Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Magdalene-St. Louis and the Role of a Cathedral

Yesterday evening, Celeste Smith and I sat around a table with a wonderful group of people committed to bringing the Magdalene model of ministry that has worked so well in Nashville to St. Louis.

As you might know by now, Magdalene is a two-year residential program for women who have faced lives of abuse, prostitution and addiction. The results have been unheard of. 2 1/2 years out of the program, 78% of the women are still clean and sober ... and these are women who have been seriously heroin and crack addicted. That is a recovery rate the most expensive inpatient treatment centers can't touch ... even with people who aren't dealing with having been survivors of child sexual abuse, which almost all of the women in Magdalene are.

I first learned about Magdalene when I met Becca Stevens at a conference in 1998. When I was the Episcopal Campus Missioner at Washington University, I used to take groups of students down there for fall break. I said then and I say now that this ministry is the closest thing to the Kingdom of God I have ever seen. It is extravagant love incarnate. It is community without outcasts. It is women who are willing to acknowledge their brokenness and find healing deep inside them and in the arms of one another.

And it works. The tagline of Magdalene and their social enterprise Thistle Farms is absolutely true:

Love Heals Every Body.

So what is my role sitting at that table last night? It has everything to do with what the historic role of a Cathedral is ... and what the future life of Christ Church Cathedral can be.

The church is an institution, and as such even though we are meant to be an alternative community, we tend to mimic other institutions in society. That's why for most of the 20th century the mainline denominations behaved much like corporations. We had large central offices and bureaucratic structures with top-down, command-and-control power structures. We had different, churchier names for it, but individual churches were deemed successful using the same metrics as corporations used -- market share, market penetration, profit and successful branded product.

So a successful church was one with a glorious building, a large staff, high attendance ... particularly with families with children ... big budget, and lots of programs and ministries that it created and sustained all by itself. Things we could point to and say "My church does this."

And none of this was bad. And much of it was good. And wonderful things happened. Great programs and ministries were born. Great buildings were built and we held huge national meetings in convention centers as big as airline hangars.

But the world is changing, and the buildings and structures that once were a sign of our success are increasingly pianos strapped to our back. We know this from our own financial struggles of late. And so, as the global economy begins to sag under the pressure of more than a century of runaway consumption, we have an opportunity to reach back to our best past to find God's dream for our best future.

Historically, cathedrals were not just centers of one congregation or even one denomination. They were centers of entire communities or even regions. Cathedrals were where people came together. Where great ideas were discussed. Where connections where made. Where ministry and mission was born.

That past is an intruiging and exciting possible future for us. If ministry means programs that are solely generated and sustained by us, using only our money, our staff, our people, our resources ... than the ceiling for what we can accomplish is fairly low.

But if ministry means being a catalyst for the Gospel. If ministry means doing on a wider scale what we do at the Eucharist ... gathering people around the presence of Christ, be it in a person or an idea, or even a problem or a question ... lead people in giving their lives to that work of healing and then sending this new creation out into the world. Well ... we can do that over and over and over again.

Like the Eucharist, that is a well that never runs dry.

The benefits of this view of ministry are enormous. Not only are we not creating new programs that we are solely responsible for sustaining, in bringing diverse people together around a sacred vision, we are literally being what Paul tells us we are supposed to be -- ambassadors of Christ gifted with the ministry of reconciliation.

Magdalene-St. Louis is in many ways an early trial balloon of this possible future. Instead of me saying "I think this is a great program and we at Christ Church Cathedral are going to make this happen," we invited Becca and two Magdalene graduates to come here last August, put them together in three different gatherings with diverse groups of people not just from the Cathedral or even the diocese but from all over St. Louis ... and we just waited to see if the Holy Spirit was going to make something happen.

And she did.

In the past six months since Becca, Katrina and Sheila were here, 30 people have gone on immersion trips to Nashville, we are setting up a board and a 501(c)3, have a good bead on our first house, have more than $10,000 in initial pledges and donations and have more than 70 people expressing interest in being actively involved in this work. The group includes not only people from Christ Church Cathedral (it does ... several!), but people from EIGHT other area episcopal churches, the U.S. Circuit Attorney from St. Louis, a municipal court judge, and the President of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen as well as social workers, college students, nonprofit leaders and pastors and laypeople from other non-Episcopal congregations.

My role sitting at that table is not to be the executive director of Magdalene St. Louis. I already have a job and I really love the one I have! My role is -- with the help of wonderful people like Celeste Smith -- the same role I have standing at the Eucharistic table or sitting at the Chapter table. To gather people around the presence of Christ ... in this case in this amazing possibility for healing ministry ... encourage us all to give our lives to is and ask questions like "what do you notice?" "what does this look like here?" and "what does this mean for us?" ... and then be a part of all of us going out into the world to make it happen ... and then together with you all to be on the lookout for the next thing that looks like the Kingdom of God that we can gather the community around.

... and see what happens!

Why is this important for Christ Church Cathedral?
First, Magdalene St. Louis is important because it is about the mission of the church, which is the ministry of healing ... of reconciling all people to God and each other in Christ. It is no accident that Jesus hung out with prostitutes ... they were and remain on the lowest rung of the discarded in society. As followers of Jesus, it is our place to be with them as agents of love and healing. That is why this is important for us as Christians. And so as Christians at Christ Church Cathedral, it is important because it will be another opportunity for us to live our faith in a powerful way.

But as a Cathedral, Magdalene St. Louis is important because it is a chance for us to try out this new/old way of doing mission and ministry. Of being a catalyst and incubator. Of being a force for reconciliation in bringing diverse elements of St. Louis together for greater purposes. It's important because it's a step toward Christ Church Cathedral becoming known for more than just a beautiful building, welcoming people, heavenly music and a few strong social justice ministries but as a heart for mission and ministry that draws all St. Louis together so amazing things can happen.

What do you think?
What do you think about this concept of being a catalyst for ministry? What excites you about it? What confuses you? What makes you anxious? Do you think it's an appropriate role for the Cathedral or a church? Why or why not? What do you think God's best dream for Christ Church Cathedral as a force for mission and ministry might be?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Listening to God in Scripture - A Lenten Guide

In my sermon last Sunday, I invited us to embrace this Lent as a season of listening in three ways:

*Listening to God in scripture.
*Listening to God in each other.
*Listening to God in prayer.

As a way of listening to God in scripture, I invited everyone to take up the practice of regular -- if not daily -- Bible reading. To pick one book of the Bible and to read it slowly throughout Lent and listen for God's voice in your life and in our life together.

I also said that I would provide some basic resources for choosing a book and some suggestions about how to go about trying out this discipline.

So here they are. I've put together a 3-pager called "Listening to God in Scripture: A Lenten Guide." Just click here to download the pdf. It deals with:

*Choosing a book of the Bible to read
*How much to read? When to read? Where to read?
*How do I read scripture? Is it just like reading any other book?
*Some suggestions on commentaries as companions for Bible study.

I hope you find this helpful. And all of the clergy and members of the discipleship group (those who have taken Basic Discipleship and have continued on with supporting one another in growing in Christ through prayer, worship, study, service and giving ... Ronnie Smith, Susan Adams, Penny James, Patty Mayfield, Jane Mayfield, Roy Garcia, Mike Kyzer, Miriam Jenkins, Fred Peterson, Mary Seager, Alex Weymann) would also be happy to share their experiences with you and help you get started.

Why is this important for Christ Church Cathedral?
We exist as a church to follow Jesus and to center our lives on him. As Episcopalians, scripture is the primary source we look to for Christ's dreams for us to be revealed. As we enter into the process of discerning our shared, core values (which is another way of saying "this is what we believe Christ dreams for us to be about."), it is important that we listen to the voice of God in scripture so that the values and agenda at our core are our best attempts to listen to God and not just our own desires. But more than that, this week's Gospel reminds us ... the road with Jesus is the road of saving our lives.

What do you think?
What are your experiences of reading scripture. If you have chosen a book to read during Lent, what is it? What have you found helpful? What has been a struggle. Share so we can be doing this together!

Monday, February 27, 2012

When People Leave

Tom Archer asked this question in a comment:

"I would like to know what is being done when members of Christ Church Cathedral leave our church community. Do you know why they left? Is something being done to help them return."

 Great comment, Tom. And a great issue to talk about. Three truths apply.

Truth #1 - People leave churches. Every church.

Truth #2 -  When people leave churches it can be painful - both for the ones leaving and the ones left.

This truth is actually a good thing. It shows that churches are communities where we can be ourselves and where we can allow ourselves to forge meaningful relationships with one another. If it weren't painful to leave, it means we aren't doing a very good job of being the Body of Christ. But because it's painful ... and because we really love having people in our community ... we really don't like it when people leave. It's upsetting when people leave. We wish we could stop it, which is why it's important to remember...

Truth #3 - See Truth #1.

I don't say this to be flip at all. I also don't say this as a way of throwing up our hands and saying "well ... what are you gonna do!" But to note that even though it is human nature to get anxious and pained about people leaving, it is a very natural phenomenon.

There are lots of reasons that people leave -- even when you take moving out of town out of the equation. A professional counselor who has worked with lots of congregations tells me that a transition rate (people leaving and others joining) of upwards of 20 percent is common with a change of clergy in a congregation. Some of that is liking or not liking the new person. Some of that is not liking the new people that the new person has brought in. Some of that is not liking a new direction the congregation might be taking or new power dynamics that are emerging. Some of that is just taking advantage of a natural time of transition to look for something else.

I believe our charge as a Christian community is to be the best, healthiest, most mission-oriented followers of Jesus that we can. I believe that we need to have clearly articulated core values and a mission that is deeply rooted in the Gospel and also in the tradition of the Episcopal Church and Christ Church Cathedral and also in responding to the realities of the world around us.

It is just that work that your Chapter is engaging in right now (more on that in a subsequent post) and will be engaging the congregation, diocese and city in. Of together affirming who we believe Christ dreams for us to be and allowing Christ to shape us in that image.

That is the process to which we need to be true. If we stick to that. If we keep putting Christ at the center and try to do so with all humility, we're going to be fine. Then it really becomes a matter of people who want to be a part of the course we chart together will stick around (and, hopefully, that will be most everyone), and people who for whatever reason don't want to or don't feel called to, won't. And that's not to vilify people who leave, either. Sometimes people honestly feel that they really just need to be somewhere else ... and that's OK.

So to Tom's question.

What is being done when members of Christ Church Cathedral leave our church community.

What is happening is that the door is certainly left open for their return ... but also I or Amy or other clergy are not chasing them down and begging them to come back. That's not because we don't want them or aren't sad for their departure. It's because the pain of departure can be so acute that we can be tempted to depart from the honest community process of discerning God's call to the Church and instead try to be all things to all people to heal wounds and get people to stay instead of go. That's a recipe for chaos and not a recipe for a vibrant, mission-oriented, Christ-centered Church.

So part of what we do is we trust. We trust that those who leave are still in God's hands. My main concern that I express is that they are finding a community of faith somewhere. I have had people tell me they are leaving the Cathedral for St. John's or St. Barnabas ... and as much as I hate to see them go, part of me is glad because those are really great communities and it's easy for me to trust that they will land well.

Do you know why they left?

I try to. Ideally, Amy or I or chapter members would do exit interviews with everyone who leaves and I have been able to do a couple. But more often than not people just slip away and there isn't that moment to do that. I'd love ideas about how to gather that data, because I think it's important to know. I'd love to hear ideas about this ... and also it's important to note that clergy aren't the only ones who can get this information.

Is something being done to help them return?

Again, and I don't say this in a flippant way ... the door is open. I know many cases of people who have left and come back, and to a person they have been very warmly received. Also, I encourage people that if someone has drifted off and you miss them, by all means call them up and tell them that you miss them and that you wish they would come back. Ideally, people will be committed not to a member of the clergy but to the community of faith ... so really it's the community that has primary responsibility for reaching out. But I would also urge you to do that in a way that not only expresses our pain at their absence but also honors that they really need to be able to make their own choice about where God is calling them.

One of the good things about being the Cathedral is that even if people leave for another Episcopal congregation, we are still the Cathedral and so there is a way they will always be able to call us home.

Why is this important for Christ Church Cathedral?
Because transition is a big part of our life. People have left and are leaving and lots of people are coming. Both of those can cause anxiety ... particularly as we might want church to be a bulwark against change in a life that sometimes seems it has more change than we can handle. We need to talk about these things and it's OK to disagree. It's all a part of us trying to figure out how to follow the new commandment Jesus gave us: "love one another as I have loved you."

What do you think?
What do you think our community should do when people leave? What about when people move out of town .. should there be a process of an exit interview? An opportunity for leave-taking in a blessing on Sunday morning?  What are your thoughts?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Angela Davis and the Role of a Cathedral

This afternoon, as part of our partnership with the St. Louis Public Library, Christ Church Cathedral hosted Angela Davis for a talk and booksigning. Davis was the Library's 2012 Black History Month keynote speaker.

Our partnership with Central Library is an important one, not just because they are our neighbor across 13th street, but because we are partners in the great search for enlightenment. The library holds in its care the collected works of centuries of humanity ... words of every sort that are about our making sense of creation and creating deep beauty out of it. The Cathedral is a place where the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, is worshiped and adored... but also a place where that Word is sought in the words of people past and present. Sought in the form of lively - and hopefully prayerful and considered -- discussion among people of diverse ideas.

Angela Davis has never shied away from controversy. A former Black Panther who twice ran for president under the Communist Party banner, she has never worried about offending anyone. As I said in my introductory remarks this afternoon in welcoming people to Christ Church Cathedral,  hosting controversial speakers ... particularly those who make us look at ourselves and the world and confront us with the ways our actions are promoting injustice and oppression ... particularly those who confront us with how we might love the world more powerfully and justly and fully ... hosting those kind of speakers is at the heart of what a Cathedral should be. Because certainly the man hanging on the cross behind Ms. Davis this afternoon was not one who shied away from such controversy in his life. And, as we shared with the Sunday School children this morning during our field trip to the reredos, most of the other figures on there are holding the implements that were used to kill them because their faith was so threatening to the status quo.

I have strong personal opinions about many of the things about which Angela Davis spoke today. It is compelling and disturbing to me that we plan how many prisons to build by looking at third grade test scores. It is compelling and disturbing to me that we are incarcerating generations of young, black males while "white collar criminals" are left unprosecuted or get away with a slap on the wrist. It is compelling and disturbing to me that despite the great success of South Africa's truth & reconciliation commissions based on the principle of restorative justice, we continue to support a system of retributive "justice" in the prison industrial complex that is in no way related to our call to be agents of reconciliation and Christ's love.

But I also don't want Christ Church Cathedral to be a place that is about MY strong personal opinions. If that is to happen, then it is too easy for us to be a community that is divided by the lines of whether you agree or disagree with me. And so I have learned a lot from the Rev. Jim Cooper, rector of Trinity Wall Street, as he has tried to shape that congregation as being a "convener of conversations." Where compelling, disturbing, provacative and diverse views are brought up so together we can wrestle with them, pray with them and search for the presence of the living Word in them ... together.

This afternoon ... and two weeks ago when Rip Patton was here ... we had just such an event. I'll be posting links to some video clips from Angela's talk here shortly and I'd be interested in what you think. Faithful people can come to different conclusions about important things. The important thing is that we are letting ourselves be challenged, that we are searching for a wisdom beyond our own and not just seeking to have our preconceived notions buttressed. And most of all, that we do it together as the Body of Christ.

Why is this important for Christ Church Cathedral?
As a Cathedral, I believe we have a call to be a place where the people of St. Louis literally gather at the foot of the cross. There is no better or more important place for difficult and controversial ideas to be considered and discussed than at the foot of the cross. We need to build on that heritage we already have so that people know us as a place that seeks truth without fear. It is particularly important for us to welcome people like Angela Davis and Rip Patton because they represent voices that are present, important but often not heard in a society and church that is still dominated by majority white, monied voices. It is important because embracing our identity as a diverse community means that "black history" isn't something separate for one specific subset of people, but an important piece of all of our story.

What do you think?
What do you think of Angela Davis coming to Christ Church Cathedral? What do you think about my thoughts about the Cathedral as a place for convening conversations? If you were here and heard Ms. Davis or have heard her before, what do you think about her views about race, class and the prison-industrial complex?

Angela Davis speaks about the Occupy Movement and the important role of difference in it.

Angela Davis speaks about some of her family history about the value of education, particularly in black communities. 

Angela Davis speaks about how education is at the core of the struggle for freedom.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why a blog?

A fair question!

Lately, people have been coming to me with some questions and concerns. Things like:

"Why are you so interested in some program in Nashville about prostitutes ... what does that have to do with us?


"You seem to be spending a lot of time working on things outside the Cathedral."

or even

"What is it that you do all day?"

These are GREAT questions. And as I was telling our senior warden, Bob Schleipman, "sometimes I get so busy doing things that I forget to communicate about them."

So that's what this blog is. It's a chance for me regularly to just share what I'm up to. Because we are all working together as staff and Chapter (and with the congregation, diocese and even the city!) on building structures of shared leadership and discerning our shared core values that sharing will always include two things:

1) Why is this important for US as a vibrant congregation, a Cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri and a heart of mission, ministry and reconciliation for downtown St. Louis?

2) An invitation to use the comments section to continue the conversation.

I am calling this blog "Come Together" ... because that is our mission -- reconciliation. Paul says  in 2 Corinthians 5:

"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

That's what it's really all about. Coming together. Coming together as a diverse congregation, diocese and city. Coming together and seeing each other as new creations. Coming together to love one another and the world as Christ loves us.

Why is this important for Christ Church Cathedral?
Because communication is one of the biggest challenges of a diverse community. I don't want there to be any confusion or misinformation ... or at least as little as humanly possible. We're all in this together. None of us has special wisdom. But together, God's Spirit will lead us into our best future. This blog is a method of communication but also of starting and continuing conversations. Enjoy.

What do you think?
What do you think of the idea of this blog? Do you have specific questions or issues you'd like me to address?