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," www.nepaepiscopalchurch.org, 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 www.nepaepiscopalchurch.org.

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.