Wednesday, July 18, 2018

2018-4 - Ears to Hear

So far in our project I have; 1. Been called to serve on the Bishop’s Nominating Committee, 2. Attended a retreat which brought the team together and molded us through a common purpose and process, 3. Helped set up communications across the diocese and publish the process, the timeline, the biographies of the sub committees and frequently asked questions (and answers).

At this point I felt that the sub-committee teams were being formed and the exciting work was about to begin.

It was time for “"Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."(Mark 4:9)

First, there was the need to listen across the diocese and gather information about each community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. We achieved this through a Holy Cow Landscape Survey which gave an overall view of how the diocese saw itself plus 357 specific suggestions the respondents would like considered.

At this point the Listening and Surveying Sub Committee planned and arranged the active listening sessions across 9 geographic locations. As the whole Nominating Committee was to be split across locations to conduct the listening sessions I was drawn to Mark 6:7 when Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two“.

Theologically I felt the Holy Spirit was with us in the listening process planning and with each congregation as they answered the call to participate in the sessions. As I prayed on this and looked for relevant passages of scripture to support my feelings, I was guided to Luke 10:2 “These were his instructions to them: The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So, pray to God who is in charge of the harvest; ask for more workers to send into the fields.”.

When the sessions started, it seemed obvious to me the workers (attendees) we prayed for came!

To me, the start of each session was rather like a worship service, starting with a prayer and then preaching the objectives, guidelines, processes to each team.

All the attendees were to be split into multiple, diverse groups to discuss the 4 key questions the Listening Sub Committee had developed.

Just like many of the attendees I was surprised by the questions.

I was expecting direct questions such as “What do you want in a Bishop” or “What should our next Bishop be like” but the questions were expertly crafted to elicit discussion and opinion, including:
·         Who are we?
·         Who are our neighbors?
·         What is God calling me to do right now?
·         How can our Bishop help me (us) do what God is calling us to do?
In each group every person was given the chance to answer these questions followed by group discussion. Notes were taken to present to the Nominating Committee.

In these sessions I noticed how important it was to actively listen, to concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker.

What I am reminded of again and again, is that listening is one of the most important interpersonal communication skills and unlike “hearing” is not something that just happens. It is an active process which requires a conscious and constant decision to listen to and understand the messages being delivered.

When I was actively listening, I tried to engage all senses, give full attention to the speaker, show interest in what was being said, be neutral and non-judgmental, not take sides or form opinions, and be patient.

In all these conversations if there were pauses and short periods of silence I was tempted to jump in with questions or comments, but I made a conscious effort to focus on the speaker instead.

I found this took energy, humbleness and patience to give each person adequate time to explore their thoughts and feelings and to focus on the message they were delivering through their speech and non-verbal signs. It took personal concentration and God’s grace for me to “have ears to hear”, rather than a tongue which would not be still.

I found I was not just listening and waiting to give a preconceived reply, I was listening with an open mind and open heart, recognizing that each person had different and valuable thoughts, feelings and a message to share.

Within the sessions and the resulting notes, I could see the Holy Spirit at work in all the discussions, reminding me of Isaiah 55:11 “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it

At each session we had prayed, gave the word in the objectives and questions, and truly it did not come back empty. Together we all succeeded in our purpose and gave the information needed to develop the profile of our diocese.

From the Holy Cow Landscape Survey, listening session notes, and photographs from events across the diocese the Profile Sub-Committee wanted to develop a document which captured the sense of the people and the mission of the whole diocese. The profile would be pictorially and visually rich, focused on the community and convey the current mission, the geographical and cultural richness, and complexity of San Diego.

I felt that in the sessions we did have ears to hear”, we did listen to each person and the Holy Spirit then guided the development of the profile.

Rather than publish a job description or laundry list of what we wanted in a new Bishop this profile would communicate a description of us, our neighbors, what we are being called to do and then asked nominees to tell us how they could help us.

Again, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit our words would not return empty.
In reflecting on the complicated process of active listening I think each community was heard and provided the information to develop a profile reflecting our hopes, dreams, and our challenges, but more importantly God’s will for our Diocese.

I think this part of the project is where God challenged all of us to respond to what we are being called to do, but one question to ask yourself is “Can you identify similarities and dissimilarities in how you actively listen and act on what you hear?”

Saturday, July 14, 2018

2018-3 - The Tower of Babel

In my last blog I described the initial Bishop Nominating Committee retreat where I was allocated to the “Communications Sub-Committee”. Now was the time to “roll our sleeves up” and start working.
One of my tasks was to assist in defining what we needed to communicate, to whom, and how often. When thinking about this task I started to wonder why communication should be so difficult.
I prayed about this, and as I looked at scripture to help me understand why we do not communicate easily, I was guided to Genesis 11:1-9 - The Tower of Babel.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.  As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But God came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. God said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So, God scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel — because there God confused the language of the whole world. From there God scattered them over the face of the whole earth
Even though the words "Tower of Babel", from the Hebrew word balal meaning to jumble or to confuse, do not appear in the Bible and is referred to only as a city and tower, it is now a phrase used to describe the confusion caused by multiple languages and miscommunication.

This story is an etiology, a narrative that explains the origin of a custom, ritual, name, or other phenomenon. It explains the origin of the multiple of languages and cultures.

God was concerned that by working closely together to build the tower the people were trying to determine their own destiny. God brought multiple languages into existence and as a result, humanity was divided into linguistic groups, unable to understand one another.

A first century Jewish interpretation explains this as a story of pride, an act of defiance against God, and resulting punishment.

Later interpretations proposed God's actions were not punishment but were motivated by the desire to expand humanity through multiple languages, multiple cultures and diversity across the entire world.

It is in these interpretations we see two different theological questions:
1.    Was it God’s punishment for the sin of pride?
2.    Or was it God’s gift of multiple languages and cultures, each with its own value?
In looking at God’s actions as a punishment I interpreted it as:
·         The people started with one language, 
·         They wanted a tower to reach the heavens, to make a name for themselves, and for nothing to be impossible for them,
·         They would no longer need to rely on God,
·         God recognized the sin of pride in their achievements and that they were moving away from their right relationship,
·         God punished them by scattering them all over the earth with multiple languages, so they would not work together and would need to rely on God’s benevolence.
In looking at God’s actions as the gift of grace to further develop the spirituality and culture of humanity, I interpreted the same words as:
·         The people started with one language,
·         God encouraged the people to reach for the heavens to make a name for themselves, so nothing would to be impossible for them,
·         God wanted to recognize their achievements, their belief, and wanted to expand their relationship,
·         God helped them expand across the world by giving them multiple languages and diverse cultures, so they would have to strive to work together and build relationships. 
When thinking of Genesis 11:1-9 as punishment I saw communication as a problem to be solved. Each message I developed would need a transliteration from my own Anglo Catholic viewpoint into multiple languages, irrespective of the culture of the people with whom I was communicating.

In thinking of Genesis 11:1-9 as God’s grace in building multiple and diverse cultures I saw communication as an opportunity to develop a neutral and meaningful message which could be translated considering both the language and the culture of the recipients.

Whilst working on the Communications Sub-Committee this thinking of multiple and diverse cultures as a gift from God provided me with the opportunity to put into practice what I learned in the School For Ministry (SFM) liturgy classes.

Our discussion on Vatican 2 taught us about the limiting aspects of transliterations versus the increased understanding through translation of liturgy into local languages which reflect both local language and culture.

By attending a few bilingual services, I have noticed there is a difference between reading Spanish without really understanding the message (or sacramental worship) versus taking a well-crafted, neutral message and delivering it into a Latino culture, translated using words which would be understood and relevant to the needs of the recipients.

In all my Communications Sub-Committee work I have taken the positive view it is the God’s grace which allowed the worldwide development of languages and diverse cultures. I try to ensure the message and information to be distributed is focused, factual, and does not contain my own cultural bias before sending it to be translated by someone who is a member of, and understands, the Latino culture we are communicating with.

Even with this understanding of communication, multiple languages, transliteration, translation, and multi culture there remains the theological questions; were God’s actions in Genesis 11:1-9 punishment for pride or the gift of grace to humanity?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

2018-2 - Holy Spirit Led Meeting

When I was accepted onto the Bishop Nominating Committee I started thinking “why me? what have I got to offer?”

Then I started thinking about how this was also opportunity to praise God for all my blessings and I a remembered what someone said at a meeting I had attended “Stewardship is All you do, with All you have, All of the time”.

The Bible says God created everything, including us, and gave everything everyone has. Looking at it with this in mind “giving back” is also “All we do” (volunteer work) with “All we have” (skills and talents) and “All of the time” (using some of the valuable time God has gifted).

In praising God for all blessings, I should simply think of saying “thank you” by giving back and this work was my opportunity to use the talents, skills and time God has given me.

God has blessed all people with different skills and talents expecting them to use them to build the kingdom of heaven here on earth. This starts with concentrating on building relationships which reflect a right relationship with our Lord.

1 Corinthians 12 states For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many” and ….. “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it”.

In Romans 12, St. Paul proclaims the body is comprised of interdependent parts which cannot function alone: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully

So, I prayed about how could I be a part of a team and use my skills, talents and time. 

To start I needed to identify the skills and talents God has given me and say thanks for these gifts.

With the invitation to be part of the work of the Diocese, I was to be part of the team of Lay and Clergy called “to present a diverse slate of 3 to 5 candidates by November 16, 2018; following with the election of the 5th Bishop of San Diego”.

The first part of using our time was to attend a retreat held at the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside.

With a Search Consultant leading us, and 2 Chaplains supporting us in services and prayer, we applied the techniques of Active Listening and Appreciative Team Building to discuss and agree on the work to be done, build us into one team (body) and into sub committees (functions).

This “body” is a diverse group of 18 people from all parts of the Diocese, who based on their skills self-selected into sub-committees and defined their roles and responsibilities as:
·         Educating and Communicating, to provide document sharing, calendaring, web pages and online interview facilities. The team will also develop and distribute education material on the role of the bishop, history of the diocese, how a bishop is elected, and the ordination of a bishop, details on the nominating process and regular sub-committee progress reports, 
·         Listening and Surveying, to set up surveys and meetings throughout the diocese to collect needs, concerns, and ideas for determining the next bishop,
·         Profiling, to develop and publish a profile of the diocese, including such items as information form the listening sessions, history, financial overview, demographics, institutions, governance structures, ministries, mission or vision statements of the diocese. This information will be supported by pictures of communities as work throughout the diocese.
·         Nominating and Screening, to determine and action a plan on how to recruit possible candidates. They will develop forms for nomination, marketing and advertising material
·         Interviewing and Discerning, to manage the standard and objective interviewing process including initial application screening, second round online interviews, petition candidate interviews and the face-to-face discernment retreat.
The team was from all parts of the Diocese and as we met as “one body” we also aimed to work as “one body”. The only way we were able to do this was to listen to the Holy Spirit and allow ourselves to be guided.
When I think of the leaders of the early church, St. Peter and St. Paul, I can recognize they did not agree on many things, didn’t get along most of the time, and finally went their separate ways in their missions.
St. Peter insisted the early believers must follow the old ways, must be circumcised, and must adhere to the Jewish Law as defined in the Torah.
St. Paul’s vision led him to distant lands proclaiming faith in a risen Christ and urging believers to conform their lives to Jesus’s New Covenant.
What they had in common, though, was both understood the invitation to serve and build God’s kingdom.
During the retreat I felt the Holy Spirit was present, guiding discussions and decisions on how best to share skills, talents and time.
I felt the Holy Spirit enter our space from the first moment the Chaplains prayed for us until they conducted the Eucharist and sent us on our way.
I am sure that like St Peter and St Paul we won’t all agree on everything and may agree to disagree on some aspects, but as God’s work is undertaken the “body” and “functions” will be called to be open to guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

2018-1 - Called to Serve

I am sure you have similar memories as mine of playing with friends after school. When I was growing up I was fortunate enough to live in a small semi-rural town in middle England where I could play outside in the afternoon and evening.

We lived in a house at the end of a cul-de-sac in an area full of young families most having only one car which was usually parked in the driveway, which gave me and my friends the dead-end road to play on.

After school we normally met and chose 2 sides for a game of street soccer (or football as we called it). We would play until it started to get dark or until we had the dreaded "call" for dinner.

Each time a parent would call their child in for dinner you would see a blatant attempt to ignore the call or pleas such as "just one more goal, please”, “just another 10 minutes please”, “can I come in when (“insert friends name here”) comes in?, requests that recognized the call but were just delaying in the inevitable.

Fast forward a few decades and I was still too busy to heed a call. 
I was busy working or just trying to fill all my spare time with leisure such as going to the gym, walking, running, going to the cinema, or playing pickleball. 

This means I was also too busy when God tried to call me. Not a call to stop what I was doing but a call to take a moment to listen. 

Over time I had become accustomed to hearing God's call to serve, but I also thought I was an expert in ignoring it or providing excuses as to why I could not do what was asked.  But our God is very persistent, and the call is not likely to go away. 

In seminary I studied “calling” and how it happens through the process of Kenosis, from the Greek word for emptiness,which is the "self-emptying" of my will to become entirely receptive to a “divine will”. This is similar in all religions, sometimes referred to as the will of God or Allah, or the way of Brahman, Nirvana, the Tao (pronounced Dao), Dharma, Cosmos or the Almighty.

When called I am emptied, either totally or partially, which provides a void that is filled by the Holy Spirit to guide and direct my decisions, words and actions.

This kenosis is not something that happens once. It is happening all the time, I am constantly being emptied of self and filled with the Holy Spirit.This process transforms my thoughts and how I understand what I am called to do.

Recently I was called to serve on a Diocese wide team to nominate candidates to be our new Bishop.

First there was the email invite asking people to consider applying. This was ignored but then my Rector asked if I felt called to help and said it would provide an invaluable experience of working on a project at the Diocesan level.

This time I thought and prayed about it and the more I prayed the more I felt I should apply, which I did.

After a few weeks I had forgotten all about the application and then received a telephone call saying my application had been accepted and could I attend a weekend retreat to start the Bishop Nominating Committee process (more on that later).

I said “Yes” and soon after felt an emptying and trepidation over what I had just agreed to. When it dawned on me what I would be part of, the filling with the Holy Spirit took over and I was both elated and exhilarated.

In talking to others about “Calling” I am not the only person who had this experience, and I can now look back and wonder how I could have possibly thought of rejecting the invitation.

As it says in Matthew 20:1-16 we are called to work in God's vineyard, some in the beginning of the day, some at the 3rd hour, the 6th, 9th or the 11th hour. But as Christians we are all being called to serve in some way.

So, if you are feeling God calling in some way what can you do?.

Well, first stop and take time to listen. All the important things you are doing that you think cannot be delayed right now will actually wait 30 minutes, an hour or a whole day.

Then go somewhere quiet, pray, listen and enter into a conversation with God about what you are being called to do. It may be helping others as a volunteer, it may be spending more time studying scripture, it may be more involvement in the church, it may even just be as simple as talking to God more often through prayer.

Whatever it is, our God is not one who can easily be ignored or put off by worldly excuses, so just listen, say “yes” and be ready to embark on a wonderful and rewarding journey.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

2017-10 Burdens and Yokes (Matthew 11 16-30)

In this final week of field education at the Carlsbad-By-The Sea (CBTS) retirement home I prayed and thought about the sermon for the coming Sunday based on the Gospel reading of Matthew 11:16-19 and 25-30.

In our Gospel reading today there are two parts that identify both the rejection of Jesus, and how He can ease our burdens.

The people who are rejecting Jesus are like children who cannot decide which game to play and form teams or take sides.

Jesus compares this to how the message of both He and John the Baptist were rejected. John, focused on judgment and repentance which provoked strong reactions, while Jesus, like John, announces the coming of the kingdom of heaven but was not as harsh and abrasive.

The people He was addressing find reason to take offense at their messages and do not act like Christians. Like today, we too can reject the message and division can also show up in our day to day lives.

On the radio I heard a report that said we still have a divided society but whilst a few decades ago the divisions were about race or economics, todays divisions are mainly about which political party a person supports. They said that polls have identified people in one party are actually afraid of people in the other party. Political discussion, even between friends and family is causing argument.

Last week in the over 55’s resort where we are staying one political association had a list of all their members and had planted American flags in their front yards. Initially we thought this was just the Home Owners Association (HOA) being patriotic but then we noticed the flags were not on every yard.

In talking to someone we knew who had been in the resort many years, it appeared that the “flagless” were very upset because being without flags made them seem unpatriotic.
They also did not want to play the others game or be mistakenly seen as part of that group by planting their own flags.

Just little gestures like this without thinking of the impact on others causes divisions between friends and neighbors which may require some healing.

It is easy for us to forget that the game to which Jesus call us is not about division, but is about doing the work of God in the world.

In the second part of our gospel, Jesus mocks the religious leaders and the elites who oppose Jesus. They claim intelligence and wisdom which only blinds them to what God is really doing. These leaders place these heavy burdens on the shoulders of others but they are unwilling to help people cope.

Today, the world has become exceedingly sophisticated in laying heavy burdens upon us and constant marketing tries to make us believe we are deficient in some way. The largest companies in the world deploy psychology to encourage us to buy into a lifestyle or feel inadequate if we cannot or do not buy their products. And then there are the burdens and stress we impose on ourselves through “to do” lists and daily plans.

As in our world the people Jesus addressed were also weighed down by temptation to sin, oppressive rules and regulations so He invites them (and us) "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light"

It’s easy for us to interpret this passage as an offer from Jesus to take care of all our problems without us having to work.  Jesus is not saying that if we come to him and follow him we will be able to take off our yoke and walk through the rest of our lives completely unburdened.

When Jesus invites us to be “yoked” to him, to walk with Him, to learn from Him, to do God’s will with Him, Jesus is not asking us to take on more and more tasks. He is asking us to carry out our own tasks in a different way, with compassion, with empathy, humbly and with sisterly and brotherly love for the people we work alongside.

Here at CBTS we are so blessed to have a community made up of many Christian denominations, living, worshiping and praying side-by-side as a common body. We also have non-Christian residents who also need spiritual guidance and pastoral care.
At the start of this field assignment in pastoral care I saw the tasks as burdensome and difficult. I did not know how I would cope with providing pastoral care to a community I did not know or how I would react being placed in situations I was unprepared for.

On reflection I now know I had to learn to take on Jesus’s yoke and reflect His teachings as I carried out my daily tasks.  At the start and end of each day I had to pause, think, learn and most importantly pray.

Looking back over the past 12 weeks of this field assignment it was more “formation” than “education”. The education part was through the mentoring I received from various people on topics such as how to develop and deliver sermons, conducting services (of the word), providing pastoral care, and how to participate as part of the team within the CBTS environment.
In reflection some key topics I prayed about and discussed with residents in this community were:
·         Jesus draws near to us sometimes and we are unaware. He meets us in our visits, prayers and worship, and He talks to us in many different ways so we need to actively listen. He stays with us always, so we just need to invite Him in and be comforted,
·         People, like sheep, cannot be treated as tasks on a project plan. God is not on our timeline and schedule so although there are some things that happen as planned many do not,
·         With each exposure to God’s Word and presence in our lives, the Holy Spirit is actively changing us,
·         Looking back on all our life experiences allows us to recognize how we see and feel God’s glory in our words and deeds,
·         We are all within a sheepfold and are being guided to do God’s will,
·         Whilst in this world there are some mysteries we will never fully understand, but having some understanding of the Holy Trinity deepens our worship and helps us to be specific in directing our prayers,
·         We all have varied talents and skills but as we bring people to God we should also focus on making differences, even small ones, to one person at a time,
·         We need to welcome all strangers, support all our community members in what they are trying to do and carry out even the smallest of tasks in love,
·         There will be times we are fearful but we should remember the depth of God’s love, remember Jesus’s words “Do not be afraid!”, and pray until we focus on God and His will rather than ourselves,
·         Be aware of how the things we say and do can cause division within our friends and family and we may need to act or communicate in a different way,
·         Let Jesus lift that heavy burden from our shoulders by asking for forgiveness of our sins and for help resisting temptation to sin again,
·         We need to learn to take on Jesus yoke
·         Trust Jesus, share His yoke which is far easier than the ones we make for ourselves, and reflect His teachings as we carry out our daily tasks,
·         Preaching the Word should not be rushed and it is one of the most important things we can do each week.
If we do all the above I feel that we will start to love all our neighbors in thought, word and deed
I am very pleased that this field assignment has provided formation and has affirmed and strengthened my calling. It has now presented me with the opportunity to continue in service in the role of Chaplain at CBTS and as Pastoral Care assistant at St Michaels-By-The -on a permanent rather than volunteer basis.

Thanks be to God!!!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

2017-9 Welcoming Change (Matthew 10: 40-42)

In this last week of my summer field education assignment at the Carlsbad-By-The Sea (CBTS) retirement home I prayed and thought about the sermon for the coming Sunday based on the Gospel reading of Matthew 10:40 to 42. The idea of welcoming strangers, how we work each day and how the unsung heroes in our community are recognized and rewarded started to form very early in the week.

At the Monday morning management meeting, Joan, the Exec Director, read out a card from one of the residents who had noticed that due to staff schedules all the Directors were volunteering to take on tasks outside of their management roles such as clearing tables, serving meals, staffing the front desk, helping put up and take down equipment for residents events. This card stated that this had been noticed by many residents and they were so grateful and blessed to have such a team helping them. The faces of the management team lit up and I could see that this is the type of reward that reflects a calling rather than a job. It meant so much to the management team it will make them even more determined to make sure any staff shortages did not impact the residents.

As I reflected on this week Gospel, I thought that the passage is not talking about anybody in particular but about all the anonymous people who work hard, carry out God’s will but get little recognition. In our three small but powerful verses this week we see:
·         Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” has a focus on how we see Jesus in all the strangers that join our community, how we welcoming Him and let God into our lives. There is an emphasis on inclusion of all, and of building up a group of strangers into a welcoming community of neighbors,
·          “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward” is explaining that those welcoming, providing hospitality and support to any of God’s workers will receive the same reward as the person they are supporting. Here at CBTS we have many people working and being seen by the residents but also we have an army of people working in the background. Despite not being seen the residents know they are there and value what they bring to the team effort. The thoughts and thanks expressed in the card that Joan read out at the Directors meeting was also an expression of thanks (a reward) for all the team, seen and unseen. Joan intends to read this card out to all the staff at the next employees meeting. Apart from being paid this is exactly the reward that all the employees are striving for,
·         And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” provides a strong conditional statement of the actions we all take on a daily basis. There may be people who seek to do something great but overlook what they accomplish by their countless small deeds undertaken with self-sacrifice and love. The size of a loving deed is not what counts the most it is the motive behind it and the sacrifice that accompanies it. God notices every good deed we do or don't do as if He were the one receiving it.
When I observed the welcoming, the small deeds, support, and rewards it takes to build and maintain our community at CBTS I was reminded of St. Paul’s statement in Romans 12 that the body is comprised of interdependent parts that cannot function alone.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully
Later in the week we had a Chapel Committee meeting about the weekly worship service and I was pleased to notice that the members were now comfortable with me and trust me to the extent that they felt they could suggest changes. These included such changes as having someone from the community witness something in their life rather than my homily each week, multiple people reading the prayers of the people, some new Lesson and Psalm readers, and including a violin solo at the offering.  Unfortunately, as the team now trusted me they were also comfortable with disagreeing with change. It reminded me that St. Peter and St. Paul did not always agree on many things, and I suspect their supporters (their unsung heroes) also disagreed with each other.
Peter insisted that the early believers must follow the old ways, must be circumcised, and must adhere to the Jewish Law as defined in the Torah. Paul’s vision led him to proclaim faith in a risen Christ and urging believers to conform their lives to Jesus’s New Covenant. What they had in common, though, was that both understood that the welcome of God was an invitation to a place in God’s kingdom.
At this time in our maturing CBTS worship community we are also seeing the same sort of division between people who do not want change and others who want to expand what we are doing spiritually and in worship. As this is a multi-denominational community we do have some people who are conservative in their religious background gravitating to what they know and others with a more evangelical background wanting a less formal and changing environment.
My role in this situation is to bring them all together the best I can as a welcoming and worshiping community irrespective of their backgrounds and the deeds they do, especially those on the Chapel Committee who others look up to.
Jesus didn’t say that we have to agree on everything, but He did tell us to be welcoming.
Here at CBTS we are so blessed to have a community made up of many Christian denominations, living, worshiping and praying side-by-side as a common body.
As with St. Peter and St. Paul, we won’t all agree on everything and we may agree to disagree on some things on our faith journeys but we are called to be welcoming.
In my sermon at the end of the week I urged the community to:
·         Welcome all you meet, including strangers,
·         Support all community members, irrespective of their ability, in what they are trying to do,
·         Carry out even the smallest of tasks in love and look forward to God’s reward.
As we do this each week I can see that we do love all our neighbors in thought, word and deed!.