Pray For...
newSpin 110324

Bakery Conversation on Passion for the Gospel and Hands-on Ministry

The primary interactive list of the Diocese of Bethlehem is called "Bakery." If you participate, you may be addressed as a "crouton." After all, Bethlehem means "House of Bread." To join, enter your name and email in the "Get Connected" box on the right hand side of the Diobeth website. On Bakery, you will find conversations such as the one below that was initiated by Epiphany Clarks Summit rector Craig Sweeney. Once joined, you may read, initiate or comment on conversations.

[Updated March 25]

[From Craig Sweeney, rector, Epiphany Clarks Summit]
Referencing this article from Alban Institute

I suspect many of you have seen this. It is long on description and short on prescription. But the author sure summarizes how I feel!  It is good to know I'm not alone.

My overriding sense of how to bring folks into the church always brings me back to one word  - passion.  If we aren't passionate about our faith and parish, why would anyone want to join?  It was passion for God and what God has done in Jesus that finally moved me out of my complacency and into seminary. That passion fades yearly as I deal with an intense yearning among my people for the past or at least the status quo, and very little desire to be the Body of Christ. And my folks are wonderful, talented people. But they are busy, busy people.  How can we inspire in them passion for the Gospel? They are well off, healthy and consumed with family life and children's sports. I preach and talk about 'hands on ministry' in our community and get only blank faces. To me it is hands on ministry that builds passion, not meetings and potlucks. And the truth is that there is not much need here in the Abingtons.... 

If you have time, the comment thread for this article is also interesting. Pardon my rant...

[From Robin Caccese, Christ Church Reading]
You want us to pardon your rant? I LIKE ranting ... and passion! Ranting means there's life present!

You said, "... there is not much need here in the Abingtons...."

I wonder if discovering more "needs" or "new" needs is a kind of key. What needs are hiding behind "busy, well off, lives," especially in these uncertain times. How do you feel when your 64 and your portfolio tanks, again? Is your treasure in the market or in Jesus? How are you going to pay the mortgage on your mini-mansion when you've just been laid off from you 6-figure salary job? How do you feel when
Johnny, the star player at whatever in his private school, is failing in his classes? How does Johnny feel? How do you feel about radioactivity in Japan reaching the USA? Do you have your iodine pills? Will iodine pills "save" you in all the ways that you might need to be saved? How do you handle your parent with Alzheimers? How do you deal with a pregnant teenage daughter or a 3-year-old child diagnosed with leukemia or your own disagnosis of end-stage pancreatic cancer or a brother who hangs himself in the closet? Income
level doesn't save you from things like this. BUT Jesus IS a savior and that salvation is bigger and higher and wider and deeper and vaster than anything we have yet imagined ....

At Christ Church Reading we've been doing the "Unbinding" series of books. While doing "Unbinding Your Heart" last fall, the praying in triads process challenged us to share a need with our triad and then receive prayer about it. I think people began to feel heard and cared for by others and by God in new ways in the process.

... just some ranting, passionate thoughts about mining needs ... to bring to our passionate God, finding needs addressed in new ways and getting passionately excited about this passionate God.

[From Connie Fegley, Christ Church Reading]
I'm a member of Christ Church, Reading, and when I first saw this, I thought immediately of the 'Unbinding" series we've been doing in our parish. I was so happy to see that Robin wrote so eloquently about it. It has truly been a wonderful, wonderful thing! And, you know, the longer I live, the more I believe, with every fiber of my being, the absolute necessity for Jesus Christ and the Gospel. NOTHING is more important in my life. Talk about passion, what a wonderful way to live.

[From Jennifer Ross, St. Mary's Reading]
Ah, how I love the passion within our faith. In the ebb and flow of life...wherever...we can reach out and grab onto the passion of community and fall into step or lead the walk with Jesus beside us. What a great sharing to read over a hot cup of tea and some waffles at breakfast before starting the work day...for me.... Yes, let's hear it for rant.  Wonder if the ancient Romans first discounted the rantings of a young Jew before they found him to be a trouble-maker, and more?

[From Jane Williams, St. Andrew's Allentown/Bethlehem]
I understand your rant -- your frustration is one that many, many priests (and committed parishioners) might share.

I want to validate what you say about "To me it is hands on ministry that builds passion, not meetings and potlucks" and share what I have found in a very small parish here in the Lehigh Valley.  I write this not to sing our praises (we have problems, too) but to validate further what you say.

The parish I attend is small enough that nearly everyone who is there on Sunday morning has to take an active part in the 8 or 10:30 service or the service will not go on.  Adults and teens are acolytes, crucifers, choir members, ushers, counters, bread bakers, altar guild members, reception food-providers, etc, etc. Not just once a quarter but every Sunday.  We all have to volunteer because everyone who comes to this parish is needed.  It is not possible just to occupy a pew.

And on Friday nights, many if not most of us in the church, help with the sheltering project -- we house 25-34 men and women every Friday from December through March.  With that many mouths to feed and people to manage, everyone has to take a turn sleeping overnight on cots, preparing dinner at 6 pm or breakfast at 5:30 am, driving several trips each Friday night and Saturday morning to pick up and deliver the homeless in the center of Bethlehem (my husband can take only 3-4 people in our compact car, so drives 3-5 round trips each weekend to do his part).   It is exhausting but rewarding work -- and if all of us did not volunteer, it would not be done (BTW, I think we are the smallest congregation in the sheltering project and the only one that uses predominantly its own people as volunteers).

We also have a Food Pantry that has grown (actually overgrown) to fill our capacity to serve.  Again, it is manned by volunteers from the parish who work with the clients and a food donation program from Second Harvest.

This spring we are preparing, planting, (and will hopefully harvest) a community garden on our property with 10 raised beds.  Parishioners have volunteered to give between 50% and 90% (a reverse tithe) of the produce the beds produce to the Food Pantry so that clients may have access to healthy produce.

The passion in this small congregation is contagious.  People feel involved and useful. Church is not just worship, here, but doing the Lord's work.  And it isn't all work -- most of us stay after church to chat and catch up.  Nearly half the Sunday attenders get together every couple of weeks to share a meal together in someone's home, a game night in fellowship hall, a movie or meal in a restaurant -- because we serve together and like each other.

So I want to affirm, Craig, that you are right about hands-on ministry.  It does build passion!  I am grateful to be part of St. Andrews parish (I am not the Rector here).  What drew me and my husband was the hands-on ministry and the opportunity to do something directly that helps others.  And we are growing (slowly but perceptibly) because of it. 

Jane Williams+
Associate Professor
Moravian Theological Seminary

[From John Francis, rector, Christ Church Reading]
Thanks so much Connie, Robin, et al, Yes the Unbinding the Gospel Series is a true gift to the mainline denominations at this crucial time in our collective history. Martha Grace Reese is a brilliant writer and visionary, whose prayer life and passion for the mainline denominations is definitely inspired by the Holy Spirit, for sure!!!

[From Edward Erb rector, Grace Honesdale]
How can we turn the passion of Christ on Good Friday, as the passion for Christ and his Church?  Are we willing to sacrifice our all on behalf of our parishes - our parishioners - that one parishioner?

[From Craig Sweeney, rector, Epiphany Clarks Summit]
Thanks to everyone who replied. I have (and we have) considered nearly all the things you all suggest. All the services to the poor are covered here already (we support them financially) and there are no obvious street people here in the (wealthy) Abingtons... I don't want to be a 'blame the people' priest and I suspect that a great deal of the seeming indifference here is due to my lack of inspired leadership. To say I am 'laid back' is a major understatement. I am a quiet introvert. But I can't even get anyone to come to the meetings we hold to discuss such things... It's the same 20 folks or so, over and over (God bless them!). Fact is, we are a wealthy parish and we take for granted the services we provide to ourselves and are in denial about the future... I do plan on using Unbinding for a Wed. pm potluck series next Fall, it looks very good to me. I know I'm just complaining, but as I look out into the future, I fear for the church as I know it.  A good 20% of my people will be dead in 15 years, and the young families don't give or participate as much. The author of the article spoke of God doing a new thing, and I trust that to be true - I just can't see it, and it drains me feeling helpless. I do trust the Lord - but wish he'd send me an e-mail on how to cope!! blessings to all.


The comments to this entry are closed.