Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Pilgrimage for Episcopal civil rights martyr remembers past, looks to future

Posted on: August 19th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Two friends of slain seminarian Jonathan Daniels hold a photo of him 15 August near the just-dedicated Alabama Historical Marker erected where Varner’s Cash Store stood. Daniels was killed outside the building on 20 August 1965.
Photo Credit: Ellen Hudson/Diocese of Alabama

By Mary Frances Schjonberg for Episcopal News Service

Nearly 50 years after Jonathan Daniels was killed by a special deputy from Lowndes County, Alabama, the pilgrims who came to Hayneville Aug. 15 to remember the seminarian’s martyrdom walked through the streets led by a county sheriff’s squad car.

Some 1,500 people from across The Episcopal Church and elsewhere walked the path that Daniels, 26, Richard Morrisroe, also 26, Thelma Bailey, 19, and Ruby Sales, 17, took on Aug. 20, 1965, the day Daniels died stepping in front of a shotgun aimed at Sales. Morrisroe, who was a newly ordained Roman Catholic priest and was seriously wounded that day, returned to Hayneville for the day. The pilgrims ranged from babies in strollers to elderly in wheelchairs.

The pilgrimage, which began at the Lowndes County Courthouse, formed an extended Liturgy of the Word that included stops at the jailhouse where Daniels and the others were held for six days, readings about Daniels’ life (including two from Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama by Charles Eagles and a letter Daniels wrote to his mother from jail), as well as prayers and the dedication of an Alabama Historical Marker at the site where Daniels was murdered.

The pilgrims then returned to the courtroom where Daniels’ killer, special deputy Thomas Coleman, was found innocent of a manslaughter charge. Pilgrims packed the courtroom, filling the jury box and other seats, sitting on the floor and finding places to stand along the walls. Two large tents pitched on the courthouse lawn sheltered others who watched the Eucharist via large television screens.

Some of the 28 Episcopal Church bishops who marched in the Aug. 15 pilgrimage to commemorate Jonathan Daniels and the other martyrs of the civil rights movement in Alabama pose in Hayneville, the site of the gathering.

Some of the 28 Episcopal Church bishops who marched in the Aug. 15 pilgrimage to commemorate Jonathan Daniels and the other martyrs of the civil rights movement in Alabama pose in Hayneville, the site of the gathering.
Photo Credit: Ellen Hudson/Diocese of Alabama

The judge’s bench in the courtroom served as the altar where Diocese of Alabama Bishop John McKee Sloan presided at the Eucharist. Many of the 28 Episcopal Church bishops who participated in the pilgrimage distributed communion inside the courtroom and outside on the courthouse lawn.

“We are not here because we think good thoughts, or simply because we are nice people, although we are. We are here because we who have been baptized – we’re not simply baptized into church membership – we were consecrated to radical discipleship, into the Jesus Movement to change this world,” said TEC Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry during his sermon. “The same movement that called Jonathan, and Mary, Queen Esther, Moses, Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, the same movement that moved the world into being.”

Curry, who was a 12-year-old in Buffalo, New York, when Daniels was killed, met early that morning with many of the young people who later were part of the pilgrimage. During his sermon, Curry said he realized during the meeting that “our task now is to pass the torch to a new generation.”

“They’ve here, they don’t have to be here, but they’re here,” he said of the young people.

“The youthful energy that fueled the civil rights movement before and changed the face of this nation,” Curry said, now needs to be combined with “the wisdom of the elders.”

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry speaks during a breakfast for young participants in the Aug. 15 pilgrimage to commemorate Jonathan Daniels and the other martyrs of the civil rights movement in Alabama. Curry later said in his sermon that the gathering reminded him it was time to pass the torch to a new generation who will continue the struggle for equal rights.

Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry speaks during a breakfast for young participants in the Aug. 15 pilgrimage to commemorate Jonathan Daniels and the other martyrs of the civil rights movement in Alabama. Curry later said in his sermon that the gathering reminded him it was time to pass the torch to a new generation who will continue the struggle for equal rights.
Photo Credit: Ellen Hudson/Diocese of Alabama

“We must raise up a new generation and pass the torch to that generation so that the march will continue, so that the movement will go on, so that we will not stop, we will not cease, we will not desist until justice rolls down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

“That’s the movement we’re all a part of. It’s a movement that believes passionately that love can actually change the world.”

“It can,” the congregation replied.

Curry concluded by reminding the pilgrims that Jesuit philosopher and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin contended that the discovery of fire and humans’ capacity to harness that energy was the most important scientific discovery of all time because of the advances in civilization it enabled, up to and including the fuel combustion in rockets that launched satellites into the air, allowing the use smartphones. De Chardin then went on to say, Curry recalled, that if human beings ever discovered how to harness the power of love, it would be the second time in history that humanity had discovered fire.

“We are here because Jonathan Daniels discovered fire,” Curry declared with a shout. “Martin Luther King discovered fire. So now we’re going to pass that torch to a new generation.”

After Curry’s sermon a number of notable pilgrims were introduced, beginning with Lowndes County Judge Adrian Johnson, who currently presides in the courtroom used for Liturgy of the Table. Johnson, who said he has participated in the annual pilgrimage for the last four or five years, told the congregation that it was “a humbling experience” to hold court in a room that invokes “a list of injustices” committed in the name of the legal system. And he urged his fellow pilgrims to resist current efforts to roll back voting rights.

Col. James Inman, chief of staff at the Virginia Military Institute where Daniels was valedictorian for the Class of 1961, told fellow pilgrims that it was love that prompted Daniels to act as he did that day in 1965 when he pulled Ruby Sales out of the way of Coleman, catching instead the point-blank blast of Coleman’s gun in his chest. Inman called Daniels’ split-second decision “an act of love that is informed by all that preceded it.”

When such an act saves the life of another, he said, “the act not only endures; it grows and expands in its influence over time.”

About 1,500 people marched through Hayneville, Alabama, during the pilgrimage.

About 1,500 people marched through Hayneville, Alabama, during the pilgrimage.
Photo Credit: Ben Thomas/School of Theology, University of the South via Twitter

Daniels’ life and all the lives of all the martyrs of Alabama, whom the pilgrimage also commemorated, were not lost in vain, Inman said. “Now more than ever, their examples should lead us to act to ensure the triumph of good over evil; to encourage civility, collaboration and love.”

While Daniels was in Alabama in the summer of 1965, he lived with Alice and Lonzy West, an African-American family in Selma. Roderick West, one of their children, told the pilgrims that Daniels was a stickler for education who also “was always talking about God.

“I remember that morning when Jonathan left our apartment – he was coming to Lowndes County to help people register to vote – Jonathan actually came back three times and told me and my brothers and sisters that he loved us … he said ‘I want you all to make sure that you study hard. Let me know what you need, pens, books, whatever.’ … to me, he was like a big brother.”

Daniels, West said, was the reason he had just retired after spending 30 years as a schoolteacher.

Ruby Sales, the then-17-year-old student whom Daniels saved, was not at the pilgrimage, but she spoke the next day at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., saying  that her friendship with Daniels bridged the gap between his “white elite” world and her poor, black one.

“He walked away from the king’s table,” she said. “He could have had any benefit he wanted, because he was young, white, brilliant and male.”

On Aug. 14, Morris Dees Jr., co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told a gathering at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Alabama, that “our government has to be neutral in matters of faith, but people of faith do not have to be neutral with matters of government, and we rely on people not to be.

“Jonathan Daniels was not neutral when he spoke truth to power, when he sought the right to vote and when he saved the life of a dear person by putting his body in front,” he said.

Saying only “true reconciliation” can only move the country away from the racial tension that plagues it, Dees said Daniels’ killer later raised two multiracial grandchildren. “Something changed,” Dees said of Coleman, adding that Coleman’s son, a retired Alabama state trooper “is probably one of the most liberal guys I know; he spoke at my mother’s funeral.”

Diocese of Mississippi Bishop Brian Seage poses with some youth group members from St. James Episcopal Church in Keene, New Hampshire. The parish sponsored Jonathan Daniels for ordination.

Diocese of Mississippi Bishop Brian Seage poses with some youth group members from St. James Episcopal Church in Keene, New Hampshire. The parish sponsored Jonathan Daniels for ordination.
Photo Credit: Brian Seage via Twitter

Commemorations of Daniels’ life and death continue. In Keene, a year’s worth of events has been organized by members of St. James Episcopal Church, along with others. On Aug. 22, a commemorative weekend will begin with panel discussions featuring people who knew Daniels followed by an evening screening at Keene’s Colonial Theater of the 1999 nearly hour-long documentary Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels, by Keene State professors Lawrence Benaquist and William Sullivan.

Sales, who operates the Atlanta, Georgia-based SpiritHouse Project to work for racial, economic and social justice, is scheduled to preach in Keene at St. James on Aug. 23. New Hampshire Bishop Rob Hirschfeld will preside. A two-mile “walk of remembrance” to the Daniels’ family gravesite will follow.

Listen to Bishop Curry’s sermon, view the Daniels documentary and find links to other coverage of the pilgrimage on the Episcopal News Service website.


Anglican Communion News Service, ACNS Today’s top stories, August 19, 2015

Mark Ralls: A conspiracy of ravens, and other stories

Posted on: August 18th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Tales of human saints and saintly animals aren’t just legends of ancient heroes but rather a vision of shalom, writes the senior minister of Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.

I’m a collector, but I don’t collect anything of value. Mostly I gather rocks and shells, which, to my wife’s displeasure, are scattered throughout our house. Like most preachers I know, I also collect stories, and lately the ones that have captured my imagination are tales of human saints and saintly animals living in harmony.

These stories are the stuff of legend, scattered throughout church history. There’s the story of St. Francis and the repentant wolf of Gubbio, whom Francis convinced to forgo his nasty habit of dining on local townspeople. St. Sergius disappeared deep into the forests of Russia to live as a hermit, where a congenial brown bear became his closest companion. And there’s St. Columba of Iona — with whom, the old monks noted, seals would playfully swim whenever he went for a dip in the sea.

My favorite is St. Brigid, who must be the closest thing the Christian church has to Dr. Dolittle. Brigid tamed a fox and convinced a stubborn cow to provide milk three times a day. A generous hive of bees once led her to their secret stash of honey. And a particularly devoted wolf was said to curl up at her feet whenever she preached at her convent in Kildare.

After collecting these stories for a while, it occurred to me that we can receive these tales in two different ways. Usually we read them anthropocentrically. We view the human saint as the sole hero of the tale and regard the saintly animals as mere props, indications of his or her favor with God.

But as I delved more deeply into them, I began to read these legends differently. I now see them as stories of deep cooperation between God, humans and animals — as visions of shalom.

While we superficially translate this great Hebrew word as “peace,” it is really something much more comprehensive and hopeful.

Shalom is how God first intended life to be and what God promises life will one day become again. Visions of shalom are found in stories of deep connection — in which lions metaphorically (and sometimes literally) lie down beside lambs for an afternoon nap. The stories get a little far-fetched, but that’s no argument against them. Rather, it’s the whole point.

Stories of shalom — of deep, intimate connection between Creator and creatures of all stripes and gifts and graces — are meant to stoke our imaginations. They place before us a vision of how life is supposed to be.

One of my favorite visions of shalom is the story of Elijah and the ravens (1 Kings 17:1-6). The prophet Elijah is on the run from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He runs all the way to the Valley of Cherith, which has to be one of the best places to hide in all of Palestine. It’s actually more of a ravine than a valley, with craggy, desolate hills on either side. In some places there’s barely enough of an opening for one person to squeeze through. Here Elijah is safe from Ahab and Jezebel, but he’s also exposed to every other mortal danger, chief among them hunger and thirst.

So God makes Elijah a promise: Go to the Wadi — the brook — of Cherith. Refresh from its waters. Every morning and every evening, a conspiracy of ravens will bring you meat carried to you in their very own beaks.

That’s quite a promise. Ancient Hebrews considered ravens to be especially unclean, and in many cultures they are considered bad omens. Furthermore, ravens, as you know, are carrion eaters and are not known for their table manners. From them, we get the word “ravenous,” which does not exactly connote sharing and generosity. And a flock of ravens? Well one term for that is a “conspiracy.” You don’t get much more ominous than that!

And yet it is this word that gives us a clue that something more is going on here than just some hero’s tale. One of the definitions of “conspiracy” is an act done in harmony toward a common end. The word itself comes from Latin roots, con (with) and spiro (I breathe). So to conspire literally means to breathe together.

That’s a good metaphor for shalom. God, humans and animals breathing the same air, working together to make some inhospitable place into a home.

When I come across a story of human saints and saintly animals, that’s what I now see. I see cooperation so deep that it could be called a conspiracy. I see connection between God and creation so intimate that it should be called a covenant. In stories such as Elijah and the ravens, we glimpse shalom.


We see how God intended life to be and how one day — through the covenant of grace — life will be once again.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, August 18, 2015

James Martin: Faith leads to joy

Posted on: August 17th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Despite the pervasiveness of serious, somber Christianity, the heart of the gospel message is joy — so laugh, says the Jesuit priest and author of a new book on religion and humor.

Theologically, spiritually and practically, humor is an important and all-too-often-missing attribute in church life today, says the Rev. James Martin, author of “Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.” (link is external)

“Humor serves some important purposes,” he said. “First, it can remind you of your poverty of spirit. Laughing at yourself reminds you that you are a human being reliant on God just like anybody else.”

For leaders, humor is essential, Martin said, “particularly in the religious world, where we all tend to think that we alone are doing God’s work.”

“We feel drawn to religious leaders with a sense of humor. It shows us that they understand their essential poverty of spirit and their own reliance on God. It shows humility, which is also essential in the spiritual life. You take God seriously, Jesus seriously and the gospel seriously, but you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously.”

A Jesuit priest, Martin is culture editor of the national Catholic magazine America and the author of several books, including “My Life with the Saints” and “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.” A frequent guest on “The Colbert Report,” he is also the “official chaplain” to the Colbert Nation.

He spoke with Faith & Leadership about religion, humor and his latest book, “Between Heaven and Mirth,” (link is external) released last week. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: Why a book on religion and humor? Don’t you know that religion is serious stuff?

Yes, it’s shocking isn’t it? Too many people think that religion is all about being serious. I wanted to remind people that faith leads to joy. On the first Easter, for example, the disciples were joyful. The Christian message — life is stronger than death, hope stronger than despair and love stronger than hatred — is one of joy. Christ has risen, and that’s good news.

Life can’t be sweetness all the time, and everybody has some suffering, but the realization that Christ has risen, that God is with us, is ultimately a joyful message. We’ve lost sight of that. So much of our theology focuses on the Passion and death of Jesus — which is obviously important — that we tend to overlook the joyful parts of the Gospels.

Q: You maintain that the Gospels are filled with humor and that Jesus had an extraordinary sense of humor. How so?

First, anyone who told clever parables and made funny asides must have had a good sense of humor. If we believe that Jesus is fully human, as our theology tells us, then that means he had a sense of humor. You cannot be fully human without a sense of humor. That’s a robot, not a human being.

Second, there are residues of Jesus’ humor in the Gospels. One of my favorite passages is the story of Nathaniel, from the Gospel of John. When Nathaniel hears that the Messiah is from Nazareth, he says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” It’s a funny remark about what a backwater town Nazareth was.

Now, what does Jesus do? The dour, grumpy, depressed Jesus of our imagination would be expected to say, “Make not fun of the poor town of Nazareth.” Or, “It will go worse for you, Nathaniel, on the day of judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah.” Does he say that?

No. He says, “Now, there’s an Israelite without guile.” In other words, “There’s a person I can trust.” And he invites him to join the apostles.

That shows us three things. First, Nathaniel had a sense of humor. Second, Jesus had a sense of humor, enough to appreciate a funny remark so much that he invites Nathaniel to join his group. Three, St. John had enough of a sense of humor to want to preserve that story.

There are also the parables, whose humor we tend to miss. Scripture scholars say that because humor is time-bound and culture-bound, we don’t get some of the jokes.

Take the parable of the talents: a talent is the equivalent of 15 years of wages; it’s a ridiculous amount. Or the idea that someone would have a plank in his eye. Some of these stories are funny and would most likely have struck people at the time as hilarious. But because we’re so removed, we don’t see the humor.

Q: Do you think Jesus’ followers laughed when they heard those stories?

They probably did. If he’s an itinerant preacher wandering around Galilee trying to get people’s attention, a little humor goes a long way. Some of the parables have this sense of playfulness. The problem, scholars say, is that because of the mores of the day, some of the humor was probably leached out by those who wrote the Gospels. So we have to work hard to recover it.

Q: Do you think Pope Benedict XVI has a sense of humor?

I’ll quote you something that Pope Benedict wrote, which I included in my book:

“I believe God has a great sense of humor. Sometimes he gives you something like a nudge and says, Don’t take yourself so seriously! Humor is in fact an essential element in the mirth of creation. We can see how, in many matters in our lives, God wants to prod us into taking things a bit more lightly; to see the funny side of it; to get down off our pedestal and not to forget our sense of fun.”

Q: In the book, you say several popes were funny.

My avatar for holy humor is Pope John XXIII, whose most famous joke came when a journalist asked him, “How many people work in the Vatican?” and he said, “About half.”

Another time, he was at a dinner party, and a woman was seated across from him wearing a low-cut dress, and his secretary turned to him and said, “What a scandal. That woman — everyone’s looking at her.”

“No one’s looking at her,” John said. “Everyone’s looking at me to see if I’m looking at her.”

There’s a guy who could laugh at himself.

We feel drawn to religious leaders with a sense of humor. It shows us that they understand their essential poverty of spirit and their own reliance on God. It shows humility, which is also essential in the spiritual life. You take God seriously, Jesus seriously and the gospel seriously, but you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously.

Q: We also think of the saints with utmost seriousness, but here too you say many had a great sense of humor.

The saints were often very funny people. Look at St. Teresa of Avila. The most well-known story about her was when she was knocked off her horse and fell into the mud and hurt herself. And she says to God, “Why are you treating me like this?”

The answer she hears in prayer is, “This is how I treat my friends.” And she says, “Well, that’s why you have so few of them.”

St. Philip Neri was known as the “Humorous Saint.” He went around Rome with half his beard shaved just to make people laugh and to remind them not to take themselves so seriously.

Not all the saints were laugh riots, but most had healthy senses of humor. They understood their own foibles and knew their place in the world. They knew they weren’t God, and they knew they weren’t the Messiah.

Why do we tend to think the saints were so serious? Because if we think that Jesus was always serious, then the saints also had to be serious. But that not only removes them from the human realm; it also lets us off the hook, and we say, “Well, we couldn’t possibly be like them.”

Q: You make the point in your book “My Life with the Saints” that these were very human people.

Exactly, and it’s the same with Jesus. There was a famous 14th-century manuscript, “Vita Christi” (“The Life of Christ”), by Ludolph of Saxony, that quoted a supposedly eyewitness description of Jesus: “He sometimes weeps but never laughs.”

Serious religion is pervasive. The early church had to grapple with the question of why Jesus had to suffer and die, so all the Gospels take up the question of the Passion. So almost half of the Gospel of John is about the Passion. But remember, that’s only a couple of weeks in Jesus’ life. He had 33 years before that, and if he had one to three years of ministry, much of it was about doing joyful things: going to wedding parties, healing people, raising people from the dead.

One of his images of himself, in fact, is the bridegroom at a party — a joyful image. We tend to overlook these things, unfortunately. We focus only on the suffering, which is to our detriment.

Q: “He sometimes weeps but never laughs” — this is not a guy who would draw such huge crowds.

People who are naturally attractive, someone like Pope John Paul II, have a good sense of humor. Who wants to be around a grumpy person or a group of miserable people? The disciples must have been cheerful.

Q: You say in the book that you’ve known many joyful Protestants. Maybe the grass is always greener, but I always thought Catholics have this rich humor and joy.

Not as much in our services, that’s for sure. Not in Mass very frequently. I generally find more smiles at Protestant services than I do at Catholic Masses. I just do. I don’t know why, though I offer some arguments for that in the book.

It may be a certain degree of egalitarianism. The minister in the Protestant world is not potentially as authoritarian a figure as in the Catholic world. Protestants might know your minister a little better. You know his wife and his children, and that humanizes them. I know plenty of funny Protestants, and there are plenty of funny Catholics, too. But you’re right — the grass is always greener on the other side of the sanctuary.

Q: There’s a “Simpsons” episode where Lisa goes undercover in a convent to get Maggie back, and the nuns in the day care are singing, “If you’re happy and you know it, that’s a sin.”

Guess what? That’s a Protestant song. There’s another episode where there’s a Catholic heaven and a Protestant heaven, and the Catholic heaven is joyful and the Protestant heaven is full of people looking quiet. Joylessness is an interfaith attribute.

Look how many pictures show Jesus or the saints smiling. Very few. The only two pictures I know of Jesus smiling are “Jesus Laughing” (link is external) and “The Risen Christ by the Sea.” (link is external)

People often make fun of them. They are not high art, but I think one reason people make fun is because it’s a shocking image. Why? Why wouldn’t he have laughed? Why wouldn’t he have enjoyed life?

It’s shocking because we have been conditioned to think of Jesus as morose. I hope when I get to heaven that Jesus doesn’t welcome me with a frown. Yet when you see pictures of Jesus smiling, they’re dismissed as saccharine or kitschy. Interesting, isn’t it?

Some scholars I approached when I was working on this book scratched their heads. The ones I quote warmed to the task, but some didn’t really understand the question at first: “What do you mean, ‘Is there humor in the Gospels?’ The Gospels don’t have humor.”

Many of the New Testament scholars with whom I spoke said there are several reasons we think that. First, we don’t understand the humor, so we miss it. Second, we’ve heard the stories so many times that they cease to be funny. Third, some of the stories about Jesus’ humor were probably taken out, because the writers wanted to present him as a wisdom figure, as a wise sage.

But even in the Old Testament, there’s tons of humor. Look at the book of Jonah. It’s hysterical. The other great story is Abraham and Sarah, where Sarah laughs and Abraham laughs. There’s a great line, “Abraham fell on his face laughing.” And they named their son “Isaac,” which means, “He laughed.” There at the beginning of the three great monotheistic religions is laughter. Why do we forget that?

Q: A bishop once told me that he never realized how funny he was until he became a bishop. People always laugh at the boss’s joke. But isn’t humor essential for leadership?

That’s like the line about Pharaoh in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”: “If he cracked a joke, then you chortled for days.”

Yeah, there is that danger, but the bigger danger is taking yourself too seriously. A good leader understands that he is not God. As my spiritual director likes to say, “The good news is that there is a Messiah. The better news is that it’s not you.”

Humor serves some important purposes. First, it can remind you of your poverty of spirit. Laughing at yourself reminds you that you are a human being reliant on God just like anybody else. You’ll get sick. You’ll die. You’ll be judged. You make mistakes. You are not perfect. You rely on God. You are a contingent being.

Humor also puts people at their ease. It’s good for social relations. Humor is essential for leaders, particularly in the religious world, where we all tend to think that we alone are doing God’s work.

Q: Is religious humor inherently self-deprecatory?

It has to be. If it mocks somebody else, it’s sinful. There is humor that builds up and humor that tears down. Even in the Gospels, there’s bad humor, as when the centurions mocked Jesus as “King of the Jews.” That’s a joke, but ironically, the joke was on them.

The humor that Jesus uses is playful. Think of the story of having a plank in your eye or the story of Caesar’s coin. They’re funny.

One scholar pointed out the humor in the story of Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac. The demons’ name is “Legion,” which, of course, is a joke about the Roman legions. And the demons go into pigs and rush down a hill, and then the townspeople are mad. The Gospels have humorous stories because life has humor, and Jesus truly encountered all of it.

Q: You’re the “official chaplain” of “The Colbert Report” and are a frequent guest (link is external) on the show. You clearly have a sense of humor, but on the show you tend to be Colbert’s straight man. Is that tough?

When you’re on Colbert, they tell you not to try to out-funny him, and I know better than to try to out-funny a professional comedian. So I just try to be myself, and I enjoy it immensely. He’s very funny. He’s also a very religious guy.

Q: He’s probably one of the best, most compelling representatives of Catholicism today.

He is. Have you seen his (link is external)Catholic throwdown with Jack White? It’s hysterical. That’s a great tool for evangelization. Notice what he’s doing. As St. Ignatius of Loyola said, he’s going in your door and coming out his door, meaning he’s going in the door of humor and he’s coming out the door of evangelization.

It’s a postmodern form of evangelization. He probably reaches more people with his Catholicism than I do in a year of homilies.

Q: But beneath his humor, there is an anger that I assume comes out of Catholic social justice.

Oh, yeah. When he appeared before Congress and talked about the poor, it was riveting.

And on his show, he’s using irony and satire, which Jesus did. It’s very much of a piece with the Gospels.

The thing is, people listen. If you are telling a boring, depressed, miserable story, no one will listen. But good news should put a smile on your face, and too many theologians have unfortunately overlooked this.

When’s the last theology book you read that brought a smile to your face? Why is that? As the saying goes, “When you’re deadly serious, you’re probably seriously dead.”

Q: As you write in the book — and as Colbert illustrates — laughter can be subversive, can’t it?

Yes. Joy — collective joy, especially — can be a threat. Those in authority have always been afraid of humor, because it pokes fun, and as a result, it’s a threat. So it tends to be tamped down. Some of the response of the political and religious leaders to Jesus may have been in response to his humor.

That Gospel story of Caesar’s coin, can you imagine him saying that? That is very funny. “Oh yeah? Well then, give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” You can imagine the crowd laughing.

They were trying to trap him, and he slips out of the trap with humor. You can imagine people laughing, which may not have gone over so well. I don’t think the Romans had a sense of humor.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, 28/07/2015

Alan Torrance: The future of theology lies with the body of Christ

Posted on: August 17th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Host, chalice, Bible, and statue of Jesus


The future of theology doesn’t lie in the agendas and biases of theologians but with the body of Christ and the one who is the Word of God, says the chair of systematic theology at the University of St. Andrews.

Every theologian is tempted to be a kind of “philosopher-king” who makes God fit into his or her own categories or agendas, says Alan Torrance.

That’s why one of the theologian’s most important tasks, Torrance said, is “to challenge all the ways in which we want to commandeer and distort and impose our own foreign categories and concepts on God’s self-disclosure.”

“There’s only one Lord before whom we bend our knee,” said Torrance, a professor and the chair of systematic theology at the University of St. Andrews. “There’s only one who authorizes and initiates an authentic theology, and that’s Jesus Christ.”

Alan TorrancePart of a family of prominent Scottish theologians, Torrance teaches and publishes in Christian doctrine and theology with particular respect to issues of personhood, political reconciliation and philosophical theology.

He was at Duke Divinity School in April 2014 for the conference “Sounding the Passion: Encounters in Poetry, Theology, and Music” and spoke with Faith & Leadership. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: You come from a family of well-known theologians, including your grandfather, Thomas Torrance, your father, James, and his brother Thomas. How did that shape you growing up?

It’s these mutant genes in my grandparents that caused this chaos.

Yes, both my grandparents were missionaries to China. They left as young people and went to remote China where no one had ever met a white person before. My granny had just turned 20 when she set off, and the day she arrived, she was robbed and left with nothing but her Bible and her toothbrush. They were two amazing, remarkable people.

My grandfather was a missionary for decades there, and around 1930, it became so dangerous for the family — there were six children — that my grandmother and the three boys and three girls escaped home.

My father never saw his father for seven years, between the ages of 7 and 14. His father stayed behind, to continue preaching the gospel in remote west China.

Just last week — both my parents have passed away — I found the letters that my father had written to his dad in China. Every Sunday he wrote a letter after church, and it was heart-rending — a young lad’s longing for his father and to see his dad again.

I’m telling you this because, for my parents, my father, his brothers and sisters, there was this profound sense of how important the gospel was, and that it claimed our lives. That’s been passed on in some sense to the next generation. There are heaps of us in my generation who are in ministry or in theology.

I have several cousins in ministry, and two of my sons are now — one is a postdoc in theology, and the other is studying for his Ph.D. in theology at Cambridge and training for the ministry.

My father, James Torrance, had this wonderfully joyful, enthusiastic commitment to the gospel. He felt it was liberating. It was invigorating. It had unparalleled, expansive power, and he lived from that center.

For Dad, there was nothing oppressive about it, so my parents’ family life was incredibly happy. There was a sense of belonging that for my dad stemmed from the gospel.

I remember him citing Matthew — “call no man father” — and saying, “Biologically I’m your dad, but in Christ we are brothers.”

My teenage years and on, he always treated me like his brother. I mean, he would discuss issues, financial issues, in an open, dialogical way. It was staggeringly affirming. We had an enormously rich relationship, and it stemmed from the gospel.

Dad was very keen on Romans 12:2, that we are to “be transformed,” not schematized by the secular order and secular concepts of family or society, but to be transformed and think out of Christ for the sake of the discernment of truth.

My dad sought rigorously in every facet of family life to do that, and it made for an extraordinary, joyful, happy, liberative childhood. It set a vision. Both my sisters are extremely keen Christians. One is a missionary, and I’m in the ministry and I’m a professor of theology, of course, and I hope that my sons have caught something of that.

Q: You’ll probably reject this label, but I’ve read references to “Torrance theology.” What does that mean, Torrance theology?

We should never use that term. The agent of theology and the context of theology is the body of Christ.

That’s the body of people who have been metamorphosed, re-schematized, through the discernment of God’s self-disclosure as Jesus Christ — not in Jesus Christ, as Jesus Christ — where the divine life is open to us to share. Paul says we are to share, to participate in that bond of inconceivable love between the Son and the Father by the Spirit.

So theology begins there. It doesn’t begin anywhere else. That is where God intends us to understand God and to understand God’s purpose. When we start there and think of God’s self-disclosure out of the biblical witness, what do we see?

First — and this is what the Torrances are keen to emphasize, but it’s not because they’ve got a particular agenda — in the Old Testament, the heart of God’s relationship to Israel and to humanity is covenantal. That’s an unconditioned and unconditional promise grounded in love, a promise to be faithful. That’s the context.

What do we see in the new covenant?

Not a contract but a remarkable, once-and-for-all statement of God’s covenant faith in us and God’s fulfilling on our behalf the obligations that stem from that covenant, that we by the Spirit might be set free to share, free from condemnation, in that inclusive and dynamic love that stems from the Triune being of God.

That was the vision of my father, and indeed of T.F. Torrance, but I don’t think it’s Torrancian theology. That seems to be what we have to affirm when we try to think of God’s self-disclosure out of the biblical witness.

Q: You’re part of a panel discussion later today on the future of theology. So what’s the future of theology?

I was asked to speak for 10 minutes on the future of theology, and of course, one’s immediate reaction is, “Wow, what fun! I’ve got the chance now to vent all my ambitions for the discipline.”

And I was about to do that. I sat down with my laptop, and I suddenly thought, “Well, wait a minute, Torrance. What exactly would this be? What would you be doing?”

I’m a later-middle-aged, middle-class white male Scotsman. I’m privileged. I’m secure. I live in a democratic context. I’ve got all sorts of agendas, biases, vested interests and so on.

Is it really my task to come to Duke and vent all that? Clearly not. Indeed, one of the problems with theology is there are all these testosterone-driven theologians out there trying to pull people in the direction of their own agendas and biases.

I found myself thinking, “Where does the future of theology lie?” The future of theology lies with the body of Christ. It lies with the one who is the Word of God, and it is that that generates theology.

How? By gathering a body of people who are reconciled in their thinking, who are re-schematized by it in their worldview and so are given to interpreting the prevailing cultural issues and so on from that center.

That’s where the future of theology lies — not with Alan Torrance and his agendas. So it becomes a question of, “How can I contribute to that?”

I think the main contribution I have to make is, one, of course, seeking to do what I’m doing now, trying to articulate and witness to the body of Christ. But also, and this is perhaps the greater task, to challenge all the ways in which we want to commandeer and distort and impose our own foreign categories and concepts on God’s self-disclosure.

Because the temptation of every theologian, myself included, is to be the kind of philosopher-king who controls the subject matter, fits it into his prior categories. There’s only one Lord before whom we bend our knee. There’s only one who authorizes and initiates an authentic theology, and that’s Jesus Christ.

So the future of theology lies with our being reconciled to his word reverently and faithfully.

Q: So theology grows out of the body of Christ — it grows out of a particular body of believers, out of the church, and not the other way around?

Absolutely it does. Totally.

The direction of the pressure of interpretation must always be from God’s self-disclosure to our categories of thought, and not from our prior categories of thought to God’s self-disclosure. My fundamental role as a theologian is working as hard as I can to ensure that I serve the church by ensuring that that is the directionality in the process of interpretation.

That’s very abstract, but to be practical, when we see the word “law” come up in Paul, we don’t just read into that what we mean by law — civil law, moral law and so on.

No. We ask, what did Paul mean?

He meant Torah. What is Torah?

Torah is the articulation of our response to God’s covenant faith in us: “I am the Lord thy God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. As I am unconditionally faithful to you, so be faithful to me and to each other.”

That’s what Torah means. So when we are understanding God’s relationship to the world, we need to understand our obligations as response to God first, and not to ourselves. And that means Jesus was just being a good Jew in summarizing the law in this way — loving God and our neighbors, ourselves, the disabled, the poor, the marginalized, our enemies and so on. There’s only one law that God endorses, and that’s the law.

The whole history of Western theology has been to reverse that, to try to interpret God’s self-disclosure in the light of foreign concepts of law — natural law, civil law, moral law and so on — which have not been re-schematized by God’s self-disclosure.

Or we talk about the covenant. The covenant has become, in the West, “contract.” We think in terms of not an unconditional promise on the part of God to humanity, proposing an unconditional love like in a marriage covenant — we promise to love the other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.

That’s what God’s covenant means. But we interpret it as a contract between God and humanity.

Why? Because we’ve taken a concept from our un-schematized or un-re-schematized civil context and imposed it on God’s covenantal self-disclosure, or God’s righteousness. Similarly, we interpret that in terms of concepts of retributive justice.

That’s foreign.

The one theological task of the theologian is to serve the gospel by ensuring that at every point we are thinking and rethinking all our conceptual frameworks from that center.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, 03/08/2015

New words for the old service

Posted on: August 17th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Back Row: (L-R) Canon Christyn Perkons, the Rev. Steven Hopkins, Carol Henley, Gill Janes, Rodney Lott, John Stephen, Joanne Gallagher, Lynda Kealey, Ted Taylor. Front Row: (L-R) Betty Coombs, Jane Stephen, Jane Wyse, Allan Nicolls. Photo: André Forget

Across the Anglican Church of Canada, the Book of Alternative Services and the Book of Common Prayer are the liturgical foundation for Sunday morning services.

But at St. Christopher’s Anglican Church in Burlington, Ont., the traditional liturgy is getting a reboot.

“For the last six years we’ve hosted a gathering to which everyone is invited in the spring, to ask questions about what’s going on in people’s lives, what do we think God is trying to do with us,” said Archdeacon Steve Hopkins, rector at St. Christopher’s. Out of these conversations, themes for worship and education are identified for the coming year, he said.

This day—“discernment day,” as it is known in the parish—goes far beyond a simple planning session, though. Open to anyone who wants to attend, it is about creating new service texts that reflect the thoughts, feelings and concerns of the congregation.

While these services follow the traditional Anglican rhythm, their content changes based on the season and the theme. If the theme being explored in Advent, for example, is “letting go of busyness,” the confession will be written to reflect that.

“It makes Sunday morning alive and magical and powerful,” Jane Wyse, a member of St. Christopher’s, said of her experience with discernment day. “It relates to our life and what we’re going through, and it’s not something that you say over and over again every Sunday; it changes up and it speaks to you more.”

This was a feeling that other people related to as well.

“The deepening and broadening of my own faith journey has been exponential in the six years that we’ve been doing this,” said Canon Christyn Perkons, who in addition to being a parishioner at St. Christopher’s serves as director of congregational support and development at the Niagara synod office. “I think the theology of so many of the things we deal with mean so much more to me…I understand my own belief system around it in a way I didn’t before.”

For others, it is the ability to be honest about what they believe—or don’t believe—that makes the experience regenerative.

“I feel very liberated,” said Ted Taylor. “I feel that I am not being required to either mouth words that I have trouble believing, or standing there silently while other people around me mouth them.”

But the new approach to liturgy is not only about innovation; it is also about maintaining a connection to the traditions of Anglicanism, according to the Rev. Dan Cranley, pastoral associate at St. Christopher’s.

“We’re trying to honour two things: what’s going on in the lives of the community along with honouring the Anglican rhythm of worship,” he said. “Seeing those two things come together for me has been really powerful.”

But what led to such radical changes being implemented in the first place? In Becoming a People of God: A New Approach to Liturgy and Learning, a document Hopkins wrote detailing the process and rationale of the new liturgical changes, he explained how a story told to him by a fellow priest transformed his outlook on the purpose of liturgy.

In the story, a parishioner frustrated by congregational conversations about how the church could reach out to its neighbourhood more effectively, asked, “Why do we have to worry about these other people? Why can’t we just worry about ourselves?”

Hopkins argued that it is not that this parishioner hadn’t understood the church’s teachings, but that she was expressing exactly what she had been taught by traditional liturgy: that the church is separate from the world and needn’t concern itself with its neighbours.

“The responsibility for this outcome did not lie with the woman,” Hopkins said. “It lay with those responsible for her formation in the faith and, ultimately, with the curriculum for that formation [the weekly liturgy and the life of the community that gathers to celebrate it].”

The changes to liturgy at St. Christopher’s are about being more intentional concerning teaching, he said, adding that he has seen some positive outcomes.

“I think there’s a shift in expectations,” he told the Anglican Journal. “I think a lot of folks never expected anything meaningful to happen in church, and I think there is some anticipation that something is going to happen—I’m going to hear something; I’m going to be challenged; it’s going to make me thoughtful.”

Taylor agreed wholeheartedly.

“I would say that discernment day has moved [us from] the Church of England of the 16th century to the Anglican Church of St. Christopher’s of the 21st century,” he said. “It is bringing people into a connection where they can see the church as being applicable to their daily lives and their daily needs, not as an historical repetition of words.”


Anglican Journal News, August 17, 2015

Life inside the abbey

Posted on: August 17th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments


Life inside the abbey (link is external)
The (Portland) Oregonian: Though they live high on an isolated hill, Mount Angel’s modern-day monks can’t escape the stresses and fears of the outside world.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, 07/08/2015

God chooses the despised: an interview with 2015 Templeton Prize Laureate Jean Vanier

Posted on: August 17th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments


God chooses the despised: an interview with 2015 Templeton Prize Laureate Jean Vanier (link is external)

America: An email interview with the French Canadian Catholic philosopher and humanitarian who founded L’Arche.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, 07/08/2015

L. Gregory Jones and Nathan Jones: Deep trends affecting Christian institutions

Posted on: August 15th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments


We can’t ignore them. So our challenge is to cultivate patterns of discernment on how to adapt faithfully and creatively to them.

Vibrant institutions are characterized by traditioned innovation. They continually engage their traditions in ways that create space for innovative engagement in the future. Innovation often seems like a mysterious gift, given only to those geniuses and visionaries who win MacArthur grants and Nobel Prizes.

Yet a closer look at the inner workings of innovation reveals something different. Innovative leaders do not merely rely on their intelligence, nor do they merely engage their traditions in creative ways. They pay attention to their contexts.

Indeed, leaders marked by traditioned innovation pay attention to deep trends that are shaping society and its institutions.

These trends give leaders the raw material that enables them to retrieve key insights and practices from their traditions, tinker with new ideas and solutions in their organizations, and adapt to substantive cultural changes. Vibrant institutions are marked by this kind of leadership that helps to transform wicked problems into innovative, generative solutions.

We describe here seven “deep trends” affecting Christian institutions to provoke conversation about the contexts in which traditioned innovation can occur. We characterize these as “deep trends” because they are more pervasive and perduring than temporary fads or loose speculation.

While they are not guaranteed to keep occurring, it would take major interventions to redirect them, and we think such interventions are unlikely. So the challenge is to cultivate patterns of discernment, guided by the Holy Spirit, on how to adapt faithfully and creatively to them rather than to pretend they don’t exist or to acknowledge but ignore them.

1. The digital revolution

Love it or hate it, we are in the midst of a digital revolution that is fundamentally reshaping much of our daily lives. And too often we find ourselves caught between unreserved enthusiasts for the latest technological fads and Luddite fearmongers telling us that those fads threaten all that is good about life. We need to develop opposable minds that can wrestle with the diverse blessings and burdens that the digital revolution offers.

A young pastor recently noted that “Facebooking” and tweeting are two of his most important ministerial responsibilities. Within minutes of posting a church status update, he can receive dozens of “Likes” and spark a vibrant conversation among parishioners in the comments section. Without Facebook, he wonders, how could such a wide-ranging and immediate encounter take place? Have the church and other Christian institutions ever seen such a powerful mechanism for communication?

Yet at the same time, as virtual relations become increasingly habitual, their drawbacks become more apparent.

Words on a screen can never replace words spoken from mouths; not only can the tonal ambiguity of text lead to unnecessary conflict, but reliance on virtual means of communication can impair our ability to have profound experiences together in the flesh. At its worst, social technology can serve as a surrogate for embodied relationships, leaving us strangely disconnected from the body of Christ.

Beyond its social functions, technology has also generated new possibilities for collaboration and education.

Videoconferencing allows diverse people from various contexts to engage one another, broadening the horizons of each in the process. While the demands of time, travel and money have often closed off collaborative opportunities in the past, videoconferencing ameliorates many of those constraints (and offers environmental benefits as well).

Educational technology, too, offers significant avenues for reshaping the way teachers teach and students learn. Apple, for example, has begun developing student-centric programs, designed to serve the particular learning style of each child. Moreover, experiments in distance learning have expanded from Internet startups at the fringe to rigorous programs at top-tier universities. Stanford’s open-source program has attracted tens of thousands of learners to its free Internet content.

Our growing dependence on technology for sociality, collaboration and education is affecting yet another aspect of our lives: how we think. On one hand, human beings have never had such immediate access to facts and figures, exposure to such a wide range of thoughts and research, or the ability to communicate those thoughts so freely to anyone at any time. On the other hand, this flood of technological stimulation has affected our ability to remain attentive to a single pursuit for a long period of time. How can we best understand the benefits and constraints of technology on our thinking? On the cultivation of wisdom?

Any strategy that institutions develop must take into account the ways that the digital revolution is changing basic patterns of remembering, perceiving, connecting and living daily life — for good and for ill.

Rather than offering either uncritical praise of the benefits of technology or Luddite criticism of any new invention, we first need to acknowledge that the digital revolution is with us to stay. We then need to develop opposable ways of thinking so we can develop strategies of traditioned innovation.

2. A multinodal world

In our globalized age, traditional markers of identity and place are rapidly being renegotiated. With the proliferation of Internet technology, efficient travel options, and interconnected commerce and institutions, people from diverse cultures now interact with ever-greater frequency and fluidity.

In particular, this shift has generated new questions and issues at the intersection of ethnicity, church and society. We don’t just live in a “global” environment; rather, we live in a multinodal world in which assumptions about culture and ethnicity have to be negotiated in fresh ways and at deeper levels.

No American institution, for example, can ignore the rising influence of immigrants from Central and South America. From linguistic and cultural considerations to issues of minority representation in places of power, the influx of immigrants has created a new set of institutional challenges. At the same time, however, ethnic diversity also presents Christian institutions with a new set of gifts. Immigrant communities not only bring fresh perspectives and ideas, but they often keep the church’s ear attuned to the voice of the poor and those on the margins.

Ethnic diversity has also reshaped our missional beliefs and practices.

Through most of modernity, the portrait of Christian missions has involved groups of privileged Western Christians traveling to “underdeveloped” communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia to provide teaching, construction, medical services and the like. But because of recent power shifts and a general ecclesial decline in the West, mission now looks quite different. Korean Christians are sending missionaries to China, for example, and African Christians to Western Europe.

This multidirectional form of mission emerges at a time when the strength of Christianity resides more in the global South than the North. Accordingly, many Western churches have adopted a more reciprocal, capacity-building approach to mission.

Building off Muhammad Yunus’ microcredit and microfinance model, programs like the Zimbabwe Orphans Endeavor (ZOE) seek to equip those in need with the capacity to earn a living for themselves rather than depend on Western aid. And many Western Christians are experiencing the fresh impact of the Spirit through immigrant communities’ dynamic worship and mission.

These significant shifts pose deep questions for Christian institutions across multiple lines.

They not only question Western assumptions; they also destabilize conventional ways in which we have come to think about diversity, as well as mission. In a multinodal world, the “world” we seek to engage increasingly exists within American institutions just as much as beyond them.

3. Reconfiguring denominations and emerging forms of congregating

For decades, it made some sense to describe a typical American church. It would probably be a Methodist, Baptist or Presbyterian church of moderate size, dominated by one particular social or racial group, and it would adhere to denominational norms of doctrine, polity and practice. In the past few decades, however, each of these descriptors has changed so significantly that the term “typical American church” has become increasingly unintelligible.

The decline of mainline Protestantism’s membership and cultural influence has opened the door for a range of new ecclesial configurations, most of which differ sharply from the mainline model. Some of these configurations include a heightened awareness of Roman Catholic congregations, fueled especially by the increased ethnic diversity of the last half-century.

Megachurches have exploded onto the scene, attracting new members by the thousands and planting satellite campuses across the country.

At some satellites, the sermon is delivered by the lead pastor through video from the main campus. In other megachurches, several pastors study and craft sermons together and fan out to preach in various locations. Many of these megachurches are evangelical and nondenominational.

On the other end of the spectrum, a growing number of young Christians have moved in the opposite direction. “New Monastics,” as they have been called, create intentional communities among the poor to live out their faith in the neglected places of society. These Christians consciously resist the church-growth metrics of megachurches, though their witness has itself grown significantly in recent years.

The New Monastics are one example of new patterns of congregating.

Many other Christians, especially among younger generations, have also begun experimenting with new patterns of congregating. House churches have sprouted up around the country, often growing out of local networks of people committed to a biblical form of congregating. Others are gathering around music or particular forms of social witness, where Christian community — and often intentional living arrangements — are connected to a desire to find life in community less encumbered by traditional institutions and established notions of “church.”

In its most extreme form, this frustration with traditional institutions has led to what is colloquially called the “I’m spiritual but not religious” culture, in which a more private and individual form of spirituality actually undermines the search for sustainable community.

Amidst these nondenominational movements and new forms of congregating, denominations find themselves struggling with self-definition.

The terms “conservative,” “liberal,” “traditional” and “progressive” are now more indicative of people’s loyalties than “Methodist,” “Lutheran” or even “Roman Catholic.” Internal debates rage over the authority of Scripture, the ordination of gays and lesbians, same-sex marriage, the ordination of women and other hot-button issues. In many cases, such obstacles have proven insurmountable, leaving churches with various options for realignment that are under way but by no means settled.

The future of denominations is not clear; what is clear is that the old structures of denominations are changing dramatically. Institutions that have depended on denominational loyalty for funding, students, clients and other resources are having to reinvent their relationships, even as new movements are creating new institutions.

4. Questioning institutions

Only 44 percent of Americans have great confidence in churches and other religious institutions, according to a recent Gallup poll.

This lack of institutional trust, however, extends far beyond the walls of religious institutions. Indeed, political debates surrounding the 2012 election have often been framed in institutional terms. Can we trust a candidate who made his career at a private equity firm that is part of the economic system that brought us the 2008 crisis? Or a candidate who seems beholden to outdated models of government influence? Can either of these two candidates do anything about the rising costs of higher education?

Higher education, meanwhile, has come under fire for more reasons than its rising costs. The American public has grown skeptical of the value of its degrees; while a B.A. used to guarantee employment, scores of college graduates are now looking for jobs. Colleges and universities feel the strain, too, as shrinking budgets have forced administrators to cut programs and hire mostly adjunct faculty. The future of higher education looks challenging, with the price of its product continuing to rise even as consumer confidence wanes.

The institutional role of the church in society has raised questions from Christians and non-Christians alike.

Members of the “emergent church” movement often see the institutional church as a barrier to reaching new places in society. A growing number of young Christians have become uncomfortable with the accommodated nature of the institutional church to various political causes. And many skeptical secularists worry that “institution” is simply another word for “lifeless bureaucracy.”

Common to both insiders and outsiders, though, is deep confusion over the nature, place and role of institutions in American society, including the church. Much of the blame for that confusion can be placed on the shoulders of Christian institutions themselves. Many of them are unclear about their mission and reason for existence, are led by ineffective people and can get bogged down in bureaucratic detail. Even those institutions with a sense of mission and effective leaders are often too weak or small to effect meaningful and lasting change.

5. Economic stress on Christian institutions

In a normal economic climate, dealing with institutional finances can quickly become tedious and frustrating. But in fragile economic conditions — like those created by the 2008 downturn — tedium and frustration give way to financial self-reflection. Leaders probe the economic foundations of their institutions, seeking to understand where their own institutions fit into wider economic trends.

The combination of broader global economic fragility, rising health care and pension costs, and the relatively small size of many Christian institutions has resulted in tremendous economic stress. These dynamics, when added to other trends such as the reconfiguring of denominations, have caused many Christian institutions not only to feel stress but to turn to desperate measures for survival.

Further, there are significant shifts in the habits of philanthropists and other foundations. Rather than offering regular support through endowment and annual fund gifts, many people are looking more at high-impact philanthropy, venture philanthropy, and other approaches oriented toward outcomes and the development of revenue streams that will guarantee sustainability.

The most vibrant Christian institutions are revisiting their basic economic models, developing new partnerships and networks to broaden the scale and scope of their activities and impact, and exploring new sources of revenue. The potential for experimentation and innovation to create sustainable economic development is great, but the danger is more readily obvious. And when danger lurks, it is often more tempting to try to keep the ship from sinking than to develop strategies to ensure that we don’t miss the boat that offers long-term life.

6. Shifting vocations of laypeople

Christian laypeople often struggle to balance the demands of career, family and church life. For many, commitment to the church can take the shape of singing in the choir, volunteering to teach Sunday school or serving on any number of committees. This approach helps keep priorities balanced by distinguishing between specific responsibilities in specific arenas.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach, of course, but a growing number of laypeople are seeking fulfillment through the integration of faith, career and daily life. Laypeople increasingly ask questions like, What does it mean to be a Christian lawyer? Does it really change anything about medicine or physics if you practice it as a Christian? and, What kinds of risks to my career should I be willing to undertake for the sake of the gospel? Many laypeople, too, will expect their pastors, Christian institutional leaders, and Christian books and digital resources to help them articulate thoughtful responses.

Indeed, this trend among the laity for more integrated approaches to daily life in the world is challenging the church to adapt and the clergy to think of their roles in fresh ways. The church will resemble less an organization to which people come and more a body involved in the world, and clergy will serve more as enablers than as creators. Their task will be to equip the saints for ministry. A pastor will always lead theologically, but much of the church’s imagination for ministry will come from those laypeople who have learned to integrate their faith into every aspect of their lives.

This ought to reinvigorate the importance of Christian educational institutions, from pre-K through graduate school (including theological education opportunities for laypeople). It ought also to heighten attention to the formation of Christian discipleship for life in the world, for the ways in which Christians practice diverse vocations in the arts, business, medicine, law, teaching and many other settings.

7. The lure of cities

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, almost 70 percent of the world’s projected 9.3 billion people will be living in cities by the year 2050. Compared with the 30 percent of 2.5 billion who lived in cities in 1950, it’s safe to say that a global trend toward living in cities has emerged. It’s also safe to say that this development presents a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges for the church and other Christian institutions.

Although some of those challenges will reveal themselves only in time, many others are already predictable.

Urbanization will likely lead to the explosive growth of congregations capable of attracting new urbanites, leaving many rural congregations bereft of members. This widening gap between bustling urban congregations and dwindling rural ones will force judicatories into difficult decisions. Should smaller rural churches merge? Can rural churches remain financially sustainable without major external support? What kinds of partnerships might or might not be possible between rural and urban churches? Can rural churches develop networks and create assets that make them feel more like cities?

If the 20th century has been any indication, we can also expect that urbanization will lead to a whole range of social ills. Bigger cities, ever-notorious for breeding poverty, filth and crime, will challenge even the most effective social justice programs an urban church can offer. Just as the metropolis created conditions for a new species of poverty and crime, the church can expect to deal with similar developments as cities continue to grow.

Yet the same ingredients that make cities a breeding ground for social ills — physical proximity, cultural differences and limited resources, among others — also make cities vibrant locations for creativity and innovation to flourish. Physical proximity brings talented and creative people together to collaborate, cultural diversity opens up new avenues for exploration and mutual growth, and limited resources force people to experiment with creative alternatives to traditional solutions.

The role Christian institutions will have in this surge of innovation will depend, of course, on their ability to collaborate widely, draw in unlikely partners and galvanize support from diverse groups of city dwellers. Wayne Meeks entitled his book on early Christianity “The First Urban Christians,” to signify that Christianity was, in its origins, very much a movement that grew in cities. The 21st century will be a test as to the extent to which Christianity can once again capture the imagination of new generations of urbanites.

It is important to note that these trends mutually influence one another.

The shift to cities affects the way laypeople understand their vocations and the ways people will be congregating, yet the digital revolution also offers opportunities for people in rural communities to be connected to one another in new ways.

The multinodal world is reshaping life in major cities, but it is increasingly present even in the most rural of areas. The questioning of institutions is leading to economic stress for existing congregations, even as several other trends provide opportunities for new networks of relationships and the emergence of new, sustainable models of institutions.

We do not presume to suggest that these trends are the only or necessarily the most significant ones in any particular context.

We do suggest, however, that the more we attend to deep trends such as these, the more vibrant and innovative our institutions will likely become. We won’t be preoccupied with reacting to short-term fads or wishing the future would be different than it likely will be. We will be practicing traditioned innovation in ways that will offer life and faithful witness to the God who continues to make all things new.


Leadershipo Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, August 07, 2015

Newfoundland’s Anglican-Episcopal pipeline

Posted on: August 15th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Fr. Steven Maki, the Episcopal rector of Grand Bay parish, at the entrance to Holy Trinity, the parish’s oldest Anglican church. Photo: Kat Findlay

The Rev. Steven Maki is part of a long tradition of cross-border religious reciprocity. He’s an American Episcopal priest serving in an Anglican parish in Newfoundland.

In fact, the Massachusetts-raised Maki is now ministering in his second parish in the diocese of Western Newfoundland—his first being Flower’s Cove, where he served from 2005 to 2007. For the past 18 months, he’s been priest to the 600-family, three-point parish of Grand Bay, where he hopes to stay for at least four years. Maki is one of three U.S. Episcopal expatriates making up for the scarcity of Anglican clergy in the diocese.

Growing up in Lunenburg, Mass., of Finnish Lutheran and French-Canadian Roman Catholic descent, Maki was raised a Lutheran but gravitated as a young adult to The Episcopal Church. “For me, it was a via media between my father’s Lutheranism and my mother’s Roman Catholicism,” he said. Graduating from the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, Mass., in 2003, he was invited to the diocese of Western Newfoundland during a visit by retiring Bishop Leonard Whitten and ordained in Flower’s Cove by then Bishop (now Archbishop) Percy Coffin in 2005. After serving that parish for four years, he returned to Boston for a four-year inner-city ministry on Newbury Street.

Maki likes the friendliness and the strong basic connections between people in the Anglican church in rural Newfoundland and the informal way things get done. “In the U.S., The Episcopal Church is seen as the church of the elite, of the Mayflower bluebloods who go way back, but here in Newfoundland it’s the church of the people,” he said.

Maki also likes Newfoundlanders’ passion for music, fondness for fellowship and the sheer authenticity of their congregations. “I’m especially fond of Holy Trinity at Codroy, the oldest and most traditional church in my parish,” said Maki, who also ministers to St. John the Evangelist in Cape Ray and St. Paul’s in Grand Bay.

For decades, U.S. Episcopal priests, many from EDS, have been recruited—to all three Newfoundland dioceses to serve congregations lacking Anglican clergy. Facilitating that vital recruitment is the Rev. Alexander “Randy” Daley, a retired Episcopal priest from the diocese of Massachusetts. “We had a surplus of clergy down here and I felt strongly that that people who had finished divinity school should have a place to go and do the Lord’s work,” said Daley, who himself served in Western Newfoundland’s Stephenville parish after leaving the military. “I’d work with [now retired] Archbishop Stewart Payne of Western Newfoundland and sometimes with [now retired] Bishop Eddie Marsh of Central Newfoundland to send people up there.”

Episcopal priests went north to The Rock at the rate of one, sometimes two, a year, for a total of about 35 during Daley’s time, and a smaller number of Anglican priests left Canada to serve in New England. “Anglican bishops have come down from Newfoundland to ordain Episcopal priests in Massachusetts,” Daley said.

The three-decade exchange has worked out well, with most  Episcopal priests settling in handily. “I sent up one priest who said, ‘I’m never coming back. It’s paradise up here,’ ” Daley recalled. “So I phoned him in Rocky Harbour in midwinter when I knew there’d be a Newfoundland blizzard brewing, and still he said, ‘I haven’t changed my mind. This is just a wonderful place to be.’ ”

One of the longest-serving Episcopal priests he helped send to Newfoundland was the Rev. Robert Elder, a retired U.S. navy chaplain who spent 20 years at Flower’s Cove. That parish, whose Episcopal priest, the Rev. Bryan Pearson, recently returned to the U.S., will soon have another in the person of Boston-trained Fr. Omar Reyes. He will be ordained a deacon at St. Barnabas on September 1 by Archbishop Percy Coffin.

If the transition went smoothly for the priests, it didn’t always sit well with Daley’s fellow clergy in Massachusetts. “One seminary professor got angry and said, ‘You’re thwarting our system.’ And I said, ‘Listen, you’ve got about 100 people wanting to go into the ministry and you can only take 10. You’ve got well-qualified people coming out of our seminaries and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t go up there. It’s very welcoming.’ ”

Canadian law makes crossing the employment border fairly simple, Daley added. “The bishop can write the immigration authorities and get a priest in right away—with health coverage.”

Daley keeps a strong connection with Atlantic Canada in the shape of a farm in Prince Edward Island, which he acquired for $1,200, then built a cabin on for cash-strapped Newfoundland clergy to vacation in. “The farm’s still a going concern,” he said.

What about differences between Anglicans and Episcopalians? “There are no major ones,” Daley said. “We’re pretty much alike.” Just as Anglican churches have varying styles of worship, “We have ‘high and crazy, low and lazy, broad and hazy.’ Like in Canada, we’re a very flexible church.”

But according to the Rev. James Pratt, a cradle Episcopalian and Boston lawyer-turned-priest who was ordained in Canada by Bishop Whitten and spent more than six years in Western Newfoundland’s parish of Cow Head, the ecclesiastical culture is somewhat different. “In The Episcopal Church there’s more of a tendency toward congregationalism in terms of polity. So there’s a little more independence in the parishes and a bit less power in the bishops,” he said. Hence, the relatively loose organization and less structured way of doing things in Cow head suited him well.

Still, he found going from downtown Boston to Cow Head a big switch. “With the exception of the park ranger and a couple of teachers, I was the only outsider,” recalled Pratt, now rector of St. Philip’s in Montreal West. “Everyone else not only had century-old roots in the community but was also related to everybody else!”

Newfoundland is a seductive place famed for insinuating itself into the psyches and souls of all who spend time there, drawing them back again and again. But how about those Newfoundland winters with their legendary nor’easters—aren’t they worse even than New England’s? “About the same,” said Daley.

“Definitely worse,” said Maki, “because of all that blowing snow.”

Looking back, Daley recalls his time on The Rock as an entirely positive experience. “I cried when I left,” he said. “It was the best and least bureaucratic ministry I ever had.”


Anglican Journal News, August 12, 2015

Pilgrim way: Meeting Christ in the unexpected

Posted on: August 12th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Pilgrim way: Meeting Christ in the unexpected

By Fr Richard Wilson

Fr Richard Wilson recently returned to Melbourne after walking the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrim route running from Canterbury to Rome. He met Christ each day of the walk, he reflects, even though he did not always recognise him.


When I sensed, resisted, then finally accepted the call to go ‘on pilgrimage’, and having chosen the Via Francigena, I did not really know what to expect. I was determined that it should not be another bushwalk, but I had no particular goals in mind. Despite the build up of anticipation, I was determined that it should be real, not romantic.

Photo Credit: Submitted by Richard Wilson

The Via Francigena runs from Canterbury to Rome, passing through France and Switzerland. It has followed the Roman road network for more than 1,300 years. The earliest detail of the route we have is the journal of Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury who walked it from Canterbury to Rome in 990 to receive the Pallium from the Pope, stayed three days, then walked back.

I walked the last third, from Pavia, just south of Milan, to Rome. A journey of roughly 700 kilometres. 36 days on the track, thirty two of them walking. An average of 25 kilometres a day. The longest day was 34 kilometres with a 1,000 metre ascent. I carried a 10kg backpack with one change of clothes, a sleeping bag, an iPad, camera, toiletries and not much else. I lost about eight kgs.

I stayed in ostelli, hostels for pilgrims, that have been established, mainly in the places Sigeric records as his stopping points. There was very little English spoken in the countryside.

Photo Credit: Submitted by Richard Wilson

The track is a combination of walking track, footpaths, roads large and small and a bit of cross-country through farms and forests, and one WWII airfield. There were lots of dogs. A few were friendly.

I passed through Lombardia, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany and Lazio. Tuscany is a beautiful place to walk and equals its reputation, but Lombardia and Emilia Romagna are beautiful too. Lazio? Meh. These details are only the travelogue. The practical side was easy or manageable. There were incidents along the way but no disasters.

The hardest part was not physical but mental and spiritual. For the first two weeks I travelled alone and stayed pretty much by myself in the ostelli. I became, after a while, very lonely. The welcome at the first monastery I stayed in, in Piacenza, was barely civil. There was no one with which to share the experience of ‘pilgrimage’, except in prayer, and after two weeks that seemed a bit one-way.

At the same time I became used to the rhythm of the road, the daily imperative to be up and out, packed, laced up, fed and watered and on the next leg. It was not, in one respect, contemplative. Sometimes it was dangerous, especially where the track followed major roads. Once or twice I really felt like throwing in the towel. I was never more than a half day’s train ride from Rome.

Photo Credit: Submitted by Richard Wilson

But then things began to change. Closer to Rome I began to meet other pilgrims on the track and in the ostelli. We were able to share meals together in the towns where we stopped and came to know a little of each other’s stories. Language was still a bit of a barrier as most of the people I met were not English speakers. We got by.

As my mood lifted I became aware how much of a change it was to be out of community. I had, of course, left family, friends and colleagues behind. I had not anticipated what a difference that would make; and I have done a lot of solo work-based travel. These little connections with others along the way made a profound difference. As my Italian improved, so did my capacity to get closer to the people I met in the towns and villages along the way in shops, restaurants, cafes and at the ostelli.

Photo Credit: Submitted by Richard Wilson

The turning point was at Abbadia Isola. The ostello there is run by volunteers of the Confraternita di San Jacopo. A retired couple from Bologna, Ettore and Lydia, were on duty. I rang the bell, Lydia opened it and greeted me with the greatest warmth and largest smile. I was shown a comfortable dormitory in which I was the only occupant. They gave me iced tea and biscuits. I had a couple of hours to change and wash, look around the very old church before dinner, which they provided. But not before welcoming prayers complete with Ettore washing my feet and kissing them! Then to dinner for three. A home-cooked meal and an engaging conversation, in broken Italian on where we were from, family, the other pilgrims we had met and so forth. In the morning, breakfast was the same. After a blessing from me, which they insisted on, I was sent on my way with fruit and bread in my pack and tears in my eyes, overwhelmed by their hospitality and friendliness.

The reality of God’s presence with me on this journey was becoming palpable. There were numerous occasions when something I needed appeared, seemingly, out of nowhere. Even a physiotherapist when I had a troublesome foot!

By journey’s end I had a renewed appreciation of these three things: community, hospitality and provision. Provision never failed. Hospitality and community were denied me at the start, almost as a lesson. Hospitality then became abundant. Community for me was never really resolved. I don’t think you can walk a pilgrimage without being, for a large part of it, alone. The aloneness reminded me of how valuable family and the community of the church and work are.

I didn’t experience any visions, no ethereal figures of Mary or St Roch (patron of the Via Francigena). While I didn’t always recognise him, I met Christ every day. Sometimes I was able to be Christ for someone else. That was real.


Fr Richard Wilson is an assistant priest at St Peter’s Eastern Hill in East Melbourne, Australia. This reflection first appeared on the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne’s website.


Anglican Communion News Service,  ACNS  Daily Summary, August 06, 2015