Posts Tagged ‘parish’

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


Prayer List

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

Incarnation maintains a list of names of persons to pray for; we ask God to heal them of physical, mental, or other problems.

There are always twenty or thirty names on the list. Some names are removed when the persons feel better; others are removed when the persons die. Some people with chronic conditions are on the list for years; others only for a week or two.

While the majority of persons whom we pray for are not parishioners but relatives or friends of parishioners, we all feel a relationship with the names we hear. They make our prayers personal; we are reminded that our faith has a tangible effect in the world we live in. We sometimes silently add names of persons known to us in need of healing.

Whatever the affliction, prayer comforts. As Jesus said, by our faith, we are healed.–J. Douglas Ousley

 


Civil Conversation

Monday, September 17th, 2018

At our Men’s Group meeting last week, the goal of the evening was to look for ways to have a conversation about politics without acrimony or ill-feeling.

We followed guidelines from a web site set up to promote such conversation; it’s called Better Angels. We especially focussed on listening to each other and were careful to speak in emotionally neutral terms when possible. This worked well in Incarnation’s Broad Church tradition.

In the end, many different opinions were expressed while the general good feeling of the group was preserved. I think we all agreed that sharing our views without venting was cathartic. It might even have helped us to broaden our views.

Would that our political leaders could do the same. —J. Douglas Ousley


Going Through the Motions

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

Going through the motions.

That is, after all, what clergy do much of their time. They have church rituals, of course, but also routine meetings and receptions and lunches and dinners, and never-ending paperwork.

Most of us like the routine, even though it can feel burdensome. Paperwork is generally predictable, while pastoral crises aren’t.

Holy Week especially asks us to go through the motions. For eight days, from Palm Sunday through Easter, we do almost exactly the same things we did last year. Sermons will be new, but the rituals will be generally the same.

I recall a friend who had retired from the rectorship of a busy parish saying that what he missed most from his previous life was the “dailiness.” I also appreciate the routine and give thanks for it. —J. Douglas Ousley


Line Fishing

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

I’m not a fisherman, but I understand that there are two kinds of fishing: net fishing and line fishing.

According to the Dean of the General Theological Seminary, who recently gave a talk to a clergy group I’m a member of, our Episcopal Church does evangelism on the analogy of line fishing. That is, we don’t sweep in large quantities of converts as though we were fishing with a net. Instead, we hook people in, one-by-one.

This accords with my own experience of the church in Manhattan, where people come from such diverse backgrounds that you have to offer many different ways to introduce unbelievers to the way of Jesus Christ. Moreover, our denomination has a substantial intellectual and aesthetic component that has to be grasped over time, with each seeker proceeding at his or her own pace.

All this makes church growth come irregularly, in fits and starts. But it also means that new believers value what they have come to hold in their minds and hearts. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Book Challenge

Friday, February 2nd, 2018

Incarnation members have been challenged this Lent to read or re-read C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. This witty, clever, and spiritually wise book is one of Lewis’s most popular writings; it has sold millions of copies.

I have re-read and dipped into the book several times over the years. Returning to my copy recently, I was surprised to note from the flyleaf of the book that I first encountered the book when I was twelve years old! I believe it was a gift from a favorite uncle.

In any case, it is a testament to Lewis that the book still reads as fresh and as provocative as if I were opening it for the first time. There is an insight to ponder on virtually every page and yet it proceeds smoothly like the fiction it technically is.

Whether you are a member of Incarnation or not, think about reading The Screwtape Letters this Lent. —J. Douglas Ousley


Talking Points

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

At the Annual Meeting of the Parish on Sunday, I expressed a wish that the Church–specifically, our parish–could provide a safe place where Christians with strong conflicting opinions about politics might discuss their differences.

At least three parishioners have left Incarnation because they were uncomfortable with the liberal political stances of the national Episcopal Church. In each case, I urged them to stick around, assuring them that our parish includes conservatives as well as liberals. But they still felt they couldn’t remain at Incarnation.

As we see even North and South Koreans to be talking to each other, is it too much to hope that Episcopalian Christians could find enough in common that they could put their differences aside long enough to talk to each other? —J. Douglas Ousley


Where the Treasure Isn’t

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

This saying came to mind as I was attending the Annual Convention of the Diocese of New York last weekend. An underlying theme of the Convention was certainly treasure.

Or, rather, the lack of it. 33 of 200 parishes are unable to pay their full assessment (tax) to the diocese, so the diocese will have to dip into its endowment to balance its budget this year and next. Though the diocesan bureaucracy has not (yet) been cut back, many of its outreach programs are seeing reductions in their budgets.

Happily, Incarnation is blessed with a growing endowment, and results of the pledge drive for 2018 are encouraging. But we also will need to watch our pennies in the future. We’ll need more fund-raising efforts, more supporting members–more work, more commitment. And through it all, we will need to remember that the goal of all our efforts is to love and serve God and our neighbors.

Ultimately, that’s where our hearts should be. —J. Douglas Ousley


Stability

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Many monks in traditional orders make a vow of “stability.” They commit themselves to remaining in the same house at the same location into the indefinite future–very likely, for life.

The same commitment used to be implied in the case of diocesan bishops: once installed, they would remain in their dioceses until retirement. This is still generally the case, though some bishops move on to other dioceses or ministries.

I’ve been thinking about the value of stability as I prepare for life in our parish without our beloved organist of 24 years, Matthew Lewis. Matthew was constantly coming up with new pieces to perform and new musical ideas. A priest colleague of mine who has, like me, been in the same post for a long time recently remarked that stability in fact forces you to re-invent yourself. You can’t repeat sermons; you can’t coast until the next job.

The same is true for laypeople who choose to serve the same parish for a period of years. They learn to deal with all kinds of people and situations. They learn a lot about themselves. And, like me, they have much to be grateful for. —J. Douglas Ousley


Religion is Local

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

“I am not a believer, but I still go to services at the church around the corner from my apartment, the Church of the Incarnation, not far from where I’m walking now. A free show. A museum, practically, with work by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Something to do, and some people who know me. My son, Johnny, learned to play the stately and formidable Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ there.”

This quotation comes from a lovely new novel by Kathleen Rooney entitled, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. The novel was recommended to me by the Rev. Amanda Kucik, a former Associate Rector of Incarnation. (As an aside, I would mention that Amanda is now expecting her first child in Charlotte, North Carolina.)

Ms. Rooney’s character is not entirely positive in her comment on Incarnation, but the remark does give an indication of how people sometimes see our church: great art and music, formal liturgy–lots to see and hear. On the other hand, the idea that we are a “museum” isn’t entirely complimentary! We may hope that we aren’t just preserving relics of the past, and we will want to look forward to the future and to whatever ministry God is calling us to.

But still, Lillian Boxfish reminds us that we have a local presence to numerous people who are not on our membership rolls. We have a duty to preserve our building, to present the finest worship we can, and to be open to those who are walking by. —J. Douglas Ousley