Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Another Year, Another Resolution: Continue in Prayer

New Year's Day is when we often make resolutions for the next year. Usually, these resolutions have about as much positive impact on our lives as resolutions from the Episcopal church's General Convention. This year we should resolve to do better than the Episcopal church and engage in daily Bible study, prayer and worship.

Charles Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) had something to say about prayer that I would like to pass along in hopes that it may encourage us to keep our resolve this year.

"Continue in prayer."—Colossians 4:2
It is interesting to remark how large a portion of Sacred Writ is occupied with the subject of prayer, either in furnishing examples, enforcing precepts, or pronouncing promises. We scarcely open the Bible before we read, 'Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord;' and just as we are about to close the volume, the 'Amen' of an earnest supplication meets our ear.
Instances are plentiful. Here we find a wrestling Jacob—there a Daniel who prayed three times a day—and a David who with all his heart called upon his God. On the mountain we see Elias; in the dungeon Paul and Silas. We have multitudes of commands, and myriads of promises.
What does this teach us, but the sacred importance and necessity of prayer? We may be certain that whatever God has made prominent in His Word, He intended to be conspicuous in our lives. If He has said much about prayer, it is because He knows we have much need of it.
So deep are our necessities, that until we are in heaven we must not cease to pray. Dost thou want nothing? Then, I fear thou dost not know thy poverty. Hast thou no mercy to ask of God? Then, may the Lord's mercy show thee thy misery!
A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus. It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, the honour of a Christian.
If thou be a child of God, thou wilt seek thy Father's face, and live in thy Father's love. Pray that this year thou mayst be holy, humble, zealous, and patient; have closer communion with Christ, and enter oftener into the banqueting-house of His love.
Pray that thou mayst be an example and a blessing unto others, and that thou mayst live more to the glory of thy Master. The motto for this year must be, 'Continue in prayer.'"
--Charles Spurgeon, “January 2 — Morning” in Morning and Evening (Geanies House, Fearn, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 1994),  12.
Inspired? If you are, and if you resolve to up your prayer game next year, just remember that there are other people out there who are praying for you and they have been at it non-stop for 100 years.

The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, commonly called Pink Sisters

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Are We No Longer Subject to a Disciplinarian?

This Sunday's Gospel reading, John 1:1-18 combined with the expurgated reading from Galatians, 3:23-25,4:4-7 presents an opportunity to see both John's theme of light versus dark and the oft repeated errors that thinking that one is living in that light might create (i.e. those foolish Galatians in 3:1).

First look at John 1's wonderful introduction,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 
 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. 
"He gave power to all who received him to become children of God" is another of John's recurring themes.

Next think back to the partial, cut up reading from Galatians 3 and 4,
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Generalization of, "we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian" from its specific reference to Old Testament law to mean a universal freedom is perhaps the most egregious error that those who have been adopted as children of God can possibly make. I have heard it said by former members of the Episcopal church's Executive Council that this verse can be taken to mean that we are free to make up our own rules according to how we feel rather than to study scripture. The corollary to being free to make it up as we go is that we no longer have to worry about the consequences of creating laws that go against God's word.

But as children, we should honor our Father, for when we dishonor Him, we should expect there to be consequences. At least that is how it works in my family.

The Bible is full of references to those consequences, and the most damning come from the mouth of the Son of God Himself.

Matt. 5:22, "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire."
Matt. 5:29, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell."
Matt. 10:28, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
Matt. 23:15, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves."
Matt. 23:33, "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?"
Luke 12:5, "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!"
Matt. 11:23, "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day."
Luke 16:23, "and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side."

We may be no longer slaves, but as children, more is expected of us, and while we may not be subject to all of the O.T. laws, we are now subject to the lawgiver Himself.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Three Christmas Wishes

As a child, I used to wish to receive toys as Christmas presents (I was naturally disappointed to find that some gifts were clothes). I remember sneaking into the living room after midnight when everyone else was asleep and sneaking a peek at the presents under the tree (which remained lit all night long on only that special night). Sitting near the heater vent, I imagined what could be in those wrapped packages and which ones might be for me. I usually crept back to my bed where I tossed and turned until dawn and the time came when the rest of the family arose.

As I have grown older, my Christmas wishes have changed. There was a time when I wished that school was finally finished and I would have enough money of my own to buy presents for my parents and siblings. Later there were the Christmases when I wished that I would not have to be at work, and then there were the Christmases when I hoped my own children would sense the same anticipation that I felt of Santa Claus' arrival, and that they would experience the same thrill of finding Santa's footprints by the fireplace and presents under the tree.

Now I am just thankful to be present for another Christmas, and my only wish is for you, my dear readers, to have a blessed Christmas and to praise God for his gift of a Saviour to you and to me.

CS Lewis once wrote of three Christmas wishes which offer a good correction to us when we dare to ask for too much on this day,
THE NATIVITY  C.S. Lewis, Poems, edited by Walter Hooper (New York:  Harcourt Inc., 1992), p. 122.

Among the oxen (like an ox I'm slow)
see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox's dullness might at length
Give me an ox's strength.
Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Saviour where I looked for hay;
So may my beastlike folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.
Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence!
Thanks be to God! 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice Services 2015: The Christian and the Pagan

Each year I do a brief run down of winter solstice services in the church. The Episcopal church has top billing because out of all the "mainline" denominations, they seem to be especially prone to this sort of syncretism.

First up is repeat offender, St. Brigit Episcopal Church in Frederick, Colorado.
"Áit Caol (pronounced atch qweel) – Gaelic for A Thin Place. Please join us as we celebrate the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Áit Caol began in 2012, and this will be our fourth Winter Solstice Service. These services are created to offer the community an experience of God through a unique liturgy, which combines ancient tradition with contemporary language. They include specially designed meditation areas, reflecting the Scriptural lessons, and sacred music with an ethereal sound.
If you’ve never attended an Áit Caol service, this is a great time to start! The services have been featured in the Colorado Episcopalian and often attract people from as far as 50 miles away."

Next up is Saint Anne's Episcopal Church in Minnesota,
"Winter Solstice Service: Honoring the darkness, welcoming the light with scripture, poetry, silence and song. Afterwards we'll have a bonfire, cookies, and cocoa. Monday, December 21, 7 p.m." 

And you can't forget the grandaddy of them all, The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine NYC,
"People practiced special rituals intended to entice the sun’s return. Bonfires and candles, with their imitative magic, helped fortify the waning sun and ward off the spirits of darkness. These symbols live on in our modern seasonal customs: the candles of Hanukkah and Christmas are kin to the fiery rites of old, which celebrated the miracle of the earth’s renewal.
These traditions reflect our need to come together in times of extended darkness. We celebrate not only the rebirth of the sun, but the community of life on earth.
Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice celebrates the spirit of the holidays within the extraordinary acoustics of New York’s greatest Cathedral. A dazzling extravaganza of music and dance, these performances offer a contemporary take on ancient solstice rituals, when people gathered together on the longest night of the year to welcome the return of the sun and the birth of the new year. The event has become New York’s favorite holiday alternative to the Nutcracker and Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular."

“An immersive, multimedia extravaganza, as grand and expansive as its location.”
– The New York Times
“Feasts for the ears and eyes”
– Wall Street Journal
“We dare you to keep a smile off your face as Theresa Thomason belts gospel tunes and the giant earth ball soars to the ceiling of the spectacular Byzantine cathedral.”
– Gotham Magazine
“Fueled by Winter’s soaring soprano saxophone, the annual concerts unfold as a spectacle of theatre, dance and music from around the world.”
– National Public Radio

Next we have to check out the Unitarian Universalists, First Parish in Hingham, MA, Unitarian Universalist, known as Old Ship Church,
"Winter Solstice Poetry Circle:This season's Crossing Time is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year which heralds the return of light. Leave the busyness of the holiday rush and come share and replenish creative energy. Bring a poem to read or speak or simply come and listen. The choral quintet Crossroads will perform some winter carols and poetry set to music. Come and bring a friend. All are welcome.
Next up is the Unitarian Universalist Society of Fairhaven,
"Tuesday, December 22 at 7pm. We each take a candle, walk the spiral, letting go of the attachments of the year. We light the candle from the chalice in the center of the spiral, then retrace our steps as we ponder the possibilities of a new year and find a spot to lay the candle along the spiral. After all candles are lit and placed, we experience the magic of light and possibility. If you wish to help build the spiral with us, bring your winter greens at 6 pm."
And we have the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, Kennebunk, Maine.
“Spirit of Darkness,” 7 p.m., winter solstice celebration with drumming and dancing.  Free and open to the public. All ages welcome. Bring drums and finger foods to share along with a nonperishable food for the York County Shelter Programs and the Community Outreach Services.

And it would be non-inclusive of me to leave out the pagans of the Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in the southwestern Wisconsin.

"Pagans today can readily re-Paganize Christmastime and the secular New Year by giving a Pagan spiritual focus to existing holiday customs and by creating new traditions that draw on ancient ways. Here are some ways to do this:"
  • Celebrate Yule with a series of rituals, feasts, and other activities.
  • Adorn the home with sacred herbs and colors. Decorate your home in Druidic holiday colors red, green, and white. 
  • Convey love to family, friends, and associates. 
  • Reclaim Santa Claus as a Pagan Godform.
  • Honor the Goddess as Great Mother. Place Pagan Mother Goddess images around your home. You may also want to include one with a Sun child, such as Isis with Horus.
  • Honor the new solar year with light. Do a Solstice Eve ritual in which you meditate in darkness and then welcome the birth of the sun by lighting candles and singing chants and Pagan carols. 
  • Contribute to the manifestation of more wellness on Planet Earth. Donate food and clothing to poor in your area. Volunteer time at a social service agency. Put up bird feeders and keep them filled throughout the winter to supplement the diets of wild birds. Donate funds and items to non-profit groups, such as Pagan/Wiccan churches and environmental organizations. Meditate for world peace. Work magic for a healthier planet. Make a pledge to do some form of good works in the new solar year.
For those who continue to try to justify these services as either too deep for me to get or too harmless to pay attention to, let me leave you with a bizarre winter solstice prayer complete with flaming pentagrams in the video below.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Origins of Magnificat

This Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke details the meeting of two expectant mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, and includes what is called "The Magnificat".

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’And Mary said, 
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me,and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
Also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary, there are many beautiful musical renditions available, and the video I chose for this blog today is one that I highly recommend.

Sermons today will not be able to dodge the Magnificat although some may try use it as a way to work in a plug for the social gospel message. I would advise listeners to such sermons to focus on how Mary's hymn points to the Lord's greatness, strength, mercy, and trustworthiness (He keeps His promises) and how we respond to our realization that He is present in the world.

I have always wondered about how the author of Luke came to know the Song of Mary. It must have been well known at the time.

From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops comes this speculation,

"Although Mary is praised for being the mother of the Lord and because of her belief, she reacts as the servant in a psalm of praise, the Magnificat. Because there is no specific connection of the canticle to the context of Mary’s pregnancy and her visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat (with the possible exception of v 48) may have been a Jewish Christian hymn that Luke found appropriate at this point in his story. Even if not composed by Luke, it fits in well with themes found elsewhere in Luke: joy and exultation in the Lord; the lowly being singled out for God’s favor; the reversal of human fortunes; the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. The loose connection between the hymn and the context is further seen in the fact that a few Old Latin manuscripts identify the speaker of the hymn as Elizabeth, even though the overwhelming textual evidence makes Mary the speaker."

Elsewhere, we find in 1 Samuel 2 Hannah singing a song of praise which is very similar to Mary's song:

Hannah also prayed and said, "My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed."
Notice the parallels,

Hannah: My heart exalts in the Lord; I rejoice in thy salvation.
Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Hannah: There is none holy like the Lord.
Mary: Holy is his name.

Hannah: The bows of the mighty are broken but the feeble gird on strength.
Mary: He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree.

Hannah: Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
Mary: He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Similar events may elicit similar words of praise, or Mary was applying the themes she had learned from Hannah's song to her own.

When we praise or give thanks to God, don't we usually paraphrase what we have heard before either in collects, hymns or Psalms?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Inconsistency Cannot Be Removed Surgically

Some readers may not have heard the shellfish argument as currently used by those who support same-sex blessings and/or marriage. It argues from Leviticus and goes like this, “If you oppose same sex marriage because the Bible says it’s a sin, how come I see you eating that shrimp po-boy?”

I do not mean to kick a bishop when he is down, but I must point out an bishop's error in reasoning. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church recently said (before he was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma) the following with reference to refugees from Syria,
"In the Book of Leviticus, God says to the people of Israel that, "the foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt." Accordingly, we welcome the stranger. We love our neighbor. The Episcopal Church has long been committed to resettling refugees in our own communities fleeing violence and persecution." Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry
Isn't it strange that he would invoke Leviticus in this case when he ignores it in the case of same-sex marriage in which case Leviticus comes down hard on homosexual activity.

Or maybe it is not all that strange because that is the way revisionist reasoning handles these things... inconsistently.

Using Bishop Curry's logic, the moral code that forbade same-sex intercourse has to be obeyed. If he were to be consistent in his application of Leviticus, I would expect him to say, "Accordingly, we forbid same-sex marriage."

While we can expect Bishop Curry's speedy recovery after his hematoma is evacuated, don't expect his revisionist thinking to have been evacuated along with the clot.

Inconsistency like this cannot be fixed by a few surgical bore holes in the skull..

Sunday, December 13, 2015

And the Good News is... "The Chaff He Will Burn"?

As we continue in Advent, this Sunday's Gospel reading is Luke 3:7-18.
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
Wait one second! Is that any way to preach? How negative of him. Haven't we been told that fear mongering and scare tactics don't work to lead people to Christ? Surely John can't have been an effective evangelist!

Thinking that, the next verse made me chuckle,
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people (v18).
All I can say is that John the Baptist's method of spreading good news worked then, and it should still work today. I wonder how many pewsitters heard his tough words expounded upon today. Not that it should take a whole lot of explanation, but it seems that a good many of us have forgotten this simple fact:
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom..." Psalm 110, Proverbs 9
As Matt Kennedy+ noted recently on Facebook,
 "The dominant American theology: God is love. I am good. There’s nothing to worry about."
Nothing to worry about except his winnowing fork and that unquenchable fire.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Episcopal Public Policy Network: C'mon Man!

The following recently came to my inbox from the Episcopal Public Policy Network, and I challenge my readers to find the theological flaw contained therein.

Breaking the Cycle of Violence

in Our Communities

Violence in America has reached epidemic proportions. In 2013 alone,16,000 persons died through homicide, and 41,000 committed suicide.During the first decade of the 21st century, 335,609 Americans were shot and killed, a total that exceeds the population of St. Louis, MO, Pittsburgh, PA, or Orlando, FL. Each year, an average 293,066 persons in the U.S. are victims of rape or sexual violence. The statistics are both disturbing and overwhelming, and it's difficult to know how address such a monumental problem.
"Breaking the cycle of violence" is a commonly used phrase, but what does it really mean? This phrase might bring to mind peace talks in the Middle East, nuclear nonproliferation, or universal background checks on firearms. While these are the better known examples, the definition of violence expands beyond these causes to also include bullying, sexual assault, hate crimes, suicide, and many other types of violence.
These forms of violence that can become a vicious cycle often begin within our communities and our homes. While policy is a useful tool in breaking the cycle of violence, we must also consider personal responses that we can undertake at this very moment to supplement and reinforce official legislation.
The first place to begin is at home. What movies, television shows, or video games are accessible in your household? Do these media lift up peaceful values or do they glorify a culture of violence? We can't protect our children from all forms of violent media, yet it's important to have anhonest conversation with them about the violence that they witness onscreen or in everyday life. Even if you do not have children, you can cultivate a peaceful household by using nonviolent communication with your partner, parents, or roommates.
Beyond the household, there are many ways you can address the culture of violence at the community level. Getting to know your neighbors, hosting community forums on violence prevention, and cooperating with local law enforcement to educate and include young people in preventing crime are all excellent ways to become involved. Engage your congregation in a service for nonviolence or join faith leaders in a Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend on December 10-14, 2015. The more you work together with your neighbors to raise awareness and promote open dialogue on violence prevention, the stronger your effort will be.
Our Episcopal tradition calls us to oppose violence at every level of common life, and to build just and nonviolent relationships throughout the world. Next time you hear the phrase "breaking the cycle of violence,"remember that you have the agency to break the cycle right now through monitoring media, building relationships, raising awareness, and communicating carefully. Only then can the "cycle of violence" be countered by a "spiral of peace." This spiral begins in your home and moves outward, circling family, neighbors, and your world community in compassion, education, and awareness, so that one day "violence shall no more be heard in thy land."

DId anybody see what I saw (or didn't see)? Comment below.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Does Anyone Remember St. Nicholas Day?

Fellow blogger Churchmouse Campanologist posted a lengthy history of St. Nicholas Bishop of Myra, c. 342  and his feast day, December 5.

Myra is in modern day Turkey. Wikipedia has this picture of St. Nicholas' original tomb in Myra,

St. Nicholas Day is rarely celebrated in the Episcopal church, but there is a traditional prayer for the day one can find on the lectionary pages,
Almighty God, who in thy love didst give to thy servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea: Grant, we pray thee, that thy Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
For more details, go to the Churchmouse's site. As for me, I will put our St. Nicholas ornament on the tree today.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

New Zealand Church, Like The Episcopal Church is Dropping Like A Stone

Bosco Peters is an Anglican priest in New Zealand, and while I do not agree with his take on most church controversies, I did appreciate the fact that he included his diocese's statistics in a recent blog post.

Here are some of his numbers,

Receiving Communion at Christmas
Year       Received Communion
1990       19,784
2000       15,492
2010       13,411
2014       10,542
Total Church Attendance
Year                               Total Church Attendance
1990 (Sundays only)     472,025
1996 (Every Day)            584,703
2000                                  560,901
2010                                  451,889
2014                                  356,290
My only knowledge of New Zealand comes from a limited exposure to their prayer book during a service foisted upon me by a priest-to-be of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, and another NZ Prayer Book service at a picnic service by our former curate, and Bosco Peter's blog. My first impression is that the church in New Zealand's decline may be due to the same revisionist thinking that infects the Episcopal church in the U.S.A.

"Progressives" in the Church are currently those pushing for prayer book and hymnal revision, same sex marriage rites, gender neutral language, communion of the unbaptized, and what ever else tickles their fancy. This sounds like the same path that the Episcopal church and the Church in New Zealand have tried in the past. The results of going down that road are reflected in the declining numbers of Sunday worshipers and the tiny fraction of members who are involved in prayer groups and Bible study groups. I guess the current crop of church leaders are hoping for a different result this time (most of us would call that the definition of insanity). CS Lewis in The Case for Christianity had something to say about such "progressive" thinking,

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it's pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We're on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on” ― C.S. Lewis

How far down the wrong road does one have to go before realizing that one has made a mistake?