Category Archives: Community

Counting Christians

Bishop Martins has a good post up on Covenant about ecclesiometry: how we count the people in churches and what these mean for us as a church. Do read his article as he makes several good points about why and how we measure.

A central point that he makes is that we have to wrestle with the new realities of a post-Constantinian age. That is, in previous decades, we could assume that most of the people we were working with were baptized believers who knew the Christian story and what we were doing was inviting them into our version. That will no longer be the case in a post-Constantinian world and, as a result, a crucial metric will be adult baptisms.

I totally agree with that.

That having been said, I’ve been thinking something slightly different around this same issue… I completely agree with the ideas around the post-Constantinian age and also about the criticality of adult baptism—no argument at all from me on those points.

However, I don’t think we’re there yet. We’re on the cusp of a post-Constantinian age and not yet fully inhabiting it. Instead, I’d suggest that before we come to a true post-Constantinianism, we are currently inhabiting—and have been for the past couple of decades—an intense reshuffling of American Christianity in a Church Marketplace. Denominational loyalty used to be a real thing: you were what your family was. With the collapse of grand narratives and joining patterns, that paradigm fell apart.

The biggest movement was, of course, out altogether. Having less social pressure to stay in churches, many people left. Some, because they never really believed to begin with and felt more comfortable saying that; others, because they had other commitments, other demands, and church didn’t seem that valuable.

I’d argue that the other important movement besides the movement out was the movement across: the reshuffling of people into other denominations based on preference or fit. And, given the heavily political polarization of American Christianity since the rise of the Religious Right in the ’80s, those decisions have been as much political as theological.

I’d love to know if we have been keeping records on receiving and confirming people into the Episcopal Church.

Both M and I were received and from different church bodies at that. Many of my IRL and online Episcopal friends also came from somewhere else. Many are former Roman Catholics who came to a place where women could be ordained; others were Evangelicals or Fundamentalists who came to a place where their sexual orientation was not a matter of continual attack.

The combination of these two movements—movements out and movements across—I imagine that at this point we have the lowest percentage of Cradle Episcopalians (i.e., adult members raised from childhood in the Episcopal Church) that we have ever had.

This matters in a lot of different ways. In the context of ecclesiometrics, it means another important stat to keep our eye on. But—perhaps just as or more important—this feeds into the current identity crisis and the anxiety of identity that I contend is driving so many of our contentious issues right now including the debates around Communion Before Baptism and Prayer Book Revision.

Update and Recommendation

Yesterday, I sent the manuscript of Honey of Souls: Cassiodorus and the Interpretation of the Psalms in the Early Medieval West off to Liturgical Press and received confirmation that it had arrived.


That’s a big weight off, and it must come with thanks and gratitude to Barbara and Bill who painstakingly read through it and offered advice and corrections small and great! And, obviously and always, thanks and gratitude to my beloved M and the girls for whom this book has been more difficult than the others.

There’s more work to be done on it, of course, and I have no doubt the editors will recommend many more changes—all to the good—but at least it’s off my plate for now!

I do have volume 2 to go: Psalming Christ: Praying the Psalms with Cassiodorus and the Church Fathers, and I hope to be posting more of that here as I hack through the remaining parts of that work.

Today, however, I’m taking a break from all that. I learned just last night that my colleague David Peters would be at Virginia Theological Seminary today to give a presentation on his latest book, Post-Traumatic God: How the Church Cares for People who have been to Hell and Back. I haven’t read it yet, but was blown away by his Death Letter: God, Sex, and War which contains his journals that he wrote on his return from service in Iraq as he struggled with what he saw and did there, the break-up of his marriage, and wrestling with the breakdown of what most of us know as “normal” life. It’s a brutally honest and intimate account that offers insight into a soldier’s life for those of us who will never know those experiences. M has been working with a veteran in very similar circumstances—multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, marriage collapsed while overseas, trying to pick up the pieces while dealing with PTSD—and these books have been tremendous resources in her work.

If you do ministry, I would recommend these—whether you know you are working with veterans or not. If you’re in the DC/NoVA area, I encourage you to come join us at his talk (today at 1PM). (And, of course, stop by and say hi!)

((And, no, nobody has asked me to review or promote these books—just David himself!))


Big Breviary Announcement!

I’m happy to announce a collaboration between the St Bede’s Breviary and Forward Movement! Fr. Scott Gunn, the new Executive Director of Forward Movement, has a vision to bring Forward Movement further into the digital age; using a cut-down version of the breviary’s code base, we’re working on both a new web site and a mobile app that will incorporate both the Daily Office and Forward Day-by-Day among other things.

I’ve consistently received two questions since the launch of the breviary—1) when will there be an iPhone/iPad app and 2) when will there be a printed version. I can now answer the first! There are a number of moving parts here, so we’re currently projecting a ship date in the 1st quarter of 2012.

Needless to say—I’ll keep you updated!

For those of you with mobile devices who enjoy the breviary, you might like to try this out as an intermediary step as development continues: a mobile-optimized version of the breviary. (Due to spotty implementation of the xhtml+mp, I don’t recommend trying to use it with a desktop browser…)

Media and Meaning

Over at Seven Whole Days, Scott Gunn has posted a very interesting reflection on the church in the age of social media.

There’s no question that social media has already had an enormous impact on the shape of the global religious landscape and will continue to do so. In fact, I’d attribute most of the church splits and schisms over the last decade as being driven either in part or completely by social movements fostered and enable by new media. As far as I’m concerned, the Episcopal split and the formation of the ACNA would not have happened if blogs and blog networks had not been able to focus opposition to 815 and gain/create a critical mass willing to leave.

On the other hand, I know I personally have met and been nurtured by a wonderful group of people—some I knew or have come to know offline, others not—through social media interactions, most notably  this blog.

I just want to make two quick points.

First, from a systems-perspective, the problem of our age is not access to data. We have too much of it. We’re completely awash in information. Some of it is useful and important—some of it less so.The problem of our age is the analysis and organization of data into useful—and comprehensible—chunks.This is one of the broad functions of social media. No-one can sift through all of the news/information/books/essays/thoughts/etc. out there. It’s simply not possible. What social media does is, essentially, to serve as a crowd-sourced filtration and data organization device. Our friends and acquaintances access some bits and post or pass on what seems most meaningful to them. Social circles feed and amplify certain themes, stories, and concepts. We’ve got to use this tool but at the same time be very aware of the shadow-side of this strength: it’s really easy to get caught up in your own echo-chamber where all you hear are the kinds of stories, news,and statistics that reinforce what you already think and believe. As more and more of us rely more and more on the internet for our news and locus of critical reflection, we must also be intentional about cultivating friends and acquaintance who can challenge us enough to keep us from being locked into a simple and simplistic way of thinking and processing.

Second, when social media gets discussed, it usually means Facebook and Twitter. I think it’s fair to say that there has been a certain decrease in blog activity over the last several years—especially since the rise of Facebook. But I must strenuously protest: blogs have their place!! There are two things that blogs do better than Facebook. The first is the retention of a surface anonymity. Anonymity online is a source of liberation. It enables us to say and do things we can’t with a name attached. Yeah, I know—that can be a Bad Thing, and trolls will always be with us… Nevertheless, sometimes people need anonymity to provide a critical space for their own growth and reflection. Some of my favorite bloggers either are or were anonymous. I was semi-anonymous for a while myself. I don’t think it’s always a problem, and find it healthy for those just growing their wings.

The second thing that blogs can do that Facebook can’t is to provide a forum for the thoughtful essay. The essay genre is perfect for blogs. Facebook, not so much. If we are going to engage in thoughtful, compelling reflection, we need more space to develop a substantive body of thought than Facebook and Twitter provide. The best route is, of course, integration: using Facebook and Twitter to circulate pull-quotes that lead readers into the blog. (Not I do this myself, of course, but I still think it’s the best way to go…) In the article referenced above, Scott+ linked to a Reflections edition focused entirely on New Media. As I scanned the table of contents, I didn’t recognize the name of one person as a long-standing blogger of note. To me, that’s a serious oversight. You have people writing on the new media—but you leave out one of the central platforms? Hello?

Back from the Conference

I’m finally back from the SCP conference and at the keyboard once again. The conference was wonderful. M and I had a great time, it was so good to see familiar faces and to chat with people that we hadn’t seen in a while. As M remarked to me, it feels like the society is really beginning to gel; real relationships are being built up– as had always been the intent.

This was the first time that the conference had been held outside of New Haven and not at a parish where the convener and the communications director served.  I have to give major props to the Great Lakes Chapter, and especially to our friend and colleague Jared Cramer, for working out schedules and logistics especially when the city of Detroit was foreign territory for most of the chapter members! The biggest structural news, is that, after three years, we have transitions in some of the high positions.  The new convener is Bill Carroll; the new communications director is Chris Arnold. I think there’s a lot of good energy around the society and its mission to be a catholic presence within the Episcopal Church.

As for the presentations, Tripp Norris gave a great account of his experience conducting an Anglo-Catholic church plant. I was unable to be at Bishop Gibbs’ presentation, so I can’t comment on it. The former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold gave a wonderful presentation on the sacrament of reconciliation. Through it, we got to see a side of him that I, at least, had never seen before. He was charming and witty, but his advice also showed a depth of wisdom in catholic spirituality that impressed me.

I thought my presentation went pretty well too. I have put it up on my Scribd account but will subsequently be posting it here for thoughts and comments.

All in all, it was another wonderful experience! I got to see old friends, I got to make new friends, and came away with renewed energy for the work of the catholic cause in the Episcopal Church.

Third Annual SCP Conference

The line-up has been announced for the third annual meeting of the Episcopal Church’s Society of Catholic Priests. The presenters include the Rt. Rev. Frank Griswold, the former Presiding Bishop; the Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs, the current sitting bishop of Michigan; Mthr. Takacs, Associate Priest at St. Mark’s Philly and an acquaintance of M’s;—and me.

My talk on Friday morning will explore the theological meaning of liturgical ceremonial and I’m projecting that I’ll approach it from two directions. First, how do ceremonial concerns and liturgical matters fit into “real ministry”? Second, how does ceremonial communicate theology and spirituality, and how can we be intentional about what our ceremonial says and does?

As I work on the presentation, I’ll probably be posting some of my thoughts here especially as I read and react to some of my conversation partners. For those who won’t be or can’t attend the conference, I’ll likely post the presentation either here or (perhaps) at the Cafe.

Anglican Scotist, RIP

As has now been noted in a number of venues, The Anglican Scotist, AKA Dr. Todd Bates has died at the age of 42 leaving behind a wife and two daughters.

Todd and I had our online disagreements, most notably around Marian theology and Communion Without Baptism, and some of my work on those topics was inspired as a refutation of his. I never knew him as a scholar or a family man; I only knew him as a blogger. And yet, he was one of the early voices along with Christopher and bls who persuaded me that the internet was not just an acceptable but an excellent venue for the discussion of theology for the broader church.

We will miss him.


As (quite) long-time readers may recall, this blog was originally started as a place to discuss my dissertation progress as well as mentioning odd bits of church practice and politics.

Over its four years, it’s gone in some different directions than I first envisioned—some logical and predictable, others less so.

I’m not ending the blog, but the time has come to make some changes as I think about how it fits into my available time (which has diminished and will continue to do so) and my future goals.

One of the things I enjoy about this blog, though, is that it doesn’t seem entirely mine… That is, I think there’s an interesting community here. My observation is that a number of sites—especially those that advocate certain positions—tend to fall into the trap of becoming “echo chambers” where like-minded people go to agree with other like-minded people and have their positions and prejudices reinforced. While there is no doubt that certain common affinities draw some readers and repel others (honestly, how many Haas & Haugen enthusiasts are regular readers here?), I think this group has evaded a simplistic “echo chamber” mentality. I treasure that and would like it to continue no matter what the site looks like going forward.

All that’s to say, I’m quite open to your thoughts about what kinds of things you’d like to see here and what directions you’d like us to head in.

Posting will likely diminish for the near future, but I hope to have something solidified by Advent.