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Life Together: The Diomass Intern Program

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

"what if..."

This past weekend I, and several other interns, attended the Diocese’s Spring Learning Event. This year’s event was sponsored by Episcopal Village, which is a network of people who are involved with the “emergent church” or “fresh expressions.” The whole day was devoted to different ways of imagining church. The Crossing hosted worship, and leaders from around the country came to lead “Missional Conversations” about different ways that innovation is happening in the Episcopal Church.

During the afternoon, I attended a conversation led by Thomas Brackett, the Episcopal Church’s “Program Officer for Church Planting and Redevelopment.” During the conversation, he asked the group several questions. He’s not the first to ask these questions, nor will he be the last. That doesn’t matter though, because they are important to hear again and again – because I think they begin to outline the fundamental basis of what it means to be a follower of the Jesus Way.

The first group of questions are a number of different ways to express the same question:

  • What if I truly believed that I was beloved?
  • What if the only approval I needed was the approval of the one that has always approved of me?
  • What if I didn’t need YOUR approval?

The second group began with the question: How do you smell the spirit at work? What then followed was a discussion about how we can begin to trust our sense of when God is on the move, and bring that both more deeply into congregations and out into the world.

I think what strikes me again and again about this kind of work is not how people in the fresh expressions movement are saying something new, but how they are saying something really old.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Growing Into the Sermon on the Mount

Submitted by Patrick Burrows on March 7, 2011

"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

--St. Matthew 6.34

When I was younger and was asked what kind of life I aspired to live, I would always point to the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel, also known as the Sermon on the Mount. I was completely steeped in the Bible as the guide for life, and in these chapters, I saw Jesus’ greatest teachings about what the “good life” consisted of. Turning the other cheek. Going the extra mile. Choosing the narrow gate. And even, cutting off your right hand if it caused you to sin. I have always had a highly (and if you ask my parents, overly) active imagination, and so, the imagery of these texts really gave me something to sink my teeth into.

As time has gone by, however, I find these messages less appealing. I still very much consider them to be the basis of Christian ethics, but I no longer look at them with the eyes of a child. It’s easy to say as a child to turn the other cheek to that kid in class who won’t share with you. It is an entirely different beast to suggest to adults that they should love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, especially those who are actively oppressed. Even more to say do not store up your treasures on earth, when consumerism is so rampant that it takes every ounce of self-control to maintain some sense of sanity in the weeks leading up to Christmas. As a child, not storing up treasures on earth was not a problem—my treasures consisted primarily in my Hot Wheels car collection. But now, even when most of my valued possessions can fit in my car, orienting my heart towards my true Treasure is an epic task in and of itself.

But Jesus continues to go on and on with a list of increasingly demanding ethical principles. This is not the Law of the Moses, with individual commandments that can be checked off a list. This Gospel is about metanoia—transformation—, a complete change of the way we interact with the world, moving from one form to another. Later in St. Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus claims that his “yoke is easy and [his] burden is light,” I can’t help but scoff.

But nothing is more infuriating to me than the last verse of chapter 6. The New International Version translates it as, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” When I was taking a huge course-load and was overly active in extracurriculars my junior year of high school, I had this verse written across the front of my notebooks for my two most intense classes. It was a comforting reminder to take things one day at a time and not to get overly worked up.

“I don’t see why that’s infuriating to you,” you might be thinking. The problem is, I’m an anxiety-prone person. Worrying is what I do. I can usually stave it off by getting ridiculously over-committed and not having time to breathe, much less to think about all the things that could be going horribly wrong all around me. But as I’ve gotten more settled into my site placement and grown into a routine that doesn’t occupy much conscious thought, my brain has time to wander and, inevitably, to start worrying. When I hear Jesus say, “Do not worry about your life,” my immediate reaction is, “Well, that’s easy for you to say. After all, you are God.” Theologians have often argued about whether or not Jesus gave up his omniscience in taking on human flesh, using all sorts of metaphysical arguments. At least from my point of view, for Jesus to have the sheer audacity to say these words, he couldn’t have known the limits of human understanding. Telling us not to worry is akin to telling a fish to learn how to breathe air.

But that is the Jesus I encounter here, a Jesus who pushes me away from the conceit that I have absolute control over my life. My worrying is an attempt to control everything by figuring it out, and is actually implicitly a denial of God’s control in the situation. And though I don’t think that God takes offense at that, by worrying about everything, I’m not making room for God to do something. Instead, I am attempting to micromanage grace, to bend it to my will, instead of letting it flow through me.

Jesus’ words “do not worry about tomorrow” used to be words of comfort, then words of angst. But now, I am beginning to see that they are liberating, if only I will trust that God will take better care of my life than I would. “Tomorrow will worry about itself.”

Monday, March 7, 2011

Agents of Opening

[Taken from a December 8th reflection by Nicholas Hayes for the Episcopal Chaplaincy newsletter]

These last two months I have been hard at work building a leadership team for Hope in Action at Harvard, the faith-based environmental and social justice campaign I am organizing on campus through the Chaplaincy as its Justice Minister. The work reached a new high point this past weekend, when six students and one Cambridge community member joined me to receive intensive training in leadership and community organizing from Leading Change, Marshall Ganz's community organizing training group at the Kennedy School. Over one and a half very intensive days, we formed a shared purpose, divided our roles, and began the difficult work of strategically planning a spring campaign, centered on interfaith coalition building for green justice in Cambridge.

Most meaningfully, however, we engaged in the work of sharing stories with each other, stories of why each of us was called to this work. Our stories had several common strands, but as I listened to them, what I heard emerging most clearly from all of my leadership team members was a desire--perhaps a vocation--to be agents of opening. We were a diverse group--from Episcopal, Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, Evangelical, and Humanist backgrounds--but all present came to the table holding a story of deep frustration with the religious--or in one case, atheist--communities they'd found around them (or found themselves within) earlier in life. And everyone's frustration had a common root: it was frustration at the way in which so often faith communities close themselves--even define themselves by closing themselves--to those outside their boundaries, to their Other. Whether it was the story of a church preaching the Christian gospel while closing its doors to the community of discomfortingly poor workers nearby, or the story a humanist community affirming to its members that they could be "Good without God" while denying the possibility that others could be "Good with God," each one of us had shared in an experience of painful awakening to our own community's self-enclosure. I call it awakening, because it was that experience which ultimately brought each of us to a table together, hoping to bear witness to a different kind of community, hoping to cross those boundaries deliberately left uncrossed by others with open minds, open hearts, open arms--hoping to be agents of opening,

I believe what we named in our common story that Saturday was not only our vocation, but the larger vocation of Christ's Church. What was Christ if not a profoundly boundary-crossing agent of opening? I pray that our work this coming semester will lead us further down this path, and shed more light for us and others on what still unbroken walls Christ's followers might yet be called to break open.

Though these words were written almost three months ago, the sense of call I articulated in them for the first time has only since grown.--Nicholas

Friday, March 4, 2011

Where Real Church Meets Real Life

Originally written by Vicki Morte for Social Action Ministries on Jan. 25, 2011

Last January, I was a senior at Boston College, returning from Winter Break to my final semester with absolutely no idea what to do after graduation. Struggling to figure out what was next for me, I began to look backwards, carefully taking inventory of how I was already spending my time. I was volunteering at least five hours a week at a women’s day shelter downtown, and had been doing that for four years. I was spending hours reading, writing, and discussing Theology. I began finding a clear challenge to engender justice in the world laid out before me in the Gospels as I really read them for the first time. I was actively avoiding going to Mass on campus, despite the encouragement of my Theology professors, the Campus Ministers I knew, and many of my closest friends. I knew that, for me, a full understanding of social justice and an authentic experience of my faith required that I think about both, together. I was lonely in my newly growing faith because I couldn’t find a community that understood this connection in the same way that I did.

Now, a full year later, I’m almost halfway through a community organizing fellowship within the
Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Through the Life Together Program, I serve as the Minister for Justice and Action at The Crossing, a Christian community of radical welcome that’s working to truly live church out in the world. The Crossing gathers to worship at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral on Thursday nights at 6 pm, and is a real spiritual home for people who are seeking a community that is genuinely invested in relationships and growth. Coming to The Crossing in the fall, I found the community that I was seeking, a community of friends who value and share in the understanding that lived Christian faith demands deep commitment to and radical movement for justice.

At The Crossing, we welcome all people to commit to each other’s mutual transformation into the fullness of Christ. That happens as we fall in love with God in Worship, as we grow in love for each other and ourselves in Community, and as we share love with the world through Action. Last year, The Crossing began work on a campaign for greater LGBTQ rights and inclusion, reaching out to and collaborating with advocacy groups around the city. The community also began building relationships with homeless youth in the area, particularly those who self-identify as Queer. This year, we’ve continued and grown this work, collaborating in bigger and better ways with other groups and providers. We’ve renewed our commitment to working with young adults who are homeless, forging a new relationship with
Bridge Over Troubled Waters and maintaining our connection to The Home For Little Wanderers’ LGBTQ group home, Waltham House.

Following Worship on the fourth Thursday of each month, The Crossing offers Education for Action to the community.
On Thursday, March 24, we will be welcoming Robb Zarges, Executive Director of Bridge Over Troubled Waters, and Caitlin Golden, Social Action Ministries Coordinator at the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, to begin a conversation about youth homelessness and learn about the many ways that we can take action to support young people and end the cycle of homelessness in our city.

Be with us at 6 pm for Worship or join us at 7:30 pm for this special event. We’re excited to welcome you into this important and powerful work with us.


Vicki Morte – Minister for Justice & Action @ The Crossing

If you are interested in attending the event, please RSVP to Vicki at