Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Bishop Speaks What Are We Thinking Clergy

How did we arrive at this hope stuff? Sometimes I think of this and conclude we do not have a real understanding of the basic issue. If one is in the hope business it is a sign that all is not well. Therefore we must work on that.

The work then becomes the center of our thinking. It is natural to try to fix something and hence we have plans and studies and trials and arguments and fights and votes and meetings and prayers and new books and better songs and search for the “right” people and look for more money and get some committes and work very hard and get mad and sad and tired and wornout and loose track of who and what we are and the church becomes smaller and people drift away and we pretend things are well and try to hang on to what we believe without really knowing what we believe.

How did it begin? Well, most of us were introduced to a religion and we tend to stay there. This religion tends to be what ever is available in a region/community/nation where we live. We are indoctrinated into a religion and it is reinforced all around us. People often acquire a religion without giving a lot of thought to what they are saying they believe.

Religion is reinforced throughout our lives by clergy, civic leaders and families. We believe this is what keeps families together. People learn that certain ideas, ideologies and practices are to be treated as vital to our lives and are not to be questioned, but rather accepted.

Then we have the issues of death, heaven and hell. We are given answers for all of these things. We accept them without questioning.

It is like the old song:
You better watch out,
You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He's making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you're sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!
Oh, you better watch out!
You better not cry.
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

Then it happens. Santa is not really coming, but the message lives inside of us and we remember it. Then we might begin to wonder if following the good and bad rules will determine our salvation. Must we be good and follow the rules? If things could have been fixed this way, all would have been taken care of 20 minutes after Moses came down off the mountain with the 10 commandments. Law is holy, just and true, but law alone is not an instrument of salvation.

Our gospel assures us that the whole salvation work has already been done, once and for all, by the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have the story, we are saved. But, there is more than having the story and telling the story. We need to start living the story. The Kingdom of God is at hand. It is here and it is for you.

I fear our worship has become our religion. Throughout the church year our worship tells the story over and over without much thought about how we live our lives, how we live in the Kingdom of God.

We say we gather to praise God, but in truth we gather to tell the story, over and over. Our praise of God is in our lives.

Ask yourself this question. “How does a person who believes this story live and praise God?”

Relax. You are saved. Everyone has been saved. The Jesus work has been done.

Now, all you need to do is live in the Kingdom.

Think about it. Then, rethink hope.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Small Size Parish Homes and the Episcopal Future

A Method

            This blog is the result of an in-depth analysis of a small Episcopal congregation identity using a cognitive consensus mapping methodology known as metaphor elicitation. The method is grounded on the findings of neuropsychology and linguistics, “Metaphors stimulate the workings of the human mind. By one estimate, we use almost six metaphors per minute of spoken language… For example, although both halves of the human brain enable literal and figurative language (which includes metaphor), the right half is more strongly associated with metaphoric language.” (Zaltman, Gerald, How Customers Think, p. 37-38)

                According to most estimates, about 95% of thought, emotions, feeling and learning occur in the unconscious mind. Most studies of denominational attitudes towards church selection and congregational worship, educational and formational needs are based on information gathered through verbal protocols (telephone calls, group meetings, verbal focus groups and questionnaires) that rely on self- reflection and self-awareness. These methods, even if conducted extremely well, only open up 5% of thoughts, emotions and feelings about people towards religious and spiritual issues.

                Therefore, advanced methods of cognitive consensus maps are the single most important way of eliciting individual and collective attitudes about just why people are attracted to the Episcopal denomination or a particular parish. Furthermore, it is especially necessary when exploring the nature of such a right brain issue as religious preference to use the methodology of metaphor elicitation.

The Study

                This study was conducted in a small Episcopal parish with a dwindling weekly attendance of between 50 to 60 members with a statistical mode age of 70 years. The statistical mode age is used rather than the mean or median because it is more descriptive of the aging sketch of the congregation. The congregation had been at one time  an established pastoral congregation from the fifties, but it began to decline rapidly in the nineties.  It was located in an urban middle class neighborhood that had slowly become a working lower class community. After experiencing a series of deaths of members, it appeared that the parish would soon close. There was a final effort made to stabilize the situation with an interim and then a new rector. Although the parish was aging, it had an extremely youthful spirit. Under the guidance of the interim, the new rector and vestry, a courageous plan for stabilization was designed.

                Before this study could begin, it was necessary to spend two years attracting some new members. It was decided to target baby boomers 55 plus who were, for various reasons, looking for a church. It was necessary to make radical changes in liturgy, music and educational programs to achieve this immediate goal. After some new members had become active in the parish, the new vestry decided that it was time to ask three questions in order to grow: 1) How do we perceive ourselves? 2) How does our local community perceive us? 3) How do we want to be perceived?

                In order to answer this question, the parish began a study in metaphor elicitation and consensus mapping. A representative sample of members was asked to become participants in the study.  Each member was instructed as to how to gather visual images over the period of a couple of weeks about their likes and dislikes for choosing a spiritual and worshipping community. Then in a one to one metaphor elicitation technique session each participant engaged in a one hour to two hour image description probe. The purpose was to gather data on shared parish archetypes and core metaphors that allow for the development of a shared deeply felt parish spiritual identity.


                The study is presently in stage two where we are connecting the lines between core metaphors by means of participant construction of collages. In stage three, we will then load these collages into digital program and present the findings to the congregation. We will then begin to construct the congregational narrative and target-seeker strategy. I am not able in this very short blog to outline the various core metaphors and narratives findings, but I will offer a few emerging findings.

1)      It became apparent in the study that people find it easier to communicate what they dislike when selecting a particular Christian community and style of worship.

2)      The most predominant core metaphor that has appeared is personal friendship. It appears that in a small parish the meaningful glue was the metaphor of the TV show Cheers, especially the phrase “Hi Norm.” New people are attracted to the parish because they sense the gentle presence of soul friends, as one participant found in the lyrics to the Cheers song, “Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”

3)      If there is a metaphor that expresses how the congregation does not perceive itself, it is the church with the huge stage, electronic screen and over bearing electronic music. However, there were other metaphors that expressed delightful openness to more mellow modes of contemporary music. It appears that this congregation and the new members it is attracting are somewhat counter-cultural when it comes to electronic approaches to worship.

4)      Several of the participants offered, what we named, “In Your Face” metaphors. There was a strong dislike for a congregational atmosphere that is overbearing with controversial issues either on the left or right of theological, ethical or social issues. Yet, there were many metaphors that stressed the need for the parish to reach out to the needy, especially persons and situations within the local community where the congregation is located. These were metaphors of a loving, compassionate touching of those in need.

5)       It has become apparent during this study that there is most often a critical disconnect between the traditional theological language of the church and the unconscious longings of the soul for an inspiring and metaphoric language of the deep structures of the human mind where we hear the whispers of the soul in a small, spiritually intimate community.

6)      Finally, I suggest a certain triangulation between this study and the study by C. Kirk Hadaway, Director of Research, The Episcopal Church Center, “Congregation Size and Church Growth in the Episcopal Church.”.This study is a must read, but it demands a careful read. He clears up several misconceptions about what size of Episcopal churches grow and where we find promise for the future. Good analytical triangulation happens when we find touch points between qualitative and quantitative analysis. Hadaway’s work is highly reliable because it is an excellent work in descriptive statistics based on sound categorization. The conclusions seem to verify that there is a unique identity and promise in small congregations, “In general, the larger the congregation, the less likely to grow-except for the largest churches (those over 800 in average Sunday attendance). These very large churches have added substantially to the growth the Episcopal Church since 1995, but because they are very few in numbers they do not add as many attendees as churches with ASA of 100 or less…even though small churches are more likely to grow than larger churches, not all small churches are likely to grow. Small rural churches are most likely to decline and newer small churches are most likely to grow (especially those in new suburban areas). The typical Episcopal congregation has average Sunday attendance of 80 persons. It is the typical Episcopal Church that has been our primary source of growth during the last decade.”


 This study indicates that there is something in the Episcopal cultural DNA that forms into small church growth. Perhaps it is the energy of the Cheers metaphor? Perhaps our tag line and brand identity is the metaphor of a spiritual home something like Ernest Kurtz describes it, “Home is ultimately, that place where we find the peace and harmony that comes from learning to accept the imperfections of others. Such a place, such a home, can exist in various settings, but its ultimate foundation rests jointly within self and within some group of trusted others. Some places are more conducive to this experience than others. But wherever and whenever we do attain that sense of being at home we experience a falling away of tensions, a degree of balance between the pushing and pulling forces of our lives.” (Kurtz, Ernest, The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 232)


 In conclusion, we might say, “The parish home is where the heart is.”



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hope On the Horizon Now

The Reformation isn’t over. But Protestantism is, or should be.  From The End of Protestantism by Peter J. Leithart , November 8, 2013
It is a good thing I no longer have to have hope within the Episcopal Church. My hope has gone or lead me to see a different horizon. And that hope is about an essence of Anglicanism. It is the spirit of the historic, active soul which infused the Episcopal Church with spiritual energy.
Around 1996, when I was rector of St. James Church in Wichita,I began to realize that the authentic authority in the Episcopal Church had radically declined.  I had experienced bullying for the first time by lay people. As a result, I had to learn about institutionalized systemic pathology.  For instance, the  St. James vestry organizational chart of 1986 had the vestry as the CEO and the Rector below in line with the Sexton. While I had fully corrected this nonsense by 1997, I knew I had to begin to explore the possibility there was no longer an Episcopal Church as I had known it for nearly 40 years. With the help of my associate and a very learned lay person, I discovered a once thriving form of  catholic Christianity among the Celts in Ireland and other nearby regions.  I discovered a form of Church organization and spiritual life that was not at all dependent on the Latin, European matrix of central organization with orders of ministry in a hierarchy. This was a whole new experience for me.  What struck me was how much I had essentially felt this Celtic soul of Anglicanism from my childhood on. (The reader may go back to early blog essays where I delineate my understanding of the Celtic qualities and differences I had discovered.)
Two small groups of people with me created two different educational organizations.  In the late 90’s, The St. Columba Center for Congregational Development and The Journey of  Soul were designed and tested to help fellow Episcopal Church leaders learn from and take on the necessary theology and systemic changes to reconfigure the Church for adaptation to a new spiritual and organizational journey.  After testing our idea locally, in other parts of the country and in Canada, we failed.  It failed because our Church  had already twisted itself into ways and means to coerce a false dialogue. The Church was attempting to achieve an impossible ideological conformity around social and ecclesiastical issues and programs while using the language of inclusion and social justice, clouding its intent to gather waning money, power and social influence.
As readers of this blog know, all the studies and data collections we have cited, indicate the  decline of  institutional western Christianity.  I believe we, who are so motivated, should start to move on and embrace a new order of reform that benefits from the lessons of an historic Celtic Christian spirit that: 1. Does not need our four orders of ministry to be in a hierarchy with a bishop “on top” 2. A sacramentality may once again be focused in proclamation and no longer reduced into ritual/ceremonial conformity to the dying old static hierarchical matrix 3. Where possible, a rapid consolidation of as many assets and resources, becoming networks of mission and ministry as locally organized with bishops facilitating and no longer directing regulatory conformity 4. Of a willingness to work with any and all other local faithful and morally sensitive people who can see their work as venturesome and purposefully discovering the Christ in daily life and work 5. Accepting an awareness, knowledge and understanding of a rapidly digitizing life in networks of communication.
From now on, we should be allocating fewer resources into  the dioceses which have become increasingly top heavy and dysfunctional. Everywhere and everyone is becoming the centers of Christ in this world. We need to develop models of  whole networked global/local models which together unify to become an expanding helical,healing force of spiritual energy and growth, “a noosphere” or a globally connected consciousness, as Teilhard de Chardin described nearly a century ago, a virtual DNA of the Holy Spirit-- Divine Numinous Activity-- toward the fulfillment of God’s creation in each of its billions of human centers.  We need to become Christ in this world so as to become fully and together the spiritual creatures we are drawn to become, surrounding each other in love, justice and adoration where we are finally drawn into full communion with God,”lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God's presence.”-- BCP Catechism on Prayer and Worship

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Veterans Day Tribute

It was 1945 on Iwo Jima, the battle was still continuing, and Chaplain, Lieutenant, Ronald Gittelsohn, a Rabbi, dedicated a Cemetery for the 5th Marine Division with these words:

Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends, men who until yesterday or last week, laughed with us, trained with us, men who were on the same ships with us, and went over the side with us as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island.  Some of us have buried our closest friends here. We saw these men killed before our very eyes.  Any one of us might have died in their place.  Indeed some of us are alive and breathing at this very moment only because men who lie here beneath us had the courage and strength to give their lives for ours.
These men have done their job well.  They have paid the ghastly price of freedom.  Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors, generations ago, helped in her founding because they themselves, or their own fathers, escaped from oppression to her blessed shores.  Here lie officers and men, negroes and whites, rich men and poor—together.  Theirs is the highest and purest democracy. Any man among us, the living, who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead.
God’s Peace to them and to you.
Chaplain, Colonel, Gary Gilbertson, USAF (Ret.)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Bullying – a Growing Problem in the Church

This Blog held up the issue of bullying back on April 19th of this year under the title: “Terrorists are Bullies and Bullies are Terrorists.”  In short, both are the improper use or threatened use of force or violence, physical or verbal, against persons or groups, to intimidate or coerce. This week the sports community is aghast at the bullying of professional football players in the NFL.  If even 300 pound athletes can be bullied, there is no doubt that Rectors can be bullied by parishioners and equally true be bullied by Bishops and Diocesan Staff persons.  (The April 19th article is still available.)

Currently this author is collecting illustrations of bullying in the Church.  The material will be used in an upcoming publication and may well be included in one of the presentations at the Annual Episcopal Journey of Hope Conference.
Send materials to Be assured that non-attribution and confidentiality will be respected and protected.  It is time the Church faced up to this major issue!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Reflections on the Episcopacy

Several responses to our recent blogs about reducing bishops and dioceses made the assumption that Episcopal Journey of Hope authors are against bishops.  Bishop Daniel Martins defended the "esse" of bishops by misquoting Ignatius of Antioch when he wrote, "where the Bishop is, there is the Church.  Actually, a more precise translation of Ignatius is this:  "Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather.  Just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

This translation, which is more accurate than Bishop Martin's, leaves the traditional Ignatian teaching less precise and more open.  It introduces a more spiritual approach to the development of the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.  For Ignatius, the authority of church officers is not derived from a chain of teaching chairs (Irenaeus) or from a succession of ordinations (Augustine) but from the fact that their offices are the earthly representation of a heavenly pattern.  This does not negate the fact that we Anglicans have inherited the Augustinian tradition and therefore, as Anglicans, we follow the Roman teaching.  At Episcopal Journey of Hope we are aware of this and we subscribe to the fact that bishops are essential to the life of the church.  We may question the number of bishops we have in TEC, but we do not deny the fact that Episcope is of the essential to the life of Anglicanism.

Recently I found a set of preliminary papers for the last Lambeth Conference, 2008, that were written by Anglican theologians throughout the world. In one of the papers, "The Significance of the Episcopal Office for the Communion of the Church, Inter Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, October 2007," presented ten theses with explanations on the theology of the Episcopate.  I give the these to you without the theological comments.  You can find the entire text if you "google" theology of the episcopate.  It goes without saying that these theses were written for bishops and therefore present a bias in this regard.

Thesis One:  The Bishop serves the koinonia of the gospel into which the baptised are incorporated by God the Holy Spirit.

Thesis Two:  The bishop's evangelical office of proclamation and witness is a fundamental means by which those who hear the call of God become one in Christ.

Thesis Three:  The bishop is a teacher and defender of the apostolic faith that binds believers into one body.

Thesis Four:  The Bishop has oversight (episcope) of the household of God for the good order of the Church.

Thesis Five:  The bishop is called to coordinate the gifts of the people of God for the building up of the faithful for the furtherance of God's mission.

Thesis Six:  The bishop serves the koinonia of the gospel through care, encouragement and discipline of the pastors of the Church.

Thesis Seven:  The bishop serves the koinonia of the gospel through a ministry of mediation to recall the broken and conflicted body of Christ to its reconciled life in him.

Thesis Eight:  The catholicity of the episcopal office connects the baptised across boundaries of culture, class, gender, race and lands and enables the church to realize its oneness in Christ.

Thesis Nine:  The bishops serves the collegial life of the Church through the nurture of strong bonds with bishops of the Anglican Communion and those who share episcope in other Christian traditions.

Thesis Ten:  A diocesan bishop is given responsibility to episcope in the particular place where the bishop is the principal pastor.

While realizing that these theses represent the traditional Roman and Anglican nature of the Episcopacy, I personally reserve judgment on their theological significance.  There merely reflect the theology inherent in the Episcopal Ordination service. What is significant for Episcopal Journey of Hope is that they do not give a detailed format about how Episcopacy should function in modern society.  For us the hope for the church of the future is that at least in TEC we can reorganize our diocesan structures in such a way as to reflect the reality of our size.

For further information go to the Lambeth webpage:  Click on documents and scroll down to Section G:  Anglican Bishops, Anglican Identity, Section 104, The Service we Offer as Bishops.