A Deep Conversation With Willy

October 28th, 2014

When we travel to cook I know something.  I know I will go reluctantly.  I know I will arrive nervous.  I know I will then leave joyous having witnessed a greater something than me, even than us.  And I know I will leave having had at least one conversation I was supposed to have.

Willy was the conversation I was supposed to have.  Born in Puerto Rico, living in Reading at a homeless shelter, Willy founds shoes, donated shoes, part of the clothing drive the congregation put together.  Conversation started around shoes.  “Worth a $100.00″ he said.  Might be right.  A prayer of thanks for the person who gave them.

And then we talked.  A long conversation.  Part way through, with a smile, Willy leans in with “Chuck you are going to be alright.”   Out of the blue.  Striking the core of incessant, chattering worries.  Did I say anything that helped him?  That connected?  Probably not.  But God had us there.  In that place.  Front Street in Reading.  63 year old Puerto Rican cook.  49 years old Irish pastor.   “Not as many … but as one.” (Divine Love and Wisdom, 22)

Ebola and When Fear Reigns

October 24th, 2014

The recent news that a New York City Doctor, Craig Spencer, tested positive for Ebola will no doubt create another spasm of fear in the US.  Understandable.  The frightening ability of this disease to spread, even to highly trained  medical professionals who no doubt take every precaution, terrifies.

And we live in an even more dangerous world when a contagion of fear reigns.

Yesterday read of another tragedy … over 3,000 Palestinians have died in recent months attempting to flee by boat to Europe in hopes of starting a new life.   Buried deep in the paper … who knew?

That does not make Americans bad or wrong either for not paying attention to the plight of refugees or paying too much attention to understandable fears around Ebola.  But.  But our fears can blind us to the plight of others. We will experience cases of Ebola.  We will not experience what many anticipate is soon coming in Africa … thousands of cases a week.

I admire Dr. Spencer.  I admire he traveled to Africa.  I admire he followed a dangerous call to help.  That is the bigger story to me.  A man driven not by fear but by compassion, joining unknown others doing the same.

Doing the Do

October 23rd, 2014

Doing the Do.  Churches becoming “vessels through which compassion to the community flows.”  Simple.  Profound.

Listen to these pieces of New Church theology ….

Unless will and understanding … goodwill and faith devote themselves to involvement in works or deeds whenever possible, they are nothing…. People who put faith and goodwill together know what is good and are able to intend and do it, but not people who are devoted to faith apart from goodwill.  (Regeneration, pg. 96)

That word “devote” … a poignant word.  That word “nothing” … a rather unappealing alternative.

Strong language.

 

Update II on the Issue of Women’s Ordination in this Denomination.

October 22nd, 2014

Moving forward, NewChurch LIVE will continue the following ….

  1. Open and humble dialog with the leadership of the General Church as a means of purposefully and clearly advocating for women’s ordination
  2. Inclusion of a wide variety of voices … female and male … in NewChurch LIVE Sunday services
  3. Offering evening vespers programs led by a wide variety of voices … female and male.
  4. Engaging a wide variety of empowered voices … female and male … in leadership positions
  5. Supporting those interested in ordination as best we can … female and male

Partnership is a truly blessed thing!  It will be our path forward … together.

 

One Nun’s Thoughts on New Forms of Leadership in Church

October 22nd, 2014

In a recent article in “Sojourners”, Sister Rose Marie Berger offered some deep insights around leadership, observations that resonate with our lived experience here at NewChurch LIVE.    The takeaways ….

Leadership Must Orient Towards the Future

Sister Joan Chitister wrote, “The purpose of leadership is not to make the present bearable but to make the future possible.”  It is so easy to orient church work towards the past.  That is where comfort lies … and it where we can be readily lulled into church-as-hospice, church leadership as helping a congregation to slowly and painlessly “die” vs. an urgent push to birth into new possibilities.

Leadership Must Orient Towards Energy

Leaders must understand energy, not position or rank, as power.  “Counter-cultural, mutual, relational, it is the authentic power integral to the transformation of our church and of our world.”  Formal or informal power … energy is what does it.  We know instantly on walking into a church.  Is it filled with energy or not?  Those with little to no energy but just filled with a dull duty have little future.  Those with energy, that grit, that vibrancy, attract regardless of the wrapper.

Leadership Must Orient Towards Process

Pastor’s job … to inspire and equip.  That calls for process.  Not a process of the answer.  But a process of empowered engagement and trusting partnership.  “Process is primary, results are secondary, because process builds creativity and experimentation into the system…. The role of the leader is assisting the body to have the imagination to bring the group into the future it is headed towards.”

 

A Beautiful Little Girl Waving Her Way Into Church

October 21st, 2014

What a miracle.  Watching little Skylar waving to the audience before her baptism.  I told her before the service … “Skylar you are going to see angels!” And she did.  She waved.  They waved back.

Sacrament can so quickly mire itself in a rigid formality that suck all life out of it.  But the point is … always is … LIFE.   Sacrament is not an end itself but a portal to things greater, things more joyous, things more real.

Read God’s request, written over 2,000 years ago in the books of Isaiah ….

“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.
But whoever sacrifices a bull
is like one who kills a person,
and whoever offers a lamb
is like one who breaks a dog’s neck;
whoever makes a grain offering
is like one who presents pig’s blood,
and whoever burns memorial incense
is like one who worships an idol.
They have chosen their own ways,
and they delight in their abominations;
so I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and will bring on them what they dread.
For when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, no one listened.
They did evil in my sight
and chose what displeases me.”  (Isaiah 66)

Revolutionary stuff.  The very thing we believe God most wants … rigid, ritualized sacrifice/ ceremony … is exactly what He does not call for.

The New Church can seize that perspective.  Emanuel Swedenborg phrases it beautifully,

“The life that leads to heaven is not a life withdrawn from the world, but a life in the world; and a life of piety separated from a life of charity does not lead to heaven, but one of charity does.” (Heaven and Hell 533)

How did Skylar’s service end?  Well one ending … little Duncan asked his mom, “Mom when I can I get baptized?”

Update on the Question of Women’s Ordination in the New Church

October 14th, 2014

 

NewChurch LIVE was started 5 years ago by and exists under the denominational affiliation of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, known more commonly by the short hand, “New Church.” At that time a group of visionary leaders allied with the denomination’s governing body and breathed life into this congregation we know and love.   Today NewChurch LIVE continues to live under the “New Church” governing body.
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An issue the denomination has wrestled with over the years is the ordination of women into the priesthood.   Several weeks ago, after much deliberation, a decision was made by our Bishop, Brian Keith, after gathering clerical input, to continue the policy of an all-male clergy.
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This has created a great degree of discomfort and concern among many in the denomination.  As the pastor of this congregation, it is important to calmly and humbly put forward that I strongly believe in women’s ordination.  That position, among the clergy in this denomination, is a minority opinion.
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Within the NewChurch LIVE congregation, for some the issue is not a pressing concern at this particular moment and for others there may be a strong need for support or to dialog further on the subject.  In that light, there are two options available this week. as well as a third ongoing option.
  1. Candlelight Meeting will be held on Friday, October 17th at 6:30 PM, at the Bryn Athyn Boro Park.  At approximately 7:15 PM, the group will then be invited to walk with Aurelle Genzlinger and others to her house on 637 Waverly Lane to continue the conversation or individuals are free to continue on to attend the meeting being held by Bishop Keith.
  2. Address by Bishop Brian Keith: Bishop Keith will be meeting with concerned parties to answer questions on Friday evening at 7:30 in Heilman Hall located at on the grounds of the Bryn Athyn Church School.  (Bryn Athyn Church is our sister congregation).  This event, sponsored by our sister congregation, the Bryn Athyn Church, is more public in nature.
  3. Meet with Pastor Chuck:  This third option is available following both Friday evening activities and on an ongoing basis.  Recognizing this issue is significant, I am committed to creating space for support and conversation.   Please feel open to sharing on this very important subject.
If you have questions about the above, feel free to contact me at 215-740-3662.
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Brave New Voices

October 14th, 2014

Brave new voices.  Have you noticed some brave new voices?

We live in a time that appears more shrill, more shallow, more lean, more sensationalist.  Example … Ebola in the US … two cases … receives far more coverage than 1,000′s of deaths in Africa.  So we fear monger.  One recent pole noted that 55% of Americans now favor sealing, completely, all our borders.

And in that shrillness, brave new voices are speaking.  Malala Yousafzai.  Pope Francis.  And many others.

After having spoken of Malala and her growing legacy I want to speak for a moment of Pope Francis and the immense shifts he is stewarding in. These shifts will not just benefit Catholicism.  They will benefit all of Christendom.

One case in point was the declaration at a recent synod,  “that homosexual persons have gifts and talents to offer the Christian community and that pastoral outreach to them is an important educative challenge.”  While clearly not an advocate of church sanctioned same sex marriage in Catholic churches, Pope Francis with this statement opened the conversation around ENGAGEMENT.

Churches and denominations that refuse that engagement with any number of groups around any number of issues will find themselves out of step with broader trends in the Christian world.  Engagement takes work.  And engagment take courage.  The easy solution is to always cordon ourselves off, building clerical walls of rightness that we mistakenly see as walls of legitimacy.  They are not.  Take stands we must.  And one of those stands must be engagement.

In a famous Biblical passage God offers, “I stand at the door at knock.”  Sometimes He stands at the door at knocks to get in.  And sometimes He stands at the door and knocks to get out.  I see these brave new voices reflecting the latter, and reflecting what Emanuel Swedenborg called true faith.

“Faith is more than knowledge… First and foremost it is obedience to everything that faith teaches; and the primary thing faith teaches and requires our obedience to is love – love for the Lord and love for our neighbor.”  Secrets of Heaven, 36

 

Servant Mode

October 9th, 2014

We are all ambassadors.  Not employees.  Not customers.  Ambassadors.  Those gifted with the task of interaction, connection.  Relying on the face to face.  Carrying a message.  Living in an empowered place.  Living within a culture deeply.

As ambassadors, welcome to servant mode.  As defined by Seth Godin servant mode is “delighting and connecting customers [others], exceeding expectations and performing what seems like miracles.”

What does it look like to “delight and connect” others in church environs?  What does it look like to “exceed expectations“?  What does it look like to perform “what seems like miracles“?

It looks like thriving.  It looks like a church of radical hospitality.  It looks like contagious generosity.  It looks like a generative simplicity.  It looks like joyous disruption.  And it feels like home.

Seeing A Sermon. Hearing a Sermon.

October 3rd, 2014

Read yesterday, “I would prefer to SEE a sermon instead of just hearing a sermon.”  And then traveled to the Kensington section of Philly, “The Badlands” as they are known locally, to serve at the St. Francis Inn, a homeless shelter.   We served.  8 of us.

There is so much one could say.  My job .. to buss tables.  Clearing and cleaning up as several hundred folks moved through to a dinner of goulash, rolls, chips, and milk – strawberry, low fat, whole.  And in the middle – not a surprise – holding a tray, some tears.  There were kids.  Lots of kids.  Liam, 8 months, and others.  Barry.  Grey head of hair. Lots of smile.  The same name as my favorite uncle.

And much of formal church structures, for me, mired, at larger denominational levels in tired debates so far removed from this … from people, from suffering.  Pope Francis said good shepherds, good priests, must “smell of sheep,”  must pick up the ‘scent’ of those they serve.  Father Bill serving up the goulash did.  Tatalia, volunteering there for a year, did.   Those mired, tired debates that seek to hold women from ordination, or parse down small definitions of this word or that into an exactitude I wonder if was ever intended, don’t smell of sheep to me.

Does our life break open, our soul finally crackle with light, as we confront sin or suffering? 

I tire quickly of private morality and the games it plays under the guise of “God said.”  Of church as just that, nothing more. Church is infinitely more.. hearing sermons… the best of which are SEEN.  “Religion is of life.  And the life of religion is to do what is good.”