Category : Parish Ministry

The Rev. Professor Christopher Hancock’s Sermon for All Saints Day 2018

You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there.

Posted in Preaching / Homiletics, Theology: Scripture

(NYT Op-ed) Dana Horn–American Jews Know How This Story Goes

“There are no words.”

This was what I heard most often last weekend from those who were stunned by the news: 11 people were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh — believed to be the largest massacre of Jews on American soil. But there are words for this, entire books full of words: the books the murdered people were reading at the hour of their deaths. News reports described these victims as praying, but Jewish prayer is not primarily personal or spontaneous. It is communal reading. Public recitations of ancient words, scripts compiled centuries ago and nearly identical in every synagogue in the world. A lot of those words are about exactly this.

When I told my children what had happened, they didn’t ask why; they knew. “Because some people hate Jews,” they said. How did these American children know that? They shrugged. “It’s like the Passover story,” my 9-year-old told me. “And the Hanukkah story. And the Purim story. And the Babylonians, and the Romans.” My children are descendants of Holocaust survivors, but they didn’t go that far forward in history. The words were already there.

The people murdered in Pittsburgh were mostly old, because the old are the pillars of Jewish life, full of days and memories. They are the ones who come to synagogue first, the ones who know the words by heart. The oldest victim was Rose Mallinger, 97….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Judaism, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Theology: Scripture, Violence

(Local Paper front page) Historically black Charleston churches moving off peninsula as area continues to gentrify

The Holy City’s historic core is losing houses of worship because of gentrification, limited parking and space to grow and do ministry, as well as high church maintenance costs. Shiloh, Greater Macedonia AME, Zion-Olivet Presbyterian, St. Matthew Baptist, Plymouth Church and New Tabernacle Fourth Street Baptist have either moved or have tried to leave downtown — some seeking new opportunities in areas like West Ashley and North Charleston.

Between 1980 and 2010, the peninsula’s black population dropped by more than half from about 30,000 to around 15,000. Simultaneously, its white population rose from 15,000 to just above 20,000.

This coincided with rising rents and property values. For example, the median sale price for homes north of the Crosstown Expressway has more than quadrupled since the late 1990s, from $74,500 in 1996 to $325,000 in 2014.

As the historically black communities change, local churches feel the impact. Enticed by lucrative offers from eager home buyers, some of the churches’ members sell their downtown homes, move away, and never return.

In other instances, increased development leaves congregations landlocked with no room to expand. Parking also becomes more scarce.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Economy, Housing/Real Estate Market, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(Et Cetera) In Memoriam: Remembering Eugene Peterson

We never met, but my life has been touched by Eugene Peterson’s at several points. About eight years ago, I was in a dark night of the soul. My relationship with God feeling dry and lifeless. I did not want to attend church or pray. I could barely read my Bible even once a week. Wandering around a used bookstore with a friend one day, I found a copy of the Psalms in the Message translation for ninety-eight cents. I deliberated, then bought it, took it home, cracked it open and still remember reading the preface. Eugene’s words opened up something new for me as he described people coming into his office wanting to know how to pray. He sent them to the Psalms. “The Psalms in Hebrew are earthy and rough,” he wrote. “They are not genteel. They are not the prayers of nice people, couched in cultured language.” They do not speak King James English, in other words, as beautiful as it is. Reading his translation of these “earthy and rough” prayers made them fresh for me, made me willing to come back to Scripture and find that God had given me language with which to be honest before him. It was an oasis in the spiritual and geographic desert I found myself in at the time.

Directly before coming to Regent, I read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I found I encountered someone who was letting Scripture do its work on him as he carefully and lovingly attended to just a section of the Psalms. I also ate up the video with him and Bono discussing the Psalms.

While a student at Regent, I was introduced to a video showing him with the celebrated contemporary poet Christian Wiman. Eugene clearly was not one to fall prey to the dazzle of celebrity. He interacted with these distinguished men with the same care and ease it sounds like he would also offer to his students and congregants. His care for people was palpable in all these tastes I’d gotten of him. His care for language is also evident. He clearly loved poetry. Tell It Slant, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Reversed Thunder—those are all lifted straight from poems. He wrote it, read it, appreciated it, and brought that care for language into his work as a pastor and translator. I care deeply for words as well and am grateful to benefit from the work of someone whose love for God, for people, and for words coalesced in a beautiful, life-giving way.—Jolene Nolte

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Pastoral Theology, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(NYT) ISIS Claims Credit for Attack that Kills Christians in Egypt

Islamist gunmen killed at least seven Coptic Christian pilgrims in Egypt on Friday and wounded at least 16 in an attack later claimed by the Islamic State.

The attack — an ambush on two buses — ended a nearly yearlong lull in major attacks on Copts in Egypt, and may signal a resumption of the Islamic State’s campaign to sow sectarian divisions in Egyptian society.

It was also a setback for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has put security concerns at the heart of his autocratic style of rule and has repeatedly vowed to protect Christians, a minority in the country, from attack.

The shooting occurred as two buses carrying pilgrims left the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor, 85 miles south of Cairo, in Egypt’s Western Desert.

Read it all.

Posted in Coptic Church, Death / Burial / Funerals, Egypt, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

Eleanor Parker–A Song for All Souls

Lord, incline thine ear unto our prayers, wherein we right devoutly call upon thy mercy, that thou wilt bestow the souls of thy servants, both men and women, which thou hast commanded to depart from this world, in the country of peace and rest, and further cause them to be made partners with thy saints. By Christ our Lord. So be it.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer for All Souls Day

O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of thy Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as thy children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen

Posted in Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Death / Burial / Funerals, Spirituality/Prayer

The Four Bishops in Oxford release a letter to the diocese on matters of anthropology, sexual ethics and hospitality in the diocese

We want to commend to the Diocese of Oxford the five principles recently commended to the Diocese of Lichfield by Bishop Michael Ipgrave and his colleagues. These are founded on the basic principle that all people are welcomed in God’s Church: everyone has a place at the table. Such radical Christian inclusion brings practical consequences for our local churches and for our Diocese as a whole:

  1. It is the responsibility of all Christians, but especially those who hold the Bishop’s Licence as clergy or lay ministers, to ensure that all people know that there is a place at the table for them. Preaching, teaching and pastoral responsibilities need to be exercised sensitively, and with this core principle in mind.
  2. Intrusive questioning about someone’s sexual practices or desires, or their experience of gender, is inappropriate. It is also unacceptable to tell or insinuate to people that sexual orientation or gender identity will be changed by faith, or that homosexuality or gender difference is a sign of immaturity or a lack of faith.
  3. We want to make clear that nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  4. We wish to affirm that LGBTI+ people are called to roles of leadership and service in the local church. Nobody should be told that their sexual orientation or gender identity in itself makes them an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church.
  5. Finally, we wish both to acknowledge the great contribution that LGBTI+ Christians are making, and have made, to the Church in this diocese, and to highlight the need for mission within the LGBTI+ community more broadly.

Liturgy and prayers

The House of Bishops Guidelines on Same Sex Marriage acknowledge that “same sex couples will continue to seek some recognition of their new situation in the context of an act of worship” (19).

As Bishops we are receiving an increasing number of enquiries seeking guidance in this area. There is no authorised public liturgy for such prayers. The Guidelines are clear that “Services of blessing should not be provided” (21). However, there is positive encouragement for clergy to respond pastorally and sensitively.

We warmly welcome dialogue and conversation with clergy across the Diocese who are looking for further guidance.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Theology

(Christian Today) Jude Smith–For the sake of the poor, is it time for the Church of England to get out of the marriage business?

Today’s Budget will outline plans for couples to be able to legally marry in a wider variety of venues. The fact that this is in the Budget serves as a healthy reminder that for much of British history the legal institution of marriage has been a lot about money and power. For a fair while women were seen as chattels (as they remain in some parts of our diverse world). My own employer (the Church of England) is the child of an upsurge in new theology and the very practical desire of a king to increase his security and power. All of this came together in a fight about marriage and the emergence of a state church.

In our material culture most do not marry for money, but marriage has money implications. At an average of £30,000 a time, marriage is a significant industry. Philip Hammond’s proposals, allowing for civil ceremonies to be held outside and so on, are a ‘sort of’ attempt at reducing those costs. As a cynic I suggest that they are a sop to the couples who simply want their event to be more unique and Instagrammable than their friends’. However, on paper, they open up the possibility of couples being able to marry without prohibitive venue costs.

Some may argue that in such a world, the church needs to hold and hold fast to a ‘traditional’ or ‘biblical’ view of marriage, with ceremonies in sacred spaces that mix joy and solemnity, character and covenant. I feel duty bound to remind us that in the Bible most marriages were political, polygamous or both and that most of the New Testament either modelled single life (Jesus) or encouraged it for the sake of the Gospel….

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Marriage & Family, Parish Ministry

(Local Paper front Page) Slain Florence, South Carolina, deputy was “source of hope to many’

The second law enforcement officer killed during what authorities have described as an ambush-style mass shooting earlier this month was laid to rest here on Sunday.

Mourners, more than 1,000 strong, packed into the Florence Civic Center to pay their respects to Farrah Burdette Godwin Turner, 36, who loved ones remembered by her “brilliant and courageous” smile and fierce devotion to protecting and bettering the lives of those she served, particularly children. Turner joined the Florence County Sheriff’s Office in 2006. She would go on to be named investigator of the year by the department in 2016.

Turner, a deputy with the Florence County Sheriff’s Office, and Florence Police Sgt. Terrence Carraway were fatally shot Oct. 3 at a home in an upscale subdivision outside city limits.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Death / Burial / Funerals, Police/Fire

(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) ‘We will not be broken:’ Emotional vigil held for victims of Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting

To an audience of more than 2,000 inside Soldiers & Sailors Hall and many more gathering in the damp weather outside, after all the dignitaries had spoken, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers told of his night of restlessness, of wrestling with Scripture.

When he has sleepless nights, he said, he often turns to the Psalms. But there was no night like Saturday night, just hours after Rabbi Myers survived the deadly gunman’s attack on his Tree of Life / Or L’Simcha synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

He thought of the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.”

“Well God, I want!” he said, his voice reverberating through the hall during Sunday’s interfaith vigil in honor of 11 victims killed and the six wounded Saturday at the Squirrel Hill synagogue building shared by three congregations.

“What I want you can’t give me,” he continued. “You can’t return these 11 beautiful souls. You can’t rewind the clock.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Urban/City Life and Issues, Violence

Saturday Food for Thought (II)–Frederick Buechner on what happens in the Moment right before a Minister begins Preaching

So the hymn comes to a close with an unsteady amen, and the organist gestures the choir to sit down. Fresh from breakfast with his wife and children and a quick run through of the Sunday papers, the preacher climbs the steps to the pulpit with his sermon in hand. He hikes his black robe at the knee so he will not trip over it on the way up. His mouth is a little dry. He has cut himself shaving. He feels as if he has swallowed an anchor. If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, he would just as soon be somewhere else. In the front pews the old ladies turn up their hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six-year old a Lifesaver and a Magic Marker. A college sophomore home from vacation, who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice- president of a bank who twice this week has seriously contemplated suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high-school math teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part, even from himself, creases his order of service with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee. The preacher pulls a little chord that turns the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a riverboat gambler. The stakes have never been higher. Two minutes from now he may have lost his listeners completely to their own thoughts, but at this minute he has them in the palm of his hand. The silence in the shabby church is deafening because everybody is listening to it. Everybody is listening including even himself. Everybody knows the kind of things he has told them before and not told them, but who knows what this time, out of the silence he will tell them?

–Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (New York: HarperOne, 1977), page 22, almost quoted by yours truly today in an ordination sermon

Posted in Preaching / Homiletics

(CT Pastors) Tim Keller: Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age–Clarity and compassion on Christianity’s toughest doctrine

My heart sank when a young college student said, “I’ve gone to church all my life, but I don’t think I can believe in a God like this.” Her tone was more sad than defiant, but her willingness to stay and talk showed that her mind was open.

Usually all the questions are pitched to me, and I respond as best I can. But on this occasion people began answering one another.

An older businesswoman said, “Well, I’m not much of a churchgoer, and I’m in some shock now. I always disliked the very idea of hell, but I never thought about it as a measure of what God was willing to endure in order to love me.”

Then a mature Christian made a connection with a sermon a month ago on Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb in John 11. “The text tells us that Jesus wept,” he said, “yet he was also extremely angry at evil. That’s helped me. He is not just an angry God or a weeping, loving God—he’s both. He doesn’t only judge evil, but he also takes the hell and judgment himself for us on the cross.”

The second woman nodded, “Yes. I always thought hell told me about how angry God was with us, but I didn’t know it also told me about how much he was willing to suffer and weep for us. I never knew how much hell told me about Jesus’ love. It’s very moving.”

Read it all.

Posted in Eschatology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Preaching / Homiletics, Theology: Scripture

(CEN) New Report suggests training for the C of E ministry is only for the wealthy

Don’t become an ordinand unless you are well-off, that was the message of a new report released by the Church of England.

The Living Ministry research follows cohorts of 85 ordinands and clergy through their ministry over a decade.

According to the report, non-residential ordinands who started training in retirement, maintaining their pension drawings or those who retain an adequate salary even after a reduction in working hours to fit in training,report the best financial wellbeing.

This is the same for those whose main household income is their partner’s (about two thirds are reliant to some extent on income from their partner).

One male participant reported:“I think actually [the Church has]probably got it bang on that that is what you need to live on, because I can live on that, but it is so tight that anything extra that comes up, you’ve got no way of doing anything.”

Read it all (subscription may be required).

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Stewardship

(NBC) A Wonderful story about the Power of Generosity

When Kolbie Sanders called off her wedding weeks before the big day, she decided to make someone else’s dream come true, giving away her wedding venue to a complete stranger in need.

Watch it all.

Posted in Marriage & Family, Stewardship