Category Archives: Faith & Culture

Empty Pews?

lonechildinpewsIt’s been awhile since I’ve written here; I’ve been busy writing and editing some great projects coming out this Fall and early 2017. Stay tuned on that front.

Meanwhile a new “program” year has begun in our churches, with families returning after a summer hiatus of skipping worship to sleep-in, vacation, or simply doing other things. And hopefully they have returned, along with all the others who have been absent the past few months as October rolls around. With the oncoming Fall and schools back in session, everyone is eager to “begin anew,” making a commitment, at least for a few months to come to church on a more regular basis.

One of the projects that I have been working on (which has taken much longer than I anticipated) is the dissemination of a Curriculum Survey that was distributed across cyberspace in June 2016. Almost 900 individuals took the survey, with 270 taking the time to also share their thoughts in the comment areas provided. And wow – there was a lot to be said.

A few stats first: 70% of the respondents were associated with an Episcopal church, 30% from other denominations; all shared the same themes, needs, and concerns. 87% have some sort of children’s ministry program (75% youth and 75% adult). That sounds amazing. However, 82% of the congregations have 50 or fewer children who regularly attend a Sunday school program. And 50% of the churches have less than 10 middle schoolers and less than 10 high schoolers participating in youth programs. 68% of the congregations who offer adult education programming reported to having less than 30 individuals who regularly participate in those offerings. Continue reading Empty Pews?

The Cones of Shame

14th Sunday after Pentecost: August 21, 2016
Luke 13:10-17             Psalm 71:1-6

shame pointing-fingerIn you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
let me never be ashamed.
In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free;
incline your ear to me and save me.

“Ryan Lochte locks down spot in Olympic hall of shame.” So headlines an article in the Houston Chronicle in a report from Rio. The first lines stated, “Congratulations to Ryan Lochte for winning the final race of his Olympic career: the race for most embarrassing athlete.” The U.S. has had plenty of embarrassing athletes before: Tonya Harding and her goon squad in 1994; the American hockey players who trashed their village room in 1998. But Lochte and his three swimming buddies managed to not only embarrass our country, they humiliated the host country in the process, not to mention themselves.

As a noun, shame is a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. As a verb, we think of its use as when we humiliate, mortify, embarrass, chasten, or “cut down to size” another person.

An early memory of feeling shame for me comes from my grandmother when I was a child – about 8 years, I guess. I don’t quite recall the full incident, but I must have been talking back to my mother in a very hurtful, hateful way in the presence of my grandmother. Later when she was alone with me she told me how disappointed she was with me and how horrible it was for me to speak to my mother in that way. She was visibly upset with what I had said. I don’t recall what I did next, but that feeling of shame and sorrow remain with me as a visual and visceral memory. I had been called out for something I had done, by someone I had loved. It was shame given with love, meant to make me notice that my actions had broken – or at least splintered – an important relationship. Continue reading The Cones of Shame

Trust & Prayer: In Gods or Idols?

A sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, CT.

  • The Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 4, Year C
  • 1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39
  • Luke 7:1-10

Where do you put your trust? What helps you to pray?

saint-joe-statue-kitAbout a year ago a friend in Columbia, SC bought a little St. Joseph statue and buried it — deep and upside down — next to the “For Sale” sign on his front lawn. Now Roger is a faithful guy who has worked in church settings all his life. But he was not going to take any chances. His house had to sell. He had just accepted a new position in Houston and couldn’t rent a house for his family there while also making mortgage payments on a house they no longer lived in. So he followed the ritual of purchasing St. Joseph off the Internet to ensure his house sold. He was taking no chances, and wanted to play the odds in every way he could to make sure he would come out a winner. And of course he prayed. A lot. But just in case, perhaps St. Joseph would intercede for him with God in bringing the right buyer to the front door. He was willing to put his trust into just about anything if it would sell his house. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Continue reading Trust & Prayer: In Gods or Idols?

Talking Faith & Sex with Middle Schoolers

TAOBMiddleLeaderA little while back I wrote about a forthcoming book that will serve as the foundation for a new educational resource entitled, These Are Our Bodies: Talking Faith & Sex at Church & Home by Leslie Choplin and Jenny Beaumont to be published in August 2016. In upcoming seasons there will be additional modules published for a variety of age levels in which to “live out” the call that this foundation book seeks to serve.

The Middle School module of These Are Our Bodies also debuts with the foundation book. This module, written by Jenny Beaumont and Abbi Long,  includes three components: A Leader Guide, Parent Book, and Participant Book. This module has ten sessions for middle-schoolers (and two for their parents) to facilitate discussion, deepen knowledge, integrate sexuality and faith, and equip youth and parents to handle the pressures of culture and peers. Continue reading Talking Faith & Sex with Middle Schoolers

Resurrection and Transformation

laundry-basket-webA sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, CT on the 4th Sunday of Easter, based on Acts 9:36-43.

There was a conference at Virginia Seminary this past Friday and Saturday called “Missional Voices.” It was a gathering of Episcopalians from around the church who have a vision of living into becoming a missional church again, much like the early church.

Missional ministry is defined by its advocates as:

“a Christian community that crosses boundaries to embody and participate in God’s mission – loving the world into wholeness – in all that we do: prayer, worship, preaching, teaching, loving service, and daily life.”

Listening to the conference being live streamed Friday, I heard details about a growing missional initiative called Laundry Love. Its founder, a former drug addict and homeless guy, named Christian Kassoff, was one of the presenters. Fully tattooed and pierced, he was nervous talking in front of an audience, but his demeanor calmed as he began to tell the story of Laundry Love.

Christian talked about his hard past and about his love/hate affair with organized Christianity. It was in living at the edges with others who are followers of Christ that he found wholeness, not in a church building. After finding sobriety, he met “T-Bone,” a homeless gentleman living in Ventura, California and regularly visited with him on the street. In one particular conversation, Christian asked, “T-Bone, how can I come alongside your life in a way that would matter?” T-Bone’s response was honest and practical. “If I had clean clothes I think people would treat me like a human being.” Continue reading Resurrection and Transformation