New church; a constellation, not a melting pot.

Do you want to know what church is going to be like in our new age? It will be a constellation of brightly shinning unique individuals; not a mass of indistinguishable people melted together.

A few years ago I was a part of a small design group that came together to experiment with creating authentic community. Our motivation was to combine my conceptualized Communication System, with the work of Peter Block from his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging.

As a design group, we were extremely committed and spent an amazing amount of time together. At one point we were talking about what to call our group and as we each shared, we realized that the majority of us had referenced themes of galaxy, stars and constellations. In our experience of the process we caught the vision that what we were doing was—constellating ourselves.

Onward Christian Zombies

Guest Post by the Lee Karl Palo

What would it be like to walk into a religious ceremony of a group you knew nothing about? Of course, there would be plenty of things you wouldn’t understand. Many of the words you hear would be used in ways you might not be familiar with. Other words would be peculiar to that religious group.

I remember a conversation I had about my Christian faith with a new friend. I no longer recall the specific details of what I was talking about, but what was memorable was a comment he made. He said, “When you use the word ‘church’ you aren’t always talking about a building are you?”

In most churches, there is a strong value placed on making converts. Additionally, the society we are a part of is becoming less and less familiar with the Christian faith. This means that many of the internal words we would naturally choose to express what being a Christian is make less and less sense to those on the outside.

God’s Women: A Plea to Pope Francis

“With regards to the ordination of women, the church has spoken and says no. Pope John Paul [II] said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed.” Pope Francis

Historical records indicate that women were ordained in antiquity, with functions from officiating at altars to serving as presbyters and selling burial plots. While the official Catholic position is that these actions were the result of heretical sects, opponents disagree and embrace a view that women played a central role in the hierarchical church, even after the conversion of Constantine and the establishment of the institutional Church.

Regardless of historiography, there is little doubt that the modern Roman Catholic Church stands firmly against the ordination of women, a position made clear by Pope John Paul II in his 1994 Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he writes:

In fact the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles attest that this call was made in accordance with God’s eternal plan; Christ chose those whom he willed (cf. Mk 3:13-14; Jn 6:70), and he did so in union with the Father, “through the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2), after having spent the night in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12). Therefore, in granting admission to the ministerial priesthood,(6) the Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord’s way of acting in choosing the twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church (cf. Rv 21:14). These men did not in fact receive only a function which could thereafter be exercised by any member of the Church; rather they were specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. Mt 10:1, 7-8; 28:16-20; Mk 3:13-16; 16:14-15). The Apostles did the same when they chose fellow workers(7) who would succeed them in their ministry.(8) Also included in this choice were those who, throughout the time of the Church, would carry on the Apostles’ mission of representing Christ the Lord and Redeemer.(9)

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), it seemed possible that women could be ordained to the diaconate, most specifically when the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith indicated that exploration of the issue was important in 1977. However, it was still considered “unsettled” in 2003, with “recent indications that the Holy See intends to continue the exclusion of women from this office.

pope-francisThere has been great excitement among Liberal Protestants and alienated Catholics about the papacy of Francis I; his statements on gays and his condemnation of unchecked capitalism have generated a feeling that His Holiness is taking the Church in a new direction. He is not without detractors, both conservative and liberal, but there is no question that he has quickly made the papacy relevant again. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit to having a picture of Pope Francis in my church office and to quoting him frequently in my sermons. As a mainline Protestant with two graduate degrees from a Jesuit Catholic University, I have a deep love for this Pope. He is a model for me on how to do ministry.

I often tell my Protestant friends—especially fellow Progressive Christians who lament the Pope’s seemingly contradictory views on homosexuality—that we should never forget that he is Catholic. What many people see as wild deviations from Catholic teaching, such as his statements concerning evolution and faith, are actually very much in line with traditional Catholic views that date back to the 19th century.

Don’t let the Great get in the way of the Good

I’m a big fan of vision. I understand its power in motivating people, getting them excited, and helping everyone to double down in their efforts to get something done.

But sometimes we allow a great vision of what we could be doing to get in the way of the good work we should be doing.

What exactly do I mean? Consider these examples from the life of the church.

  • Imagine a church that invested serious time, and some treasure, in a great coffee ministry to attract new people. Not necessarily a bad idea, but a series of these new visions forced the community to defer maintenance that was needed on the facility. Eventually, this led to an emergency closure of the building due to structural issues caused by a leaky roof.
  • Then consider the young pastor who devoted a lot of time in a great new social media strategy for his old church. And while the strategy had the potential to pay dividends down the road, the pastor was also neglecting to care for his existing flock through visitation and relationship building. Without eager partners, the church’s ability to welcome those new people was stymied by a lack of enthusiasm for any new ministry offerings.
  • And then there is the arena of our personal discipleship. For many of us, it is easy to get excited about a great mission project, or some essential task that provides us a clear sense of our importance. However, the day-to-day nurturing and development of our spirituality, that basic soul care which will prepare us for the unexpected, we often find boring and tedious.

The thing that kills people…

The homeless don’t just die of hypothermia, mental illness, and addictions.
I think some just die from a lack of touch. Loneliness.
The same is true for the elderly.

We have so often made touch dirty or sexualized it. That’s a shame.
I try to hand out hugs, as much as communion, while doing ministry in the park.
People need human touch. Jesus got this for sure.

Hug someone today (especially someone who probably won’t get a lot of them.)

There. Sermon over.
Enough talk.
Go. Do.  🙂


Jerry Herships is a storyteller, love monger, spiritual entrepreneur, and founder of AfterHours, a experimental faith & action group based in Denver Colorado. Jerry helps to feed 700+ poor & homeless every week and does church in bars all over the city that they call Happy Hours. He loves wine and God.

Photo Credit: Cropped from “Homeless and cold” by Flickr user Ed Yourdon.

Battling Demons

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Mark 1:21-28, The Message translation 

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]I have devout Christian friends who often post on Facebook about battling with Satan, detecting Satan’s presence in a stalled car or an unsent email. I say this not mockingly; most often, the friends report Satan’s presence as resulting in an internal battle that is waged between feelings of angry frustration and calm acceptance. In this way, their beliefs are very similar to the true meaning of jihad, the internal struggle that unfolds when we wrestle with our emotions in the face of adversity.

These friends, in the main, believe that literal demons must be expelled from a person; that is, external forces that can overtake our bodies and distract us from the work of God must be expunged. On the whole, I do not share this pneumatology. But the Bible speaks of demons. Is there another way to frame their existence?

For some of us Christians, battling demons means facing our belief that demons are not real.

I just left the funeral for the church…

I went to a green liberal arts college for undergrad back in the late 90s. While environmental issues were in the public sphere already, many of the conversations we had were way ahead of the curve. As things go whenever anyone tries to predict the future, some of the forecasted calamities never came to be. In fact, if all of the environmental predictions we discussed came true, many of us wouldn’t actually be here still to debate them.

Some of the stories we tell about the church and its future, or lack thereof, remind me of those days. We speak of the church’s future demise as if we can predict how the story ends when in reality we can do no such thing; the future hasn’t been written. The church does have its own version of climate change deniers, but we also have the sky is falling sort whose lack of hope can torpedo any initiative to try and do something new.

I was the odd person out at my environmental college. I didn’t have an overwhelming concern or care for the environment. I didn’t hate nature, but I wasn’t really sure about the benefits of recycling, the dangers of overpopulation, the sources of global warming, etc. In short, I wasn’t a tree hugger (a term of affection there) and I wasn’t predisposed to care about spotted owls.