22 September 2014

should churches pay sunday musicians?

Any conversation involving the intersection of church and money is bound to raise hackles.  The discussion around paying church musicians for their work on Sunday mornings is no exception.

There are basically two positions:
  1. Musicians should use their God-given talents to praise and honor God, and any expectation of payment for using those talents in a Sunday morning context is, at best, misguided.
  2. Churches should honor musicians, who have not only prepared for a specific service but have spent years, even decades, in becoming better musicians, by offering them stipends.
My experience in this is all over the board.  I doubt the churches that I grew up in ever paid our musicians, and one congregation had two pianists with doctorates in piano.  In another congregation, the musicians were primarily members of the pastor's family.  However, since about college or so, I have been more and more in contexts, including my current parish, where musicians are regularly paid.  I have worked with talented church musicians who refused to be paid, and with talented church musicians who demanded to be paid.

To be honest, my question is not really about whether or not we should pay musicians.  I'm in favor of it and hope that wherever I'm serving can offer stipends to musicians.  But I'd like to think about this question from another perspective:

Our parish has regular Christian Formation classes during the school year, at 9:30 AM, and the classes go from 45-50 minutes.  As the pastor, I'm usually the one teaching these classes, but when others with teaching gifts are able and willing, I am happy to hand over the lectern.  Recently, I approached one member of our church family and asked him if he could teach a series of his choice for the class.  He prayerfully agreed to do so, selected a book for everyone to read, and led a number of excellent classes.

So the question is: why didn't we pay him?  Why didn't we even offer to pay him?  This man is top shelf, a retired university professor who spends his summers teaching theological German at one of the most outstanding graduate schools of theology in North America.  In addition to his deep faith and genuine Christian love, he is a preeminently gifted teacher with a Ph.D. and all the academic accolades you would want.  But if I had asked the treasurer to pay him for teaching, he most assuredly would have laughed at me.

We pay musicians: why don't we pay educators?  They put in serious prep time during the week getting ready for Sunday.  They have years, decades of experience, training, and education.  What's the difference between a church musician and a church educator that compels us to pay one and not even consider paying the other?

12 August 2013

three reasons our family goes to church while on vacation

1) The same reason we go to church on any other Sunday: to worship and honor the God who created us and loved us so much he gave his only Son.

For our family, the strongest reason to go to church at any time is wrapped up in the same reason we are Anglicans in the Catholic tradition: to receive the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.  If you truly believe that Jesus instituted Holy Communion for his Church, as a means of transforming grace, why would you not want to receive as often as possible?

But let's say you're in the broader Protestant/Evangelical tradition, where "church" means to come together to sing a few songs and hear the preacher preach.  Do you not do so because you believe that, in a special way, God is there?  Why would that change because you don’t have to clock in the next day?  If worship is just one duty among others, such as work and dental appointments, maybe your worship needs some more, uh, worship.

2) We're better than you.

In fact, just the opposite is true.  We are keenly aware of our faults and failures, our sins and offenses.  We need more and more of God in order to be made more and more like him, and we have a long way to go.  So any chance we get to get molded, off we go!

3) Our parents took us when we were growing up.

Both Rebecca and I grew up in Evangelical households that took church seriously.  If we were on vacation, we picked a church and there we went.  On a purely pragmatic level, it's usually a good experience for kids to see how other Christians worship God.  But more importantly, we learned growing up that a sine qua non of following Jesus is going to church.

Your turn: what are some other reasons you attend church while on vacation?

15 November 2012

stylish adult baptism

In my social media networks, a video is flying around called, “Big Rich Texas Tip: Stylish Adult Baptism.”  The scorn being heaped on this clip is well deserved.  Less than two minutes long, the clip offends the rational mind from start to finish, with some especially cringe-worthy moments.  My personal favorites include commentary that one option for baptism could be a church (gasp!) because “sometimes that’s more traditional,” naming the woman to be baptized “the baptee” (I guess neosacraments call for neologisms), and a warning against being “boobalicious” in one’s clothing choices when attending said stylish baptism.  I probably don’t need to explain “boobalicious.”  What’s not in the clip?  Any mention of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, an ordained minister, or even Christianity itself.  The church may not be as stylish as the pool at your Texas ranch; apparently the “style” thing also excludes the very unstylish Faith once delivered to the saints.

Leslie, with her “stylish baptism,” is an easy target.  Her simplistic and ephemeral take on what the Church holds as a soul-changing moment is world-class satire without even trying.  Unfortunately, Leslie is only taking her cues from the Church. 

Weddings are the one of the worst areas where we as the Church have completely caved to the “stylish” culture, inviting all sorts of symbolism and ritual that have nothing of the depth of the ancient faith.  Unity candles, sand pouring, flower petals in the aisle – we ministers allow these things all the time.  Yet these are not Christian symbols, speaking to vows made before God.  If I have to hear one more preacher proclaim that a wedding is about the bride, or the bride and groom, I’m going to hurl down from the bell tower my ESV hardback with Apocrypha.  A “church wedding” is where a man and a woman pledge before God to commit to one another until death – a wedding is ultimately about a commitment to God.  Yes, let’s make it beautiful; yes, let’s make it enjoyable. But let’s make it about God, from start to finish, a model for the married life to come.

Funerals are a close second.  Rambling eulogies and “personal touches” of the deceased move our minds and hearts away from the purpose of a funeral: to commit our loved one to God.  Yes, let’s take time to remember them fondly; yes, let’s make it personal.  I do most funerals in segments.  I lead the funeral service itself, and only after I have completed the liturgy and could actually go home do I turn it over to the family for eulogies and the like.  A funeral, like a wedding, is not ultimately about us, about the one whose obituary is handed out.  A funeral is about God, about reflecting on the victory over death won by Jesus in the Cross and Resurrection, and a sober opportunity for all involved to consider our own mortality.

So let’s have our fun with Leslie and her stylish baptism, but the Church and our own diminishing of the sacraments are the reasons such a video clip exists.  May God, and God alone, be glorified in our weddings, our funerals, and even our stylish baptisms!

11 July 2012

samuel's baptism

July 11 is the feast day of St Benedict, but to me it will always be the day in 2011 that I baptized my son Samuel.  Born 3 1/2 months early, at 1 lb 13 oz, Samuel faced several surgeries and an uphill battle for life.  He recently turned one, and his life and continued development proclaim a testimony of God's grace.  As we kept folks updated on his progress through Facebook and other means, I wrote several essays on our experience.  Here, slightly edited, is the essay on Samuel's baptism into the Body of Christ.

Yesterday, I performed a baptism.  Since I'm an Anglican priest, that’s not terribly unusual (though to be honest, I don’t do it enough).  It was the setting and the baptismal candidate that were different.  Rather than a Sunday morning coordinated with fellow believers, family and friends, it was a Monday afternoon, a decision made two hours previously.  Rather than a cooing (or howling!) baby presented in a long, white, baptismal gown, this infant moved feebly in a plastic-encased neonatal intensive care bed, wearing a tiny diaper, surrounded with lines and hoses.  And it was my son.

I don’t baptize my children.  I ask others to baptize my children.  I wasn’t “legal” for Elijah and Jonah.  I could have baptized Lily, but asked my friend and mentor Fr. Briane Turley to do it while I served as his assistant at Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulsa.  I wasn’t going to baptize this baby, either; I had planned to ask our bishop, The Rt. Rev. Alberto Morales, to do it on or around All Saints Day if Samuel had been born at his October due date.  I don’t baptize my children.  I made this decision before I was ordained, that my first role in the life of my children is as “Dad.”  When they are baptized, I prefer my main role to be that of presenting them to Jesus as the spiritual leader not of my congregation but of my family, making the vows that I will indeed bring them up in the faith, that I will teach them God’s Holy Word, that I will bring them to God’s Holy Table.  If in the future my children marry, I would prefer to be in the “Dad” seat in the front pew rather than standing as the minister.  It’s just my preference—I don’t argue that anyone else should take such an approach.  It's my way of saying that with my children, I am “Dad” first and “Father” second.

If you look closely on Samuel's head,
you can see a bead of the baptismal water
Samuel broke all the rules.  When we learned yesterday the serious potential complications involved with Samuel’s procedure, I asked the doctor if I should go ahead and baptize him.  She replied that she frequently recommends it for children born this premature, and suggested I talk to the nurse to arrange for the materials.  A good Catholic hospital always keeps baptismal items close at hand!  The nurses brought us a small bottle of sterile water and a shell (these items have now taken their place among our most prized possessions), and I indulged in the privilege of baptizing my fourth child.  In the room with me and Rebecca were Elijah, Jonah and Lily, Joyce (Rebecca’s mom), Margaret (WIU student who lives in Peoria and has been helping so much with our children—who love her!) and Kathy, one of the nurses.  Margaret and Kathy were taking pictures.  Jonah and Lily stood with Rebecca and Joyce, and Elijah helped me (“Is this acolyting just like I do at church, Dad?”  “Exactly, son.”).  Like an obedient priest, I had a stole with me, even in NICU with my son—thanks be to God!  My Bible and small BCP were in my bag.  I abbreviated the baptismal liturgy, sticking with the blessing of the water, the baptism itself, the prayer of thanksgiving, and the mark of the Cross on his head (alas, no chrism).  My hand was shaking as I dripped water from the tiny shell onto Samuel’s head; likewise as I made the sign of the Cross on the crown of his forehead, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  Such a tiny head, such a fragile head, receiving the water of Baptism and the mark of the Cross: signs of life and death in a bed where the struggle between the two plays out before our very eyes.

While Samuel’s baptism was certainly administered under emergency circumstances, the Lord has been gracious to him and to us and the days continue.  Today we sit in the room with a new member of the family of God, receiving the blessings of Fernando Ortega’s brand-new album, which includes a number of settings of music for the Eucharist.  Music that drives us to the heart of the life of faith: God giving of himself in Bread and Wine.  Additionally, I just realized today that Samuel’s baptismal day was the feast day of St Benedict.  I think that our Benedictine bishop would approve! 

So I finally baptized one of my children.  He just better not ask me to officiate at his wedding: rules are rules, son.

17 March 2012

st thomas aquinas on marital sex

"There are some who say that intercourse between married persons is not devoid of sin. But this is heretical, for the Apostle says: 'Let marriage be honorable in all and the bed undefiled' [Hb 13:4]. Not only is it devoid of sin, but for those in the state of grace it is meritorious for eternal life.

Sometimes, however, it may be a venial sin, sometimes a mortal sin. When it is had with the intention of bringing forth offspring, it is an act of virtue. When it is had with the intent of rendering mutual comfort, it is an act of justice. When it is a cause of exciting lust, although within the limits of marriage, it is a venial sin; and when it goes beyond these limits, so as to intend intercourse with another if possible, it would be a mortal sin."

(From his Explanation of the Ten Commandments)

10 March 2012

receiving without deserving

I'm a religion junkie. It probably helps that I'm a member of the clergy, but I'm fascinated with religion, with churches, with how humankind considers its relationship to a higher power.  One way I satisfy this addiction is by reading church newsletters from all around the country, so easy to do now that everyone posts them online.

One church newsletter included this quote: “It is better to deserve without receiving than receive without deserving.”

Sad to say, this quote mirrors the American ideals of working hard to deserve the “good life” rather than the Christian reality of grace that a church ought to promote. Grace teaches that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross serves as the ultimate door to “receiving without deserving.”

It's vital for American Christians that the Christian part of our existence direct and form the American part, and not the other way around.  One important way to underline this concept is to remember that nothing that we do makes us worthy to receive God’s grace.

To belittle "receiving without deserving" reflects not a life of discipleship to Jesus of Nazareth, but secular humanism. It sounds nice; it sounds like a humble path. Yet at its root, it belittles a central tenet of the Christian Faith. We receive without deserving when, by faith, we trust Christ’s death for our sins.

The quote isn't Christian at all.  In fact, they're the words of Robert G. Ingersoll, a celebrated 19th century agnostic (and one-time Illinois Attorney General) who ridiculed Christian beliefs and those who held them. Such a one could not comprehend the meaning of grace.

Christians talk about grace, but do we understand it?  It's a gift that we cannot earn, regardless of piety or sacrifice.  It is best to receive without deserving, when we receive from Jesus Christ.

02 November 2011

kim kardashian and the death of marriage

Much hay is being made over the apparent end of the 72-day marriage of reality star Kim Kardashian to NBA journeyman Kris Humphries.  Their engagement was the peak of the season finale of "Keeping Up With The Kardashians," while her filing for divorce is the latest and greatest in Hollywood gossip.

One meme circulating the social networks is that this abrupt divorce somehow demonstrates that the "sanctity of marriage" or the "institution of marriage" is bankrupt.  But it doesn't do that at all.  Sure, it shows us that Hollywood romance is many times a joke, but that's not a black eye for traditional marriage.  It's just another sign that Hollywood is full of self-absorbed fools.

Traditional marriage is done within the context of a pastoral and congregational relationship.  When clergy require this before performing a wedding, we do it because we want the marriage to succeed.  Any couple that asks me to marry them will go through several sessions of premarital counseling, as well as an in-depth look at the marriage service.  A special focus is given to the traditional vows, why we still use them, and what they mean.  Oh, and you need to be part of this church as well, because the wedding is just the beginning, and we want to be a community that encourages and supports you in your marriage.

Marriages like that of Kim Kardashian's often fail because, as the saying goes, "after every wedding comes a marriage."  Cliché, yes, but clichés are clichés because they're right!  Traditional marriage is full of daily challenges and rewards.  Though everyone wants the glamour of the wedding and the rewards of wedded life, not nearly enough commit to the daily toil it takes to make marriage work.  A broken Hollywood marriage that was seemingly on shaky ground from the beginning doesn't make traditional marriage a failed institution, anymore than a hastily-prepared McDonald's Quarter Pounder slights the fine dining tradition of Ruth's Chris Steak House.