Monday, February 25, 2013

Charge to the Market Square Church

"Long and Slow"             

My wife, Kris, and I have three boys; Kyle is 24, Michael is 21 and Eric is 13. On a Tuesday evening this past September, Kris and I were driving to Eric’s eighth grade back-to-school night. Kris said to me, “This is our 35th back-to-school night.” I said, “What!?” Kris answered, “This is our 35th back to school night. We have never missed a back to school night. If you count all three boys this is the 35th." Only a Mom could possibly remember and calculate such a thing.
My friends, how long does it take to raise a child? How long does it take to form a Christian? How long does it take to build a church? How long does it take to create a more just society? How long does it take to bring peace?
My charge to you, the congregation and friends of the Market Square Presbyterian Church, is to continue the long and slow journey of faith you have been on since 1794. Continue this long and slow journey of faith. These words “long and slow” are important. I am borrowing them from a classic book: Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Eugene Peterson is a Presbyterian minister, now retired and a prolific author writing in the area of biblical spirituality and Christian formation. I never met Peterson; Tom did during their days together long ago in Baltimore. Peterson’s book “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” is an old book that has become a classic for pastors and church leaders. The book is a beautifully written reflection of biblical spirituality for ministry today. The outline of the book is taken from the fifteen Psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120 to 134. This collection of Psalms are all pilgrimage Psalms, probably originally used by the Hebrew people as part of their daily prayers while they were making pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. Peterson develops this image of pilgrimage for us, for our Christian journey in the Church. The task of ministry today, the task of being the church today is a long and slow task. This to me seems to be a vitally important word as you turn the page to a new chapter and begin a new relationship with a new pastor. The task ahead of you should be a long and slow journey together which builds each one’s individual life in Christ, which builds up slowly and authentically a new pastoral relationship and which continues your long journey building the church. I might add, of course, that this long and slow journey should also continue your abundant and generous participation in the ministry of our presbytery.   
I am not going to develop it now, but it would a fruitful discussion to consider the many ways that this Christian commitment to long and slow is deeply counter-cultural today. Our culture is obsessed with speed, what Peterson calls “today’s passion for the immediate and the casual.” In the face of all of that, I am asking you to be long and slow together, building up one another, building up the church, and slowly ushering in a more just world. Thanks be to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

            Mark J. Englund-Krieger
            Tom Sweet Installation Service
Market Square Church

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: Rendle. Journey in the Wilderness

Purposeful Relationships

Book Review: Gil Rendle. Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for the Mainline Churches. Abingdon Press, 2010. (Available for Kindle).

This quote is the first paragraph of Rendle’s reflection on the mainline churches today:

“People no longer join congregations because they want relationships or because they want to “belong.” As far as relationships that serve as social friendships, increasingly people already have as many as their time and lifestyle allow. Rather than simply seeking social relationships for which there is less room in a harried contemporary lifestyle, people now come to congregations because they want a purposeful relationship with others who are seeking a purpose and meaning in response to the questions they feel in their lives. For many the function of relationships in congregations has now shifted from being only social to being also purposeful. This shift that removes the congregation from its position as a central institution that provides friendships out of which members then shape a personal identity is difficult news to many congregations, which continue to think of their only strength as being warm and friendly relationship providers.”

I believe the simple idea presented here is stunning if we ponder what Rendle is truly saying. How many of our churches are still motivated by the desire to be friendly and attractive while not truly being about a “purposeful relationship” with Christ?

What is the purpose of your congregation? Is that clear when people walk in the door? Is your congregation excited about that purpose? These are hard questions. These are difficult questions. But the answers to these questions may define whether or not your congregation will survive this wilderness time.