Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

Music and Memories

I Love to Tell the Story

I recently posted an article on Building Faith regarding the importance of teaching hymns and church music to children as a means to teach faith while creating memories that last a lifetime. (Building Faith is the new on-line community that I administer, which is probably why my postings on this site have diminished in recent months). For many of us, the Christmas season brings back lots of memories, and they are often triggered by music. Music brings us together and can create instant community; the recent flash mob in the mall in Philadelphia singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus has been a YouTube and Facebook phenomena.

This past Sunday my congregation held its annual Service of Lessons and Carols. We listened to the readings of the prophets as well as God’s announcements to Mary and Elizabeth. The church was filled as together we sung familiar hymns such as O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. The choir was was comprised of voices of all ages, some perhaps singing songs just learned and others singing ones learned long ago. My parents attended with us – and yes, my Alzheimer-stricken mom was singing away. Sometimes with the words – but definitely la-la-ing in her falsetto right on key. Music is a memory that stays with us.

The previous week my parents were at our home for the usual Wednesday night dinner. I don’t remember what our conversation was about; probably joking and talking about when grandchildren would be home for the holidays. Suddenly my mom began singing, I Love to Tell the Story.

Now this hymn was not part of my childhood repertoire and I did not learn it until I was an adult involved in Christian education. It’s not even in Hymnal 1982. (However, it is in Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal for the Episcopal Church.) The hymn had its first impact on me at a ground-breaking Episcopal Christian Ed conference in 2003 in which I participated as part of the design and implementation team – Will Our Faith Have Children? Christian Formation Generation to Generation – in Chicago. Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina was keynoting, and sang the song with a passion. I can still picturing him bouncing around the stage, his Bible (or Prayer Book) held high in his hand. The importance of being able to share the Christian story – the story of Jesus and His love for us – is at the core of what it means to pass on faith to the next generation.

Jump ahead 10 years, and my mom’s singing this song at my dining room table. We never knew she knew it. She was adamant that she learned it in Sunday School . . . the tiny Baptist chapel she walked to in her neighborhood (that part was from my memory of her stories from my childhood). The chapel still stands today in our town, now someone’s home. Whether it be Away in a Manger or Hark the Herald Angels Sing, wouldn’t we rather have our children sing these songs to the next generation instead of Jingle Bells or Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer?

How do you love to tell The Story?

How are we teaching our children hymns of their faith that will remain with them when we have long been gone?

A Road Warrior’s Critique

Miles to go before I sleep . . . but first some thoughts!

As many of you know, 30% of my position with Church Publishing involves travel. This week I am wrapping up the final conference I will be attending for 2010. (Hallelujah!) As I reflect back on a big year that brings me close to platinum status with Delta and with three years under my belt with CPI, I’m ready to share some perspectives about what makes a good Christian education conference. I’ve attended plenty of “acronym conferences” this year – NAECED, REC, APCE & CEF as well as some regional (Kanuga & WCEC), diocesan (too numerous to mention), and organizational ones (CEEP). I’ve given workshops at most of them, had a display of some sort at all of them, and even keynoted at a few. Having also had my fair share of being on a Design Team for many major events, I understand what it takes to put on a conference.

  • Hospitality – From registration to conclusion, how are participants greeted and included? Is water (with cups) readily available in a variety of areas . . . plenary space, workshops, exhibit hall? Are there opportunities and places for newcomers to gather in the evening to build new relationships? Do the planners hang out with each other or spend time with the participants? Lastly, is there light food available for those who may have traveled from a distance and are adjusting to a new time zone?
  • Plenary – What’s the purpose of having a keynoter or large group gathered? Does your speaker fit with your theme? I want to be fed. I want a speaker or keynoter who can tell a story and inspire me and make me think. This is part of every conference that I feel is for me, personally. Keep them short – no more than 1 hour (1.5 if there is small group conversation). And hopefully the person is not on the circuit selling his or her book.
  • Workshops – To me, this is the portion of any conference in which I want to take away practical, usable new ideas that I can take home and implement. I want to be respected by the presenter and be engaged, with an opportunity to ask questions and be in conversation with other participants. I don’t like sitting in rows to hear a lecture with or without a power point presentation. Again, I don’t want a sales pitch of a new product. And I like handouts – if you want to be green, (which is fine with me) e-mail them to me at the conclusion of the event.
  • Worship – This needs to feed me, too. And it’s got to include scripture, music, prayer and a reflection. Yes, I’m an Anglican – so all those parts need to be there or else it feels like a hymn sing, lecture, or “come to Jesus” event. And it doesn’t need to be long. Candles and contemplative centering are nice too, not necessary, but again, I’m a cradle Episcopalian.
  • Exhibit areas – Be open during free times – not during worship, plenary or workshops. And make them centrally located. Make sure booths have someone at them so I can ask questions. But I don’t want them to chase me down the aisle handing me something I will throw away when I get back to my room. And no music please – exhibitors don’t want to hear the same song played over and over for hours at a time (i.e. – the saxophonist at General Convention in 2006 & 2009).
  • Transportation – For those who need to take mass transportation (plane or train), share shuttle or taxi options in the registration or confirmation information. It’s part of hospitality. If you want me to come, make it easy for me to figure out how to get there.
  • Lodging – Check out the hotel or conference center ahead of time. Notify participants if they need to bring a hairdryer or soap (yes, I stayed in a retreat center that did not have any). And while all of our budgets have been downsized, you get what you pay for with a cheap rate. Check out Yelp! or Trip Advisor to learn what you’re in for.
  • The Schedule – Is there a schedule that is clear and consistent? Offer free time; it’s needed to digest all the presentations as well as care for one’s self. Having it after lunch gives an opportunity for a walk, checking out exhibits, or simply recharging one’s batteries after sitting most of the morning. And don’t keep changing it. And if you do, don’t forget to let the exhibitors know also.

I’m tempted to rate each event I’ve been to this year. But each of you know who you are and can figure out how you measure up.

A note to Design Teams about your exhibitors:

  • Get in touch with them far in advance.
  • Be clear about where stuff gets shipped to and when it needs to be there. And provide a means for stuff to get shipped back – at least a UPS pick-up.
  • Allow them to share meals with the participants.
  • Be open during free times – not during worship, plenary or workshops.
  • Tell us how many participants are expected – and be realistic.
  • Keep the hours short.
  • Lock the room when it is closed – or have a security guard that doesn’t let anyone in except during open hours.
  • Ask for feedback.
  • Be hospitable to them too.

Which conferences do you attend? What makes them “great” in your assessment? Where do you see need for improvement?

A Resurrection Community


Sunrise in Modesto - New beginnings for a diocese


This past weekend, I had the honor and privilege of participating in the annual convention for the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. This is one of those Episcopal dioceses who have remained Episcopal despite being abandoned by their bishop and many churches (who also “took” diocesan properties when they “left”). I first met these good people, the “faithful remnant” at their newly re-formed diocesan convention in 2008. What a difference two years makes!

In 2008, the diocese gathered for a “Homecoming” Convention at one of the remaining church buildings in Hanford, CA. It was a celebration of all those who had been marginalized in the past who could now come home to the faith and traditions they loved in The Episcopal Church. Food was plentiful in the largest pot-luck supper I had ever attended. Participants were hungry for resources and connections, having been starved in the past under their former leaders. There was a sense of joy, alongside bewilderment, as they began to learn what it means to be a welcoming church, inclusive to all in the fertile San Joaquin valley of California. That was then. This is now.

In 2010, the diocese gathered for workshops, General Convention discussions, exhibits, and worship. And meals (we ate very well with hospitality abounding and table fellowship). We met at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Modesto, CA, a church (building) that has recently been returned to the diocese via a California Supreme Court’s ruling. And it now houses a vibrant diocesan center under the warm pastoral presence of The Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb.

One of the ‘mottos’ of the diocese is that they are a resurrection community. This was truly exemplified at this year’s convention. Participants traveled from all over the diocese to attend; an expansive geography including mountains, desert, city and farming communities. Participants were still eager to make new connections and hear of new resources, but there was a context from which their questions (and answers) came from. They were no longer in the dark or wandering in the wilderness. Female clergy were noticeably present, as were deacons and members of the LGBT community – something that would not have occurred under the former regime (who are now part of the Anglican Province of Uganda).

They recognize their mission of serving Christ in the world – a mission of love for all people that was truly exhibited as they gathered as a diocesan family:

  • We are a resurrection community dedicated to living out our Baptisimal Covenant by:
  • Worshipping at the common table where all are fed, spiritually, physically, emotionally, and intellectually.
  • Intentionally welcoming, incorporating, and affirming all God’s people.
  • Honoring, developing, and celebrating the unique ministry of all the baptized.
  • Being the heart, hands, and feet of Christ in the world.

Convention concluded (before the last workshop and another meal) with Eucharist. The church was full as everyone’s voices were lifted in song. Clergy vested and processed . . . so many more than 2 years ago. The Rev. Canon Dr. Gregory Straub, Executive Officer and Secretary of General Convention preached on the readings for the day. Citing the Old Testament reading from Exodus, Canon Straub noted that the people of San Joaquin were no longer slaves in Egypt, but chose the hardship of wandering in the wilderness, following God’s pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, not knowing where they were being led. But following God led to new life as it continues to do so.

Leaving behind comfort to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ has brought this diocese to a new resurrection.

A Cry for Help

But the child’s sob in the silence curses deeper than the strong man in his wrath. Elizabeth Barrett Browning

It’s a troubling phenomenon: several gay teens have killed themselves in recent weeks after being harassed because of their sexuality. They were bullied. They were not accepted for who they were – children of God. As people of faith we are called to speak out against those who use their self-proclaimed power to intimidate, condemn, and belittle others. And it is important that we teach our children (of all ages) to respect others as Christ modeled in welcoming the stranger and embracing the outcast.

Our churches need to be safe places for adults, teens and children to learn how to practice tolerance; to understand our mission to respect the dignity of every human being. If the religious community can’t act and become a voice to all generations, we are just as guilty as those who cause the pain of others.

Some articles and resources to assist in the conversation. Don’t wait another day to begin the work. The lives of people (young and old) you know (and even more so, don’t know) depend on it.

Articles & Action:

Resources for Study and Conversation:

  • The documentary Bullied, produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center, will premiere today, Oct. 5, in Washington, D.C. Bullied tells the story of Jamie Nabozny, a Wisconsin student who fought back against anti-gay bullying. Kick off National Bullying Prevention Month by ordering your school’s free copy of Bullied here.
  • Download the Study Guide for Bullied, which gives a definition of bullying, how to identify someone who may be a victim, and how to assess your school (or church) environment.
  • The Trevor Project and It Gets Better website features video clips of LGBT adults sharing their own high school horror stories, while telling kids to stay alive because brighter days are coming. So far, there have been 131 videos posted and more than 300,000 views.
  • Bully Bust is a program to stand up to bullying and promote upstander behavior.
  • For the Bible Tells Me So is a film about the experiences of five very normal, very Christian, very American families – including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. Discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. Informed by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard’s Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech, A study guide is also available for further discussion.
  • Burst: Bullies and Mean Girls is a short-term study from Abingdon Press (United Methodist Church affiliation) for youth. It’s website also offers a variety of links including movies, books and other websites.
  • If You Really Knew Me is a program that began in July 2010 on Tuesday evenings on MTV. Yes – MTV. Watch the trailer to see how you might tap into this program with your youth.
  • The Golden Rule Pledge website offers bullying prevention resources for churches.
  • From the New York Times (Dec. 5, 2010): Cyber-Bulling and What a Parent Can Do

What resources, programs or action do you plan to engage in?

Making the Church Relevant

Mission in a Changing World and a Changing Church

According to the Book of Common Prayer (Outline of the Faith), the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

In the past several weeks, many Christian churches have rallied to speak out against extremist views from a minority of pulpit voices. Interfaith groups have gathered in prayer and vigil as a symbol of unity and respect for each faith traditions’ beliefs.

This week the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church are meeting in Arizona. (September 16 Press Release) There had been a cry that they should not be meeting in a state that has legislation that Jesus would have frowned upon . . . welcoming the stranger, caring for the needy, being merciful to those in trouble. So some of the bishops gathered before their 6-day meeting began to be a witness for those who have been caught (and died) in the battle over immigration on our nation’s borders. Listen to Bishop Kirk Smith of the Diocese of Arizona and view posted pictures on this site. Bishop Jim Curry (Diocese of Connecticut) spoke of The Dream Act and how everyone can contact their U.S. Senator as it comes up for a vote next week. Learn how here.

While this pre-trip may impact some of the work of this gathering, I have also been struck by a number of blogs and press releases that have come out of the first day of their meeting. For me, the bishops are being called back to reflect upon the mission of the church in today’s world. Some examples:

Bishop Tom Breidenthal (Diocese of Ohio) speaks of this meeting as one centered on mission in a changing world and a changing church.

Anne Rudig, Episcopal communicator, reported on a study of newcomers to The Episcopal Church. “Most are young adults straight out of college or beginning to raise families. They respond positively when they are welcomed warmly (with follow-up), are given plenty of opportunity to ask questions, and are offered ample opportunity for fellowship and community service. They generally love the richness of our worship tradition and appreciate our commitment to social justice.”

Ecumenical guest and partner, Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA addressed the bishops some comments about what the Church should be about today:

  1. Living the Gospel of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ by living the Christian life by following our Baptismal promises.
  2. Mission requires three kinds of listening: (a) listening to God; (b) listening to one another; (c) listening to the community that surrounds us.
  3. We need to revive a thorough knowledge of the Bible as part of our training in the Christian faith. How can we relive the language of the Bible as our mother-tongue?

Some snippets from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori‘s sermon at their opening worship: “We’re actually here to change some light sources – to figure out how to bring more light into a world in great need of it.  We are talking about how to be light to the nations in our myriad different contexts.  We’ll consider evangelism and liturgy – and yes, candles are very useful in some contexts – and we’ll look at light-bearing in the forms of leadership development, immigration reform, our care for creation, and healing the aftermath of the destruction in Haiti.” and “New contexts and new populations have always produced voices that insist on excluding the foreigner.  Jesus’ own understanding of his mission develops – the woman at the well convinces him that he’s supposed to serve all nations.  Ninian crossed into northern England and into some other contexts, even if he didn’t enter them all in the British Isles.  Europe is consumed right now with debates over the rights and place of Muslims in larger society.  The past ten days have brought a remarkable example of what a firestorm can be produced by a small mind in Florida.  The world was set ablaze with a message that most of us would not see as good news.  Imagine what kind of flame might be lit by a message that truly reflects the gospel!”

Bishop Ian Douglas of the Diocese of Connecticut asked questions that we might also engage in reflection about:

  • What is the new invitation that God has given us in a changing world?
  • What is God doing in my context?
  • What Biblical stories and images illuminate and inform my understanding of the changing context?
  • How can/will/do I respond to my changing contextual realties in light of my biblical reflections and my understanding of God’s mission?

What are your responses?