Friday, October 31, 2014

Sabbatical Visit 8: Manchester, England

My sabbatical isn't finished yet, but my time in England is.  Here's the story of St. James and Emmanuel in Manchester, and its fresh expression of church, Abide.  The video text follows....

Manchester, England, isn't a typical tourist destination -- an industrial city, best known in the States for an incredible English football club.  Honestly, I didn't see anything while I was in Manchester, other than the neighborhood I was there to visit -- Didsbury, in the southern part of the metro area.  Didsbury definitely has its own vibe; and like the parish I visited in London, Didsbury reminds me a lot of Brookside -- doctors, lawyers, business people, and their families enjoying beautiful homes, cool coffee shops, and great restaurants ... with one noteable exception.  I think sombody misunderstood what the "K" in KFC is supposed to stand for.

Didsbury is also home to the parish of St. James and Emmanuel.  Maybe I was homesick, but I could see a lot of St. Andrew's in St. James and Emmanuel.  It's definitely a "big tent" kind of place, but they express that unity-in-diversity with a collection of smaller tents instead.  First, there are the two churches -- St. James, the original, whose building dates from 1236; and Emmanuel, the "modern" church carved out from St. James' parish in about 1850.  On a given Sunday, here are some glimpses of what you'll find (scenes of worship)....  So there's evangelical prayer and praise, Holy Communion from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, a Taize service -- and even Eucharist in medieval St. James with the liturgical texts projected on a screen.  Just try to categorize this parish.  I dare you.

Along with a deeply Anglican understanding of holding diverse traditions in holy balance, you also find a commitment to mission at St. James and Emmanuel.  And, true to form, that missional calling manifests itself in diverse ways.  The seven-year-old parish center uses flexible, shared space to house kids' groups, community meetings, church offices, private parties, church events, and a weekly ministry of shelter for asylum seekers.  A renovated narthex will house a coffee shop and weekly Youth Cafe, giving kids a safe place to hang out and get help with homework.  The old rectory provides office space for seven local charities.  The church's school forms hundreds of young minds and hearts, and a second building will soon double the school's reach.  The rector, the Rev. Nick Bundock, describes the parish's identity in terms of Jesus' parable of the mustard seed.  That story's not just about the size of the seed; it's also about what that seed produces: a great bush with many branches to shelter the birds around it.  As Nick puts it, "A church has to create space for the birds of the air to nest in its branches."

But what keeps mission from being just one good work after another is a Christian community where mission finds its roots.  And that's the story of Abide, the "missional communty" of St. James and Emmanuel.  Several years ago, Emmanuel began a Sunday-evening service mostly for 20- and 30-somethings, but worship was all it was.  In fact, the gathering had become fairly unhealthy, with new people feeling put off rather than drawn in.  Three years ago, the Rev. Ben Edson received a call to morph the Sunday-night service into a fresh expression, a community rather than just a worship service.  Now Abide meets twice a month -- on a Tuesday, for dinner and conversation; and on a Sunday night, for worship and time at the pub.  Many of Abide's members also follow a rule of life called the Five Rhythms of Grace, a set of commitments that remind me of the promises of our Baptismal Covenant.  Everyone I spoke with said Abide's most important gathering, by far, isn't the worship; it's the Tuesday-night dinner.  There, the community breaks bread together, hears stories of other disciples trying to follow Jesus' path, and supports each other in following a rule of life.  Hmmmm ... sounds like church after all.  It's not rocket science; it's a group of people helping each other live lives that face outward.  Everyone agrees this "missional community" is a work in progress, and that's OK. At this point, the work that it's doing is vital: creating a community strong enough to proclaim the kingdom of God well beyond the church's walls.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sabbatical Visit 7: London

Welcome to London and St. Barnabas Church!  I've never seen a congregation with this kind of laser focus on mission.  By the way, the image above isn't from the fresh expression of church -- it's a normal Sunday morning at St. B's.

Here's the text, if you prefer it that way:

Coming to London, what does an Episcopal priest want to find?  Old stuff.  And London does not disappoint.  Whether you're touring the Houses of Parliament, or worshiping in Westminster Abbey, or marveling at St. Paul's -- seeing something a thousand years old is nothing around here.  Old lives next door to new.

We've seen a pattern like this in these sabbatical videos -- traditional, inherited expressions of church alongside fresh expressions.  And walking up to St. Barnabas Church in North London, in a neighborhood that reminds me of Brookside, you think the pattern might continue.  But St. Barnabas fits few Anglican patterns, as it turns out.  People here talk about where a church is "up or down the candle" on the scale from high to low, from Anglo-Catholic to evangelical.  You might say St. Barnabas is at the bottom of the candle, not only evangelical but deeply charismatic, too.  Worship there included several prayers for spiritual healing, words of prophecy, prayer languages, hands in the air -- and no apologies.  St. Barnabas intentionally holds together the false divisions between being rooted in Scripture, being welcoming with the Sacraments, and being open to the Holy Spirit's sometimes radical activity.

They're also clear about where this evangelical and charismatic identity leads them: outward.  As their vision statement says, St. Barnabas is about nothing less than "transforming lives and changing the world."  These are people who are sent -- apostolic, in the true sense of that word.  Mission is literally plastered all over the walls at St. Barnabas.  They support people across England and around the world promoting the Gospel.  They belong to "missional communities," small groups that study, pray, and listen to the Spirit sending them out to change the world next door.  And now, St. Barnabas has outgrown its traditional space -- a space that doesn't really communicate an intimate, personal relationship with God anyway.  So last week, the building went on the market.  St. Barnabas is now on the move into the largest commercial space in its London neighborhood.

But before that, four years ago, St. Barnabas went on the move to a less glamorous setting:  a London housing project called Strawberry Vale.  The Rev. Helen Shannon -- a long-term member who heard God's call to ministry with the poor -- began this missional journey herself, moving with her family to Strawberry Vale to practice the deeply incarnational ministry of getting to know people and showing them God's love.  They left cards and treats in people's mail slots, offered free meals at the community center, put on children's and parent groups, and spent hours simply listening.  Over time, more St. Barnabas members joined her, some also moving there; and hundreds more were praying for the effort.  Now it's grown into Church@Five, a weekly gathering of worship, conversation, and a meal -- very important in a place where food poverty is a real issue.

So, in a place with a deep commitment to mission and a worship style most Episcopalians wouldn't even recognize, where's the "both/and"?  Where's the inherited church and fresh expression of church side by side?  You can see it in the way worship works at St. Barnabas and at Church@Five.  Though it looks very different to most of us, Sunday morning at St. Barnabas is fairly traditional in the sense of who's doing the talking or singing and who's doing the listening.  As it's been for centuries, those in authority stand up in front of the gathered community and share truth, as they see it.  So St. Barnabas is traditional in the sense that the people up front send God's message, and you receive it.  At Church@Five, the order of worship is basically the same, but it feels very different.  The congregation gathers in groups around tables.  They pass the baton of authority, with Strawberry Vale residents co-leading worship with Rev. Helen and offering the beginning prayer.  The sermon is led by a pastor, but it's not just given:  Preaching is a shared event, with table conversations and discussions with the whole group about the day's reading and how it relates to your life.  And then, of course, there's the food, binding the community by breaking bread together.  The beauty is that this mixed economy of church works.  Whether it's Sunday morning at St. Barnabas or Sunday afternoon at Church@Five, both approaches fit the context to which God has sent them.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sabbatical Visit 6: Tewkesbury, England

From England, home of dubious wifi connections, comes post 6 of my sabbatical journey.  This is from Tewkesbury Abbey and its fresh expression of church, Celebrate.  I'll add the video text soon....

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sabbatical Visit 5: Seattle

Here's the fifth stop of my sabbatical journey -- beautiful Seattle, home of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and its 5 p.m. Community.  The video text follows....

Seattle is a place of abundance and beauty. Our first stop here was the Pike Place Market, where Seattle farmers, butchers, fishmongers, and craftspeople have been selling their goods since 1907.  You walk in, and you’re immediately struck by the fish – maybe literally, if you happen by when the guys are throwing the daily catch to each other.  But that’s only the start.  You can find nearly anything here, including the world’s first Starbuck’s, apparently a postmodern pilgrimage site.    Of course, Ann and I also had to take in the beauty of this city and the mountains and the sound with a trip up the Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair.  The landscape is simply stunning, especially on a clear day – which the natives instruct you to report never occurs.

In the midst of this beautiful city, near the Space Needle at the bottom of Queen Anne Hill, sits St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  Perhaps it’s no accident that it, too, exudes a sense of abundant beauty in its soaring space and rich Anglo-Catholic liturgy.  That Anglo-Catholic ethos is all about the fact that, in God’s eyes, matter matters – and so it should for us.  So in the liturgy, every movement is intentional; every adornment has meaning; every minister takes his or her role deeply seriously.  Incense rises with parishioners’ prayers.  Sanctus bells mark moments when the assembly’s prayers join with those of saints and angels.  Long silences follow the readings and the sermon.  Russian icons offer windows onto the divine.  And if all this seems a little over the top, too bad.  This is who St. Paul’s is.

St. Paul’s knows its identity and its role in witnessing that identity to the world.  In a recent renovation, the iconic red doors were replaced with glass, and the narthex was opened up visually to the hundreds of people who pass by each day.  As neighbors look in, they see a different iconic image:  the baptismal font, source of new life for Christians and for all of God’s world.  And because matter matters to God, the earth and its people must be lovingly cared for.  Not surprisingly, it was the Anglo-Catholics who brought the Good News to Victorian slums, in word and deed.  And at St. Paul’s, parishioners have dinner with homeless people in the church basement each month.

That same Anglo-Catholic ethos shapes the 5 p.m. Community, St. Paul’s fresh expression of church in the basement.  The candles and vestments and incense aren’t much different from what’s used upstairs.  Even the music is nearly all from the hymnal or other standard sources.  What’s different is how worship happens.   The gathering’s arranged in a diamond shape, with the lectern on one end and the altar in the middle – so worshipers can’t help but look at each other.  That’s intentional, and it supports the “shared homily.”  The presider offers some initial thoughts and asks a question or two to get people thinking.   But the people take it from there, offering their own reflections on the readings or the art they’ve witnessed.   Seasonally, artists and performers offer their work as the second “reading,” so the homily might reflect on a painting or a dance as much as on Scripture.  It’s a fascinating combination of structure and improvisation.  Like the rest of St. Paul’s, the 5 p.m. Community is unapologetic about who it is but deeply welcoming of those drawn to the mystery it reveals.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sabbatical Visit 4: Portland

Here's stop 4 of the sabbatical journey -- St. Andrew and All Soul's Episcopal Church in Portland.  The text is below, if you prefer the story that way:

Portland may not be quite as hip and funky as the series Portlandia makes it out to be, but it’s close.  Even the pancake houses offer free-range this and vegan that.  You find literally scores of local breweries, nearly as many as the coffee shops.  I can personally vouch for the lovingly restored movie palaces featuring amazing burgers and craft ales, as well as the food trucks that gather in several neighborhoods. If you find yourself downtown, look for the Egyptian couple with the shwarmas and falafel – amazing.

But at least one of Portland’s districts is definitely not Portlandia, and that’s North Portland.  The city guide in the hotel room describes many neighborhoods, but you barely find a mention of North Portland, roughly a fifth of this city.  It’s long been a working-class area, and urban gentrification hasn’t made its way there yet.  The diversity is great, and so are the challenges of poverty and homelessness.

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church has served North Portland for 119 years now, with three buildings on a busy block.  As the church has seen its neighborhood change, it’s also gone through its own difficult years, especially recently.  As of two years ago, about 15 people were worshiping here on a Sunday – nearly all over 70 – and the worship music was a parishioner playing his accordion.

Today, the church has new faces and a new name:  St. Andrew and All Souls.  Almost two years ago, the Rev. Karen Ward came here with a prayer group of about 10 young adults.  Well-known in emerging-church circles for her success planting Church of the Apostles in Seattle, Karen’s following a different model here.  From the start, this combined community has had both a traditional, by-the-book Eucharist, as well as an emerging liturgy on Sunday mornings.  At the early service, the organ leads God’s praise; at the late service, it’s a singer with a guitar and a percussionist.  The sermon or conversation about scripture also includes “open space” time, when worshipers light candles, have a cup of coffee, or meditate with icons written by a church member.  It’s definitely a work in progress, but both the traditional service and the emerging service are growing, with 40 to 50 people now worshiping here on a Sunday.

But the growth isn’t just about liturgy; it’s also about the Spirit uniting the congregation’s gifts with the needs of the community.  In Portland, the music-and-arts scene is huge.  So St. Andrew and All Souls is welcoming artists and performers to use its generous spaces, as well as offering a summer arts camp for kids in the neighborhood.  The church’s food pantry continues its long history of serving hungry neighbors.  And there are plans to turn the old library building on the corner into a neighborhood coffee house.  It’s about redefining what the “parish” of St. Andrew and All Souls really is.  Certainly, some would say it’s the congregation and its properties there in North Portland.  But Karen Ward would say the parish is North Portland itself, because this is the only Episcopal congregation there.  The story of St. Andrew and All Souls will be this transition – seeing itself through a missional lens and deepening its connection with the people God gives it to serve.