May 2013

Ethics and Morals in the Emerging Church

New Rules for Winning in the New Church

TV’s top shrink has written a new book.

I don’t want to hype it. He does a pretty good job of that himself.

It’s the subtitle that interests me. New Rules for Winning in the Real World

When talking about his book Dr. Phillip McGraw says (repeatedly) that the world has changed. We can’t approach people or situations with the same level of trust we might have had 30 years ago.

Watch out for people who take advantage of your trust.

We are told we can no longer give people the benefit of the doubt. The advice: Observe. Ask questions. Follow your instincts. Be ever alert to motives and behaviors.

Sad to say, but this is good advice for trusting Christians, too.

Today’s Church is not like the Church many of us grew up in.

We now know that we cannot automatically trust church leaders to behave in godly ways. Headlines for the last decade have shown us that the people we trust, the people we ask our children to trust, are often unworthy. Problems are no longer rare and isolated. We know that criminal behavior has been widespread and enduring, existing under the protected status of “church.” The guilt goes beyond the parish. It reaches into the highest offices.

It is a new world!

Two factors make his advice particularly applicable to religion.

  1. The Church today exists in a state of distress. Mainline membership and attendance are plummeting along with offerings. At the current rate of decline, some denominations will disappear within 40 years. The church is not attracting the best and brightest to careers of service. Seminaries are struggling to find students. Candidates are often second career or interested in part-time ministry only—at their convenience more than at God’s call. The sense of sacrifice and dedication that once characterized candidates for ministry is increasingly rare. The future of church leadership is shaky.
  2. The Church is largely immune from the law. Clergy can operate knowing that there is low likelihood of question or challenge. Many, many people will give clergy the benefit of the doubt and look with suspicion on anyone who makes any challenge.

In the free world, the church is as close as you get to absolute power. We know the saying about absolute power. It corrupts absolutely.

As the mainline church faces continued economic challenges there are greater temptations. Church leaders crave power. The power that wealth gave them is disappearing along with status as our culture grows more and more secular. They are lording power over fewer and fewer people. 

Rules start to be broken. Polity is ignored.

Constitutions are tweaked to increase power.

These actions are begging for challenge, but the Church bets that in most cases they will achieve their objectives without question.

When at last leaders are challenged, they MUST win.

All the tenets of faith are quickly forgotten. 

Let’s look at what is happening today in the Anglican Church in Canada. It begins with a familiar story—a land and asset grab. In this case the bishop takes the dispute further.

Five years have passed since this 2008 land grab. Bishop Michael Bird of the Niagara region is resurrecting the conflict by suing a lay person who wrote about church leaders on a satirical blog. The stories we’ve read are just silly, obvious farces.

Bishops expect adulation. They can’t take criticism. They have lost the ability to laugh at themselves.

And so in Canada, the bishop uses his protected status to attack a 66-year-old man, a loyal church member who undoubtedly donated a great deal to his church over the years. The bishop claims that the blog cost him $400,000 in damages. We can only wonder what kind of deficit his regional body might be carrying. We know here in Philadelphia that SEPA’s interest in Redeemer’s assets always came when SEPA faced severe budget problems.

When bishops have tantrums, they tend to be costly, and the Church or its members pay the bill.

The Canadian news has many similarities to Redeemer’s and other land grabs in ELCA synods. The common threads:

  • No attempt to work with the congregation or lay leaders.
  • No dialog, just the strong arm of the Church, wielding what is left of waning power. 
  • Legal actions against lay members with clergy running for the hills.
  • Public presentations that talk about “discernment,” “dialog,” and ridiculous but righteous-sounding allusions to “death and resurrection.” They represent that taking what does not belong to them is God’s work! That’s what they are doing, and the ELCA’s tagline is “God’s Work. Our hands.”

elca mock logo

The Church today is desperate.

New rules are needed. 

  • Don’t trust that church leaders are wise just because they are elected to office. 
  • Don’t assume that church leaders are immune from temptation.
  • Don’t assume that church leaders will practice what they preach.
  • Don’t assume that somebody else will speak up before you, if there is really something wrong going on. Years went by before the Roman Catholic Church took action against 27 priests for misconduct.
  • Do assume that things will get very bad indeed before the whole church recognizes there is any problem at all.

As it is, it’s open season on lay people. The more knowledgable, dedicated and invested in church, the more vulnerable we are.

The only safe Christians are those who sit quietly in the pews (or in the chancel).

And we wonder why churches are empty on Sunday morning. 

Adult Object Lesson: Luke 7:1-10

kaleidoscopeJesus Is Surprised

Today’s object is a kaleidoscope.

A kaleidoscope is an ordinary looking object. A tube-often cardboard-with a whole on one end. When we look into that whole for the first time we don’t know what to expect. We see a spectacular mosaic of bright colors.

But that’s not all. Each time we turn or shake the kaleidoscope we see something new. The geometry and colors change. Each time is a surprise.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is surprised. He is approached by Jewish leaders who come to make a request on behalf of a centurion who is concerned that a favorite slave is ill. The centurion is not Jewish. He is a foreigner, a representative of an occupying army. He is a man with power that he could use to get Jesus’ attention. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t even come to Jesus himself. He sends people to speak on his behalf—almost as if he fears Jesus would reject him for not being Jewish.

We don’t know what Jesus expected from this encounter. We only know that he was surprised. Jesus, the Son of God, is taken aback.

The centurion asked for help in the most humble way. “Please, don’t go out of your way. Just heal my slave. You can do it.”

Jesus is not the only surprised person. Turn the kaleidoscope and see the surprise on the faces of the Jewish leaders when Jesus praises the centurion. Turn the kaleidoscope again and see the bewilderment of the followers as Jesus makes an example of the centurion’s faith. Make another turn and see the disciples who just don’t know what to think!

We need to turn the kaleidoscope as we view our own neighborhoods.

  • What surprises might await us if we would occasionally refresh our view of our own congregations, our friends, and our acquaintances?
  • Who are we missing when we look for more people like us as we build our faith communities?
  • How might we be strengthened by learning from the centurions in our midst — the good people who respect us even though they do not worship with us — the people we think we know? But do we?

Ask your congregation, “Who are the centurions in our neighborhoods?” Listen to their answers.

Close with Psalm 96:1-9. O sing to the Lord a new song, all the earth. 

photo credit: Lucy Nieto via photopin cc

What Are We Risking . . . and Why?

In the unending quest for transformation, churches in our area have been asked by their regional leader to take risks.

Sounds very daring!

But look before you leap!

What are congregations being asked to risk and why?

We presume our leaders are asking us to change. They are never very clear on how. Just change. (When they bring their experts in to to evaluate, they usually try to set things up the same old way.)

So what are our leaders expecting to happen now?

They could be looking at society and seeing a spiritual desert. They could be concerned for the troubled individuals, broken families, the children who live in two houses with torn parental loyalties, the outcasts of society, the people who struggle with illness and addiction, the jobless, the homeless, the youth who feel left out, or the lonely and unnoticed in general. They could be concerned with the growing number of people who do not know God and can’t pray.

They could be looking more globally at a world of injustice, hunger, disease, tension, prejudice and discrimination.

Most Christians would agree that if these were the major concerns, taking risks and making changes would be well worth a congregation’s efforts.

Unfortunately, the changes sought by the Church are economically based.  The risks we are being asked to take are so the Church can survive—that the hierarchy can survive— just the way it always has. No changes there!

Small churches have proven to be resilient. Immigrants and pioneers, uprooted from the established Church of the Middle Ages, came to America and started the Church anew. These small churches survived for hundreds of years. They changed over the years without prodding. Many actually grew!

The cost of hierarchy is weighing down the small church. The need for change and risk today is because hierarchies are failing.

They don’t intend to fail alone.

Change will happen in the small church when hierarchy demonstrates that they, too, can take risks and make significant changes. This doesn’t mean cutting ten percent of the staff or freezing salaries. It means revisiting everything they do. Reallocating initiatives more in line with the modern world. Changing the way they relate and communicate with congregations, and how they value the contributions of members—all members.

It means looking at our relationships with our schools and seminaries and our social service agencies. Are they serving the mission of the Church or have they adopted a secular mission while expecting support from the Church?

It means examining what is expected of professional leaders at every level. If pastors can be settled in ministry for 10 years while statistics steadily drop — and be applauded for nothing but having a satisfied congregation — well, it’s the same problem academia has with tenure. Security tends to trump mission.

Things are just fine here. Let someone else take the risk. Ten years to retirement.

The Church will not survive the present age without taking risks. Let’s make sure the risks are for the mission of the Church, not the survival of our comfort and way of life.

And leaders, congregations are more likely to take risks when we see you in front of us, not prodding (or picking our pockets) from behind.

2×2 Is Interviewed on Social Media Podcast

2×2’s moderator, Judith Gotwald, was interviewed by D.J. Chuang for a podcast on a Social Media Church site a few weeks ago. The podcast is now airing.

This was our first such interview. Last month we posted our first multimedia video. We’re learning new skills all the time!


Memorial Day Message: It all began with a land grab!

Anglican Bishop Sues Vocal Lay Member

Today is Memorial Day. We honor the many who have fought for the freedoms we have today. It’s a good day to revisit what we in the Church are doing with our freedoms.

A significant story involving the Church comes to our attention this month from Canada.

It all began with a land grab.

Now it’s a court battle pitting a bishop and a denomination’s best legal minds against a vocal layman.

Should we, residents of the Land of the Free, be concerned?

There are significant similarities that ELCA Lutherans should note. Here’s an excerpt from the Canadian story.

The ultra-liberal Anglican Bishop of Niagara, the Rt. Rev. Michael Bird has sued an orthodox Anglican blogger, a layman, alleging that he was libeled 31 times on Anglican Samizdat, a blog by David Jenkins that presents facts and pokes satirical fun at liberal Anglican leaders who depart from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

The Bishop of Niagara was one of his targets.

The claim seeks:

  • $400,000 in damages plus court and legal costs.
  • An interim and permanent injunction to shut down Anglican Samizdat.
  • An interim and permanent injunction prohibiting Jenkins from publishing further comments about Michael Bird.

Link to full story.

Isn’t it a bit funny that someone labeled as an “ultra-liberal” would attack free speech—even if delivered with a Canadian accent. 

Canada has its own Bill of Rights, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On this side of the Niagara, the same Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that protects freedom of religion also protects freedom of speech.

The root problem is church leaders thinking so much of themselves that they shield themselves with the first amendment as they take actions that in a secular venue could be challenged in the courts—if not considered criminal.

The ruling in the SEPA-Redeemer case was made without ever hearing the case — even after five years of courtroom drama. The court determined that the issues were not within the jurisdiction of the courts under separation of church and state. However, a minority opinion concludes that if the law were to be applied, Redeemer’s arguments have significant merit. Two judges since have indicated that they, too, consider the dissenting opinion to have value.

Church leaders count on loyal obedience of followers who also benefit from their dubious actions. The same Synod Assembly that gave the bishop permission to take Redeemer’s property—defying their own governing documents—approved a healthy six-figure deficit. The Church can do anything they want. They are the Church.

Dissent is part of Lutheran heritage. How have Lutherans become so weak?

Church leaders work hard on their presentation. They hold the future of the clergy in their hands and can rely on their support. They also control all venues for discussion and media.

At least they did until the term “blog” became known.

Even now, Church leaders tell people how hard they work with congregations—how they use a rigorous process of dialog and discernment. They are very sure that everyone will believe them because they are Church leaders—even when there is no mutual discernment, dialog or any effort whatsoever to work together. No one asks for facts or evidence. Lay people who cite statistics and facts must be wrong because they are lay people. Church leaders can just repeat the same unsupported rhetoric and they are applauded. Bishops make pronouncements. Loyal followers stand back, out of the line of fire, and offer support—or more likely, say nothing whatsoever. This type of behavior prompted the Reformation 500 years ago. And here we are again.

Christians are not obligated to follow leaders simply because they are elected. Rank and file Christians are obligated to speak out when they see abuses and wrong actions and teachings. This is part of the supreme document of our faith—The Bible, sometimes called The Word of God.

In a free society that protects religion, it is imperative that religious followers monitor the actions of leaders. If they don’t they are at risk of being a cult.

Sadly, courts are not equipped to see beyond the rhetoric of religious leaders and probe the causes of their actions. Consequently any layperson who follows duty and conscience risks considerable loss, including:

  • heritage.
  • status within the faith community.
  • their property and assets (personal as well as communal).
  • their faith.
  • friends and family.
  • the fruits of years of volunteer service.
  • the benefits of years of monetary support.
  • and now, at least in Canada, all possessions, including the life savings intended to support you in old age. Mr. Jenkins is 65 years old. 

We could simply say “shame on the Canadian church leaders,” but we know how close this scenario is to what has been happening in East Falls with attacks on the individual members of Redeemer going on long after the objective of grabbing our property was decided. (Yes, right here, where George Washington camped with his freedom fighters on the same stretch of land where the LCA once had its headquarters.)

None of this costly and public conflict is necessary. Church leaders need only treat lay leaders with respect (love one another) and follow the teachings of their faith (do not sue one another, do unto others…). They need to stop coveting the property of member churches. Breaking the covet Commandments leads to breaking several other Commandments and the slow and steady deterioration of the Church’s mission.

Church leaders who encounter criticism or resistance, whether merited or not, have a less costly choice. They can write their own blog and respond to criticism. They can actually have the dialog they tell everyone they are having. Why not try peacemaking?

Using the courts against their members while they cry “separation of church and state” has the potential for a dual payoff. They might be awarded a lot of money while humiliating and intimidating lay people and thereby exerting control over anyone who might follow suit. In the Church today, pursuit of the Almighty Dollar is second only to the pursuit of power.

Mr. Jenkins already took down the offending blog posts.

I’m betting that won’t be enough to satisfy his enemies. Once bishops take an issue public, they have to win. Pride and power take control. Humility, forgiveness, reconciliation — just words for preaching.

Happy Memorial Day! Hurrah for the Bill of Rights and the people who lived and died protecting them!

Risk-taking: What Is the Church Risking?

risk-taking6 Things to Consider Before Taking A Risk

Risk-taking in the church is an interesting topic.

It may facilitate risk-taking if we first examine what we are risking.

Let’s not name the innovation. For now, let’s focus on the process of implementing change by adopting risk.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Tradition.

    Tradition is important. It provides continuity. It helps groups of people define themselves. It is not, however, necessarily sacred—even though most of what we call “church” stems from tradition!

    Abandoning tradition cold turkey is asking for trouble. Handle with care.
    You need your current members!Here’s a hard reality.

    Most people do not go to church to move and shake the world. Most people consider a $5 bill in the offering plate the biggest risk they are willing to take. Most people get involved in church for their own comfort and peace of mind.

    Every church has two populations — the people who are happy and think everything is already great and church leaders who are responsible not only for peace and happiness but for moving the church in a mission-oriented direction, which may threaten happiness. Leaders, clergy and lay alike, can fall into the trap of thinking that things are moving forward if everyone is happy. Upsetting the status quo without imploding contentment is the job of true leadership. (It’s not easy!)

    Existing members are your potential evangelists. New members will be watching how you treat existing members.It’s a new world. Ten years ago you could ignore people and they had no voice. Everyone has a soapbox these days. Ignore existing members at your own peril. Honor tradition with sensitivity.

  • Expenses.

    Risk involves change. Change costs money. Every entrepreneur knows that you must spend some money to implement change.
    The church has not yet learned this lesson.

    Every dollar in the church today is coveted. Regional leadership does not want financial risk that might be passed on to them if failure might occur. They therefore keep an eye on troubled churches to guess what the optimal time might be to shut down ministry and gain the assets. They encourage risk in theory, but in practice—watch out! If your identified risk threatens cash or property assets, the regional body is likely to try to become involved. They are likely to have their own interests in mind—not the congregations.

  • Relationships with professional leaders.
    Your leaders will not want your church’s failure on their résumé. They may encourage risk-taking in theory but disappear when the going gets tough—and it will!

    Change isn’t easy.

    Risks may lead your congregation to areas of ministry for which your current leaders have no skills. The pastor everyone loves may be very uncomfortable with the direction you decide to take.

    Same goes with auxiliary staff. An organist might be threatened by the idea of a praise band. A Christian education director may not understand online learning in the religious sphere. Be prepared to deal with this. Reassure your leaders that they will be supported with training and lay support. If you cannot provide this assurance and your leaders seem unlikely to cooperate, be prepared to look for new leadership with the skills you need.

    This is often necessary but traditional church custom values the concept of a settled pastor over innovation. Be prepared for stonewalling from three places—some members, pastors, and regional managers. (A key priority of regional managers is placing and pleasing clergy.)

  • Alienation.

    Your current happy members may not recognize the church you are about to become. Address this early. Try to make everyone a part of innovation. Move slowly when possible. When speed is needed, give those who are slower to accept change something to hang on to. Find something within their comfort zone for which they can be responsible with success.

    Good leaders nurture all. Poor leaders pick and choose followers and consider anyone who may resist to be expendable

    Risk-taking is not all about you and your leadership. The focus is mission.

  • Transparency.

    Transparency is easy when things are rolling along with no intentional plan for the future. When planning for innovation and risk-taking, leaders have a tendency to become less transparent. They think they are avoiding trouble.


    If leaders expect anyone to follow, they must be clear about the risks. Communicate all aspects of your potentially risky mission plan clearly, often, and in different formats.

    It shouldn’t hurt to point out that risk-taking is part of Jesus’ plan. He was pretty open about that with his disciples. He promised rewards. He also promised danger.

  • Failure. 
    Innovation requires both risk and failure. We learn from mistakes. Risk-taking demands a mindset that understands failure. Unfortunately, the move toward risk-taking is overdue and so the risks are more expensive and the consequences potentially more dire. A struggling congregation may have resources for only one or two risks before its infrastructure will crumble.

    That’s all the more reason to be careful. But it is not a reason to avoid risks.

    There are probably “I told you so’s” waiting to be delivered at the first sign of failure.

    Prepare for the inevitable troubles with flexibility. Have a Plan B, C, and D, in place before you implement Plan A.The irony of risk-taking: Failure to take risks may lead to ultimate and permanent failure.

In Conclusion

People avoid risks. But they also glory in the success that taking risks can bring about. Take risks. But be prepared. Risk-taking is a leadership skill. Make sure your congregation has this skill. If you don’t have it, find it! It’s worth the cost.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

Risk Taking in Today’s Church

SEPA Leadership Encourages Risk-taking

At the 2013 Assembly of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, Bishop Claire Burkat exhorted member churches to take risks. Start small. Just take one risk in mission.

I beleive in risk-taking.

Many of the risks that need to be taken in the Church are long overdue.

The climate of SEPA Synod is not conducive to risk-taking.

If congregations are to take risks they must be assured that failures

  • will not be used as excuses for hierarchical seizure of everything they own.
  • will not cause them to be excommunicated from Lutheran fellowship.
  • will not put their personal welfare and that of their families in danger.

SEPA cannot provide these assurances.

Consequently, risks will not be taken.

The biggest obstacle? Involuntary Synodical Administration.

Involuntary Synodical Administration, now so common that it is referred to by the acronym ISA, did not exist in the founding documents of the ELCA. The Articles of Incorporation still forbid it.

ISA is the determination of the bishop that a church cannot survive. The Synod assumes all cash and property assets. Trustees are appointed. They serve the bishop’s interests, not the congregation’s. It is theft by constitutional tweaking.

The original constitutional statute allowed for synodical administration only with the consent of the congregation and as a temporary measure.

Synodical Administration was intended to be a tool to help struggling congregations overcome difficulty. Congregations were part of the process—the Lutheran way. Help was offered, but assets remained owned by the congregations.

Involuntary Synodical Administration is a monstrous contrivance.

The Synod’s model constitution has been tweaked to negate the promises made to the congregations when they joined the ELCA.

Consequently, congregational polity, precious to Lutherans, no longer exists in SEPA Synod.

Too bad. Congregational polity encourages risk-taking.

Without congregational polity every congregation must consider what big brother or sister will do if their risks fail —as measured by the bishop not by the congregation.  

If congregations are to take Bishop Burkat’s advice and take risks, they should seriously review and revise their own governing documents.

Taking risks, after all, is risky. You could fail.

Failure leads to knowledge which can then be put to new ministry use. Innovation is usually the result of multiple attempts that failed.

But in the world of SEPA, failure of any sort, as measured by no one but the bishop (who has minimal knowledge of congregations), leads to long-term Lutheran assets lost to short-term synodical needs.

Here’s what I know about SEPA and their ability to accept congregational risk-taking:

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a small urban congregation facing the same challenges many small congregations face. The founding members who predated decades of urban unrest were dying off. The landscape for ministry was changing dramatically and at a faster pace than the “settled” Church had ever encountered.

This congregation had resources. A founding member had left an endowment with the stipulation that it be used for ministry in that neighborhood.

That endowment had already been an attractive target for s financially troubled synod, but that had been resolved eight years before. However, the memory was still fresh. The Synod refused to follow the call process after the resolution. They were betting that without help, the congregation would fall apart. SEPA need wait only a bit longer to get to the assets.

This congregation had unusually strong lay leadership. The absence of professional leaders had actually helped develop the congregation’s sense of mission. They knew they had to serve a multicultural neighborhood. Without the burden of salaries, they were free to engage pastors for specific tasks as needed.

Money was not yet a problem, but it was clear that it would become a problem if congregational leaders didn’t address the needs of the future immediately.

The congregational leaders spent six months drafting a plan. They consulted pastors, real estate experts, an accountant and a lawyer in drafting a five-year plan. Funds were needed to bring facilities up to modern standards. The congregation was willing to risk a third of their property for a short-term mortgage that might catapult them into a solid future.

The congregation had been renting its educational building to a Lutheran agency, but the congregation knew that this was no longer in their interests. The property had more potential for congregational ministry if the congregation ran its own school with the important added benefit of being able to witness in mission as the Lutheran agency was unable to do.

Two members of the congregation already experienced in childcare took the training necessary for licensure. The school was projected to bring in $100,000 annually to the congregation’s ministry within two years. Meanwhile, other sources of income were also identified and a stewardship program was implemented. 

Previous pastors were not comfortable in multicultural settings. They promised to find help but reported regularly, “There is no one.” When the last pastor left, the congregation found excellent, qualified professional leaders within a few weeks.

52 members joined in the first year and there was every indication that this was only the start of a vibrant new ministry. 

Meanwhile, the congregation presented the mission plan to Bishop Claire Burkat along with a resolution to call one of the pastors who had already been working with the congregation successfully for seven months.

There were risks, but there were strong indications that the risks would pay off.

Bishop Claire Burkat accepted the resolution and ministry plan and promised to review them. She also promised that the congregation could work with the Synod’s Mission Developer. Four months passed with no communication from anyone in the bishop’s office.

Was there to be a period of discussion and review of the 24-page mission plan? Would the bishop make suggestions or offer help?


Bishop Burkat abruptly sent a letter to the congregation announcing the church was closed and all assets were to be assumed by her office (which had recently announced they were within $75,000 of depleting every available resource).  

The risks quickly escalated with law suits and personal attacks on members that continued for five years. Although Bishop Burkat wrote to clergy that all issues are settled, the fact is the case is still in the courts.

If Bishop Burkat truly believed in risk-taking, she could have taken a chance on Redeemer’s carefully crafted mission plan. She could have joined interdependently in a carefully calculated mission adventure that was already succeeding. She could have taken credit!

Bishop Burkat couldn’t risk Redeemer’s resources slipping from syndical control twice in one decade. Some of the motivation was SEPA’s own financial needs. Power and pride also entered the picture.

Risk-taking does not happen in this atmosphere.

Lay members are sitting ducks for abuse. Clergy will protect their standing.

If SEPA congregations truly want to be risk-takers for mission, they must revisit their constitutions and make risk-taking a little less risky.

Redeemer is still ready to take risks.

We’ve been pioneering mission while SEPA has been attacking us. There is nothing stopping Redeemer’s mission plan from being implemented even today.

SEPA prefers the expenses of locked churches to the expenses of mission. They spend more than $170,000 a year keeping those doors locked. Taking a risk on Redeemer’s mission plan would have cost them nothing (and it was already succeeding!)

There is more mission potential in open churches than in closed churches.

There is more economic potential in open churches than in closed churches.


Adult Object Lesson: Trinity Sunday

tricycleIt’s A Wonderful Gift! (What Is It?)

If ever there was a Sunday that cried for an object lesson it is Trinity Sunday. On this day we concentrate on a key teaching of Christianity — and one that puzzles even great theological thinkers.

But what objects work?

St. Patrick  plucked a shamrock from the lush meadows of Ireland and talked about the single plant with three leaves. Artists intertwine circles or draw equilateral triangles. 

I always like the image of the tricycle. The three wheels give us balance. The front wheel (representing the Spirit) drives all three and makes an inert, well-balanced vehicle get somewhere.

But here’s a new image for you.

The gift you don’t quite know what to do with.

Think of your own example. It might be something unusual in appearance or difficult to  put together. A puzzle, perhaps.

I think of one Christmas when I opened a small package. It contained a small jar of liquid and a few sticks of wood. I thanked the giver graciously, went home and pondered. I sat it on the kitchen table and looked at it for a while. At last, I called someone at the party whose discretion I trusted and said, “I am sure this is a wonderful gift but I have to confess. I haven’t the slightest idea what it is. Can you tell me? I want to write a thank you note and I don’t know what to say!”

She was so patient with me. The jar contained a scented liquid. You opened the jar and placed a stick in the jar. The stick would draw the scent from the jar to freshen a room.

Ahh! I see!

Now I understood and knew what I was supposed to do with the gift. The “Spirit” had spoken.

These few verses from John are like a gift we don’t quite know what to do with.

Only in this case the giver knows He is presenting us with a puzzle!

Jesus warns his listeners. “You are not ready for this.” There is a puzzling transfer of ownership taking place. It starts with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and voice. Jesus tries to explain. “All that the Father has is mine. He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

  • The Father has everything.
  • The Father  shares everything with the Son.
  • Through the voice of the Holy Spirit, everything is declared to us.

Do you get it? Don’t worry if you don’t. No one really does.

We are still not ready! All we can do is listen to the voice of the Spirit and do our best.

And don’t forget to thank the Giver.

photo credit: Yelnoc via photopin cc

Cartoon: Expectations of Modern Christians

Expectations of Modern Christians

Ambassadors Visit St. Andrew’s, Audubon

Beautiful Pentecost Service

We weren’t the usual Ambassadors but three Ambassadors from Redeemer spent this Pentecost at St. Andrew’s, Audubon.

St. Andrew’s pastor, the Rev. William Mueller, writes a blog. He is the first pastor of now more than sixty we have encountered to make any attempt to reach out regularly on the internet. Kudos. Here’s a link.

This is the first church website (excepting Redeemer, East Falls) to use blogging as the focal point of a web presence. It looks like they have tried both Twitter and Facebook with less frequency, but at least they are trying. Both Twitter and Facebook are harder to maintain and require a lot of babysitting. That’s why we favor blogging as a starting point for churches wanting to use social media.

It looks like St. Andrew’s started blogging in March and kept at it pretty regularly through April with activity dropping a bit in May. We hope they keep it up! We’ve been at it for more than two years. Our experience is that it takes at least six months to begin to see results. Things move remarkably quickly when you start blogging more than three times per week. (We now, after some 750 posts, have as many as 4000 readers each month.)

Pastor Mueller’s sign-off is reminiscent of one of Redeemer’s former pastors. He often ended his pre-internet sermons with “See you at the Acme.” Pastor Mueller signs off with “See you at church.”

A friendly man greeted us as we came through the door and told us about their ministry to the homeless in Pottstown. He was the only member to speak to us. He told us about their group of guitar enthusiasts who center a ministry around music.

Music and the arts are key elements in worship at St. Andrew’s. They recently produced The Wizard of Oz. They are justly proud of their modern stained glass windows and their altar cross.

Musical offerings were varied and rich from a solo (“Day by Day”) to a bell choir prelude of a hymn which had been running through my head all week, prior to today’s worship, (“Oh, How I Love Jesus”) to still another prelude or introit (“This Little Light of Mine”). The choir anthem brought a smile, the tune was borrowed from Les Miserables. Much of the music was modern but the final hymn was by Hildegard of Bingen, dating back a thousand years. Great breadth of church tradition. This was the first church we’ve encountered in a long time that sang the psalm. (Redeemer always sang the psalm.)

The opening hymn was one Redeemer often sang in Swahili. I was surprised that four years after all of us were locked out of our multicultural church that I still remember the Swahili words. I sang them. The organ was so loud no one could notice and it felt good. Besides, it’s Pentecost, a day for many languages.

St. Andrew’s confirmed ten young people today in a nice ceremony. Even though our visits are totally random, we’ve encountered several confirmations and this was the largest group of youth. 

The church was well-attended with families of the young people filling several pews.

The ceremony featured family members participating in the laying on of hands. Two of our Ambassadors, both pastors, compared that to how they conducted confirmation. They liked the custom, although one commented that he considered confirmation to be the young people standing on tbeir own in their faith—as they may have to some day.

How well we know!

The sanctuary is wide with two rows of long pews. For the first time in many visits, the ushers actually passed the plate. It seems like many churches are afraid to let go of the plate, requiring worshipers to reach across several people. This is always a bit awkward and kind of insulting. It felt good to be trusted to pass the plate. (We didn’t take anything of yours!)

There were about a dozen children present for a children’s sermon delivered by the Christian Education director. This is the first we’ve seen children at worship in a while! I doubt the children understood that the balloon represented the Holy Spirit. Object lessons appeal more to adults. They seemed to still be interested in last Sunday’s sermon which apparently focused on their Ascension stained glass window. One child commented, “We were going to say goodbye but we never did.” That seemed to stick with them!

Pastor Mueller gave a sermon that was interesting to us. He spoke about church persecution and mentioned this also in the prayers.

Once again, we see a disconnect. Why is it that SEPA clergy do not see what is happening at the hands of their leaders in East Falls as bullying and persecution?

82 men, women and children are locked out of their church home—built and paid for with their offerings and the sacrifices of their families. Allegations are made but never documented or discussed with the congregation. Although court accusations reference  “church discipline,” no matters of church discipline were ever raised with our congregation. We were paying our own way and had a very active and innovative ministry, with which no fault was ever found. SEPA claimed every available asset with no discussion whatsoever. They used our assets to pursue us in court. They are still looking for more. They stripped Redeemer members of all rights within the Lutheran Church, also with no discussion and no constitutional basis. They vilified our people when we dared to stand up for our faith — as our church taught us to do when we studied for confirmation. Our clergy were intimidated and left. This was designed to leave the laity lost and vulnerable. Instead, Redeemer’s lay leaders (which included two retired clergy) picked up the pieces and successfully grew our church community with no expectation of pay. SEPA personally attacked individual church members in court for five years, putting us in a position where we couldn’t just submit; we had to stand up for what we thought was right. Court accusations of fraud never held up. The latest judge repeated with exasperation, “Where’s the fraud? They were doing what they thought was right. Where’s the fraud?”

The Church persecutes its own.

Well, at least St. Andrew’s prayed for the persecuted, even if they don’t recognize us in their midst.

The Holy Spirit at Work in East Falls this Week?

In other Redeemer news, two leaders of Redeemer’s community music programs chanced to meet three times this week.

SEPA is not the only religious authority raping East Falls Christians of the use of their sacred property! Hierarchical need and greed are running rampant. St. James the Less was locked to members about eight years ago. SEPA locked Redeemer in 2009. St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic School just down the street was locked in 2012. Their leaders thought this fairly healthy school should bolster a struggling church a couple miles away. Both ended up closing.

We discussed how to restore Christian music education for the children of East Falls. Hard to do without property, but we hope not impossible. Redeemer had hosted a community children’s choir and summer music camp and St. Bridget’s School had a strong musical tradition. Our worship leaders had worked together before.

Three chance meetings in three days! Perhaps the Holy Spirit is at work this Pentecost!