Doing “Church” 2015: The Challenges of the ‘Dones’

The newest sociological trend in North American religious culture is the rise of the ‘Dones’.  It’s an interesting phenomenon to look at. We’ve been thinking about the increasing number of ‘nones’ when it comes to signifying religious faith, but we’ve barely begun to think about the ‘dones’.

But the truth is that as blogger Bill Muehlenberg points out on his Culture Watch blog, there are many Christians who have stopped going to church. Not that they’ve lost their faith in a loving God who is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, but they have washed their hands of the institutional church. “I’m done”, they declare.

A pioneering and insightful observation on the growth of this trend comes from the pen of “Holy Soup” blogger, Thom Schultz. Schultz presents the example of “John” whom he calls “every pastor’s dream”. John grew up in the church, and was active in many aspects of its communal life. Last year, he dropped out. His departure wasn’t triggered by any negative experience, but rather was motivated by a conscious considered decision.

John is now not a ‘None’, but has joined the Dones. Schultz points out that sociologist Josh Packard’s research on the Dones reveals a growing number of young people behaving in a way similar to John. He points out that the very people the church relies on for leadership, service, and financial support are simply going away. And let’s face it, the younger people in the next generation are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.

Two of the major reasons for the rise of the Dones suggested by Packard include (1) a weariness with sitting in pews and going through the same routines every Sunday and being preached at – the “I’m tired of being lectured to, I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do” syndrome. (2) fatigue with the ‘plop, pray and pay’ routine of church services – the “I want to engage meaningfully, participate and interact as I do in other aspects of my busy and stimulating life” syndrome.

Packard indicates that it is not likely that the Dones will return; ie. they’re done. He suggests that “it would be more fruitful if churches would focus on not losing these people in the first place. Preventing an exodus is far easier than attempting to convince refugees to return”. Herein lies a great challenge to our Anglican situation.

Some serious listening circles might be in order for us in 2015. Schultz suggests that some good starting points for generating fruitful conversation might be

1. Why are you a part of this church?

2. What keeps you here?

3. Have you ever contemplated stepping away from church? Why or why not?

4. How would you describe your relationship with God right now?

5. How has your relationship with God changed over the past few years?

6. What effect, if any, has our church had on your relationship with God?

7. What would need to change here to help you grow more toward Jesus’ call to love God and love others?

Schultz leaves a strongly worded challenge for us Anglicans to take up:

“Your church, even it it’s one of the rare growing ones, is sitting on a ticking time bomb. The exodus of the Dones, the rise of the Nones and the disappearance of the Millennials do not look good for a church afraid to listen. It’s not too late to start”.

The good news is that, as a diocese, we are engaged in listening – through outreach ministries to the most vulnerable among us that are parish, regional, and diocesan based (the Downtown Eastside Street Ministry being one of the latter that deserves our full and unwavering moral and financial support). These “congregations” we minister to may not find their way into church regularly on Sunday, but are example of Jesus-centred ministry. We need to continually build bridges to them so that they remain engaged with us.

We are also listening through specific ministries focusing on English language learners and minority ethnic groups. And we are listening through exploring new ways of ‘doing church’ and engaging people such as ‘pub churches’ and congregations like St. Bridget’s. These efforts and, hopefully, more like them, demand our full support. All these ministries  provide us with ready made groups for listening – and perhaps can provide opportunities to challenge “Almost” Done Anglicans to remain in the church through involvement in social justice efforts and what is for them meaningful Christ-centered worship and opportunity for spiritual development.

Many of the Dones are starting families or already have growing families involved in all kinds of community groups and organizations that supplement demanding work lives. If we continue to believe that “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless, sea” we can’t afford not to take up the challenge put before us by the Dones. We don’t need any more Anglicans becoming Dones. End of story.

Note:

See Thom Schultz’s full analysis at HolySoup.com.

Josh Packard’s book Church Refugees will be published early in 2015. Watch for it.

See Dr. Steve McSwain’s article “NONES!” are Now “DONES”: Is the Church Dying?” in the Religion section of the Huffington Post.

Rev. Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. One of his hopes for 2015 is that we face head on, as parishes and as a diocese, the challenge of the Dones. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. 

 

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Advent Joy – A Biblical Model of Community: A Homily For Advent 3

Isaiah 61 is strong in its characterization of the God of Advent:

The Lord says, “I love justice and hate oppression and crime.I will faithfully reward my people And make an eternal covenant with them. They will be famous among the nations; Everyone who sees them will know that they are a people whom I have blessed….Jerusalem rejoices…like a bride dressed for her wedding….As surely as seeds sprout and grow, The Sovereign Lord will save his people, And all the nations will praise him”.
Our third Advent Candle, pink in colour, is sometimes called the “Gaudet” candle from the Latin “joy” or “rejoice”. As we move along exploring the Gospel or Good News of Advent, we move today to Joy in the context of peace and hope. Our Advent readings this morning continue to speak of restoration and renewal. As April pointed out last Sunday, we long for voices of integrity in our society. Our hope is in the correction of communal wrong – something we can have a part in as we walk the way of Advent where Joy springing from hope is itself one of our life journeys.

Isaiah knows that joy is generated by the yearning for peace that results in action as we put hands and feet to our hope for a restored cosmos. Joy, I think he suggests, is the manifestation of hope in action. The Advent Joy we celebrate today goes far beyond the isolated personal happiness of “I’m all right, Jack”, to embrace something much deeper.

That something deeper is a response to God above, within, and around us as we create the reign of God in ways suggested by Isaiah. We rejoice, because we put into action the hope of God – the hope given to us in Jesus of a better world based on justice. Seeds sprout and grow; God’s people act and all the world sees. The deepest human joy involves being part of something incredible; not seeking our own individual happiness. Joy is the fruit of a certain kind of relationship with the divine and with one another.

You may have seen Gretchen Rubin’s book,, “The Happiness Project”. Granted, her focus is on fulfilling our own need for personal happiness, but she presents a marvellous insight into the nature of true joy that is at the basis of our Advent Gospel.

She writes: Generous acts strengthen the bonds of friendship, and what’s more, studies show that your happiness is often boosted more by providing support to other people than from receiving support yourself. I certainly get more satisfaction out of thinking about good deeds I’ve done for other people than I do from thinking about good deeds that others have done for me. It’s a secret of adulthood: Do good, feel good.”

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, renowned expert in quality management and business efficiencies goes even further. He states that “religious belief and participation in a religious community strongly correlated with happiness”. He points out, as the Scriptures do, that religion is often the basis of community life, creating strong social networks. In terms of ‘joy at work’ Deming points out that joy is rarely derived alone. It comes from teams and teamwork in the workplace. We know that creating natural social bonds in the workplace creates both happiness and leads to productive behaviour”. Almost all innovation he says, is the result of trusting relationships and teamwork. We see God working in us in our joyful Advent expectation that leads to being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Our fullest Advent joy is in community, not centred in personal feel-good activity.
Unlike the philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand who advocates “create selfishness” as the highest motive in human life, we are called to joy through seeking the Shalom of God and giving action to our hope imparted to us by God in Jesus. As we give to one another, the Spirit of God is manifest through a joy that goes beyond personal emotional well being.

The great Russian author Tolstoy wrote, “Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside of themselves and their personal happiness.” This kind of joy welcomes God into our lives over and over again in ways that we may not expect and ways hither to unknown to us. Thus joy IS a life journey – a response to the God who continually comes to us in ways unknown. Joy is a characteristic of purposeful community that is moving forward together in the mission of God.

Joy comes from our contributions to restoring right relationships between people and God and people and each other. Even the great secular writers of the 19th century Romantic movement recognized this reality. We’re all familiar with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony. He sets to music the ringing assertions of the German poet Schiller who affirms in that song, “Joy springs from the Creator. Can you sense the Creator, world, Seek him above the starry Canopy…Above the starry canopy, A loving father must dwell.”

And that loving creator, the source of universal joy calls us to act because that Creator acted in coming down from above the starry canopy (to Adopt Schiller’s three-storied view of the universe for a moment) to take a place with us in the person of Jesus and in the Risen Christ. That is the reality of Advent joy.

Thus we are called to Joy as an adventurous journey — God coming to us in Jesus as “one unknown” in our daily encounters with the people that God places in our midst and within our sphere of influence. We celebrate because God is with us – Emmanuel – putting hands and feet for our longing for voices of integrity in our society, the righting of communal wrong in our world.

This Advent, let God come to us in the Long Expected One in ways unknown. Be open to unexpected joy. As we work together in covenant as a community of Christ, let God surprise you with Advent Joy.

Amen.

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. May you experience the fullness of Advent joy in your Christian Community.

 

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What is “GenZ” and why does it matter?

I’m a watcher of Context, the Christian current affairs program that comes out of the CBC studios in Toronto. Lorna Dueck and her co-host Sheldon Neil do a great job of examining current affairs from a faith perspective.

One of the most recent programs, hosted by Sheldon Neil, involved a discussion of what has become known as GenZ – the present 5-20 year olds who are growing up in our current technological social media environment. The program is well worth a look and can be found at http://www.contextwithlornadueck.com.

Have a look for yourself. I’m hoping to have a focussed discussion with the St. Laurence junior and senior youth groups called “GenZ Jam” based on a group viewing of the program. We’ll focus on conceptions and misconceptions about youth today, youth and faith, and youth and social involvement.

I’m excited by the prospects.

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. Your comments and articles are always welcome. Join the conversation.

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Anglicans Blessed to be Part of the Metro Vancouver Alliance

As a deacon and servant of Jesus Christ called to live out a vocation in the Diocese of New Westminster, I am thankful that more and more local Anglicans are becoming aware of the Metro Vancouver Alliance and are joining with this broad coalition of faith communities, labor unions and community organizations. As members of MVA we can have greater opportunities to build what Jesus and his followers call the “Reign of God” among us. Others may use different names, but the strengthening of social support networks that benefit not only the most vulnerable among us, but all of us is a work Christians are called to as part of the Mission of God.

Like most of my diaconal colleagues, my diaconal ministry is to the world outside the church, witnessing to its relevance as  a vehicle for positive social change and an agency of social justice. I am privileged to be part of organizations like MVA, the First Call Child Advocacy Coalition,  and the Living Wage Campaign — non-partisan organizations with a passion for making those with decision making power more aware of issues surrounding poverty, housing, transit, social isolation, human rights (particularly children’s rights) aware of the need for change.

As I sat among Anglican representatives at the October 9 Municipal Accountability Assembly sponsored by Metro Vancouver Alliance, and knew we were part of an organization made up of over fifty organizations, I was renewed with the hope that together we can do something. Here we were – the Venerable John Stevens representing Bishop Melissa, members of the diocesan Eco-Justice Unit, contingents from St. Catherine’s, North Vancouver, St. Clements, St. James, St. James Social Justice Group, St. Laurence, and St. Thomas side by side with Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Baptists and Longhouse Council of Native Ministry. The crowd of 800 also represented members of the Canadian Labour Congress, CUPW, Unifor locals, CUPE and others. Rounding out group representation were contingents from Habonim-Dror (Jewish youth), the Association of Neighborhood Houses, the Burnaby Homelessness Task Force, Smart Change, the Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC and several other agencies.

We welcomed the four mayoralty candidates for Vancouver as well as other local politicians and candidates for election and proceeded to hear the stories of those affected by inadequacies in social connectedness, transportation availability, support for those in poverty and current housing availability. In response to these presentations, all four mayoralty candidates committed to MVA proposals and agreed to be part of future meetings around these issues.

 

What is MVA committed to on your behalf as Anglicans in the Diocese of New Westminster?  Here’s a quick outline:

1. Social Isolation:

  • creation of sustainable clusters where neighbours can get to know one another, build trust and tackle local issues (remember our “Take Back the Neighborhood” workshops?)
  • Use of neighbourhood clusters to reach out to other communities, particularly aboriginal, youth, refugees, and immigrant communities
  • Support of other MVA campaigns around housing, transit and poverty

2. Transportation:

  • Support for the transit referendum campaign proposed by Metro mayors
  • Advocacy for affordable transit in the region for all

3. Poverty and the Living Wage:

  • Campaign for every working person in Vancouver to be paid at least the Vancouver Living Wage (as determined by the Living Wage Campaign which provides Living Wage information for all areas of the Province)
  • Work toward all MVA member organizations becoming Living Wage Employers
  • Support the Mayor of Vancouver, Council and city staff in introducing a Vancouver Living Wage policy
  • Promote the Living Wage to other municipalities and employers

4. Homelessness and Housing:

  • Identify areas for positive bylaw change in the area of affordable housing
  • Work with MVA members to develop innovative solutions to the affordability crisis
  • Support cities in the development of covenants that lock in truly affordable purchase and rental housing in perpetuity (I presented to Coquitlam Council a few weeks back on this issue on behalf of the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Affordable Housing Task Group and the Tri-Cities Ministerial Association)

My prayer is that Anglicans will become an even stronger presence in the MVA and will be the impetus for other faith groups to join in. Here is ‘grass roots’ ecumenism at work.

If you have an opportunity, get a group together from your parish and attend the next MVA Leadership Institute being held on November 7 and 8. Visit metvanalliance.org for details.

“Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world” ~ Howard Snyder

 

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam, and a blogmaster at NW AnglicanBlog. Your comments and offerings are welcome. 

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Occupying the Vineyard: A Sermon for Pentecost 17

OCCUPYING THE VINEYARD

Matthew 21: 33-46

Ask yourself what the central activities and industries are that turn our economy. We hear a lot today about LNG plants, the oil sands, pipelines, and the supposed changes from a resource based to an information based economy. In the midst of all this, as people of faith, we want to care for the world in which we live – a world we believe is the expression of a creator who inhabits it and has revealed much to us about how to care for it – and we want to sustain human societies where people live in positive relationship – in the midst of a strong social, economic and ethical fabric where human beings made in the image of the creator can flourish.

This flourishing of human life, which Jesus spoke of as the presence or ‘reign of God’ among us was one of his major concerns during his earthly ministry. One central activity he used to help people visualize his, and by his calling, our mission to flourish in the reign of God is the vineyard, a central economic focus of his society.

Mentioned more than any other plant in the entire Bible, the grape vine was crucial both culturally and economically in biblical times. Because of its centrality in everyday life, as April pointed out to us last Sunday, it is often used symbolically in Scripture. A fruitful vine in Jesus’ teaching represents flourishing human society under God. The abundance of a fruitful vine is to be shared so that all are nourished – symbolic of spiritual well-being in a healthy human society.

Typically grown on a hill, a vineyard needed to be cleared of many stones which are common in Israel. Only then could vines be planted. A wall or hedge built around the vineyard, along with a watch tower, kept thieves at bay. Careful pruning was required to maximize the production of fruit — an appropriate image of caring for one another in human society.

Recorded in Matthew’s Gospel immediately following the parable we looked at last week, the parable of the landowner and the tenants makes a powerful point. The cleared land, the planted vineyard, the wine press, the abundant harvest, and the wine are all indicative of God’s peaceable Kingdom; of the land flowing with milk and honey for the Israelite ancestors; of the lion lying down with the lamb. The violent and destructive behaviour of the tenants seeking to take over the vineyard for themselves is a shameful dishonouring of their contract with the owner and an act of blind pride and exploitation. These tenants even think in their state of greed and selfishness that if they kill the owner’s son, the whole industry will be theirs. Their thinking is totally irrational, anti-human and socially destructive. Unfortunately, the story is a familiar one down through human history – the grasp for power with the exploitation of others as collateral damage.

In their guilt, the corrupt religious leadership of the day knew Jesus was speaking about them. Once again, Jesus points out, the religious institution had failed God’s mission; the institution, represented by the vineyard’s tenants, was self-centred and power hungry. So, Jesus proclaims, it’s time for something new to happen. As April unfolded to us last week, Jesus spoke with new authority – and authority has as its root word “author” — one who acts creatively. Jesus calls for nothing less than a new order – a replacement of a worn out and visionless religious establishment with something new and exciting where the Reign of God among people could flourish like the fruitful grape vine.

The structure of human society will have a new “cornerstone” upon which to build God’s vision for God’s reign among people. That cornerstone smashes the old ideas and practices and replaces them with new.

Now where are we at St. Laurence pictured in this parable? I hope we are the visioners, the new vineyard tenants, in what Jesus sees as the ever-renewing power of the Holy Spirit to bring about new life, to tear apart old, unproductive ways and values and replace them with a community flourishing in its response to God’s mission – to be the hands and feet of Christ – to do what God commands us to do — support and encourage one another, to feed the hungry, to care for the weakest in our society, one act at a time. Jesus’ call in this teaching parable calls us to new heights. We see behind it the futility of debates about, and maintenance programs, for past institutions and ways of doing things. The parable pulls us forward toward that unknown future in which we will be both blessed and be a blessing.

So God’s call to us here is to resist a path that too often accepts an inadequate status quo and won’t envision new things. If institutional leaders are hard, fixed, obstinate and resistant to the new revelation of what God is doing in their midst, we must help them to ‘get it’.

In this way, we breath life, as a community of Christians, into structures that extend God’s peace, hope and justice to all people. And God works among us as we pursue our mission in this community – through Share, through the Homeless and Affordable Housing Task Group, through working with the Tri-Cities Ministerial on the Cold Mat program, through our service to the residence of Lakeshore and Madison Care homes, through our chaplaincy at the Legion, through our pastoral ministries and prayer links, our connection with St. Barnabas, through our parish membership in the Metro Vancouver Alliance – that new coalition of faith communities, labor unions and business and community organizations – our own newcomers’ events, participation in community events, work with the women’s shelter, Sorrento, the downtown East Side, our growing spiritual practices group, and on it goes. These are some of our “redemption projects” and we humbly thank God that we can have a part in them so that the community is impacted and we grow as the Body of Christ.

We at St. Laurence are people with a vision for the spreading of God’s kingdom, and our visioning process we’re launching into this year as we develop and refine our parish profile will be based on what God continues to call us to do. Each one of us has a ministry that may only be known to us, to individuals and groups within our community. Not one of us in the St. Laurence community is without significance when it comes to ministry, for no ministry is too small.

We are a fruitful vineyard because we respond the needs around us, and as church analyst Tim Keller has pointed out in his book Center Church, the biblical image is not success as our end product, but fruitfulness. May we continue to be fruitful.

Let us pray.

O God of the harvest, of fruitful vine and winepress, we pray that we might grow as active participants in your kingdom through all the redemption projects you have called us to. Enliven our spirits to be full agents of your grace in the world. We pray in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. 

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“Guidance from Beyond” – a Sermon by the Reverend Faun Harriman

Thanks to the Reverend Faun Harriman, Rector of St. Albans, Burnaby and regional dean of Royal City / South Burnaby Deanery for this sermon on Paul’s challenge to us to renew our minds. Faun’s words and experiences present a challenge to all of us.

-Steve Bailey, Deacon and Blogmaster, NW Anglican Blog

 

 

ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST YEAR A
Sunday, August 24, 2014
St. Albans, Burnaby BC
Romans 12:1- 4
“Guidance from Beyond”

Let us pray: Lord, breathe Your Spirit upon us at this time. Bless now the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts – give us an understanding of Your Holy Word and lead us in the way you want us to go. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Last week a family member by marriage took his own life. It had been a life of pain and unbelievable anguish since the senseless murder of a child over four years ago. Like so many others life had been spiralling out of control into a place of darkness and hopelessness from which there seemed to be no way out. A service was held last Friday. A few days later his brother and sister in law were at the apartment sorting through things and taking care of the paper work. While they were there something remarkable happened. All the papers were left on the desk but the original will was not among them. A will lying on the desk was not signed. His brother said out loud “I know you are here” and walking over to a box opened it and there was the original will. They would have never looked in that box. God is in the details. Coincidence maybe but I prefer to believe that God will make sure that all things work together for good for those who trust in him and we can always expect guidance from beyond.

Scripture always provides guidance from above and the letter to the church at Rome is no exception. In it Paul is distilling and working out the Good News of Jesus Christ to Christians he had never met but who were divided over the degree to which the Old Testament law should continue to guide believers. “ We see Paul the Jew wrestling with the implications of his own and his converts experience of grace and Paul the Christian wrestling with the implications of his Jewish heritage. “NLT James D.G. Dunn Romans.” These are authentic thoughts from someone who has nothing to gain and nothing to lose but whose life was one of complete service to Jesus Christ. Words that have lasted and are now part of his legacy. Powerful words coming from a place of true peace and within lay the essence, the inside of the mind and heart of Paul.

His life was manifesting itself from the inside out, he had become that which he professed, a worthy disciple of Jesus. Paul’s instructions to the Roman Christians and the faithful now are timeless. They can be compared to the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. They are an inventory of a spiritual life that lived genuinely will be apparent on the outside of us. Paul writes to be full of love, hope, patience and zeal. To persevere in prayer, seek good, reject evil, live in harmony, never seek vengeance, bless those who persecute you, if your enemy is hungry feed them and do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. What an incredible stirring list, of course this is how we ought to behave. But what happens when we come up against the slings and arrows of our daily lives?

I have shared before that my challenge most often seems to come when I am behind the wheel. One morning this week after racing home to get ready for work I was stopped at the end of the driveway looking to make a left-hand turn. I eased out slowly attempting to see around large green garbage/recycling truck that was blocking the view in both directions. I could not see the driver but was hoping he could me while straining my neck trying to see if there was any traffic coming. I finally pulled out and got into the proper lane but I found myself saying out loud some not so kind words about the driver of the green truck. This not so nice stuff was accompanied by a hand signal. Immediately the Holy Spirit busted me and I was convicted of cursing those who persecuted me. I heard that still small voice telling me that I had just spoken badly about one of God’s beloved creatures. I know better I was reminded again of the number of times I am angry at other drivers and how often I curse them instead of offering them God’s blessing. That same afternoon another driver pulled out in front of me and just as I was about to curse them I stopped and blessed them instead.

I was given a grace filled moment enough spiritual manna for the day and the Holy Spirit continued working on changing the way I think, renewing my thoughts. It may seem like a small thing getting angry in traffic but in the spiritual realm nothing is too small. Paul writes “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” 12:2 Replacing anger with love, hating what is evil and holding fast to what is good. Knowing, trusting and believing God has a plan for our lives and He will deal with every bad attitude and character flaw so that we will be able to “… discern what is the will of God what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 12:2 The transformation of our character is the primary directive of God- this same God that is abiding in us so we can abide with Him.

In the Old Testament God was carried around in the Ark of Covenant, a portable tabernacle that the children of Israel moved through the wilderness. You and I are like portable tabernacles, we move from place to place and God makes his home on the inside of us. There is still the outer court, a holy place, and a most holy place. Joyce Meyers describes it as “the outer court is our body, the holy place is our soul and the most holy place is our spirit. When we examine our inner lives we are looking at holy ground where the Spirit of God makes his home.” When we praise, worship and honour God in our inner self then our insides become right and the outside will follow.

Paul’s heartfelt words of guidance from beyond can become something we can achieve without having to fret or stress about. We can genuinely love, we can bless those that curse us and we can be patient and persevere in prayer because we are living our inner holy life on the outside. It is effortless because we have been crucified in Christ and it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.

When I am swimming lap after lap I use that time to repeat Scripture and one of my favourite is from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When I want to pack in it, cut short my workout I just keep on renewing my mind that is it is Christ who strengthens me and I can do anything. Even after I am finished I can still hear those words, it is Jesus who gives me power and I belong to him. The good news is we do not have wait until we are facing a terminal disease or incapacitated we can make a choice to liv our one and only life in God’s power and presence. We do not need to be so concerned about what is happening in our circumstances when our priority is what is happening in our hearts, in our inner court, our holy of holies. God is interested in changing us; to become what he has in mind for us so that we become more like Christ in our thoughts, our attitudes and our words and deeds.

The transforming of our thought life is a process, learning to follow Jesus faithfully, intentionally and joyfully. Like any change, any renewal, any transformation it means commitment. As Harold Percy writes on the handout you have today “Ten Commitments You can make to help your Church Thrive” love your church but love Jesus more. But following Jesus faithfully involves participation in the life of the Christian community, the church. It important to keep these two in the right order. So let us make the commitment to attend, to welcome, to create a positive atmosphere, to grow, to serve, to pray, to give generously, to be open to change, to dream and to invite. We can change the world we can replace anger with love, fear with hope and despair with optimism. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us and let us give thanks to the only wise God though Jesus Christ to whom be the glory forever. (Romans 16:27)

Let us pray: Lord we pray today that we will hear your Word and grasp it. That it will takes root in or hearts and bear much fruit. Lord you desire truth in our inner being we pray Lord that you will give us wisdom in our innermost hearts. For we are persuaded beyond a doubt that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things impending nor things to come nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen

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“In Praise of Mixed Religion” by William H. Harrison: Valuable Insights into Faith and Culture

As an educator, I found Chapter 9, “The Last Taboo: Education about Religion” of In Praise of Mixed Religion worth the price of admission into William Harrison’s insightful journey that explores the inter-relationships among the constantly changing dynamics of individual faith, cultural realities and the ways in which religions work.

Harrison is right in his articulation of the need for education about religion as a basic human right and necessity. Current cultural views that take the ‘pretend religion is not there’ approach are dead ends: “A syncretistic world requires that we know something about what religion is, about the nature of our own religious heritages, and about other religious traditions” (p. 207). This statement is a good expression of my rationale for developing and teaching a course in comparative religions at the secondary school level, and helping others to design similar courses. Unfortunately, we were voices in the wilderness, but Harrison gives occasion for new hope. This chapter should be read and digested by every school trustee, curriculum committee and parent group in the country. It’s all to obvious: “We need to know about the complex world in which we live. We need the information that will make possible the basic decisions of our lives. Religious education is a necessity, not merely an option” (p.226).

Harrison calls for nothing less than an “Intellectual Transformation”, the title of the book’s final chapter. That transformation involves our understanding and acceptance of syncretism as a human phenomenon at work, not only in religion, but in our very humanity itself. A Syncretistic approach recognizes that faith systems constantly change under the influence of one another and that we can consciously use these processes to enhance the Reign of God among us. Writes Harrison, “…the notion of syncretism is not merely a tool for interpreting the world. Instead, it is a call to action. I have adopted an “advocacy” view of syncretism because it is a call to change the world. I am asking us to recognize the complex syncretisms that we compose, in addition to those that others create and follow. This way of thinking about the world means that the “other” is less other  and more of a conversation partner. We can begin to think in terms of what others have to offer us and what we have to offer them. This removes some of the win/lose-us/them dynamic from religious conversation” (p. 233).

It’s a challenge worth embracing. I brought, with great enthusiasm, a copy of Harrison’s book to a recent meeting of the diocesan Ecumenical and Multi-Faith Unit. It’s become recommended reading and I know that there are already parish and diocesan groups who have taken it on as a study focus. Each chapter analyses different aspects of syncretism as a human phenomenon and explores when syncretism is positive or negative. This analysis leads Harrison to an advocacy for what he calls “critical openness”, a much needed entity in a world which often operates on the basis of superficial thinking on a wide range of human issues.

In Praise of Mixed Religion: The Syncretism Solution in a Multifaith World is published by McGill-Queens University Press and was financially supported by funds from the University of British Columbia. Rev. Dr. Bill Harrison is an Anglican priest who was, until recently, the principal of the Kootenay School of Ministry in Kelowna. He will take up a position as the Director of Mission and Ministry for the Diocese of Huron on September 1, 2014. He will implement the diocese’s strategic plan and begin work around alternate models for ministry.

The book is dedicated to the Rev. Keith Gilbert, priest in the Diocese of New Westminster who has most recently served at St. Laurence. It’s nice to see a scholar of Harrison’s depth acknowledging his past mentors.

Rev. Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. Your comments and submissions are most welcome. As Harrison points out, the life is in the conversation. 

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