Wednesday, May 27, 2015

No Rest for the Weary - in a good way

I woke up this morning when I accidentally knocked my phone off my bedside table.  Then my husband got up to get ready for work and then a thunderstorm blew in.  No going back to sleep so I thought I’d just lay there in my comfy bed and check emails on my phone.  A few words from my Word of the Day from SSJE caught my eye.   [SSJE is Society for Saint John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastery in Massachusetts.  Yes, we have nuns and monks in the Episcopal Church.  SSJE has an excellent daily meditation email, by the way.]  Anyway, the words that caught my eye from the word of the day, “experience,” were life-long conversion.  I have long thought that we are converted over and over as God uses us for His purpose. 

I was so taken in by today’s message that I went on to read all of the comments.  One of the comments strongly disagreed with a statement in the message:  “Jesus comes to us and bids us to follow in ways which are familiar and safe and inviting.”  The commenter gave several examples of how following Jesus can lead to death for some – not a safe thing to do.  But what happens when you change the structure of the sentence to this:  “Jesus comes to us in ways which are safe and familiar and inviting and bids us to follow Him.” I’m going to make the assumption, since the writer of the meditation went on to say that Jesus meets us where we are, that this latter version is what he meant (just a little syntax error). 

To test my theory, I looked back on all the invitations I had received over the years.  When I have been called to ministry or action, did Jesus come to me in a safe and familiar way and invite me to do so?  Yes.  Now, my immediate response may have been fear but that was about me.  The invitations came to me in familiar and safe places:  my car, the pew at church, through a friend, in times of prayer.  Accepting that invitation can be scary and certainly the action we take will, in my experience, always require us to leave our comfort zone.  When we accept a call to act, we are being converted.  We are different than the day or even the moment before. 

I think we must be continually invited to leave our comfort zone because outside is where the miracles happen.  And miracles do happen every day.  When a person gets up on Sunday morning and decides to cross the threshold of a church they have been driving by for years, the Spirit has sent them.  In my book, that is a miracle.  God has intervened in their lives and you are receiving His messenger – a sacred and miraculous event.

When you look back on your journey, has Jesus come to you and invited you to leave your safe and familiar place?  Maybe He comes to us in our safe place because he sees we have retreated once again to our comfort zone and need to be converted once again to do His work.  Life-long conversion, indeed.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Invite, Welcome & Connect – Strategy or Culture?

I started out to write something completely different for St. Mary's seasonal newsletter but this article flowed on to the page.  A slightly edited version was published on the Episcopal Diocese of Texas website last week.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Bishop Doyle speak at the Invite-Welcome-Connect Summit at Camp Allen.  Bishop Doyle challenged us to think about new ways to expand the kingdom and to move beyond some of the “ways we have always done it.” 

One of the things he said that has been ringing in my ears is this:
When we start a sentence with
“How can we get them to…”
we are not living the Gospel of connection; that this question is a question for the past.

Rev. Katie’s sermon about the vine and the branches hit me square in the face the day after I returned from Camp Allen.  We aren’t supposed to decide for others what kind of fruit they are to bear; that is God’s job.  When we ask “how can we get them to…” we are deciding what kind of fruit others should bear.  Yikes. 

I admit I have said “how can we get them to…”  I have said this in relation to getting folks to Sunday School, getting folks to attend an event, getting folks to participate in ministry, etc.  This way of thinking is a tactic. The alternative is to ask “how can we provide faith formation other than Sunday morning?” or “how does this group want to connect?”  or  “what are you called to do?”  

As I pondered creating a forum for newcomers to connect, I couldn’t get at peace with designing something around a three- or four-week Sunday morning class format.  I was in the How Do We Get Them mode and it felt wrong.  As I talk to visitors and members alike, so many of you are just out of breath with how busy and stretched you are and I didn’t want this activity (which should be a source of joy) to be another burden in an already packed week.   

It’s amazing how it changes your motivation and your actions when you take this “How can we get them to” phrase out of your vocabulary.  It takes you to a place of discernment focused on the other person’s needs and calling instead of employing a tactic or strategy.  Just like with inviting folks to church, our job isn’t to convince anyone; it’s to extend the invitation out of our love for Jesus and let God do the rest.

One of the things that has come to me from this new perspective is a new way for newcomers to connect to St. Mary’s.  Beginning in July, we will have our first Seekers Forum.  This group will meet in person on a Saturday to get to know each other and help one another get connected digitally.  Then for several weeks, we will consider questions and participate in discussions in a private Facebook group.  The Forum will culminate with a fellowship dinner at the Rectory.  [Before you assume that this is only for the younger generation, you need to know more than half of all adults 65 and older are on Facebook – and growing.]

What can you do?  I often hear folks ask “how can we get visitors to stay?”  I would ask you to help nurture a culture of welcome instead of executing a welcome strategy.  Approach our welcome of the stranger from a place of love and ask “how can I help someone feel included” or “how can I share the love I have for this community with others?” After worship and particularly after the 10:30 am service, spend the first three minutes talking to those that you either don’t know well or don’t recognize.  Simply introduce yourself.  Be alert at any time for those who are standing or sitting alone and share your love by truly seeing them and go speak to them.  Make sure you are standing in a “C” instead of a closed circle so there is always an opening for someone else to join the conversation. 

They will know we are Christians by our love.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Inspired Insomnia

I am at the Invite-Welcome-Connect Summit at Camp Allen, sponsored by the Diocese of Texas.  I have learned much, heard powerful testimony (yes we Episcopalians do know how to witness), and I have had  the opportunity to be in relationship with people from literally all over the world.  Some I may never see again but the Spirit has been so present in every moment.  I mentioned to someone today that I don’t blog on a schedule – only when I am inspired.  I am kept awake tonight by the Lord’s prayer, prayed in these words: 

Our Father who is in heaven,
Your name is hallowed.

Bring your kingdom
and Your will be done
on earth as it is already
being done in Heaven.

Give us enough to eat today.

Forgive us when we sin and
help us to forgive others whose
sin hurts us.

Guide us away from temptation
and rescue us from the evil one.

The kingdom and the glory and
the power belong to You
yesterday, today and tomorrow.