Dear Trinity Friends in Faith,
I met a parishioner on Sunday at coffee hour. We talked about her teachers at school, her favorite class, art and what she likes best about coming to church. I suggested that one of my favorite parts of church was coffee hour. She agreed and then she added that she really liked communion. I told her I did too and asked her what she liked about taking communion. Getting up from the pew and kneeling next to her family and receiving bread, it gave her something to do with others and something to take with her.
Faith communities exist to fuel us, nourish us, for living out our lives in the world. We step away from our work and home to be renewed by the sacraments, community worship, fellowship and service to others. The focus of how we structure parish life, the programs we offer, the opportunities we design need to inspire us and strengthen us to step back into our daily life ready to practice the teachings and values that we receive from our tradition: to put our faith into action in the world we live in.
The Episcopal tradition defines prayer as “responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words (found in An Outline of the Faith located at the end of the Book of Common Prayer p.856). “I love the expansiveness of our definition of prayer. It invites us to practice our prayer life, our connection to God, in every aspect of our lives.
“Pray without ceasing” says the author of the letter to the Thessalonians. Take those words to heart, and we begin to see that they encourage us to incorporate moments of prayer in all we do.
As we face a decline in participation in the wider church, we need to ask ourselves how can the church stay relevant in a changing world? There are many elements contributing to this decline and chief among them, in my experience, is the church’s lack of focus on lay people. Clergy are less than 1 percent of the membership in the Episcopal Church. The church is not for the clergy, the clergy are for the people. A very few of us are called to ordination, and our work is to lead and preach and pastor, to create a well -oiled fueling station (parish community) that equips you to live as a person of faith at school, at work and at home.
The work of lay people in the world is as essential to God’s dreams for our world as the work of a priest at the altar. When a lawyer argues a case in a courtroom, and a parent comforts a child, and a postal worker greets the next in line, and a scientist works in a lab, and a teacher helps a student, this is sacred work. Work that must be sustained and nourished by a church that supports, honors, and teaches what baptism proclaims, that all people are called by God into lives of love and service.
Our lives are often too noisy, conflicted, worldly, and complicated to have the quality of what we imagine as prayer. And yet our lives are filled with prayer; prayer in actions, preaching by doing, patience in a moment of trial, stopping for a silent moment before speaking, closing the office door before a difficult meeting. Even when we are distracted and busy, sacred moments break through, the clarity to go in one direction and not another, an intuition we’re given, the awe we feel as we listen to music. God breaks in as a surge of creativity, a supply of patience, a kind word just when we need it. The desire to connect with God, to pray, is a seed planted within us by the Holy Spirit. We don’t plant it, God does. We water it. We foster its growth. And when we do, its branches begin to extend into everything we do, all day long, all week long.
Over the next three weeks (October 16, 23, 30) we will gather on Sunday mornings at 9 am in the parish hall between the 8 and 10 o’clock services to talk about how we find our connection to God and our faith in our daily life. We will also talk about how difficult it can be, and how so many of us struggle to feel connected to our faith in the work or tasks that fill our days.
I hope you will join me for the next 3 Sundays at the 9 am Forum in the parish hall when we will discuss how we might grow our connection with God as we live out the tasks of daily life. You Are Already Praying; Stories of God at Work is a book I wrote that lifts up the stories of lay people I have come to know from many different walks of life whose lives in the world are an inspiration. It will be the basis for our conversations and books are on their way for you to pick up a copy from the parish office. (Or you can order here.) But, please join us, whether or not you have time to read the book.