Friday, June 19, 2009

Church in a Bar

We had St. Andrew’s second Holy Happy Hour last night at Charlie Hooper’s – another great turnout (40 or so), with wonderful conversations all around the room.

As I’ve said before, part of the point of Holy Happy Hour is evangelistic. If we, as an incarnation of “church,” get out into the world having a good time, then the world might see that “church” is more than the self-righteous, judgmental, boring people we’re often presumed to be. Last night, there were signs posted on the wall marking the gathering as “St. Andrew’s Church.” For some, maybe that’s scandalous – “Church people shouldn’t be doing things like that.” But for the other folks there at Charlie Hooper’s, seeing church people gathering for happy hour might make them rethink their presumptions about what those Christians are like. Actually, I rather like the notion that “St. Andrew’s Church” isn’t just the beautiful building up the street but is the body of Christ in the world. After all, Jesus certainly spent his fair share of time in places like Charlie Hooper’s.

Of course, there’s also an internal “good” to these gatherings. As someone pointed out last night, “It doesn’t bother me that we’re getting together for happy hour. Hey, if we get together to do this tonight, we’ll be more likely to get together tomorrow for worship, or education, or outreach work, or whatever.”

She was right. Building community is huge for the congregation’s health. And a little fun never hurts, either – even among church people.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hard Work and Self-Care

I received word yesterday that a friend and seminary classmate, Bill Stroop, died on Sunday. Bill was somewhat older than me, in his late 50s. But only in his late 50s.

Bill was a scientist as well as an Episcopal priest. His first career was as a researcher and professor of microbiology, immunology, pathology, and ophthalmology. (Among all the other wonderful things implied by this rich integration of theology and science, it also meant that Bill kept otherwise illegal pathogens in the freezer of his seminary dorm room.) In teaching, preaching, and conversation, he could offer insights that none of the rest of us could bring. But he also had a gift for making those connections between God and science in a way that the rest of us could understand.

What I also remember about Bill in seminary is that he worked more than anyone I’d ever met. And from what I hear, this continued in his work as a priest. In fact, I imagine it only intensified, given the demands of ordained life and – even worse – the demands that ordained people often place on themselves. If you’re already wired to be an overachiever, then life in the Church will only encourage you to overachieve even more. There’s nothing quite like the combination of human need, divine calling, and people’s expectations to make you think you have to do it all.

Interestingly, on the day Bill suffered his fatal heart attack, I was traveling to rural southern Missouri to see my spiritual director. I say this mostly in the spirit of confession: It was the first time I'd seen her in several months. I find it a real challenge to carve out the time to do it; and once I do schedule the time, some emergency often seems to prevent me from keeping the date.

It is very difficult, for some of us at least, to make time for things like spiritual direction – or exercise, or healthy eating, or time with the family, or sleep, or…. But Bill’s passing makes me realize there is a price to be paid for always trying to do more. And, as my spiritual director might say (though much more eloquently than this), God probably has things pretty well in hand as it is, without me deciding I’m responsible for how everything works out.

I will miss my friend Bill. And I pray that now, as he enters into the fullness of life in the Kingdom of Heaven, he can enjoy some much-needed rest.