Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

A move to part-time clergy sparks innovation in congregations

Posted on: July 25th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

Layperson Muriel Dufendach, left, shares a laugh with the Rev. Carol Walton after a service at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Henderson, Nevada. Dufendach  carries out some traditionally priestly functions, such as presiding at the weekday Eucharist.  Photo by Ronda Churchill

Journalist and UCC minister

Although church leaders often worry that switching from full-time to part-time clergy will lead to decline, congregations across the country are finding new vitality by reimagining the roles of clergy and laypeople.

Editor’s note: Research for this story was funded by The BTS Center, a Maine-based think tank focused on 21st-century faith communities. It included visits to nearly two dozen vital mainline congregations that have shifted from full- to part-time clergy.

Adjusting to life without a full-time pastor has become a pressing challenge for thousands of congregations in mainline Protestant denominations across the country.

Shrinking attendance and ever-leaner budgets have forced churches to pare back the pastorate, and many wonder how effective ministry can happen when clergy are working just 30, 20 or 10 hours a week for the church.

Relearning how to do effective congregational ministry with part-time clergy is no easy task, and denominational officers have no easy answers. The traditional model for mainline churches relies on full-time clergy, and it can be difficult to envision a thriving congregation with a part-time pastor.

“It’s the white, old-line that is having to make the adjustment,” said E. Brooks Holifield, professor emeritus of American church history at Emory University and the author of “God’s Ambassadors: A History of the Christian Clergy in America.”

“The transition is being felt most deeply by churches that had an expectation of a full-time clergyperson who devoted all of his or her time to the church. In other groups and other traditions, that expectation was not always there.”

More and more congregations are likely to face this issue. According to the National Congregations Study, nearly 40 percent of mainline Protestant congregations had no full-time paid clergy in 2012.

In your role, how can you encourage congregations to view considering a transition to part-time ministry as an opportunity for renewed ministry rather than as a defeat or failure?

Yet not all congregations struggle after transitioning to a part-time pastor. Dozens have found vitality by avoiding pitfalls that have caused other churches to stumble when making the shift. As more churches go part time, instructive stories are emerging.

“They recognize their reality that they can’t afford a full-time pastor, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to have a ministry,” said Darren Morgan, the associate conference minister for the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ, where 68 percent of the 156 congregations have no full-time clergy.

“The leadership within those churches is strong. They say, ‘We’re not going to be a weak church. We’ll be a strong, small church.’”

Some see it as recovering an ancient tradition for a new time.

“We’re doing things kind of the way the early Christians did before they built churches,” said Mark Raymond, a member of New Sharon Congregational Church (UCC) in New Sharon, Maine, where a handful of laypeople take turns leading worship around a table each week. “There’s more of that spirit,” he said.

The research for this story shows that vitality in those “strong, small churches” doesn’t look the same in every congregation.

Signs of vitality can include growing average Sunday attendance, increasing engagement in ministries, expanding community outreach or some combination. All the congregations featured here have stabilized church finances since going part time and have taken steps to reinvigorate ministries.

Three models have emerged that illustrate how vital churches are making the adjustment: the pastor as equipper of laypeople, the pastor as ambassador and the pastor as team member.

Pastor as equipper of laypeople, not provider of services

With part-time ministries, denominational leaders see a common problem. The pastor has diminished capacity for ministry, and parishioners don’t pick up the slack. Much of what the church once had to offer gets lost or hollowed out.

Vital churches, however, head off this problem by rethinking the pastor’s role. She or he becomes less a provider of religious services and more an equipper of laypeople to perform duties that had previously fallen to clergy.

What might this broader shift to part-time clergy contribute to our understanding of the ordained ministry and of lay ministry?

These congregations are reclaiming dormant threads in their denominational traditions and finding meaning in the process.

Consider the Episcopal Church, where 48 percent of congregations have no full-time paid clergy, up from 43 percent five years ago. Lay Episcopalians are reclaiming ministries they’ve long been authorized to do but seldom did when full-time clergy were around.

If part-time clergy encourage laypeople to take responsibility and experiment, congregants can learn to spread their wings.

At St. Columba’s Church in Kent, Washington, for example, average Sunday attendance has grown 44 percent (from 55 to 79) since its pastorate went part time in 2014. New ministries to raise vegetables for the hungry and shelter homeless men have taken off since then, parishioners say, in part because part-time vicar the Rev. Alissabeth Newton doesn’t try to “run the show,” as founding church member Bob Ewing put it.


Volunteers at St. Columba’s take on ministries such as raising vegetables for the hungry. Photo courtesy of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church

“What I found,” said Micah Kurtz, a young father who used to attend a nearby megachurch, “was an openness to let people own things and say, ‘Hey, why don’t we try this? It might meet your skills. Give it a shot.’” Kurtz is now an active member at St. Columba’s, where he oversees the Just Garden ministry.

In vital churches, priests may defer to laypeople to carry out some traditionally priestly functions. At St. Timothy’s Church in Henderson, Nevada, laypeople sometimes preside at funerals and always at the two weekday Eucharist services.

Laywoman Muriel Dufendach distributes elements consecrated the prior Sunday by the congregation’s priest-in-charge, the Rev. Carol Walton, who sits in a pew and receives with everyone else.


Layperson Muriel Dufendach, right, serves Communion to the Rev. Carol Walton during a Lenten service at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. Photo by Ronda Churchill

“Laypeople can do an awful lot of stuff in the church,” Dufendach said. And Walton, who serves 24 hours a week, is happy to accommodate.

“I’m not going to take over something that a layperson has been doing, because I think that’s part of vitality: having ministry that people want to do,” Walton said.

Sometimes laypeople have gifts just waiting for an outlet — and for permission to use them. At Christ Church in Bethel, Vermont, 10 of the 20 members of the congregation take turns preaching. That lightens the load for their volunteer priest, the Rev. Shelie Richardson, who works full time as an insurance agent and preaches just a few times a year.

Not every church has such a stable of talent ready to go, but some congregations are addressing this by making the part-time pastorate into a trainer’s role. This works especially well in a three-quarters-time arrangement, where the pastor can satisfy some congregational needs and still have time to train laity to do parts of his or her job.

For example, at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Tacoma, Washington, the Rev. Peter Mohr uses a portion of his three-quarters-time role to equip laity for functions he used to fulfill.

He meets with Bible study leaders once a month and then leaves the teaching to them. Rather than preaching every Sunday, he meets with congregants who fill in, answering questions they might have about texts or interpretations.

At St. John’s Episcopal Church in Gloucester, Massachusetts, full-time priests used to maintain an active presence around town, inviting people to church, but times have changed.

At 30 hours a week, the Rev. Bret Hays lacks the time for that. Instead, he has trained congregants in a multiweek workshop to be lay evangelists. And like many coping strategies, this approach yields additional benefits.

“It’s not just a strategy of equipping the laity,” Hays said. “It’s also a strategy to respond to the phenomenon that makes an invitation from a layperson count for much more than an invitation from a priest.”


At St. Columba’s Church in Kent, Washington, average Sunday attendance has grown since its pastorate went part time in 2014. Photo courtesy of Daniel Hershman/St. Columba

Pastor as ambassador through strategic use of time

A second type of challenge arises when churches cut clergy hours back to part-time and then fall, sometimes unwittingly, into an insular chaplaincy situation. Pastors spend the little time they have leading Sunday worship and visiting the sick, so that they’re left with no time for anything else.

“But what we know for vital congregations — those that are having an impact on their communities, are growing and have increased access to resources — is that a pastor needs to be doing less visiting and more leading and engagement externally with their local community,” said the Rev. Sara Anderson of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Some congregations have avoided the chaplaincy model by counterintuitively revamping the part-time pastorate to make sure it includes more time, not less, for community engagement.

Since switching to part-time five years ago, St. John’s Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Washington, has doubled average Sunday attendance, from 25 to 50. It’s seeing newcomers from nonfaith, Buddhist and Mormon backgrounds, among others. The church has boosted mission giving from zero to 7 percent of the budget over that period.

The Rev. Joe Smith envisions his three-fifths-time pastorate as St. John’s ambassador. And he gets creative with it. He sometimes stands at the curb at rush hour and waves to commuters passing the church. He visits Boy Scout troops as they meet at St. John’s and organizes Scout Sundays, which bring dozens of scouts and their families to worship.

“There was no playbook at all” for how to do part-time ministry effectively, Smith said. “Without it being a circus or too much of a publicity stunt, you do whatever you can to have people in the church, because the critical mass is important. If people come into what feels like an empty space, they won’t come back.”

Down the road in an East Tacoma public housing development, Salishan Eastside Lutheran Mission gathers a self-reliant flock of 15 or 20 for worship in the Holy Family of Jesus Cambodian Episcopal Church.

For worship, the group needs nothing from its pastor, authorized lay minister Lauren Vignec, except a sermon (and sometimes the Cambodian priest covers that part, too). Congregants handle everything else. Therefore, when he’s not on his day job as a financial adviser, Vignec can pour his ministry time into community outreach.

He finds plenty to do. One day he’s delivering emergency food from World Vision to homes in the neighborhood. The next day he’s visiting one of three local casinos, where he tells people he’s a pastor and lets the conversations flow.

Several times a year, Vignec organizes a Salishan “dance church” called Fear No Evil, where street dancers compete before a judging panel. It draws more than 100 dancers and spectators, including many young African-American, Latino and Native American men.


Winners of a dance contest sponsored by Salishan Eastside Lutheran Mission. The event is part of the pastor’s outreach. Photo courtesy of Salishan Eastside Lutheran Mission

Vignec is on a dance team and takes his turn competing. Between rounds, he delivers Scripture readings and a sermon, usually about resolving conflict or managing mental illness.

“The really cool stuff we’re doing here, like with dance church — I don’t think this would be possible in a normal relationship between a normal pastor and a normal church board,” Vignec said. “The reason why I’m capable of even trying this stuff is because they just told me, ‘Lauren, do whatever you want to do to revitalize this church. Just try it.’”


Pastor Lauren Vignec participates in the “dance church” as a member of a dance team. Photo courtesy of Salishan Eastside Lutheran Mission

In Vignec’s experience, mainline churches often get the part-time model wrong.

“They think of it like, ‘We can have a 15-hour-a-week pastor, because it will take 15 hours to do all the things we want the pastor to do.’

“No, no, no, no, no,” he said. “The church should do those things and let the pastor do something to bring in new people to the church, however that is going to work. And there are a ton of different ways to make it work.”

Sometimes, new experiments require letting go of what had been expected duties. Unlike her full-time predecessors, the Rev. Linda Brewster of Tuttle Road United Methodist Church in Cumberland, Maine, doesn’t attend committee meetings. And once a month, laypeople take over preaching.

With that carved-out time, Brewster, who works full time as a nurse practitioner, tries new types of outreach. Overall, the approach is working. Average Sunday attendance at Tuttle Road has doubled, from 30 to 60, since the church went part time three years ago.

One successful outreach experiment: Messy Grace. Around 5 p.m. on Saturday afternoons once a month, families with young kids who don’t otherwise go to church stop by for a 10-minute taste of worship, followed by music, supper and an environmental lesson, such as gardening or composting.


Children take part in Messy Grace, an informal ministry for young families. Photo courtesy of Tuttle Road UMC

For parents and kids who attend, Messy Grace has become their church.

“We had a wonderful baptism,” Brewster said. “We had a pool of water with some white ducks in it. People sang ‘Wade in the Water’ and danced down the aisle. They wouldn’t have done that during Sunday morning worship, but for some reason they would do it on Saturday afternoon.”


The Rev. Linda Brewster, second from right, talks with families involved in Messy Grace. Photo courtesy of Tuttle Road UMC

Pastor as team member, sharing the pastorate with other part-timers

When cash-strapped congregations do whatever it takes to retain a full-time pastor, they sometimes court a burnout situation. A disproportionate share of the budget — and consequently, the ministry expectations — land on one person who can become overworked and unhappy.

In such situations, switching to part-time clergy, where the pastorate is joyfully shared among multiple part-time staff, can be enlivening.

Clarendon Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Arlington, Virginia, for example, can afford a full-time pastor but has strategically opted not to do so.

Before Clarendon made its pastorate part-time in 2012, burnout was a real problem.

“Everything fell on the pastor’s shoulders, from running copies of Sunday morning bulletins to changing burned-out lightbulbs,” said the Rev. David Ensign. He said he told his board the model wasn’t helping the congregation, and “it was killing me.”

The solution: Ensign volunteered to go half time and let the savings go toward hiring a part-time administrative assistant. The change has renewed Ensign’s ministry by delivering less clerical work and more time for family, guitar and other creative pursuits.

The arrangement has helped the congregants as well. The new staffer handles administrative issues related to rental units owned by the church, a job that congregants once had to do.

Are you aware of congregations considering this transition for missional reasons as opposed to economic ones?

With more time for what’s fun and meaningful, people like Ron Bookbinder are more engaged in the Clarendon ministries they care about, such as writing pastoral care letters and going on a mission trip to help flood victims in West Virginia.

“The message I get from the change is that we can be open,” said Bookbinder, a ruling elder in the church. “We can do new things. We can focus on what we’re really good at. And we can explore — try something different.”

Other congregations are trying a similar approach. Since First United Methodist Church in Hudson, Massachusetts, went part time in 2015, 10 new members have joined, and lay-led classes are thriving.

With those successes and others, some hope the pastorate will become full-time again soon. But the Rev. Rosanne Roberts, a retiree on Medicare, said hiring another part-time employee to work with children and families would be better stewardship.

“As soon as it became clear that we would be ending the year in the black, someone on the finance team said, ‘Oh, great! We can move you up to three-quarters-time or back to full-time,’” Roberts said. “I said, ‘No! You’re forgetting it’s not just the salary.’”

Having a full-time pastor would put the church on the hook for health insurance premiums, she pointed out. “And we’d be in trouble all over again.”

Willing and able laity

One key to all three models is the congregation. Motivated laypeople are instrumental to both the vision and the execution. From leading worship to pastoral care, their new roles are inextricably linked to their congregation’s destiny.

“In order to be successful, the laity have to be willing and able to do this,” said Morgan of the UCC’s Maine Conference.

How might denominational structures and assumptions have to change to recognize the increasing number of part-time or non-paid clergy?

They’re proving they can step up, learn and lead. In the process, pastorates are becoming more distributed across entire congregations and less confined to one individual.

Whether growing vegetables for the hungry, reaching out to the church’s neighbors, presiding at services or sharing administrative duties, the clergy and laity of successful congregations are working together in new — or rediscovered — ways. They are reframing the part-time pastorate, allowing new vitality to emerge. And their stories hold lessons for congregations across the country.

Questions to consider

  • In your role, how can you encourage congregations to view considering a transition to part-time ministry as an opportunity for renewed ministry rather than as a defeat or failure?
  • What might this broader shift to part-time clergy contribute to our understanding of the ordained ministry and of lay ministry?
  • How might denominational structures and assumptions have to change to recognize the increasing number of part-time or non-paid clergy?
  • Are you aware of congregations considering this transition for missional reasons as opposed to economic ones?
  • What support do part-time clergy need to sustain their vocations? What support do laity need during and after such transitions? Is your organization able to offer these resources?

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Alban at Duke Divinity School, Alban Weekly, July 24, 2017

‘Be the bee’: The beehive as a metaphor for life in Christian community

Posted on: July 20th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Martin Marklin examines one of his 150 beehives near his liturgical candlemaking business in Contoocook, New Hampshire.  Photo courtesy of Casey Atkins

 

When liturgical candle maker Martin Marklin became curious about the creatures making the wax he used in his business, he found his life and work transformed. In this 5-minute video, Marklin explains what bees can teach us about living as Christians.

The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others.

— St. John Chrysostom

Martin Marklin took up beekeeping as a sideline to his main business producing thousands of handcarved liturgical candles each year at the Marklin Candle (link is external) workshop in Contoocook, New Hampshire. Beekeeping became its own vocation, however, and the more Marklin learned about the life of bees, the more he saw the ways in which the beehive reflects the early church.

 

Questions to consider

  • Martin Marklin says he became interested in beekeeping when he realized he “had no idea how the bees did what they did.” What aspects of your work are you curious about? How might exploring those areas open up your imagination? Is there any anxiety you need to overcome to do this?
  • Marklin says the bee community “is reflective of how the early church was.” Do you see powerful metaphors for the church around you?
  • In what ways do you “labor for others”? Is that a useful mindset in your organization?
  • As a candle maker, Marklin derives joy from knowing that the work of his hands becomes “the light of Christ in the world.” Do you see your work in that way? Could you?
  • Markin urges everyone to “be the bee” — to find beauty and transform it into something even more beautiful. Are there places in your life and work where you can do that?_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, July 20, 2017

Allen T. Stanton: What can the rural church offer a declining community? Hope

Posted on: July 19th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Photo illustration Bigstock / Arrant Pariah / Rubio

Allen Stanton
Rural church fellow, Institute for Emerging Issues

Many rural communities face decline. The church has a unique ability to stand in the hard realities and still preach hope, writes a rural pastor.

About a year and a half ago, I met with a group of pastors, nonprofit leaders and laypeople to talk about how the rural church could strengthen its impact in the community.

We started by sharing stories about the needs that we saw: high poverty, few jobs and limited education. We also talked about what we saw working in the community, like the way the farmers market had begun accepting SNAP benefits.

Finally, we discussed what we thought each group could bring to the table, ending with the question, “What can the church do for the community?”

This is familiar territory for me, since I serve as a rural church pastor in North Carolina and previously worked in public policy.

What surprised me was that the most theological insight came not from any of the pastors but from the county planner.

In a struggling community, she said, where everyone is craving better days, the church does not have the luxury of pessimism. The church has a responsibility to cultivate an atmosphere of hope.

Her frame of reference was practical. After all, a hopeful and optimistic community is more likely to entice new businesses or attract potential residents.

But I think her comments also had a deeper theological meaning. In a community of decline, hope becomes countercultural. While it would be wrong to foster a false sense of optimism or to promise that manufacturing and young adults will return, the church has a unique ability to stand in the hard realities and still preach hope.

After all, our faith is rooted in a hope that comes even while staring at the face of death. We believe that hope persists even when our data and statistics tell us otherwise.

Chatham County, where I serve, benefits from its proximity to the Research Triangle in North Carolina. Still, large swaths of the county are impoverished, and many of the small towns farther from the ever-expanding suburbs are struggling. My parishioners, like their neighbors, are not immune.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my lay leaders and I shared a five-hour car ride. During the drive, she told her story of starting a small business. Like many during the Great Recession, she lost her job when her position was eliminated. Along with her husband and son, she started a business making and selling jerky. They perfected a recipe and began producing the jerky in a community kitchen.

She learned how to get a small-business loan for rural entrepreneurs and how to pass a USDA inspection. Eventually, the product was stocked in retail stores across the state.

She said that she thought it would be worthwhile for her to help others learn to create effective business plans. After all, hers was successful, and she knew what it took. She could share that know-how with others.

Slowly, the conversation wound its way back to our church. We thought about all the resources in our small parish. In my congregation, we have retired teachers, small-business owners, nurses, scientists, a retired farmer and a salesman, among others.

Many other organizations, we realized, worked hard to amass a group like that. For us, though, it’s just our church. We gather at least once a week to show the world exactly what a community looks like.

As we drove, we dreamed about how our congregation might leverage those resources to help our community. We imagined what it would mean to deepen our participation in the conversation on the future of our county.

What if we could help others develop skills? Or connect people to job opportunities? Recently, we received a funded summer fellow from a secular nonprofit with whom we had previously partnered. With that resource, we hope to move those dreams toward reality by creating sustainable plans to capitalize on our existing partnerships.

I am convinced that churches can and should learn a discipline of evangelism that confronts difficult realities yet still teaches the hope that God is at work in our world. On the surface, it might feel weird to talk about evangelism in places of decline, particularly since many rural communities are struggling with a shrinking population.

At its core, though, evangelism is about inviting people to participate in the kingdom of God, to see and experience what Christ is doing in the world around us, with us and through us. Our rural churches have the ability to present good news — to offer hope — in places that have given up on it.

Before I began my pastorate, I worked for a public policy organization that linked statewide resources to rural churches. In my conversations with those policymakers, advocates and nonprofits, I always heard the same thing: we need churches to be at the table.

As a small-church pastor, I’ve discovered just how serious those voices were. My congregation lacks the resources of a tall-steeple church; I am keenly aware that I am the single largest expense of our budget.

Yet other organizations and community leaders constantly remind me of the value that churches hold in community development.

A local food bank requested our fellowship hall for a food distribution program, because we have a large, centrally located building with willing volunteers. Youth empowerment agencies have asked what works in our church, because our small parish offers our youth space to exercise leadership, fostering their self-worth and highlighting their potential.

Community leaders recognize the value of the rural church, whether for securing the faith community’s support for a bill that funds grants to rural convenience stores or providing volunteers for a community outreach initiative.

Usually, these conversations and partnerships come about simply — arranging a phone call with another organization, talking to a community leader over coffee. Oftentimes, organizations already have programs designed to include churches in the conversation, and they are eager to bring new congregations into what is already happening.

In that car ride with my entrepreneurial congregant, I once again recognized what that county planner had implored me to see: our small congregation has a lot to offer our community, because we can offer hope. When rural churches embody and give that hope, we provide leadership in even the most challenging of settings. And that, I am convinced, is a worthy and needed ministry.

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Alban at Duke Divinity, Alban Weekly, July 17, 2017

Episcopal Church of Cuba working with communities to transform lives

Posted on: July 18th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Posted on: July 18, 2017

Photo Credit: Ang All

En Espanol

The Anglican Alliance has been on a fact finding mission to the Episcopal Diocese of Cuba to learn more about its mission and development programme. In every part of the Communion, the Anglican Alliance seeks to understand local models of holistic mission which can be shared for mutual inspiration and learning. In this article Revd Rachel Carnegie, Co-Executive Director, and Dr Paulo Ueti, Regional Facilitator from Latin America, reflect on their visit:

Bishop Griselda Delgado’s eyes light up as she remembers a turning point in her ministry many years ago in her former parish, Santa Maria Virgen de Itabo. She describes an elderly lady, Claribel, in the community. The church helped her with seeds and encouragement to grow her own tomatoes.

“The neighbours then asked if they could share Claribel’s tomatoes,” Bishop Griselda recalls. “Claribel called them to learn how to seed and cultivate their own tomatoes. This spread out across the community. They started to transform the land and learned new things. When they had surplus, they learned how to preserve and sell. The next step was to build a seed bank to achieve self-sustainability.”

“This is an example of how to work with people to transform their lives, their way of thinking and to plan their future. They learned about things which they did not know they had. For me this is actually the Gospel – to open the doors [of the church] and transform minds, land and spirit,” Bishop Griselda added.

Bishop Griselda later brought this vision of community transformation to the diocese and developed a new programme of mission and development. This sits within the wider vision for the Episcopal Diocese of Cuba, which states: “We seek to become a church that, united in diversity, celebrates, evangelises, teaches, serves and shares God’s love.”

The diocese’s mission seeks “to serve Christ in all people by proclaiming, teaching and living the Gospel, hoping to achieve human and spiritual growth; focusing on the needs of the Cuban family.”

A key part of the diocese’s missional expression is its Integral (Missionary) Development Programme, which was inaugurated in 2013. Its focus is on training and equipping local leaders for integral community development.

Jose (Pepe) Bringas, Programme Coordinator, explained that the first trainings challenged people to consider their context and their needs and how they could bring about changes. This form of asset-based community development sees the Church moving beyond models of charitable assistance into empowerment and sustainable development.

“Our vision for the future is to transform the lives of people through sustainable development, empowering people to become proactive actors in their own development, because they had overcome welfare-based models,” Pepe explains. “The people showed new attitudes and behaviours which had empowered them as inter-dependent and responsible entities. Therefore we see our programme focusing to renew the church as a light for the entire community, to strengthen its spirituality, human development, economic development … while caring for the sacred creation of God. We are moving from dependence to inter-dependence and we hope this will have an impact on other communities and churches.”

Since 2013, the programme coordinated by Pepe has trained 239 people for local leadership. Mostly lay and nearly 50% women, these people have been trained in community development and management of economic initiatives. Afterwards the participants are invited to present a plan for local transformation through a micro-venture. The programme supports the viable plans. This is followed by a process of monitoring all levels which guarantees transparent and responsible use of the grants.

The initiatives are diverse, linked to food security, food preservation, access to potable water and use of clean energy. There are also initiatives caring for children and elderly people. The programme has been developed in partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

In the past years a new progfamme has been introduced to train savings groups, to create economic opportunities for vulnerable communities.

The programme team shared several real life examples to illustrate their impact. One story was about Pavel, who had worked all his life as an electrician. Recently he had heart surgery which meant he could no longer do this strenuous work. He participated in training session and designed a project. This enabled Pavel and his wife to start a small family business making and selling sweets and cakes.

The diocesan development programme has also introduced community savings groups. The first enterprise resulting from these groups is investing in a shoe-making business. Another member of the church, called Edit, who has also attended the training, said: “It’s amazing how, through its programme of integral mission, the church and the wider community are intertwined and mutually benefitting each other. Many people now are starting to meet each other and participate in the projects coordinated by the church.”

Daliana, who works at the diocesan centre, said: “I participated in the 2015 training and designed a project which has been approved. This is to grow a permaculture garden, to cultivate vegetables, medicinal plants and spices. Working with the local community the aim is to supply spices and vegetables for the kitchen at the diocesan centre [where the church feeds 100 people daily] and also raise vegetable production to help others in the community.”

Reflecting on what she valued about this programme, Daliana said: “We seek to help people. We don’t ask who they are or where they are from.” Daliana gave an example of the programme’s impact gave the example of a water purification project which currently benefits 1000 people a month.  “I have a disabled friend who has no access to water at home,” Daliana said. “This water project was like light coming to the house. The water is not only for drinking but also to clean her pressure sores. Each day someone comes from her house to collect the water and they receive something which previously would have been unthinkable.”

The diocese’s Integral Missionary Development Programme is working hard to monitor its outcomes and impact, tracking changes in communities in relation to key Sustainable Development Goals. Its recent evaluation revealed that in the past three years, 48 local initiatives have been supported, benefitting 30 communities with 3572 direct beneficiaries (52% women).

Bishop Griselda Delgado concluded: “We have been working in recent years on discerning what our mission is as church in this society and in this context. First of all I have to say that mission belongs to God. God gives us the possibilities … to preach the Gospel, to serve, to connect to each other, to be a community and also to seek to be a family … Taking into account our diversity but also being a family allows us to work on areas of common concern, issues that are big and pressing in people’s lives.”

The diocese’ scriptural motto expresses the bishop’s vision: “You are members of God’s family, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2: 19b-20).

Reflecting on the visit, Paulo Ueti said: “It is incredible how the development of the community mindset rooted in a strong spirituality is capable to metanoia – conversion, change of path and mentality – that is so deep it produces transformation in the lives of people and in general society. These are important stories to share, to inspire and challenge others in our extended family to get involved in this journey of solidarity.”

Rachel Carnegie added: “It has been profoundly inspiring to see how quickly this approach for transformation has taken root in the churches and local communities through the Episcopal Church of Cuba. We were privileged to learn about their approach to asset-based community development, which sees the local church as an integral and dynamic part of the lives of their communities. There is so much to learn and share from the mission of the Church in Cuba.”

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Anglican Communion News Service,  Daily update from the ACNS on Tuesday 18th July, 2017

A Look at the Health of Theological Education

Posted on: July 13th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Faculty members at theological schools are highly satisfied with their jobs. They are bidding higher for a select group of students. But those students are incurring far more educational debt than in the past. Those are among the conclusions of three studies. The studies, which were completed before the economic downturn,  update conclusions drawn 10 years ago on the subjects of theological faculty, seminary financing and student debt. They contain much good news and much that will require further conversation and closer study.

First, the good news: In a study called “Signs of the Times,” researcher Barbara Wheeler and her team questioned 1,212 faculty and doctoral students in schools that provide the largest number of faculty to U.S. and Canadian theological schools. She found that faculty members are publishing more, while retaining a strong commitment to teaching. Faculty and students are active participants in religious life and give significant service to congregations and denominations. Seminaries and divinity schools are more selective and admit fewer, but more motivated, students. And, best of all, theological faculty express a high morale and a deep commitment to their calling.

The study, however, points to some areas of concern. It found, for example, that theological schools are slow to change and don’t adapt readily to technological innovations. Faculties have to work harder to achieve racial and gender diversity, though they have made slight gains. And possibly most troubling, the numbers of current faculty and doctoral students ordained or licensed dropped 10 percent in the last decade. At the same time, the number of doctoral students who defined their field as religion — rather than theology — rose.

This shift in self-perception may reflect a higher societal acceptance of the field of religion over theology. But it also has practical implications on future students.

“The concern is about the curriculum of seminaries and whether they’ll orient it adequately to meet the needs of students who are going out to churches,” says Wheeler. “Not all kinds of doctoral preparation are equally helpful to future ministries.”

The second study, on seminary financing, found that gifts from individual donors rose sharply from 1993 to 2003, while other sources of revenue remained flat or fell.

Anthony Ruger, a senior research fellow at the Auburn Center, compared the finances of 143 theological schools and found that individual gifts of $5,000 or more accounted for the steepest rise of all sources of revenue. Specifically, he found that in 2003 individual giving increased 56 percent, from $127 in 1993 to $198 million in 2003.

“If you’re going to be a seminary president, you want to look at who are the best potential donors,” said Ruger. “Hire a fundraiser and work hard on cultivation.”

Other sources of revenue — such as tuition, investment returns and church support — performed poorly. Among nine denominations surveyed, six gave less money to theological schools over the past decade. Only three — the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church — gave more, though not enough to keep up with inflation. The stock market fall from 2000 to 2003 hurt seminaries too, especially those that rely heavily on investment returns or endowment income. Those seminaries responded by cutting budgets and tightening spending.

The third study, entitled The Gathering Storm, also undertaken by Ruger, contained mostly bad news. It found that graduate student debt increased dramatically in the period from 1991 to 2001. Fewer than half of graduate students in theology incurred educational debts in 1991. By 2001, 63 percent had taken out loans.

Part of the reason for the increase in educational debt has to do with government regulations. The U.S. Department of Education allowed students to borrow a total of $18,500 in Stafford loans in 2001. In 1991, students were only allowed to borrow $7,500.  As a result, the average debt for graduate students in theological studies rose to $15,599 in 2001 from $5,267 in 1991.

Ruger also surveyed graduates of the classes of 1994 and 1997, and asked them how they were coping with their debt. Fifty-two percent said they wished they had borrowed less. More troubling perhaps, 24 percent agreed with the statement, “I have been late with a payment or missed a payment because I did not have the money.”

There was one hopeful sign in the study. Those students who consulted with financial aid planners at their schools seemed better able to cope with repayment schedules.

“The amount of debt was less important than the quality of financial information they received,” says Ruger. “Those who believe they were well-advised experienced less stress in debt repayment.”

Since the majority of graduate students go on to serve churches that do not pay well, financial advice on the realities of clergy income was particularly crucial.

“What we would like to see are students making careful, informed decisions,” Ruger says, “rather than making decisions accidentally or by default.”

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Resources and info from Insights into Religion for 07/13/2017

Nancy Mallett: Curator, keeper of history, powerhouse

Posted on: July 11th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By Diana Swift on July 10, 2017


Nancy Mallett is honoured at the 2014 exhibit on the military chaplaincy.
Photo: Michael Hudson


When I first met Nancy Mallett, ODT, curator of the museum and archives that bear her name at Toronto’s Cathedral Church of St. James, she was the organizing genius behind a major international conference and exhibition on the history of the crèche, hosted by the cathedral in November 2011. She was 82.

Since then, she has launched several other major undertakings, perhaps most notably Canada’s first-ever exhibit on the history of the military chaplaincy in commemoration of the 100th year anniversary of the outbreak of World War I in 1914. And she has also masterminded exhibits on truth and reconciliation and Black history with uncompromising integrity and unyielding standards.

“Nancy is very particular when it comes to presentations, and you have to provide solid examples and not just rely on words,” says Kathy Grant, president of Legacy Voices, a group dedicated to the preservation of Canadian Black military history, who worked with Mallett on the 2017 Black history exhibit. “She is demanding. You give Nancy a little and she asks for more and more because integrity is everything to her and she wants things to be bulletproof.”

Now 88, Mallett shows no signs of slowing down, putting in longer workdays and weeks in the Nancy Mallett Museum and Archives as an unpaid volunteer than many career-building 40-year-olds. “I’m just glad to have a focus and a place to go to every day,” she says modestly, looking youthful with her blonde hair and engaging smile and wearing one of the many killer jackets in her wardrobe.

This year, she’s deep into another project—just the small matter of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, for which she and her archives committee volunteers are mounting an October exhibition marking Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church on October 31, 1517.

Mallett is “a whirlwind and an inspiration,” says Canon David Brinton, the cathedral’s recently retired sub-dean and vicar. “Nancy has been a remarkable presence here for some 20 years, playing a huge role in reviving our archives and museum, not just cataloguing artifacts and documents with her team of volunteers, but initiating an imaginative series of exhibits and other programs of historical, artistic, theological, ecumenical and social significance—not just to the cathedral community, but to this neighbourhood, city and province.”

Oh, and did I remember to mention that she ran the cathedral’s Sunday school for five years? That role was a natural one for Mallett, who spent decades in Toronto’s inner-city public schools, starting as a kindergarten teacher and then moving into the grades, and eventually becoming a principal consultant and teacher of teachers. One of her areas of expertise was the critical importance of children’s play and public parks and playgrounds, and Mallett became a sought-after international speaker on this topic, travelling across Canada and to Europe, Russia and Japan.

Her interest in archives and exhibits came to the fore when she began volunteering for special exhibits at the Art Gallery of Ontario and walking tours at the Royal Ontario Museum. Retiring from teaching in 1988, the once United Church member was invited to attend a service at the cathedral. “At the time, I had begun to feel the need for some centering in my life,” she recalls.

What began with that chance service led her to confirmation and a spiritual home in the Anglican church. “I felt this is where I belonged, this is where I wanted to be.” And there she has stayed, taking over the reorganization of the cathedral archives in the late 1990s and soon moving beyond a curatorial role into community relations and creating strong ties between St. James and local business and other downtown organizations.

“She has been one of the most significant players in making the cathedral known to people who either knew nothing about it or had distorted views of its role in the civic life of Toronto in the past and indeed in the present day,” Brinton says.

In 2013, Mallett’s work as preserver of history was recognized with a Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award.

Mallett remains as well connected as an elite talk show host and is known for assembling people from all walks of life and listening carefully to their stories. Proof of that can be found in the catalogue of the 2014 chaplaincy exhibit, in which she thanked almost 200 diverse people by name, She listens, yes, but in the end, when it’s time for an executive decision, she will make a firm ruling, and Nancy’s mallet comes down.

 

About the Author

Diana Swift

Diana Swift

Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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Anglican Journal News, July 11, 2017

Sue DiMaggio: Push too hard and the flame goes out

Posted on: July 7th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

Bigstock / Zoomzoom

On the verge of burnout, a hyperbusy ‘Martha’ goes on a retreat, hoping to channel her inner ‘Mary’ — but finds it hard to let go of her Martha-like ways.

Call me Martha. Others certainly have.

And I have to admit, I can understand why.

I’ve always identified with two of the most famous women who ever bore the name — the modern domestic diva and the saint who pestered Jesus to make her sister Mary get up and do something. Like them, I want to get things done, and done well.

A few years ago, however, I felt too close to the Marthas. My life had reached a fever pitch, and my pursuit of perfection wasn’t helping. I was overwhelmed with work, volunteering and home projects. Burnout was just around the corner.

To try to regain my equilibrium, I signed up for a week at a Catholic retreat center. I pictured myself sitting serenely at the feet of Jesus, choosing “the better part” like Mary, sister of the biblical Martha.

But as I sat on a faded sofa in the retreat director’s apartment, I shifted restlessly. Looking around, I noticed that the sofa cushions were sagging and needed to be replaced — or at least re-covered. Like me, they had seen better days.

“Go to the kitchen and ask them to pack you a bag lunch. Then go out to the hermitage and stay there until you hear the dinner bell.”

I squinted at Sister Damian. Surrounded by morning sunlight streaming through the window behind her, she was an impenetrable silhouette. Surely she wasn’t serious. Seven hours in the middle of the woods? Alone? I had come for solitude, not banishment.

“And leave your cellphone here.”

After collecting my tuna sandwich, cookie and bottle of water from the kitchen, I headed off dutifully into the trees. If I was going to do this hermitage thing, I was going to do it right. After all, that’s what the Marthas would do.

The path to the hermitage was clearly marked, an easy quarter-mile stroll. But somehow, I managed to get lost. Near panic set in, and even worse, a sense of failure. I had already botched things. On the brink of tears, I stumbled upon a small clearing.

And there it was — the hermitage. It was spartan but homey, with a dining table and chair, a rocker, and a twin bed with a simple coverlet. An oversize floor cushion sat beside a smaller table, which held a well-used white pillar candle, matches, a few books and a guest register containing reflections from previous occupants.

I scanned the room, wondering what to do first. Clearly, I could use some nourishment after all my frantic wandering in the woods, so I opened my lunch bag. Within minutes, I had wolfed down the sandwich and cookie.

Now what?

The floor looked dusty, so I found a broom and began to sweep. I straightened the coverlet and fluffed up the floor cushion. I organized the books on the table, stopping short of arranging them alphabetically — but just barely.

Next, I moved outside. After sweeping the last leaf off the porch, I stood and scanned the woods.

Silence.

And six more hours to go.

Conceding defeat, I dragged the rocking chair out to the porch. I sat down tentatively and began to rock. And rock. Soon, my feet were pushing off the floorboards in a frenzy and my mind was racing.

The porch has no railing. What about building codes ?

Did the brochure say anything about bears?

If a snake slithered up behind me, would I hear it?

Should I have alphabetized the books after all?

“I know what this place needs,” I thought. “A candle. I’ll light a candle and let it be a sign to God that I’m ready to sit and listen.”

I went inside and picked up the white pillar and the matches.

Placing the candle on the porch next to the rocker, I struck a match. The wick was deep inside the pillar. The candle lit, but the flame barely glowed through the wax sides. It was time to channel the Marthas.

I have a friend who sells candles at house parties for a nationally known candle company. Although I had never attended one of her events, she had told me the secret of keeping pillar candles in tiptop shape. If the wick is too deep inside the pillar, just light the candle, let it burn until the wax softens and then pinch the rim a bit at a time, rolling it toward the center until it’s even with the wick.

And so I began. Pinch and roll. Pinch and roll. I smiled, thinking the Marthas would be proud. If scented pillar candles had been around when Lazarus was raised from the dead, surely Martha would have had one, ready to mask the lingering stench.

Now I was retreating.

But my smile quickly vanished. In my rush to pillar perfection, I had pinched and rolled the rim right into the pool of melted wax, causing a mini-tsunami that extinguished the flame and buried the wick.

I stared at the candle as it hardened into a misshapen heap of wax, its scent suspended in the crisp autumn air like incense.

From somewhere, the thought arose: Push too hard and the flame goes out.

It was not just the candle. It was me. I had been pushing too hard, trying to do everything flawlessly and at breakneck speed. I had doused the spark of my life, and I wanted it back.

I returned, humbled, to the rocking chair. Before long, the stillness and sun-dappled leaves beckoned me to unwind. I stared into the trees, just listening. Eventually, the rocking slowed to a stop, and I fell asleep.

When the dinner bell sounded, I reluctantly made my way back to the retreat center. After hours of sitting silently with my Creator, gaze unfocused, I had a hard time seeing for a little while. Or maybe I was seeing for the first time.

I’ll always be a Martha at heart, but now Mary pays me a visit from time to time. And when she does, we always light a candle together.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership, June 27, 2017

Winnipeg, Uganda Anglican churches partner to support orphans

Posted on: July 7th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By André Forget on July 05, 2017


Archdeacon Jason Musoke with some of the orphans in his care.
Photo: St. Francis Anglican Church, Winnipeg


In 2003, a Ugandan priest named Jason Musoke arrived in the small parish of St. Philip’s, Nabusanke Equatorial, with his wife, Faith, to take up the post of rector.

As he began the usual round of pastoral visitations, introducing himself to the members of the community he would serve, he was shocked and saddened by the large number of children in the community who had been orphaned and left in dire poverty by the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Most of these children were living with distant relatives; very few had the means to attend school, or even meet their own daily needs.

“Prayerfully, we decided to pick out some few and started…meeting their essential requirements, like education, medication, feeding and general upkeep,” Musoke, now a canon and archdeacon in the Church of Uganda’s diocese of Buganda, recalled in an email.

In the first year, the Musokes invited five orphans to live with them. But as time passed, the number grew steadily, and they now have 66 children in their care. Though they have been able to find alternative lodging for some of the children, they are still responsible for providing their food and school fees.

“We could not accommodate them all in our house, but asked friends around us to accommodate some of them,” said Masoke. “Some take two or three or four, [but] they only offer accommodation, and we take care of the rest of their requirements.”

But the Masokes’ generosity comes with a heavy financial toll, and it is often a struggle to provide even the basics.

“General upkeep is becoming hectic to us, because as the children continue growing up and the more they advance into high educational levels, the more expensive they become,” said Masoke.

In addition to his duties as a priest, Masoke also tends a plot of land, and if conditions are good, it provides them with enough food. When the harvest is meagre, however, they must stretch their money to purchase food.

“During good seasons, we have two meals a day and in bad seasons, we have only one meal, and at times [we go] without any meal and depend only on porridge,” he explained.

St. Philip’s has, however, been able to receive some relief through a relationship with their link parish, St. Francis Anglican Church in Winnipeg.

The diocese of Rupert’s Land, in which Winnipeg is situated, has long had a companion relationship with the diocese of Buganda and individual parishes in both dioceses are encouraged to establish their own links with each other.

The partnership between  St. Philip’s and St. Francis began as a link between St. Philip’s and St. Barnabas Anglican Church. When St. Barnabas merged with two other Winnipeg parishes to form St. Francis, the partnership continued.

St. Francis is neither a large nor an affluent parish. But as Wendy Henderson, a parishioner involved in raising funds to support St. Philip’s explained in an interview with the Anglican Journal, supporting the work Masoke is doing is a major priority.

“From our budget in our church, we send him $2,500 a year, and we have a very small church…[we’re] running a deficit budget this year ourselves,” she said.


 

St. Francis church parishioner Wendy Henderson with Archdeacon Jason Musoke and his wife, Faith, in Uganda. Photo: St. Francis Anglican Church


It is work she became passionate about after a trip to Nabusanke in January 2016 undertaken by members of the diocese of Rupert’s Land. Two weeks in Uganda opened Henderson’s eyes to the challenges the church faces in caring for the needs of its people.

“Before [the trip], I was probably the person sitting in the pews going, ‘Oh, they’re asking for more money,’ ” she said. “And then we went down and I saw and I thought, ‘You know, we could send them $1,000 a month and it wouldn’t be enough to keep them living in any kind of a decent standard.’ ”

St. Francis transfers the money to St. Philip’s quarterly through a channel established via the diocesan companionship, but according to Henderson, situations sometimes arise in which funds need to be sent immediately.

This was the case recently when Musoke’s car was totalled, or when he needed to purchase new bed frames and mattresses after an infestation of bedbugs forced the Musokes to burn the 15 triple-decker bunk beds the children sleep in when not at school.

“Every small issue is a big issue,” says Henderson, noting that the tightness of the Musokes’ finances means that problems that would be simply inconvenient for North Americans with a healthy income can be devastating.

In addition to their support for the parish’s general work with orphans, St. Francis is also sponsoring two Ugandan girls, Fencan Cheptoek and Eunice Nimusiima, through Compassion Canada.

Henderson says that those interested in supporting the Musokes’ work can do so by mailing a cheque to the diocese of Rupert’s Land, with a notation “For St. Philip’s Nabusanke Orphans,” care of:

Anglican Centre
935 Nesbitt Bay
Winnipeg, MB R3T 1W6.

About the Author

André Forget

André Forget

André Forget joined the Anglican Journal in 2014 as staff writer and social media lead. He also serves as managing editor of Whether Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, The Winnipeg Review, and the Town Crier.

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Anglican Journal News, July 07, 2017

Steve Bell: Music is a tilling of soil

Posted on: July 4th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

Music breaks open hard ground, preparing it for a seed to be planted, says the Canadian singer-songwriter and Christian musician.

Steve Bell, a noted Christian singer-songwriter, leaves it to others to parse the theological implications of his art.

But of this he is certain:

“I just know that when I sing and I play, things happen for folks that I can’t really control. They seem to be good for the most part, but I do see that there’s a tilling of soil.”

Music, Bell said, gets into and loosens hard, packed soil, preparing it for a seed. Beauty, phrases and rhythm are “gardening tools” that prepare soil for planting.

Beginning with his first solo release in 1989, “Comfort My People,” Bell, a native of Canada, has released 17 CDs and three concert videos. He has performed some 2,000 concerts across Canada, the U.S., India, Thailand, the Philippines, Poland, Bulgaria, Ireland and the Caribbean.

Bell was at Duke Divinity School earlier this year as one of the featured speakers for The Word Made Fresh, a conference on the arts, discipleship and Christian imagination sponsored by Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts. While at Duke, he spoke with Faith & Leadership. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: Tell us about your background, your major influences.

My father is a Baptist minister and served in Alberta when I was growing up. He became a prison chaplain when I was about 7 or 8 and spent the rest of his career doing that.

My major church experiences were in a prison. That’s where I grew up, in this raw faith environment, rough but wonderful. It was spectacular.

My mom has suffered her whole life with bouts of depression and anxiety. When I was a kid, the church, at least outside the prison, didn’t have a catcher’s mitt for that kind of woundedness.

But the inmates had no problem. It was a safe place for my mom to be sick. It was like, “Come hang with us losers; we’re all fine. You don’t need to be well here.”

It was very formational for me. It was, in a strange way, a safe place to be as a family. It was a faith environment that made sense and was believable.

When I left home and had to find my way as a person of faith, it was hard for me to find a church. I would sit in the back, and nothing connected.

It was too tidy. It wasn’t that I was cynical or anything, but it just seemed to be completely divorced from anybody’s real story.

Q: I guess there’s no pretense about brokenness when you’re in prison.

No, there really isn’t. The outward markers are these brutal tattoos that were done at home. They’re not nice or pretty or fashionable. They betray internal turmoil and brokenness.

Yet it was prison inmates that took me in as a boy and taught me to play guitar. They’d have jam sessions on Saturday afternoons, and when I was 8, 9, 10, 11 years old, I’d sit with them.

I love saying it, but I’ve recorded 17 albums and done about 2,000 concerts around the world in part because Canada’s most unwanted men took me into their circle when I was a boy.

Q: You’re known for your storytelling and your songwriting. What’s the relationship between the two?

Steve Bell

Yeah, it’s what I do. I tell stories and sing songs (link is external). People, at the end of the concerts, often come up and say, “Oh, I love your stories.”

And they walk away, and they come back and say, “Oh, I like your music, too,” as if they’re almost embarrassed — “I forgot to compliment him on his singing.”

The stories are always evolving in terms of mining them for meaning. And it reanimates the song, for me at least, in a new way each time.

It’s an interesting ministry. It’s not very deliberate, what I do. I don’t have a particular theological agenda or a goal for my audiences. I’m not an evangelist in any traditional understanding of that word.

I just sort of feel it’s my job to go and tell my stories and sing my songs and go home, and whatever happens is none of my business in terms of the people out there.

Q: I read an interview where you said that songwriting is like “clipping a bonsai tree.” What do you mean?

Remember “The Karate Kid”? The old master is teaching the young kid about bonsai. You step back, you think, and you look. Then you come in, and you take off a leaf or just an end or a whole branch. And you fashion this thing.

A lot of people now in songwriting, it’s almost fashionable just to throw something out there. It doesn’t matter if your guitar’s in tune or there’s a rhyme scheme.

It’s about “being real.” Even in the studio, there’s almost a trend of ugly recording because we want to keep it real. It reminds me of the manicured bed-head look, with guys that always look like they just rolled out of bed but you know it took $500 of hair product to look like that.

I’ve always loved thoughtful crafts. I’ll write a song, but I’ll endlessly edit it until it’s recorded, and then I consider it done. It’s always about coming back and just dropping a syllable, adding a syllable, little things, until that unrefined, sort of natural wild growth becomes a thing of crafted beauty.

Q: What, for you, is the role of Christian theology in art and music?

That’s hard to answer. I’m not that thoughtful about what I do or why I do it. I just kind of do it.

I’m here working with Malcolm Guite and Jeremy Begbie. They have seriously thought about not only what they do and why they do it but how it works. Begbie understands how music works, theologically and otherwise. And he’s thought that through, and he can write and he can speak about that.

I’d have no idea. I just know that when I sing and I play, things happen for folks that I can’t really control. They seem to be good for the most part, but I do see that there’s a tilling of soil.

Music has a way of going into hard, packed soil. It loosens it and prepares it for a seed that wouldn’t otherwise be. So I see a lot of beauty, phrases, rhythm. These things are all gardening tools to prepare soil for something that someone else is going to drop in there. That’s how I see what I do.

Also, my stories are very particular about “this happened” and “this happened” and “this happened.” But in the songs I sing, none of that is in the song.

The song gathers up the story, but it remains a piece that doesn’t need the story. Therefore, it’s sort of “Insert self here.”

What I try to do is mine my own story for meaning, sing the song, and then get out of the way.

Our lives are meaningful, but not necessarily dramatic. A lot of the great meaning doesn’t come out of the dramas. It just comes out of attending quietly and patiently.

My work has been, to some degree, learning how to do that with my own life and then doing it publicly.

Q: Where does imagination and skill come into play in songwriting?

I just came from a lecture with Malcolm Guite, and he’s all about theology through the imagination. When you think about it, anything that we know starts with the imagination.

Imagination got reduced behind reason a few hundred years ago. It’s not that reason is bad — it’s something that we need, to know anything. But anything we know reasonably started because someone apprehended something they had no words for.

And the minute you put words to it, you by nature have reduced it. So there needs to be some humility to all of our equations, you know?

We’re not out there to decimate ignorance with our equations. We’re there, through the imaginative capacity, to really start to see that behind this flower or this vase or this table is a deeper reality that there really are no words for.

I might be able to write a poem or sing a melody that gives you a hook into that deeper reality.

So much of Christian theology and the arts, especially music, has been didactic. It’s been taking some big concept and bringing it down to a point that’s saying, “This is what you should know, and this is the answer,” rather than being more iconic, like icons — a small point opening up to a wide point.

Instead, we’ve done the opposite. The Enlightenment did that. It was putting a point on things rather than opening people up to a vast vista.

How do I take that mystery that I can sense in my bones? I know it’s there. I don’t have any words for it. But I need to reduce it to some door, something I can locate, something I can show you — either give you or get you to listen to.

It’s particular and it’s small, but it’s a door. It’s not an endpoint.

That’s the work of the imagination. How do I take that big thing out there and reduce it to a set of lines or set of melodies that will woo you to the possibility of the mystery?

But if I let you go through that door, I actually have to let you go through the door. What you find on the other end, I can’t control.

So it’s also about, to some degree, letting go of the outcomes.

Modern theology is all about controlling outcomes. We’ve been really afraid of the artist or we’ve been afraid of the rebel, because what if they’re wrong, what if our children get taken, all of that.

I understand that. I’ve got kids, so I get the fear and the vulnerability. But in the end, I need my imagination to apprehend what there are no words for, to come up with some kind of reduction that’s an alluring door that’s actually open-able and then let it go.

And then the making of that door is the skill. It needs to be done well. The medium, to some degree, has to be the message. If I’ve apprehended some beauty, some excellence out there, the doorway has to, in some way, be a true wooing. Otherwise, I’m just manipulating you or lying to get you to do something else. It has to somehow reflect, so that’s where your craft has to come in.

Q: What role does liturgy and tradition play in your music?

Huge. When my dad started working in the prison, he made good friends with the Catholic priest. They often did joint services together. And I was introduced to liturgical worship. I remember just the thrill of it.

There were always these moments that week after week would thrill my soul. I didn’t know why, but my heart would just sing at this moment or that phrase, but I had no idea why. And I think, to some degree, those were those doorways that were opening up to a possibility that I didn’t know was out there. They were truly icons, those moments.

I felt there was a big world on the other side of that door, and every Sunday, at these different moments, that door would open and you could peek through. Now, being a little Baptist boy, I wouldn’t have walked through. But I would peek through. I remember that very clearly.

The Catholic priest also served as the parish priest in town, and they had no music. My mom and my sisters and I ended up being the worship band at the Catholic church. Week after week, I sat there in the liturgy and bathed in it, soaked it in. It became part of my consciousness.

When I got on my own, I would find myself drifting into Catholic church some, especially midnight masses and folk masses, sitting at the back. My eyes would close, and I’d feel the nourishment somehow without having any words for it. I think it’s because, in essence, it’s art.

Liturgy is art. Even with Scripture, I started apprehending Scripture as being art, not a document. It’s meant to be art.

Q: Does liturgy influence your approach to music?

It does. If you look at the whole body of my music, you’ll see lots of songs that are very informed by or for liturgy and worship.

It shows up in a sacramental worldview, in the notion that experience itself is sacramental. It’s always pointed to something beyond it. What it does is, it transforms my everyday experience.

It changes my whole worldview to the point now where there’s not a moment that comes to me that I don’t believe is gift.

The question is, “What’s the gift?”

That’s what the contemplative work is. It’s to attend to the situation, attend to the moment, fully expecting that there’s gift in it that you need to be grateful for but also humbly accept, because you need it, because you are fundamentally, by definition, needy.

It just changes all of life’s experiences. So that plays deeply into my songwriting, which is why, if you look at my songwriting, you’ll sense agony and pain and all of that, and life’s struggle.

But you’re not going to get a lot of really dark songs, because in the end, I fundamentally don’t believe it’s dark out there. I don’t believe it. I think it’s bright out there.

That puts me at odds with the culture, because right now it’s so hip to be dark.

Not for a moment do I believe that there isn’t darkness out there. I’m not naive. I just don’t believe it’s the last word.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, June 28, 2017

L. Gregory Jones: How to form wise Christian institutional leaders in an uncertain world

Posted on: June 24th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Our patterns of education and formation must nurture practical wisdom, encourage unlikely friendships and seed understanding about the ecosystems an institution needs to survive, writes the theologian and executive vice president and provost of Baylor University.

What patterns of education and formation will be most fruitful in forming wise leaders of Christian institutions in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world in which we live? Are new practices and organizations needed to help form such leaders? What long-term strategies are needed to complement short-term “training” in practices and virtues that can help reorient current and emerging leaders?

We live in an era of deep interconnectedness that requires effective leaders to engage “wicked” problems and cultivate intrinsic partnerships across institutions. To do so, leaders of Christian institutions must cultivate a “seventh sense,” which involves a process of learning intuition.

Unfortunately, our patterns of education and formation have not adapted quickly or well to the circumstances of a VUCA world. Three strategies are essential to beginning the long work of forming wise, “keystone” leaders for Christian institutions.

The first is to return to basics. We need new patterns of traditioning for Christians to become capable of wise judgment regardless of the vocations they may enter and the leadership they provide. These new patterns are actually a recovery of older ones that focus on nurturing people in practical wisdom. This is about helping people discover holistic judgment through forming our thinking, feeling, perceiving and acting in virtuous ways.

By “return to basics,” I am suggesting both that we return to key insights that have been at the core of education and formation for centuries and that we begin with the youngest of children. This is not just about what happens in college or graduate school, much less in executive education programs for practicing professionals. It is more akin to practicing scales and drilling etudes in learning to play the piano, or being tutored in the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, singing songs of the faith, and engaging in discipleship in learning to live as a Christian. A return to basics involves routines that become part of the background of our lives.

Character formation begins in families and churches and ought to be cultivated in K-12 schools and nurtured through the learning of arts, music and athletics. These contexts are central to learning and practicing virtues that form wise judgment. The Jubilee Centre in the U.K. has developed some insightful and innovative approaches for this kind of character education in public K-12 schools (link is external), where nothing explicitly Christian is presumed. Christian schooling — and, more broadly, the work of Christian institutions — ought to be a laboratory for deeper and more explicit attention to formation in character and the development of capacities for wise judgment.

Second, this traditioning needs to nurture innovation. A central practice of such traditioned innovation is to cultivate unlikely friendships. These friendships broaden us even as we are simultaneously probing deeper into our own traditions. Friendship, in this sense, is with people as well as ideas and ways of approaching problems. Too often, our images of “traditioning” and “forming character” invite a retreat into homogenous environments — cultural as well as intellectual. Deep traditioning in particular commitments and practices is crucial, yet so also is the hospitable curiosity that leads people to discover innovative ways of extending core insights to propose generative, innovative solutions.

Musical composers typically master a particular instrument while also embarking on a journey of learning the capabilities and limitations of other instruments that will be a part of the score. In addition, they may explore and incorporate the styles and repertoires of people from other cultures and musical commitments. So too in Christian leadership: we need to nurture expertise in our own capacities while simultaneously cultivating the capacities to compose or perform with a wide variety of people and institutions.

The third strategy for forming keystone leaders for Christian institutions is to develop pattern recognitions of why diverse organizations in any ecosystem are crucial to any one organization’s survival. How can we learn to do this? In addition to the suggestions I offered in “Learning Intuition,” we can nurture “friendships” with different types of organizations. This means spending time with them, learning how they operate and where their strengths and blind spots are, and discovering ways to encourage mutual flourishing among organizations. As with personal friendships, institutional friendships involve an empathetic attempt to see others from within their own perspectives.

This can be challenging even when different institutions operate within a similar landscape, such as colleges or seminaries and congregations within a denominational ecosystem. It is even more complicated when the keystone role invites an institution such as a university to engage in intrinsic partnerships with businesses or NGOs. The relationships take time, and will involve significant investments in learning about and from one another to strengthen the long-term relationships that enable the whole ecosystem to flourish.

Undertaking these strategies will require higher levels of intentionality among existing institutions in how we prepare people for transformational leadership. It will require new structures and programs, both in educational institutions and beyond them. And it will require existing leaders to adjust their patterns both to implement these strategies for themselves and to create the conditions for others to do so. The challenges are daunting, but so also are the opportunities.

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Faith & Leadership at Duke Divinity, May 02, 2017