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English: Shield of the US Episcopal Church, co...

English: Shield of the US Episcopal Church, colors from http://www.episcopalchurch.org/imageshop_11785_ENG_HTM.htm. The shield was adopted in 1940. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our long period in the wilderness is ending!

The Wardens and Vestry announced today the call of The Rev Jeff Frost of Redding to be our new Rector.

This is good news!

I have had the good fortune to work with Jeff Frost as the liaison between the Diocese of California Executive Council and the Diocese of Northern California  on the issues of church vitality and growth.  He has been a good partner in this process.

We welcome Jeff to St. Timothy’s and know that God must surely love us unconditionally to send him to our flock.

 

Congratulations to The Rev. Michael Barlowe, Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of California for being elected Executive Officer of the General Convention.  This is a role Michel is well suited for as he has herded many cats in his priestly career.  We pray that God will give him patience and a kind of constructive pushiness to urge the Convention forward in its work both when assembled and in-between.

The challenges facing the Church are many and real!

The people are voting with their feet!  I’ll spare you a discussion of these issues as you know them well.  Church membership, participation and pledging are on a long slow decline.  This is happening across all the mainline denominations and is even infecting the faster growing evangelical faith traditions.  The reasons are many and the cure is illusive and hard to accept.

It is not that people believe less in God.  It is that they see the church as less relevant in their daily lives and more focused on politics than the spiritual needs of the people.  The recent debate over women bishops in the Church of England is only the latest.  But the audacity of proposing and the agony over considering the Anglican Communion turned off the masses.

The Challenge for the Convention is to Catch Up with the People!   The people realize that we do not need the bureaucracy of the church to have a deeply personal spiritual relationship with God and His Son!  While we hunger for the teaching of the church we also expect the church to support us, guide us, love us and be with us in ways that live into our relationship with God through our Baptismal covenant, the Creed, and our own experiences trying to be the Body of Christ in fact as well as in word.

What do the people want from the Convention and the Church?

  • Help us find our way on our personal faith journey
  • Help us give our children a faith foundation that will last their lifetime
  • Help us be in community
  • Help us find ways to serve God and be the Body of Christ
  • Help us and be with us in our times of need accepting us as we are and holding us up to the light!

The Convention and Executive Officer Barlowe face a heavy agenda ahead.  We pray for them. But we also have high expectations of them!

Be Community not Bureaucracy!   The Convention has set a course for reviewing the governance of the church.  This is good news as the structures of the church are hopelessly bureaucratic, rigid, expensive and in many cases not very effective at bringing the people to the table.  It is not that there are fewer faithful.  It is that the faithful are tired of church politics, bickering and intramural debate over issues long ago settled.

Love us as We Are!  Welcome us!  Be in community with us!  We are the Church!

As the old line goes—“This is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!”

The Synod of the Church of England had before it a long debated proposal to authorize the election of women as bishops.  For those of us on the American side of the pond you might think—about time.  And the bishops and clergy in the Church of England thought so too so they voted in their respective orders to approve the measure.  It was supported publicly by the Prime Minister and both the outgoing and the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury.

So imagine the consternation when the measure fails by six votes in the Laity order at the Synod sending the entire matter back to the drawing boards.  The Prime Minister seemed to sum up the general feeling that the church should get its act together and fix this problem.  But that appears to be easier said than done given the tortured process the church follows in deciding such matters.

I will spare you a discussion of the politics of the matter as you know it.

Let me say this, at a time when the steady decline of church membership, participation and pledging continues we are reminded that these nagging issues are getting in the way of more existential threats to the future of the church.

The people are voting with their feet telling us that the politics and rigid beliefs of the church are not keeping up with contemporary societal values that include making a place in the life of the church for fifty percent of the population who do not happen to be men!

The people are voting with their feet because they see the church just like our political process polarized by these political issues in which, in the case of the Synod it was the Laity that sabotaged the measure because it was dominated by those who felt more strongly against the measure and showed up to vote than those who favored it and did not.  Sounds just like our 2012 presidential election doesn’t it?  Leadership matters and the people think the church appears to lack it.

The people are voting with their feet because they have concluded that they no longer need to tolerate the politics and rigidity of the established church in order to have a personal spiritual relationship with God and His son.  The risk to the church as measured in its steady decline is that the respect for the teaching authority of the church is diminished when the people no longer see the church as faithful to their REAL CHRISTIAN VALUES as proclaimed in their Baptismal covenant and in the Creed and in the Body of Christ itself.

By rejecting the common sense recognition of the evolving role of women in the church, the Laity Order in the Synod set themselves up just like the Pharisees substituting their narrow views for the common good and real values Jesus taught us.  The early church rejected the Pharisees and the real church today will reject this hijacking of the process as politics not faith.

The action of the Synod laity order diminishes the entire church, it sullies the Archbishops of Canterbury and reduces the moral authority of the church at a time when it is most needed.

There is one more thing, aren’t you glad the Episcopal Church of the US rejected the Anglican Covenant and proclaimed our faith in the lessons Jesus taught us himself?

We should all pray for the Church, but we should pray harder that we have the courage to stay true to the Word made flesh even when it is hard.

My thanks to Lori Robinson for permission to reprint her sermon from September 23, 2012 at St. Timothy’s Danville.  Her work with the children of our parish is truly God’s work through her hands.  Her sermon wove together the story from the appointed reading from Mark 9:30-37 with the reasons we have as a parish invested so much heart and treasure in creating an environment where we can give our kids a faith foundation that will endure their lifetimes.

Listen with your heart:

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,

and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me

but the one who sent me.”     Mark 9:37

If you do a Google image search on your computer with the phrase “Jesus and children” you will see dozens of inspiring pictures of Jesus surrounded by adoring youngsters.  In some pictures there’s a child in his lap.  In others, he stands facing a group of children with outstretched arms.  In every picture, Jesus is beaming at their upturned faces and the whole scene is bathed is a warm, glowing light.  These charming pictures project an image of innocent children playing at the feet of a gentle and loving Jesus.  The message these pictures convey is clearly that Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world!

But this familiar scene of Jesus with children is a very modern interpretation of attitudes towards children. The idealized vision doesn’t accurately reflect the actual relationship between children and adults in the New Testament era.  Social scientists and religious commentators point out that the children of ancient Mediterranean culture weren’t valued in the same way we value children in modern Western culture.  Children in Jesus’ time had little status within the community. And like so many other low status groups of every time and place, children were treated as if they didn’t really exist; as if they were invisible.  A child of this era was most likely viewed as a “non-person” – particularly by the male population. (1)   It was adults – not children – who mattered.

So, for Jesus to tell his disciples to welcome a child in his name probably doesn’t give his disciples a very warm and fuzzy feeling!  It is – at the very least – shocking and probably insulting to them.  And it’s another example of how Jesus challenges the people around him to be in relationship with those who are the most powerless and vulnerable.  Jesus uses a lowly child to teach that God’s kingdom is not like the world the disciples are used to.  God’s kingdom is a reality where everything is upside down – where the last are first and the least are to be treated as the most welcomed.

Today’s Gospel doesn’t have the shock value for us that it had for its earliest listeners.  We aren’t the least bit insulted at the thought of paying special attention to a child.  Indeed, our culture values children in a way that was inconceivable at the time that Mark’s Gospel was written.  We promote childhood as a time of innocence – we don’t want our children to grow up too fast – we don’t want them to be exposed to the challenges of the world too soon.  The desire to treasure our children is deeply embedded in our modern culture and in the church.  So, how are we to understand this use of the imagery of children presented in today’s gospel in a contemporary context?  Is it possible that we too sometimes fail to see – and welcome – the children in our midst?

The spiritual nurture of children is one of the values the church promotes – it’s why we have Christian education programs for children.  But as much as we claim to value children, I sometimes wonder if we are misguided in how we view children within Christian community.  In a culture that encourages children’s participation in all kinds of activities – even on Sunday mornings – commitment to bringing children to church on a regular basis has dwindled. And even when children are at church, the ways in which we interact with them is often lacking. It’s not that we don’t “do” things with children at church.  Parents want and churches provide all kinds of programs for kids. But I wonder if we – as Christian communities – ever take the time to be self-reflective about how to fully support and nurture the spiritual growth of the children in our community?

Spiritual growth is a core value for all Christians and it begins for many people in their childhood.  Take a moment to think about your childhood experience of church if you went to church as a child.  What was that like?  Did you feel safe?  Did you feel loved?  Did you feel seen and heard and valued for who you were as a child?  Were questions allowed?  Were you encouraged to explore and express your own thoughts and ideas about God and Jesus?  Was the God of your childhood one that sustained you into adulthood?

Questions like these matters because what we think children should get out of church shapes how we treat children in church.  Having lots of programs for children may look like a great thing. But having programs for children is not the same thing as being in relationship with children.  One of the biggest misconceptions about children and church, in my opinion, is that if children are seen “doing” lots of things, the assumption is that we are doing our job of raising them as Christians.  And “doing things” seems good in a culture that values busyness over idleness.  But it may not be very good spiritual formation for a child.  Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about:

  • It’s a common occurrence in churches to ask children to perform for us.   It’s wonderful to see children singing an anthem or playing a part in the annual Christmas pageant – and some children love doing it.  We praise and applaud their efforts.  But is it possible that performing for adults, even if it’s in church, is simply that – a performance; a way to be noticed for those children who love being actors or singers?  And does having children perform for us result in deeper spiritual formation for the child?
  • Oftentimes children are asked to create something to be used by the church or to give as a gift to someone.  Many children are very creative and having things made by children is very cute. And who doesn’t love to see a child’s artwork on display? We praise and applaud their efforts. But does having children create something for someone else result in deeper spiritual formation for the child?
  • Most – if not all – churches have space dedicated to children.  Children are used to being segregated into a different space than adults.  And segregation has its advantages.  It allows adults to have an experience together without the distractions that children naturally provide.  And it allows children to have experiences together without being overwhelmed by adults.  But when we separate our children from ourselves, we run the risk of communicating the unspoken message that they are not welcome to be part of the community – at least temporarily.  What does that do to the spiritual formation of the child?

Please don’t misunderstand me!  I’m not saying that any of these scenarios are necessarily bad.  Singing a song during a church service can help a child feel more connected to the worshipping community.  Being Mary or Joseph or a shepherd or an angel can help a child experience the sense of awe that is at the heart of our faith story.  And having time and space where children are the focus of attention and able to build community with one another is important. But it is also important to examine the assumptions we make about children and how our actions affect children.

I hope that we can all agree that the wellbeing of children matters to us – both in the church and in the world. So, our obligation to support and honor children also extends beyond the doors of St. Timothy’s.  And we don’t have to look very far to find other children whose needs should be just as important to us as the needs of our own children.  Just go outside, look across the patio, and you will see Noah’s Ark – which is St. Timothy’s preschool.  Noah’s Ark is an important part of St. Timothy’s outreach to children and families in the San Ramon Valley.  And this very special preschool honors the whole child – including the needs and challenges of individual children – in its philosophy of child development.  It has experienced, dedicated teachers who work unbelievably hard to help children grow socially, emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually.

Noah’s Ark is a wonderful model of how to provide the care and nurture that all children deserve. And yet I wonder how connected we are to this critical ministry to children?  There was a time when Noah’s Ark had over 100 children attending the school with more children on a waiting list.  But times have changed.  The combination of the recent economic decline and the introduction of a transitional kindergarten in the public school system had a tremendously detrimental effect on preschools including Noah’s Ark.  And no matter how dedicated the Noah’s Ark staff is or how hard they work to provide a program with integrity and respect for children, they need help to remain a vital outreach ministry for this church community.  So, I wonder what we can do to support Noah’s Ark as they endeavor to support deeper spiritual formation for the children in their midst?

Whether it’s a child in here or out there, we are called as a community to nurture and foster the wellbeing of all children.  We are called to support children on their faith journey.  And we are called to appreciate children for who they are, not what they can do for us.  That is what it means to be a servant to all – especially the youngest and most powerless among us.  Where do children feel welcomed?  Where do they feel excluded? And what can we do to support, empower and treasure each child as a gift from God given to our care?  These are questions that matter because how we welcome and include children is the measure of how we welcome Christ into our church and into our lives – and not only Christ, but also the One who sent him…..

Sources:

(1)     Malina, Bruce J. & Rohrbaugh, Richard L. (2003).  Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, p. 336.  Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN.

© Lori Robinson, Associate for Family Ministry

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church

Danville, California

Protesters in Libya killed the US Ambassador and three embassy staff members as they fled the US consulate building in Benghazi which had been stormed and set on fire allegedly by al Qaeda-linked gunmen blaming America for a film that they claimed insulted the Prophet Mohammad. In Egypt protesters broke into the US embassy and burned the US flag.

The US State Department put out this press statement prior to the embassy attacks but it has been subjected to fierce criticism for continuing to convey a sense of moral equivalence first laid out in President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo in what is widely now called his ‘apology tour’ for suggesting that there is a linkage between American values and policies and Muslim violence.

U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement

September 11, 2012

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

We have our Priorities Wrong!

While we recognize the sensitivities that Muslims have about the depiction of the Prophet, that is no excuse for storming our embassies let alone killing the US ambassador and his staff.  The decision by the US State Department to blame this on Coptic Christians who are regularly persecuted by Muslims in Egypt and elsewhere is unbelievable.

Never mind the starker reality is that these incidents are not mere protesters out of control but the work of terrorist groups seeking to exploit the sensitivity to create the incident in hopes of provoking a crisis suited to their destabilization goals.  Never mind that this is standard modus operandi in the thousand year old tensions between Sunni and Shi’a and that the killing of Muslims by other Muslims is common place. Never mind that it is no coincidence that these attacks happened on September 11th, yet the State Department announcement completely ignores these realitities as it seeks to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslims.

The State Department statement and our Government’s policy and reaction to this incident is shameful.  Our blame of the Coptic Christians for also wanting to practice their religion is shameful.  Our government’s willingness to abandon our own principles to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslim terrorists is shameful.

We pray for Ambassador Stevens and his three staff members killed in the Benghazi attack.

 

NOTE:  I stumbled across this blog post recently and it is so deliciously ironic given the liberal proclivities of many of my Episcopal Church friends that I could not resist the temptation to re-post it here.  Get a satisfying sipping drink and enjoy both!

 

 

GLH

 

 

English: Shield of the US Episcopal Church, co...

English: Shield of the US Episcopal Church, colors from http://www.episcopalchurch.org/imageshop_11785_ENG_HTM.htm. The shield was adopted in 1940. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

By JAY AKASIE, Posted: August 31, 2012 on The Fiscal Times Business Buzz

 

During his acceptance speech in Tampa Thursday night, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said that he was risk-averse during the early years of establishing his private equity firm, Bain Capital. So he didn’t approach his elders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to ask them to invest a portion of their pension fund in the venture. But, he said, one of his partners snagged the Episcopal Church’s pension fund, set up to fund the retirements of that denomination’s clergy.

 

“That shows what I know,” said Romney. “Another of my partners got the Episcopal Church pension fund to invest. Today there are a lot of happy retired priests who should thank him.”

They should indeed, and they could thank their pension fund managers while they’re at it. Though it hasn’t fared quite as well over the last few years, the Episcopal Church’s pension fund, with some $9.5 billion in assets as of March 31, 2012, is one of the best run and most successful around.

That may come as something of a surprise to anyone who has heard many of the Mainline Protestant clergy preaching left-wing, anti-capitalist messages from their pulpits every Sunday. When masses of privileged college students and aging hippies pitched their tents in Zuccotti Park one year ago, for instance, prominent Episcopal parishes in New York — including the venerable Trinity Church, a parish that derives much of its operating income from its well run and closely guarded Manhattan real estate portfolio — threw their public support to the anti-establishment rabble … even though they continued to hit up their well-heeled, Wall Street banker parishioners for money.

There’s a growing conflict between religion, ideology and wealth derived from capitalism. A decade ago, a group of ideologues from Harvard University – faculty members so far to the left that they could make the Episcopal Church clergy green with envy — objected to the salaries being paid to the managers of the Harvard Management Company, the sterling investment group that oversees that school’s $35 billion endowment.

The Fiscal Times FREE Newsletter

The protesting faculty members had no clue as to how top-flight investment managers are compensated. Tired of trying to explain to a bunch of Ph.D.s how Wall Street works, many of Harvard Management’s stars left the firm and set up shop on their own.

Across the pond, the Church of England recently decided to divest its pension fund’s stake in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Although that media company has provided the Anglican clergy’s pension fund with solid returns over the years, they apparently weren’t too fond of Rupert Murdoch’s penchant for free and unfettered capital markets.

The question now is whether the clergy of the Episcopal Church will do the same — considering, of course, the Church Pension Fund still holds a stake in Bain. But in the world where parishioners are admonished to “do as I say, not as I do,” I suspect the Episcopalian clergy are just fine with their lucrative Bain Capital investment.

 

Read more at http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Blogs/Business-Buzz/2012/08/31/The-Episcopal-Church-Bain-Capital-and-Heavenly-Returns.aspx#xPoQabK4eUAV3c2r.99

 

Be::Community

Introducing ‘see::community – be::community’  is the name for the new website location for the church vitality webinar series hosted by Bishop Marc to support our church vitality initiative.  Mary Vargas wrote the following article which appeared recently in DioBytes, the Diocesan newsletter:

by Mary Vargas. Diocesan Standing Committee Member

 

Realigning Mission through Ministry in Community: Creating the Ministry Map on Vitality
see::community – be::community

is a process designed to engage our people at a new level in exploring which ministries connect them to their neighborhoods (or any place outside church walls), which ministries serve the church, and which ideas are coming to life as emerging ministries — all serving the mission of “transforming souls.” We believe it is through ministry that we are the most effective “evangelists,” creating a direct connection between community, vitality, and growth.

read more here

click here to read about the upcoming facilitator training

 

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