Posts Tagged ‘institutional church’

Diversity at the Top

Monday, November 18th, 2019

Last week, I attended a luncheon where the speaker was the noted Vatican observer, Austen Ivereigh. Ivereigh has just published his second book on Pope Francis entitled, Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church.

One thing I have learned from the book is that the Pope has a habit of appointing his critics to senior positions in the Vatican. Although himself a liberal reformer, Francis apparently likes to hear arguments for traditionalist points of view. That may explain why turnover in the higher echelons of the church has recently been high–just today, for example, a senior financial official resigned.

Pope Francis’s practice of including diverse points of view at the senior level seems to me a good, if risky, strategy. I don’t see another way the polarized political camps can begin to work together. It would also seem to be a more tolerant and open way to run our own Episcopal Church hierarchies. —J. Douglas Ousley


A Beautiful Church

Monday, October 7th, 2019

Before and after the meeting of the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association meeting at Incarnation last Thursday, many people came up and said to me what a beautiful church we have. Similar comments were offered as we blessed pets in front of the church yesterday.

Incarnation members have heard this comment so frequently that we tend not to think much about them. Yet they are certainly true: we do have an spectacular collection of stained glass windows, sculptures, and wood carvings–all displayed in a neo-Gothic architectural gem.

We all appreciate our church, of course, and it is an amazing place to worship. Yet we should also remind ourselves how much the community around us also values one of the few landmark buildings in an increasingly developed area of the city.

It is perhaps not too much to say that Incarnation is a beacon of light and hope. Thanks be to God. —J. Douglas Ousley

 


Irreplaceable

Monday, July 15th, 2019

One of the unhappy things about parish life is losing people–the worst, of course, being losing church members through death.

Church officers are interchangeable; a vestry member or a rector retires and their successors can end up being more effective leaders than the ones they replaced.

But church members are unique and therefore are, strictly speaking, irreplaceable. New members arrive and occupy the pews, but they will never bring exactly the same qualities as those held by the departed persons.

Each one of us is a child of God. God sees us as we are, warts and all. May we appreciate this profound truth about our faith, and may we appreciate the unique personhood of our fellow children of God. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Best Kind of Publicity

Monday, July 1st, 2019

When it comes to religion, it’s hard to think of anything new. Christianity has been around for two thousand years; almost every form of ministry has been tried at one time or another.

But Incarnation’s Associate Rector has beaten the odds. She has invented a new form of ministry that just became the subject of a post on the Religious News Service. Once a week for half an hour, the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser stands on the church steps and offers blessings to passers-by. She always has people coming up to her for advice and prayer.

Besides being innovative, this takes guts! I have subbed for Adrian a few times when she was on vacation and I can attest that you are vulnerable to all kinds of stares and comments.

But Adrian has done this for four years, and she deserves all the credit she gets. What a great way to show the love of God to the world. —J. Douglas Ousley


Leadership in the Church of England

Monday, May 20th, 2019

I’m just back from a week in London and, as usual, I had many conversations with church people there.

And also, as usual, I heard many comments on the present Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London. Both leaders are relatively new in their positions. Both had secular careers before being ordained later in life. Both have Evangelical backgrounds.

And it must also be said that neither the Archbishop nor the Bishop come off in person as particularly attractive or exciting. Bureaucratic might be more accurate.

They don’t seem to have come up with stimulating new programs that would be likely to inspire the church. Nor have they impressed the high-powered businesspeople in the ancient City of London, where Incarnation’s sister parish is located.

While this is regrettable, the church will have both leaders in place for some years to come. All the more reason to pray that other, Spirit-filled persons will also be raised up to share the governance of our mother Church. —J. Douglas Ousley


Maximum Security

Monday, May 6th, 2019

Despite the title, this post is not about the Kentucky Derby result–a matter I leave to the equestrian experts.

We on the Vestry have had several discussions about security during our worship services. Yesterday, we reiterated our current procedures and discussed other options. The local police precinct knows our church and sends officers quickly if we call them.

Our main threat is not an active shooter but someone with mental problems who wishes to disrupt the service by yelling or walking around. This is a genuine concern in our city with increasing numbers of homeless persons–though the matter is also tricky, since we almost always have homeless or recently homeless persons worshiping with us peacefully and happily.

The challenge is to provide a place of prayer that is both welcoming and safe. That said, we live in a fallen world and we are unlikely to find maximum security this side of heaven. —J. Douglas Ousley


Confirming the Faith

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

As our latest Confirmation/Inquirers’ Class draws to a conclusion, I happily notice that once again we have a highly diverse group of adults eager to be confirmed at Episcopalians, to be received from the Roman Catholic Church, or to reaffirm their baptismal vows.

They range in age from the thirties to near-seventy. We have a psychiatrist and an architect and a martial arts instructor among other occupations. They come from very different religious backgrounds and from unique spiritual journeys.

But it is the latter quality that they have in common. For their spiritual journeys have led them to the Church of the Incarnation. They have all come to profess their decision to follow the same Savior.

Together, by the grace of God, they are taking their first steps on a new journey in Christ. —J. Douglas Ousley


Second Largest Church in the World

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

I had lunch yesterday with the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is located on Amsterdam Avenue near Columbia University. Known as “St. John the Unfinished” because parts of it have never been completed according to the original divine, it is reputed to be second in size only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Maintaining such a huge edifice (and many accompanying buildings, including a school) is a task I can’t even imagine.

Yet cathedrals have in general fared better than the local parish church. In the Church of England, attendance at cathedrals has been growing while regular congregations are declining. People seem to enjoy the relative anonymity of the large buildings and the stately, even mystical worship–often accompanied by excellent music. St. John the Divine on large festivals greets crowds of 3,000 people.

I like to think that Incarnation shares some of the attractions of cathedrals. It is larger than many, seating 800 persons. We have a fine choir and formal liturgy. People can be pretty anonymous unless they want to be part of the parish family. All the better to welcome strangers in Christ’s name. —J. Douglas Ousley


Pie in the Sky

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

At a Men’s Group meeting last week, we discussed the Christian belief in life after death.

I chose this topic because I had been surprised recently by parishioner skepticism about their immortality. Several regular churchgoers told me they were uncertain whether they would survive the dissolution of their bodies–even though this faith is an important part of traditional doctrine.

My guess is that this questioning stems largely from the apparent lack of scientific evidence for life after death. Skeptics may also question the apparent selfishness of belief in “pie in the sky after you die.”

My response is, first, that there is some evidence for immortality (the mystery of consciousness, near-death visions of heaven). Second, this hope is not selfish but rather the natural hope of men and women who believe in a loving and omnipotent God. Our God will not allow his people to perish.

There is much more to be said on this topic. What seems certain is that the church should be discussing it! —J. Douglas Ousley


The Richness of Faith

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

The Anglican Communion has inherited what we call the “Catholic” tradition of liturgy and sacraments. I was particularly struck by the depths of this tradition last week, when I was involved in a funeral, an ordination to the priesthood, several celebrations of the holy eucharist, and a wedding.

Our Episcopal Church offers all these forms of worship and more. And the Prayer Book also includes many forms of individual prayer, as well as personal sacraments such as private confession and anointing of the sick.

We also permit a wide variety of understandings of these liturgies. At the wedding, perhaps 100 out of the 150 persons present elected to receive communion. We invite all baptized persons to communicate because we have a broad definition of the meaning of holy communion, and we hope that as many people as possible will feel included.

The Catholic tradition. The richness of faith. The gifts of God for the people of God. —J. Douglas Ousley