summer solstice!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mission Study Notes

As you can see, this is more than 2-1/2 years old; I'm finally blogging it, mainly for safekeeping, since this puter will be history before long.

Today's Date: Thursday, April 12, 2007

To: Mission Study Committee
Date: Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Greetings in the name of our Risen and Ascended Lord!

Although I realize the Mission Study Committee welcomes input from everyone, a specific member of the Committee was kind enough specifically to request a contribution from me, so here are some comments. These observations come from my worshiping and participating within this congregation since Reformation Sunday 2000; my insights also grow out of my experiences serving a series of local churches as a full-time called lay professional. My first position was in the now-former Lutheran Church in America, one of the antecedent denominations of the ELCA; following those years I served four socially, culturally and economically very different congregations of the United Church of Christ.

Identity

But back to this church! Above all, any expression of the church, whether local, regional, countrywide or global, constantly needs to remember and act in awareness of its identity as a servant people, gathered in the power of the Holy Spirit and sent into the world as witnesses to the resurrection, proclaiming in word and action the presence of the risen Christ. On Maundy Thursday evening, in bestowing the New Covenant of sacrificial love, Jesus commanded his disciples to serve; afterwards, as Jesus' words from the cross birthed the Church that became reborn at Easter dawn and empowered on the Day of Pentecost, God's call to the Church has been and still persists as a call to a people baptized into both the cross of Mount Calvary and the empty tomb of Easter; God's call to us, the church of Jesus Christ, continues as a charge to act in the freedom of risking love.

Service

The young church we read about in Acts first ordained not Ministers of Word and Sacrament and not Elders; the newly-born community first ordained Deacons, thus from the beginning defining and identifying the church as servant of the people. We know the human Jesus as the definitive manifestation of Yahweh, the Servant-God of the people Israel; Jesus Christ calls us, both as persons and as community, to the type of self-giving he demonstrated; Jesus' living example and life-giving Words beckon and compel us to the inclusive and sometimes costly hospitality of unconditionally welcoming everyone. However, no local church—not this one or any other—is able to be or even to become "all things to all people," either in strength of service or style of worship, despite Paul of Tarsus' telling us that was his aspiration!

Worship

Worship is the highest purpose of the people of God, and worship – especially weekly Sunday worship – models a vision of and becomes a microcosm of the redeemed, restored, resurrected – Eastered – community, preparing and enabling us in the Holy Spirit for service during the following week. However, this is a congregation of a particular denomination, which in turn belongs to the distinct and distinctive tradition of Reformed Christianity, and although Reformed worship can range in style from very casual, relatively "low church" to highly liturgical, I strongly feel any local church needs to keep their worship coherent and consonant with the larger tradition with which it identifies.

Non-Traditional Worship

In addition, the structure and content of much "contemporary" worship—a style actually popularized a few decades ago in the 1970s—has evolved from the revivalist, frontier and Pentecostal traditions rather than the Reformed, and this type of worship carries with it the burden of its own theology that is not in alignment with the Reformers' insistence (as well as the historical praxis of the church bodies that evolved from the Geneva and Wittenberg Reforms) on recovering and restoring the early church's unvarying convention of keeping Word and Sacrament tightly yoked together. In fact, just as the late Medieval Church, in losing the Word had lost the essence of the Sacraments, some of the post-Reformation churches, in jettisoning regular sacramental practice and understanding lost the essence of the Word, the mystery of the hidden and elusive God who nonetheless self-reveals, but principally in paradoxical ways, particularly in the common "stuff" of everyday creation.

And regarding the prospect of two Sunday services, though this isn't the place to cite statistics, in general, most churches have not attempted more than a single main Sunday morning worship service until and unless the size of the worshiping congregation reached approximately 60% to 70% of the capacity of the worship area. You may realize that when there is more than one Sunday morning service, it frequently divides people into an us and a them, a division that gradually becomes detrimental in terms of the church's larger mission. Because of these factors of substance and culture, I'd be extremely cautious in offering a second worship service at this particular time.

Further Concerns

As someone observed some weeks ago during Sunday morning adult study, our society has become geographically fragmented with families scattered all over the country and sometimes beyond its borders, and because of this the usual practice of families supporting and caring for other family members often is not working because for plain practical reasons it cannot work. With family members not seeing or speaking to one another and families broken by divorce, anger, desertion and misunderstanding being close to routine, the (local) church more and more is in the situation of needing to function in the role of the absent biological family. Given this reality, and despite our primary call to be and become a people in mission beyond the boundaries of our everyday worlds and in spite of our call to be a people "sent" into the world to be the Christ acting in justice, righteousness and mercy to a world in need, in the near and more distant future this congregation may need to consider initiating formal structures in addition to the excellent work of the diaconate to provide for these family needs.

These are my remarks for now; many blessings as you continue prayer, discussion and action toward helping delineate and make possible our future as a faithful community of the people of God in this corner of the city!

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