10 December 2021

An Advent word from Thomas Merton

 


An Advent word from Thomas Merton on his feast day:

"…when the time comes to enter the darkness in which we are naked and helpless and alone; in which we see the insufficiency of our greatest strength and the hollowness of our strongest virtue; in which we have nothing to rely on, and nothing in our nature to support us, and nothing in the world to guide us or give us light—then we find out whether or not we walk by faith."

— Fr. Thomas Merton

05 December 2021

The church is changing

 

The Church is Not Dying, It Is Changing: A Message from the House of Deputies Theologian

 

As leaders in the Episcopal Church, you have all heard a good deal about the so-called “decline of the church.” The number of both church members and dollars contributed to the Episcopal Church, locally and nationally, has been decreasing for decades. This has ignited a good deal of concern in church circles. Many are worried about the long-term viability of the church. Numerous programs meant to stimulate “church growth” have been launched. Strategies for the proper use of resources have been developed. Hard choices are being made. All of this is well-intended and some of it is necessary. But it also calls for care and caution, because paying too much attention to this narrative of decline may, in fact, be contributing to that decline itself.

Now, before I say anything more, I need to ask in advance for you to forgive me for the gross generalizations I am about to make. This is a short column and I do not have the space to lay out the nuanced case this topic deserves. That said, I think there are some crucial considerations to keep in mind while legislating for a church that, in large part, seems to believe that it is going extinct.

It is of no comfort at all to note that loss of membership is hardly a reality faced by the Episcopal Church alone. Even so, it does make it clear that no denomination—no, not even the evangelical ones—is experiencing explosive growth. (You can review the data collected by the Pew Research Center on this, if you are interested in digging down into it.) Individual congregations and even some dioceses are growing, however. And that actually does hint at where our energies are best placed. More on this in a moment.

My central point is that I encourage you to resist succumbing to the narrative of decline for one simple and extremely important reason: we do not make good decisions out of fear. When the driving question is about getting butts in pews, the answer tends to take the form of all sorts of ploys to convince people they want to come spend their limited time with us, doing the things we already do, in the forms we already do them. When the controlling emotion is fear or even panic, we can end up resorting to ineffective “programs” that do not address the real, deep issues that are in play. The idea is to preserve what we have, to keep it going, rather than to take the risk of moving in new and sometimes uncharted directions because that is where the needs are greatest.

Why are the congregations that are growing growing? Because they realize the church is not dying, it is changing. The fear that change provokes can feel like the approach of death. So can the loss of many things about church that we love, and I am under no illusion that some of those things are being lost. However, church is not something that exists for us alone, for those already in the family. It is more properly framed as something dynamic, a movement, a force for the transformation of the world. Our work is not to preserve an institution, as critical as the institution that is the Episcopal Church might be. Our work is to proclaim the gospel and bring it to a world that is desperate for what the gospel promises and the healing that it brings. The growth of congregations where that is precisely what is happening shows how powerful it is when we concentrate on answering people’s deep spiritual yearning and hunger rather than on creating marketing strategies that try to sell church as a desirable consumer commodity in the marketplace of available options.

We are now in Advent. Just as Mary was told not to be afraid because something revolutionary was about to happen to and through her, we will soon hear the angels tell the shepherds the same: fear is the wrong response to the coming of the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World. The proper response is joy—a joy that is meant to be shared. Moreover, we are Christians, believers in a God who has brought life out of death before and promises to do the same again and again. Both death and the change that can feel like death, while real and grievous, ultimately hold no power over us. So, go boldly into this work, holding the narrative of decline at arm’s length, resolved to take the risk of doing what will bring the gospel to the people rather than the people to our established way of being church. Jesus promises to be with us in this work (Matt. 28:19–20). We have nothing to fear!

A blessed Advent to you all!

03 December 2021

This is true



Advent Credo

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.

From Walking on Thorns, by Allan Boesak, Eerdmans, 2004.

28 November 2021

O Lord, Let Advent begin again



Adult Advent Announcement

O Lord,
Let Advent begin again
In us,
Not merely in commercials;
For that first Christmas was not
Simply for children,
But for the
Wise and the strong.
It was
Crowded around that cradle,
With kings kneeling.
Speak to us
Who seek an adult seat this year.
Help us to realize,
As we fill stockings,
Christmas is mainly
For the old folks —
Bent backs
And tired eyes
Need relief and light
A little more.
No wonder
It was grown-ups
Who were the first
To notice
Such a star.


David A. Redding, from If I Could Pray Again (1965)

23 November 2021

Diocese of Vermont ~ Diocesan Convention ~ Fall 2021

 

November 10, 2021
Welcome! We'd like your feedback on the design and usability of this newsletter format, and also want to hear from you about stories for future issues and other communications requests and questions. Send emails to communications@diovermont.org.
"Constant Change is a Part of Our Tradition"
Diocesan Convention Wrap-Up
If participants in the Diocese of Vermont’s 2021 convention did not know the diocese was entering a period of turbulent change before the online sessions last Thursday and Saturday, they certainly knew it afterwards.

The convention—conducted over Zoom—was the first since Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown announced that a recent financial analysis indicated that the diocese would run out of money at some point in 2023.

Presentations by the bishop, Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York, the Rev. Scott Neal of the recently-established task force to help chart the diocese’s future and Dr. Catherine Meeks of the Absalom Jones Center of Racial Healing in Atlanta, focused primarily on how the diocese might move into a new future while deepening its commitment to racial healing.

“The church as an institution is bound by tradition and we have lived for generations thinking that part of our mission is to protect the church from change,” Bishop Shannon said, in a sermon during a service of morning prayer on Saturday, November 6. “However, we must no longer deny that constant change is part of our tradition.”

Later, in her bishop’s address, she said the diocese’s future might include closer relationships, although not a merger, with the dioceses of New Hampshire and Maine. “We are looking for ways to collaborate across dioceses so that our ministries will be strengthened, and to achieve greater efficiency and increased stewardship of our financial resources,” she said.

Convention Videos Now Available
Ordinations on November 13
Melanie Combs and Linda Moore to be ordained deacons
By the Grace of God and with the consent of the people, Bishop Shannon will ordain Melanie Combs and Linda Moore to the Sacred Order of Deacons on Saturday, November 13 at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington.

The service will be live streamed on the cathedral's YouTube channel.
Celtic Advent Weekly Meditation Starting November 15
Monday through Friday at 8:30 a.m.
Anam Cara Sojourners, a group that explores Celtic spirituality and is directed by the Rev. Kim Hardy of St. James, Essex Junction, is hosting a weekday Celtic-themed online gathering during Advent. The series will provide quiet time for reflection to prepare for Christmas and a group to pray with during this season.

The group will meet online at 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday beginning November 15. The book "Lean Towards the Light this Advent and Christmaswill be used, but purchasing the book is not required.

Email Kim Hardy to let her know you would like to participate, and she will provide a Zoom link.
The Very Rev. Greta Getlein Installed as Dean and Rector
View photos online
On October 23, the Very Rev. Greta Getlein was installed as the dean and rector of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington.

Watch a recording of the service on YouTube and view a photo album from photographer Paul Van de Graaf.
EVENTS
Province 1 Offers Monthly Formation Conversations
The Province 1 Christian Formation Network is hosting a series of free online monthly conversations on the third Thursday of each month.

Upcoming conversations:

November 18 at 7 p.m. 
Hannah Graham, “Hybrid Formation: Forming disciples without limits" Register.

December 16 at 7 p.m.
Kelly Demo and Barbara McCall, “The Micah Paradigm: Building a Culture of Justice, Mercy, and Solidarity in Your Church’s Children and Youth Programs" Register.
Rock Point Eucharist on November 19
The next Rock Point Intentional Community Eucharist will take place Friday, November 19 at noon.

The next Eucharists are scheduled for December 17 and January 14.

Attendees may join in person or using the following Zoom link: 

Email the Rev. Lisette Baxter, a member of the Rock Point Intentional Community planning team, with questions or to be added to the Rock Point Intentional Community mailing list.
REMINDERS
Diocesan Sacred Ground Program Begins in January
In partnership with the Diocese of Alabama
Members of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont are invited to participate in the Episcopal Church's Sacred Ground program via Zoom with members of the Diocese of Alabama. The program, part of the Episcopal Church's Becoming Beloved Community initiative, invites participants to learn about the history of race and racism in the United States in the context of family stories, economic class, and political and regional identity.

To sign up or learn more about joining this Sacred Ground circle, email Amy Hastings or call her at 802-989-0647.

Image: Bishop Glenda S. Curry of the Diocese of Alabama with Bishop Shannon.
Green Mountain Online Abbey Schedule
The Green Mountain Online Abbey meets on Zoom Monday through Saturday at 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 8:00 p.m.

Learn more on the diocesan website.
Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine and Booster Shot
All Vermont residents age 5 and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Learn more, and schedule an appointment, or get a free vaccine at a walk-in clinic. Booster shots are also available for many people and are especially encouraged for people with certain medical conditions, who work in a high-risk setting, who are Black, Indigenous or a person of color (BIPOC), or are age 18 or older and live with someone who is BIPOC.

Learn more and read a letter from the clergy of the diocese celebrating and encouraging vaccines.
Online Giving Continues
Give to congregations or diocesan institutions
Though many congregations are now meeting in person, the Diocese of Vermont will continue to process online gifts for all congregations and absorb all payment processing fees.

CYCLE OF PRAYER
November 14: Ministries of lay leaders and their families throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont

November 21: Ministries of the ordained and their families throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont

EVENTS CALENDAR AT A GLANCE
(See the Diocesan Calendar for details.)

Daily online prayer with the Green Mountain Online Abbey.

November 19 at 12 p.m.: Rock Point Eucharist
ABOUT THE MOUNTAIN
The Mountain is published every other Wednesday. Please send submission to communications@diovermont.org by 5:00 p.m. the Monday before publication.
Tel: (802) 863-3431 | In Vermont (800) 286-3437
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