Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Virtual Church

"In the 21st century, time is short and, as John Westerhoff first recognized, this ecology is broken (Westerhoff 1972)."

The above quote is from Julie's article online listed for this session as suggested reading. I am focusing on this article as it resonated more with me than Sim Church did. Continuing on though, I find the quote she chose to include very telling of the entire reason the internet is such a booming place to begin with. It also leads into my first thought I have when people criticize online forms of church. Before the internet, people used to watch masses on television. Those masses were full length and in that regard I see a difference.

Even when I led a retreat for our confirmation class this past January, the kids were stressing over homework, sports, jobs, and other extracurriculars. If teens struggle so much with their time, what does it say for adults? I know of very few people who are less busy as they grow older.

"Without occasions for faith community members to meet, relationships diminish, outreach weakens, and God seems more distant." (Lytle)

Continuing with the teens again, a recurring theme is a strong feeling of disconnect between the God of the Bible and the God in their lives. Many of what churches develop to speak to teens are designed with good intentions, but have the unwanted effect of talking down to them, or feeling like adults are trivializing their problems. Maybe for some teens, an online church community would work better for them and aid in keeping them more connected to God. I think if the internet can be a source of pain for some (cyber bullying jumps to mind), these emergent church communities which are online can be utilized as a way to better engage with the youth in our congregations.

Discerning Call, February 3

Bishop John Shelby Spong, author of A New Christianity for a New World, has said, “I think the only task facing the Christian Church in our day is to enhance the humanity of every person, so that living fully, loving wastefully and daring to be all that they can be, they make visible all that the human word ‘God’ means.” In that light, Church of the Loving Shepherd beautifully fulfills its task.

The above quote is from the Church of the Loving Shepherd website, and while some of the wording I found a bit over the top, I found myself smiling and nodding over this one. I even have a comment in my notes for this site, "My mom would think it's a cult".

I was lucky enough after visiting the site to have a chat with my uncle, who had one time gone to try out this church. He had left the Roman Catholic church in the early 90's and had/has found a lot of peace from the Quaker movement. He was intrigues to see how a church would run with having those elements instilled in the service. Unfortunately, he is rather shy, and while he felt the atmosphere was welcoming, didn't return after his first visit.

This was also a session I missed in class and watched the recording of (that in and of itself was a weird experience) but the readings for this week I felt needed some more context in order to ground themselves for me. I have enjoyed how the passion and excitement of doing God's work comes out in many of our readings, some of them describe things so outside my realm of experience however I find myself needing similar experiences in order to really be able to analyze and work with them.

And speaking of missing the class, I found it interesting in the introduction for the Church of the Loving Shepherd there is this: "it’s no substitute for the in-person experience" (church of the loving shepherd). The line is under their welcome portion, and it is made to encourage people to visit the church I am sure. I just found it ironic to be there in a class where we have participants who will never have the in-person experience of class!!

Ian Mosby Addendum

"BUT – on top of this – emerging churches are attempting to engage with the complexity of particular localities." (The Emerging Church in the UK, Personal Reflections)

I pulled this one out, because when I read it then, and re-visiting it now in my notes, I am struck by how this is such a crucial piece of the emerging church. While the context for this article is the UK, the idea ties in so neatly with our course and our context in the United Stated. Emerging churches seem to (to quote a children's movie) "see a need, fill a need." Abstractly I understood this through our readings, and could think, well this ties in here, this ties in there, but the immersion experiences, both those I participated in reading the responses made this theme more alive. I have been a strong believer in the power of relationships in regards to these emergent church models, Ian's articles and the website itself helped bring home the power of location.

Some of these churches seem to have emerged in areas where the populations were ready for them. I wonder if they were trying these years earlier, or later, if they would be as effective and successful. I know some are absorbed into larger movements, or they change, but overall, it seems as if a group of like minded people are able to recognize what others in that area need in order to be in closer relationship with God. I am doubly impressed with these now.

Baptismal Ministry, Mutual Ministry, March 30

While I enjoyed the video, I would actually like to write more on the supplemental reading, Born of Water, Born of Spirit Supporting the Ministry of the Baptized in Small Congregations. I mentioned in class, or after class, I can’t remember, I enjoyed reading this book because it felt like a baptism almost, like smooth flowing water to my inner self.

As a Roman Catholic (sense a theme yet?) I have always been led to believe I can only go so far and be taken seriously to a point within the church. The idea of having power because I was baptized and therefor should be ministering, even as a lay person, is a breath of fresh air for me. I took comfort in the words, “Rather than starting with the assumption of belief, the making of early Christians centered on the experience of baptism” (Kujawa-Holbrook, 67). I was thinking to myself, yes, that does sound familiar, and probably could still be utilized . . . I also then thought of my confirmation, made under threat as at 17 I was struggling with my faith and was not quite ready to reaffirm my Roman Catholic identity. But I did, and if it counted under duress, it must really count now!

I also found all the examples of small churches refreshing. From speaking with Susan I also was able to form more of a picture, as she belongs to a small church. The idea of church that “carries on being the place where people are constantly reaching out, to include, embrace and encourage [other] people to belong” (Kujawa-Holbrook, 36) is very comforting and inspiring. This idea made me think about why larger churches have so much more difficulty, and thinking of my own, all I could imagine are more of those “stridently strong” personality types. So now I have something new to think about in addition to the ministry of the baptized in all size congregations.

Life Together – Relational Evangelism and the New Monasticism. March 16

Reading Shane Clairborns’ The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical brought forth a lot of feelings. Some of what he writes I find a little odd, but I have to admire his passion.

Something I am not sure I was supposed to take away, but did anyways, was how closely some of his words mirrored my own thoughts. You all know I am Roman Catholic, and as a feminist it’s been rough. Now as a feminist and a Roman Catholic who wants to change the church? It’s as intimidating as it sounds. I could have taken the easy way out, and abandoned the church (side note, for me, that would be the easy way, for others whom the church has hurt beyond belief, leaving is a matter of safety and sanity) or I could do what I am doing. I am staying and fighting, and won’t go down until I finish swinging. My brother summed up what I plan to do nicely, “She is really frustrated by the Roman Catholic Church, so she plans on storming the Vatican all by herself. She’s a nut.” I personally don’t envision myself storming the Vatican just yet, but it will probably come down to that. In the meantime I see myself as merely following Jesus and what he would have wanted. Tying that in with how my brother sees me were Shane’s words: “Ha, that’s funny. My life was pretty easy before I met Jesus” (Clairborn, 135). Yes, my life was much easier (and had more money in it) before I decided on this path.

Another line which resonated with me was “This love is not sentimental but heart-wrenching, the most difficult and the most beautiful thing in the world” (Clairborn, 136). In spite of everything, I believe in the goodness of the Roman Catholic church, and the possibilities, other days I literally weep over what it has become and worry it can never be salvaged. I think this on days when I need to go get my best friend from his grandmother’s funeral because his family has been ranting over how the Church says he is an abomination because he is gay. I get despondent when I hear of another pedophilia cover up (it is not “sex abuse” these boys are not willing and it is not sex), or I witness people in church for one hour behaving angelically, only to hit another car in their rush to rejoin “their real life.”

The last one feeds into another line of Shane’s, “Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus in along the way” (Clairborn, 117). I’ll wrap things up now, but that one line alone, really makes me think. What would our lives look like if we instead of sprinkling Jesus in, we sprinkled a bit of regular life, and instead lived like Jesus all the time?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Prep for Rev Steph's Visit!

This week the reading we were given, Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition, I was really quite interested in the scope we were given. (Also as an aside, I like to point out how many of our readings for this class have been, not "easy" reads, but not like staring at a brick waiting for it to open kind of reads. Granted I am pretty sure this is on purpose by the authors so they can reach a larger audience, but it really has been helpful to a newbie like myself in studying all these different approaches.)

Back to the reading, I focused primarily on the chapter dealing with The Crossing, both because it was called out, and also because I have attending their services. I purposefully did not read this before hand, as I wanted to be able to be open to receive the experience the best way I can. Keeping this in mind, the line, "What kind of church would be worth the trouble? One that compels us to follow Jesus with all that we are, body, mind, heart and soul" (145). To me, The Crossing does just that. I have been lucky enough to interact with their members outside of a service, and they truly take their one hour service, and use what they learn out into the world. I really appreciate when a group can facilitate this, The Crossing does not exist in a vacuum, but in downtown Boston, with all walks of life, and they ALL seem to be able to follow Jesus, right out the door into their community.

One last mention, feeding into taking Jesus out into the world, there was another line about the importance of "recognizing the sacred not just in all life, but in all of life" (151). Again, I am amazed at what should be a given in Christian communities needs to be articulated, but since The Crossing manages to do this, it also gives it weight. Many New England Christian churches have parishioners who come every Sunday, listen dutifully, and immediately forget everything as soon as they leave the church. Sometimes it doesn't even last that long, the barbs start flying during the coffee hour!

I mentioned it in my post on the immersion experience, but being in the presence of people who truly believe, and live, God's message is just so refreshing, and I was happy to see the feeling captured in the reading as well.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Immersion Experience

I only made it to one different form of church, although I am also going to comment more in depth on the Rhythms of Grace training and mass I attended as well.

The first part of this post will be about my experience with The Crossing, which Susan also captured very well. I approach things a little differently sometimes I think, I tend to let my feelings lead me in religious experiences that are not academic in nature. So to go to a church as an assignment confused my inner self a bit, I but I think I made it work.

To start with, I am used to a certain kind of service. I am Roman Catholic, and still very active in my home parish. That being said, I also still feel uncomfortable attending a mass by myself in my church, and it is mainly due to the feelings I have associated with my home parish. My home church has been around since sometime in the early 1900's, to say it is full of old school Yankees is underplaying the situation a bit. The feeling you get unfortunately, when you come in, is not a welcoming one. They are not a friendly group, aside from the greeters, and therefore make it difficult for outsiders to feel welcome. Father Jim will always seek out a newcomer after mass and welcome them, but for the most part, people believe saying the words and not using actions is best. And honestly, if they can avoid the unknown altogether, that would be best.

Compare this experience with The Crossing, where walking in feels like a warm hug. People are friendly without being overbearing, and there is just such a strong undercurrent of joy running through the group, it is contagious. It is an Episcopalian service, so there are a few things done differently than what I am used to, but before the service even begins, you know, God is present here.

One of the most powerful forces in the service is Rev. Steph, even though as Susan mentioned, it is very much a community based church. I attended one service where Rev. Steph was absent, and there was a slight difference, which worried me a bit. The main group associated with The Crossing were just as exuberant and happy to be there as always.

The crucial thing to me about The Crossing, was really the welcome sense you get from everyone. Saying that, I also feel as though this is a church designed for those who are in a transient stage in their life. I don't necessarily feel as though this a church where people will be dedicated for years and years. It seems as though it is a safe place for those who might have none in their lives, and a place where it is clear God loves you, no matter who are. The people are so diverse and are so passionate about The Crossing, but I don't know, I just didn't feel a strong sense of permanence. I have been wrestling that since I started tuning into this feeling, but I do not have a clearer way of articulating it yet.

Now, the Rhythms of Grace training and mass I attended did have that permanent sense, as the way the service is developed, people of all ages in the autism spectrum can belong. Backing up real quick, Rhythms of Grace is a movement to "do church" for those who may have become unchurched simply because their child falls in the autism spectrum and traditional ways of church have ceased being a joy, and instead become a majorly stressful occasion. Their website is:, and gives a pretty concise overview of what they do, I strongly recomend visiting the site.

One of the strengths of their service, is while it is developed around the needs of the children with Autism, it also meets the needs of their parents, providing a space for them to relax for an hour, and attend a service. Some parents have been unable to attend church in years, since a child with autism can be unpredictable and you may never know how one will react during the course of a mass. The instructor at our training, who is also one the developers had a very interesting story to share with us. You need to remember, some children with Autism take things very literally, so the eucharist can be a major issue. Telling them they are about to eat someone's body and blood, and swallow it, can be incredibly revolting to them. Our instructor shared the story of one little girl solving the problem for her autistic brother by telling him, "you are about to eat love, so it is okay, and not yucky at all". From then on, when our instructor leads these services, that is the language she uses before eucharist.

For me (and this is the last paragraph I swear) the most powerful theme in both the Rhythms of Grace and The Crossing services is how they reach people who before then, may have seemed unreachable in the traditional church's sense. The Crossing unites all types of people, and Rhythms of Grace manages to bring back into the fold a population that is not only quite large in the disabled community, but growing rapidly. To me, these two examples are some of the most powerful of what the Church is capable of doing, and how well they could possibly succeed in doing it.