Monthly Archives: May 2013

At Deathbeds: On Closing Churches

In the last 18 month I’ve been present at the closing of three Churches. I was their priest; they had been a cluster when I was called. In each case it was excruciating and sad. In each case it was the right choice. Churches, the actual communities, the buildings located in towns and cities, are not immortal. While The Church, the larger universal body has outlasted change after change, its constituent parts are often subject to the changes of the world.

I am often asked what it like to close a Church. This rises out of, I suspect, the pastoral wish to let me talk through my experience. And, in an age where we are inundated with fearful “the Church is shrinking” messages, the fear that the person posing the question may experience their Church’s closing. (1)

My answer is simple. It is like watching someone die.

Much like the deathbeds I have been privileged to be present at, there have been times when Churches close suddenly, times when we were waiting for the last Sunday as much as we were dreading it, and times when we knew the last Sunday was coming but none of us would ever be ready.

Three deaths, 18 months. The stories I want to tell have little to do with the last Sundays, with the ultimacy of closing–much like the stories told at funerals aren’t usually about reading the will or cleaning the house out.

I want to tell about potluck dinners instituted by parishioners. About hospital visits and funerals. About children who graduated. I want to talk about rediscovering coffee hour. About how the purpose of one Church was to bury the last of a generation. I want to talk about how it was important to understand the purpose of a church before one Church could close. About the classes I taught and the subjects we discussed. I want to talk about a Church community that rediscovered itself. About sermons preached and conversations had.

I want to talk about how we lived.

What I have faith in, what I believe, is that none of this is lost. God’s grand economy of us, of our faith, means that none of our actions, faith-filled or otherwise, are meaningless, lost, or forgotten. Walking out of those buildings for the last time, not just for me, but for the last time for a priest of the congregation, is a test of Resurrection Theology. My faith is not that these congregations will somehow rise from the ashes, that what is now dead will survive. My faith is that these congregations’ actions, their faith will be part of the day of the Resurrection. At which time we will understand how this part of our lives was God drawing straight with crooked lines. (2)

1 Watch Dean Markham’s on the The Myth of the Decling of the Episcopal Church”
2 Portuguese proverb

Later this week I’ll turn to Sermon Reviews and what this next chapter of my life looks like.

Categories: Church, Priest's Life | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

SR The Church, Sacraments, and Unity, Easter 7, 2013

Link: The Church, Sacraments, and Unity, Easter 7, 2013

Summary of what I was saying and why:
Jesus’s prayer for the unity of the Church is great. And hard to preach. Because it is so patently not what is. Also, while I can encourage many of the other things Jesus says and Christians can, mostly, work together toward them, we aren’t all about to fold into the One Church we never were. However, the talk I’ve heard of the mystical, unseen unity of the Church and the Church’s concrete, less than perfect reality got me thinking about the outward and visible versus the inward and real. And then I was off onto Sacraments, the Church, and the connections…

Theology: Sacrament
Jesus Count: low
Good News: God’s grace is not limited by people.

What did I change on my feet?
Everything always gets changed in interactive sermons. I knew how I was starting and I knew (roughly) where things were headed.
What didn’t work/what did I miss?
I left the last line unfinished. I should have added “without the grace of God.” And I didn’t and I didn’t catch it for a crucial 60 seconds.
I’m not sure I emphasized the Church’s unity is a sacramental aspect of the Church’s existence enough.
What did work?
I really enjoy when interaction in a sermon goes well. I think it did here. I liked the approach of looking at the Church as sacramental.

Other sermons I liked:

Bishop Fisher reminds us that, after Ascension, Jesus is not a missing person (and worked in a Mother’s Day reference!).

Priest Sinclair preaches and has Greek and puzzle imagery! (All I need is a gratuitous science fiction reference. But I’ll take good theology first.)

Priest Baum lets us in on conversations that happen for the benefit of those listening in.

(Don’t see your sermon or a sermon you liked? Maybe I don’t know about it. Leave me a comment with a link and I’ll take a look.)

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The Church, Sacraments, and Unity: sermon for Easter 7 5-12-13 (audio)

The lessons can be found by clicking here. I worked most closely with John 17:20-26.

Jesus prays for his Church, us, to be one. So we spent some time discussing the Church and what and how we are.

Listen:

Categories: Easter, Sermon | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

SR: Wellness and Fear, Easter 6 2013

Link: Wellness and Fear, Easter 6 2013

Summary of what I was saying and why:
Healing miracles are always challenging for me. How do I preach the truth of miracles (which I believe) without forgetting that too many of us are not healed?
Do you want to be made well? Sometimes the answer isn’t yes; sometimes yes is a hard answer to get to.

Theology: anthropology (about humans)
Jesus Count: low
Good News: fear is part of who we are

What did I change on my feet?
A lot. This was pretty loosely sketched out, so I tweaked a lot as I went.
What didn’t work/what did I miss?
I wanted to avoid a “faith will solve fear” exit but that was hard to resist. As a result, I don’t think I made it clear enough that Jesus loves us in our fear.
What did work?
I liked the challenge of staying with the concept of “we choose which fear we live with.”

Other sermons I liked:

Priest Linman preached on Lydia’s invitation. Click through to read the post about the Church giving up being welcoming, if nothing else.

Bishop Rickel invites us to drive into the river and turn left.

Priest Lightcap addresses the question of leadership. Women’s and everyone’s who can lead.

(Don’t see your sermon or a sermon you liked? Maybe I don’t know about it. Leave me a comment with a link and I’ll take a look.)

Categories: Sermon Review | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wellness and Fear, Sermon for Easter 6, 2013 (audio)

The lessons can be found by clicking here. I worked most closely with John 5:1-9.

Jesus said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” And we touch on Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, the TV show House, and fear.

Categories: Easter, Sermon | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SR Broken, Loving Hearts Easter 5, 2013

Link: You can listen to what I said here: Broken, Loving Hearts, Easter 5, 2013

Summary of what I was saying and why:
Love has consequences. Jesus instructs us to love one another and then gets crucified. We love and often get hurt. Love, though, can often be not only transformational but resurrectional.

Theology: Salvation
Jesus Count: moderate
Good News: love can be resurrectional

What did I change on my feet?
The conclusion. Which is, if you haven’t noticed, what most frequently gets changed. I should talk about why that is at some other point in time.

What didn’t work/what did I miss?
My preaching these last few weeks/months has been strongly informed by the upcoming closing of the church. This sermon, while worth preaching in other places, might need to be preached with different nuance then and there.

What did work?
I liked sort of steering a course into the hard and broken parts of love. Which can be the strong places of love.

Other sermons I liked:

Priest Lightcap reminds us how Jesus’s love turns the world upside down.

Priest Giroux preaches on funerals, weddings, and the centrality love.
(Updated with the correct link)

(Don’t see your sermon or a sermon you liked? Maybe I don’t know about it. Leave me a comment with a link and I’ll take a look.)

Categories: Sermon Review | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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