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Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Friday, August 22, 2014

when the floor is a ceiling to ministry

As one example of far exceeding the "minimal hospitality threshold," I was deeply encouraged and challenged to hear the story of St. Bryce Church in Kirkcaldy, Scotland.

The sanctuary at St. Bryce, Kirkcaldy, Scotland
w/floor brought up a story to the level of the balcony
The Rev. Ken Froude is the minister of St Bryce Kirk. With no precipitating crisis other than a 1200-seat sanctuary "that was always too big and only used once or twice a week," he had the vision more than 25 years ago to redevelop the building. Under his leadership a floor was put in the old three-story sanctuary was at the level of the gallery (balcony), creating a large auditorium upstairs (still seats 400) used for worship, conferences and concerts. The downstairs, where the old sanctuary floor once stood, was converted into office space, group meeting rooms, and a lounge and a coffee bar for the community.

That downstairs community center - the St Bryce Kirk Centre - is open Monday to Friday for people of all ages (toddlers to senior citizens), organizations of all kinds, charities, public services, activities and help-groups. The building is totally handicapped-accessible and equipped with up-to-date technology for conferences and concerts, with full in-house catering options (which our pastors' conference enjoyed throughout the week!).

I have two further observations on which I will elaborate in other posts:
  1. This kind of transformation of an institution and community does not come easily or quickly. In fact, one of our two lecturers (Diana Butler Bass) spoke to this very process that Ken and some others of us have lived through (more on that coming). Ken led the congregation (and community) through very intentional transformation, facing resistance and pushback. And the new life flowing in and out of St. Bryce is unmistakeable and inspiring. I applaud this pastor's courageous leadership and faithful pursuit of where the Holy Spirit led him.
  2. Related to #1, the purpose of our pastors' conference was to get together a group of U.S. and Scottish pastors and share stories and ideas with the assumption that Scotland (as much of Europe) may be some 20-25 years ahead of the United States in terms of Christianity moving out of the center of cultural and community life. Many of the churches in the Church of Scotland are aging and dwindling (as are many in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.); but we were privileged to meet a number of pastors and congregations that are nonetheless thriving in 2014 (whether you want to call it post-Christendom, post-Christian, secularized, etc...). One of the key features I noticed of the thriving churches were the move from being a church for those inside the walls (sometimes even for the sake of the walls!) to being a church for the community. Rev. Froude and St. Bryce made this shift early on and the difference it has made is palpable. (I shared some of this story and reflection in the sermon [audio link] on the Sunday after I returned from Scotland as a closing illustration of the text of Jeremiah 29:1-11, about God's people finding faithfulness in exile through praying for and seeking the shalom of the city.)
At my own church, we've had a similar transformation of perspective to open our facilities fully to our neighborhood. We have invited and welcomed any community group from our "parish" (ok, we don't have parishes, but we called the 1-mile radius around our church that) and have seen the facilities used by multiple girl scout groups, a 12-step group, several neighborhood associations, the Hospice/Palliative care organization, a Foundation related to the nearby elementary school, and several others. We also welcomed some neighborhood sports teams (little league baseball and rugby) to use our sizable ball field which had sat unused for a number of years.

While this didn't create an immediate influx of new members, that wasn't the point. We determined to be "good neighbors" and what we have seen is a tangible increase in awareness that our church sits at the heart of the surrounding neighborhoods, cares about the people and children of our neighborhood, and over time, we have met and even welcomed into worship some folks that probably would never have darkened our doors before. We've had neighbors who don't go to our church (or any church) recommend us to other neighbors.

All this is to say that I think one very important move the Church needs to make as Christianity moves away from the center of American culture is to rediscover (because it is an OLD value - think not only Jesus, but the Abrahamic covenant!) this: the church does not exist for its members, but for it's Savior, whose very mission was to come and make a home out in the world.

Upcoming posts will begin to explore the both/and of not only being more hospitable in the church, but also getting out of the church buildings and being the church in and for the world (perhaps an even more crucial task!).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

insider language addendum

Inspired by travels abroad, I wrote previously about insider language and behavior, often unintentional, that stands as a barrier in so many of our church settings. In case that needs a little more fleshing out and specificity, let me offer just a few examples off the top of my head (I really could probably come up with 50 in short order):

We don't need new cribs in our nursery - they were good enough for my kids 25 yrs. ago... they survived; plus, we don't have any babies in there right now.  

==> Do I really need to deconstruct that?! In fact, yes, I have had to deconstruct that in a very real conversation some years ago.  De we really want the bar for nursery care to be "they survived it?" I mean, in the 70s, my mom let me stand on the front seat of our VW Bug and hold on to the dashboard as she drove around town, and I survived (and liked it).  If you tried that with my small child today, not only would I never let you take my child anywhere again, I probably wouldn't leave her alone with you.  And as far as not having babies in there now... does that not suggest something to you?

Let's all stand and proclaim what we believe using the Apostles' Creed.

Post-apocalyptic worship in
"Return to the Planet of the Apes"
==>  I mean, I LOVE the Creed. I love theology. I think it's important to state key beliefs together. But do you have any idea what that sounds like and feels like to someone for whom church is new? I remember a scene from "Return to the Planet of the Apes" that brought that point home to me some 25 years ago. The music was choral, the people were lined up... at one point singing "All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small... the BOMB made them all." And the centerpiece of worship would be was a nuclear warhead.  At the time it was nonsensical; what was this group chanting, this group singing? I caught a glimpse of how weird, awkward, and non-sensical worship could be to an outsider.

Will the ushers please come forward to collect the morning's tithes and offerings?

==> I'm not sure even churched Christians really grasp "tithes and offerings"; it's just something we do... the old passing of the plate. What if you are from outside? What's the point? What's the expectation? Is it like tipping at a restaurant? And is that tipping based on how good the preacher's sermon was? A good chuckle and I'll toss in a fiver? 

[Evil shush your children look]

==> This is so common it's disheartening. Do we really NOT want children in worship and then complain about not having children and young adults in our church (the ones that just might be starting to have children?)  Combine the evil-eye shushing with the 1963 metal crib in the nursery (see #1 above) and you have a sure recipe to the exit door. 

We should only use the church building for church events...

==> When I came to my church in 2002, this was the default policy. Outsiders would mess things up. There would be security issues. Someone from the church would need to be present. In 2003-2004, when we first started thinking in terms of being a church-for-the-neighborhood ("parish church"?) we decided to open the facilities to ANY group from the neighborhood at no charge. (Charging was the second conversation after opening it up, but we decided it was to be a ministry, not a fund-raising effort.) I'll write some more on that in the next couple of posts, but it has made a HUGE difference in connecting with our neighbors.  

Minimal Hospitality Threshold

At the VERY least, we have to discover a "minimal hospitality threshold" that doesn't offer visitors the perception of dangerous childcare, arcane weirdness, awkward pandering for money, and unwelcome stares. Yet many congregations... sincerely well-meaning... have lost touch with what today's minimal hospitality threshold entails. Compare your church to a moderately successful restaurant - heck, compare it to McDonald's in terms of hospitality.

Compare your childcare to the YMCA or what you might look for in a babysitter. Put yourself in the shoes of an outsider - it's hard, but you can do it! (Or if you are really having trouble, go visit the place of worship for something really different from you - a Jewish temple or a Catholic or Orthodox or Pentecostal church... see where you are uncomfortable or lost or wishing for help.) 

And then...

Then, take a deep breath and ask this question:
Is the MINIMAL hospitality threshold really what you want as your standard of hospitality... to represent Jesus Christ to your neighbors and to the world?
Or is there far more in terms of welcome, hospitality, openness, inclusion, invitation, participation, and community?  [Hint: yes, there is far more. For just one example of that, check out this article on racial insider/outsider dynamics in church.]

And then!

And that is just the inviting, welcoming, including part of being the church that I like to call LIGHTHOUSE church. There is another whole realm of reaching out, going forth, venturing beyond the walls, loving neighbor, brushing shoulders, and being the church-for-the-world that I like to call SEARCHLIGHT church.  More on that to come...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

i know those words but don't know what you mean

I had just arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland and was supposed to meet my host at the airport. I didn't know what he looked like or where to find him, and though he had given me his phone number, my cell phone didn't have an international plan and the airport wi-fi wasn't connecting. I saw a few familiar things when I came out of customs into the waiting area: a coffee shop, some public computers for internet access, and even some phones. But I didn't (yet) have the currency. My host and I eventually found each other - it was a good portent that he had been in the coffee shop!

One of (seriously!) 1000 shows, acts, venues going on
for the "Fringe Festival"; Edinburgh Castle in the back
After a stop at the house, we ventured out into Edinburgh for an ENORMOUS month-long arts festival in the heart of town. As we navigated through to find something to watch and buy tickets, I kept noticing that I had to ask him to repeat himself and explain what he was saying to me. There was his accent (which, really, was pretty mild), but more difficult for me were so many different ways of saying things. Whether it was the boot of the car (I actually knew that one) or the "queue" to buy tickets or something costing so many "quid" (I thought it was pounds?!)... I recognized the words as existing in the language I speak, but sometimes I had no idea what he was saying. I would have been prepared for this in a culture that spoke a foreign language, but, you know, I watch Dr. Who and Sherlock and didn't figure it would throw me so much.

People ordering food and drink before returning the their table.
We went out to eat for lunch - at a legit Scottish pub. We sat down at a table and discussed what we would order, then he pointed at a number inscribed on the table top and said to stay here and he would go order. He went to the bar (with 50 other people arrayed placing their order) and left our table number there. Clearly, I knew what restaurant, table, table number, bar, menu, ordering, and all the rest were, but it was not a way of ordering food that I had ever seen.  Glad he was with me or I might have been waiting a while for a server to show up at the table!  :)

Surely you can see this person urgently
needs to get to the restroom?  :)
As we were finishing, I indicated that I needed to find the restroom. He gestured across the fairly large restaurant and said it's over there down some stairs. I set off across the restaurant and noticed some well-lit green signs of a person at the head of some stairs, so I followed the signs down two flights of stairs to a single door and went through. The door closed behind me, locked, and I found myself on the street! I went around the block, back into the restaurant and found my host at the table. He chuckled and went with me through the restaurant and pointed out the word "Toilet" at the head of another staircase. It turns out the little green running man (I thought he just really had to go!) is used throughout the country to mark the emergency exit. In the U.S. we use words for EXIT and pictures for restroom... and though I know the word "toilet" - it was not what I was looking for. All in all it was a great lesson in cultural expectations and differences. (It was also not my last bathroom mis-adventure.)

Why share all that here, as mildly humorous as it might be? It is because...

Church can also be a confusing and mis-leading culture of different language and expectations that "outsiders" have difficulty navigating.

For example:
  • Does your church have an unspoken dress code? Behavior code? Food in the sanctuary?
  • Can someone unfamiliar with church easily figure out words and practices like "passing the peace," "fellowship hour," "doxology," "confession," "hymn of praise," "creed," or any other number of things churched folks probably take for granted?
  • What about the more cultural/sub-cultural things like "ladies' circle," "covered dish dinner," "special offering," or even "youth group"?  I mean, do people outside of church ever "take an offering" for anything? At least "collection" would be a little more understandable.
  • What about standing and sitting, singing from a hymnal (or a screen), and so many of the things we do?
  • Do we sometimes, unintentionally, show people the exit door? 
I am a life-long church-goer and I have even found myself lost and confused visiting another church... even in my own Presbyterian tradition! Think about how that might feel for someone new to church and questioning the faith.

Where I'm going with all this is THIS: Are there ways we can open up insider language to better welcome those who come from outside the church or the faith?

Now there is also a fine line between opening up insider language and practice and retaining the MYSTERY that can be an important part of a worshiping community. So, in my examples above, I didn't need or want my hosts to "speak American" to me; what did work well (which we all quickly learned) was how helpful it was for them to anticipate and recognize where I might have trouble and help 'translate' or 'interpret' things that might be unfamiliar.

I'd love to hear some ways folks have done this kind of "opening up" of insider language and practices, particularly where you also have been able to maintain some of the uniqueness of Christian worship and community!

More coming...

new posts a-coming!

So in late Spring I realized I had been blogging in the areas of technology and music, both off-topic for the original intent of this "Lighthouse/Searchlight" blog.

I took some time to separate out the technology and music from the missional and moved them to the site I had created under my name when I stood for moderator of the Presbyterian Church. That took up most of May and then summer quickly filled with General Assembly, vacation Bible school, family vacation, and other things.

One of those other things was a week-long trip to Scotland with some other area pastors. Not only was it a wonderful and rich experience, it has stirred up a number of thoughts and reflections I'd like to share over the coming days and weeks, particularly around the missional church, or as I like to call it these days: church-for-the-world.

So come back, or bookmark it, or sign up for e-mail updates in the sidebar.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

ash wednesday - the "hands" service

In 2011 we were experiencing what I called blessed pandemonium on Wednesday nights. This year Wednesday nights are a bit tamer, but they are still multi-generational and include the men from the group home in our neighborhood. So, with the multiple attention levels and learning style needs present, we re-used the format from our Ash Wednesday service in 2011.

Our Ash Wednesday liturgy is about sin, death, and repentance and (as in 2011) is taken from the wide-ranging and weighty words of Psalm 44.  That Psalm has a number of references to "hands," so we decided to have a more kinesthetic learning-style service in order to really engage the children, youth, and group home folks alongside our adult members.

We used Psalm 44 as the structure for the whole service, and we used our hands (literally!) to understand and work through each part of it.  Here are the basics, and I will link to the order of worship below.  When I realized we'd be using our hands throughout, we did away with the bulletin and projected all the scripture and music on the screen.

Psalm 44:1-8   We opened with a Call to Worship and time of thanks and praise these verses, which celebrates God's faithfulness in times past.  We saw a visual of a strong hand.

We sang "Give Thanks" to express our thankfulness to God for that faithfulness.
Psalm 44:9-14    We talked about anger and blaming God for our circumstances and read these verses together while tightly clenching our hands into fists and holding that through these "God, look what you have done to us" verses.  (After 2-3 min of tight clenching, that's an interesting feeling and we talked about what holding on to anger does to us on the inside!) For blaming God (or self) we pointed our finger towards ourselves.
Psalm 44:17-19    The Psalm moves into more of a pleading tone, saying, "but we have not forgotten you (Lord)."  We clasped our hands into a child-like prayer gesture and prayed these verses together.  I then spoke briefly, asking whether Israel (and we) might have forgotten God, despite these words.
Psalm 44:20-22   We continued with "extended hands" (as if grasping for something), focusing on the words about "extending our hands to a strange god" - and I spoke briefly on sin and idolatries we sometimes reach for instead of God.

And with that move from anger to pleading to self-examination (which reminds me of the stages of grief!) led us into a prayer of confession.  I had been looking for a time in which we could join hands.  This didn't seem the obvious time, but we did and I reminded the congregation that though sin isolates, we are never alone - indeed, scripture reminds us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" - and so we prayed a prayer of confession together - eyes open reading screen - and holding hands.  Very interesting...

Psalm 44:23-24    These verses literally ask some questions of God - "Why do you sleep?  Why do you hide your face?" - so we raised one hand like a child would at school if asking a question, and we read these verses together.
Psalm 44:25    I noted that this verse is the next to last in the Psalm and is where we end up without God intervening to save.  "Our soul has sunk down into the dust; our body cleaves to the earth."  And at that point we had the imposition of ashes.
Psalm 44:26    Then the Psalm ends with a plea for help and hope: "Rise up, be our help, and redeem us..."  We read that, sang another song: "Give Us Clean Hands."
The benediction was from Romans 8:35-39, which quotes Psalm 44, which we had just read: "For your sake we are being put to death... sheep to the slaughter," but which surrounds that with one of the most hope-filled declarations of the Gospel in scripture: "Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ..."  I asked the congregation to hold out their hands in a receiving gesture as I spoke these words of blessing over them.

If you are interested in my notes or the PowerPoint slides just e-mail me at robert@gspc.net.

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