Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Prayer for Married Couples

O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness,that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace;through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

New York Says I do To Marriage Equality

Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born.

The marriage bill, whose fate was uncertain until moments before the vote, was approved 33 to 29 in a packed but hushed Senate chamber. Four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate who supported the measure after an intense and emotional campaign aimed at the handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes.

With his position still undeclared, Senator Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo who had sought office promising to oppose same-sex marriage, told his colleagues he had agonized for months before concluding he had been wrong.

“I apologize for those who feel offended,” Mr. Grisanti said, adding, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York, and those people who make this the great state that it is the same rights that I have with my wife.



Friday, June 17, 2011

"Still Very White”

“…Baptist leaders also believe that attracting more minorities would help reverse the decline. About 19 percent of their churches are African-American, Hispanic, Asian American or other minority congregations. “We’ve got a long way to go for more ethnic diversity,” Rainer said. “We are still a very white denomination….”

These comments as Southern Baptist leaders reflected on numbers indicating a decline in their denomination made me smile! Of the approximately 37,000 Southern Baptist churches, home to 16,136,044 members in the US, only 19% of their churches are minority congregations...I was green with envy!

While the membership statistics of the SBC do not reflect the diversity of the US population, they certainly do so better than our own Episcopal Church! This is true, despite the mantra we hold dear; “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You", and our insistence that we are an "inclusive" church. Figures reported on the 2008 Faith Communities Today Survey showed that a mere 8.5% of Episcopal parishes were predominantly minority; 5% African American, 1.5 % Native American, 1.4% Latino, and 1.5 % Pacific Islander. There are many historical and practical reasons for this, I am sure! There are also patterns we must overcome as we approach church planting and evangelism if we are to be the more than a church for white retirees!.

Consider this from our own diocesan experience; the diocese of Florida has been in existence since 1838, which is 171 years, and in that time, has a handful of primarily African American congregations, a Hispanic congregation which came fully formed into the diocese from another denomination and a mission planted by Diocese. The Southern Baptists, by contrast have, just in the Duval county area, at least 10 Hispanic churches and several stable missions. The Baptist outreach to Latinos in Jacksonville began in 1960 when less than 0.5% of the population of the city was Hispanic. Our diocese had no Spanish language services, no missions or prayer groups active in any of its churches in 2008! That is almost 50 years later, even as the number of Latinos mushroomed in the county and region. One has to wonder how that happens!

In the three years since coming into the diocese of Florida as part of its first Latino ministry, there have been Spanish language ministries planted by Southern Baptists in at least 4 other locations in the area served by the diocese of Florida; in St Augustine, Neptune Beach, and just around the corner from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church! They use space provided by larger Anglo congregations, share pastors and lay leaders, alternate service times and are beginning to show promise! We in contrast, despite willingness among the Latino clergy and vocal support from diocesan leaders, have managed to plant one mission with hopes for more at some undefined point in the future.

Sadly, that seems to be the norm in many dioceses of the Episcopal Church! We have a distinguished history, beautiful liturgy and music,theological roomyness and despite the economic crises, no lack of funds! Yet we find ourselves static, unprepared, uncertain, and frozen even as our neighborhoods change, members age, and people of other colors and languages show up at our doors to an uncertain welcome! What is it about us Episcopalians? Even as we say our doors are open to all, we seem to make little effort to reach them and appear to be locked into inaction as opportunities for mission pass us by! We are inspired and intent on helping people of different colors and languages who live far away, even as those same people live next door to our parishes and are becoming more the face of the neighborhoods we serve.

“Still very white”…what an honest statement from a community of faith that has shown a willingness to reach the unchurched and, been pioneers in ministry to Latinos and other minorities! We definitely should take it to heart, reflect seriously on our evangelism priorities, and with prayer and concrete actions make the changes and difficult choices that make welcome and diversity more than words in our diocese and the Episcopal Church!



Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Give to all that ask…Really?

I must say I am having a crisis of sorts after events in the past four weeks. I am questioning a longstanding precept in my walk of faith. It is found in the words of Jesus; "...give to all who ask...". Even as I try to follow the gospel imperative to take care of the poor, to give to those in need and to not turn away from those who ask for help, my faith is put to the test!

Consider the case of a single mother of 5, none of the dads are involved. She is on welfare and Medicaid and recovering from…..cosmetic surgery! Perhaps, the unemployed father of two children who tearfully asks, not for a handout but for a short term loan so he can get to a nearby state and a job, … as he has been doing repeatedly for about a year! The disabled “veteran” who shows up at the doorsteps of the parish office, by coincidence, on Memorial Day, with the story of being discharged from the hospital with no money, no care , no follow up, and of course was robbed and has no source of income! Or the homeless guy who curses at your car when you offer to buy him the food his sign says he will work for, instead of giving him the cash he requests! Let’s not forget about the needy couple with kids, showing up at church for benevolence after they blew their paychecks on a weekend getaway, or the nice lady in the Lexus who comes to the free clinic with the 3 u’s; unmarried, unemployed and uninsured!

It really touches your heart, but after a while you come to realize it is merely heartburn and not any kind of spiritual or laudable sensation. Did God really intend for us to believe and always respond kindly to these kinds of con?

After years of service as a priest, a volunteer at free clinics and of caring for people with limited means, it is disheartening that these types of stories are not all that rare. Sadly, I am much more likely to be a little skeptical of these narratives, and the folks telling them, than when I was a starry eyed youngster! Back then, I was certain that all people needed was love, an affirming smile and a hand to help them get through a rough time! Helping the poor, the friendless and needy is a gospel imperative, being a perpetual enabler of the irresponsible or the gullible prey of con artists …not so much!

The parish I serve is rich on generosity from people who live on very fixed incomes, some who make under minimum wage, have multiple jobs and still struggle monthly to make ends meet. Even so they give of their time, treasure and talent to serve God and help others. It hardly seems fair, godly or good stewardship to be careless with their gifts and offerings. It is with people’s faith, their precious time, their very hard earned money that we play when we extend our charity lightly to those who would take advantage of others.

Perhaps St. Paul’s admonition should be part of the spiritual directives we consult when faced with a request for aid from a less than credible source, “if anyone is unwilling to work, let them not eat…”! I once heard a conservative Baptist politician make similar Bible references and cringe at entertaining similar thoughts but, alas...I can not help but think it merits prayerful consideration!

May God give us love, patience and wise discernment as we strive to love God, neighbor and give to those who ask.