God Is Always Already at Work

As I enter this new season of ministry at Church of the Savior, I find myself reflecting on the way my view of ministry has shifted over the past 15+ years and how that shift impacts my new work here.

Perhaps like some of you, I was raised in a Christian tradition that put much emphasis on my part of working out my faith in deeds and service. Although I appreciate the stress this tradition places on being an active participant in our faith, the implicit message I internalized was that ministry was largely up to me and what I was willing to do for God.

Several years ago I began to perceive an imbalance in that framework of ministry as I saw many well meaning people around me burning out and giving up, or stumbling under the heavy weight of responsibility.

What I came to realize was missing from this framework was a robust sense that God is always and already at work in the world. A friend of mine likes to say that burnout is also a theological problem, and I have come to agree. When we lose sight of God’s work in the world as the foundation for our ministry, we become cut off from our true and deepest source of life.

On the other hand, when we do grab a hold of this reality, it is abundantly freeing for ministry. If God is already at work, then my ministry is a response to that work, rather than a work of its own. I see God at work and want to join in. I trust God is at work, and I move forward out of faith and love rather than anxiety or fear.

One of the key elements of my new role at Savior is to come alongside our Ministry Team Leaders. I was humbled to realize that we have over 15 lay leaders who serve to coordinate and lead various ministry teams. As I thought about what I would want to impart as I serve these leaders, I realized that the first and most important thing is this--that God is always and already at work.

This has a couple of concrete applications for ministry. First, if God is already at work then he has given us everything we need to do the work into which he has invited us to participate. That is not always readily obvious, especially when we are in the thick of ministry. But whether it be through helping to recruit volunteers, acting as a sounding board, or troubleshooting logistics, I hope to be a sign of God’s presence as we work together to see the ways he will provide.

Second, if God is already at work then he is not surprised by or anxious about our challenges or difficulties. He cares deeply for us and those with whom we are serving, more than we can ever imagine. This realization has helped me to hold my ministry more lightly as I look to God rather than my own ingenuity or strength to navigate hard situations. And it has helped to build my faith as I realize that all I have to give, my few loaves and fishes, God is faithful and delighted to use no matter the circumstance.

I am blown away by the grace of God who loves us and invites us to join in his love for others. And I am encouraged to have the privilege of working with so many of you in this great work. Paul’s words to the Philippians seem particularly apt:

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.
                    Philippians 1:3-6, The Message

As we seek to be renewed by his love and to minister that love to others, may we all be continually refreshed by the reality that this is his work and that he who began this good work in us, will be more than faithful to complete it.

--Pastor Sandy Richter

Thomas Merton on Loving Others

On Saturday, I preached about the teaching and spirit of the Pharisees, which A. W. Tozer summarized this way: “The blight of the Pharisee’s heart … was doctrine without love.” This makes me very glad for Savior’s mission statement that keeps us coming back to loving God, loving others, and loving life. I’ve been helped and challenged by this from Thomas Merton: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

--Fr. Kevin

A Word from Fr. Kevin on Names

Eugene Peterson once said that next to the Bible, the church directory is the most important book in the pastor’s study. To learn someone’s name and use it is a gift. I encourage each person at Savior to learn the name of others at the church. Did you know that by doing that, you are becoming more like God, who knows each one of us intimately and calls us by name?

·      Jesus says the good shepherd (a metaphor for himself) “calls his own sheep by name” (John 10:3)

·      Isaiah says that God “brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name” (Isaiah 40:26)

·      Jesus reveals that he’s alive again to Mary Magdalene by using 1 word, her name: “Mary!” (John 20:16).

(And if you forget a name, as I sometimes do, there is grace.)

"I Am Here for You": beautiful words by Robert Lax

Robert Lax was an American poet, a convert from Judaism to Catholicism, and a friend of Thomas Merton. In his work Psalm, he includes these words, which (to me) can be read in several ways: as the commitment of a friend to a friend, or the prayer of a soul to God:

"I am here for you. I have no other person to be here for and no other reason to be here. I am here at your disposal. Your disposition. I have no desire except to do what you'd have me do. I have heard of other desires. I haven't heard of any that mean as much to me as that. Haven't heard of any that would mean as much to me as knowing I was doing what you wanted me to do. Or even not knowing I was doing it. Simply doing it.”

—from Psalm by Robert Lax (Zurich: Pendo, 1991).

Here's a Prayer Resource to Try: Daily Office Booklets from Rookie Anglican

In the weeks leading up to Advent 2016, I had a problem.

I was serving as a youth pastor at St. Peter's Anglican Church in Birmingham, AL, and I wanted to challenge my students to try to do the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer for the four weeks of Advent. 

However, I faced a small crisis of user-UNfriendliness!

  • First, none of my students were familiar enough with using the 1979 Book of Common Prayer to realistically use it for the Daily Office during Advent.
  • Second, the ACNA's new Daily Office liturgies and lectionary were only available as confusing PDFs and Word Documents.
  • And third, although there were/are great apps out there for the Daily Office, I wanted to give my students an analog way to pray.

So, I created a "Daily Office Booklet"—a simplified version of the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, with the readings listed out for you, so that you just need your Bible and a Booklet to do the Daily Office.

I've continued to make these Daily Office Booklets ever since, and I offer them to you as a potentially helpful aid to your prayer life. 

If you're interested in the Daily Office Booklet, go here to learn more.

Grace and peace,

~Josh Steele

Children at Savior

People often comment to me about the children at Savior: “I love how the kids are so included” or “Pastor Mary gets my kid.”

What’s behind those comments is a deep commitment to children and youth. I was trying to explain this at our Welcome to Savior dessert recently, and here’s what I came up with (on the fly, so much more could be said):

* We take children’s spiritual lives seriously. They are not just “the church of the future” but “the church of now.” They experience God and pray and take in the Word of God. In our ministry to them, we don’t think, “How do we entertain them?” (not that fun is bad) but “How do we guide them in their spiritual lives?” A child this Saturday, in the younger room, commented on the mystery of Ascension, “Jesus went away so that he could be with us always, at all times and everywhere.” "

* We involve them throughout our life together. As our staff plans, we make sure the children and youth are fully participating with us—as musicians, acolytes, dancers, Bible dramatists, worshipers, missionaries. They help teach all of us, lead us, add to our joy. As Pastor Mary says, "When we don’t find ways to integrate children into the life of the church, the church misses out. Our worship can become too heady, our fears grow out of proportion. We need to be reminded that God has asked us to cling to our unyielding child-like faith that God can do it all; that God loves us; that God, in his very mysterious way, is truly with us, even in us."

I am thankful for Pastor Mary, for youth mentor Rick Page, and for the many of you who serve our children and youth.

--Fr. Kevin

What's Great about our Diocese: C4SO

Our church family, Anglian Church in North America, is organized by dioceses, many geographical (e.g., Western Gulf Coast) and some, like ours—called Churches for the Sake of Others--non-geographical. Thus, we in C4SO have 40-some churches across the country, from Boston to LA, and from Oregon to Florida. (If you wondered, our nearest church is in Milwaukee.) Our bishop, Todd Hunter, lives in Southern California. 

Having just attended the C4SO clergy conference, I have to say, we are in the perfect diocese for Church of the Savior. (Thank you, Fr. Bill, Mtr. Linda, and the Vestry who helped us move into C4SO!) Here are some reasons why:

1. We have a godly bishop with a huge heart for people. That’s why he named his diocese Churches for the Sake of Others. He gets made fun of for this name, but I love it. It captures our heart at Savior, too, which is why (for just one example) you all gave so generously to help single moms at Jubilee Village.

2. We have a canon theologian, Scot McKnight, who uses his prodigious scholarship to serve the church.

3. We have a welcome and respect for women leaders.

4. We have the freedom and encouragement to try varied and creative ministries, from fledgling church plants to long-established churches with buildings, from missions to Spanish-speaking moms in Kansas City, KS, to coffee-shop ministry reaching “spiritual but not religious” folks in California. Many dioceses ask their churches to contribute 10% of their operating budgets; but Bishop Todd says, “Send me only 5%, and I’ll figure out how to run a diocese on less, so you can invest the other 5% in local mission and church planting."

I could go on, but let me simply say, one of the best things about being an Anglican church is that you are connected to other churches and under authority. And when those churches and authority are filled with the Holy Spirit, it is a great gift to us all.

--Fr. Kevin

Meet Our New Pastor of Adult Formation

I’m delighted that because of your generous giving, we are able to add a dedicated pastor of adult formation. Starting May 1, Sandy Richter—who has served so ably in Savior’s children’s ministry for 3 years—will be giving 10 hours per week as Pastor of Adult Formation. Sandy will be helping all of us adults at Savior in (a) forming community, (b) understanding and practicing our faith, and (c) because weekly worship is the most formative thing we do, guiding the leaders of our worship-service teams. Sandy lives in Oak Park, with husband, Ian, and their children, Kiah, Elle, and Ezra. She is finishing an MA in theology. Sandy says, “My passion is helping walk alongside people as they work out their faith in their everyday life.” If you want to connect with Sandy: SandyRichter@friendsofthesavior.org.

--Fr. Kevin

A Word from Fr. Kevin on Church Growth

One of the great Christian leaders in our world is Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities for the disabled and their caregivers. So many things Vanier says capture the heart and calling of Church of the Savior.

For example, what Vanier learned at L’Arche I know I am learning at Savior:

“Those I have lived with have helped me to recognize and accept my own weaknesses and vulnerability. I no longer have to pretend I am strong or clever or better than others. I am like everybody else, with my fragilities and my gifts.”

One interesting corollary of communities this beautiful: they work best at a certain human-scale. Vanier said in an NPR interview, "Small is beautiful because small is where we relate. There we can touch them [people], we can be with them.” But we live in “... a world where people are being pushed to pretend that they're big.”

It is for reasons like this that our Vestry believes our future as a church, as we grow, is not to place more people in one service, but to multiply “accessibly sized” communities.

We are still prayerfully discerning this; no decisions have been made, and none needs to be yet. We updated everyone on this at our Annual Meeting on February 3, and I encourage you to read more here. As you read that, we invite your prayers, questions, and Scriptures. God is doing something special.

"Everybody needs a Savior"

I like to say, “Everybody needs a Savior,” which means 2 things: (1) Everybody needs Jesus; and (2) everybody needs a life-giving Christian community like Savior.

I see this in many people I meet:

  • Most people are lonely. They have few social connections that are meaningful. They need a place where they can be known, and know others.
  • Most people are overly busy and therefore, exhausted. They need a community that has a Sabbath, that refuses to hurry.
  • Many people who’ve tried church have been hurt by it. They need a safe, sane community, that is both solidly orthodox, and spacious enough to allow some difference of opinion.
  • All people are looking to contribute, to feel valuable. Here we welcome into service men and women, young and old, people with disabilities of many kinds, , et al.

As we delight in what we receive here, we also delight in welcoming others who “need a Savior.”

--Fr. Kevin

A Word from Fr. Kevin on Commitment to Christ

This Saturday, at the Easter Vigil, I will ask you this question:

Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and
renew your commitment to Jesus Christ? 

It’s a weighty question. Are you ready to follow Jesus Christ all the way, wherever He may lead you?  It may help to prepare yourself for that moment by praying this prayer (source unknown):

Help me, Good Shepherd, to 

Receive what you give,

Release what you take,

Lack what you withhold,

Do what you ask, and

Be what you desire.

Amen.

A Word from Fr. Kevin of Affirmation

Savior member Sherry Anast sent me the following note, in response to the sermon on March 3, where I talked about how our church affirms the liberty of women to lead and preach in the local church. Sherry writes, “Here are some other ways that our church affirms people:

People smile at fussy babies and dancing kids
Singles participate and are valued as are the married folks and children
Handicapped folks are accommodated
Sick folks are remembered
Mentally challenged, young and older, are included
All who are willing are challenged to contribute their gifts
Old people are shown respect
Everyone is truly welcomed and cared for
Gracism in action!
Church community done right!

I love our church!”