Allowing the Spirit to Do Its Work

Reposted from the Church Foundation’s Vital Practices. By Jeremiah Sierra on February 8, 2016

light_through_church_windowsWhen you write, you can’t control how others interpret your words. Not completely, anyway.
I was reminded of this after I wrote some reflections for Forward Day by Day. These are daily meditations on the lectionary that go out to Episcopalians all over the country. The responses I receive vary widely. Some people send me kind notes. Others use the reflections as a springboard for their own thoughts. After one mediation that briefly mentioned climate change, I received one long email questioning my belief that climate change is real.
Ultimately, you can only put your work out there and hope that others will find it meaningful or useful, even if the words don’t always come across as you’d intended.
This is true of every word we speak and our liturgy, as well. Take Ash Wednesday, for example. Some understand it as the beginning of Lent, a time of reflection. Some simply stop in the church to get their ashes before heading back out to work, a visible reminder of a deeply felt if not regularly practiced faith. Maybe they only go to church on Easter and Christmas. Others go to the Ash Wednesday Eucharist and will go again on Sunday, as they go every week.

Likewise, some people understand Lent as part of a larger cycle of the year, and others simply think of it as they time they give chocolate up.
We know that Episcopal liturgy is carefully considered. It is part of a long tradition and each element has meaning. The church should take that meaning seriously and do everything it can to teach people about what Ash Wednesday and Lent mean and help them use that season fully to deepen their spiritual lives. But ultimately there’s only so much you can do. Many people will stop by to get their ashes without fully understanding the tradition behind it, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t work with that. And if some people give something up for Lent and do nothing else, maybe their lives will be improved in some way.
The liturgy of the Episcopal Church, the prayers and songs and the theology behind them is a great gift that the church has to offer. Not everyone has the time or inclination to learn about the meaning behind our liturgy or participate fully. We can’t control how people experience and understand Lent, nor should we try. Ultimately, we can simply offer what we have and let go, and hope that others find meaning and hope in it. Occasionally, it helps to ask ourselves: Are we’re holding on too tightly to our traditions? Are we insisting that others understand them as we do rather than allowing the spirit to do its to work?

A Reflection from General Convention

The Supreme Court released it’s ruling on same sex marriage this morning. I was in a committee meeting at the time and a member interrupted the business to make the announcement. I understand the announcement interrupted most of the committees. At The General Convention, I can often feel rather isolated from the world. I don’t watch TV or read the paper. Occasionally I will check online but with the 14 hour schedule each day, there is little time. But this morning shows that news still gets through to us.

I ran into Lynette Rhodes Williams at lunch today. She reminded me that on Sunday at the ECW luncheon her late mother, Frances Rhodes, would be honored as Woman of the Year in NWPA. Frances was so very active in St. Francis, Youngsville, and in the Diocese. She and I often drove together to various events and, since we both enjoyed talking, we solved all the problems of the world during those trips. Now if only the world (or church) would listen to us. Frances was a dear friend and richly deserving of this honor.

Music at Eucharist this morning was provided by a jazz ensemble which had us dancing and clapping during the prelude (Click on this link to see a video of the jazz performance: The chaplain for the House of Deputies has used song, drums and video during his meditations and prayers which has had us all singing, clapping and laughing. Worshipping with a few thousand fellow Episcopalians is always uplifting.

There is still so much work to get through. The committees and the two houses are organized and working hard to perfect resolutions and set the course of the church for the next three years. Tomorrow the House of Bishops will elect a new Presiding Bishop as they gather in St. Mark’s Cathedral. They will then wait there until the House of Deputies confirms (or not) their selection.

Much still to do. We will be in Convention until July third. Of your mercy, please pray for us.

The Rev. Canon Brian Reid, Deputy from The Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

The Glories of the Saints from Every Nation, Tribe and Tongue

Did you ever wonder what worship in the Temple of the New Jerusalem might sound like after all the nations of the earth come together? (Besides being loud and following the Book of Common Prayer.) Imagine the saints of every nation, tribe and tongue singing together Holy, Holy, Holy, each in their own language.

IMG_1824Our worship services at General Convention have moments that approach such glorious cacophony. Of course, people of every nation, tribe, and tongue have not joined us in Salt Lake City, but many more have than we generally find in any one congregation on Sunday morning. The largest Diocese in the Episcopal Church is Haiti, where Haitian Creole is most people’s first language, and many Episcopalians in the United States, as well as in Honduras, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, speak Spanish. A variety of Native American languages are spoken by Episcopalians, and the Episcopal Church has congregations in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Belgium. A new church plant in the United States has formed among Hmong speakers (a Southeast Asian language), and that congregations recently raised up the first Hmong Episcopal priest. Over the course of Convention, many of those languages will be incorporated in some way into our Worship services.

Spanish was the second language used in today’s service. The entire convention bulletin was written in English and Spanish, and the first reading was read out loud in Spanish.Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.38.10 PM

Additionally, the Presiding Bishop, read parts of the Eucharistic Prayer in English and other parts in Spanish.   When she read CIXF9-zUkAAXfVA“Por tanto te alabamos, uniendo nuestras voces con los angeles y arcangelse…” (Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels…) I got to thinking about how Isaiah wrote about the angels singing in Hebrew, John related their song in Greek, and that some might speak Spanish, as well as English.

The most powerful moment for me, however, was when Presiding Bishop Katharine said, “In the languages of our hearts, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we now pray,” and I heard people saying the Lord’s Prayer in three different languages. The rhythms of the different languages, their cadences, and their predominant sounds wove together for a beautiful harmony. In heaven that harmony will be even richer, and, with the gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out upon us, we’ll be able to understand each other fully, as well. For this morning, a taste of that heavenly beauty was enough.

Note, everyone can be a part of our convention worship in two ways. First, the convention is accepting petitions from the entire church, some of which will be read each day at worship. You can submit a petition at Second, the Episcopal Church Media Hub is live streaming worship and other sessions of General Convention. The Media Hub web address is For the Worship Bulletins for all the services of General Convention go the General Convention worship page.

By Fr. Adam Trambley, Deputy Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Rector of St.John’s, Sharon, PA

Episcopal Congregations: What? Why? How?

This is a reprint from Father Adam’s blog “The Black Giraffe” on Feb. 7, 2015

The Acts 8 Moment Blogforce proposed these two questions:

  • What is the mission of the congregation?
  • How should it be structured to serve its mission?

Before thinking about mission and structure, I realized I needed a working definition of what a congregation in the Episcopal Church is today.  While I’m sure more theologically deep and ecclesiologially sophisticated definitions could be offered, a working definition for most congregations is:

Episcopal Congregation: a group of people who meet in the same place for worship on Sunday.

Of course, exceptions exist.  Some congregations are multi-site.  A few congregations worship at times other than Sunday morning.  Emergent churches and fresh expressions sites are experimenting with different models.  But in the end, our Book-of-Common-Prayer-based church identifies its congregations as the group of folks who gather for worship in a particular place, even if some gather at 8:00am and some at 10:00am.

Given this definition, the de facto mission of most congregations begins with hosting a Sunday morning worship service.  Since the 1979 prayer book, the liturgical movement, and our increasing denominational niche as the liberal catholic church, in many places a congregation’s primary focus is offering a Sunday morning Eucharist.

I might be accused of circular logic here.  If a congregation is defined by their Sunday worship, then their worship would be their primary goal.  The circularity makes my argument no less true, however.  This definition and mission has structural implications that are also observable.  Our congregations are structured to provide Sunday morning worship as effectively as possible.  Budgets focus on ensuring a priest to celebrate mass, a sanctuary, and a musician.  (If you have any questions about this, look at the budget differences in most congregations for the costs associated with worship and the costs associated with almost any other mission priority.)  Lay participation is often associated with liturgical ministries, as well, and the members of the choir, altar guild, acolytes, readers, ushers, etc., often outnumber people involved in other church ministries.

These details are particularly true for smaller congregations that have resources for only one or two priorities.  Larger congregations with greater resources can carry out the first priority of worship effectively and still have money and volunteers to accomplish other goals.

While I agree that worship is important, and is one of the priorities of a congregation — maybe even the first among equals — our current over-focus on the Sunday morning event is killing our churches.  For a congregation to thrive it needs inspiring worship, but it also needs evangelism and loving relationships and small groups and a number of other components (for one useful analysis, see the Natural Church Development materials).  Too often, when things are going badly in the Episcopal Church, we tinker with our worship service rather than increasing our evangelism or starting a new ministry in the community or dealing with the conflict that drives away every visitor who actually talks to anyone at coffee hour.

Instead of making worship services the primary mission of our congregations, we should redefine our mission as creating a healthy, growing community of disciples.  Worship will be one important component, but so will private devotions, fellowship opportunities, personal and corporate evangelism, and any number of other practical ways that we live out loving God, loving our neighbors and baptizing all nations while teaching them everything Jesus commanded.  The mission of our congregations, and the mission of the church at every level, should involve being a community that lives out the Great Commandment and Great Commission.

The structure of congregations, then, should be whatever allows a group of people in a particular place to live into that mission.  Given our traditions in the Episcopal Church, part of the structure of our congregations will involve democratically elected lay governance with appropriate clergy leadership along with financial transparency, administrative competency, connection to the diocese and larger church, and other best practices of non-profit and religious corporations.

As this refocusing of mission is happening, some places are realizing that budget, building and other resources also need to be refocused.  These discussions and changes can all be very positive moves as our congregations worry less about filling our emptying pews and more about being a healthy, growing community of disciples.

Father Adam Trambley, St. John’s Sharon