Search This Blog

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reconciliation: More than Kum ba yah

Reconciliation has been at the forefront of Anglican news these days – especially in the blogosphere.  The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby made his first staff appointment.  He created and staffed a new position, Director of Reconciliation and he appointed a veteran of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, the Rev Canon David Porter to fill it.  Porter most recently had been on staff at Coventry Cathedral. 

Last week a reconciliation conference titled "Faith in Conflict" at Coventry Cathedral (endorsed by Abp Welby) featured the rector of the ACNA parish Truro Church Fairfax VA, Tory Baucam, and his new found friend the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia, Shannon Johnston, as keynoters.   This attempt at reconciliation between these ACNA and TEC leaders is causing much discussion and nervousness at least among realigners.

I’d love to know how Tory’s bishop the Rt. Rev. John Guernsey feels about his new found friendship and how Tory's old friend John Yates, rector of Falls Church, feels about it as well especially since Bp Johnston and his cronies took over Yates' $25m facility in recent months.

To me reconciliation means more than just glossing over differences holding hands and singing Kum ba yah.  Check out my recent post titled "The Cost of Compromise".  

We’ll see how it all plays out.   

A Steady Obedience in a Single Direction

 “A steady obedience in a single direction”, such was the take away phrase I got from Archbishop Duncan’s message this morning at Holy Communion.  One hundred Anglican deacons, priests and bishops (2) from the Pittsburgh area gathered at Trinity Church Washington for a clergy day to hear from our bishop and his leadership team as they engaged the clergy of the ACNA diocese in discussing our future together. 

The theme of much of the day was shaped by the hymnody, poetry and sayings of George Herbert whose feast day we celebrated today – translated from yesterday.  Canon Mary Hays, Archbishop Duncan and others interspersed Herbert’s witticisms throughout much of what they said.  Two were Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.and Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along”.

Bishop Duncan steps down in exactly sixteen months as Archbishop of the ACNA and will return for “a season” (2-3 years?) as exclusively the Bishop of Pittsburgh before retiring.  The bishop also told us that “as long as I am useful I will serve when I cease being useful, I will step down.” There has never been time of when our bishop has not been useful and I doubt there ever will.   

The interesting part is that Bishop Frank Lyons will also step down about the same time Bishop Duncan comes back to Pittsburgh full time and by the time he retires as diocesan bishop all the current generation of senior clergy leaders in the diocese will be retired or near retirement, Bishop John Rodgers, and priests Canon Mary Hays, Geoff Chapman, Don Bushyager, Mark Zimmerman, yours truly, Karen Stevenson, John Fierro, Doug Blakelock, John Heidengren, Scott Homer, John Macdonald, Laurie Thompson are most likely all fine’.  The next bishop will probably come from the next generation of leaders.  Since all ACNA bishops by canon are to be male and since most ACNA bishops are being raised up from within their serving diocese, who of the next generation of clergymen are willing and able to take up the mantle of episcopal leadership in our diocese?  Jonathan Millard, John Bailey, David Rucker, John Cruikshank, and Paul Cooper all come to mind.  Who else?  We shall see in God’s good time.        

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Cost of Compromise

By John MacArthur - Feb 25,

Martin Luther wasn’t prone to compromise. He famously said in his sermon “Knowledge of God’s Will and Its Fruit”:

The world at the present time is sagaciously discussing how to quell the controversy and strife over doctrine and faith, and how to effect a compromise between the Church and the Papacy. Let the learned, the wise, it is said, bishops, emperor and princes, arbitrate. Each side can easily yield something, and it is better to concede some things which can be construed according to individual interpretation, than that so much persecution, bloodshed, war, and terrible, endless dissension and destruction be permitted. Here is lack of understanding, for understanding proves by the Word that such patchwork is not according to God’s will, but that doctrine, faith and worship must be preserved pure and unadulterated; there must be no mingling with human nonsense, human opinions or wisdom. The Scriptures give us this rule: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

It is interesting to speculate what the church would be like today if Luther had compromised. The pressure was heavy on him to tone down his teaching, soften his message, and stop poking his finger in the eye of the papacy. Even many of his friends and supporters urged Luther to come to terms with Rome for the sake of harmony in the church. Luther himself prayed earnestly that the effect of his teaching would not be divisive.

When he nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door, the last thing he wanted to do was split the church. Yet sometimes division is fitting, even healthy, for the church. Especially in times like Luther’s— and like ours—when the visible church seems full of counterfeit Christians, it is right for the true people of God to declare themselves and defend the truth.

Compromise is sometimes a worse evil than division. Second Corinthians 6:14-17 isn’t speaking only of marriage when it says: Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Satan, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. Sadly, this familiar command to separate is frequently both misunderstood and violated.

But Paul is not giving believers license for legalism, sectarianism, or monasticism. Instead, he’s drawing on an analogy from the Mosaic law.  In Deuteronomy 22:10, the Lord commanded the Israelites, “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” Those two animals do not have the same nature, gait, or strength. Therefore it would be impossible for such a mismatched pair to plow together effectively. They would be unequally yoked.

Paul’s meaning is clear: believers and unbelievers are two very different creatures and cannot work together in the spiritual realm. He called for separation in matters of the work of God, since such cooperation for spiritual benefit is impossible.

We sometimes tend to think of the early church as pristine, pure, and untroubled by serious error. The truth is, it wasn’t that way at all.

From the very beginning, the enemies of truth launched an effort to infiltrate and confuse the people of God by mangling the truth and by blending lies with Christian doctrine. Attacks against the truth regularly came not only from persecutors on the outside but also from false teachers and professing believers within the visible community of the church. 

That was the case in the Corinthian church, where false teachers brought with them a quasi-Christian syncretism of gospel truth, Jewish legalism, and pagan mysticism. They were eager to blend the people of God with the pagan worshipers, and the truth of Scripture with the lies of Satan.

That kind of spiritual blending is exactly what Jude warns against in the third verse of his short epistle. “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” Through the pen of Jude, the Holy Spirit urges us to exercise caution, discernment, courage, and the will to contend for the truth.

Notice what we are supposed to be fighting for. It is not anything petty, personal, mundane, or ego related. It’s not mere wrangling between competing ideologies. It’s not a campaign to refine someone’s religious creed or win denominational bragging rights. It’s not a battle of wits, or a game of any kind.

What we are called to defend is no less than “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” He’s talking about a serious struggle to safeguard the heart and soul of the truth itself and unleash that truth against the powers of darkness. 

Compromised truth has no hope of rescuing the eternal souls of men and women who have been unwittingly ensnared by the trap of devilish deception.

This is a battle we cannot wage effectively if we always try to come across to the world as merely nice, nonchalant, docile, agreeable, fun-loving people. We must not take our cues from others who are perfectly happy to compromise the truth whenever possible for “harmony’s” sake. Friendly dialog may sound affable and pleasant. But neither Christ nor the apostles ever confronted serious, soul-destroying error by building collegial relationships with false teachers. In fact, we are expressly forbidden to do that (Romans 16:172 Thessalonians 3:62 Timothy 3:52 John 10-11).

Infiltrating churches under the guise of tolerance and cooperation is one of Satan’s most cunning ploys. He does not want to fight the church as much as join it. Undiscerning believers who partner in a common spiritual cause with unbiblical forms of Christianity or other false religions open the door wide to satanic corruption. The appearance of unity, no matter how enticing, is not worth sacrificing the clarity of the gospel.

Furthermore, embracing those heretical systems falsely reassures their followers that all is well between them and God, when actually they are headed for eternal damnation. Partnering in a spiritual enterprise with unbelievers helps Satan muddy the doctrinal waters, and it cripples our ability to preach the need for repentance.

Scripture is clear about how we are to respond when the very foundations of the Christian faith are under attack: our duty is to contend, not compromise.
From here 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Nice people are killing churches: Tell them to stop.

Posted by Todd Rhoades in Leadership on Feb 18th, 2013

Paul Alexander explains why the ‘nice guys’ are killing churches:

1. Nice people have a tendency to hire people that they like rather than people who are going to advance the mission of the church. In other words it’s okay to lose as long as you’re losing with friends.

2. Nice people avoid conflict and by so doing don’t mine the best ideas out of their teams.

3. Nice people keep people on their teams well after the work has surpassed their capacity. This not only slows the mission but it exposes the weaknesses of and hurts the very person they’re trying to protect.

4. Nice people don’t confront the brutal facts and as a result “hallway conversations” take place and a lack of unity begins to undermine the mission.

5. Nice people sacrifice the flock for the sake of one sheep. This happens every time you let that one person sing who has no business singing (if you’ve been around church-world for any length of time you know exactly what I’m talking about).

Our churches are filled with ‘nice guys’.  And I agree, nice guys can kill churches.  We need to treat each other with grace and love. But we also need to treat each other with truth. Truth, covered in grace and love.  Many times, nice guys just choose the grace and love parts. And the church dies… a slow and agonizing death.

From here

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why I Disagree with “Ashes to Go”

On Ash Wednesday, a number of Episcopal Churches across the country embraced the innovative practice of distributing ashes in public settings – in parks, plazas and on the streets of cities with most using the catchy title "Ashes to Go". 

In Pittsburgh the Episcopal Bishop Dorsey McConnell and the clergy of Trinity Cathedral took their ashes to Market Square.  The Diocese promoted this practice with a trendy video on the front page of their website.  Click here. 

This morning local Episcopal blogger Dr. Jim Simons gathered and posted links of news coverage from around the country of Episcopal Churches that offered ashes in this way. Click here  

Yesterday the Pittsburgh Post Gazette offered this. Click here  

The blog Episcopal Café covered the practice too,  going as far as calling it a means of “Episcopal evangelism.”  Click here

One of my parishioners asked me about 10 days ago if I were going to do “drive-by ashes” this year on the main street corner in Canonsburg.  I politely declined her appeal to do so. Click here.

I find the practice of applying ashes to someone’s forehead willy-nilly on the street to be repugnant, demeaning, and impersonal. It is taking totally out of context the solemn liturgy that calls for repentance of sin and amendment of life.  To me it can be likened to the difference of receiving cash from an ATM machine and receiving cash from a human bank teller. And cheapens the seriousness of it all. It reminds of that other uniquely Episcopal innovation, The Clown Eucharist. 

One of my colleagues told me that the main Roman Catholic Church in downtown Pittsburgh has a somewhat similar practice.  You enter the church on the front street entrance receive your ashes right inside the door, walk down the side aisle and exit out the entrance on the side street – as if you were going through the drive-thru window at the local fast food emporium -- "you're in, you're out, that's what McDonalds is all about!"  This isn’t a whole lot different than Ashes to Go on the street.  And I would hardly call either the method used by the Romans or the Episcopalians evangelistic.   

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Story of the Community of Celebration

Following is an article concerning the release of a book written by a member of the Community of Celebration explaining his view of their history and purpose. Gale and I lived in Aliquippa during the arrival of the Community and were members of All Saints' Church. All Saints' became a centerpiece of their ministry and an early base of operations following their relocation from Scotland. They greatly influenced the worship in the Diocese of Pittsburgh especially among parishes that were active in "renewal" and Cursillo in the 1980s and 1990s.. Although we remained friends with many of their members, Gale and did not find their lifestyle one we could personally embrace.

 Posted: Friday, February 4, 2011, 17:25 (GMT)

This well received book tells the story of a remarkable movement of the Holy Spirit in the latter half of the twentieth century. Based in Britain, the Community of Celebration and its ministering teams known as the Fisherfolk attracted crowds in churches and cathedrals through their worship. Recordings sold in thousands. Christians around the world were inspired to make the attempt at community living.After featuring prominently in the ‘renewal’ scene for a number of years, the Community began to adopt a lower public profile. But it did not come to an end. It continued, at times with several branches, slowly evolving over a period of decades. Beginning as an almost hippie-style commune with an international ministry, they gradually became smaller, more locally focused and reflective.

After relocating to Aliquippa, an old steel town in desperate need near Pittsburgh (USA), their life and ministry developed through several phases until they achieved formal recognition as a religious community of The Episcopal Church of the United States. Today they are a familiar Christian presence in the town, with their own purpose built chapel, providing a focus and support for other agencies which have since come with a mission to the poor of Aliquippa.

Following the Spirit is the story of the Community of Celebration. Taking its title from a TV documentary describing the extraordinary renewal in Houston in the sixties that led to the founding of the Community of Celebration in Britain, it traces the development of the ‘religious order’ concept that was ultimately to become the Community’s identity. The Community’s founder, Graham Pulkingham, became less and less essential to it as its members took on the work of establishing that identity for themselves. The subtitle of the book is 'Seeing Christian faith through community eyes'. Community living confronted many issues in ordinary church life, where institutional needs and social and religious conventions powerfully control the way people think and what is practically possible. Often, the real casualty here is a truly Christian spirituality that unites the human and the divine.

A major section of the book looks at several issues in which there was a characteristic ‘community’ way of looking at things. For some, the Community’s evolution was as much a spiritual and theological journey as one in life experience, and a third section attempts to give a flavour of this. The author’s own background, for example, is evangelical and charismatic. That inspired the move to community living and yet the very circumstances of community life promoted a deeper appreciation of the Incarnation and its implications for Christian life and theology.

The author, Philip Bradshaw, is an Anglican priest who has taken life vows in the Community of Celebration. He and his wife live near London, where they maintain a Community house on behalf of the parent Community in the USA.

 Order it from the Community’s website:

 From here: 


A more critical view of their community was written by the former religion writer of the Washington Post, Julia Duin, titled Days of Fire and Glory. A description of the book on says this, "It was the late summer of 1986 when Julia Duin moved to Houston as the new religion writer for The Houston Chronicle. At the invitation of friends, she visited the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston's blighted East End and fell in love with its gorgeous music and charismatic worship. After she met Graham Pulkingham, the spellbinding priest who had led Redeemer into a powerful renewal starting in 1964, Duin became convinced the world needed to know the story of this gifted man and his church. As she began investigating the story, many warned her there was a darker history behind Pulkingham. Now the journalist who first broke that story reveals the details of the scandal that rocked the charismatic and Christian community movements, and the Episcopal Church. Duin provides a fascinating portrait of the glorious days of the renewal and its sister movements within Catholic and Pentecostal churches".

You can find it here

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nine Characteristics of Happy Churches

By Thom S. Rainer

“Happy” is a nebulous term. It is usually understood better than defined. So I know I am taking a risk when I used such a subjective word.

Please allow me to explain. For almost twenty years, I served as a consultant to churches in the United States and Canada. After working with hundreds of churches, I saw several patterns develop. One of those patterns correlated directly with the happiness of the church. I was able to discern happiness by the interviews with members and staff, with diagnostic tools we used, and with a grasp of the histories of the churches, particularly in the area of church conflict.

Recently I reviewed the files of 17 of the happiest churches where I consulted. As is typical in consultations, patterns emerged. In the case of these churches, I found nine common characteristics among the congregations. In each case, the characteristic seemed to contribute to the overall happiness of the churches.

1.      The pastor was a strong leader, but not an autocratic leader. He was able to maintain that healthy balance of providing clarity of vision without imposing his will on every decision.
2.      The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the congregation. In both his actions and his words, the pastor communicated clearly that he loved the members of the church. And he loved them regardless of their apparent feelings toward him, though most of the members genuinely loved the pastor as well.
3.      The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the community where the church was located. Though he could not be omnipresent, the pastor made it a point to be involved in many of the affairs of the community. He genuinely loved people in the community and viewed the entire area as his mission field.
4.      The ministry staff liked each other, and they worked well together. If there are tensions among the staff, they cannot be hidden from the congregation. But if the staff is unified and banter in fun with one another, the members feed off that joy and unity.
5.      A high proportion of the membership was actively involved in ministry. When church members are doing the work of ministry, they have a sense of fulfillment and joy. When they aren’t, they often have extra time on their hands to be divisive.
6.      Business meetings (i.e., vestry) were brief and friendly. These meetings were rarely a time of infighting and complaining. To the contrary, most of the members were too busy doing ministry to be negative (see #5).
7.      A high proportion of the members were in a small group or Sunday school class. Community grew in these small groups. People who are true members of a community tend to be happier people.
8.      The pastor’s time in the Word was protected. It is easy for a pastor to yield his time in the Word for the tyranny of the urgent. Thus he becomes frustrated, as he has to rush to complete a sermon, or as he does not have sufficient time to do the sermon well. The members likewise become frustrated because they don’t feel like the pastor is feeding them. A happy church makes certain that the pastor has adequate time every week to be in the Word.
9.      The pastor had a small informal or formal group to whom he was accountable. This group includes those members who clearly love the pastor. They offer both encouragement and accountability for him. The interchange between this group and the pastor is frank, transparent and, overall, healthy. And all communications take place on an unmistakable foundation of love.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Caption Contest

During my recent trip to Uganda my fellow traveler, the Rev. Dan Morgan, rector of All Saints' Anglican Church Woodbridge VA, snapped this photo from the window of our bus while travelling back to Kampala from Uganda Christian University in Mukono.  I thought it would make a great Caption Contest for the clergy of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.  So we held the contest during January.  We had eight entries.  

First Place - "Archbishop Robert Duncan moves Provincial Offices to Colorado."

Second Place - "I know the Archbishop is worried about the provincial budget, but…"

Third Place - "Maybe that incense has a higher purpose after all."
Congratulations to the Rev. David Trautman who sent in both the winner and the third place entries and to second place entrant, the Rev. Canon Mary Maggard Hays.  David wins a $15.00 gift certificate to the Sharp Edge