All posts by Brendan

The Collect Call: For Proper 9

In our lucky thirteenth episode of the Collect Call, Brendan apologizes (again) for misstating the date of the Gelasian sacramentary, and he and Holli ponder the Summary of the Law and the golden age of the laser disc.

The Collect Call is a podcast that unpacks and reflects upon the meaning of the collect of the week – that prayer at the start of the service that changes every week. Turns out there’s a lot in those little paragraphs! Hosts Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale and Holli Powell challenge themselves to learn about the history of the prayers, reflect on their spiritual meaning and application to daily life, and, inevitably, reduce them to tweets.

Or on Soundcloud:

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We have two shoutouts this week – both to Revs. David S. Thank you to the Rev. David Sibley for messing around in the guts of our website so we can upload large files and drastically improve our sound quality. And thanks to the Rev. David Simmons for designing our spiffy new logo.

 

You can now follow us on Soundcloud, you can send us an e-mail (listen to the show for the address), and you can reach us on our new Twitter account – @thecollectcall.

 

If you like the show, please give us a shoutout on Facebook or Twitter, comment here, or leave us a review on iTunes.

 

This Week’s Prayer

(page 230 of the Book of Common Prayer, or bcponline.org):

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

About the hosts:

 

Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale is a member of the Episcopal Church of All Saints, Indianapolis, Indiana.

 

Holli Powell is a member of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Georgetown, Kentucky.

 

Other Credits:

How to pronounce Colquhoun Learn more about Cliffhanger Serials on Laser Disc!

Theme Music: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, performed by Aaron DeVries, distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.

Image: Grant C., distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Report from the Acts 8 Steering Committee Meeting

The Acts 8 Steering Committee gathered for its second in-person meeting at Bexley Hall Seminary in Columbus, Ohio from May 5-7. Our agenda was to learn new things from those doing work in all areas of the church, to review what’s worked and what hasn’t over the last year, and to determine ways forward. On this last point, we focused on what Acts 8 is uniquely able to do to proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church that does not simply duplicate the efforts of other organizations. We also looked for ways to involve others.

Acts 8 Steering Committee meeting attendees. From left: The Rev. David Sibley, Brendan O'Sullivan-Hale, The Rev. Susan Snook, Holli Powell, The Rev. Steve Pankey, The Rev. Tom Ferguson, The Rev. Adam Trambley, The Rev. David Simmons, The. Rev. Megan Castellan.
Acts 8 Steering Committee meeting attendees. From left: The Rev. David Sibley, Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, The Rev. Susan Snook, Holli Powell, The Rev. Steve Pankey, The Rev. Tom Ferguson, The Rev. Adam Trambley, The Rev. David Simmons, The. Rev. Megan Castellan.

We are grateful to guests who shared their expertise with us about what is going on in the corners of the church and mission field they focus on. Jim Naughton of the Episcopal Cafe and Canticle Communications spoke with us about how the church is getting its message out. Missioners for Fresh Expressions and  in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, The Rev. Jane Gerdsen and the Rev. Kyle Stevens explained how Fresh Expressions can invigorate the church in interacting with the greater culture, but noted that it is a complement to, not a substitute for, the parish model. And the Rev. Tom Ferguson (a.k.a. Crusty Old Dean) gave a wide-ranging presentation on the history of missionary societies in the Episcopal Church. While it is in some ways barely conceivable that at one time the Episcopal Church carried out much of its work through geographically dispersed self-funding voluntary affinity groups, through most of the 18th and 19th century that is exactly what happened – sometimes with good results, sometimes not.

Looking back over the things that have worked over the last year, it seems that the Acts 8 Moment’s strong suit is in facilitating conversations about faith and hope among those doing Christ’s work in the Episcopal Church. We have had two notable successes: The Acts 8 BLOGFORCE and our new podcast, The Collect Call.

The Acts 8 BLOGFORCE, led by fearless Wing Commander David Simmons, which puts out questions to the whole church, seeking a response. These have included the Top 10 Signs of Resurrection in the Episcopal Church and an Elevator Pitch for the Episcopal Church. We see this as an opportunity not only to generate and share ideas, but also as a way to encourage the habits of talking about our faith in new ways. Perhaps most importantly, participation in the BLOGFORCE is open to literally anyone with an internet connection. We’re looking for questions that can capture the imagination of the church. Got ideas? Put them in the comments.

Two of our lay members, Holli Powell and Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, launched The Collect Call podcast (subscribe on iTunes; subscribe using RSS; follow on Soundcloud) as a way to highlight an often-overlooked portion of the Episcopal worship experience, and to share their own stories of faith. We’re thrilled that The Collect Call has received favorable notice, and that what started as an experimental pilot project will continue.

Our efforts going forward will build on these successes. We are working out a more regular BLOGFORCE schedule, and are looking at the possibility of Twitter hashtag parties or other online events to deepen discussion of the questions. We’ll also be looking for opportunities to leverage our podcast learning and infrastructure to introduce new topics in line with our mission to proclaim resurrection.

Over the next year, we plan for more experimentation. Some things will work and others won’t – and that’s ok. But this brings us to how we closed our conversations last month: how do we enable involvement with the Acts 8 Moment? Do we go old school and have a formal membership model with a subscription fee and a newsletter? For now, we’ve decided, no. Our projects over the next year will be very participatory in nature. The more answers we get to BLOGFORCE questions, the better. Holli and Brendan are starting to look for guests to include on the podcast (listen to an episode to learn how to get in touch). So – how to be involved in Acts 8? Participate! We look forward to talking with you online or in person in the coming year.

Who Labors? Who Reaps? Who Gives the Growth?


IMG_1412During the recent Acts 8 Moment mission gathering in Scottsdale, we gathered each morning for worship and Eucharist at an outdoor chapel in the desert. Here’s the sermon from the second day of the confe
rence, preached by Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale.  (Readings: Numbers 11:16-17, 24-29, Psalm 99, 1 Corinthians 3:5-11, John 4:31-38)

“I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.”

Cup A Joe was in innovator in the locally roasted coffee bean trade in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I grew up. The coffee shop sat on the college town main drag of Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, opposite North Carolina State University. It had two rooms, the more lively of which was a large space with room for a band or poetry readings in the corner, and whose white walls became yellow with cigarette smoke nearly instantaneously after it opened in 1992.

After my freshman year in college in Indiana, I came home to Raleigh. I spent nearly every night in that room, drinking coffee and chain smoking, hanging out with some high school friends who were also home for the summer, but just as often on my own.

Also hanging out at Cup A Joe that summer was another young man about my age, named Dave. Dave was some variety of evangelical Christian, and he was hanging out with an agenda. He was there to save souls.

Over the course of the summer, he and I struck up a sort of friendship. As a painfully shy but very opinionated atheist, I valued Dave because he was someone I could talk to and it was obvious what we would talk about. As I recall we mainly argued about evolution and homosexuality. I alerted him early on that his church probably didn’t want me anyway because I was gay. He made no apologies for his moral understanding of this aspect of my being, but assured me that his church wanted me very much.

I think Dave valued me because I represented a project. That because we remained in relationship and kept talking endlessly about matters of belief and unbelief, I was someone he could get to yes. I’m not aware of whether he belonged to one of the groups that keeps count of the number of souls saved, but as the summer ended, he did not get to add me to his tally. We parted ways, and for more than 15 years, I forgot all about him.

Dave came back to mind for me after the Act 8 gatherings at General Convention last year. The hopeful focus on growth and renewal led me to reexamine my own conversion to Christianity. I had what our Evangelical brothers and sisters would describe as a conversion experience in the fall of 1996. The details of that are not important to discuss today, but suffice to say that I have always described my conversion as happening at a singular moment.

But then, that’s not really true, is it?

Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

For endless hours, Dave remained in relationship with me. And perhaps even more than that, though it is subtler, my grandfather, who was a minister in the ELCA, listened patiently as his impetuous teenage grandson boldly questioned God’s existence. And more importantly, when I came armed for battle when I came out to him at 17, he gave me nothing to train my weapons on, merely offering me his love. It was only after he died a few years later that I learned he had written a book about the unchurched in the 1970s that included among its various concerns the church’s rejection of gay people.

Dave and my grandfather sowed, but they did not reap.

We in the church have now long been in the habit of reaping that for which we did not labor. In some respects this is appropriate. For new converts, for those just returning to the church, for those coming to the church who have been abused by other Christian traditions, a time of rest is appropriate. After witnessing the power of the resurrection, it’s ok to spare some time to sit on the shores of Galilee and let Jesus cook us breakfast.

But this is to strengthen us for what is ahead. Just so with what our forebears left us: our churches and organs and endowments and so on. The burden of them is grievous unto us in some measure because the world has changed, but in large part because of our own failings. We have reaped that for which we did not labor, but we have failed to labor ourselves.

I scarcely need to expand on this to this group. We recognize this. That is why we are here. Some of us have been awake to this for a long time. Some such as myself have only within the last couple years awoken from our slumber.

So Eldad and Medad started to prophesy, unauthorized, in the camp. What are we to say of this?

We have assembled here because we have a love for God’s church and we are prepared to make a commitment to planting, watering, laboring, and reaping.

Thank God that in this church of 3 million people, we ten are not the only ones.

As we work, as TREC works, as various bodies within our parishes and missions and dioceses work, if all we as God’s people are faithful, we should not be surprised to find new seeds starting to grow, and flowers turning to fruit. And they may not have anything to do with us.

These will be ideas maybe we had, or maybe wish we had. These may be things that popped up outside the usual chain of command (as indeed we have). We should be wary of getting too precise in measuring our own success.

We are doing important work, but we are not the only ones. “Whoever is not against us is for us,” says our Lord. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets,” says Moses.

Dave and my grandfather sowed seeds in me that they did not reap. Presumably they harvested other things. We will sow seeds that we will not reap. We will harvest some things for which we did not labor.

That’s all right. That’s as it should be.

Let us be faithful in planting, faithful in watering, and let us always remember that God gives the growth. Amen.

Betty White, the Episcopal Church, and Why You Belong on a Restructuring Task Force … by Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale

The Golden Girls went off the air in 1992. After that, Betty White appeared in occasional TV and movie roles and did some Vaseline-lensed ads for animal-related causes. In a sign that she was riding off into the pop-cultural sunset, she received a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood and racked up lifetime achievement honors at the American Comedy Awards, TV Land Awards, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. She was also named a Disney Legend, whatever that is.

If you didn’t follow Betty White’s career that closely, it could be hard to know whether to refer to her in the past or present tense. One saw Betty White around more often than Sasquatch, but not much more. For some reason I have a vivid memory of her as a foul-mouthed widow in 1999’s Lake Placid, an otherwise unmemorable movie about giant man-eating crocodiles.

The situation of the Episcopal Church today resembles what seemed to be the twilight of Betty White’s career. We’ve got gorgeous buildings that make excellent settings for awkward encounters in Six Feet Under or official mourning for Gerald Ford. We have a beautiful prayer book that makes a cameo appearance in Rachel Held Evans’ excellent new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and polite notice for its cultural significance in The Atlantic. But we’re pretty short on actual influence in the national conversation these days.

The last 10 years have been particularly bruising. Our average Sunday attendance has fallen by about 20% through the strains of schism and death’s inevitable toll on an institution whose average member is 62 years old. The popular metaphor among hopeful observers and participants is that we have been pruned for future growth. Fair enough.

Our church’s numbers have been declining for decades, but the fact that many parts of the church are supported by endowments from generous members past have meant that until the last decade’s economic and market disasters, our institutional structures could get by without adapting all that much. Maybe pruning is the right metaphor for this experience, but it feels a lot more like we’ve been knocked down. But we don’t have to be down for the count.

The renaissance of Betty White’s career began in early 2010 with a famous Super Bowl commercial for Snickers, depicting her getting knocked into the mud while playing football. The commercial inspired a social media campaign that soon had her hosting Saturday Night Live. Today Betty White is everywhere.

White’s return to the cultural mainstream isn’t just because of the commercial, though it was clearly a turning point. White is back because we have rediscovered that she has something to offer us: a sharp wit, openness, honesty about ugly truths (especially about aging), iconoclasm, and compassion. But her new career doesn’t resemble her old career much. There’s been no return to sweet-natured Rose Nylund, but an adventurous engagement with where pop culture is now.

The Episcopal Church also will not be the church we used to be. We were the church of the Roosevelts and the Vanderbilts, but we’re about as likely to go back to that as Betty White is to have a reunion special with Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan. We will be the church God calls us to be, or we will wither away, cutting budgets and keeping up appearances the best that we can.

In the face of a public Christianity that devalues women and villifies gays, the Episcopal Church stands for the breadth of God’s love. In a country obsessed with consumer goods, we share the simple materials of bread, wine, and oil as signs of God’s presence. “Unfriend” is now an accepted verb; we offer real relationships. Instead of severing connections in the quest for the new, the Episcopal Church values the thread of history and tradition that connects us to the eternal. But outside our church, who even knows about us?

We as a church have resolved to change, but we have not yet resolved how to do it. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted to establish a task force to restructure our national institutions. The Acts 8 Moment, a grassroots movement for church renewal, is gathering steam.

Today the Diocese of Indianapolis is collecting nominations for the task force for restructuring the diocese. It is unfortunate that the task force has such a wonky title. But the fundamental issue is this: it is time for the Episcopal Church to stop clinging to its past and managing decline. It is time for us to actively engage with the culture around us, where going to church is not a social expectation and Biblical illiteracy is the norm. It is time for us to manage our ample financial resources in a way that grows and serves the message of Jesus, not our self-image. It is time for us to change ourselves without losing the core that makes us Christians.

If you want to engage with these challenges, you may well be called to serve on the diocesan task force. But you have to let the the Executive Council know you are willing to serve. Nominate yourself or someone else with passion for the future of the church. Find everything you need to make that happen here. You have until December 22.

Betty White’s 2010 revival began with her lying in the mud. We’re there today, on the margins of American culture. And as the Rev. Suzanne Wille of All Saints, Indianapolis reflects in a recent sermon (also available in audio), that may be right where we belong:

As so often happens in the Gospels, truth and faith and Good News are found at the margins. It is the outcasts, the poor, the sick, who understand Jesus, the ones who help US see Him better, understand the Gospel better.

We reach this point with the ample resources of our liturgy, our plentiful real estate, and our objectively enviable finances, to say nothing of the grace of God. Our challenge is to focus less on ourselves and more on what has happened around us, to hang out on the margins, and to listen for what we are called to do next.

Reblogged from View from the Print Shop. A few details are specific to the Diocese of Indianapolis. If you know people in that diocese, make sure they know about this task force. The more nominations, the better!

Restructuring Gets Going in Indianapolis…by Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale

“Surely I have plans for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Who would have guessed that the Biblical passage that concludes the restructuring resolution for The Episcopal Church would be the first words my parish’s choir sang this morning as our priest censed the altar? If even the Anglo-Catholic introit-elves have gotten behind restructuring…can there be a surer sign of God’s favor?

Today Bishop Cate Waynick announced the opening of nominations for a diocesan restructuring task force via a pastoral letter read aloud during Sunday services throughout the diocese of Indianapolis, noting:

In any organization the ‘usual way of doing things’ can become enshrined and go unquestioned, even though situations and needs have changed over the years.  We live in a vastly different world than that of our grandparents, and are facing the need to adjust, prune, augment, and re-imagine the structures which support our mission and ministry.

The 175th convention of the Diocese of Indianapolis passed a restructuring resolution that was a very close cousin to the one passed at the General Convention. In the end, passing the resolution proved to meet far less resistance than those of us behind it thought, but now the real work begins.

I am very excited by the enthusiasm with which Bishop Cate and the Executive Council, neither directly involved in the resolution that came to the floor of diocesan convention, have taken this on. The diocesan convention and the leadership of the Diocese of Indianapolis have now done their part. Now is the moment for the rest of us to do ours.

Nominations are due by December 22. The membership of the committee will be announced on or before the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter the Apostle (January 18, 2013).

I ask this of the Acts 8 Moment readership:

  • Are you in the Diocese of Indianapolis? Do you have a dream for your church? Nominate yourself for the task force, or someone you know. If you have never been involved in formal church leadership – that is not a barrier to you. The Executive Council is specifically directed to include those “not often heard from”.
  • Are you outside the Diocese of Indianapolis? Pray for us. And if you know people in this diocese, please make sure they know about this. The pastoral letter was to be read either today or next Sunday. By coincidence, these Sundays bookend Thanksgiving, so attendance might be a bit low. The Diocese of Indianapolis extends from Lafayette and Muncie at the North end, all the way South to the Ohio River.
  • Is your diocesan convention coming up? As far as I am aware (correct me if I’m wrong in the comments), Indianapolis is the first diocese to adopt a restructuring resolution in response to what The Episcopal Church is doing. Consider whether your diocese might benefit from a similar body. Note that your diocese may require a somewhat different approach – in the Diocese of Indianapolis, the diocesan convention has the power to charter committees. This isn’t true in all places, though, so check your constitution and canons!

Report from Acts 8 Gathering in the Diocese of Indianapolis … by Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale

The Acts 8 gathering at the convention of the Diocese of Indianapolis this past Friday is a textbook example of how not to plan just about anything.

Due to various distractions, I secured a spot on the convention’s calendar only 10 days before convention started. A comprehensive list of publicity efforts includes: a post on my blog, a mention in a diocesan e-mail, a post in the diocesan Facebook group, two tweets, a paragraph in the listing of events during the convention’s lunch break, and a sad little sign deposited on a table.

I arrived at convention, mildly catatonic and completely unprepared, two hours after a long flight home from Southeast Asia. Formal planning for the gathering included a brief conversation with my co-faciliator, the Rev. Suzanne Wille, who picked me up from the airport, and cribbing the outline from Susan Snook’s report on the Acts 8 gathering in Arizona during boring parts of the morning’s legislative session.

My slipshod organization should have doomed this to failure, but the room was soon full with 39 people from endowed program parishes and rural missions. The laypeople present were about the same age as the convention at large; the clergy skewed young. Most had not heard of the Acts 8 Moment.

We introduced ourselves, we prayed, and before long, the book of Acts was speaking to the people in the room. People talked about being prepared to listen for the spirit. They talked about being called to serve the Gospel, not the institutional church. They reflected on the spontaneity of both Philip and the eunuch, noting that Philip did not require the eunuch to take a class before baptizing him. One person, responding to the “wilderness road”, told a story of her parish opening its doors for a community meal with no agenda other than to see who would come in.

We dreamed of a church together. One person dreamed of a church that believes in its faith, instead of fear. An African-American layperson dreamed of a church with more people who look like her. A white priest dreamed of a church with more people who don’t look like him. One person dreamed of a church that is full, while another dreamed of a church that is empty because its members are doing God’s work outside its doors.

Afterwards I talked to participants who expressed appreciation for the workshop, particularly for the inherent optimism of the Acts 8 message. Most were surprised by the format – they were expecting a lecture, not an intimate encounter with scripture, the Holy Spirit, and each other. A priest consulting with four mission churches in a rural deanery approached me about using the Acts 8 model to help discern a new way forward. A parishioner at my church who wasn’t present but heard about it later, asked me for resources to help her deploy this workshop at her new post after she is ordained a deacon next weekend. Some people asked, “What now?” I had to be honest: I don’t know yet.

I do not recommend my disorganized approach to this. Its unlikely success is evidence of the hunger the members of our church have for this kind of conversation. They know the days of the institution we once knew are past, and are eager to discern what is next. May the Holy Spirit guide us.

Some notes on the format:

Susan Snook noted in her report from Arizona that the workshop practically runs itself. She is correct – if you’re interested in trying this out, don’t be anxious. Just take the outline and run with it.

The role of the facilitator is primarily to be a timekeeper and get out of the way. As far as division of labor, Suzanne thought it was simplest if one person had primary responsibility for the workshop. I ran most of it, but she did one of the scripture readings, and took notes on what people were saying. This turned out to be pretty comfortable, but other models would work just as well.

We followed the General Convention/Arizona outline almost exactly, with only two exceptions worth noting: 1) observing the demographics of the room, I decided that the “Generational Perspective” discussion could turn people off before we even got started and omitted it; 2) we did not record or use a microphone for the “I dream of a church…” segment, asking people to stand and speak from their seats instead. This section started very slow, but I just pretended it was a Quaker meeting and waited. It worked.

Breaking the participants into small groups is vital. There was lots of active conversation during the group discussion segment, but many people were shy about sharing with the full group. Acts 8 may have planted some seeds among these participants we’ll never know about.