Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blog on Furlough

This Blog, Episcopal Journey of Hope, desires that the American Episcopal Church will reverse 50 years of decline, not end up a boutique church, and remain a meaningful part of this Nation's religious landscape.  We have written about our history, theology, philosophy, and our ecclesiastical leaders plus our institutional structures.  We trust our Blog has been thought provoking and a catalyst for change.

Gary Gilbertson

Our mutual effort with Episcopal Journey of Hope has been for me a very satisfying team effort.  As with every aspect of life, this initiative by our mutual decision has finished its purpose for now.  I am very grateful for any and all readership and for any number of comments, including critics, as we are all in a free community of conversation.  And most especially I will always be grateful for so many kind and great leaders of the past in the Episcopal Church whose witness inspired me in leadership and spiritual courage.  May we all go forth in peace.  Thanks be the God.

Ron Reed

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog.  Episcopal Journey of Hope, while recognizing the spiritual and theological realities of eschatology, has nevertheless spoken more often to the hope, or lack thereof, for the future of the Episcopal Church.  This is because our colleagues, as former leaders and containers of wisdom through a broad and deep experience in the life of the church, have believed that we had something to say that is both critical and positive about the life of the church.  We trust that our musings have fostered an interest and willingness for change so that hope may emerge and the Episcopal Church might grow in the future and be a strong witness in American Christianity.

Bob Terrill

Contributing to this blog has allowed me to clarify some of the major issues pertaining to the Episcopal Church.  I have really come to two major conclusions about the future of ECUSA.  One, we will continue to decrease in membership, consequently, for the greater part we will be a denomination of small congregations, i.e., ranging from 25 to 300 in terms of weekly attendance.  It will demand a radical change in life style.

Two, I fear that progressive Episcopal theology is really grounded on the Romanticism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's world vision.  We have fallen into the tendency of modern and postmodern intellectuals elitists to emphasize ideas such as subjectivity and spirit and reduce theology to the transcendental history of subjective spirit.  It is a progressive liberal theological homogenization where the passionate love of humanity blends all ideas of tolerance, duty and truth into a vague oneness.  Consequently, we attempt to feed our community on liturgical practices and a humanitarian ethics of social progress.  In other words, we are becoming a community of liturgical practitioners without a sacramental or evangelical theology.  These are the final thoughts of an Anglo Catholic scholastic.

A. William McVey

Saturday, January 18, 2014

 Pogo and Common Sense in an Age of Skepticism


            I suggest that today we are living in an age of skepticism because we have such high hopes for the future; yet at the same time we have such great fear and skepticism. When we have the combination of great hopes and fear, then we enter into a state of skepticism. We have become a people who  live with expectations of continuous economic growth in personal income. We have been told that we are able to achieve the American Dream. We have been defined by our consumer hopes of comfort and various levels of affluence. We have become a people of risk takers who look at the future with little concern for failure. We have been taught by teachers and preachers to believe in our own abilities to achieve in a land of hope.

            However, this secular-driven hope over the past few years has begun to appear somewhat tenuous.  An election came and the streets were filled with hope again. This time the hope was placed in a new type of political system. But since those celebration days, the world’s economic and terrorist dilemmas continue to cast a veil of skepticism over the world. The Western hope of material ease and progress has been challenged. These new days of anxiety fueled by a culture of skepticism are now being experienced by wealthy nations as well as the emerging poor nations. We are struggling to rekindle our hope, and we turn to political rhetoric comprised of convoluted logic presented by media commentators, clerical and academic skeptics.


             A real problem exists when we simply believe in a hard driven postmodern rational mind. We must, therefore, not see hope as a mere wish for the gift of a hopeful future based on a solely rational mind. In the spiritual and moral life, hope is a cardinal virtue, and it is also a habit of the soul and an action. Dante wrote that on the entrance to hell it is written, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter herein.” What does it mean to abandon all hope? It means that we have lost all sense of action. When we lose hope, we are unable to move; we are unable to become. The root cause of depression and anxiety is the loss of hope, and we have entered into a type of hell of skepticism.  

            As a preacher and a parish priest, I cannot change the present American culture; I cannot change the economic system. I cannot change academia. Nevertheless, I would like to offer some solid common sense advice for living as a person of faith in a skeptical age. I will call it the common sense philosophy of Pogo taken from the cartoon series of Walt Kelly who, I see, as a common sense satirist. The cartoon series is about the allegorical characters of the Okefenokee Swamp.

1)    Pogo:

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Yes, we are immersed in in a skeptical culture. Yes, we live in a media skeptical Okefenokee Swamp, but as Christians we do not have to become skeptical. We live by the life of the Spirit that allows us to overcome all shades of false and unnecessary skepticism. I remember talking to a businessman when the late recession began. Everyone was so negative and skeptical about the future of the American economy. At the peak of the recession in a small town, he purchased a local Ford dealer ship. A local radio reported asked him, “Are you not nervous about buying a Ford dealership when we are not even sure in this recession if and when the car market will return.” He answered, “No, at Bob’s Ford we’re not going to participate in this recession.” He was using common sense and was really saying that there is reason for caution and fear, but it does not have to become skepticism in  mind and heart.

2)    Porky Pine:  “The best break anybody ever gets is bein’ alive in the first place. An’ you don’t unnerstan what a perfect deal it is until you realizes that you aint gone be stuck with it forever, either.”

Here, Porky Pine speaks as an insightful common sense existential philosopher. He calls our attention to a basic common sense principle that should shape our attitude towards life, “The best break anybody gets is being alive in the first place.” Then Professor Porky Pine explains that we must avoid skepticism and understand what a perfect deal its. It is by understanding and interpreting the potential and opportunities that life offers that we avoid skepticism. It is for this reason that Mortimer J. Adler wrote the book The Time of Our Lives and teaches that we must interpret, judge and plan, “A certain amount of experience in the business of living and a certain seriousness of purpose are required for anyone to understand the problem of making a good life and to judge whether this or that proposal for its solution is practically sound.” (Adler, Mortimer J, 1996, P.9)  It is no wonder that the preacher Joel Osteen has thousands of people listening to the constant motif running through his sermons, “Your Best Life Now.”

There is a skeptical colloquial expression that I really dislike because it is an attack on a balanced and common sense approach to life. It goes something like this, “Hi Harry, how are you doing?” Harry answers, “You know same old, same old!” Harry responds from the attitude of a skeptical belief system. I have a friend who is a joyful and happy devout evangelical. He is a country western disc jockey on radio, and he loves to share western ballads that enrich life. He is very different than Harry. When I meet him, I ask, “Earl how’s it going?” and he answers, “I am blessed!”

3)    Pogo says: “Eventually Porky, I figger every critics heart’s in the right place.”

Porky responds: “If you gotta be wrong bout somthin’, that’s ‘bout the best thing they is to wrong bout.”

 Again, we see Porky acting like the common sense philosopher. Pogo has made a statement that he believes is true that every critic’s heart is in the right place. Porky has read Mortimer Adler on the milder forms of skepticism and knows that common sense calls for cautious restraint, “The fact that we differ in our judgments and change them from time to time should awaken us to the wisdom of a cautious restraint not to regard our judgments as certain and secure, as infallible and incorrigible.” (Adler, Mortimer J. 1981)


It is important to note carefully how Porky responds. He may sound skeptical, but he is actually a common sense realist. We must first note what he does not answer, “Well, if that’s your opinion Porky, I guess it is okay. I have my opinion, so I guess we are both entitled to our opinions.” This statement expresses a popular postmodern common attitude, but is an exercise relativistic skepticism. It is based on the great skeptical article of faith that the truth is there is no truth.  Porky may disagree, but he wants to examine the topic without being skeptical. He approaches Pogo’s opinion with serious reservation. Even though much of life is unclear, if we approach every perplexing issue with a skeptical mind and heart then we remain in the Okefenokee Swamp of skepticism.


4)    Beauregard is sleeping under a tree, and he hears a scream, “The Dam is Bus!”

He answers, “Is we runnin To it or From it?”


Skepticism makes us spiritually and mentally lazy. Initially, we think our cool modern skepticism identifies us as a cool, with it type person. In our skepticism, we only find meaning and truth within our own subjective consciousness. Like Beauregard, we lie under our comfortable shady tree in the Okefenokee Skeptic Swamp. It is as if we find a type of mystical spirituality in the skepticism.


Suddenly there is a catastrophe, and we wake from our slumber. As skeptics, we must confront a harsh objective world, “The Dam is bust.” We cannot say, “Oh, that is only your opinion.” No, it is real the dam has bust, and we must have a real response, but we are skeptics, and we don’t know if we run to it or from it. As the old saying goes, we don’t know if we are coming or going.


Beauregard freezes because skeptics in life are only good at working the problem; it is the common sense realist who knows how to work the solution. Beauregard is a skeptic, and he is not in the habit of facing the real catastrophes of life. The skeptic is not able to face reality, especially at catastrophic moments, since he only knows his inner skeptical perceptions. In a sense, Beauregard does not know the Swamp; rather the Swamp knows and owns him.


5)    Miz Beaver: “I’ll tell you son, the minority got us surrounded.”

Skeptics are somewhat loud, arrogant and militant in their belief system. They become petulant when anyone does not buy into their skepticism. They are strongly given to proselytizing their skeptical attitude and beliefs, covering them in a veneer such as it is the only way an enlightened person should think. Fortunately, there is an innate common sense in most people that skepticism is a dismal approach to life. The common sense person must constantly avoid this militant voice that milks the beauty and innate moral longing for goodness of the person and God’s creation.

6)    Porky Pine:

“That’s only two possibilities. Thur is life out there which is smarter than we are, or we’re the most intelligent life in the universe. Either way, it’s a mighty sobering thought.”


Unfortunately, it is not a sobering thought for the true skeptic. There is only one sobering thought for the true skeptic: i.e. be skeptical about everything. If we are skeptical about any universal truth then we just have to wake up, dress up and show up. For a common sense realist, a basic axiom is there is a God, and I am not big and smart enough to sit on His throne. That is real common sense.













Friday, January 17, 2014

Good Rectors Grow Churches -- Archbishop of Canterbury

“The reality is that where you have a good vicar (read rector in the USA), you will find growing churches,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, said on BBC Radio this past month.  The Archbishop then told his radio audience that he was “extremely hopeful” about the future of the Church of England because many local congregations were increasing in numbers.
There you have it! Good rectors grow churches!  The American Episcopal Church Official Report titled “Episcopal Domestic Fast Facts Trends: 2008-2012” declares that over the last 5 reporting years, 20% of Episcopal Congregations experienced at least a 10% growth in average Sunday attendance (ASA).  Congratulations to those 1400 “good” rectors for leadership in growing the Church!
But what about the rest of the story?  What about the 3500 rectors leading congregations where ASA decline by 10% or more during the same period?  Would the Archbishop call them “poor” rectors?  What about the 2000 or more congregations that can’t afford any rector – good or bad?
The flat out truth is most bishops are remiss in human resource management of the Rector Corps.  They make no personal effort to recruit, appropriately educate, evaluate/mentor, or guarantee adequate compensation for rectors.  Instead they generally delegate one of their most important responsibilities and dissimulate the results. 
When our Church was 3.6 million members strong we had 10,000 clergy; now we are down to 1.8 million members and have over 18,000 clergy.  An analyst at the National Church observed, “The problem with the clergy being ordained today is that most of them can’t grow churches.”  We agree.  Where is there evidence of non-parochial and/or non-stipendiary clergy ordained late in life ever being a true factor in Church growth?  Look around, a diocese many have only one or two anticipated rector openings in any year but they will have 15 aspirants in the ordination process with not a single one capable of leading a growing parish as rector.
Dioceses are proud of their “home schooled” clergy but rectors need a full seminary education.  Rector candidates also need progressive assignments so they can be ready to lead larger growing congregations.  But those progressive assignments are not available, often due to late-vocations “homesteading” in their one and only assignment.  Of course, we all know the covert secret - many of those assignments a rector needs to gain experience are closed because the congregation can’t afford the stipend or medical costs for a younger person – even one that could help them grow.
The New Testament is clear: “A laborer is worthy of his wages.”  The cost to an average congregation to have a rector is around $90,000 per year; this includes, stipend, housing, medical insurance, pension and expenses.  Rectors testify they work an average of 50 hours a week with some time off for vacations or about 2400 hours per year.  The average work year for most secular employees is between 1900 and 2000 hours so our rectors are well above average. In other words, full-time rector positions cost congregations about $37.50 per hour.  The rector’s actual spendable compensation will be around $20.00 per hour. Many rectors are well below these numbers and a few are above.  It is the bishop’s responsibly to work to ensure rectors are fairly compensated.
It is equally true that rectors should work to see bishops are fairly compensated.  Let’s check.  The average cost to a diocese to have a bishop’s position is $175,000 per year.  Assuming the same number of work hours per year, the cost per hour to have a bishop is $72.00 per hour – almost double the cost of a rector.  Some suggest adding the cost of the bishop’s staff into the mix because the staff is doing what the bishop would be doing, if no staff were available.  This could add another $400.00 per hour to the cost.  The nearly $500 an hour to have a bishop and staff is mostly raised by assessing congregations who are already stretching to afford a good rector to help them grow.  No matter how much we love our bishops and respect the professionalism of the staff, collectively they are a non-factor in congregational growth.
As the Archbishop says, we need good rectors to grow churches.  Time to recruit, appropriately educate, evaluate/mentor, and guarantee adequate compensation for rectors. This is certainly a critical challenge being faced by the Church.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Another Term?

Recently I received an interesting rumor regarding our Presiding Bishop's plan to run for a second term.  Bishop Jefferts Schori, having been ordained and employed for twenty years,certainly must find employment in the Episcopal Church for at least ten more years to receive her full pension. Another term as Presiding Bishop would certainly make a full term period very simple with no job search, disruption of her personal life or professional career trajectory. Such an eighteen year, two term,period would put her third in tenure to +Tuttle and +White in the succession of Presiding Bishops. 

I note this rumor because its origin was reliable, the idea of such a possibility historically significant and for its implications regarding the culture and politics of the House of Bishops, General Convention and the Church at large interesting. If Bishop Schori can get herself re-elected, she has managed to gain very substantial power over the years, and/or few other bishops may actually desire this "godly call."  In any case, if another nine years is gained by Bishop Schori, what might we expect? Reviewing the activities of her first administration, we can predict more law suits, gyrations of organizational reform and the normal administrative and visitation schedule continuing. In other words, while the numbers regarding Episcopalians and their financial commitments are projected to decline with greater rapidity, the Presiding Bishop will enjoy good pension funding, many interesting trips and sipping gimlets on the pent house balcony facing the East River where this redundant building holds up her apartment. . .

However, except for the name change of the actual occupant of the Office of Presiding Bishop occurring via the normal nomination/election processes of General Convention, what difference would it make? The future of the Episcopal Church is not much in the hands of the Presiding Bishop, General Convention or most the denial of most dioceses as demographic studies indicate all too well. Organizational culture inertia of the Episcopal Church and similar Christian denominations are pulling the institutions down. So as one wag reportedly stated on the deck of the Titantic, "Everyone, grab your drink and watch us hit that big iceberg!!"

Where is the hope here?  I hope I am wrong. So prove me so, please. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Clergy: Beware of Parish Profiles

The other day I was looking at the positions open that were listed on the Episcopal News Service website.  I decided to take a look at one particular parish profile to see if I could discover something about the parish that might be interesting if I were still in the business of looking for a job.  I found a parish in a Southwestern Diocese that met that requirement.

From the November financial report of the parish, I estimated an annual budget of $313,500.00.  They have a mortgage of $439,771.00 and endowments of $981,529.00.  They had cash on hand of $84,891.00.  I thought that this was a pretty stable financial picture and I found myself wishing that all my parishes had that kind of a cash balance when I was serving full time as a parish priest.

237 communicants were eligible for the survey.  In addition to the Rector, there are 8 staff members, no clergy assistance, which tells me that the new Rector should have staff management skills.  There is a Saturday evening service with contemporary music, an early and late Sunday service, the latter of which is a traditional choral Eucharist.  The parish has two cursillo reunion groups and multiple bible study and prayer groups.  So this is probably a "renewal" parish.  On the surface it looks like a pretty good job; possibly well paying for one priest, but I found a distinct issue in the profile that needs addressing up front.

The profile repeatedly mentioned that they wanted the new Rector to attend all functions in the parish.  At the same time they want a spiritual leader, a person active in the community, be energetic, focus on growth and encourage parish-wide outreach to the community.  69% of those completing the profile would welcome visits from the clergy and 40% reported that the parish provides adequate pastoral care.  Naturally they want great sermons, a priest who ministers to all people and provides counsel to those with spiritual needs.  They want their new Rector to love and care for the parish, grow the parish by being active in the community, to foster growth in the parish and "provide guidance for and be a lighthouse to the parish."

Per the norm, the parish profile tells us a lot about what they didn't like about the former Rector.  Most parishes say that they want someone unlike the priest they had before.  It looks like the former Rector may have been a bit of a recluse because they emphasized the point that the new Rector should attend all church functions and be active in the community.

Herein lies the problem.  As written in the profile, this is an impossible job.  I look at the parish calendar and I found 90 parish events during the month of November, including worship services.  Is the new Rector to attend all of them?  This is what the profile says.  There were 20 liturgies during the month of November.  Who is supposed to plan all of them and do them well?  The new Rector of course.  In addition to all that, the new Rector is supposed to be active in the community, foster evangelism and church growth, and preach great sermons.  Where is the new Rector going to find the time to do all of this?  This profile is a trap and the job is impossible if you believe the profile.

Any Rector, with or without a family, is going to have a very tricky time management problem.  How do you take time off, be involved with family and friends, and do everything the profile expects you to do?  The profile reads like this parish has a boundary problem and wants to consume the new Rector into a whirlpool in which the priest is swallowed up and sucked dry.

The job probably pays pretty well and the parish probably has solid lay leadership.  It is an interview that I would probably accept if I were looking for a job.  But I would be prepared to ask pertinent questions that speak to the issues of boundaries and job expectations.  When it comes to discussing a contract, I would insist on clear and definite expectations and provisions for time off from the job. I would ask them to prioritize their expectations.  I would ask them how they would expect me to attend 90 parish functions, plan and preach excellent sermons, provide pastoral care, visit the sick and shut-in, make parish calls and plan and develop education programs, foster evangelism and outreach to the community.  If I were to be called as Rector, I might say no and tell them why.  The parish wants a priest who will allow him or herself to be drawn into a vice and squeezed to death.  Anyone who takes this job without setting solid boundaries is bound to burn out and have other personal relationship issues.  Buyer beware.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christian Moderate Optimism for 2014


            An attitude is fundamentally a mental position towards what reality has been, is, and is about to be. It is the inner disposition of the mind as it is shaped by our feelings and thoughts about life and how to respond to life. All the choices, actions and consequences of our lives are shaped by our attitudes. Furthermore, all attitudes towards life are either positive or negative, or in other words, all attitudes are about whether the cup is half full or half empty.

 I am concerned at the beginning of 2014 about our basic Christian attitudes to life and God’s creation. In terms of the cup being half filled or half empty, God has not created us to be “the cup is half empty” people. If we truly understand the meaning of the incarnation at the beginning and the end of the day, we are “the cup is half filled” people. The perception of life as always being half full is what I mean by an “attitude of rational and emotional moderate optimism”

            A Christian attitude of moderate optimism means that we should see the cup of life as always being a little better than just half filled. We should see the cup of life as always being moderately filled in all the events and situations of life.

I found it most interesting to learn that the cancer victims who have the best chance of recovery approach their treatment with a moderate level of optimism. Facing the problems and suffering of life with an attitude of moderate optimism makes a lot of sense. Just because a person is an optimist does not mean that one cannot at the same time have common sense. A false high level of optimism is to have no doubt whatsoever that a cure will happen.

At the other extreme is the negative skeptic who doubts that anything will work. The moderate optimist believes that if they remain positive and make a sincere effort to work with the treatment, then God will take care of them. The point is that a Christian lives as a moderate optimist in all situations. Jesus came so that we might know that God offers a life where He wants us to know happiness and face life always with moderate optimism. The Psalmist teaches, “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” The Psalmist doesn’t say that I will be happy tomorrow if this and this happens. No matter what is going on in our life, we must face life as a moderate optimist.

            I read recently a study from the University of Pennsylvania conducted by neuroscientists who were studying how Americans perceive God. The study gave me reason to ponder rather seriously the perception of God in our society, and I began to realize that there is a need for a discovery of the authentic Jesus of the Gospel. Approximately 34% percent of Americans perceive God as an authoritarian who is a God who prefers to demand and punish. He is a God who also intervenes in this life to punish the wicked and save the believer. This authoritarian God allows a satanic force to move throughout the world and attack the non-believer. Twenty five percent believe in a critical God who makes heavy moral and faith demands on people but does not really engage in supportive loving relationships with people. It is as if the critical God rules from afar by sending us critical and negative emails. Third, 12% believe in God as being a type of distant cosmic force that we cannot know personally, and this God does not intervene directly in our lives. Finally, it is only 23% who believe in a loving, benevolent and non- judgmental God who wishes for us to be happy and live a life of moderate optimism The remaining percentage are hard-core atheists who have no interest in the question of God whatsoever.

             It is no wonder that we have so much division and problems in America. The problems of the nation and individuals living with negative attitudes come from a belief in the authoritarian, critical and distant God. No, in 2014 we must pray for the awareness and understanding of a benevolent God guiding our Episcopal community and our personal lives on a journey of moderate optimism.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Where Will You Meet God this Christmas?

            There was once a little boy who wanted to meet God.  He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he filled his backpack with cookies and some cans of Coke and started on his journey.

            When he’d gone half a mile or so he met an old woman.  She was sitting in the park just staring at the pigeons.  The boy sat down next to her and unzipped his backpack.  He was about to take a drink from one of his cans of Coke when he noticed the old lady looked hungry, so he offered her some cookies.  She gratefully accepted and smiled at him.  Her smile lit up her who face.
            It was so lovely, the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered one of his cans of Coke.  One again she smiled at him.  The boy was delighted!
            They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word.  As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he’d gone more than a few steps, he turned round, ran back to the old woman and gave her a hug.  She gave him her biggest smile ever.
            When the boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face.  She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” He replied, “I had lunch with God.”  And before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”
            Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home.  Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and he asked, “Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?”  She replied, ‘I ate cookies in the park with God.”  And before her son could respond, she added, “You know, he’s much younger than I expected.
            Is it strange to think of seeing God as a young boy?  Is it strange to think of seeing God as an old woman?  If you said “yes” to these questions then it will be especially difficult to think of God as a baby!  Yet that is what Christmas is all about.  About, God taking human flesh as a baby. 
            So where this Christmas will you look to see God?  In the face of the old or the young?  In the face of the powerful or in the eyes of a baby – far too young to even smile?  Will you see God in the Liturgy, the scripture, the music, the art, the decorations?  The shepherds, poor uneducated folk, saw God.  The Magi, educated rich folk, saw God.  
          What about you?  Where will you meet God this Christmas?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Blogs You Like the Most

Each Tuesday morning we bloggers and other priests gather for breakfast.  Most of us are retired and some have been retired for more than ten years.  Others are still active in parish ministry and two are on a diocesan staff.  One of us is a retired Bishop and another of us is a Canon to the Ordinary.  Together we have hundreds of years of collective experience.  We discuss whatever is on our minds and we are pastoral with each other if one of us is hurting.  It is a true community of faith that gathers to celebrate our vocations to the priesthood and to share in Celtic-like soul friendships.  Of course we also "solve" all the problems in the church and the world.  It takes us two to three hours to get this done.

During breakfast a couple of weeks ago it was mentioned that I should report to you, our readers, which blogs you read the most and those issues you seem to be the most interested in.  Therefore, here are the top ten blogs that you read ranked from one to ten.

Where have all the Rectors gone?

Rectors (Pastors):  The Odds are Against You.

Rectors - Resign, Get Fired, Retire.

Rector (Pastor): You're Fired.

Clergy Divorce.

The Bishop Speaks of a Punctuation Mark.

Let's Get Rid of the Rector:  A Priest's Nightmare.

The Bishop Speaks from the Heart.

10 Things You Should Know About Fasting.

Episcopal Chaos.

Five of these blogs are concerned with a parish priest's job security.  One of them, clergy divorce, is concerned about this very intimate and personal issue which, when it happens, is a personal and parish tragedy.  Two blogs are about Episcopal authority and another is about Lenten discipline.  The most popular blogs that didn't make it into the top ten are about the decline in The Episcopal Church, how it impacts clergy mission and ministry, and Celtic Christianity as a way to renew and reform the Anglican Church of today.  One could safely then draw the conclusion that most of our readers are Episcopal bishops and priests and they justifiably are concerned with issues that pertain to their parish and diocesan ministries.

It is fascinating to me and other bloggers that you are consistently reading older blogs on a regular basis, even when they didn't make it into the top ten.  We are grateful that readership is continuing quite stable and even rising at times.  While I don't know any statistics about numbers of readers of religious blogs in the United States, Episcopal Journey of Hope does appear to me to be pretty popular.  We have been read in 87 countries.  And there have been over 50,000 pages views, which is more than we could have imaged when we started this little endeavor.

Thanks for continuing to read our blogs.  If there is any subject that you would like us to address, please let us know in the comment sections of the blogs.  Maranatha.  Come Lord Jesus.

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.”