Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Strengthen the weak knees

I hesitated to report about St. Benedict's for fear it would seem to others that I am boasting, as if I believed that the good things happening here were somehow due to my abilities. The truth is, I feel very much like a man who is merely holding the door for Jesus Christ, and watching Him work. Some of you need encouragement, and, furthermore, it is right to give glory to God. The myth that our churches cannot grow, or that they can attract only disgruntled Episcopalians (or other Canterbury Anglicans, for those of you outside the United States), or that everybody in them is past the age of-whatever age you may consider to be old-needs to be dispelled.

On Saturday September 5, Archbishop Mark Haverland arrived here in the Durham/Chapel Hill area. That afternoon I drove him to the home of a shut-in, an elderly man who was then Confirmed in his living room. The next morning the Archbishop Confirmed eleven more people, four children and seven adults. Of these seven adults, six are people who have been coming here only since after my arrival in March of this year, three of whom were Lutherans, one of whom had been unchurched. The unchurched man, who is thirty years old, was baptized by me only the prevuious Sunday, truly a convert in the strongest sense of the word. Counting some who were Confirmed that day, and others who have joined us, I count twelve people who are new members already since my arrival, and others in addition who are here more often than not, who seem ready to join officially fairly soon.

Preach the Gospel and mean it, and growth can happen in your church too. Also, do not apologize for being Anglican; rather show confidence in what has been handed down to you, and communicate that confidence.


Jack Miller said...

Glory to God for His Gospel going forth in Chapel Hill and surrounding environs. "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:17)

Fr. Hart, you have greatly encouraged my wife and me in our faith through this blog, so it is no surprise that these things are occurring in your location. God is faithful to His word. If it is boasting, it is boasting in our Lord and His cross, as that is is truly where the longings of the soul are met and where sin's misery ends and God's salvation begins. Thank yo for sharing this bit of joyous news.

Anonymous said...

"This is the Lord's doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes" Yes, He is faithful to His promise: when His Word and Gospel are faithfully proclaimed, the seed will spring forth in a bountiful harvest. May God bless you, Father, and your people.

Anonymous said...

"That afternoon I drove him to the home of a shut-in, an elderly man who was then Confirmed in his living room."

Rev Hart, I am surprised that a man of your standing, describes a human being as a 'shut-in', whatever that means!! And is it not enough to remember, 'where two or three are gathered...'
I lament....

Deacon Down Under said...

In an Anglican diaspora of fighting, disagreement and parallel eiposcopal structures, how wonderful and of God it is to read of people coming to Anglican Catholic Christianity motivated, prayerful and sure that this is the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the vehicle to take them to salvation.

I firmly believe that Anglican Catholics need to be mission focused, committed to the imperative of sharing the Gospel and bringing souls to Christ in His Church.

Focus on preaching. Focus on being the Good Samaritan. Focus on the Beautitudes. Focus on spiritual life that is embedded in sacrament and Word. If we can do that, I truly believe Anglicans can do great things for Christ.

poetreader said...

Indeed good news! A report like this (and I'm sure there could be many more) testifies to the will of God, in spite of our own foolishness, that His Gospel and His grace be brought to men. Praiese His Name!

Why does such a report need to be sullied by a ridiculous exercize in "Political correctness" and newspeak? Can we not exult that God (and His Church) cares about a single shut-in? -- (which is a term that simply means one who is unable to go out). What could be clearer or more compassionate? Were I to be "shut in" by my physical condition, I would be thrilled to be remembered in such a way. CW, I am far more shocked and surprised at your reaction than you purport to be at this good news.


Anonymous said...

Not to take anything away from Fr's Harts stellar ministry in Chapel Hill, but I strongly believe that there are quite a few parishes of the Continuum which are quietly thriving and actually growing. There is a myth which we ourselves perpetuate, that the typical CC congregation is 2 old maids and a cat, with a crazy priest meeting in a dingy rented room. That is just not the case.

In today's mobile society, where people come and go, if a parish maintains a constant membership of 50 for a long period of time, then growth has happened.

In my own parish the attendance runs in the high 40's. That is out of a total membership of about 55. Most mainline churches do well to have 50% of their claimed membership as ASA. Our Continuum churches do far better than that, because we have a pretty high level of commitment in our laity.
(People who have left the comfortable pew and sacrificed to build a new church tend to be that way.) Does the word "devout" come to mind?

A few Sundays ago while on holiday I worshipped in another CC parish where I estimated the crowd at about 80 people. From the headcount and general atmosphere of the place, I could detect a truly dynamic parish.

Our congregations are not always elderly. In mine, we have four young couples with a a total of twelve kids running from 18 months to 11 years. Also a couple of teenagers, another young military couple, a couple of unattached yuppies under 30.

One of the strengths of our CC parishes is that we have, for all our mistakes, refused to buy into the secular, commercial, consumeristic, numbers-driven management philosophy of "church growth." That nonsense--the megachurch model--is rampant among all the neo-Anglicans I have knowledge of. For long term ministry, the CC model of the small parish going about the Lord's business faithfully, waiting for HIM to give the increase, seems far wiser.

Anonymous said...

Hope I am not violating any copyright laws or blogosphere rubrics by cutting and pasting of the following splendid paragraph. It comes from an essay entitled "The Nameless One" by Dr Carl Trueman of WTS Philadephia in the blog Reformation21. Here are Dr Trueman's wise words:

Finally, I worry that a movement built on megachurches, megaconferences, and megaleaders, does the church a disservice in one very important way that is often missed amid all the pizzazz and excitement: it creates the idea that church life is always going to be big, loud, and exhilarating and thus gives church members and ministerial candidates unrealistic expectations of the normal Christian life. In the real world, many, perhaps most, of us worship and work in churches of 100 people or less; life is not loud and exciting; big things do not happen every Sunday; budgets are incredibly tight and barely provide enough for a pastor's modest salary; each Lord's Day we go through the same routines of worship services, of hearing the gospel proclaimed, of taking the Lord's Supper, of teaching Sunday School; perhaps several times a year we do leaflet drops in the neighbourhood with very few results; at Christmas time we carol sing in the high street and hand out invitations to church and maybe two or three people actually come along as a result; but no matter -- we keep going, giving, and praying as we can; we try to be faithful in the little entrusted to us. It's boring, it's routine, and it's the same, year in, year out. Therefore, in a world where excitement, celebrity, and cultural power are the ideal, it is tempting amidst the circumstances of ordinary church life to forget that this, the routine of the ordinary, the boring, the plodding, is actually the norm for church life and has been so throughout most places for most of the history of the church; that mega-whatevers are the exception, not the rule; and that the church has survived throughout the ages not just - or even primarily - because of the high profile firework displays of the great and the good, but because of the day to day faithfulness of the mundane, anonymous, non-descript people who constitute most of the church, and who do the grunt work and the tedious jobs that need to be done. History does not generally record their names; but the likelihood is that you worship in a church which owes everything, humanly speaking, to such people.

Wish I had written that!

Justin said...

Wonderful advice, thank you!

As a layman, I think part of the problem is the emphasis on a HOMILY rather than PREACHING.

I am not sure where it comes from, be it seminary training or the pressures of serving a parish over the long term, but I have noticed a large deficiency in Episcopalian and Catholic sermonizing, becoming too homey, too comfortable, too psychological, too clever...

I believe that the job of the church sermon is to "preach Christ and Him crucified". When that is done, the church will grow, period. You are the first Anglican I have heard say that same thing. Why is that?

poetreader said...

Cheer up, Justin, such emphasis is not rare among us. I've both heard and said such things often, and the evidence of churches like Fr. Hart's and Fr. Wells' certainly bears out that there is honest preaching of the Gospel and honest reaching out to those who do not know Him.

A true homily IS preaching. Those found in the old Book of Homilies are certainly not folksy or shallow, nor, if I may be forgiven for speaking of my own work, are the ones I've been privileged to write for layreaders, nor for that matter is any of the preaching I've heard in my diocese. I'm sure we need to do better, but we Continuers are certainly trying our best.


Alice C. Linsley said...

If even the heavens proclaim His glory, why should we who are saved by His Blood do any less?

Christians spent the 20th century make excuses for Jesus Christ, accomodating the Gospel to the world, instead of bringing the world to Him. I loved reading this. It gives me hope that the 21st century may be different.

Anonymous said...

We are growing as well and those coming are from various Evangelical, Charismatic and Protestant churches.

They know the Bible and are committed to growing, becoming faithful Christians, or simply escaping the Mush god.

It is sad that Episcopalians prefer error to Truth and that the neo-Continuers only less to a degree, but that is their choice.

We are small but have robust giving, an endowment, property and looking at building plans.

God has been good to us!


David said...

Praise God! I rejoice with the Angels in heaven. You have touched me many times on this blog Father. I can only offer my thanks to God for you.

John A. Hollister said...

Fr. Hart is right to remind us of our institutional blessings. Two Sundays a month, I attend and celebrate one of two services at a parish where, between those two, there are usually about 15 present. Two Sundays a month I cover a parish where we are fortunate to have 7 at the service, when we do. Both of these parishes own their own buildings, by the way.

But tomorrow I am travelling to a mission in my home diocese for the ordination of a deacon to the priesthood. This is taking place at a mission which, two years ago, did not exist and which even now is meeting in borrowed quarters.

Two months ago, we had our diocesan synod, at which four men were ordained to the diaconate and two deacons to the priesthood. This synod was superbly organized and very competently hosted by a mission which, three years ago, did not exist.

So even when we feel we have slowed down in some places, we have great cause for rejoicing in others. Always the Church shows signs of life, if only our eyes are open to them.

John A. Hollister+