I created this 1-minute film following the Task Force for Reimagining the Church’s churchwide meeting held on October 2 at Washington National Cathedral. It is something of a highlight reel for the 2.5-hour meeting. And it has a beat you can dance to as well. You can watch the actual meeting at the TREC website: http://reimaginetec.org/live/
A slightly updated version of a 30-second video I created earlier. This short commercial emphasizes the command to love one another as the heart of Christian teaching.
During the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia Youth Program’s Divergent-themed weekend, participants learned about the factions within the trilogy of novels and also the plight of those with no faction, who are the homeless of that world. During the weekend, we made signs to hold up as if God is the one passing by. What do we want to say to God?
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at
Christ Church Savannah on The Feast of Pentecost—June 8, 2014
Nothing Less than the Power and Presence of God
Nothing less than the presence and power of God breaks into the room where the disciples are waiting and praying on that 50th day after Jesus resurrection. Here the Evangelist Luke lets us know language breaks down as he resorts to simile saying it was a sound like a violent wind and then something happened he could only describe as if it were divided tongues of fire. The experience was beyond words and Luke reaches into metaphor and analogy to convey the ineffable.
When the Gospel moves to the tangible—what they did see and hear that morning—a miracle is occurring. The Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ first followers on Pentecost, empowering the frightened pack of disciples to become a brazen bunch of evangelists. The curse of the Tower of Babel was reversed in one amazing outburst. At Babel, people were divided. Now, the former fishermen and other followers of Jesus became interpreters par excellence. In this Babel scene played backward, the devout Jews from Elam, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Pamphylia and other far flung parts of the Roman Empire hear the Good News of what God has done through Jesus each in their own native language.
The gospel is spoken not in confusing babble but with a crystal clarity that leaves the hearers cut to the quick. Before this amazing day is over, 3,000 devout Jews will be baptized as followers of Jesus, the Christ. Yet not everyone understood what was happening in their midst. The account of that day in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that some onlookers took the excitement for a drunken mob. The first Christian sermon begins as Peter explaining to the crowd that the disciples are not drunk, “for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” Clearly Peter never showed up early for the Georgia-Florida game, which is the world’s largest cocktail party. There the saying, “It’s five o’clock somewhere” could become “It’s 9 a.m. somewhere.”
But what Peter is assuring the crowd is that the miracle they are witnessing cannot be dismissed so easily. For these unschooled Galileans are speaking clearly in languages they have never before understood, if they had even heard them spoken. Certainly, it feels safe to reduce the disciples’ behavior as coming from heavy drinking. It might also be comforting to relegate Pentecost to an outbreak of religious hysteria. But the Pentecost experience was not due to alcohol and is not so easily reduce to nothing more than hysteria.
This is an ongoing tendency about lots of phenomenon for which we have no ready understanding. We seek safe, tidy answers. The physicist turned Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, said in his book Quarks, Chaos and Christianity, some people are “nothing butters” when it comes to the world we live in. Reductionists see a thing is “nothing but” its physical explanation. They need only look at the most elemental form of a phenomenon to explain everything.
For someone with a “nothing butter” way of making sense of the world, the compositions of Bach are nothing but vibrations that ineract with our eardrums to create the effect we call music. The Mona Lisa is nothing but flecks of paint that we experience as differing colors. Baptism is nothing but water poured over someone’s head as a part of a ritual observance. The Eucharist is nothing but bread and wine and the Pentecost experience was nothing but religious hysteria.
Yes, Bach’s music does reach our ears as nothing but vibrations against our eardrums, for that is how the beauty of the composers’ work is transmitted. But you can’t reduce their music to mere vibrations hitting your eardrum as what one hears is nothing short of miraculous.
Of course, the Mona Lisa is just flecks of matter we call “paint” put on matter we call “canvas” in ways that we experience as an interplay of colors. But her enigmatic smile cannot be reduced to the physical matter that forms the art. In these works of art, the notes of music and the paint on the canvas convey so much more. Reducing them to the essential physical phenomena misses the point.
The Pentecost event defied any “it was nothing but” explanation. We can’t reduce Pentecost to “It was nothing but emotionalism,” or “It was nothing but mass hysteria,” or even “It was nothing but a long-ago event we can no longer explain.” The closest we can get is “Pentecost was nothing less than the presence and power of God.”
That day, the Jesus Movement was transformed not by human will, but by an act of the Holy Spirit. For while the apostles first gathered out of fear, this same rag tag band of disciples will bust out of the room, go into the streets and tell the world about Jesus. Within generations the Good News of their resurrected Lord will be known throughout the Roman Empire and in time it will go out to the ends of the earth all through the work of the Holy Spirit. On receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples preach the Good News of Jesus and miracles follow.
That same Holy Spirit is right here, right now in you as I preach. Every preacher depends on this every time she or he preaches, knowing that even if the preacher, despite all effort, gets the sermon not quite right, the Holy Spirit can still work with those imperfect words to speak to the hearer’s heart.
There is a story which illustrates what I mean about the work of the Holy Spirit. Its told of the ancient Celtic saint, Comgan, that takes place as he arrived in a village soon after the death of the priest. A man of some substance, the priest had 17 horses, but he left no will. The people were arguing among themselves as to who should get the horses when Saint Comgan comes riding onto the scene.
Comgan told them he could both solve the horse dilemma and find the village a new priest. He said that the horses should be divided so that the sexton should have half the horses for digging the graves and caring for all the property; the beadle should get a third of the horses for his care of the church’s things, especially those items used in worship; and the choirmaster should receive a ninth of the horses for leading the church music. And the person who could resolve how to divide the horses should be the new priest.
The village was mystified, but agreed to the plan. The sexton, beadle and choirmaster set out to find someone who could solve the new mathematical problem of how to divide 17 into half, a third and a ninth without sawing up any horses or dividing days of the week. They ran into lots of people interested in the dilemma, but none who could solve it.
Then a young man offered his own horse to the priest’s herd. Now enlarged to 18, the herd was divided in half, with the sexton receiving his nine horses. The beadle got his third by taking home six horses, and the choirmaster got a ninth of the herd with two horses. The original 17 thus divided, the young man took his own horse back.
The villagers promptly asked the man to be their priest, citing Saint Comgan’s advice. The man agreed and he was sent to the bishop for first training and then ordination before returning to the village for three decades of faithful service to the congregation who miraculously found him.
One has to assume the role of The Holy Spirit in this story. The story doesn’t work without the Holy Spirit touching the hearts of those involved, speaking with that still small voice. The Holy Spirit is the one who inspires Comgan to set up the task and also inspires the young man to ride into the village and offer a solution. The same Holy Spirit then gets the Bishop to back the whole plan leads the young man to return to be a faithful priest after going away to study.
The Holy Spirit is that 18th horse. Just as the inheritance issue could not have been solved without first adding the 18th horse, so there are things in your life that you will not be able to get through or able to bear without the Holy Spirit. For God’s presence working in and through you can get you through problems which seem insurmountable.
Rather than reducing how God is working in your life to safe or tidy explanations, look for the unexpected ways in which you are being opened up to something more. For the God that broke into the midst of the disciples that Pentecost morning is here now within you if you are open to God’s presence.
Brother Roger, the monk who founded the Christian community at Taizé put it well in writing,
“Let yourself be plumbed to the depths, and you will realize that everyone was created for a presence. There, in your heart of hearts, in that place where no two people are alike, Christ is waiting for you. And there the unexpected happens.”
Pentecost is a time to remember that God’s spirit is still present in a mighty way. That’s why our worship can’t be reduced to “nothing but” music, readings and a sermon. The Eucharist can never be described as “nothing but” bread and wine, any more than baptism is “nothing but” water and words. That is far too limiting. We don’t want nothing but a religious experience. We long for nothing less than the power and presence of God, a presence for which you were created and for which your soul longs.
There will be times when you really need the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. Not sure when that might be? Well, there are two times in life: 1) the times when you pretty much have everything under control and you are facing no challenges, and 2) the times when everything seems to be spinning out of control and you are left reeling.
The truth is that having everything under control is an illusion. The reality is that you can’t control everything, even the things that matter to you most. The good news is that you don’t have to. Instead, each of us can count on the presence and power of God not just in our worship each week, but in our daily lives. That is what we need anyway. If I were to depend on my own abilities, I would fall short of the mark. When I solve things they work out like this (interlock hands with only one finger crossing over). But when I work to discern God’s will and really listen and wait for the working of the Holy Spirit, I find that God is very economical and several problems are solved at once, for God’s solutions work more like this (interlock all the fingers of both hands).
To do this, follow the path of the disciples who remained in prayer and came together all in one place. So keep a pattern of daily prayer and weekly gathering for worship. Pray for God to show you God’s will. One way to pray for this when making a decision, such as whether to move or take another job, or whatever big decision you face, ask God to close the wrong doors and open the right ones. Then prayerfully walk forward and watch the sure thing fall apart while the long shot falls into place.
Also, make time to share what you face with other folks who are prayed up, asking someone to listen with you to how God might be speaking. For God does not always call us to an easy path, just the right one. In these ways, you can open yourself up to something more than the echo chamber of your own desires. For as Brother Roger said, when you really hear God, the unexpected happens. But it starts with refusing to settle for nothing but your own will and remain open to how God might be trying to get your attention. For the Holy Spirit remains so wild and unruly that sometimes only metaphor can describe what is taking place. And God can still break into fearful and broken heart like mine and so I know the Holy Spirit can do this for you as well. I don’t know what you face this day or will face this week, but I do know that if you will faithfully seek God’s will and listen, that God is faithful and you will be led by nothing less than the presence and power of God.
 This is my own retelling of the story, which I found in Robert Van DeWeyer’s book Celtic Parables: a book of Celtic courage, hospitality, humor, and holiness.
As The Episcopal Church seeks to reclaim its original name of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, what does that mean in today’s context? Sure all the cool kids in the late 18th to late 19th century wanted to band together to form missionary societies, but you ask, “Didn’t that come with the baggage of culture attached to the Gospel?” Right you are! Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus was trotted around the globe without a thought toward context. But before we throw the Gospel baby out with the colonial bathwater, we would do well to ponder why happening guys and gals like David Livingstone (who helped wipe out slavery in East Africa, yet still looks sad in the picture of him posted here) and Lillian Trasher (who founded an orphanage in Egypt) would work with the help of missionary societies.
It turns out that Christianity is inherently a team sport, as community is hard wired into “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” God does not give any single person, no matter how talented, all of the answers and everything she or he needs to succeed. We need one another. Missionary societies are formed when we need mutual support to accomplish our missionary goals. The missionary then has the support of other Christians and many churches. God routinely gives people a vision so big that they need other people to help them accomplish it. Hence the need for missionary societies to support the work.
As a church planter who went to Kingsland, Georgia to work with my wife and daughter, and others we met along the way, in founding a new Episcopal Church, I know that we could never have even begun that work without the support of the other churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. They were our missionary society supporting the work of sharing the love of God as found in Jesus Christ with the people of Camden County.
We were 21st century missionaries working close to home. But looking to local inspiration we had the words of the Rt. Rev. Frederick F. Reese who shepherded our Diocese from 1907 to 1936. In his 1929 address to this convention he said,
“Christianity is either a missionary religion or it is nothing,
and every Christian is a missionary
or he denies the faith in his life, if not in his words.”
And if we wanted someone to put it even more starkly, in 1956, Bishop Albert Rhett Stuart told our Diocese,
“It is high time the Episcopal Church rose from her dignified posture
of waiting to be discovered and appreciated and went out into the byways and hedges
seeking the souls for whom her Lord died.”
These inspiring words come from the context in which I work. You can fund similar examples from the past on which you can build which are unique to your plot in the much larger vineyard. Once we look at the world through Gospel eyes, we see that there are plenty of folks lost and hurting all around us. We may have come to take the Gospel for granted. Our neighbors may be convinced the healing and wholeness they need can be found anywhere but in Jesus’ judgmental and hypocritical fan club. Yet, the world still needs the Gospel and while the 21st century may need new ways of sharing the old, old story, whatever shape our efforts at sharing the Good News of God’s love, we’ll still need mutual support. This is where a missionary society comes in to play.
The only difference in a 21st century missionary society is that we need to let go of recent inventions like buildings dedicated to Christian worship called churches, or seats in those buildings called pews, or instruments in those buildings called pipe organs, and anything else that gets in the way of sharing the Good News. Those are the baggage that we have packaged with the Gospel for so long that we can forget that Jesus never needed any of these later inventions to share the love of God and challenge his followers to greater faithfulness. We might also need to jettison structures within the denomination itself—CCABs, I am looking at you (if you don’t know what they are, don’t worry as they are not Gospel, but they can serve it at times).
We just have to remember what the goal is and begin with the end in mind—sharing God’s love—then consider what tools best get us there today. For to be a 21st century missionary society is to find ways that fit our varying contexts which are most effective at carrying out Jesus’ Great Commission to go to all the world and make disciples. In many contexts, the church of the 21st century will closely resemble the church of the 16th to 19th centuries and earlier. But as old ideas become new and house churches or dinner party liturgies serve us well, a 21st century missionary society will need to learn not to judge them as failures using old metrics like counting butts filling pews on Sunday, but use really old metrics of considering whether these new methods are transforming lives the way Jesus did in first century Palestine. To do this faithfully over the long haul will take more than individual Christians going alone. To do this faithfully will take missionary societies.
Note: the Photos show Dr. David Livingstone and Basil’s Kitchen, a dinner party liturgy meeting at Christ Church Episcopal in Savannah.
This post is a participating post in the Acts8 BLOGFORCE on
“What does it mean to be a 21st century Missionary Society?”
The Acts8 Moment is a missionary society whose purpose is to proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church.
I made these two videos working with Standard V (7th grade) students at St. Mary’s Anglican School in Belize City, Belize, while working on a documentary on a short-term dental mission trip with Project Smile:
The Narrative Arc of Creation
A sermon for the Ordination of Michael Jackson Chaney, Jr.
Isaiah 6:1-8 and Ephesians 4:7,11-16
Professor Chaney. Just one question. Didn’t you have enough to do already? At one level, I get it. Jesus has worked in the movies for a long time. From Pathé’s 1902 hand-colored Life and Passion of Jesus to Passolini’s gay, marxist interpretation in the Gospel According to Saint Matthew or from the agnostic Jesus Christ Superstar to the challenging Jesus of Montreal and the Last Temptation of Christ, the Gospels and film, any of us can understand, but Chaney, honestly, why priesthood? Is Chaney time—driven by breathlessly running to get to the next thing—not challenging enough for you? Do you really want to take the teetering jumble of sometimes conflicting demands of your life and add the sacramental role of priest to the mix?
My dear congregation, I have gotten ahead of myself. I have tried to jump to the end of the second act. What am I thinking? How can we possibly appreciate the rising action that has our hero dealing with one plot twist after another as obstacle after obstacle rises to prevent him from achieving his dramatic need? We have yet to dive into the first act? We haven’t had near enough exposition to set up the character arc. Let us begin again.
Michael Jackson Chaney, Jr. hit the jackpot in the lottery at birth by being born white, heterosexual and male in the Deep South. To complete the picture of social privilege, he was initiated into the Christian faith before he even knew what it was or what it could mean for him—baptized in the Episcopal church in a small Mississippi town. Michael grew up in the center of the known universe. His social location rested securely at the top of the heap.
Like most all children, Michael saw readily the interconnectedness of all things. Through his eyes of innocence, he remained in “in constant amazement of nonstop encounters with new stimuli” as he connected, empathized and shared “in the wonder, love and tragedy” he encountered. The very first inklings of a calling as artist emerged as he drew on the back of church bulletins on Sunday mornings.
Once in Junior High, Michael attended youth retreats at the Episcopal camp and there he found “girls who were interested in creative and iconoclastic boys” like him. That was enough to galvanize his interest, but fortunately for our story, he also discovered what he would “later come to recognize as God’s grace” and “felt accepted for who [he] was becoming as a person and [he] felt encouraged to grow and foster his artistic talents as an expression of the spirit.”
This sermon continues here: The Narrative Arc of Creation
The otherwise minor Jewish festival of lights known as Hanukkah finds itself once more out shown by another holiday. The not to be repeated for nearly 80,000 year calendar mash up of Thanksgiving and the first night of Hanukkah has given rise to the cultural phenomenon of Thanksgivukkah. Yet, in landing on the national holiday which has long offered a time of preparation for the shopping frenzy to follow, Hanukkah has found a more natural pairing than it appears on the surface. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah share a blood-soaked history and a hopeful ideal of God’s faithfulness.
The Jewish Festival of Lights
Hanukkah has always been misplaced in American culture. While the celebration’s proximity to the Christian celebration of Christmas has made Hanukkah a Jewish way to take part in the year-end holiday season, that connection was not as fruitful as this once in a lifetime event.
The story of Hanukkah comes from the time between that recorded in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. The story is found in the apocryphal text of the Maccabees. Hanukkah is the story of the rededication of the temple following a successful revolt against the Syrian-Greeks who had captured Jerusalem in 168 B.C.E. and dedicated the Jewish holiest place to the worship of the god Zeus. The Maccabees revolted and by force took back Israel. With the blood of successful revolution still fresh, they turned to God in prayer. With only a single day’s oil to light the candles for the eight days required for the Temple dedication, the priests lit the lights and trusted God. The lights remained miraculously lit until new oil was made.
The record of the Jewish teachers known as the Talmud says, “the Sages established these eight days of Hanukkah as permanent holidays with the recital of Hallel [psalms of praise] and Thanksgiving.” An emphasis on thanksgiving has always been part of Hanukkah. It is thanksgiving not for human triumph, for the Talmud celebrates the dedication of the Temple, not the revolutionaries military might. Instead, Hanukkah celebrates God’s ongoing faithfulness to respond with mercy to our prayers when we rededicate ourselves to God’s purposes.
The First Thanksgiving
This rededication following revolution is the perfect companion to Thanksgiving, which shares a similar history. President George Washington issued a proclamation naming November 26, 1789 as a national day for giving thanks and said the nation was to be devoted “to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” This was the new nation’s first Thanksgiving. Washington had seen the dead scattered across the battlefields. He knew the high price of the newly found freedom and so called the nation to both repentance and thankfulness. That day was to “beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”
The start of Thanksgiving as a national holiday also came through the blood of revolution. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the national holiday inaugurating the holiday we still celebrate each November. That proclamation, written by Secretary of State William Seward and signed by Lincoln, called for prayers for forgiveness as well as thanks.
Seward cited the better-than-usual harvest of 1863 and the continued progress of mines and the expansion of cleared territory to the west all to be signs of God’s providence even in the midst of war. He asked that those gathered for the feast “do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation.”
The Mash Up of Thanksgivukkah
This once in a lifetime combination holds something unique. Thanksgiving began as our nation’s way to turn in thankfulness to God for faithfulness even in the midst of “national perverseness and disobedience.” The Talmud points to Hanukkah celebrating not military might, but God’s faithfulness to those who wish to dedicate themselves anew to worship, praise and thanksgiving.
The unique mash up of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving offer the opportunity to look beyond Pilgrims dining with Native Americans to see the ubiquity of the human struggle against oppression. We routinely find ourselves fighting one another for freedom. But both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah place the emphasis in the struggle for freedom over oppression not on human might or military power, but on God’s mercy and faithfulness. That is something for which all of us can join hands in gratefulness this Thanksgivukkah.
The following are videos I created for the special session of the 192nd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia:
A short video I created with the sisters of the Order of Saint Helena in August, Georgia, in which they reflect candidly about life as nuns within The Episcopal Church.
“We need to attract families with young children.” This statement is the top vote getter in survey after survey of church members asked to identify what their congregation needs. This is, of course, true, and yet the statement hides as much as it reveals about what we actually need in our churches.
Roots to endure the flames
Last week, Victoria and I spent hours in the long leaf pine forests like those that long covered the coastal plain from southeast Virginia to east Texas. I couldn’t help but noticing the similarity to a healthy long leaf pine forest and the Body of Christ. The trees put down deep tap roots which allow them to survive fires which cleanse the forest floor of undergrowth. Lightning strike fires commonly burned large swaths of land before fire suppression efforts changed that. As Christians, we each need to form deep tap roots where we can find nourishment in worship, prayer and reading scripture so that we too can not only endure but thrive in the chances and changes of this life.
Growth that spans generations
Long leaf pine forests also have a mix of ages as young trees grow in gaps created when older trees die. Trees of all ages grow alongside one another. Looking at the healthy forest made up of trees of varying ages and sizes, I was struck by how our children need to be surrounded by the giants of the faith who are the older members of our churches. I was struck by how a healthy congregation wouldn’t be filled with young families, but would also have a mix of ages and experience.
I know that when congregations say they want to attract young families, it is because the over 60 set is already present. But I highlight this realization born of viewing a healthy forest as it reminds me how much we need and should value all ages. Certainly, the financial pressures on young families make it difficult for them to support the church to the degree older members can, but beyond this financial need for older members there are other ways we need one another.
Each of us learns and grows best in that healthy mix of diverse ages. The old need the young and the young need the old. This should impact church programs as we need a steady procession of events in the church year that break down age divisions and bring the whole church community together beyond worship so that the young saplings get to better know the giants in whose shade their faith is being nourished.
Trees Whose Shade We’ll Never Know
Our guides, John and Phyllis Hiers of Christ Church, Valdosta, also took us to see a stand of the slow growing pines that John planted 13 years ago. The teenagers are well over head height, but they remain quite immature. That stand of trees was planted for their grandchildren and great grandchildren. That same foresight is needed in the stewardship of our churches. Most of us worship in buildings provided for us by previous generations. All of us need to support our churches so that they will still be building up the body of Christ when our great grandchildren are the elders in the congregation.
The Rev. Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary
PS: Thanks to Judy & Nate and John & Phyllis for making our ramble possible.
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Though church life winds down in some ways each summer, the dog days are a common time for a family to go church shopping, especially someone newly moved to your community. At the Spring Clergy Conference, our presenter, the Rev. George Martin, talked about changing our language about greeting to replace words like visitor and newcomer with “guest.” This was significant for George as he knows we are welcoming guests into God’s house. As such, we should put our best foot forward and be at our most welcoming, not to grow the church, but to be the Body of Christ.
As I consider this further, I can think of the many stories I have heard as priest of people returning to church, or even of going to a church for the first time. There is a strong gravitation pull away from the church for many and crossing your threshold is not as easy as it would seem. Add to that that if a visitor shows up with children in tow all dressed for church that this was no easy feat.
But in coming to your church, the guests may be strangers to you, but they are well known to our Lord, who makes his home in your church home. These are guests you are welcoming in their own home, even if they do not know it yet. The guests come with wounds and baggage and we do not have to know what all that is in order to welcome them as we would welcome Christ. But it can help to just be reminded that we don’t know what battles others are facing and we don’t know what deep solace they may find in a gracious welcome at our churches.
This was brought home for me through a video on empathy created by the Cleveland Clinic. This short video offers a wonderful glimpse at what others might be facing. Imagine the context as a hallway in your church:
The Rev. Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary
Now that the preponderance of adults on Facebook is chasing away teens, while Twitter doubles with that demographic, perhaps we’ll see a shift in the social media landscape. Those in my age range (I turned 50 last week and so might be as qualified to write about leaving Facebook as the demographic ages as my colleague Rudy is able to write about 80s New Wave Music) will hang on much longer as we now have the CB radio of the new millineum at our disposal and this time you can share photos of the grandkids and cute cat videos. I’ve also been talking with priests about how we are seeing people sharing their faith on Facebook in a form of evangelism as natural as recommending a book or a restaurant.
Here is how it works. You post a status update, a photo, or video from a church event on Facebook. Then members of the congregation begin to select “like” or they make a comment or even better they select “share” and add the photo to their own timeline. In the process, friends near and far who never knew that this member of your church is an Episcopalian see what is going on in your congregation. (at left, St. George’s Savannah shares a photo of their youngest lay reader)
I know this works because I follow with interest the life of (among others) a Primitive Baptist congregation whose elder I know, two Presbyterian churches where I know the pastors, and First Baptist in Statesboro as a friend and former co-worker takes pictures for them. I enjoy the glimpse into another way of being a follower of Jesus here in south Georgia and because of the “likes” and comments I get on my own photos, I know that friends of mine who may never attend an Episcopal Church also enjoy this peak at what goes on in our churches.
Here are few key things to know:
Create a Page or Group for your Church
There is a difference to how pages and groups function on the social media site and each can work well. Facebook pages are always visible to all on the internet, while groups offer privacy options. As a group is created, the administrator sets where approval is requited to join, whether it is invitation only or whether the group is publicly available to all who wish to join. With either pages or groups, new posts on the page or by the group will be added to the news feeds of members. Most churches will want a page, while groups within the church, such as the choir or Daughter’s of the King, may be better served by forming a group. (Above, St. Paul’s Albany shares the news of Deacon Jim Purks being honored for his service to Phoebe Putney Hospital)
Post as the church & comment as yourself
Facebook permits anyone with administrator privileges (a task that can and should be shared among a trusted few) can post statuses and photos as the group. Then the administrator can select whether to comment, like or share as the church or as an individual. In general, as no one person should be allowed to speak for the church (that is something the rectors, wardens and vestry can do), commenting as yourself when serving as an administrator keeps things personal.
Vestries should select who will be the gatekeepers, posting on behalf of the church. Vestries should also set workable policies, such as not listing whole names for children and not tagging people in photos, but letting them elect to do this if desired. (at left, a butterfly release at Christ Church, Valdosta)
But don’t let fear of what could go wrong keep you from giving your members an easy way to bear witness to the faith that is in them and to share their love of your church. For if your congregation does not have and regularly update a Facebook page, you are missing out on this low impact way to bear witness to how God is manifest in the midst of your church’s common life.
The Rev. Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary
During last week’s Clergy Conference our presenter, the Rev. George H. Martin, taught a session on “The Church as Grammar.” He was working from theologian George Lindbeck’s framework in the book, The Nature of Doctrine. Now so far all of this must seem rather esoteric, but there was an important truth of which I needed reminding and I appreciated George sharing it.
The basic idea is that like a language or a culture, our faith is a framework that gives form and substance to our thoughts and experiences and so shapes our lives. As Lindbeck puts it in writing of religious poetry, music, art and rituals, “It is through these that the basic patterns of religion are interiorized, exhibited and transmitted.”
Teaching the language of Jesus
If our presenter and this theologian are on to something important, and I my own experience in working with newcomers to church suggests that they are, then our work in welcoming people to church must include helping them learn the language of Jesus. In assisting people to understand more of how the signs and symbols of our tradition speak to deep truths, we can enrich their vocabulary and broaden their experience of worship.
Therefore, in welcoming those with little or no church background (or perhaps no liturgical church experience) to an Episcopal Church means that we provide ways for people to learn about the rich symbols which surround them.
As a church planter, I created a number of printed materials which I could share with people curious about our practices (see King of Peace’s Resources page). These included an Annotated Eucharist which surrounded the text of a Rite II Eucharist with Eucharistic Prayer A with additional notes to add to their understanding of the rite. I also created materials on infant baptism, the seasons Advent and Lent, and more. To this I added notes in the bulletin and newsletter which opened up some portion of the liturgy and gave additional background. I even used a newsletter posted in the bathrooms to help newcomers learn more about this new cultural and linguistic framework of the Church (a sample issue is online here: The Toilet Paper: Epiphany)
The best way to learn language
Yet we all know that nothing beats the more holistic approach of immersion in a culture to learn the language. No book or pamphlet on Christianity will teach us much as a living, breathing, flawed, but loving community of people putting their faith into practice.
The sad fact is that so many people have trouble discovering the grace, love, repentance, forgiveness and redemption which are at the compassionate heart of the language of Jesus, because they hear these words spoken by people who don’t seem to be saying it “not only with our lips, but in our lives.” There can be grace in this disappointment as well. For in Christian community we don’t find perfect people, but folks like us struggling to live into the love God has shown in Jesus. When the Gospel is authentically lived out by a group of people who are also working to teach something of this language and culture to newcomers, something wonderful happens–new followers come to speak that language of God’s love in word and deed. We need not be perfect for this transformation to occur, but we must seek to be faithful and then remain honest and open when we fall short (and we will).
How should we respond?
How might your congregation need to respond to this idea that newcomers don’t always share the language and culture of our faith and so need assistance to better understand? What tools might you need to help them learn the language and culture not simply of The Episcopal Church, but of the Kingdom of God?
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary
Last week, I began with Part I of a two-part look at the implications of the Episcopal Church State of the Clergy Report 2012. I noted how the we have been ordaining more priests and deacons than many dioceses and how we have also ordained younger clergy. This week, I need to turn to how the State of the Clergy Report does show a challenge we face here. That full report is online here: State of the Clergy 2012
While we have made significant progress in recent years, many priests in the Diocese of Georgia still make less money than those in similar parishes in other dioceses, including our neighboring dioceses of Upper South Carolina and Alabama.
The challenge simply put is this: the Episcopal Church does not place priests in congregations and as priests have choice, we have to work to attract priests that congregations want to call to ministry in this Diocese. Part of this is the diocesan culture and priests decide whether they want to be in a Diocese. Part of this is the location of the church and whether this is a fit for the clergy spouse and family. And a large part of this is that our compensation has to be competitive with other options the priests have in other dioceses.
We have lost priests over the years for not have compensation that could keep them and not gained others for not having salaries that could attract them. This is not to say that priests are not interested in following where God leads them, but that answering a call begins with a search process where the compensation is known and advertised and so priests are not likely to even consider churches which will mean a cut in pay.
Comparing to the Community
To make sure that we are taking the local community into account, we also look for the salary and benefits of a teacher’s with a master’s degree and similar years of service and, depending on the complexity of the church administration, we look to assistant principle and principle salaries. These are people in the same community with similar benefits.
The Future of Calling Clergy
As The Episcopal Church is ordaining far fewer people than are retiring, we will continue to face a situation where we are seeking to call priests who have other options open to them. The picture is not bleak. We have been good at raising up great priests and we are improving the compensation of clergy in the Diocese. We need not be pessimistic, but I write this in order to be realistic about the challenges we face.
The Rev. Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary
Thanks to the work of the Church Pension Fund, we have a clearer picture of the impact of retiring more priests than we are ordaining. As we shall see in this two-part look at the report and its implications, there are some ways we have been immune to this in Georgia and some ways in which it makes the work of calling priests here more difficult. The full report is online here: State of the Clergy Report 2012
Changes in Ordination Patterns
Among the key findings of the report, is that ordinations overall have fallen by twenty-six percent in the past six years. At this point, priest retirements in The Episcopal Church are outpacing ordinations by forty-three percent. Beyond this we see that the age distribution of clergy has changed drastically over time, with fewer clergy being ordained at younger ages and more clergy with older ages at ordination. Another key change is the significant drop in positions for existing clergy, whether assistant rector, curate or some other position.
The Good News in Georgia
Having ordained seventeen priests and deacons in the three years covered by the report, Georgia is in the top ten ordaining dioceses and among the smaller dioceses in that group. Not only that, but while the average age of priests in The Episcopal Church has been climbing, we’ve watched that number drop here in our Diocese. The reason is simple-Diocese of Georgia Youth Programs. For decades, our youth programs have raised up leaders. Among the seventeen noted in the report, a handful include priests in their twenties whose first leadership role in the church came at Honey Creek. Added to that are the clergy who came through campus ministry at the University of Georgia and Georgia Southern and you see that vocations in the church are nourished through dynamic programs which give youth an opportunity to be leaders. While we have attracted priests, including young priests, from other dioceses, most of our growth has come throw raising up priests from our own congregations and our own diocesan programs. And, of course, our youth programs have also led to many of our youth living into their Christian faith at teachers, policemen, attorneys and more.
Furthermore, we have budgeted to support congregations in hiring an assistant priest and have seen this create at least two positive changes: 1) Newly graduated seminarians start out in healthy churches with good mentorship, and 2) Congregations that need a second priest, but couldn’t quite yet afford to make the hire gain an additional priest on the staff. This has helped sustain numeric growth in our fastest growing churches while providing an important training ground for newly ordained priests.
Additionally, as we saw recently when King of Peace, Kingsland, called the Rev. Al Crumpton as Rector, they gained a priest with good experience and support provided by his time as an assistant at St. Mark’s, Brunswick. While not all clergy will move on to another post like this, we still see how providing positions for assisting priests creates a pool of proven priests for consideration in Vicar and Rector searches. We have done this while also raising up some older clergy, especially bi-vocational priests and so have been better at going against the tide than many other dioceses, especially those out of the southeast.
None of us defies gravity for long and there are ways in which the changes around the church are having a significant impact on clergy searches in the Diocese of Georgia. Next week, I will share that challenge in Part II of this look at the State of the Clergy Report.
The Rev. Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary
Last week I asserted that, given the visual nature of our culture today and the ease of sharing photographs, I find an essential connection between church growth an sharing pictures church events in a timely manner. While not a determinative factor in itself, photgraphy is helpful in sharing the life of you congregation in a way that is engaging and inviting to others. Here are a five basic tips for photographers:
1) Know the key moments
and be ready for them
From laying on hands in the ordination liturgy and saying vows in a wedding to the priest going under water in a dunk tank at the Fall Festival, each event has some predictable moments when the photographer needs to be in position and ready. Communication between the priest about photographing liturgies (or the chair of any other event) and the photograher can make sure the photographer is in the right place at the right time. In the case of a liturgy, planning means taking into account beng positioned so as not to interfere with the sacredness of the worship.
2) Take establishing shots and details too
Most of the photos we receive for From the Field are in the middle range, with no wide shot to show the overall event and no detail to fill in the picture. Get a few pictures that take in the whole event from a few angles and then look for the details which will add depth and texture to the final photo album.
Note that in the photos above from our diocesan convention, Julius and Julia Ariail have an establishing shot of the overall church full for Evening Prayer and a close up of the processional cross with the choir and pipes of the pipe organ behind them that went with the other medium range pictures of the liturgy.
3) Mind the background
This one tip can not be emphasized enough. Always pay attention to the entire frame. While keeping the background simple helps most photos, this is not aays true with event pictures whe you want to share a sense of how it felt to be there. One common issue we see is a small group in the action, with a empty background at what is reported to be a large event. Seeing more people and action behind what you are photographing adds depth. This must be balanced with paying attention to what is behind the subject of the photo so that a yawning acolyte doesn’t take away from an otherwise perfect picture.
In the pet blessing photo above, seeing more of the congregation behind the pet being blessed adds depth and shows how something more of the event in a single picture. Then in the photo at right, the priest in the background (yours truly) ruins an otherwsie nice photo of a mom and her daughters arriving for worship.
4) Take a mix of vertical and horizonal pictures
Many times, a great vertical image is trapped in the middle of a horizontal photo. While cropping in a photo program such as Photoshop can fix this, it is best to consider how to frame the photos as you take them. When in doubt, take the photo both as a horizontal picture and as a vertical one and decide whn you edit. While a horizontal photo could have shown the scene, the vertical picture of a grandfather and granddaughter at an Easter Egg Hunt pulls us in on their connection in a way that is inviting.
5) Edit thoughfully
An unedited album with hundreds of photos is almost as problematic as no pictures (but not quite). Cut out all but the best of a given picture unless it is a series. Look for a mix of overall, medium distance and close-up pictures. A tightly edited group of pictures where each photo is worth sharing will leave folks wanting to come back to see more then next time you post an album.
6) Post Promptly
I prefer not to go to sleep before the pictures are posted, but this will not surprise those who know me. For the less obsessive photographer, please get the photos online within 24 hours. We have all become accustomed to a 24-hour news cycle and interest wains quickly as time passes after the event.
Much more can be said, but these tips will get any photographer headed in the right direction. Using Facebook, a Google’s Picasa, or a Flickr album, your congregation can share photos quickly and at no cost. Why not share the joy of being a part of your church?
The Rev. Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary
The fastest growing congregations in the Diocese of Georgia are also those with a system in place to post photos of their events online. I am aware that there is no direct cause and effect relationship between photography and church attendance and yet there is something more here than a mere coincidence.
My Professional Bias
First, I must admit my professional bias. I worked professionally as a newspaper photographer in my first years out of college first for the Warner Robins Daily Sun and then for the Rome News-Tribune and during that time served as an Associated Press photographer for those areas of the state (my photo of a firefighter entering a house fire is at left).
But I think my seeing this connection between photography and church growth comes more from serving as a church planter than from my work as a photojournalist. I found that posting photos the night of an event did more to build excitement than any other thing I did for the little time and energy needed to make that happen. Now with the ease of Facebook and Google’s Picasaweb albums, no special skill in website programming is needed.
Who’s Stalking Your Website
“I’ve been stalking your website for weeks.” This comment was made to the Rev. Joshua Varner, Vicar of St. Patrick’s, Pooler, by a first-time visitor on the Sunday after Easter. Whether they say it or not, nearly every single first time visitor will have looked for a website for your congregation before crossing the threshold of your church. Photos of events are the easiest way to help someone get a feel for what it will be like to worship with you. See what that visitor saw first by going to www.stpatrickspooler.org
Recently, the Rev. Rick Buechner preached at Christ Church Savannah (pictured at left). That liturgy was the first time he had ever been photographed preaching in his thirty years of ministry. In those three decades, we have become an increasingly visual culture. At the same time, technology advanced so that good quality photos can be taken without a flash. Make no mistake, worship is about worship and photography should never dominate any liturgy whether is be a wedding or a baptism. But as each week’s From the Field demonstrates, great photos can be taken without taking away from the sacredness of worship.
The main thing is to get good, clear photos and to share them as soon as possible after the event. We see the statistics here with From the Field and interest drops significantly a week later. Many of you will go see the Holy Week Album on Tuesday in Easter Week, but when offered a week later, only those with pictures in the album follow the link. Timeliness is key.
What I am advocating is sharing photographs of your church’s worship and events online in order to make it easier for someone to decide to visit your church. The Holy Spirit can use the photos when speaking to someone’s heart about attending church once more. This is no small thing and beyond the power of the photos in themselves, but they do help. Every photo or album that members of your congregation “like” and “share” will be seen by others in their Facebook timeline and so may reach the eyes of friends and neighbors looking to get connected to God through a church home. Don’t miss out on benefitting from this important tool.
But there are a few more things you can do to get more out of your photography. Next week, I will continue with some specific advice on getting betting photos of your congregational life without making any event be about taking pictures.
The Rev. Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary