Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

STUFF 2013 cross-generational ministry . . . aka, ministry

 Given my current touring schedule, it will be some time before I am in a pulpit again.  Thus, it seems a good opportunity to reprint a few pieces I've written for various publications over the past few years.  
The theme for the Fall 2010 Issue of Connect Journal was "Cross-Generational Ministry," and my regular column is called "A View from Elsewhere."
Herewith my submission, with apologies for violations of contractual contracts etc . . .

Cross-Generational Ministry . . . a.k.a. Ministry

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, there was a strong message being sent in my congregation growing up in Niagara Falls, NY. 

Every year, there was one Sunday set aside as “Youth Sunday.”  This was the annual worship service where the youth group picked and played the hymns (hymns!), and read the lessons, and preached a sermon (by way of a skit, usually), and . . . well, of course there was no communion on Youth Sunday, so that was about it.  We’d plan for months, and we took pride in doing a good job for Youth Sunday.

So, the strong message I mentioned?  It was simply this: By picking one Sunday each year as Youth Sunday, the implication is that 51 Sundays of the year are not youth Sundays.  The very fact that one Sunday was set aside for the youth to participate tells everyone that 51 Sundays a year are off limits.

But there’s another implication in this as well.  Even though the youth only had the one Sunday each year devoted to full-on participation, it was obvious to everyone that the adults would not be participating on that particular annual Youth Sunday.  Never crossed our minds to encourage the adults to help us out with Youth Sunday.  I mean, they’re not youths, right?

And the point I’m trying to make is this . . .

Everyone knows that adults misunderstand and exclude youth from “churchy” things.  Everyone knows that young people rebel in order to show that they’re capable of independence, and need freedom and all that.  But it seems to kind of slip past us to consider the other side of that denarius.

It’s not often that young people take time to consider what life is like for people their parents’ age.  I know that’s true, because I was young once myself, believe it or not.  It never crossed my mind to consider that the adults around me might be suffering just as badly if not worse than I was.  The myopia wasn’t my fault, of course, but still the case all the same.

But here’s the point I want to make: Youth leaders often play into this system of separation and alienation by having things intentionally geared toward youth.  No adults allowed, and the assumption is, no adults would want to be allowed.  On the other hand, what if youth workers made a point of inviting adults to some youth group events and activities?  What if the adults were invited to come along on the ski trip, with the understanding that they are guests, not the chaperones?  What if on Youth Sunday we let a couple adults do something crazy like, say, light the candles?  What if the other 51 Sundays we let the youth pick the music sometimes?  Or, better yet, what if we just allowed everyone to participate in everything?  You know, as if there were no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, young or old? 

And yes yes, I know plenty of churches are doing just this kind of thing.  I just wish that when I was in youth group someone would’ve thought to treat me like a fully included baptized child of God, rather than a member of . . . what’s the word I’m looking for?  Special interest group perhaps?  Treating young people like adults might actually lead to young people treating adults like kids.  And, I have to say, there’s something to be said for that.  There’s a lot to be said for that!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

STUFF 2013 the church i want to see

Given my current touring schedule, it will be some time before I am in a pulpit again.  Thus, it seems a good opportunity to reprint a few pieces I've written for various publications over the past few years.  
The theme for the Fall 2012 Issue of Connect Journal was "The Church I Want to See," and my regular column is called "A View from Elsewhere."
Herewith my submission, with apologies for violations of contractual contracts etc . . .

The Church I Want to See

The Church I want to see . . . is a broad topic indeed.  But, as with any topic, it starts with clarifying our terms of discussion.  From the get-go, there’s that pesky first letter.  If it’s capitalized, we go in one direction; if it’s not, we go in an another.  If we’re talking Church with a capital C, then quite frankly it’s none of my business to be saying what it should be.  Because--in my own view, anyway--that’s God’s business.  The big C Church will be what God wants it to be, with or without our help, thank you very much. 

And, as for the small c church, well, that’s also none of my business unless it’s the one where I am spending my Sunday mornings.  Your church may look completely un-awesome to me (for reasons that might surprise you, honestly), but that’s none of my beeswax, as Junie B. Jones might say. 

Since I am an Episcopal priest, it is my bounden duty to talk about a “middle way,” a middle C/c Church/church that is neither one nor the other, but is a via media.  Lutherans tend to hold two opposing views in tension; Anglicans seeks a “middle way,” and my own opinions on the implications of those broad brush strokes are a matter for a different essay (which also might surprise you).

So, what is the C(c)hurch I’d like to see?  Well, for starters, it’s one where those two cases are the same thing--big C and little c sitting together, like in a Dr. Seuss book.  By that I mean, a place where my local church is reflecting the broader Church.  (Big C, little c, what begins with C?)  Obviously, that is such an exaggerated broad stroke that it seems like I’m finger painting.  So, let me just cut to the Jackson Pollack method here and throw some C’s at the wall, which was my pasta-cooking method in my earlier days . . .

Continuity:  The Kingdom is a place where all are welcome, and all participate, without regard to any of the walls and barriers and distinctions we throw up to make ourselves feel special or chosen.  When we strive for that ideal in our little postage stamp of a church, we are connected to the Church of every time and every place, continuing to be part of the Church, whatever form it may take.

Community:  Whether or not I like you, or want you to be there, you are in the boat with me, and since it’s a lifeboat, throwing you out would require a really good justification.  I mean, on the level of, you’re actively drilling holes in the boat.  In the best-case scenario, we do not choose our faith community, as though we were selecting a fitness club.  If it’s in our hands, we will likely choose a community that makes our life easier, and that just ain’t right.

Cool-Free Zone:  Let’s face it, the reason many people go church shopping is because they want a place that’s cool.  Most churches are not cool, by any stretch, and many “new” churches strive to be cool above all else.  Sacraments, and hymn singing, and liturgy are decidedly uncool.  And trying to make them cool suggests we are trying to create something other than church, to be blunt about it.  Jesus was not cool.  Jesus was not aloof or indifferent or part of the “in crowd,” no matter how much your local Christian radio station may try to tell you otherwise.

The church I want to see, in essence, is the church that has always been there.  The place that seems foreign to our daily life, not trying to imitate it.  The place that welcomes people who are not welcome anyplace else.  The place that does what Luther says defines the church:  administer the sacraments and preach the gospel . . . Which two criteria seem increasingly rare, in my experience. 

Mainly, the church I want to see is the church that is made up of every type of person in the local community.  One where everyone is welcome, everyone hears the good news, and everyone can experience the gifts of grace in water, bread, and wine.  I guess when it comes down to it, I’m just sort of an old-fashioned kind of guy.

George Baum is exactly one half of the band, Lost And Found (www.speedwood.com), an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Ohio, the father of two, and the husband of one.