The Church

THE CHURCH: A Theology Of Disconnection

February 24, 2019

The medieval mystic, Hildegard of Bingen began to have visions as a very young girl.  Her parents decided that it would be best for her to enter a monastery where she was educated by a fellow anchoress and the monks there.  As she grew into an adult she became oppressed by what she felt was the corruption of the priests and monks.  So she picked up her skirts, fled into the countryside, and established her own convent where she wrote down her visions and some very beautiful music. For me this is a perfect illustration of how a person of profound faith can come to feel a serious disconnection with the church. I relate to her story.  But there are differences in our storylines. First, in my church history I have rarely come across a [...]

POETRY: Septuagesima by John Betjeman

February 20, 2019

Septuagesima—seventy days To Easter’s primrose tide of praise; The Gesimas—Septua, Sexa, Quinc Mean Lent is near, which makes you think. Septuagesima—when we’re told To “run the race,” to “keep our hold,” Ignore injustice, not give in, and practice stern self-discipline; A somewhat unattractive time Which hardly lends itself to rhyme. But still it gives the chance to me To praise our dear old C. of E. So other churches please forgive Lines on the church in which I live, The Church of England of my birth, The kindest church to me on Earth. There may be those who like things fully Argued out, and call you “woolly”; Ignoring Creeds and Catechism They say the C. of E.’s “in schism.” There may be those who much [...]

POETRY: The Chimes Of Neverwhere by Les Murray

August 15, 2018

How many times did the Church prevent war? Who knows? Those wars did not occur. How many numbers don’t count before ten? Treasures of the Devil in Neverwhere. The neither state of Neverwhere is hard to place as near or far since all things that didn’t take place are there and things that have lost the place they took: Herr Hitler’s buildings, King James’s cigar, the happiness of Armenia, the Abelard children, the Manchu’s return are there with the Pictish Grammar Book. The girl who returned your dazzled look and the mornings you might have woke to her are your waterbed in Neverwhere. There shine the dukes of Australia and all the great poems that never were quite written, and every balked invention. There too are the Third AIF [...]

CHRISTIANITY: Hand Signals by Gary M. Schimmer

May 9, 2018

From: Emmaus Road Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14b) Receiving Holy Communion is one of the spiritual stepping stones in the Christian faith.  In the early Christian church even infants communed by tasting drops of wine that the priest placed on their tongues.  Centuries later that early Christian practice changed, and now children in the first grade or in upper grades commune for the first time. It was the practice of my congregation to offer children their first Holy Communion in the third grade, as I recall.  They received instruction before they received this sacrament.  On the other hand, younger children still [...]

CHRISTIANITY: Lights Out by Gary M. Schimmer

May 2, 2018

From: Emmaus Road Live as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8b) I have enjoyed doing children’s sermons since I began my ordained ministry decades ago.  Each Sunday I talked to children about the meaning of one of the Bible verses from the lectionary.  I always tried to make one point in my talks.  I used signs, toys, pictures, and movements to illustrate my message. One Sunday I talked about Jesus’s message for people to be the light of the world.  Now that concept was not easy to communicate to children because it was a metaphor.  Nonetheless, I gave it a try.  I gave each child a little flashlight.  They aimed their lights at each other and on the walls of the church building.  I emphasized that Jesus wants us to be the light [...]

THE CHURCH: On the Ministry of the Laity by Matthew Dallman

April 29, 2018

From The Spire Saint Paul teaches in the fourth chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians that saints (the baptized) are to be equipped for work of ministry, for “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” He also teaches elsewhere of the centrality of the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity to the Christian life. The pressing question then becomes, within the context of Baptism, how do equipping the saints for ministry and the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity hang together as part of an overall “baptismal spirituality” or “baptismal life”? What is the shape or pattern? In the [...]

CHRISTIANITY: Pizza And A Movie by Gary M. Schimmer

April 25, 2018

From: Emmaus Road Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash to disciples’ feet. (John 13:5a) They said they came from Hollywood, where they worked to film the 1960s sitcom, Petticoat Junction.  They landed in the small Georgia town where I was the pastor of the Lutheran congregation.  It always puzzled me how these two filmmakers left the glamour of Hollywood to live and work in a town and country setting in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains.  I met them as they worked for a major pizza chain.  They were filming community events and then inviting the community to the local pizza restaurant for dinner and a movie. Somehow I got the idea of filming A Day in the Life of a Pastor, starring yours truly.  I approached [...]

CHRISTIANITY: Humor—No Monkey Business by Gary M. Schimmer

April 18, 2018

From: Emmaus Road Then God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1-3) No Monkey Business What can we do to keep the attention of children in Sunday school?  A new Bible curriculum may include the latest technology with fast-paced songs and flashy lessons to nurture faith. But before the latest technology hit the classroom, we used flannel boards, brightly colored Bible story leaflets, and songs with hand motions.  (Remember the old Sunday school song, “The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock?”)  And some Sunday school teachers even tried show-and-tell in class to capture the attention of restless [...]

CHRISTIANITY: Humor—Hey, Jesus! by Gary M. Schimmer

April 11, 2018

From: Emmaus Road Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:24) Hey, Jesus! They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21) The congregation’s membership grew rapidly because it was located in a thriving community with many new businesses and housing subdivisions.  Young families climbing the corporate ladders were mortgaged to the hilt, enrolled their children in good schools, and looked to worship in welcoming congregations. It wasn’t unusual each Sunday for several new families to show up in the congregation I served.  One Sunday a new [...]

CHRISTIANITY: Humor—A Hymn Forgotten by Gary M. Schimmer

April 4, 2018

From: Emmaus Road Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:24) A Hymn Forgotten Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. (Psalm 33:3) While attending divinity school, I was asked to lead the women’s Pentecost service at the congregation where I worshipped, taught catechism class, and helped to lead the youth group.  With some apprehension, I agreed, knowing that this would be my first time to preach. In preparation for this service, I worked with a retired pastor who would play the organ for this service.  In our phone conversation, we selected several hymns for all to sing. When I mentioned one of [...]

UNITY: Spiritual Warfare, or, The reason the church was created in the first place

February 12, 2018

Let us begin with an exercise in imagination. I want you to picture a pie chart. At first, when you look at it, it looks like it is all one color. Let’s say, white. But as you study it, even use a magnifying glass on it, you are able to see one very fine, black line. As you pull away from the chart, the black line blends into all the white. This is the pie chart of sin. The white represents sins for which a person can atone, ask for forgiveness, and receive it. That very fine, black line represents the one sin for which a person cannot atone or receive forgiveness. One sin. So if the overwhelming majority of sins can be forgiven, why do so many churches spend so much time on justifying judgment and condemnation? One of the very [...]

UNITY: The Art Of Quilting

February 8, 2018

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture [...]

THE CHURCH: A Rant About The Job Description Of Shepherds by Allen Martin Bair

February 3, 2018

From The Rambles of a Wandering Priest I usually ramble.  Right now, I want to rant.  I feel like ranting and raving and making large gestures in the air with my hands and arms to the effect of, “What the…?  Are you kidding me?  How can you… Ughhhhhh!”  Yeah, something like that sounds about right. I used to work in a children’s home in a house full of teenage girls with emotional and psychological issues.  It’s not the only dorm on the campus, but it is the only one with girls in it.  On Sundays, a group from a local church came in and set up shop to do services with the boys on campus who want to go, but nothing is made available for the girls.  I was told that they used to do something for the girls, but they [...]

UNITY: God’s Prayers, or Smelly feet

January 28, 2018

The purpose of the church has always been misunderstood by man. Seriously misunderstood. Perhaps because Jesus ministered to us, individually and generally, we have assumed that the church takes his place and is the means for God to minister to us. We can go there to receive the sacraments, if they are available. We can go there for fellowship. We can go there to polish our self-esteem. We go there. Because the church is ours.  It belongs to us. It exists for us. When has anyone ever stepped over his church’s threshold, gotten down on his knees, and asked, What can I do for you, Father? Anyone? Ever? You see, we are supposed to be the answer to God’s prayers. It’s fine if, when we are at church, we pray for something [...]

THE CHURCH: A Ramble About Unity by Allen Martin Bair

January 27, 2018

From The Rambles of a Wandering Priest “Cursed be that love and unity for whose sake the Word of God must be put to the stake.”  I wrote that quote from the Reformation down on the title page of my Bible as I took notes in class on day in Bible School.  I hung on my professor’s every word as he taught.  I thought the sentiment was so very right, and I thought the Reformer who spoke it divinely inspired.  The Reformer in question meant, of course, that there can be no love and unity with people who didn’t subscribe to his interpretation of Holy Scripture.  More literally, he also meant those who put the word of God to the stake by burning every vernacular (common language) translation of the Bible they could get their hands on [...]

EVANGELISM: Street Walking

January 21, 2018

I was born into an Anglican church. And I do realize that my childhood stamped me in very certain ways. I was also born into a small Maine coastal town. Which accomplished even more of the stamping. A number of times a year the rector (chief priest) sat at our dining room table and chatted.  It was an expected visit.  I won’t say it was exactly an anticipated visit.  But it was a given. The curate (lesser priest) was expected to keep lonely widows and struggling families, the shut-ins and church discontents regular company.  Holy Communion was distributed to those who had not made it to the rail to receive it. I grew up knowing to my bones that church was not just something that happened inside a particular building. All the [...]

THE CHURCH: A Ramble About An Unacceptable Situation by Allen Martin Bair

January 20, 2018

From The Rambles of a Wandering Priest There is a question that is never far from my mind and usually running in the background somewhere.  How do we fix the Church of Jesus Christ? This assumes that somehow it’s broken, or somehow disordered.  Whether or not you agree with that it is, we can argue rings around each other why it is or isn’t, and get nowhere. But I see symptoms of a much greater problem.  I have previously written about the “judgmentalism” of various professing Christians, when Jesus Christ taught non-judgment.  I have previously written about these lost sheep who have run from the church, and whose faith exists in various states of ruin.  Often, the members of the visible church, because of their hypocrisy, [...]

THE CHURCH: A Ramble About Lost Sheep by Allen Martin Bair

January 13, 2018

From The Rambles of a Wandering Priest Some time ago, as I was pulling one-ton pallets though the crowded aisles of the “big box store” I worked at, I got this image in my head from the Lord. There was a rancher who owned a lot of sheep, and shepherds were hired to watch over different flocks.  Some flocks were larger, some were smaller, but all the sheep belonged ultimately to the rancher, not the individual shepherd in charge of them. Some of the shepherds were doing their job well and faithfully.  The sheep were well cared for, and the shepherds had the exhaustion and bags under their eyes to prove it.  Other shepherds however were not.  Some beat the sheep under their care.  Some didn’t feed them properly.  Others overfed [...]

POETRY: Indoors by R. S. Thomas

December 1, 2017

It was easier to come out with you Into the fields, where birds made no claim On my poor knowledge and flowers grew With no thought but to declare God. Within I had the old problems To cope with: turning from the Book’s Comfortable words, I came face to face With the proud priests and their intolerant [...]

PRAYER: For Unity Of Faiths by Thomas Merton

November 6, 2017

O God, we are one with you.  You have made us one with you.  You have taught us that if we are open to one another, you dwell in us.  Help us to preserve this openness and to fight for it with all our hearts.  Help us to realize that there can be no understanding where there is mutual rejection.  O God, in accepting one another wholeheartedly, fully, completely, we accept you, and we thank you, and we adore you, and we love you with our whole being, because our being is in your being, our spirit is rooted in your spirit.  Fill us then with love, and let us be bound together with love as we go our diverse ways, united in this one spirit which makes you present in the world, and which makes you witness to the ultimate reality that is [...]

SATURDAY READING: To Sing Is A Lover’s Thing by Edith M. Humphrey

August 5, 2017

From Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth As In Heaven Can you hear them? They’re singing, singing a song as strong as the sea, as sure as the rock, as heartrending as a glimpse of sapphire sky caught through a tear in an ominous bank of clouds. Can you hear them? Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, The One who was, and who is, and who is to come… Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, To receive glory and honor and power: For thou didst create all things, And by thy will they came to be, and were created.  (Revelation 4:8, 11) The song surrounds John, directed by the cherubim who sing the thrice-holy hymn, and entered with abandon and reverence by the twenty-four elders, representative of God’s people.  Encircled by the celestial [...]

SERMON: Mystical Vineyards And The Prudence Of The Flesh by Bernard of Clairvaux

July 9, 2017

“They made me the keeper of the vineyards.” (Song of Solomon 1:6)  Who are they? Do you mean those opponents to whom you recently referred? Listen and understand. Perhaps she is saying that she has been given this charge by the very people who persecuted her. No need to wonder at this if she was attacked for the purpose of correcting her. Everybody knows that lots of people are frequently opposed in a well-intentioned way for their good. Every day we meet with people whose ideals are purified, who advance to perfection through the friendly corrections of their superiors. Therefore let us rather show, if we can, hew her mother’s sons fight against the church with hostile purpose and with a loss that is her gain. This is [...]

POETRY: The Invitation by George Herbert

July 8, 2017

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (Isaiah 55:1-2) Come ye hither all, whose taste Is our waste; Save your cost, and mend your fare. God is here prepared and dressed, And the feast, God, in whom all dainties are. Come ye hither all, whom wine Doth define, Naming you not to your good: Weep what ye have drunk amiss, And drink this, Which before ye drink is blood. Come ye hither all, whom pain Doth arraign, [...]

ADVENT MEDITATION: The Origins Of The Season by Philip H. Pfatteicher

November 27, 2016

From Journey Into the Heart of God There is an almost innate pattern in human behavior of fast before feast, preparation followed by celebration, anticipation and preparation leading to feasting, but otherwise the origins of the season of Advent are obscure.  Liturgical historians have in recent decades become notably skeptical regarding our knowledge of the origins and development of the seasons of the liturgical year.  We possess little sure and certain knowledge, only fragmentary and isolated pieces of evidence.  It is like having a dozen or so pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and that basis attempting to imagine what the whole puzzle looks like.  We will see with regard not only to Advent but also to Christmas, Epiphany, and Lent [...]

A CLOUD OF WITNESSES: Prayer And The Christian Way Of Life (Part Four) by Claire E. Wolfteich

October 27, 2016

From Lord, Have Mercy: Praying for Justice with Conviction and Humility The Power and the Ambiguity What these stories of the desert elders, Ignatius, and Teresa show is a common thread of the tradition: the centrality of prayer to the Christian way of life.  The practice of prayer actually is the path to knowledge of God; prayer is part of the faith that seeks understanding.  This understanding of prayer has unfortunately been undermined by a false separation of spirituality from theology that began in the high Middle Ages and continues today, leaving devotion privatized and disconnected from a whole life that seeks wisdom.  For the desert elders, Ignatius, and Teresa, the practice of prayer was integral to a way of life that seeks [...]

A CLOUD OF WITNESSES: Prayer And The Christian Way Of Life (Part One) by Claire E. Wolfteich

October 25, 2016

From Lord, Have Mercy: Praying for Justice with Conviction and Humility One of the fourth-century desert fathers, Abba Macarius, was asked, How should one pray?  The old man said, There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, “Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.” Macarius was among the early monks and nuns who led solitary lives in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria.  They left cities and towns to live a stark, ascetic life of prayer, confronting the demons within and without, seeking to grow in discernment and purity of heart.  People often came to them and asked for a “word” – for spiritual counsel.  The elders would respond [...]

THE CHURCH: Running With The Witnesses by John Piper 

October 24, 2016

From Desiring God And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 11:39–12:2) Running — Not Meandering The book of Hebrews was written to a church that was getting old and was [...]

COMMUNITY: The Soup Kitchen by Nora Gallagher

October 20, 2016

From The Sacred Meal Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. (Acts 2:46-47) Many of us are asking, How should I live?  How should we live?  We come to our faith communities with those questions.  Sometimes they are taken seriously, even answered, and sometimes the church sticks us on a committee. One of the things that happened to me after I went to church for many years, asking those questions, was I began to see that if you don’t act on what you hear in the gospels every Sunday, then it doesn’t stick. When I first went back to the Episcopal Church after a long hiatus, I [...]

THE CHURCH: The Body Of Christ by David Platt

October 20, 2016

From Follow Me The room was packed full of people, and the preacher held the audience in the palm of his hand.  I would like everyone to bow your heads and close your eyes, he said, and we all followed suit. He then declared, Tonight, I want to call you to put your faith in God.  Tonight, I am urging you to begin a personal relationship with Jesus for the first time in your life.  Let me be clear, he said, I’m not inviting you to join the church.  I’m just inviting you to come to Christ.  As the preacher passionately pleaded for personal decisions, scores of people stood from their seats and walked down the aisles of the auditorium to make a commitment to Christ. Yet there was a problem in all of this.  These people [...]

POETRY: Disciplinary Treatises—(4) The Communion of the Body by Scott Cairns

October 19, 2016

The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother. (Bonhoeffer) Scattered, petulant, argumentative, the diverse members generally find little, nothing of their own, to offer one another. Like us all, the saved need saving mostly from themselves, and so they make progress, if at all, by dying to what they can, acquiescing to this new pressure, new wind, new breath that would fill them with something better than their own good intentions. Or schemes of community. Or their few articulate innovations in dogma. What the Ghost expects of them is a purer than customary will to speak together, a mere willingness to hear expressed in the fragmentary figures of one another’s speech the mute and palpable [...]