It was my pleasure this year to teach the Lenten Series at my parish, Saint Paul’s in Foley, AL. Following up on our Acts 8 Gathering at our Annual Parish Meeting, I decided to take four weeks to dive deeper into the amazing thing God was doing in the 8th chapter of Acts and developed the series, “An Acts 8 Moment: How God does the impossible through his servants.” Below you will find my lectures as well as the handouts for our four sessions.
Here at Saint Paul’s in Foley, we had a very positive Annual Meeting based on the model of an Acts 8 Gathering (You can read about it here). The obvious question for us has become: Now what? How do we capitalize on this momentum to further our little corner of the Kingdom of God? This weekend, we’ll have our first opportunity as our vestry gathers in retreat where our Rector will invite us into another Acts 8 Moment (with a little Acts 6 thrown in for good measure).
Our second opportunity to dive into what it means to be a parish committed to mission and ministry based on the Church in Acts 8 will come this Lent as I lead our Annual Lenten Series, which this year is entitled, “Acts 8: how God does the impossible through is servants.” As I began to plan our four sessions, I realized that while Acts 8 is a powerful turning point in the life of the early Church, the constant illusions to Saul and the Stephen affair mean that some context is absolutely necessary. With that in mind, I’ve set our four topics as:
- The Martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:2a)
- The Church Scattered (Acts 8:2b-8)
- Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-39)
- Saul’s Conversion (Acts 9:1-21)
Life being what it is, I’m nowhere near as far along as I’d like to be 2 weeks removed from Ash Wednesday, but I hope to share my findings here on the Acts 8 blog along the way. Today’s gem comes from an unlikely change agent, John R. W. Stott, in his concluding statement on the Stephen affair in his commentary on The Message of Acts in The Bible Speaks Today series:
“Stephen’s teaching, misunderstood as ‘blasphemy’ against the temple and the law, was that Jesus (as he himself had claimed) was the fulfillment of both. Already in the OT God was tied to his people, wherever they were, not to buildings. So now Jesus is ready to accompany his people wherever they go. When soon Paul and Barnabas set out into the unknown on the first missionary journey, they will find (as Abraham, Joseph and Moses had found before them) that God is with them. That is exactly what they reported on their return (14:27; 15:12). Indeed, this assurance is indispensable to mission. Change is painful to us all, especially when it affect our cherished building and custom, and we should not seek change merely for the sake of change. Yet true Christian radicalism is open to change. It knows that God has bound himself to his church (promising that he will never leave it) and to his word (promising that it will never pass away). But God’s church means people not buildings, and God’s word means Scripture not traditions. So long as these essentials are preserved, the buildings and the traditions can if necessary go. We must not allow them to imprison the living God or to impede his mission in the world.” (p. 143)
I think I like where this study is going. Stay tuned for more.
Buried deep in the midst of Sunday’s not-so-happy set of lessons for the Sunday before Thanksgiving, is a nugget that is very much worth preaching. In what my well-worn Student NIV Bible calls “A Call to Persevere,” the author of the Letter to the Hebrews challenges his readers with these words:
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This admonition is, I think, at the heart of what the Acts 8 Moment is about. Acts 8 is a call to perseverance, a call to faithfulness, a call to encouragement. Acts 8 is a reminder that when the stones of the temple are torn apart, God remains faithful to the people he loves so dearly.
Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Foley, AL is not in a crisis, thanks be to God. Our most pressing issue in 2012 was how to fit all the people who wanted to worship with us in the space we have available. Not a bad problem to have, if you ask me. So, as we gathered last night for the 88th Annual Parish Meeting, we did so with hopeful expectation of what God had in store. As we planned the flow of our classic church potluck supper, it became clear that looking back on where we’ve been is nice, but the more important work, the more exciting work, would be to get together and dream about what God has in mind for us in the years to come. One way to facilitate dreaming is to hold an Acts 8 Gathering, and so that is precisely what we did.
The evening began with a prayer for a Church Convention of Meeting (BCP, p. 818). We quickly dispatched with the business of the parish: electing vestry members and delegates to Diocesan Convention, and settled in for a fine feast of fried chicken, salads, slaws, pasta dishes, and more desserts than one could imagine. As supper wrapped up, our Senior Warden addressed the gathering, inviting us to remember that God is capable of doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine and challenging us to keep our imaginations working.
This proved to be a perfect entree into our Acts 8 gathering. I started with a brief overview of where the Acts 8 idea had come from, including using Frank Logue’s great video from General Convention
I prayed the prayer for the whole Church (found variously in the BCP, including p. 280) and then around our tables we did a quick study of Acts 8:1-8. After the first reading, we discussed what one item jumped off the page. People noticed things like joy, healing, miracles, listening intently, waves, and being scattered. After the second reading, we discussed what Acts 8:1-8 has to do with our church. Here came thoughts like: we are scattered to come together, our call is to go out to bring people back, and a challenge to love ’em until they ask why. Next, I asked that people come to the mic and finish the sentence, “I dream of a church that…” Not everybody followed those directions, but between audio and video, I was able to cobble together some of what we dreamed.
Here’s the full list: I dream of a church that…
- is full of people younger than me
- does more and does not give up
- welcomes everybody in the community, no matter who they are
- is led by the Holy Spirit
- doesn’t care what you dress like on Sunday
- continues to recognize the needs around us and finds amazing ways to solve them
- I had dreamed of finding a church just like Saint Paul’s
- impacts every newcomer and visitor the way it did us 8 years ago
- is filled with more young families
- offers hope for a better life
- is full of kids
- inspires us to be closer to God
- is as financially rich as it is in love
- bridges the gap
- is fill with all my friends (Halle, 5)
- where every uses their gifts of time and talent
- has the courage to follow the Holy Spirit
- when one member stumbles, someone else is there to help them up
- gives food to the needy
- has more activities for children and youth
- I am thankful for this church
- is focused on the fact that we are the body of Christ
- continues to teach and help me understand
- believes and expects miracles
- expects God to do the impossible
- where joy is obvious
- when someone says, “what if,” the rest respond, “why not”
- where no becomes yes
- recognizes all God’s blessings
- where this happens every single day.
Last night, we provoked each other to love and good deeds. My prayer is that this continues far into the future.
Adam Walker Cleaveland is a name I’ve run across several dozen times over the past 8 years or so. I first “met” Adam through Diana Butler Bass at VTS. I’ve never spoken to Adam, nor do I imagine he has a clue who I am, but I’ve long admired his work over at pomomusings.com. On his blog today, Adam shared the story of the newly formed Ashland Youth Collective, “a Progressive, Community Youth Group in Ashland, OR” whose declared mission is: “We are a collective of youth in the Rogue Valley, with welcoming and affirming open doors, seeking a better understanding of God and Jesus while serving others and having fun with open hearts.”
I found Adam’s post to be exciting, not just for youth ministry, but as the Church (capital C) catholic (lowercase c) seeks a way forward in this collective Acts 8 Moment. Collaborative Ministry, in small towns like Ashland, OR or Foley, AL and even in transitioning neighborhoods like South East DC, seem to make a whole lot of sense in a world of belt tightening. I’ll let Adam explain:
“I think that ecumenical and collaborative youth ministry really is the way forward, especially for smaller churches. When I first arrived here, we’d have youth groups that would range from between 1 and 8 or 9 kids. The other churches had a few youth who attended, but didn’t have active youth ministry programs.
Simply put, we could do more together. We could be better together. In my experience in youth ministry, I think critical mass is key! This isn’t to say that if just a couple kids show up for something, that it wasn’t worth doing. But in order to gain some energy and get kids excited and interested about coming to youth group, I think you must have critical mass. We didn’t have that at the Presbyterian Church. And none of the other churches did. But now, when we’ve joined together, we do. And kids are inviting their friends…something that really wasn’t happening before.
Aside from critical mass, it makes sense in a small town like Ashland, where almost all of these kids go to the same middle school or high school, for these kids to see churches partnering together, and not getting caught up in ‘loyalty’ or ‘allegiance’ to our specific denominations. I think that sends a good message for a group of children and youth for whom denominational loyalty won’t even exist.”
I agree with Adam, and would like to expand his thoughts to say that ecumencial and collaborative ministries really are the way forward. Is anyone out there doing this work? What is your experience? How has it worked and where are the hangups?
After six months of beating my head against a brick wall with our Bishop and Standing Committee regarding Communications in my Diocese, I’ve got the itch to take reform, restructure, and reawakening to our Diocesan Convention in February. Below you will find the first draft of my resolution. I offer it, not as an answer, but as a question, who else is doing this work? Who can offer suggestions? Ideas? Models of ministry in Dioceses for the future of the Church?
WHEREAS, The 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, passed, unanimously in both houses, Resolution C095, stating emphatically that “This General Convention believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully:
- Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- Teach, baptize, and nurture new believers
- Respond to human need by loving service
- Seek to transform unjust structures of society
- Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”
AND WHEREAS, The 39th Annual Convention of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast adopted new statements of Vision, mission and Commitment based on those same 5 Marks of Mission including a vision that seeks to “share Christ crucified and God’s reconciling love through effective ministry, leadership, stewardship and communication.”
THERFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that this, the 41st Annual Convention of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast commits, alongside The Episcopal Church, to a season of reform, restructure and reawakening
AND BE IT FURTHER RESPOLVED, that, in order to facilitate the work of the Spirit, this Convention urges the Bishop and the Standing Committee, as they look beyond the current 5 Year Plan, prayerfully and with considered Biblical, theological, ecclesiological, and historical study; engage to conform no longer to the old way of doing things, but rather let God transform us into a new creation in terms of structure, governance and administration.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Bishop make a full report and accounting of this work to the 42nd Annual Convention of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast for ratification and enaction.
According to ENS, the Diocese of Eau Claire announced four candidates for its sixth bishop today. As I read the article, I was reminded of the struggles that Eau Claire and Fond du Lac faced in late 2011 as they discussed, and even voted on, the possibility of merging the two Dioceses. As a firm believer that Diocesan structures will necessarily be a part of the work of the Task Force on Structure, I hope we will learn from 2011 and from the work beginning in the Church in Wales (see Episcopal Cafe). But that’s not what I wanted to write about today.
Instead, I’d like to know what we can learn from the Diocese of Eau Claire as they stand today. The four candidates announced this morning are vying to be the 20-hour a week bishop of a diocese with 21 congregations, 2,200 baptized members, and 15 active clergy. Some will look at this with cynicism, noting that these four guys (they are all men, it is still Eau Claire, after all) are just in it for the purple shirt. I don’t know these priests, personally, so I can’t say if that is a motivation or not, but based on the Diocesan Search Website, I’d say that if it is, they’ll be eliminated rather quickly. Others, myself included, will look on the search process for the sixth bishop of Eau Claire and find hope for the future of The Episcopal Church.
What I’ve learned from Eau Clare is that they are not afraid of what the future holds. They are not afraid to think outside the box. They are not afraid to name their weaknesses. They are not afraid. In the eighth chapter of Acts, the early Church had every reason to be afraid, but they chose hope in the gospel over fear.
As we pray for our Church and her leadership. As we dream about a new way to be. I hope that one place we will look is to the margins, what some might call “the least” and see how they are living faithfully in the midst of difficult circumstances.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the Eau Claire Diocesan Profile and ask again, what can we learn from them?
Our Identity Narrative
The Diocese of Eau Claire is a faith community of twenty-one, interdependent, mostly small and rural congregations. We are experiencing a new sense of expectancy and commitment to model what it means to be a healthy and sustainable Diocese of the Episcopal Church.
We are a Diocese rich in faithful, committed doers who respect each other’s differences. We have a healthy sense of our catholic tradition. We are ready to invest this heritage in launching into an emerging, life-giving community of faith. We recognize our need for continuing formation and our need to continually discover new ways of offering ourselves in mission to the communities in which we live. We realize that this can only be done by yielding ourselves to the power of the Risen Christ.
Our Vision for the Next Bishop of Eau Claire
Our next bishop will inspire us to build up the unity that we have in Christ, so that the world and our local communities may see that we are one in Christ. This will be accomplished by building bridges between our congregations, other Christian and interfaith communities, and between the many and various other communities in which we live.
Our next bishop will help us grow in mission, and we will become more and more involved in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth in our broken world. Together, and by God’s grace and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we will help to bring to fulfillment the prophetic proclamation that we are to “bring good news to the poor… proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Our next bishop will energize us and give us the confidence that God intends for us to have so that we may become the best that we can be. We envision a structure that will help us to focus on seeing possibilities rather than focusing on only what is problematic.
Our next bishop will give to us the opportunity to become a community that knows the Joy of our Lord’s Love and most generous Grace. We envision that our joy will be infectious and bring hope to all who share in our common life.
During the first Acts 8 gathering at General Convention, I expressed my dream for a church that wasn’t ashamed to proclaim Jesus. The problem with dreams, of course, is that reality is much harder to live in. Since my return to parish life, I’ve given a lot of thought to how we “proclaim Jesus” on a regular and ongoing basis.
I found this Sunday’s lectionary to be particularly helpful, and I reflected on it in my personal blog this morning. Here’s an excerpt:
“Standing in the midst of Philip’s Caesartown, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter wastes no time. He is prepared to give an account of the hope that is in him. He is ready, willing and able to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, even if he hasn’t a lick of a clue what that really means. Peter is not ashamed to proclaim Jesus.
Of course, proclaiming Jesus in word is one thing. The rest of Sunday’s story is about how that word become action – how we move from students to followers – and it involves nothing less than denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus. It means losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel. It means giving up our luxuries so that everyone might come within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace. It means personal morality with corporate consequences.
It also means, and here’s the kicker for Acts 8, corporate morality with personal consequences. What does it mean for The Episcopal Church to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah? How do we act in light of that good news? How do we structure ourselves? Govern ourselves? Budget ourselves? How do we communicate? How do we share? How do we grow?”
I know, I know. Still more questions than answers. At the heart of the matter is that first, we believe Jesus is Lord. What comes next, well that’ll take some work, some study, and some prayer.
Good afternoon everyone. My name is Steve Pankey, and Tuesday is my day to be the voice of Acts 8. It is always risky to post one’s own work on a group site like this, but since today is my day, I blogged with Acts 8 in mind. Particularly, I was interested in the passage from Joshua appointed for this Sunday and the growing interest in praying for the Church. Here’s an excerpt:
“As the deadline for application to the Task Force for Restructuring the Church nears (apply here), I can’t help but wonder, “Which god will this Task Force serve?” It is my hope that they will choose the path of Joshua and serve the LORD, but I also know that they will need help getting there.
That is where the rest of us come in. If we will choose to serve the Lord, then we will also choose to pray for our leaders. Pray that they might make wise choices. Pray that they might look to the Scriptures for direction. Pray that they would be cloaked in prayer. And pray that they might “put away the gods that their ancestors served.” In the coming weeks, Frank Logue and I will be developing an Acts 8 prayer cycle that will certainly include the membership of the Task Force. If you have specific requests for that prayer chain: local Acts 8 groups, Diocesan restructuring work, persons of influence, etc. please don’t hesitate to pass them along.”
The tagline for this website is “Praying for and reimagining The Episcopal Church,” and before we can do the latter, the former is absolutely a requirement. I hope you will join with me in praying for The Church.
“Gracious Father, we pray for they holy Catholic Church. Fill it
with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt,
purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is
amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in
want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake
of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.” (BCP p. 816)