Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Drifting away

I have an idea that a neglected area of church life is ministry to those who once were part of us but are no longer. Naturally we get caught up with the people who come to church. But there are quite a few 'once were worshippers' out and about. Did they leave vowing never to come again? Was their departure a deliberative act of unbelief? Possibly. But probably it was a combination of things, perhaps none of which was significant in itself, with all combining to cause 'drifting away'.

Here is a note from a larger article in connection with North America:

"More Americans have given up their faith or changed religions because of a gradual spiritual drift than switched because of a disillusionment over their churches' policies, according to a new study released today which illustrates how personal spiritual attitudes are taking precedence over denominational traditions.

The survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is the first large-scale study of the reasons behind Americans switching their religious faith and found that more than half of people have done so at least once during their lifetime.

Almost three-quarters of Catholics and Protestants who are now unaffiliated with a religion said they had "just gradually drifted away" from their faith. And more than three-quarters of Catholics and half of Protestants currently not associated with a faith said that, over time, they stopped believing in their religion's teachings."

Hat-tip to Titus One Nine. The whole article in the Washington Post may be read here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Paring down

Yesterday I preached on John 20:19-end, with Acts 4:32-35 - readings for Easter 1. Recently I have begun (again) to write my sermon notes on computer - after years of writing them on the back of envelopes. When I went to save yesterday's sermon into my Sermon folder I noticed some sermons saved there from 2002. I thought it would be interesting to see what I had to say for Easter 1 in that year.

It was. I was horrified to see how complicated my sermon was: main points and sub-points. More a lecture than a sermon.

I think yesterday's sermon was a vast improvement in 2002. The difference was in 'paring down': aiming for as simple and as straightforward a sermon as possible, both in terms of structure and of content.

In the course of preparing my sermon I think I improved it hugely from first draft to final draft. The key to this improvement was greater attention to stories from the world around me. In a word I think I managed to come up with a simple, relevant message which engaged with the two readings for the day, and did so with greater competency than in 2002.

Of course you would have to ask the hearers whether my improved message was a good message!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why is Easter today and not another day?

Bosco Peters has a superb explanation here of the date of Easter, including why it varies from year to year, why it varies between Eastern and Western churches, and why it is different to the Jewish Passover.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday Reflection on Holy Week and Easter Services

It's my intention when I return to parish ministry, to ensure that there are services every day of Holy Week. Not all Anglican parishes do this - and there is not necessarily a strong tradition of such in a 'low' diocese such as Nelson Diocese. (On hearsay, a few parishes have had daily services during this past week).

Incidentally, alarmingly, some parishes are not offering a Maundy Thursday commemoration of the last supper (in some form or another). The bare Anglican minimum for Holy Week is Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, then, of course, Easter Sunday services.

Why might one take on such extra services? One reason is that the gospels themselves devote a large portion of their accounts to the last week of Jesus' pre-resurrection life. All four gospels are alike in this regard. With daily services we can journey together with the aid of the gospels through this significant week.

I have a theory that such services need not be a huge amount of extra work.

Daily services, Monday - Wednesday, need not have a sermon. Even Thursday evening could be sermon free, though I would work on some manner of enabling good reflection time by the congregation (that is, Monday to Wednesday services, during the working week, might be short, say, 5.15 pm- 5.45 pm, or 7.00am or pm-7.30 am or pm; but Thursday evening offers the possibility of a longer format). If it comes to that Good Friday services (whether of the family friendly kind or of the quiet reflective type) do not require a sermon but could work with readings, prayers, and reflection sourced from a resource already published. A service on Holy Saturday could be a simple service of readings and prayers anticipating the great celebration the next morning rather than a 'full Vigil' (i.e. with many readings, fire, and eucharist).

It can be different, and I have experienced the difference! On two successive Maundy Thursday's, for instance, I took part in logistically demanding services. The first was a service full of candles, special music, etc, which involved a large amount of time and energy in preparation, and left the main organisers somewhat exhausted for the remainder of Easter. The next year a 'Passover Meal' approach was taken. (Very nice it was too). Wonderful as such events are, and worth doing when people resources are available, they should not put off a new commitment to daily services through Holy Week since a simple, bare programme of services is possible.

In my mind, also, in this day when few parishes offer evening services, I am reminded that the evening of Easter Day is also an important time in our calendar: Jesus celebrated his first Bible Study and Communion following his resurrection (Luke 24)!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What is the gospel?

I am not going to give an answer here!

But I think this question should be asked every time we prepare a sermon. Indeed, we should ask it every time we prepare a service.

The answer we give to the question may vary around a central core (see the way the four gospels are different yet similar, centred on Jesus) but it should guide our preparation in such a way that what we present through preaching and worship leading renews confidence in the gospel in each member of the congregation.

Have a fruitful Holy Week!