Missional Renaissance

This article provides a little introduction, by way of examples, to a term called “Missional Renaissance.” Its the commitment of many churches across the country to bring the mission of church – holistic discipleship, relationship with God and others, and a focus on the kingdom – to communities in non-traditional ways. Mission spills out from inside church walls into communities in the form of new mindsets for ministry (we go out to find people instead of waiting for them to come to us), new financial priorities (we don’t build a new large building but spend a surplus on direct minsitry and alleviating poverty), and various commitments to embracing creative and new ways to “be church” that invite and welcome new and ‘unchurched’ people.

I love that this is being called a ‘renaissance’ – acknowleding that throughout history, God has always moved in churches in ways that brought renewal, reform, and fresh life. Indeed, the history of evangelicalism itself is based on this “always renewing, always reforming” concept, the “protestant principle” that, at its best, points the church to staying open and listening for how God would have us embody and obey in our own time and space. This kind of renewal is not calling us to always be novel or different, as the marketplace encourages or how variety that veils consumerism can demand. This kind of renewal is calling us back to our roots, to our story of God working through the community of the church and to listen to where God might be growing the church and we need to respond and steward where the Spirit is already active.

It is good for me to remember that God always grows and moves the church – not our strivings – although we get to be a part of it!

The Church, Creation Care and Porn

The Evangelical Covenant Church recently held its Annual Meeting (in June), a gathering where delegates from member churches around the country vote on all kinds of business – from departmental budgets to resolutions on various issues. Two groups that I am a part of crafted resolutions that were both voted on and accepted by the church at this year’s meeting – one on Creation Care from the Young Pietists, and one on Pornography from the Christian Action Comission. I realized that for all the time I have spent reading (and sometimes helping write) these resolutions, I haven’t yet shared them with too many other readers.

I’ve also been asked questions about the purpose and work of each of these groups – and why resolutions do anything at all anyway! So here is the short answer. The Young Pietists are a loosely organized bunch of Covenant people (in their 20’s and into all ages) who want to help renew the church through justice, encourage emerging leadership, and support holistic discipleship. The Covenant Action Commission (CAC) is the delegated body within the ECC whose constitutional task is to write resolutions on various social and congregational topics that represent the larger church’s understanding of that topic.

And why do these resolutions from these two groups matter, you may wonder? The short answer is that resolutions provide part of a theological conversation on a topic, in a fiercely communal setting. So when delegates gather at the Annual Meeting, resolutions provide the process for a gathered portion of the church to consider and discuss and be challenged by a topic of concern within their own body. Submitted resolutions are read outloud, discussed or debated if there is interest, and the larger church at least is exposed to an issue that is from a certain perspective and framed in a certain way. If it passes, the resolution goes on record as being what this gathering of the church affirmed as part of the conversation/answer for this topic. Other churches can look to the resolution for how to frame an issue, for the biblical background of an issue, and for resources and prayer/liturgical practices to use. A resolution is NOT binding ‘creedal’ information on what the church believes in all times and all places on a topic, however. It’s offered to further inform, encourage, guide, and resource the larger church. Resolutions from the CAC do carry a great deal of importance in the sense that they are offered from the ‘official’ body within the ECC. The CAC is intentionally a theologically diverse group who works to represent the diversity and unity of the wider church, while using the Covenant’s history and developing narrative to shape future resolutions. CAC resolutions are also presented to several bodies for editing and consideration before they are voted on at the Annual Meeting each year as well – the Board of Administrators, the Executive Board, and the ministerium (I think?) all vote on resolutions before the delegate do.

Sometimes the wisdom and resources in various resolutions are slow to make it on the radar of local churches. So here is a little shout-out to encourage anyone interested to check out the language and theology that was carefully crafted in both of these resolutions, and to further the conversation (or have your own) in your congregation/context. Also, the Christian Century wrote an article about the Creation Care resolution, which has proven to be a very timely issue of interest lately (Sojourner’s whole June isssue was on this topic, and ESA and others have recently been in the news on creation issue as well). While of course we make mistakes, I am very proud that the Covenant, in these various forms, intentionally contributes to the theological conversation through resolutions on various topics because I believe that we as the church have a lot to offer to the conversation. Jump in!      

The Body of Christ

The body of Christ, broken for you…

I have not served communion very many times. I was recently ordained and have not been in a ‘traditional’ pastoral role for much of my ministry service. My first Sunday morning helping administer the elements to a congregation of people I’ve gotten to know and have started to love had a profound effect on me. I stood at the front of the sanctuary with another member of the pastoral staff, holding a silver plate bearing a hearty half-loaf of inviting, crusty bread. I started off saying the words to each person as he or she came forward with a smile, almost a chirp, saying words I knew I was supposed to say, doing what I knew was supposed to happen as we serve Christ’s body and blood to congregants as they file forward. People left their pews and approached me, tearing off a small bit of that inviting bread that I was offering to them. Somehow, that tearing, that violent wrenching of the bread started to mean something different to me as a server then it had when I myself had received the bread/body. I was the one who had to keep saying those awful words. Over and over and over. They kept getting louder in my ears.

The body of Christ, broken for you…

The body of Christ, broken for you…

The body of Christ, BROKEN for you…

The body of Christ, broken

I didn’t want to keep saying those words. As tears welled up in my eyes, I tried to focus on just saying it for one person at a time… telling myself to just get through those awful words one more time. Then something else interesting happened. I started focusing on each face, smile, glance, and personal story that came forward to me in a new way. I was somehow able to serve this human being Christ’s body. I was somehow in the priestly role of offering the body of Christ to Cheryl, to Sue, to Tom, and to Dave. I lowered the plate for an old man who I didn’t know, whose wobbly legs barely moved him forward with the help of his cane. I smiled as a colleague came forward and I served her by name. I noticed how some people said “thank you,” some “amen,” some avoided my eyes and seemed embarrassed, some looked directly at me. Now the cadence of my repeated words changed. I heard a different meaning, a different volume on my own words.  

The body of Christ, broken for you

The body of Christ, broken for you

The body of Christ, broken for YOU,

and you and you and you,

Suddenly my fight against the tears seemed overwhelming. I felt this love and care well up inside of me for these people that I was learning how to serve and minister to. Even the people I wasn’t sure how to relate to, the people who took more of my energy, the ones who seemed ‘against’ my role at the church. These people, these very embodied, specific, messy, and beautiful individuals were who God died for. Not a perfect community that existed in my mind, or some ideal of a congregation in a textbook – but Brad, Cinda, and Erika.     

The body of Christ, broken for you…

The body of Christ, broken for you

The body of Christ, broken for you

The BODY of Christ, broken for you

And here it hit me. We are the body – we break the body – we become the body. Each of us in our singular being are the embodied presence of Christ. During communion, when we remember Christ’s body, we remember the body that broke and tore and was feasted on by whips, chains, and thorns. We break that body ourselves, through our forgetting, our brokenness, our selfishness and greed, our sinful pride and arrogant ignorance. We break the body, we break the bread.

Then, somehow through God’s grace, we become the body. We re-member the torn members, the broken pieces, the forgetful choices of our lives. We speak truth into chaos, purpose into the void, hope into fear. We confess and look to the cross and claim that broken but raised, whole body as our own. Then together, as a body, we may become whole, satiate each other’s needs and hungers, serve one another through our faith and through our deeds. We remember the body so that we may become the body for each other; for the world.

And we need to remember. Again. And again.

The body of Christ, broken for you. Amen.