Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday and Earth Day

Today is both Good Friday and Earth Day. While my religious sentiments leave me believing that it would have been better to postpone Earth Day a week, secular folks would no doubt point out that it is not Earth Day that is a movable festival. And it does seem appropriate in some ways that the two are connected.

Some of us would like to point out that we are doing to the Earth what others once did to the Son of Man, Jesus of Nazareth, namely, we are crucifying it. Dean Morton, the former Dean of St. John the Divine, who shocked a whole generation of pious Christians by placing a female figure on a Crucifix, suggested once that his next feat would be to place a wolf on one. I do not know if he ever made good on this threat. Provocative as this may sound, he had a point.

The same passions that once led a jerrying mob and their paranoid leaders to put Jesus on a cross stand behind the catastrophic destruction of nature that is happening in our modern world, and this is selfishness. We cannot collectively save the rain forests, or the whales, or the water we drink, or the air we breathe because it would inconvenience many and cause others to lose money. We are frequently warned by sane and reasonable people that we should think of what radical environmental action would do to our Gross National Product. Like Pilot, we know what the right decision and just action must be, but for expediency, we surrender our planet over to mindless destruction. In this sense, the connection of the two days seems theological justifiable, but this is far enough down that road.

Unlike the events of Good Friday, the current crucifixion of the environment has a limited comparison. For example, there is no resurrection for the environment from our willfulness, neither does its death redeem anyone. Originally, the celebration of Earth Day was a naturalist or, as some would deridingly say, tree-hugger event. But of late, many mainline clergy have taken up the cause. Having been an Episcopal Priest for nearly 40 years, I am tempted to dismiss this as one more faddish attempt of upper-class religious types to find some purpose or cause relevant to our world. God knows they have long ago abandoned the idea that the original crucifixion has relevance. They now join Professor Bork in believing Jesus’ death (if it really happened) was a tragic accident that had no atonement significance except in the minds of his early deluded followers. On this point, however, I confess my jadedness. I have lived too long with my numerous high-church Universalists colleagues to take much of any of their new theological innovations too seriously.

I say let Good Friday, and Passover for that matter, stand alone. I would suggest to those who do care passionately about our Earth that the two religious events help us to understand why the polar ice cap is melting, polar bears are dying off, and plastic bottles are gathering in cataclysmic numbers in the oceans. The point is this, human beings are flawed and we are weak. Even when it is in our own best interests, we are too flawed to act. We are, in the truest biblical sense, sinners in need of redemption, and we are not able to save ourselves. Neither should we naively look to science to save us either.

The only answer, as classical Judaism and Christianity offer, is conversion. We do not need awareness and urging to take some simple steps to reduce our global footprint and practice being green. We need a moral revival and a corporate and communal change of heart. Christians can start by shouting that this is not our world and that the Earth does not belong to us. It is God’s, and we are but stewards whose vocation is to pass off a healthier and better world to our children’s children. To fail in our vocation corporately (my buying a hybrid is not enough) as stewards of this planet is open rebellion to God and God’s inevitable judgment will, and is, falling upon us. We need to see that our rebellion and selfishness causes the Earth to suffer even to the point of death. In other words, good intentions will not do what we need. The path to conversion begins in this area, as in all areas, on the road of repentance.

We need the passion story and we need it first or we will never be able to summon the communal will and the moral courage to alter the path that is leading us to immense suffering, pain and death, not just for the planet, but for us. You may not agree with me that this is God’s world, but I think you can agree with me that Earth does not “belong” to us, we belong to her, “this island earth our home.”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Acts of Love Campaign

As I have coached Congregational leaders about stewardship, a frequent question is; what about time and talents? I always give them a few pieces of advice:

1. Separated it from the financial appeal. This only diffuses the focus on financial stewardship. Financial support for congregations is difficult enough without diffusing the energy around three different things at one time.

2. Never offer an area of ministry that is not available or is screened by an uncooperative gatekeeper. When people fill out a sheet that contains the various ministries of the congregation, and they indicate an area of interest, that area needs to be available. For example, a smaller congregation list for time and talents lay reader. However, the church already has seven lay readers, and adding more lay readers will only mean less opportunity to read. This de-motivates the leader of the lay readers from adding the person.

3. Always follow up. This is closely related to the above. A common complaint from many people is that they volunteered for something and no one followed up. When a person experiences this, they are less likely to volunteer in the future.

In recent years, I've been challenged by the need to get people to sign up for areas of ministry. Like many of you, I have put announcements in the bulletin and in the newsletter with little or no response. Part of this can be explained by the high demand on people's volunteer time. Recently, I gained some new insights into the difficulty of recruiting people for ministry, especially younger people.

First, I was reminded that for those under 50 years of age, membership in an organization is not a destination. In the book titles “Bowling Alone” the sociologist author contends that many more people are participating in activities but refusing to join organizations.

Second, the younger people are, the more they want to make a difference, a hands on difference.

The combination of these two insights led me to create for the Cathedral The Acts of Love Campaign. Here are the steps I followed in creating and executing this campaign:

1. I ask all my leaders to develop a one sentence description of what a person does in their area of ministry. (It was amazing to see that some leaders were not able to do this.)We prioritized the list to one page. This allowed for 15 to 20 items.

2. We balanced these between internal ministries (benefiting current members) and external ministries (reaching those outside the congregation.)

3. We communicated the purpose of the acts of love campaign based on the theology of tithing; giving 10% of one's time and talents.

4. To the left of each item listed, we had one box that indicated an interest in a new area of ministry, and a second box that indicated continuing in an area of ministry.

5. I set a goal of having 25 to 50 new commitments. We created a thermometer of new commitments and continuing commitments to place in the entrance to our parish hall.

6. We mailed the sheet to everyone in the congregation along with a reminder sheet that they could keep for their own benefit.

7. We followed this for one month reminding people to make their commitments, providing additional sheets to those who needed them, and placing sheets at the front and side entrance to the Cathedral.

8. We had a staff member follow-up all new commitments by communicating to the leader of that area of ministry the contact information on those who had indicated an interest.

9. We followed up with leaders to be sure that they had contacted the person and invited them to participate.

The next time I do this campaign, I intend to incorporate short testimonies from volunteers in various areas into our Sunday liturgy. I also plan to track these commitments, particularly the new commitments, to see which areas of ministry are of most interest, and which are not. I hope by doing this to find out something about our people’s passions. As of today we have had 114 new commitments and 116 continuing commitments. Amazing!