Mid-Week Lenten Services

On the east side of Columbus, OH, a group of churches and pastors have formed the East Side Fellowship Ministry. The group consists of two Lutheran churches, an Episcopal church, a Presbyterian church, a Disciples of Christ church, a Methodist church, and the OSU chaplaincy. The churches are all African American city churches, which was culture shock for me when I was first assigned to Hope Lutheran church for my Ministry in Context.

One of the most prominent ministries for the ESFM is mid-week Lenten services. Each week, the service is held at a different church. The host pastor does not preach, instead inviting one of the other pastors to do so. That means that over six weeks, I was privileged to hear six very different sermons on what it means to love our neighbor. I witnessed altar calls, dancing (by the one preaching, no less), gospel choirs, and a VERY high church Episcopal Eucharist.

There were times when traditions flat-out clashed. The Lutherans cringed every time a sermon picked up works-righteousness (and boy, some of them actually relied on it). More than a few people were put off by the elaborate ceremony and ritual of the Episcopalian Ash Wednesday Eucharist. No one dared step forward themselves or send anyone else up during the altar calls. It was no secret that certain people deliberately chose not to show up to certain churches.

Seeing these pastors and churches gather, however, was an experience. Eucharist was shared twice during the season–once at the beginning and once at the end. While some of us had “oops” moments when we realized we’d eaten the bread too early or what have you, my observation was that most people shared it. Look back at the list of churches in the ESFM. Some of them don’t have full communion agreements with each other.

Full communion agreements matter on a regional/national/international level. But what effect do they have at the local level? The churches of the ESFM weren’t going to let church politics (some of which are quite beneficial) interfere with their mission and ministry in this part of Columbus, where crime and poverty are everyday norms. The Good Samaritan text was preached more than once this Lent, and the message was taken to heart. In the grand scheme of things, what matters is not who we agree with, but who is in need. These churches come together to take care of the people in their area. They are motivated by love of neighbor. Doctrinal differences are not about to hold them back from caring for their community.

Pastor Bob from Hope Lutheran Church was one who preached on the Good Samaritan. He asked, “Who are we in the story?” We like to think we are the Samaritan. We are afraid that we are the priest or the Levite or the robbers. Some times we even feel like the man beaten and left on the road. But, he said, no one ever thinks about the innkeeper, the one charged with the long term care of the beaten man. Maybe it’s time to start being innkeepers for our neighbors.

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Friend Blogs

I’ve added a new section of links to the blog. A number of my friends have their own blogs, which I thought I would plug:

Journeys with Jordan: authored by Jordan Trumble, a friend of mine from Capital University who has been serving with the Episcopal Service Corp.

over the water: authored by Rosalind Hughes, a Bexley Hall student. Many of the posts are sermons she has preached.

this top of speculation: authored by Pilgrim, described as “mostly an examination of faith (mine) and the role of the church (especially the Episcopal Church) in the world.”

All of these are worthy reads. If you know of other blogs I should add to my list, send them to me!

I assure you, that all are authored by Episcopalians is a complete coincidence. Come on Lutherans, send me some blogs!

Lessons in Civil Discourse

To counter the previous “downer” post, I thought today I would share a more hopeful story.

Trinity Lutheran Seminary has a unique ecumenical relationship. While it is joined with the Methodist Theological School (“Methesco”), the Pontifical College Josephinum, and Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary in the Theological Consortium of Greater Columbus, it is its relationship with Bexley Hall that has opened the door to some amazing ecumenical opportunities.

TLS and Bexley Hall share more than just an interest in working together academically. We share our professors, our classes, our worship, our buildings, our campus, and our community; two seminaries, one community. I have had the privilege to experience regular (and diverse) Anglican worship, classes, and of course, the famous hospitality of Common Meal at Bexley House every Thursday night.

Classes with my Anglican brothers and sisters has given me the chance to engage in some pretty intense debates. Too often, debates among Christians deteriorate until both sides resort to shouting their party lines at each other, as if by being LOUDER they will make themselves more CORRECT. But it doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) this way.

One of my classmates and I can almost always be counted on to take opposite sides in a debate. Some of these debates have been over the involvement of laity in worship, the historic episcopate, “Called to Common Mission” (the full communion agreement between the ELCA and the ECUSA), inclusive language, Bible translations, and I’m sure a number of others that I cannot remember. Most recently, I disagreed with an author because of his views of Protestant Theology, while he agreed with the author for the same reason.

In some Christian circles, these disagreements would probably lead to shouting matches, mutual disdain, scheming, conniving, conspiracies, and sabotage. Yet we have managed to find a way to speak civilly with one another in our disagreements (with the occasional impassioned outburst to keep things interesting), and we try to see the issue from the other’s point of view. I admit that he is so good at forming his arguments that I often find myself bested in these debates, even when I bring the Book of Concord along to help me out. Another day, perhaps, another day! Best of all, the disagreements don’t affect our social interactions. Work is work, not-work is not-worth fighting over.

The wider catholic (universal) church could learn a lot from the relationship TLS and Bexley Hall (and their community) have. We live out the full communion agreement between our two traditions every day. It is an enlightening experiment 13 years running, and with God’s luck, will be an example to other Christians for at least that many to come.