Monday, June 30, 2008

A Prayer for a Little Church?

"ALMIGHTY God, whose compassions fail not, and whose loving-kindness reacheth unto the world’s end; We give thee humble thanks for opening heathen lands to the light of thy truth; for making paths in the deep waters and highways in the desert; and for planting thy Church in all the earth. Grant, we beseech thee, unto us thy servants, that with lively faith we may labour abundantly to make known to all men thy blessed gift of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Our little mission church is potentially at a crossroads. As I posted earlier, we lost a goodly portion of our congregation when some of our families moved to far-away locales. Now we found out that we will no longer be able to meet in the school where we've been meeting the last two years. The principal left a note on the door for us this Sunday, saying that some parents and some members of the board of trustees didn't want us meeting there anymore. We suspect - though we have no concrete evidence, only compelling circumstantial evidence - that the members of the local Episcopal Church are the ones behind the action. How sad is that??

Our other issue, of course, is two-fold: where do we meet starting August 1, and what kind of location should we be seeking? Some members argue for us to purchase land and build. Others want to buy a small house or a church for sale. And others (myself included) favor a storefront rental, or a storefront rent-to-own situation. My hubby is on the vestry - he and I believe we don't really have the money in the building fund for an outright purchase, and it would be poor stewardship to squander what we do have on a purchase we might not be able to maintain. Also, a house out in the country (where the cheap ones with land usually are found) are not very visible to the community. On the other hand, a rental situation might cost a bit more every month, but the owners would be responsible for any die-hard building problems. And we'd be in a business area where there's lots more traffic, with more people to see us and hopefully stop by to check us out.

I suppose this suprise by the school board is not all bad. We were pretty complacent using their facilities, and not really motivated to start the long discussions about where to "set up shop." I can only pray that God's hand is on this, to shake us into action and get us off our duffs. As with anything, change is never fun, but if it's what we're meant to do then we can't complain (too much, anyway!) ::grin::

So, to quote Shakespeare, "we few, we happy few" must decide what to do together - and just like in the larger communion, sacrifices must be made by each of us. Yeah, sure - I want stained glass and an organ, but is that a good decision at this time? Probably not. But having somewhere we can set up our altar and our chairs and not have to move them after church, we can all agree that is a Good Thing!

So anyway, pray for us. Pray for solid words of guidance from our priest, and that God would lay a clear direction and path for us. And for all of us, pray that God will move in our hearts to seek the best for our church, this little part of the Body of Christ.

Storefront rentals are WAY out of our price range, we've discovered. Wow. But we've found a possible option - it's an old farmhouse on 3 acres. The owner is willing to be the lienholder, and perhaps set up a rent-to-own situation with a discount/lower price/tax write off because we're a church. By removing a wall we could have a space for a small sanctuary. Still, it needs lots of "sweat equity," which inevitably requires money as well. So more prayers for clear direction and a firm commitment from all of us. The vestry will meet in two weeks to decide what to do.

The Jerusalem Declaration...

What does this mean for those of us with boots on the ground? There's a link to the statement here at the GAFCON website. In case you don't know what GAFCON is, a quick summary would say something like this: a group of orthodox (little "o") Anglicans who got together to stand up against the apostacy and heresy emanating from so many traditional Anglican groups around the world (like the Episcopal Church in the US and the Anglican Church of Canada). Basically the GAFCON statement said (as a commenter at Stand Firm rendered so eloquently) "Dear Archbishop of Canterbury, we don't think you're a victim - you're a part of the problem. And by the way, you don't have on any clothes!" Anyway, now on to what I was actually going to say.... what was it? Oh, yes.

I live in an area of the country where Baptists rule. You'll find one or two Epsicopal churches, maybe one Catholic church, in any given large-ish city. Baptist churches are on every street corner. But alas, I am not a Baptist. I am an Anglican - or as my little mission church proudly proclaims on its bumper stickers: "Biblical Christianity, Anglican Worship". We drive over 30 minutes one way to get to our little Episcopal Missionary Church parish, and that's the closest orthodox Anglican church we could find. We also drive past four Episcopal Churches, but those are not really options for us. You know, it's that whole "Biblical Christianity" thing again. Before we moved back to the deep South, we lived in northern Virginia, which is also in the news much these days, and which also has a much higher concentration of liturgical churches. But I digress. Again.


Now that GAFCON has released its statements and the Jerusalem Declaration, what does this mean for my church, as a part of the Episcopal Missionary Church (our bishop was in Jerusalem) and what does this mean for those orthodox, conservative parishes (and individuals) still a part of TEC? For the EMC it's easy. We don't have to fight an apostate leadership. We can loudly and joyfully proclaim God's greatness and participate in the GAFCON movement with no recriminations. Praise God!

For those still in TEC - parishes and individuals alike - I wonder. It won't be easy, that's for sure. GAFCON isn't going to come in guns a'blazin' and rescue all the orthodox and their buildings. That's the grump I heard when I got to work this morning... "they had this big meeting and now they're not going to do anything to help us??!?" Well, to put it bluntly, no. Not in those terms, anyway. They will help plant churches for individuals to join (remember, America is a mission field now!) but I imagine those individuals will need to take some initiative in terms of organization and building those missions. GAFCON will offer help - a Bishop, a confessional statement, any number of other things - to congregations who make the decision to leave. But those congregations will have to decide, and go through the difficult steps of separation from TEC. And they may or may not be able to keep their property. But they will have to step forward in faith, trusting in God and the Gospel to lead them out of the desert. Passivity will not cut it - if you want to be a part of the GAFCON movement you will be welcomed with open arms. But the initiative is yours, and your parish's. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, "if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat."

When we moved here a year ago, we made the hard decision to commute to an orthodox, liturgical church. We decided it was critical to be part of an orthodox, liturgical parish. We're not Baptists, or Methodists, or even Lutherans. We are ANGLICANS. And because we are Anglicans, we needed to be part of an Anglican community. Our sacrifice of a long drive (with $4+ gas!) might be slight compared to someone leaving a liberal TEC parish that their great-grandparents helped build. But, ultimately, it's about your spiritual health and the spiritual health of your family. Buildings and property and even chalices and prayer books can be replaced. Compared to the pure joy of living as part of the body of Christ, how can they even compare?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yes, it is different!

When I was a child, I rearranged my room constantly, trying for that *perfect* organization of bed, dresser and bookcase. As an adult, my husband will attest that I still have that compulsion. The couch and the entertainment center, and sometimes even the bedroom furniture, will be mysteriously relocated when he arrives home from work on occasion.

Alas, it seems to have spilled over into my blogging. Fourtunately for my back, though, this requires much less heavy lifting. I liked the whimsical dots that I used previously, but it did not really seem to fit the tenor of most of my posts. So tonight I played around with the blogger settings, and found this template. I still have my picture of Pooh and Christopher Robin (and I'm still looking for an image of Arnold the pygmy puff) but I think I like the look of this layout better. And besides, several folks I know used the "dots" template.... and that just won't do!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The word of the day: "diversity"

It's not a word I'm paticularly fond of - indeed, I think it has been much overused and abused in today's world. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines it thusly: "1. A state of difference; dissimilitude; unlikeness. 2. Multiplicity of difference; multiformity; variety." OK so far - I can agree with that as a definition. So diversity in an organization, or a school, or a church, or a business would necessarily - by definition - include people that are different from one another. But these days the very people screaming for "diversity" in whatever public arena they function in seem to forget what the word means. Instead of working with the differences each person brings to the table (or school desk, or podium, or altar) it seems to me that they want to purge those who are different - especially those who hold different beliefs - from their ranks completely.

It should be obvious to anyone who visits my site that I am an Anglican. Nowhere is this convoluted idea so prominent than in the churches of the Anglican Communion all over the world. (And I will not go into sordid details here - the Stand Firm and T1:9 links to the left will do that topic far more justice than I can!) One brief illustration, however, would not be amiss. The pro-gay members of the Episcopal Church are screaming for inclusion, for the welcoming of diversity in the church, for the acceptance of them for who they are. And as far as that goes, that works for me. (For an even better treatment of this, see the article here.) But as they slowly gain access to leadership positions in the church, they have been ... "persecuting" is perhaps not too blunt a term ... the orthodox. So out the window goes their cry for diversity. Yes, you can be diverse, just so long as you're not one of them.

It's not just happening in the Anglican Communion, either. Our beloved local weatherman has found himself embroiled in another controversial arena - that of global warming. Indeed, some proponents of global warming said they believed someone's AMS (American Meterological Society) certification should be revoked if they didn't agree that global warming was caused by CO2 emissions or other human activities. (You can read a summary here.) So, regardless of what is actually causing global warming, some meterologists want to ban others for asking if it could be a naturally-occurring event. Hmm. Yes, lots of diversity here, too.

In the academic community - especially in higher education - it's even worse. Faculty have been denied tenure, fired, demoted, for a whole variety of diverse issues. Are you a biologist who believes in Creationism? Don't try to get a job at a state-run university. Are you a philosopher who wants to return to the classical model of education and instruction and wants to teach Plato and Aristotle somewhere? Forget about it. Ben Stein's controversial film Expelled does a good job talking about this in terms of scientists who support intelligent design and how they're treated in their university positions. (A brief tidbit about that is here, or you can go to the Expelled website.) Yup, universities want a broad range, nay... a Diverse ... group of faculty teaching their students, but you can't believe *that*!

A final example, one that hits closer to home in terms of my chosen profession, is the issue an Ohio public library made about a seminar to be held in one of the library's meeting rooms. The article in the local paper describes the situation thusly: a group wanted to have a Bible-based financial planning seminar and was denied. The group lodged a complaint, and instead of negotiating, the library - the publically-funded library - decided to close its public meeting rooms to the public. The American Library Association has as part of its Code of Ethics "[W]e are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations." (emphasis mine) No diversity issues here, huh?

Sigh. I really don't want this post degenerating into a diatriabe for or against any of these issues. What I want is a semantic difference, semantic diversity, if you will. If you want diversity, you must accept it in all its forms. If you want something else - "I want to include everyone who agrees with me and phooey on those who don't" - pick a different word! It becomes at that point something completely different from the meaning of "diversity." I'm reminded of the movie American President with Michael Douglas and Annette Benning. Near the end Douglas says, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."

We live in a free society. But that freedom comes at a price. We cannot simply shut down, dictator-like, those who believe things contrary to our own beliefs. Unfortunately, it seems that in many arenas of our daily life, that is just exactly what is happening.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Website Certification

I admit, this is another of those dry, dusty librarian posts. But - if you've ever tried to find reliable information on the web - this just might interest you too!

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article called "Certifying Online Research" on June 6, 2008. It initially talks about faculty members seeking tenure with a publication record consisting mainly of work done online (rather than in the typical scholarly print journals). The author (a dean at Illinois State University) suggests a voluntary certification process for scholars who publish their research in website form. It would require that major professional organizations in each academic discipline form a review committee where, for a nominal fee, scholars can send their site to be scrutinized and vetted. Then if it meets the appropriate standards, it can display a certification symbol assigned by the organzation.

Thinking beyond faculty tenure, if a plan like this were broadly implemented then it could actually change the way we academic librarians view the internet. We see it as an evil, for the most part, encouraging students to attend to scholarly databases and other sources for valid and verifiable information. But if students could Google "Aristotle's Ethics" and be rewarded with sites certified by the American Philosophical Society, that would be just as valid as digging up dusty copies of Phronesis or the Journal of the History of Philosophy.

Cool, huh??

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

An Anglican Revival?

I’m not actually completely comfortable writing this piece, but I think it’s something I need to do, so here goes nothing. First some background: Last fall my husband and I joined a small mission church – it was actually the only orthodox Anglican church within driving distance, about 30 minutes from home. (Despite that, I really do think we are exactly where we’re supposed to be.) The congregation started up about 2 years ago, and had an average of 20-25 or so each Sunday. Then two of our founding families moved away (one to Georgia and one to Singapore!). So now we’re down to 10-12 a Sunday. We meet in the library of a school, and until we lost half the congregation we were contemplating trying to secure a space of our own. That’s on the back burner now because we want to be good stewards with the money in our building fund and not go into debt. The philosopher is on the vestry and teaching Sunday school this summer – on the Anglican Formularies, no less, and I’m on the altar guild. Somehow, after less than a year, we have become one of the “core families.”

We are having a Vision Summit in two weeks, hoping to outline some plans for the coming years in terms of outreach, ministry and growth. I’ve always been a part of established churches and I have no clue what I can offer in this situation. Our rector wants to focus on the nearby areas for outreach, which makes sense. But that means, since we don’t live nearby, that the old “invite your neighbor to church” plan wouldn’t really work. Folks in our area, unless highly motivated like we were to find an orthodox Anglican church, probably wouldn’t be willing to travel half an hour on Sunday morning. And here’s where the discomfort for me comes in… we’re really homebodies. We live out in the country with no real neighbors to speak of anyway. I work in a state-run institution of higher education (not much religious discussion there!) and my husband works in a 3-man cabinet shop. I just don’t know what to do.

Yes, I know – that sounds really wimpy and weak and pathetic. But I promise, I’m not trying to be whiny. I am really searching for suggestions on how to turn my limits to an advantage. But sometimes, I suppose, one gets too close to the problem and can’t see the solution. And that’s where I am now. I trust that God has great plans for our church – we are in an area with two declining Episcopal churches, yet most of our congregation members were not Episcopalians before they found us. So that means we’re not made up of disaffected TECers plotting the overthrow of 815, but we’re a group of people attracted to Anglicanism for a myriad of reasons. That being said, I think we can really be a safe, Biblically based, Christ-centered haven for folks who feel it necessary to leave TEC. (This area of the world still has its head in the sand regarding the “Anglican Crisis,” so I wonder what will happen here after Lambeth and GAFCON, and more importantly after the 2009 General Convention?) Regardless, we want to be a place for anyone seeking a liturgically-based Christianity, not just those who’ve never heard of TEC or those trying to escape it.

So, my friends, do you have any suggestions for us and our church? I know some of you have recent experience with church planting, and I know some of you have a deep passion for evangelism. And I know some of you know others who might have really good ideas and advice. So I’m trying to cast a wide net, and see what I can catch. Thank you!