Friday, July 30, 2010

Multicultural ministry

This weekend marks Amazing Grace's first bilingual worship service. It's Saturday at 5:30. Favor de trajer un amigo. Bring a friend!

Here is a link to a guest column I wrote about it for the San Antonio Express-News. I had sent the religion reporter an email blurb about it, and he invited me to write this:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Construction update

The construction at Amazing Grace is making some progress. The rock siding is looking good. "On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lutherans working together?

At its national convention today in Houston, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) voted overwhelmingly (961-175) to continue to work together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Cooperative efforts between these two largest Lutheran church bodies have included social service, disaster, and hunger efforts. This is exciting news!

As an ELCA Lutheran, I know there are differences between us Lutherans, and they are not minor. In the ELCA, we practice open communion. I've borrowed a phrase from one of my colleagues: "As pastor, I am the waiter at the table, not the bouncer at the bar." I also appreciate that we have female clergy in the ELCA. In the course of my training, my supervisors for field education, clinical pastoral education, and internship have all been women. I did not seek out female mentors, but I know that my leadership has been influenced by talented faithful people, both male and female. I am also unashamedly proud to count people of all sexual orientations as my clergy colleagues.

However, I am also tired of the Missouri-bashing I all too often see in the ELCA. I envy the Biblical literacy that my friends who grew up in the LCMS have. I think the LCMS's commitment to education is amazing. Even though we don't always see eye-to-eye, I know that God is at work in the Missouri Synod, too.

A few years ago, I met a small handful of LCMS clergy at a conference about ecumenism. There were many dozen ELCA folks there, and I commented to one of the LCMS gentlemen that there were so few of them. "We don't get invited," they calmly told me.

I firmly believe that we in the ELCA do not have a monopoly on God's grace. I hope many and various people of faith may continue to find ways to work together, for the sake of the Gospel.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who does suburban community organizing well?

With last Sunday’s Good Samaritan story and this coming week’s hospitality focus with the Abraham and Mary/Martha stories fresh on my mind, I’ve been thinking about the role a congregation could play in its neighborhood. Working together with other institutions, a congregation could host and participate in all sorts of ways to address issues of concern in the community. After-school tutoring, senior day care, public informational forums, and job-training programs are just quick examples of the possibilities.

However, many of the examples of congregations undertaking this sort of community involvement are urban parishes not in suburban or exurban settings like ours. Several leaders in my congregation have read Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing and Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor. The authors of both books, for example, have extensive experience in inner-city Milwaukee and Atlanta, respectively.

My own training has been biased toward urban contexts. I interned at a bilingual congregation in Manhattan with a center for immigrants and a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. I’ve taken a seminary course from the founding president of one of Chicago’s leading faith-based community development programs. I attended a workshop led by the ELCA Director for Congregation-based Organizing. I get emails from the Christian Community Development Association. I’ve read a history of Industrial Areas Foundation organizing in San Antonio, and have even had a few conversations with an organizer.

With all of these resources and experiences, I have struggled (along with the congregation) to translate this into a clear and coherent way for us at Amazing Grace to connect with our congregation and community. On the far western edge of Bexar County, Amazing Grace had, up until a few years ago, been a rural congregation out in the country. Now newer houses surround us on three sides; construction is happening on the fourth. A vast majority of our families live at least three miles from church; many live ten or more miles away. We have Angel Food ministry and are starting a bilingual worship service. Amazing Grace has a long history of collecting food, clothing, blankets, toiletries, and other items for people in need. We have done charity well, but could work on justice.

I do believe that Amazing Grace Lutheran Church has the potential to be a national leader in suburban congregational-based organizing and community justice work. That could be our niche. We have some potentially helpful assets: five acres of land, new neighborhoods growing around us, passionate people who want to love their neighbors. Imagine visitors checking out our worship service because they want to see liturgy that speaks with integrity. Imagine folks all over the country passing on our web address, telling their pastor, “This is a church that does it right.” Imagine students coming to Amazing Grace for transformative life-changing internships—not just seminarians, but students in social work, public health, or counseling. This could be Amazing Grace, but we have to start somewhere.

Dear readers, I have two questions for you:
1). If you know Amazing Grace and its San Antonio context, what could be next steps for us in this journey to reach out to our neighborhood? I’m not thinking of ways to get more buns in the pews, but for ways that our congregation might work with others to help our neighbors.

2). Who can we learn from? What congregations do community development and social justice work well in a suburban or exurban setting? I’m not thinking of big churches with high worship attendance and sparkly Sunday school programs. I’m thinking about suburban congregations that intentionally connect with their neighborhoods for the sake of justice.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 11th's sermon as a Wordle

This past Sunday's Gospel passage was the story that Jesus tells when the lawyer asks him about neighbors. I used this "Good Samaritan" story as an opportunity for us to think about our own exurban neighborhood context. We're not in a rural area where people share vegetables and help with harvest. We're not in a walkable urban neighborhood with mixed-use development. It's harder to get to know your neighbors when there are eight-foot privacy fences. I also used the sermon as a chance to think about God's compassion.

Here is what my sermon looks like as a Wordle (the bigger the word, the more often it was used):

Blog as a Wordle

Wordle is a web tool that allows words to be put into a sort of picture cloud. The words that get used the most become the biggest. Here is a wordle for this blog: