A New Heart, A New Spirit

While not new terms, discipleship and spiritual renewal are having a resurgence across denominational circles. And it is often misunderstood in terms of a “movement.”

For some, “renewal” implies a new revivalism, while for others it is simply synonymous with a particular expression of renewal such as the Charismatic Movement, Cursillo, or Tres Dias of many years ago (and in some circles continues). There are those who perceive in the emphasis on “renewal” as self-indulgent flight into personal interiority by well-off churchgoers unwilling to confront the many pressing social and political problems that surround us.

All the New Testament texts explicitly concerned with the them of renewal have as their central refrain the summons to a transformation of all life. This transformation is patterned after the image of Jesus Christ, and is effected by the healing, sustaining, and guiding power of the Holy Spirit.

The above text in italics comes from a curriculum that was written in 1984 by John S. Mogabgab for the Bicentennial Festival of Renewal Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. A New Heart, A New Spirit: Guidelines for Spiritual Growth in Parishes with special material on Renewal of Baptismal Vows is just as relevant today as it was almost forty years ago. I see this material (which I have culled from my “archives”) as supportive of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Way of Love. I see it as a means for a congregation to help its members (of all ages) to deepen understanding of their baptism while exploring how we can also become Beloved Community.

In his introduction to this multi-level curriculum, Mogabgab further shares:

The transformation to which all Christians are called involves a new mind, a new knowledge, and a new life. Ordinarily we know and judge ourselves, others, and nature as we have been taught to know by a world steeped in selfish competition, distrust, impatience, and conceit. With the new mind, which is the mind of Christ, we know ourselves, other people, and things as we are known by God, who knows us with a love that is gentle, humble, and infinitely patient. This mind pries us for new knowledge – knowledge no longer shaped primarily be attention to what differentiates and divides, but by a vision of the unity and coherence of all reality, whose hidden wholeness is ground in Jesus Christ.

To know as we are known by a gracious and generative Creator, to discern the fundamental unity of all created rooted in the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ, is already to be living a new life. This is the new life in Christ imported to us at Baptism and reflected in fidelity to our baptism vows. What does the new life look like? The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once described Jesus as “the man for others.” When our new mind, formed by our new knowledge, leads us to live our life for others, then we too can say with St. Paul: “I live now not with my own life, but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). That remarkable claim is both the basis and the goal of all Christian spiritual renewal.

Spiritual growth occurs when we consciously and deliberately enter spaces in which obedience to truth can be practiced. Listening with one’s whole being to the loving voice of the God who is truth, and moving toward that voice in the freedom that love itself creates, stand at the center of the biblical understanding of obedience. To practice listening to this voice means both to acquire skill in such listening and to actually do it, as a doctor practices medicine. What are the spaces in which this work goes on? Times of silence and of prayer are among the most important. So is a chapter, story, sentence or even simply a word from scripture. A book, a poem, a piece of music, and adult study series, a youth program, or the liturgy of the Church can also be such spaces. So, too, can a senior living community, a prison, an inner city neighborhood, a rural parish. To enter spaces in which obedience to truth may be practiced draws us into the ancient rhythm of hearing and responding to God’s Word – a rhythm which has shaped and sustained Christian discipleship across the ages.

I commend to you the following documents which were part of this curriculum, annotated with a brief overview of each aspect of the program. Bear in mind that this was written in the 1980s with a pedagogy of lecture and discussion. Many of the texts for reading are classics, but there might be more contemporary texts available for substitution to gain a wider spectrum of voices.

Spiritual Growth Through the Liturgical Year: A Year Long Curriculum for Use with Adult Groups by John S. Mogabgab offers a variety of courses, beginning in Advent that includes a Sunday morning adult session and weekday evening sessions that involve the reading of scripture or texts by notable individuals such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Kenneth Leech, and Henri Nouwen.

A New Heart, A New Spirit: Dimensions of the Sacrament of Baptism by John S. Mogabgab is a six-week Sunday morning adult curriculum. Designed to be used during Lent, it is organized around a biblical text that illuminates one particular dimension of the grace we receive at Baptism. The course if designed to lead participants more deeply into the mystery of Baptism, thereby encouraging them to appropriate more fully and deliberately the gifts given in the sacrament of Baptism.

The Things That Make for Life: Meditations on the Baptismal Vows by John S. Mogabgab is a six-weekday evening adult curriculum. This is an opportunity for reflection on the meaning of the baptismal vows for our life and faith today. The long-standing disciplines of prayer with scripture, spiritual reading, and group sharing is employed to help participants explore the implications of renouncing evil in all its dimensions (cosmic, corporate, personal) and committing oneself to Jesus Christ through acceptance, trust, and obedience. It’s goal is that participants will gain a new appreciation for the call, the cost, and the joy of Christian discipleship.

Growing in Commitment: Exploring the Baptismal Covenant by Nancy Bonsignor offers suggestion for five sessions for older children and middle school youth that follows the questions of the Baptismal Covenant.

This Great Family: A Pageant about Baptism by the Rt. Rev. Morgan Porteus (the bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut at the time of the creation of this curricular program), Betina Butt, and Mariann Goslovich is a multi-generation script for a pageant to be performed within a service of the church. It is not meant to be used for a real baptism and includes characters such as John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. Francis, Thomas Cranmer, Samuel Seabury, and Noah an this family.

A Pilgrim’s Progress: A Contemporary Pageant about Baptism by Nancy Bonsignor is meant to be performed in an informal setting such as a parish hall at a coffee hour or parish supper. Participants are recommended to be teens or adults with characters such as: Bishop, Pilgrim, Christian, Selfish, Possessions, Discouragement, Courage, Needy, and Greedy. A children’s choir can take the part of Angels, Saints, and Heroes.

The Spiritual Life and Spiritual Guidance: A Bibliography by John S. Mogabgab is a very comprehensive list of texts (written pre-1980s) in the following categories: historical and systemic studies, classic spiritual texts from the Orthodox tradition, classical spiritual texts from the Western tradition, Ignatian Spirituality, spiritual guidance, prayer, reflections on the spiritual life, and the lives of the saints.

Creating Spaces in Which Obedience to Truth Can be Practiced by John S. Mogabgab is an introduction/essay to spiritual growth in parishes.

Environments for Listening by John S. Mogabgab offers a description and way to begin and maintain Bible study groups, covenant groups, retreats, and spiritual direction.

Header: Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

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