have loved us from before the foundation of the world, have loved you, have loved me. By intent we were included into the love that dances between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and in exchange the Three have climbed into our darkness and blindness to heal us from the inside.
This is what our churches need to hear today; that they are his beloved children.
It was crazy, really, for some Anglicans to dream an audacious goal like starting 1000 Anglican churches. Didn’t they get the memo? The Anglican Church is in decline and now is the time to batten down the hatches, hold the fort, and tighten the purse strings. Why put such a hard task in front of a weary church?
Well last week the Anglican Church in North America announced that they planted 100 churches in the past nine months. It’s amazing to see these churches take off, the latest church plants are listed here and they appear to be healthy communities with growing staff, outreach events, and exciting opportunities. Here’s a great video about what’s going on with the Anglican 1000 (highly recommended and inspiring!)
What if a new memo went out in the ELCIC that laid out a new Christ-centered vision for church planting? What if we started a Lutheran movement in Canada that turned our efforts towards seeing new people come to faith in Jesus and start new churches in their communities?
But planting churches is only part of what could be. I think a solid vision for church planting will change the way we do other things in the ELCIC, like how we train leaders. Here’s a quote from the Anglican 1000 website:
Churches are thinking creatively about equipping leaders and planting new congregations in their communities. Church planting used to be for the elite superstars of the clerical ranks. Today, we thank God for those who He has immensely equipped for this work while recognizing that a superstar strategy is not sustainable. Church planting is a work of the Body of Christ and involves those sending, those equipping, those resourcing, and those going.
But should the church entrust its growth to the laity? Jesus did and so did Paul. Ordinary people with burning hearts for Jesus heard the call and the church grew by God’s grace. What if we reform our leadership development system to equip passionate people to start churches and lead others into worship and service? What if we asked our seminaries to support the work of the church in new ways? What if we empowered the laity to become missionaries and ministers in their neighbourhoods – even to the point of starting new churches? It was the first century model of Jesus, would it be crazy to try again?
I must admit to some professional jealously. Recently I have had reasons to visit some of our local mega churches. As a good ELCIC Lutheran I have been trained to despise these places. To be honest while I was there, I was actually quite impressed. Most of the people I met were sincere Christians, the music, the worship, the preaching all were good. Actually more then good, they were spectacular. I wondered if we could become so spectacular? Jealously welled up in me. Which is a good warning that I was on the wrong track.
An important correction came in the form of a book that was lent to be as I have been traveling though the desert. It is one of the finest and most beautiful books I have ever read. It is called The Wisdom of the Poverello. It is about Saint Francis as he walked though his own desert. In it I found the wisdom that I had forgotten. That it is not in our spectacular worship, or buildings or programs that God is most clearly proclaimed. Rather it is in our poverty. It is when we have allowed our selves to be become empty, and filled only by our desire for God and by God’s own self.
As the Poverello says “sanctity is not developing oneself to the utmost, nor is it an achievement of one’s own doing. It is at first a void which one discovers in oneself and accepts and which God then comes to fill in proportion to how much one makes one’self receptive to God’s bounty.” Then the evangelical moment comes, when from our poverty, our emptiness and simplicity God shines though us.
May we again become a simple and poor church so that the light of God might shine through us.
One of the truisms of community organizing is that capacity is determined by the number and quality of leaders that you develop. I believe that this is also true for the church. One the one side this involves the initial identification and training of leaders. It also involves the continuous development of leadership skills by all leaders. One of the great opportunities of the digital age is now there are more and more leadership training initiatives that are available online and are free.
Once such upcoming event is called Sage. If you are interested check out the website by clicking on the link below.
Here is a great short video about the Lausanne Global Conversation. They wonder what it would be like for Christians around the world to collaborate their ideas. Bold and exciting, check it out.
Visit the Lausanne website here.
A grin came across my face a few months ago when I found this stamp in a long-forgotten drawer here at the church. The well used stamp simply said, in bold letters, “WE MISSED YOU SUNDAY.” I tried to imagine how this stamp was lovingly used. I can only imagine that it was created with the best intentions – to remind people that they were missed. Maybe cards were sent out monthly and this stamp was punched square in the middle of it. I don’t know.
But the medium is so very ironic. Instead of a handwritten note, a phone call, or better yet, a personal visit, this stamp was created to save time and effort. We want to show we care, but clearly not much more than what a stamp will do.
As many mainline churches across Canada shrink in size and cut back on outreach, we may be tempted to pull out The Stamp again. Please don’t. Let’s rediscover those deep relationships and rebuild the church in the context of community once again.
Today this stamp sits on my shelf as a daily reminder. Terse emails, quick phone calls, and too many missed opportunities; these are my own sins – Kýrie, eléison.
So what would a faith community look like that you would want to be a part of? A version of this question is going to be a part of what Advent is going to be asking people in the communities surrounding our church. It’s a powerful question. For myself its power lies in how it has turned me to think about the times that I have been apart of faith communities that I have loved and what characterizes them. It has reminded me how much good there is in our faith. So here is some of what characterized communities that I have loved to be a part of.
There has been a strong experience of love amongst its members.
There has been a strong life of prayer and spirituality rooted in the mystery and Love of God.
They have been directly involved in addressing the needs of their community and committed to Justice.
They have shared their life with the poor.
They have practiced hospitality to strangers.
Worship has been beautiful and sacramental.
In the teaching and in the life of the community I have experienced the presence of God.
All of these things are a part of our faith, they are all a part of our tradition, they are all a part of what is possible for any community of faith. I encourage all of you today to reflect on what are some of the richness that you have experience in Christian communities. I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings.