5 Marks of Mission exercise, by Amy Real Coultas

The Diocese of Kentucky met for its 185th Annual Convention Nov 9 & 10. Bishop White framed our work together as our “annual mission gathering” and invited us to turn our traditional workshop times into opportunities to share stories of mission happening across the diocese.  Led by the Rev. Dr. Mary Abrams, Bishop White and the planning team created a rotation that allowed small groups to rotate through each of the 5 Marks of Mission, engaging in a simple bible study and sharing exercise related to each goal.  This same process could certainly work in other contexts, so I thought I’d offer it here. The convention seemed really energized by hearing the stories of work being done in other churches and I heard many people say things like “we should get together and do this more often!”  The bishop and I chose passages from Luke-Acts since we’ll be entering into the “Luke” year in the lectionary.

(See my post about how this tied into our Acts 8 exercise here.)

Here’s what we did:

As part of registration, we were each assigned a group 1-5.  We began with a 15 minute plenary session during which the bishop introduced the 5 Marks of Mission and outlined the process we would follow.  Following orientation, each of us went to the room to which we were assigned.  We stayed in that room for the duration and the facilitators for each mark rotated through all the rooms.  We spent 25 minutes on each mark. The sessions went like this:

  • Introduction of the particular Mark of Mission
  • Reading of the related scripture passage
  • Sharing of what themes stood out for us in the scripture
  • Sharing of how we are living out the mark.  We were given post-it notes for each question. We wrote answers on the post-its and as we shared with the group, we added our post-it to a large paper banner.
    • Question 1: How is this Mark of Mission currently reflecting where you are now in the life and work of your parish? (Current actions)
    • Question 2: What are sone others ways your parish could live into this Mark more fully?  (Future vision)
  • The post-its were all collected under banners for each mark and displayed in the convention hall during our business sessions.  They are being compiled and will be published in the coming days.

Here are the associated scripture passages and brief notes each facilitator used:

Mark 1: Luke 5:1-11.  Themes: casting nets; repentance; hesitance to go out into deeper water; directed by Jesus.

Mark 2: Acts 8:26-40.  Themes: what is to prevent me from being baptized NOW? How do we invite people to baptism? How do we witness to the power of God through baptism that draws others to the front?

Mark 3: Luke 5:17-20.   Themes: bringing needs to Jesus.  Overcoming obstacles, being creative; stopping at nothing, urgency. What are some of the forms of healing?

Mark 4: Luke 3:3-6.  Themes: God’s justice created by crying out in the wilderness.  What wildernesses must be confronted? How do we best prepare the Lord’s Way to change the landscape: valleys filled, mountains and hills brought low, crooked made straight, rough smooth, all so that people see salvation, the wholeness of God?

Mark 5: Luke 20: 9-19.  Themes: the tenants were motivated by greed and were unjust. How do we model sharing resources with neighbors far and near?  Does clean water in Africa begin in Kentucky? What does the youngest generation have to teach us about caring for creation? For the majority of Anglicans worldwide, this mark is very important and signals our willingness to be in relationship.

Read my reflections on the 5 Marks as convention chaplain here.

“I Dream of a Church…” in Kentucky, by Amy Real Coultas

Here’s the version of “I Dream of a Church…” that we created from our exercise during the convention of the Diocese of Kentucky this weekend.

The convention had spent Friday afternoon in workshops centered on each of the 5 Marks of Mission, and so I let that be the backdrop for Acts 8.  Here’s what we did, in case it is a helpful model for anyone else out there.

 

  • Prior to the discussion, we assembled a baggie for each deputation’s table.  (The tables get cluttered with all kinds of stuff, so I wanted the Acts 8 items to stay together.)  These bags included blank index cards, an Acts 8 card I created*, and Acts 8 buttons.
  • I introduced the history of the Acts 8 Moment, and gave a very brief introduction to the pericope.  ‘In this portion of Acts, the institution seems to be disintegrating; it seems to be falling apart around them, and they’re not sure how to respond.  It is not too different than the 21st century context.  We remember, though, that the Holy Spirit has something in mind.  We know the Spirit is calling God’s people into something they don’t yet fully understand.  The people involved in the Acts 8 Moment discussions are committed to listening for where the Holy Spirit is calling the Episcopal Church, and wants to offer tools  for others throughout the Church to do the same.’
  • Asked each table to pass out the index cards.  I explained that at General Convention, and at other diocesan conventions and gatherings across the Church this fall, Episcopalians have been completing the sentence:  “I dream of a church that………”  I asked them to do the same by writing their dream on the index card.
  • I invited them to take the Acts 8 info cards and buttons with them.

 

*I created this using what I read from others who have led Acts 8 workshops.

 

A Message from Canterbury, by Frank Logue

Message from Canterbury (1944) from British Council Film on Vimeo.

This week, The Episcopal Church celebrated the feast day of William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942-1944. William was the son of Frederick Temple who had served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1896-1902. Despite his Archbishop father, William was originally refused ordination by the Bishop of London for not professing belief in the Virgin birth or bodily resurrection, two views he came to hold as he saw both the truth and the importance of the doctrine of the Incarnation. The video above features the wartime preaching of Archbishop Temple the younger during World War II as he sought to bring a sense of peace to a wartorn England. He sounds a little more English-schoolboy-like than I imagined, but the video is a glimpse into his leadership in time of war.

This week, the Anglican Communion also learned that the Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, will become the successor to the two Temples and current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Welby is an evangelical who once worked in the oil industry before getting active at Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), as that church’s ALPHA Course went global. This means that the new Archbishop was formed at “HTB” which talks about a “mission-shaped church” and “fresh expressions” and now counts one of its most popular concepts as “cafe theology” – discussing belief in your local Starbucks.

What it means to have the evangelical Bishop Welby heading the Anglican Communion at this time, no one but God yet knows. For now, what comes next is a matter for prayer. For whether God is reconciling the world to God’s own self is a given, but the role the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church plays in that divine action remains an open question.

The Slow Revolution, by Amy Real Coultas

Momastery logo
Logo for the blog Momastery

In the midst of thinking about stewardship and church development, I was reminded of a post from the blog Momastery about the temptation to lose sight of one’s mission in favor of easier definitions of ‘success.’  It’s a post about how fiercely following your mission is actually the only way to ensure you ever get close to succeeding in that mission.  It’s a post about trusting in having Enough.

For the unfamiliar: Momastery is a popular progressive-Christian-‘mommy’ blog which began a growth spurt a couple of years ago. (Motherhood + monastery = Momastery. Readers of the blog are dubbed Monkees because they are like monks at the Momastery, but not quite.) Author Glennon Melton knew that the blog’s “success” was not rooted in numbers or fame, but in authentic community.  Success for Momastery was about sharing.  It was about honesty.  It was about freedom.  It was mostly about grace.  It was definitely about salvation.  She also knew that it wasn’t actually about her, although she had created the blog and her words fueled and nourished its life.  She insists that Momastery is a shared mission, and that at the heart of its community is always the person they’ve yet to meet. 

From her post:

Our goal is to go deep here, not wide. We are collecting hearts, not exposure, and certainly not cash.

Our goals are to be careful, to be slow and pay attention and look closely at each other and to re-think and pray and feel and wake-up and care and connect. So we can become braver and live bigger and realer on this Earth.

We are successful because chances are that tonight some tired and lonely mom will click on a friend’s link and get lost in our essays and our comments and our love for each other. And she will ignore her husband for hours and she will cry a little and laugh a lot and she will read on and on and on. And it may take her months to rally the courage to comment, but she will meet us here every day because she has finally found her people! She has finally found a group of women whose only motive is to love and laugh together and who are NOT FOR SALE. And this will help her believe and be peaceful and feel a little less suspicious and more comfortable and safe and brave on this Earth. And so she will be full of joy. DONE. REVOLUTION WON. Without Oprah!

Please listen to me. The revolution is not in the future, the revolution is not on the Today Show. The revolution is in one quiet kitchen at a time. One Monkee at a time. Slow and steady. Tiny as a mustard seed. The Revolution, the kingdom of God, is INSIDE each of us. It is won or lost THERE, in each heart. Not on Prime Time.

She then quotes Luke 17:

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’

How would it change our stewardship and church development programs if we thought about our mission like Glennon and her Monkees think about theirs?  What could we let go of so that honesty, grace, love, community, salvation are lived out, fiercely?  How can we tell the story we know from God in ways that are so compellingly honest that we will be invited to hear others’ stories?

 

Learning to Share, by Amy Real Coultas

Win More by Sharing
Win More by Sharing illustration from Zurb.com

When I was in college I took a class called Sociology of Alienation. One of the markers we examined was the loss of shared cultural narratives in American society.  As an illustration, my professor offered the class several literary examples which were based in biblical stories.  Not only could the class not place the references, most of us didn’t even know the references once they were pointed out.  That was 15 years ago.

I am not surprised, then, when I read the results of survey after survey describing the irrelevance of the Church to the present culture, even amongst those interested in spiritual matters and practices.  (Megan Castellan dubbed them “liminals” in her recent post here.)  Everywhere I turn, my colleagues in ministry are trying to figure out how to better tell God’s story to a world that increasingly pays no attention to us.

This week the blog over at Confirm Not Conform adressed two key challenges for telling our story in the current landscape: 1) We forget what it’s like to not know.  Most of the people we are trying to tell the story to are listening from a different place than from where we are telling the story, and we forget to put ourselves in their shoes.  2) We lose sight of the simple truth that Jesus used day-to-day examples to tell his stories.  We forget, Laura Toepfer writes, “that when Jesus was teaching his followers by using stories and parables, they were not yet Bible stories!

There is an underlying assumption at the heart of these challenges, of course: we assume our job is simply to go out and tell the story.  But there’s more to it if we want to share God’s story effectively. Namely, we have to actually share it.  It is not “ours”–we do not own it. It is God’s.  And God is already at work, present in the lives of anyone we meet. “Sharing the story” seems often to mean something closer to “disclosing the story.”  As if we have a story, and they don’t, so we need give it to them.  Game over.  But really sharing the story would mean walking through the narrative together; it would mean acknowledging that it belongs as much to “the other” as to ourselves; it would mean hearing their questions and answers as loudly as our own.

In Acts 8, Philip’s successful sharing of the story happens because he stops to hear the eunuch’s questions. He respects the eunuch’s experience and lets his curiosity uncover the story as they explore it together. Effective sharing of the gospel story and of the life of the Church in 2012 must mean journeying together to better understand, share, and respond to God’s story alongside our neighbor.  We’ll have to live more deeply into “not knowing” and listening for how God shows up in unexpected ways in the day-to-day life of the world. What are the spiritual questions people are asking today?  What is their deep longing as they search for meaning and understanding?  What kinds of wounds does 21st century life inflict?  What are the signs of God’s Spirit that the world expects us to manifest?  What story is God calling the Church to hear in the lives of our neighbors?

The Church’s alienation from the wider culture will deepen unless we can begin to use language our neighbors can recognize.  (This should come pretty naturally to us Anglicans!) We need to become translators, interpreters, guides, partners.  Walking through God’s story with our neighbors, while paying special attention to developing our own practices of discernment and theological reflection, will not only allow those ‘outside’ the Church to hear God’s story but it will break it open in some new way for us as well.  We will all end up somewhere new, swept away in the Spirit like Phillip after the eunuch’s baptism.

Fearless Evangelism, Part III … by Charles LaFond

This is the third in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  The links to earlier posts are below.

III. Leadership


Having been formed by the Society of St. John the Evangelist, I enjoy and spend time in John’s Gospel in which this word-theme “come and see” is promoted so prominently as an invitation mandate and model for evangelism. “Come and See” is just a 1st century slogan in John’s Gospel and it is simple technology. Here is how it works as an evangelism campaign:

1. One person acknowledges that following Jesus has changed their life

2. That Jesus-follower approaches a person within their circle of human contact – a friend, family member, co-worker, etc.

3. The Jesus-follower then intentionally risks vulnerability by speaking directly to this chosen person about this “Good News” which is the English for the Greek root-word for evangelism (from eu- “good” (see eu-) + angellein “announce,” from angelos “messenger”) A date is set for a face-to-face conversation.

4. These two people- the Jesus-follower and the chosen acquaintance – speak about how Jesus is good news and about the community (church) in which this is happening or at least being encouraged, after which an invitation to Come and See this church is issued.

So leadership in evangelism (or “membership Growth” if the “e” word un-nerves you) is really just four things.

1. Centered prayer-lives

2. Mindfulness – knowing what must be done

3. Contact with the “spiritual but not religious”

4. Story-telling as invitation

Get 20 people to do this “contact and story-telling” with two or three people each and presto! All of a sudden 40-60 people will have heard the Good News of a church community in which Jesus is working and the story of one life changed. That is how we invite people to our churches. Our goal is NOT to grow our churches nor is our goal to maintain membership numbers. Our goal is simply to tell other people the good news of God’s work in our lives. Membership growth and membership maintenance will happen as people come to see and, quite possibly, decide to stay (if they do).  But their decision to stay, having come and seen, is not the only benefit. Membership growth and strong communities of faith are helpful when church bills need to be paid and volunteers need to put away the chairs, but another primary benefit is that the church members are turning outward to preach the good news…and in that work they themselves are being transformed as they do this work.

The best definition of Evangelism I have ever heard is this: “one beggar telling another beggar where he just found food.” The problem with this is that the humility of knowing one is a beggar is a prerequisite. So often in ministry leadership I find that the most resistant churches to evangelism are the richest and most populated (and often, as a result, prideful) churches. The resistance to evangelism – that is to say, the resistance to inviting others to come and see our churches – may not be so much about the fear of vulnerability, as it may be about the pride of simply not wanting to be lowered to be in the position of asking a question to which we might receive a “no.”And although people under 50 in our culture may seem –and for good reason – not to want to be involved in a church – they are starving beggars for connection and spiritual experience of God’s love and glory. So we have much work to do.

Once the good news is spoken – the invitation to “Come and See” made – then the evangelist hands the work over to the Holy Spirit, who magnifies our work. Our job then becomes simply the prayers we make, begging God to further encourage the person whom we asked to “Come and See.” This work is both God’s and ours. As the old saying goes – pray for the mountain to be moved…and bring your shovel!”

We evangelize because that is our calling and our mandate-not just as a Christian and not just as an Episcopalian and not even as a member of this diocese. We also do this work of membership growth and evengelism because we are part of a world-wide Anglican Church which holds that the first two of the Five Marks of Christ’s Mission for the Church are:
  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.

But the question becomes: how to move from vision or mandate to effective function with measurable objectives. That is where Come and See Membership Growth Campaigns come in.

We manage this work as a campaign because this is sometimes emotionally hard work – because of our culture, because of the pervasive individualism in which we now find ourselves, combined with materialism, over-scheduling, over-work, and over-stimulation. When combined, as they all are in our culture, we face a daunting task. When facing a daunting task…have a plan! What follows is that plan.

So we do evangelism as a campaign.

Next:  Campaign

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is online and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.  

This is the third in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Click for earlier installments:  Part 1; Part 2.  Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.

Come, thou fount of every blessing, by Victoria Logue

The video above was created during the Diocese of Montana’s High School Summer Camp in 2011. The production values are amazing. The teens do an incredible job with this hymn. The text fits so well with recent discussions at this site as it emphasizes God’s actions, not ours:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood…..

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

Fearless Evangelism, Part II … by Charles LaFond

This is the second in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Check out this link for Part 1.  Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.

II. Start from where you are …the deep, solid encouragement of God in our prayer lives

My home sits on a bluff along the edge of the Blackwater River which flows past it night and day, hour by hour, past my farmhouse. Without the broken ice floes of late winter, it is nearly impossible to see that this river is moving with great power. Calm, deep waters always seem so peaceful and gentle. But the strength – that ancient force of gently flowing water was – in times past, captured up into the wheels of the clothespin factory which once sat on its banks, passed to the huge gears and axles of the mill, and ended in the turning, turning, turning of the great gears which cut wood for clothespins which two generations used to hang clothes to dry- clothespins invented by New England Shakers.

That gentle flowing river, sleepy and majestic as an elderly monarch – flows gently, deep and with great force. No tidal waves. No crashing surf. In no way impeded by the river’s rocks and trees- 24 hours a day. That is power. So gentle. So powerful. That combination of power and gentleness is our calling as leaders of Evangelism in a church whose culture finds evangelism uncomfortable at best and terrifying at worst.

That power and gentleness – that centeredness and “quiet confidence” as our prayer book calls it – is essential in leading Come and See Membership Growth Campaigns and any other “en-courage-ment” we do in leadership in our churches and non-profit organizations.

Next:  Leadership

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.

Doing Diocesan Conventions Differently, by Frank Logue

The video embedded above shows the work in the Diocese of Connecticut toward designing a different way of doing a diocesan convention. I hope this post can spark comments discussing some ways each of us can encourage our dioceses to a different kind of convention experience.

As a part of my work as Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia, I have planned the program for our last two conventions and am at work on my third which will be held in February. This is not done in isolation, but with a good bit of back and forth with Bishop Benhase and the whole team in the diocesan office and with input from Diocesan Council and the host parish and convocation.

Table Discussions
Two years ago, we used short videos as conversation starters for delegates who were (as was already our practice) randomly assigned seats at round tables for the convention so that one sits with delegates from other congregations and often with folks you don’t know. Before lunch we showed a short video with two people sharing times when God had broken into the here and now in a significant way for them (view video here) and let delegates know they would have an opportunity to share similar stories at their tables after lunch. When we gathered back, we showed this video and then opened up a time of discussion at tables and closed with this video. The following day we offered a similar discussion time designed to counter the low self esteem that can creep into congregations in south Georgia where your church-going neighbors are pretty sure Episcopalians aren’t Christians. The two people in the video answer What do you love about The Episcopal Church? and then conversation at tables followed on this topic. We also showed the crowd pleasing youth presentation with the video Don’t Stop Believing

Showing Good Work in the Diocese
Last year discussions centered on the blessing of same sex unions and we used videos to share some good work going on in the Diocese including smaller congregations doing impressive ministry and the redevelopment of one church and checking in with a church plant a decade in.

Acts 8 Inspired Conventions?
Inspired by Acts 8, I am wondering how we might study a passage of scripture as a convention, or how we might pray and dream together of a different way not of doing convention, but of being the church. I know this work is underway in planning the Diocese of Arizona’s convention with Susan Snook and Megan Catellan challenged to make this a reality. What do you suggest? What is your diocese going to do? What do you wish your convention would be like?

We have a lot to live up to here as the trailer for our convention used zombies, a vampire, a sea battle, romance and explosions to share the dates for the meeting: