Can the Church Survive the Decline in Worship?

KazMy Massachusetts colleague Kazimierz Bem, Pastor and Teacher of the First Church in Marlboro, doesn’t think so.

He had a wise and thoughtful post yesterday on faith street.com called Christianity Cannot Survive the Decline in Worship.

Here’s an excerpt:

The church is not made holy by the work it does — Protestants should understand that better than anyone. Rather, it is Jesus Christ and his cross that make us holy. Our service can never replace it, copy it, or perfect it. Our service can only be our response in gratitude for what God has done for us. As the great Congregational theologian Peter T. Forsyth once wrote: “The greatest product of the Church is not brotherly love but divine worship. And we shall never worship right nor serve right till we are more engrossed with our God than even with our worship, with His reality than our piety, with his Cross than with our service.”

For the whole article go here. I heartily recommend it. Kaz even quotes P.T. Forsyth. Well done!

My Top Ten Posts of 2014

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As the old year passes and the new year beckons, it is my custom to look back at my popular posts of the year. Here are the most visited new posts from 2014:

Norwood Days: We All have to Start Out Somewhere
Some Lenten Reflections on Forgiveness
The Calling of Disciples: A Sermon on Vocation
Remembering Willis Elliott: theologian and gadfly
On Holy Ground: A Sermon on Genesis 3:1-15
“Words to Live By” The King James Bible and its Legacy to the English Language
Braised Lamb Shanks with Cardamom, Garlic and Prunes
“By Their Groups Ye Shall Know Them”: Celebrating Max L. Stackhouse
The Christmas Tree in the Passing Lane: A Reflection on Advent
The Cross and Forgiveness

And these were the ten all-time most visited posts on this blog, which I began in 2009:

Why did Jesus refer to Herod as “That fox” in Luke 13:32?
“Confused? Interpreting Your Congregation’s Numbers”
Prayer for a Retired Pastor
“Rejoice! Rejoice!” A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent
“God Gives the Growth:” A Retirement Sermon
“There is nothing to be afraid of!” A sermon on Psalm 27:1-2
“The Lord Will Provide:” A Sermon on Genesis 22
An Ordination Sermon: “The Secret Sauce of Ministry. A Recipe in Two Parts”
“Behind Locked Doors” A sermon on John 20:24-29
A book review of Elizabeth Strout’s “Abide with Me”

Thanks so much for dropping by, and keep visiting in 2015.

“A Chorus of Trees”

“Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming” –Psalm 96: 12, 13.

“What are these excitable trees singing and clapping about? They are celebrating the coming of God, a coming worth getting excited about, full of promise for the restoration, judging, cleansing and healing of all things. And this coming will not be only for people and nations, but for all that belongs to the Creator, “the whole earth and everything in it. Which means that our Advent hope for the coming of God is not a private “spiritual” matter, but a hope of quite cosmic proportions.” (From “Tear Open the Heavens” Advent Devotion 2014. The United Church of Christ)

This devotional of mine for December 22  from the UCC Advent Devotionals was made into a very moving YOUTUBE video. Thanks to Katherine Schofield for this. I tried to put the eschatology back into Advent, and I think she captured it.

Norwood Days: We All have to Start Out Somewhere

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe all have to start out somewhere.

I was reminded of that today when a friend sent me a funny clip about church from Saturday Night Live and I immediately recognized that it had been filmed at the little church I grew up in.

I had seen rumblings about this on the Norwood Facebook page, that there had been a film crew at the Church of The Holy Communion, a beautiful Episcopal church in Norwood, a small town in Bergen County, NJ.

Both my parents were raised in Congregational churches (and my Mom was for a time a Methodist), but when my Mom beat the dust of the Midwest off her heels and moved to New York City she became an Episcopalian. Both my parents were, for a time, librarians at General Theological Seminary, an Episcopal school in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

They lived on the Upper West Side when I was born, which is how I came to be baptized at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, which if you’re keeping track of things like this, is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral.

Before I started school we moved to Closter, New Jersey, a little town in Bergen County across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan. My Dad was a commuter at the time, working downtown as the photo and caption editor for the Religious News Service, the public relations arm of the old National Conference of Christians and Jews.

While in Closter we attended the little church in Norwood, where my brother Bill was baptized, a very early memory of mine. My father, never baptized, was then a grumpy agnostic, and from him I learned to take both faith and doubt very seriously. My mother was devout and active in the church.

We moved to Norwood when I was in fifth grade, and then were within walking distance of our church.

I am sure there was sin, gossip, and the sundry pettiness that plagues every congregation of humans, but I felt loved and accepted there, and the fact that I ultimately became a Christian minister speaks well of their care and nurture for and of me.

The rector was a gentle, ancient man, Mr. (always “Mr.” as he was low church) John Foster Savidge. He had an odd way of speaking that I assumed was some kind of special ecclesiastical patois. Only years later did my Dad tell me he had CP and a resulting speech impediment. He was very kind to me, and one time when I was about 11 he came to call and neither of my parents were home. He treated me with great respect and dignity, and told me about his trips to England. Years later I had my own times living in Oxford and Cambridge.

His successor was The Reverend Robert Maitland, who was ironically more blue collar but also more high church and always “Father” Maitland.

It was under his care that I was confirmed. He was a very down-to-earth guy, much a contrast from the patrician Mr. Savidge.

When I was in high school my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. In those days cancer was an unmentionable and few adults talked to me about the prospect of her impending death. One was my beloved basketball coach, John Shine, and the other was Father Bob Maitland. He took me to lunch at the Red Coach Inn (any Bergen County folks remember that?). He showed me what a minister could be.

My Mom did die during my first weeks at college at the age of 53. Fr. Maitland presided at the service at the Church of the Holy Communion, to a packed house as only those who die too young can bring out. I was having none of this God who snatched away the most important person in my life.

But years later after a long and arduous faith pilgrimage (which is another story for another day) I came back to the church and to a calling as a minister, although in a different franchise.

So the Church of the Holy Communion remains one of my landmarks, a holy place. And since I always (usually) love SNL the confluence of these two made my day.

The little clip was a trip down memory lane. I took voice lessons from the organist, Walter Witherspoon, and saw the organ near where I stood for my first recital. I saw the lovely stained-glass windows. I wrote recently about the window dedicated to a  Sunday School classmate of mine who died in a sledding accident when I was in the second grade.

It has been years since I have been back there, but I thank God for the place and the people, mostly now in the church triumphant, that were there in my growing-up days.

Can the Sony hackers really cancel a movie opening?

SonySome current news’ reports allege that North Korea is responsible for the Sony hack that has intimidated Sony into canceling its Christmas Day release of “The Interview.” That may or may not be true. Time will tell.

Still, it is chilling that anyone can intimidate a company (especially one with the clout of Sony) into canceling “a major motion picture” opening.

“The Interview” may turn out to be a bad movie, or a really good Seth Rogan movie, which may not be a big difference, but let us decide that.

The reactions have not been good PR for Sony. Some of my favorites on Twitter:

“Church Curmudgeon” tweeted “Our boycotts never kept a movie out of a theater. Maybe the Southern Baptists need nukes.”

And Scout (@nycscout) Tweeted: “Apparently, Hitler could have just phoned in an anonymous bomb threat to prevent The Great Dictator from being shown. Unbelievable.”

Yeah, a big FAIL for Sony.

This is a movie I would never have seen, but now maybe I will!

Braised Beef Brisket

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Everybody has a brisket recipe, and they are all delicious. Some have exotic ingredients such as grape jelly, cranberry sauce, chili sauce, etc. Here’s mine; it is pretty basic. This is cold weather comfort food.

Ingredients

3 TBS extra virgin olive oil

1 first-cut beef brisket (I used a grass-fed one) about 5 LBS

5 yellow onions, chopped

4 carrots cut into 1 inch pieces

4 stalks celery cut in 1 inch pieces

4 clove of garlic, smashed, peeled, and cut in half

½ tsp dried thyme

1 TBS chopped fresh rosemary

3 TBS chopped fresh parsley

2 bay leaves

1 cup red wine

1 cup beef stock or broth

½ cup of apple cider vinegar

1 14 OZ can of chopped tomatoes

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning

Recipe

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Wipe the brisket with paper towels, and generously salt and pepper it. In a large oven-proof lidded casserole heat oil over medium high heat and carefully brown brisket without burning until it is nicely browned. Remove meat and put it on a platter. Add onions, carrots, celery, and garlic and sauté, stirring regularly until they are browned.

Add the wine, stock, vinegar and tomatoes and the herbs.

Bring to a simmer, put the meat on top, cover tightly and put it in the oven for about 3 ½ to 4 hours, depending on the size of your meat (grass fed seems to need a bit more time in the braise.) Some recipes have you turn it or baste it. This seems like extra work to me. I check it once at the half-way mark to make sure there is enough liquid in it.

When it is tender take it out and let it sit for 20 or 30 minutes until it is cool enough to cut pieces across the grain. Better yet, put the whole thing in the fridge and serve it the next day or two.

The traditional way is to serve it with potato pancakes, which is mighty tasty, but some extra work.

I served these with fingerling potatoes and steamed green beans. A sturdy red wine (perhaps a Cote de Rhone or something from Spain) would not be out of place.

brisket 2

 

(Photos: R.L. Floyd)

 

Berkshire Lyric presents “Called by Angels, a Concert of Christmas Music”

I am singing with Berkshire Lyric Chorus in concert on December 20. I hope some of my Berkshire friends can come. Here are the details:

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Berkshire Lyric presents “Called by Angels, a Concert of Christmas Music” at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Park Square in downtown Pittsfield on Saturday, December 20 at 7:30.

The 90 voice Berkshire Lyric Chorus will be joined by the 30 voice Blafield Children’s Chorus in a wide ranging choral program of some of the most beloved music of the season. Now in its 52nd year, Berkshire Lyric most recently performed at Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall in the spring, and the big chorus is back for this annual holiday concert. The St. Stephen’s concert is an expanded version of Berkshire Lyric’s traditionally sold out Stockbridge Main Street Concert.

Through the years, it has developed into a heart warming and nostalgic evening of great Christmas music for the whole family. The concert is led by Berkshire Lyric’s Artistic Director Jack Brown and accompanied by Joe Rose. The soloists will be soprano Felicia Durso and baritone John Demler. The chorus will be singing new compositions and arrangements by contemporary composers Alan Smith, Will Todd and John Joubert. The children’s chorus is presenting music by John Rutter, Alfred Burt and Alec Wyton among others. A highlight of the concert will be a medley of “Away in a Manger,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Silent Night,” all arranged by English composer and former member of the King’s Singers, Bob Chilcott. During a lighter portion of the program, the chorus will sing lush choral arrangements of Christmas hits such as “Sleigh Ride”, “The Christmas Song” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” There will be a sing-a-long portion of favorite carols and popular selections at the end of the concert. The audience can join their voices to the 120 singers of Berkshire Lyric and the great St. Stephen’s Pipe Organ in the rich acoustics of this historic church.

The Berkshire Lyric season will continue on December 27 with a Handel “Messiah” Sing also at St. Stephen’s. The new year will see four concerts: Moving to Glory: a Gospel and Spirituals Concert in February, A Feast of Operetta fundraiser in March, A Grand Opera Spectacular at the Colonial Theatre in May, and finally Into the Light: Russian Orthodox Sacred Music with the Konevets Quartet of St. Petersburg in June. Tickets for the Dec. 20 Christmas concert are $20 for adults with children admitted free. They may be purchased from chorus members or through Berkshire Lyric’s website. More information at http://www.BerkshireLyricInfo.org.

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