Thursday, December 24, 2009

I am a closet Christian

One of our assumptions among the members of the Evangelism Commission is that Christians will never reach full maturity in their faith, and never begin to experience the fullness of being a follower of Jesus, until they find a way to articulate their faith.

Ada Calhoun writes in on her blog as about her journey to becoming Christian, and her journey to being able to admit that she is Christian.

She says "I am a closet Christian. At least, I was until now. Because in my circle, nothing is more embarrassing than being religious."

It was Sunday morning in my scruffy Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood, and I was wearing a dress. Walking to the subway, I ran into a friend heading home from yoga class. She wore sweats and carried her mat over her shoulder. "Where are you going so early all dressed up?" she asked, chuckling. "To church?" We shared a laugh at the absurdity of a liberal New Yorker heading off to worship.

The real joke? I totally was.

Inside the church, it's cool and quiet. I read the Collect of the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which urges us: "While we are placed among 
things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall
 endure." My recent layoff no longer seems like the end of the world. I take Communion and exchange the peace and listen to the sermon. As I'm walking back up the aisle, I feel reoriented and calmer, the indignities of the week shift into perspective.

These moments are not only sacred; they are secret. Outside, on the steps of the downtown Manhattan church, I think I see someone familiar coming down the sidewalk, and I bolt in the other direction.

Why am I so paranoid? I'm not cheating on my husband, committing crimes or doing drugs. But those are battles my cosmopolitan, progressive friends would understand. Many of them had to come out -- as gay, as alcoholics, as artists in places where art was not valued. To them, my situation is far more sinister: I am the bane of their youth, the boogeyman of their politics, the very thing they left their small towns to escape. I am a Christian.

No doubt Ada is not alone. Many of us are closet Christians. How do we "tell what we have seen and heard" if we lock ourselves away in closets?

Read the rest of her story here.

H/T to Episcopal Cafe.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Getting ready for Christmas visitors

Most congregations will have to dust off the back—or the front!—pews on Christmas Eve. Churches find that a lot of people show up for what is both a major feast of the church and a major cultural holiday. The Christmas story reminds us that God is revealed to strangers and welcomes the outsider. How we prepare for Christmas at the doors of the church is every bit as important as what we prepare in the chancel.

There are many reasons that people come to Christmas liturgies: some prefer to come to church at Christmas and Easter; others come as a kind of “family reunion” gathering as a family in the church they took part in when the kids were younger and before they went their separate ways. Some folks are coming because they remember another church. Of course, some are coming for deeper reasons that they may or may not be conscious of. The major Christmas liturgies are a time of welcome and it is a time when the church is both ministering to the core congregation and to the larger community.

Don’t forget to prepare for visitors as carefully as we prepare our music, our flowers and greens and our liturgies. It is tempting to think that these special liturgies are for “us” and so end up treating visitors as outside observers or, worse, as interlopers. If there is ever a time when our liturgy is both a celebration of the community faith and a spiritual ministry to the community, Christmas Eve is it!

Here are some more or less random suggestions for extending hospitality to everyone on Christmas Eve. These are lessons that can be applied any time.
  • Everyone is a participant. In both our spoken communications and our printed notices be careful not to reinforce notions of those who “belong” or who are "insiders" and those who “don’t belong,” “we haven’t seen in a long time” or as "outsiders." We all are the recipients of God's welcome of strangers to the manger. Any hint that someone is perceived as an outsider is the same as saying, "No room in the inn!"
  • Avoid asking people to identify themselves publicly as visitors. For every one person who likes that kind of attention, there are ten who do not.
  • Repeat after me: “Merry Christmas. We are glad to see you.” Full stop. Avoid inadvertently shaming a person who “only” comes to church on Christmas and Easter. If the person in question brings it up, just smile (or laugh) and repeat the above line. If the worshipper is a person who was once very active in church and is now much less so, appreciate their presence now.
  • Don't assume that anyone knows anything! We long-timers may crack wise about “Episcopal aerobics” (you know, ‘stand, sit, kneel…’) and take pride in the hand-eye coordination it takes to juggle a Prayer Book, Hymnal and Bulletin, but for everyone else it can be an intimidating. Newcomers to our tradition or people who have not been to church for a while can be self-conscious about proper 'church-etiquette'. This is a good time to print as much of the liturgy as you reasonably can in one place.
  • Celebrate the church's faith without apology or hesitation. The Christmas Eve liturgy is the great rehearsal of the incarnation. All those who come want to be part of a living community's drama of welcoming Jesus. In doing so, they hope to discover again — or for the first time — who God is and who Jesus is — "up close and personal." Don't try to play to the audience. This is a glorious night full of God's splendor, mystery, and presence. Sing, pray, rejoice in all the ways your community is able. Deep joy and genuine excitement are contagious and appealing. Skip anything that is phony or contrived.
  • Encourage church members to show hospitality through attentiveness and warmth to those taking seats near them — making sure each person has a hymnal, a service bulletin, enough room, or a friendly word of guidance about where to turn in the hymnal. It is also a good idea to remind long-timers that they can gently help newcomers by sharing a hymnal or prayer book. If you see someone fumbling through a book trying to finding a page, try gently offering to exchange your prayer book for theirs. Ushers and greeters are important, but what will make a lasting and loving impression is the demonstration of grace and caring by the people in the pews who share the journey.
  • Orient ushers and greeters and make sure they are “on duty” and “on station” throughout the whole liturgy. Everyone may focus on the celebrant, preacher and choir but the first person a newcomer or visitor interacts with in your church is the usher and greeter. They should be focused on welcoming a newcomer, orienting them to the church and helping answer any questions. They should know where the rest rooms are, where to hang coats, be ready to pass along an activity bag for children, and invite them to coffee hour or hospitality after the service. Nothing sends a message of “you don’t belong and I don’t care” when an usher is chatting with members with their back to the door or who disappear after the first hymn.
  • Be ready to help parents with children who are not regular church-goers feel comfortable. Many parents have unrealistic notions of how children "ought" to behave in church. Many parents assume that churches are intolerant of children and fear that any little peep will attract disapproval. Proving them wrong would a pleasant and welcome surprise. If your church has activity bags or special bulletins for young children--or maybe a group can create small "gift" bags to give to parents with things that help children stay both occupied and engaged during the liturgy--make sure your ushers and greeters offer them to the parents and children as they come in. Don't wait for them to ask! If you have a nursery or a play area, make sure it is staffed and that there is a way for parents to still take part in the service maybe with Christmas books, coloring, etc. Long-timer parents with kids can assist visiting parents and their kids by helping them relax and enjoy the service.
  • Update your newcomers materials and have them ready.
  • Be sure all know how they are to receive Holy Communion. A simply worded notice in the bulletin or a brief explanatory word just before people partake will be a generous act of hospitality.
  • Love all the people just because they are there for this time, this holy night. Forget about wondering and worrying about whether or not they will come back.
  • Do leave breadcrumbs along the path so that if people want to come again, they know how and when to return. The Christmas Eve bulletin can be a great vehicle to describe in a brief, attractive way the unique ministry of your congregation and communicate when you routinely worship, how to contact the church office or clergy. Have materials ready for people to take home about your parish. Bulletin notices or a special insert with worship times welcomes participation and sends the right signals.
H/T to Daniel Benedict of General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church whose work on this topic was adapted for this post.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Detoxifying the 'E' word

John Smith writes in the Reading Eagle about the Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori visited the Diocese of Bethlehem earlier this month.

One of the things our diocese did--which we found out after the fact was fairly unusual (good for us)--was that we spent the better part of four hours orienting her to our diocese. We shared with her the state of our diocese. We told her about what we do well and we were also honest about our greatest challenges. We shared both data and stories.

The Evangelism Commission shared our story, our process and our dreams as well as our accomplishments and our sometimes-successful-and-sometimes-not experiments. I thought that she engaged us the most when we began to talk about "effective communication of the Good News of Jesus Christ" to those outside the church. Bishop Katharine asked questions of us, wanted to know what worked, and was very interested to know about our work with Unbinding the Gospel. (Our gift to her was a copy of that book with a bookmark placed in Chapter Eight, which is where I think that every clergyperson should read first before going into the whole series.)

We were very cheered to hear talk about the things she learned about us when she preached and answered questions. She spoke of the joys and challenges of "telling what we have seen and heard" and we heard her talk directly about evangelism, putting it square into the context of mission. Her words and example went a long way towards "de-toxifying" the dreaded "E" word in the Diocese of Bethlehem.

For Episcopalians, de-toxifying the "E" word will mean doing more of what we are really good at--and communicating the 'why' behind what we do well--and less of trying to imitate what other traditions do a lot of. We can fall into our own version of toxic evangelism if we succumb to the temptation of believing that somehow the Gospel only resides in the Episcopal Church and everyone else is at least mildly deluded. What is important is that the way Episcopalians receive and live the Gospel does explicitly answer real human needs and points people to Christ. If the Gospel message brings life, then it is imperative that way we bring it be life-giving.

Here is what Mr. Smith wrote in the Reading Eagle:
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church has a few words she doesn't care for. Evangelism isn't one of them.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori highlighted "the dangerous 'E' word" in her message to members of the Diocese of Bethlehem in Lebanon earlier this month, admitting the word is toxic to most Episcopalians....

...Jefferts Schori offered a five-point message, doubled. She ticked off five marks of mission the church has adopted: proclaim the good news; teach, baptize and nurture its members; relieve human suffering; change the unjust structures of society; care for the Earth.

She also offered five different ways to implement the marks: to grow congregations in their ability to practice mission; identify and evangelize the community; emphasize education and formation for all ages; battle poverty and injustice in intentional ways; develop networks, partnerships and covenant relationships.

Regarding evangelism, the bishop said she hoped Episcopalians would feel as comfortable sharing the good news about Jesus as about a new restaurant they had discovered. On education, she suggested they use their brains, not just their ears....

...Other words could be problems and concerns. During the well-received Q-and-A session that followed, I asked what she considered her biggest one.

"The biggest challenge," the bishop replied, emphasizing the noun, "is growth." She said the church is losing 19,000 members a year, partly because "Anglos don't produce children." The overseas dioceses are growing, but the only four doing so last year nationally were Navajoland, Wyoming, North Dakota and Alabama. (Discounting Alabama, one might assume the church appeals to cowboys and Indians.)

That led to further evangelism talk. She called the church an attractive faith tradition for those of a Catholic background who don't want someone telling them what to do or have to worry about excommunication. "But we can't wait for them to come to us," she said. "We must be out in the community, sharing."
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sleepers wake!

Another video from King of Peace Episcopal Church, Kingsland, Georgia.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ideas that spread win

The Gospel spread like wildfire in the first few centuries of the church was new...and because it was an idea that spread...and because it did not speak to the core of the society of the day but because it spoke the fringes that were truly interested.

Perhaps the Reformation spread the same way? How about the first and second Great Awakening? Methodism, too? How Christianity in Africa today? Maybe the times when Christianity spreads is not because it is simply a "good" idea, but an idea that spreads.

See this video:

How does the Gospel message once again become an "idea" that spreads among "people who are interested?" How do we once again communicate to the interested fringes that spread the message? Ideas that spread, win.

H/T to Bill Lewellis at DioBeth NewSpin.

Monday, October 19, 2009

You are a ninja following the Master

Updated (version 2.0) How would you describe who Episcopalians are? Here is one church's answer:

Read more here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Evangelism: The Boxed Set

Episcopal Cafe has posted a link to four lectures on Evangelism given in the Diocese of Washington. Here is what the Cafe says:
The presenters were Brian McLaren, Dean Ian Markham and Professor David Gortner of Virginia Theological Seminary and the Rev. Terry Martin, better known to some of you as Father Jake.

These are Windows Media files. We hope to have Quicktime available soon.

Maybe these will end up on YouTube, too? Just a thought. In the meantime, go here.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

When sport is a religion, can religion learn from sport?

Rabbi Jonathan Romain writes in the Guardian about the connections between being apart of a faith community and being a sports fan. He watched as his fellow countrymen were wrapped up in the European Champions League last week (when Manchester United played Barcelona in Rome) and reflected on both the similarities and on how faith communities can tap some of the same enthusiasm.

"In some ways." Romain says, "it is facile to compare football to faith: the former is 400 years old, limited to a rectangular pitch and lasts 90 minutes a week, whereas the latter stretches across the millennia, permeates all aspects of life and is 24/7."

Still there a interesting parallels: both have their rituals, both have their special clothing, both have their important festivals and revolve around a calendar and both are seasonal.

There are similar highs and lows: the build-up of expectation as an important match looms or as you get ready for a festival. But then your emotions can go dramatically either way: a win, especially against the odds, leads to an almost indescribable exuberance; so too at a service when you have a really good experience and emerge with a bounce in your step. The opposite can also be the case: a desperately boring game or a disastrous loss can send you home enveloped in a black cloud, rather like a service which you feel does nothing for you and from which you walk out a stranger to God.

Perhaps most amazing of all at matches is the singing, with many who are totally unmusical, not to mention shy and monosyllabic, leaping to their feet and singing their throats dry in front of thousands.

He asks clergy and congregations with empty pews to think about the following: "how to transfer the passion and commitment of those attending football matches to those at services."

A clue lies in a moment of inspiration experienced by my history teacher at school. He was at a football match after a frustrating week of trying to drum dates of battles and monarchs into children's heads, with little success. He was astounded to hear two pupils from his class sitting in the row behind rattling off facts and figures about team performances, individual players and the number of goals they had scored last season. "Ah," he thought, "so they are capable of remembering! All I have to do is enthuse them enough so that they remember what I want them to remember."

The task of those who care about faith is similar: to make religious life so vibrant as to make others want to join in. We can start by learning from football fans and doing three things:

First, greeting others who are sitting around you, even those you hardly know, and not letting them go away unnoticed at the end, but chatting away, asking if they thought today was a victory or a flop, if the minister was on form or not. It is the presence or absence of human camaraderie that determines whether people come back next week or not.

Second, by joining in the prayers and songs even if you do not feel like it at first, because getting stuck in helps create a sense of involvement, which then engulfs others too, so that you end up feeling that you are on the inside and not looking on from afar.

Third, in between attendances, reading up on the facts, mastering the customs, laws and history, so that next time you come you feel part of the team spirit - that you not only matter as much as everyone else, but that without you they are not fully complete.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

UBG Report to Lily Endowment

The report for "Mainline Evangelism Project II" has been released. Here is the link and below is the cover letter.

Dear Unbinding the Gospel Friends,

I hope your day is as gorgeous as ours is in St. Louis!

We've finished the first 15 months of our 4 year grant from the Lilly Endowment to help 1000 congregations work through the full-congregational saturation experience witih the Unbinding books. A few of you have already received a copy of this, but I will err on the side of duplicate information! Here (click on the link below) is a copy of the 10 page report I sent the Endowment a couple of weeks ago. We are extremely excited about what we're seeing in these congregations, and in what we're learning. I include many specific examples (anonymously) from congregations in the process.

The bottom line is that the books work, the coaching model is working with increasing efficiency, people are beginning to pray, to articulate their faith and to invite friends to church. (I'm hearing rather amazing reports that the term "friends" includes ex-prisoners, students, Saudis, and a few people who state of personal hygiene is not on an exact par with the typical congregant!) Staggering shifts are happening in some of these churches. i was with a Disciples of Christ pastor last Saturday who is serving a congregation whose worship attendance had increased from 90-100 to 190-195 over the course of the last 12 months. She's not a typical pastor, but we're seeing miraculous things happening in many churches.

If any of you know of churches that might be good candidates for participating in the grant process, please let me know. I would be delighted to consult with anyone interested in the exploring whether this coaching would be a good fit for them. If we determine that it is, I can help groups of churches prepare for participating in a coaching group.

Our website contains a couple of video interviews of pastors who have been part of Unbinding groups. (Courtesy of the Illinois Great Rivers United Methodists) Th report to the Lilly Endowment is also downloadable from the web site homepage ( Let me know if I can be helpful to you.


Martha Grace Reese

Read the rest here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Passion play on twitter

Trinity Church, Wall Street today had a passion play entirely on Twitter.

Here is the text

twspassionplayvia @_Peter_of_: is waiting in the courtyard of the High Priest Caiaphas. I ran scared when the officers came but I need to see how this ends.
8 minutes ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @ServingGirl: Darkness and earthquake. I heard the curtain in the temple was torn in two. I wonder�
less than a minute ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @Pontius_Pilate: They want this done by nightfall. I sent my soldiers to break the dead men�s legs. Are my hands clean of this?
less than a minute ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplayvia @ServingGirl: is so tired. Caiaphas and the priests have been up all night questioning a man who claims to be the Messiah. And I wait on them.
8 minutes ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplayvia @_JesusChrist: Let the scriptures be fulfilled. It is as the prophets wrote. I am who you say I am.
1 minute ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplayvia @_Peter_of_: is heartsick. I abandoned him. I denied him. I couldn�t believe it, even as the words came out of my mouth.
about 1 hour ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @Pontius_Pilate: Bad feeling about this. The prisoner won�t talk. The priests accuse him of blasphemy and sedition, and he just stands there, waiting
about 1 hour ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @Mary_Mother_Of: I have no peace, though I have talked with angels, and in my bones I know he is Emmanuel. It rips me to hear the crowds chant �Crucify him!�
about 1 hour ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @Pontius_Pilate: What harm has this man done? Why does the crowd cheer on his murder? I wash my hands of this. They can do what they want
about 1 hour ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @_JesusChrist: Father forgive them, they know not what they do.
39 minutes ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @ServingGirl: This crowd is rough. Talk of his blood on our hands�but if he is really the Messiah God will rescue him.
39 minutes ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @_JesusChrist:It is as the prophets have written: I tell my tale of misery while they look on and gloat.
33 minutes ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @Mary_Mother_Of: The light is going from the sky. I am alone here. Give me strength, God of the Universe.
39 minutes ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplayvia @_JesusChrist: Father into thy hands I commit my spirit.
25 minutes ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @ServingGirl: Darkness and earthquake. I heard the curtain in the temple was torn in two. I wonder�
less than a minute ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @Pontius_Pilate: They want this done by nightfall. I sent my soldiers to break the dead men�s legs. Are my hands clean of this?
less than a minute ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @JosephArimathea: is sleepwalking through this. I cut the tomb, bought the linen, hold his body�and he�s gone.
2 minutes ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @Mary_Mother_Of: I saw the water and the blood. I want to scream with him: Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?
2 minutes ago from GroupTweet

twspassionplay via @Mary_Mother_Of: They sealed his tomb at dusk. The stone stands between us, and I can�t leave. I am an old woman now, lost in the dark.
less than a minute ago from GroupTweet

Claiming holy ground

One hundred people or so gathered in one place to worship in Liverpool. So what? Is this news? It was not what they did that is different but how they did it.

This gathering was called a 'flash mob,' a group of people who plan a "spontaneous" or improvised event where people don't expect middle of a shopping mall in Liverpool, England. Think of "improv everywhere" who did this version of a flash mob:

Bishop David Thomson, Bishop of Huntingdon (England) describes a "flash mob" for the rest of us on his blog "On Holy Ground:"
A flash mob, for oldies like me, is a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, organized by texts or the like, and perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse. Last Saturday the group dream - re-imagining worship brought together a group of mainly young people for an act of worship in Liverpool One Shopping Centre.
As described on the website "Dream: re-imagining church" here is what happened.
We began scattered among the shoppers. At the signal, we all stopped and took off our shoes ... an ancient sign that this is "holy ground". God lives in shopping malls as well as churches!
We then made out way to the park at the centre of the mall where we sat together to form a cross ... and prayed silently for a few minutes. We remembered Easter and the cross. We prayed for the current economic situation ... for those who have lost jobs ... and for God's blessing on our city ... we prayed for hope.
Ruth Gledhill writes:
This is thought to be the first time 'flash mob' has been used to generate a 'random' act of Christian worship. It took place last Saturday at Liverpool One Shopping Centre....

...Stuart Haynes from the Liverpool diocese told me more: 'It was the brain child of one of our Pioneer Ministers, Richard White, who has taken the idea from the flash mob events and tried to use it in a worship concept. The idea was planned via a Facebook site called Guerilla Worship. Richard led the discussion with a whole range of people bringing ideas together for what to do. They settled on an event at 4pm on the 4th April in the Liverpool One Shopping centre in the heart of the city. About a hundred participants came together - milled around in the centre – and then at a prearranged signal, the umbrella in the video took their shoes off and gathered in the parkland. The symbolism was to reclaim the area as Holy Ground – hence the removal of shoes. They prayed for the city, for the current crisis and released a balloon to symbolize the prayers going to God. The group wanted to create a talking point in the city and to catch the attention of passers by as well as creating the video which we now hope to go viral on the internet. It is experimental but was a success and the group plan more events in the future. The minister behind all this – Richard White – is an ordained Anglican minister working to create network church. The dream network aims to reach out into new communities and the online world.'

Over at Preludium, Mark Harris says:
I thought it was great. What's with taking off the shoes? What did people think? Etc.
And then he plays around with his own imagining of how flash evangelism might look.

The idea of gathering Christians in one place is not new. The idea of Evangelism is not new. Even the idea of praying in public is not so new. The innovative thing here is that is that public "spontaneous" act of worship in an unexpected place is an act that is designed to intrude or at least break up the rush and reactivity of daily life and call attention to the Gospel in a way that poses more questions and suggests, but does not force, answers.

It shows us how community, worship and evangelism can happen outside of the settings we have come to expect.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Good Things are Happening TV Spots.

Here are the three commercials being shown on WNEP-TV 16 starting April 1st in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The first ad will run during Newswatch 16 at approximetly 5:53 p.m. (the time may change by a few minutes), and again at 11:29, at the end of Newswatch 16.

Read more about the background of the project here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Scranton: Seasons of Love

Seasons of Love is a ministry at Church of the Good Shepherd in Scranton. Here is a slide show.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More than a sign

From a sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B at Trinity Church, Easton, PA:

"Over and over again, whenever we bring hope to where there was despair we are people who project God’s light into people’s lives. And so we live out God’s will that the world not be condemned but saved through Christ.

"When we give in to the temptation to make our relationship with God as a private thing, we are in fact succumbing to fear and choosing to live in darkness. But through our faith and baptisms, through our sacramental and community life, we live in the light. And that light transforms us and makes us whole.

"You all know that I am passionate about evangelism. I want the whole cosmos--and every person in it--to know the love and saving power of God in Christ. And Christians have been and always will be communicators. But as useful as they might be, cardboard signs at basketball games nor clever signs on buses nor all the clever ads and tracts in the world cannot communicate the substance of the Gospel. 'John 3:16' signs are a parody of themselves because they cannot substitute for a real relationship with a person who is living in the light. A person who dares to live in the light is willing to lovingly and honestly engage people who long for light in their lives."

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Good Things Happening in NE PA Project

The Rev. John Major, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church of West Pittston and Prince of Peace Episcopal Church of Dallas writes about a wonderful and ambitious project that the Evangelism Commission enthustiastically supports (and, best of all, is not running!):
The Good Things Are Happening in The Episcopal Church in Northeast Pennsylvania project involves the production of three 30-second spots to be utilized on WNEP TV in their Good Things Are Happening segments for one year (if we can afford to run the spots this long).

The spots help to reintroduce our population to The Episcopal Church in our area and reveal
  1. The Episcopal Church as a "sacramental" Church,
  2. The Episcopal Church as a "Church of diverse people involved in the life of their parish and the mission of the Church" and
  3. The Episcopal Church reaching out to one another and caring for neighbors in need".
We are on schedule to launch the spots the week before Palm Sunday. It's likely that the frequency of air time will be heavier before Easter and during the Easter Season, then lighter in the summer and heavier again during Back To School time and before Christmas.

The effort includes the use of a new "The Episcopal Church in Northeast Pennsylvania" logo that will be continuously displayed on WNEP's website. An inquirer will be able to click on our NEPA Episcopal logo on WNEP's site and will be linked to our new "common web page,", which will be up and running in about one week.

This new site will display the names of all the parishes in the north and central region and more. A click on any parish name will take the inquirer diectly to the website of that parish. If a parish in the north and central region does not have a website, the link will take them to general information about the parish and the parish schedule. Various other links are on this site as well, including our diocesan and national websites. All of our parishes in The Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem can be easily found by an inquirer visiting

A copy of the new logo is available for your use in bulletins, parish publications, postings and newspaper print ads. The TV spots themselves will soon be available for use on your local parish website.

Now is the time to move forward with our parish welcoming efforts and connect our local parish evangelism efforts to a larger effort. Our population will be hearing the word "episcopal" and catching glimpses of who we are in a new way very soon. Please take advantage of this collaborative effort.
As soon as the ads are available for posting on this blog, we will put it up. Stay tuned!

It's not too late to contribute to this major evangelism project by the parishes in the northern half of our diocese! Everyone doing what they can will be a tremendous help. $500 is a wonderful show of support! So is $300. So is $1,000. Everyone's investment, little or great, will make a great difference.

The Evangelism Commission has committed $3500 to the project over two years (2008 and 2009). It would be wonderful if we could duplicate this effort "south of the tunnel." And it would be even more terrific if this could be a collaboration of parish, clergy and lay leaders in the same way. The wide-ranging collaboration at the parish level is also a sign that Good Things Are Happening in The Episcopal Church in Northeast Pennsylvania!

Please make a check payable to The Episcopal Church Northeast PA (TEC NEPA) and send it to St. Stephen's Pro-Cathedral c/o The Rev. Daniel Gunn, 35 South Franklin Street, Wilkes Barre, PA 18701.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The key to iSermons is content , comfort & presentation

Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe reports on Episcopal priest Anne E. Gardner, who is chaplain at the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. She uses a variety of media to enhance liturgy and connect Christianity with everyday living.

Paulson writes:

Last Sunday, the first of Lent, Gardner preached to her mostly adolescent congregation about the challenges of forgiveness, projecting onto a large screen clips from YouTube of India.Arie singing "The Heart of the Matter," by Don Henley, as well as two clips from "Grey's Anatomy," in which Callie and George (played by Sara Ramirez and T.R. Knight) talk about whether she can forgive him for cheating on her. Gardner also aired a clip from "Good Will Hunting" in which a psychologist played by Robin Williams tries to persuade the genius MIT janitor played by Matt Damon that he is not to blame for being abused by his foster father; and a scene from "Ordinary People" in which a therapist played by Judd Hirsch tries to persuade a teen played by Timothy Hutton to forgive himself after surviving an accident in which his brother was killed and then attempting suicide.

"It allows me to speak to them in their own vernacular and it also allows me to expand the message of the Bible well past the four walls of our sanctuary," Gardner said. "The core concept is not to criticize contemporary culture but rather to highlight that messages we receive through everyday living in newspapers, music, and the like can help us find our way into living ethical, just, and compassionate lives."
The key to success is not to use the material to appear to be cool and it certainly cannot be seen as a gimmick to fill pews with young people. For this to work, music and media clips must connect the content of Christianity with everyday concerns using idioms the audience is familiar with. Also, the preacher must be prepared for a more interactive experience: instead of the preacher simply speaking to a passive congregation, the preacher is presenting the sermon in an environment that will be a certain degree interactive. We must assume that the people we are meeting from the pulpit are willing and able to engage the content of the Christian faith.

Gardner is the chaplain for all Protestants, so some of the worshipers have previously experienced experimentation with technology in evangelical megachurches.

"Included in nearly every sermon at my church is a PowerPoint presentation which often incorporates scenes from movies or the news or television, etc.," said Rachel Coleman, a Baptist from Manchester, Maine. "While my own church's clips have never contained profanity, I do not think this detracted from the message; rather, it made it more pressing and real."

Another key for multi-media to work in worship is comfort. Both the preacher and the congregation must be comfortable with the technology. The congregation must look past its presence to comprehend what is being communicated. The preacher must be at home enough so that she picks relevant choices, uses it well with a minimum of technical interuption (IE minimal stopping to set up and take down) and is practiced enough to put together the material smoothly.

Others, particularly those from highly liturgical mainline Protestant denominations, have not previously seen multimedia worship services and some have no previous experience with church services of any kind.

"At first I thought the iSermons were going to be a little cheesy, just because trying to modernize things doesn't often work out well," said Kevin Ofori, a 17-year-old Episcopalian from Wooster, Ohio. "But after the first one I realized that Rev. Gardner wasn't just trying to connect with us by using modern lingo. She really knows how to use modern media to cement biblical virtues as relevant in our day and age."

The most important lesson from Gardner's work is that whatever medium the preacher uses, the preacher must take her hearers seriously, assume that they are willing to engage the material, and that they are not willing to just passively take it but wish to engage in dialogue and do the work of integrating what they have learned into their living.

Read the rest here.

See also the Episcopal Cafe here.

H/T to DioBeth newSpin.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Christians have been and always are communicators

Christians are and always have been communicators. Jesus sent us out into the world to teach and baptize. We have been sent into a world that is moving this fast:

We have choices as to what media we use and how we use it. Every choice we make dictates who we connect with and who we don't.

Please take a look at this delightful story in the New York Times series "One in Eight Million." Here is an example of a person who has chosen his mediums. Fortunately for him, he can make a living helping others who have made the same choices. Meet Ed Grajales:
Born in Puerto Rico, Mr. Grajales in Brooklyn and on Delancy Street and now lives in Flushing. His first job was a Grundig, a German maker of dictation machines; now, he repairs them at his Fulton Street shop, General Services Recording. He does not have an e-mail address.
We may identify with his frustration with technology as it was...we may want to "leave well enough alone." We may love the old technology. We may even need to preserve it. But notice the choices Mr. Grajales makes by his choice of communications technology.

When the Church makes similar choices--and we do everyday-- whom do we leave out?

Read more here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reports, resolutions & prayers

In our continuing effort to make available the info on DioBeth Evangelism web-page to one and all, here are the various evangelism reports to convention and the resolutions that were passed by the convention of the Diocese of Bethlehem from 2004-2007.

Reports and Resolutions
2007 Evangelism Report to Convention
2006 Evangelism Report to Convention
2005 Evangelism Report to Convention
2005 Evangelism Resolution
2004 Evangelism Resolution

Evangelism Collects
Evangelism Litany

To those outside the Diocese of Bethlehem, these may seem like very inside-baseball, but we think there are nuggets worth sharing to one and all.

Take a look...have made these a part of a links sections in the right hand column.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

What is Evangelism?

Let's start here. Evangelism is effective proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who do not believe and to those who have not heard. This is a good place to start, but there is much more to evangelism than this.

We tend to confuse the call and gift of evangelism with the techniques associated with it. This for many our chief block to evangelism: confusing technique for content. We tend turn something more into something less.

Within Evangelism, there are a variety of techniques and methods. Their utility depends on the time, commitment and energy we have invested to do them well. But even as we work hard at doing these well, we must always be careful never to confuse the medium for actual evangelism.

We might spend a lot of time marketing our churches; that is, letting the community at large know we are there. While marketing is not evangelism, it can be a useful and effective tool for evangelism.

Hospitality is very important. Making our churches as genuinely welcoming as can be is vital to the vibrancy and sense of welcome of our congregations. This is at the heart of what many congregations can do to practically evangelize the people who come to the worship or programs of the Church. But hospitality is not evangelism, but an essential element of evangelism.

We have also spent time over the years on storytelling as at the heart of evangelism. To effectively tell the story of our faith, of how God has touched our lives and how we changed through our relationship with Jesus Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit, is at the core of what it means to be an evangelist. Even this, in an of itself, is not evangelism.

Evangelism is more than any of the techniques we might us. It is nothing less than the effective proclamation of the Good of Jesus Christ to those who do not believe and to those who have not heard. To effectively proclaim the Gospel of Jesus is also to trust the God will use the outcome for God’s purposes. The people we share the Good News with may respond, but maybe in a way that is different than we expect. They may join a church of another tradition. They may chose to become a "solo" or "lone" believer who does not attach to a single community. They may hear, understand, and even accept the validity of what we say. and still not choose to come to the waters of baptism. Our job is to bring the message and to give the results to God.

How do we know our evangelism is working? Each subset and tool of evangelism has their own measures of success: for example, the number of visitors might tell us how good our marketing campaign was. We might measure the quality of our hospitality through how many visitors returned and how many of them became inquirers. We might measure how many inquirers become baptized members and this will tell us how effective we are at incorporating new members into our congregations. But none of these, even taken together, tell the whole story of what effective evangelism is.

We know we are doing effective evangelism when we see more and more Christians showing and telling the Good News of God in Christ. When we become natural and effective communicators of the Gospel, then we know that evangelism is making a difference. When our evangelism transforms our living so that we do not compartmentalize our faith but instead sees every day, every relationship, and every encounter as being and seeing Christ, then we know that our evangelism is making a difference both in our lives and in the lives of others.

Evangelism is more than the sub-sets of communications, marketing, hospitality or even personal evangelism and storytelling, no matter how well we do it. Evangelism, at its heart, is sharing with others without strings or conditions the gift that we ourselves have been freely given: new life in Jesus Christ.

(Note: This is a reprint of an article written in April, 2007 and revised in April, 2008 for the Evangelism Commission of the Diocese of Bethlehem. It had previously appeared on the old web-page within the DioBeth website. Over the next few weeks, I will be migrating material from that site onto this blog. atg+)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

They like Jesus, but not the church

At St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Allentown:

They Like Jesus, But Not the Church
Culture's Objection to Christianity
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
1900 Pennsylvania Avenue, Allentown
Tuesday evenings March 3,9.16,23,30 April 7
6:30-7 Soup and Salad Supper
7-8 Program
Admission: Free

This six session DVD based curriculum features Dan Kimball who is author of The Emerging Church and They Like Jesus but Not the Church. He is also pastor of the Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California which is a missional church planted for engaging the post-Christian culture. He has served on the boards of Outreach Magazine and Youth Worker Journal.
The six sessions have the following topics
1) The Danger of the Christian Bubble
2) Is the Church Negative, Judgmental and Political?
3) Does the Church Restrict and Oppress Women?
4) Is the Church Homophobic?
5) Do Christians Arrogantly Think All Other Religions Are Wrong?
6) Are Christians Fundamentalists Who Take the Whole Bible Literally?
Discussion follows the viewing of the 20 minute "launch" DVD presentation by Pastor Kimball.
All are invited!

Church shopping in America

Every year, around the start of the school year, it happens. Also around Christmas and Easter. Whenever a family moves to a new location or often after a family has changed, perhaps when kids move out or after a divorce or a death or a birth in the family, it also happens. Sometimes it happens just because Americans are consumers who like to shop.

What is it that happens? Americans comparison shop for churches. Most American can't imagine finding a church any other way. They like to visit, check it out the feel, taste the coffee, see the nursery, hear the music, meet the people, kick the tires. Church shopping is an American as apple pie.

Andrew Santella over at Salon looks at church-shopping, why we do and what congregations and clergy respond to the phenomenon:
Since before Election Day, Washington pastors have been lining up to invite the first family into their flock, and outlets from PBS to the Wall Street Journal have taken their turn handicapping the many contending congregations. Despite all of this cajoling, the White House announced that the Obama family is still shopping for a church in Washington.

Except for the special invitations and the presidential-scale press coverage, the Obamas' church search puts them in a situation a lot of American believers are well-acquainted with. One in seven adults changes churches each year, and another one in six attends a handful of churches on a rotating basis, according to the Barna Group, a marketing research firm that serves churches. Church shopping isn't a matter of merely changing congregations: Asurvey by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life last year indicated that 44 percent of American adults have left their first religious affiliation for another. "Constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace," a survey summary said....

....Part of the discomfort with church shopping has to do with the way growing churches attempt to attract spiritual shoppers. That simple marquee in front of a church with the cheerfully homely motto ("Prevent truth decay: Brush up on your Bible") doesn't suffice to recruit worshippers. Web sites stream audio and video of sermons and music to let prospective members shop from home, and consultants help congregations market themselves to the "unchurched" and the merely unsatisfied by deploying focus groups, surveys, product giveaways (free church-branded Frisbees, anyone?), and other tactics borrowed from the commercial realm. The Wall Street Journal reported recently on churches employing mystery worshippers, "a new breed of church consultant," who covertly attend services and evaluate them (Were the bathrooms clean? Was the vibe friendly?) as if they were first-timers looking for a new church.
Diversity in the market place and the consumer habits of Americans can cause us to turn evangelism into mere salesmanship, and reducing religion to a low-demand-on-customer, lowest-common-denominator and even an entertainment driven experience might cause churches to grow but also create churches with huge turnover. Mega-churches know that 35-50% of their membership will turnover every year, so in order to maintain their large numbers, let alone grow, they must practice a kind of volume marketing.

The Rev. Shane Hipps, a former marketing executive and now Mennonite pastor, talked with Christiainity Today about consumerism, the church and why both mega-churches and emerging churches are here to stay. (Presumably that means that we traditional average- to small-sized congregations are also here to stay.)

In the "Dancing with Consumerism," Hipps says:
I make a distinction between three different kinds of consumerism. One is mainstream consumerism; the dominant hegemony that happens in our culture. Mainstream consumerism is mega. Walmart exemplifies this kind of consumerism, as does the mega-church. Boomer consumerism is mainstream consumerism.

Then you have counter consumerism, which is savviness. They are aware that Walmart and [Microsoft] Windows are trying to dominate, and they resist just like they resist mega-churches. But the odd thing is they’re no less consumers. They’re just counter consumers. A counter consumer buys Apple. It is absolutely consumer driven. They are consuming an identity that says we’re different; an alternative from the rest of you.
Santella says:
Church shopping, marketing, and the not-so-sanctified practices that go with them make easy targets for criticism. But competition among churches for worshippers has always been fierce in the United States, to the benefit of American religion and individual churchgoers. The prohibition against establishing an official state religion helped give us the shoppers' paradise that is our religious marketplace. Disestablishment (Massachusetts was the last state to cut ties to its official church, in 1833) meant that preachers had to learn to get along without support from the state. It made the ability to recruit and keep a flock—and get them to give generously—crucial to a church's survival.
We live in a culture driven by consumerism. Even in hard times we are trained to comparison shop, wiegh and filter various marketing appeals for all kinds of things, and we take for granted a certain level of hucksterism that shows everywhere from billboards to the logos on our clothes. In this environment, it is easy to choose to ignore the reality all together (and risk becoming invisible) or to forget that marketing is only a tool for evangelism on the one hand, and to remember that consumer values are what shapes the decision making of many church visitors.

Hospitality ministry, for example, brings both Gospel and cultural realities together: People are looking for a place of welcome and sense of being "at home" in a congregation. Jesus practiced radical hospitality. So can we. Offering a welcoming, inviting and listening church can bring Gospel witness to people in a way that is comprehensible to people who shop as a way of life.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A refreshing welcome

They say that advertising pays. And churches use banners, signs, billboards, bumper-stickers, post-cards and mass-mailings to attract newcomers. But we are sure that you never saw a banner on a church like this:

This is Zion Lutheran Church on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans and this picture was taken during Mardi Gras. This is a time when one of the most valuable things you can imagine is access to a restroom. With an influx of around a million people, this was not the only toilet selling operation going on during the festivities and they were not the only church in the clean-bathroom-business.

Grace Episcopal Church on Canal Street sold beer and brownies at the front door, but let people use their bathrooms for free.

Hat tip to the blogs Skitzo Leezra and Marginal Revolution for the stories.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Unbinding the Gospel Project

Have you started your Unbinding the Gospel study in your parish? Remember, your congregation received two copies of Unbinding the Gospel--one for your priest that was given out last year and one for each parish given out at Convention!

You can have an eight week Unbinding the Gospel study with your Vestry, your evangelism team or any group in the parish you want. All they need is a heart to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and a love for their Christian community! Nationwide there are over 12,000 people studying and praying through Unbinding your Heart this Lent. Thousands more are studying Unbinding the Gospel.

To help you in your study and in your work together, the Unbinding the Gospel Project has developed a new on-line community offering support, guidance, ideas and connection to anyone who is using one of the Unbinding series texts in their congregation.

This on-line community will be a place to discuss what you're doing with the Unbinding the Gospel Series in churches from all over the country and from many different traditions. Plan together. Share ideas. Figure out more resources for children and youth. How are you praying in your churches? Work on sign-up ideas for your E-vents (the all-congregational saturation study of Unbinding Your Heart). Now you can work on this stuff together, share the victories and help each other figure out how to get around bumps in the road! Just sign up and become a member of the Unbinding the Gospel Community.

Here is what Martha Grace Reese wrote to us
You can now talk with each other - we have a new, free, discussion and discovery community online. What are you learning? What's happening in your life, in your church? What do you wonder about? Sign up and start talking with each other, the coaches and me. You are coming up with GREAT ideas for using the Unbinding books - (I have listed 5 or 6 of them in my first message to the community - you can check it out when you sign up.) Here's how to sign up:

1. Go to and click on "NEW: Unbinding the Gospel Community." (coaching pastors - the link is also on your pastor's home page)

From the Community page:

2. Create a Community profile for yourselves by clicking the "Register" link at the top right of the page (you don't need to use your real name for your screen name).

3. Accept the user agreement, create a username, password, enter your email address, and create a security question/answer in case you forget your password. For example, "What is your mother's middle name?" and "Penelope" or something like that. Then...

4. ...start "talking!" You'll see lots of topics you can talk about. Here's how: A string of written "discussion" is called a "thread" or "topic". Just go to the area of discussion that looks interesting to you. It's called a "forum." Some of the forums are "Prayer and spiritual leadership," "Planning an E-vent," "Challenges," "What's next?"

5. Click on the name of the forum. You'll be able to read what other people have written. All topics within that forum will be displayed in a list format with the newest topics showing at the top of the list. Want to read the full text or say something back? Click on the title of the thread you wish to read or respond to.

6. Want to say something? If you want to "talk" with someone who has already started a thread (said something!), click on the "POST REPLY" button in the upper right hand of your screen.

7. Want to start a new topic of conversation (a "new thread?") Click on a forum, then click on "new topic" and type away! Easy peasy, lemon squeezie!

The community will be available to everyone, not just coaching churches. Please tell your friends. (Forward this e-mail to them.) We pray that this will be helpful to everyone who is using, or thinking about using the Unbinding books. Let us know how it's going! Ask each other questions. If anyone has developed Week 3 of Heart children and youth resources, post them!!!! :-D Have fun. Let's get started!


Martha Grace
Learn more here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kingston: A sign of faith

Joe Jackloski of Grace Church, Kingston wrote to the Bethlehem of PA list the following:

Typically our Ash Wednesday service have not been well attended a Grace Church, Kingston.
This year we tried something a little different. We moved the service time to six o'clock in the evening.

We eschewed our usual newspaper advertising in favor of our ongoing LED billboard.
The results were surprising. Sixty-seven souls showed up, versus forty-one last year.

More importantly, six of these people had NEVER been here before.

Quite gratifying.

I am Episcopalian

Check out these short videos of real people describing in their own words why they are Episcopalian.

Here is what the website says:

The Episcopal Church is a big, colorful, vibrant church. We hope you will see that in the wide spectrum of its members represented here on this site.

In our Church you may touch ancient traditions and experience intelligent inquiry. It is an expansive Church, a loving Church, with strong ties to our roots as a nation. We are a thoughtful, inquiring, freedom-loving and welcoming body, and we thrive not only in the U.S., but also throughout Latin America, Asia and Europe.

We invite you to see and hear the very personal reasons we choose to be Episcopalians. Our controversies and conversations have been public. Our governance is transparent. You are free to see our imperfections, as well as share our joy in that which unites us - our openness, honesty and faith.

We invite you to make your own 60-90 second video explaining why you are an Episcopalian and upload at the link here.

Beating the Boundaries

Mission in the 21st Century
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, PA

Register here.

Is the mission of the Church in the 21st Century any different than the mission of Jesus Christ? He reached out to as many as he could, considering His present human boundaries, offering them a message of hope, fulfillment and comfort to those who were harried, hurting, and heartbroken (just like us!). He sent his disciples out to extend his reach, but even they could not meet everyone or fix everything.

The boundaries of any parish include all that is ordinary in God's world. There is great prosperity and extreme poverty; there are people in good health and with devastating illness; there is great promise and dreadful fear. Just because all this may be within our parish boundary does not mean that we are in charge of it, but it does mean that we are responsible for responding to it, as best we are able. We are called to be present to the needs of the people with whom God has surrounded us in the place were God has entrusted us with his ministry.

Attend this workshop to gain new insights into the development of strategies for nurturing generosity, and for introducing Jesus Christ to those within our boundaries, sharing with them the presence and power God has given us.

CLERGY AND LAY LEADERS concerned with nurturing generous disciples, enhancing evangelism efforts and invigorating congregational devlopment.

PARISH EVANGELISM AND STEWARDSHIP TEAMS: Eachparish is encouraged to send a team of five including the Rector, and two members each of the Parish Evangelism and Stewardship ministry teams.

PEOPLE SEEKING a ministry in Evangelism or Stewardship.

PEOPLE EXPLORING new resources and sharpening skills for Evangelism and Stewardship ministry.

DIOCESAN EVANGELISM AND STEWARDSHIP LAY MINISTERS growing in proficiency as trainers and/or consultants.


BE INSPIRED BY PLENARY PRESENTERS: Terry Parsons, program officer for Diocesan Services at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, and Bishop Paul Marshall.

DEVELOP YOUR KNOWLEDGE: Learn how technology can be used to promote Evangelism and Stewardship.

LEARN WAYS TO DISCUSS the tasks needed to do good Evangelism and Stewardship with your membership.

DISCOVER ideas for growing churches your children and grandchildren will embrace.

LEAVE WITH HOPE that you can strengthen your mission of Evangelism and Stewardship.

The event runs from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. with lunch included.
Cost is $10.00 per person or $30.00 per parish team of five (if you have additional people, there is an additional $5.00 cost per each extra person).

Hosted by:
Cathedral Church of the Nativity
321 Wyandotte Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015

This workshop is brought to you by: Diocesan Evangelism & Stewardship Commissions.

Register here.

Brochure here.