Friday, May 25, 2007

Christian Churches Together -- New Leader

Here is the announcement of the recent appointment of Richard Hamm, former General Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as Executive Director.


May 18, 2007

Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT) announces the appointment of the Rev. Dr Richard L. Hamm to the position of Executive Administrator. Following a national search, the Steering Committee, meeting in Chicago on May 15-16, took the unanimous decision to appoint Hamm to CCT’s first full time staff position.
Welcoming the appointment, the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer for the Orthodox Church in America and one of five CCT Presidents, noted that it was his conviction that “Dick Hamm brings to Christian Churches Together in the USA deep Christian faith, theological and spiritual grounding, leadership experience at the national level, sensitivity to the concerns of congregations and local Christian communities, and a wide range of ecumenical contacts and relationships. We are fortunate to have him!”
Dr Hamm is Founding Partner and President of The Columbia Partnership, an organization that provides coaching and consulting training and services; he previously served as General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ in the US and Canada) for ten years. According to Kishkovsky, Hamm brings “significant contributions in quality and substance to the position of Executive Administrator. He is a thoughtful man with deep theological and spiritual resources. He is able to be deeply rooted spiritually while at the same time handling administrative details and addressing organizational challenges.”

The Rev Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, CCT President and Moderator of the Steering Committee, noted that Hamm “was involved with CCT during its formative time and was one who understood the necessity of deepening fellowship between leaders of Christian ‘families’ who, in many cases, had little previous relationship with one another, and that common action and witness would grow from that foundation. [Hamm] understands the features of CCT’s emerging organizational culture that make us unique and that will build a sustainable future.”
“I have always been drawn to the vision of the various parts of the church of Jesus Christ in the United States seeking common ground and working together in all ways possible,” Hamm affirmed. “We must seek every opportunity to manifest the unity that is ours in Christ if we are to have a significant impact on this culture and nation.” He called CCT an “appropriately postmodern model, with its focus on networking, consensus building and action. The prospect of helping to shape and grow such a post-modern organization for the sake of common witness and mission is truly exciting!”
Hamm will assume the post August 1.

Officially organized in 2006, Christian Churches Together is composed of 36 churches and national organizations, representative of the diversity of US Christian families, who are committed to meeting together for fellowship and worship and to working together on issues crucial to Christian witness in the USA. CCT held its 2007 annual meeting in Pasadena, CA with a focus on evangelism (see Its 2008 meeting (January 8 – 11) in Washington DC will strengthen and expand efforts to overcome poverty in the United States (see CCT’s Statement on Poverty on the website).
Contact: Rev Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, 616-698-7071 or 616-648-2931

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Real Life Evangelism Series

Martha Grace Reese, author of Unbinding the Gospel (Chalice Press, 2007) announces the upcoming (January 2008) release of two additional components to what is now titled the Real Life Evangelism Series. If you click here you will find the PDF announcement.
From the announcement we learn:

The Real Life Evangelism Series is an integrated set of resources. It is grounded in a four-year, Lilly Endowment study of superb evangelism that included 1200+ interviews, 50 site visits, and a major survey of congregations doing the best job reaching unchurched people. The Series has sparked a transformation in understanding, thinking, habits and practices of prayer and evangelism in churches of all sizes, cultural and geographic settings, and theological understandings.

The next two books are entitled:
  • Unbinding the Heart, a six week study for church members.
  • Unbinding Your Heart: 40 Days of Prayer and Faith Sharing is a six-week version of Unbinding the Gospel, with the addition of 40 days of individual prayer exercises coordinated with each chapter. It will enrich your church’s community life. It will help individuals risk face to Face encounters with God. Your entire congregation will begin to talk about their faith. The E-vent creates consensus and momentum in your church!

  • The third piece in this series is designed for clergy and is entitled: Unbinding your Church: Steps & Sermons for Pastors. This piece provides support to the previous two books by providing tools and resources to pastors committed to sharing faith that is transforming.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Unbinding the Gospel

Mainline Protestant Churches have struggled with the whole issue of evangelism -- in part because of an unnecessary linking of evangelism with high pressure efforts. Martha Grace Reese, a Disciples of Christ pastor and consultant on evangelism has written an excellent new book called Unbinding the Gospel, published in late 2006 by Chalice Press.
A review of the book can be found at Ponderings on a Faith Journey, the blog of Pastor Bob Cornwall, editor of Sharing the Practice. Click here to read the review.

A Prayer for One to Go With Us in Ministry

From The Merton Institute for Contemplative Living weekly meditation.

"Teach me to go to the country beyond words and beyond names. Teach me to pray on this side of the frontier, here where these woods are.

I need to be led by you. I need my heart to be moved by you. I need my soul to be made clean by your prayer. I need my will to be made strong by you. I need the world to be saved and changed by you. I need you for all those who suffer, who are in prison, in danger, in sorrow. I need you for all the crazy people. I need your healing hand to work always in my life. I need you to make me, as you made your Son, a healer, a comforter, a savior. I need you to name the dead. I need you to help the dying cross their particular rivers. I need you for myself whether I live or die. I need to be your monk and your son. It is necessary. Amen."

Thomas Merton. A Search for Solitude. Journals, volume 4. Lawrence S. Cunningham, editor. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996: 46-47

Thought to Remember

"Show us your Christ, Lady, after this our exile, yes, but show Him to us also now, show Him to us here, while we are still wanderers."

Thomas Merton. The Seven Storey Mountain. New York: Harcourt, Brace: 130.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What Would You Preach?


WWYP ... that is, "What Would You Preach?"

Many of you know that my father-in-law has been serving a church in South Carolina for the past six years or so. He resigned as pastor of the church when he hit the Big Double O on 4-23-07. His last sermon was on 4-22-07 when he was 99 years and 364 days old. When he finished the worship service, he handed out printed copies of his sermon to the congregation.

I will tell you later what the text and title of his sermon was, but this leads me to think, and I know it has been done before with the pulpiteers of the recent past: What would one preach for one's "last" sermon? What text, what topic would be chosen? What would you say, at 100 years old and after a ministry of 73 years?

Dr. Joe is not through preaching. He is simply not going to serve a church as it's pastor. He is still doing Bible studies and prayer meetings, and is busy being the unofficial chaplain of the retirement center where he lives, visiting folks and praying for them, and giving recognition to their birthdays and anniversaries, etc. He will preach on occasion as a pulpit supply. BTW, he writes all new sermons when he preaches. He does not has a barrel, since he threw all his sermons away many years ago, and does not keep his sermons as such (the "better ones" are printed up and given away) as people ask for them.

Rev. Dr. David W. Nash, FAPC
Pastor, PCUSA (retired)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Fracture -- A Movie Review

by Darryl Zoller, FAPC

On the Friday that FRACTURE opened at area theatres. I went to see it because I like mysteries and Anthony Hopkins is in this one. His acting is almost always worth watching.

At a continuing education event a presenter said that pastors should read more mysteries. Why? Often pastors live in a bubble where it is church all the time and have fewer encounters with the world and its evils. Reading mysteries reminds us of the reality of good and evil and the constant battle between them. Of course, reading the daily newspaper can provide this, too!

Enter FRACTURE, a film that presents mysteries, riddles, enigmas, and some entertaining dark humor. Anthony Hopkins plays Ted Crawford who is married to a beautiful trophy wife who is having an torrid affair with a police detective Rob Nunnally, played by David Strathairn. Crawford knows of the affair and shoots his wife, sending her into a coma. Nunnally responds to the scene of the crime, only to find out that the mystery woman he was having an affair with is Crawford's wife. Crawford freely admits doing the deed. Crawford is promptly arrested, booked, charged, and then the fun begins as he traps a cocky Assistant District Attorney Willy Beachum, played by Willy Beachum, into prosecuting him for a crime that seems easy to win ... or so it seems at first.

So, the twists and turns are engaging, Hopkins is at his best form, and the humor is dark. I was able to see the surprise ending coming as you may, but, hey, it's worth it just to see Hopkins's Cheshire cat grin and minute facial changes that communicate so much more than mere words can. Even the few words Hopkins is scripted fit the man he portrays.

Hopkins may be getting too old for parts where he has a young wife. Gosling, who looks like he is a teenager, appeared too young for his part. Strathairn looks like he belongs in the pages of GQ but his acting passed my believability test. Don't miss Billy Burke who plays the District Attorney. I like his acting and found his part added some color to the main plot.

Every crime has a flaw, a fracture, that allows it to be solved and justice to reign. Go see FRACTURE. I give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

Darryl C. Zoller,
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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Teaching and Learning -- Thoughts by Anthony Robinson

Anthony B. Robinson's book What's Theology Got to Do with It? (Alban, 2006) was named as one of the Academy of Parish Clergy's Ten Best Books published in 2006. In this week's Alban Weekly newsletter, a selection from that book is found.
Entitled "Pastor as Teacher, Congregation as Learning Community," this article lays out the importance of the teaching role of the pastor and the importance of the congregation being a learning community. This is especially true today, living as we do in a pluralistic culture, where we can no longer depend on the culture to inculcate the values and teachings of the faith.
Here is a snippet, but read the whole piece:

While pastors and congregations must make choices among the array of possible priorities before them, my argument is not so much that the pastoral role of teacher and theologian and the congregational one of a teaching and learning community are to be preferred to others. Rather, my argument is that such an understanding gives order and coherence to the many functions and activities of clergy and congregations. We are in the business, or so it seems to me, of teaching and embodying a way of life, a particular way of being human in relationship to God. In all that we do, both as religious leaders and as congregations, we teach. Sometimes the lessons we teach are not consistent with the faith and values we profess, but right or wrong, faithful or derelict, we teach, we model, we form, and we inform.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Virginia Tech Idiocy and Theodicy -- Roger Imhoff, APC

By The Rev. Roger G. Imhoff, Jr.

A Virginia Tech student’s despicable actions on April 16 has left over 30 people dead, prompting many questions. How could it have been stopped? Do we need better gun laws? Should we not work harder to create a non-violent world? Is evil based on the given of humanity’s free well? Can we forgive?

However, this tragedy made me reflect on the question of THEODICY, which one dictionary defines as “a vindication of divine justice in allowing evil to exist.” Another calls this “God’ permissive will.”

Years ago in CREED OR CHAOS, Roman Catholic mystery writer Dorothy Sayers asked why the evils of her day such as wars, persecutions, cruelties, Hitlerism and Bolshevism, were not stopped by an all-good, all-powerful God> her response to someone’s question as to why God didn’t smite a certain dictator dead, was “Madam, why did God not strike you dumb before you uttered that baseless, unkind slander yesterday?” Why was I allowed to act with such cruel lack of consideration to my well-meaning friend? Why, sir, did God not cause your hand to rot off at the wrist before you signed your name to that dirty little bit of financial trickery? People do not mean to do these things? Then why do them? To suggest that our own misdeeds are less repellent because our opportunities for doing damage are less spectacular than those of others, and seem too trivial for God to bother about, does not let us off the hook. Why does God not sometimes feel like wiping us all out tomorrow?”

My interpretation of Sayers’ thoughts is that we need to repent for wrong actions no matter how seemingly insignificant, and as we witness someone else committing some terrible evil, we might have the honesty to say, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

I don’t have all the answers. It seems to me that some things evil and some things good have mysterious origins. As to God’s role, I think that Rabbi Harold Kushner’s thesis in WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE was that even God cannot prevent some tragedies, though God weeps with us as they occur. Therefore, perhaps one response to the Virginia Tech tragedy is to wing our prayers toward that place, and to support people affected by death, injury or loss. Scripture reminds us “to weep with those who weep.” We can empathize with those who mourn, those in pain, those who wrestle with deep anger, and those struggling to find some redemptive meaning in what has happened.

To continue to work for justice and confront evil as best we can is obvious. However, it seems to me that evil will probably continue to raise its ugly head till the end of time. Further, unless we are given to a Manichean philosophy which says that we, alone, as children of the light and that all others are not, we might realize that each of us has the ability to do both good and evil things. No wonder POGO once said, “we have met the enemy and it is us.”

Beyond utilizing some responses already mentioned, perhaps our deepest response can be to affirm Easter’s message that our God goes with us and all victims through the valley of the shadow of death. Also, we might confess something that many of us say most Sabbath weekends: “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” May such Divine mercy embrace us and all people at this hour.

Retired Lutheran pastor Roger G. Imhoff, Jr., APC, is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, which worships each week with Christ Church, Episcopal, Sheffield, Mass., at 8am and 10am. This was originally written for the Berkshire Record.

The Critical Importance of Leadership -- by Rev. Dr. Fred Lehr, APC

This article appeared in the March 2007 issue of Sharing the Practice, 30 (Spring 2007): 9-10. It was noticed that an important section was accidentally removed during placement of the text. This is the full text as it should have appeared in that issue.

I want to bring a key issue into focus at a time of year when many judicatories anticipate holding annual or regular meetings that may choose new judicatory executives. I believe that the position of judicatory executive is the most important in the life of the Church today. If we have the wrong person in that office, then it is all the more difficult for parish clergy to effectively do their ministries in the face of all the pressures and problems that exist in congregations.

To get at my proposition, I want to cite a very simple piece of research that Loren Mead and I did some years ago. Loren put together four questions that we then asked judicatory executives to answer. The questions were:
  1. What three areas do you feel lay and clergy leaders would say are their most pressing concerns?
  2. What changes do you see in the pipeline for the churches that are likely to make life more difficult for professional church leaders?
  3. What changes do you see coming that seem hopeful for professional church leaders?
  4. What are your two or three most pressing personal concerns about your professional future and that of your judicatory?

This set of questions was sent to several hundred judicatory executives in a variety of denominations such as Lutheran (ELCA), United Methodist, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, and Episcopal. We received 52 responses to the four questions, thus yielding 297 individual statements.

Those 297 statements were then categorized into four groups as follows:

  1. Group one would be called “Interdependence” or the “I’m okay, you’re okay” category, meaning that there were signs of positive, respectful, and supportive interaction with honesty and closeness while maintaining healthy boundaries.
  2. Group two would be called “Hidden Codependence” or “I’m okay, you’re not okay” category with signs of dominance, control, and grandiosity on the part of the professional leadership who tries to rescue the laity from their mediocrity.
  3. Group three would be called “Hopelessness” or “I’m not okay, you’re not okay” category with depression, anger, and a sense of “nothing ever changes.”
  4. Group four would be called “Codependence” or “I’m not okay, you’re okay” category with submissive, martyr, and hero or suffering servant role for the professional leadership who sacrifices to meet the overwhelming demands of the parishioners.

Of the 297 statements, none (not even one) fell into the healthy category one grouping, “Interdependence”. There were 42 in the “Hidden Codependence” category. With 157 statements in the “Hopelessness” category and the remaining 98 statements were in the “Codependence” category. Thus, according to this simple piece of research, there were no judicatory executives out of the 52 who responded to our questions who believed that the Church had a healthy future!! A very large number (33%) supported the “Codependence” grouping capitulating to the notion that professional church leaders ought to be submissive martyrs for the desires of the congregation at the cost of their own health and well-being and that of their families. And the largest grouping of statements, 53%, identified the “Hopelessness” category as being present now and into the future. The remaining 14% envisioned the “Hidden Codependence” category now and/or into the future.

Here’s the scary outcome of this study: None of the judicatory executives who responded saw the present or future as hopeful and holding even the possibility that the Church might be a healthy and wholesome place to do ministry!! Every one of them had either capitulated to the pressures of a codependent system demanding the self-sacrifice of the local clergy for the demands of the congregation or saw the future either hopeless or in need of “Hidden Codependent” leadership (i.e. dominating and grandiose).

This is more than scary. This is dramatically sad.

What we need are judicatory executives who will assertively insist that congregations relate to the professional leadership in ways consistent with the “Interdependent” category; mutually respectful and trusting, open and honest, close without crossing boundaries. What we need are judicatory executives who have the skills to discern and diagnose the situation, make meaningful and effective interventions and not be afraid of the normal and healthy conflict that will naturally result.

More than good theologians and solid biblical scholars, we need judicatory executives who have the knowledge and skills to manage a pathological system, recognize its ills and be a critical facilitator of movement into healthy and caring interactions.

The “popularity contest” means of choosing these executives is not working. We need to examine their backgrounds, their practices of ministry, and their orientations more thoroughly before the selection process unfolds very far.

On the other hand, and perhaps even more dangerous, are those executives who are gooey-eyed optimists who refuse to see the burnout and codependence and who declare that everything is just fine and that folks like me are just choosing to see the glass half empty when it is really more than half full. These types, in their denial, are more troublesome than those who at least recognize the severity of the situation even if they are not prepared to handle it.

What we need are executives who know the synthesis that results from balancing optimism with some realistic pessimism, but without yielding to the pessimism or an exaggerated optimism. These are executives who know that balance and can function comfortably in it.

Let me suggest that we not busy ourselves blaming others. That will not move us forward. In fact, the executives serve under the very same pressures as do the parish clergy – and perhaps even more.

As our parishioners demand of us submission and denial of our well-being – even so do we burden our judicatory executives with the same demands? They are not rewarded for good self-care but rather for “duty above and beyond the call.” They are not praised for attending to their own needs and those of their family’s in a healthy balance with the duties of their ministries. They are not commended for being a role model of an appropriate practice of their calling so that we can fulfill our callings in that commendable shadow.

We are as much the problem as they are for we are participants in the process that puts them in their executive positions and establishes and perpetuates the pathologies that poison our Church.

A true example: recently the judicatory to which I belong (an ELCA synod) re-elected our bishop. Everyone knew going in that it would happen. That wasn’t the problem. The problem for me was how it happened. With the ecclesiastical ballot, the first ballot was a nominating ballot and no one was elected. If we got past the second ballot, then the top seven candidates would be allowed to make brief speeches before the third ballot. I had hoped that we would have that opportunity – not to unseat the incumbent, but to at least hear some varied opinions on the status of the synod and some ideas of what ought to be done. Instead, the mood of the assembly was to hurry and re-elect the current bishop on the second ballot so we could all go home early. So we could all go home early… No discussion about what was going right or what was going wrong in the synod. No effort was made to identify areas in need of improvement or to congratulate the current administration for specific work well done. Just get it over and go home; that was the prevailing attitude.

That’s us – all too often. We fail to venture into the fray with any ardor. We are reluctant to bring up delicate topics and call into accountability those who don’t want to be subject to such fair and open scrutiny. I’m not calling for obnoxious behavior, but proper and assertive action to lay open the wounds that need healing rather than ignore them to fester without care.

Instead, we can be voices that speak up and ask for full and open dialogue with our executives. We can be champions who support our executives when they dare to do the right thing, when they dare to challenge the codependence, when they have the audacity to envision a Church that is healthy and free of pathology – as idealistic as that may seem. Without a vision, it will not come to pass.

And God has provided us with a vision of God’s Church that we have abandoned. God set the example in the Incarnation. Our calling, our privilege is to be responsible to that calling. Our opportunity is to lay claim to the vision, to encourage and support our judicatory executives as they struggle against the pressures to instill that vision into the congregations, and to be agents of that vision in our own lives and ministries.

You can’t cure what you refuse to diagnose. You can’t cure what you refuse to envision as healing and wholeness.

What we need are judicatory executives who truly understand and are more than willing to champion the cause. What we need are clergy and laity who will demand that there be a healthy process to obtain such executives and then support them when they are so chosen.

I see the Academy of Parish Clergy as a fantastic presence within the Church to begin this transition. We are dedicated to a healthier Church. We lay claim to a better vision. And we desire to support each other in the struggle. We are a natural vanguard for the movement. What we need is the blessing and grace that God so freely gives us to be God’s people – even within the Church.

Dr. Fred Lehr, APC is author of Clergy Burnout: Recovering from the 70 Hour Work Week and Other Self-Defeating Practices (Augsburg Press, 2006)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Church Facing Transitional Moment

Suzanne Shafer-Coats passed on to me the story of Riverside Church in New York, which is starting the search process to replace retiring James Forbes.

The article, which is found in the New York Times, is quite interesting and may prove valuable to members of the Academy. I have given my thoughts on the matter on my own blog -- Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

Academy of Parish Clergy Book of the Year and Top Ten Books of 2006

Book of the Year
and Top Ten Books of 2006
Presented April 25, 2007 at APC’s Annual Conference, Princeton, NJ

The Book of the Year of 2006:

Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith, by Diana Butler Bass (HarperCollins Publishers, 2006).

The remaining Top Ten Books (in alphabetical order by author’s name):

Conspiracy and Imprisonment 1940-1945 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16), by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Fortress Press, 2006)

Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, by Marcus J. Borg, (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).

Gentle Shepherding: Pastoral Ethics and Leadership, by Joseph E. Bush Jr. (Chalice Press, 2006)

The Sense of Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, The Church, and the World, by Marva J. Dawn (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006)

What’s Theology Got To Do With It? Conviction, Vitality, and the Church, by Anthony B.Robinson, (Alban, 2006).

Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome, by Rodney Stark (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006)

Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, by Peter L. Steinke (Alban Institute, 2006)

God in Public: Four Ways American Christianity and Public Life Relate, by Mark G. Toulouse (Westminster/John Knox, 2006)Press)

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, by N. T. Wright (Harper SanFrancisco, 2006)

This year the Academy of Parish Clergy also honors Pentateuch (handwritten and illuminated by Donald Jackson), published by the Liturgical Press, as the first of seven volumes of the Saint John’s Bible produced by the Order of Saint Benedict, St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Sharing the Practice -- A New Blog

Sharing the Practice is the official journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. The Academy came into existence in 1968 to serve the parish clergy to support collegiality, continuing education, and excellence in ministry.

Sharing the Practice is a journal, edited by Robert Cornwall that provides articles written by pastors for pastors and book reviews of leading books. This blog will serve to support the work of the journal, providing updates, announcements, reviews, links, and more. This is only the beginning!

Bob Cornwall