This is it! This is the first installment of the new Weekly Word email—a mash-up of the existing Weekly Word emails that have gone out on Mondays and the weekend emails that have gone out on Thursdays. The new Weekly Word will include a weekly reflection from Doyt, upcoming events, parish prayer list, and stories about ministries at Epiphany. It’s everything rolled into one! You can expect the Weekly Word in your inbox every week around this time.
Along with this email comes another big change: instead of weekly mailings, we are introducing The Monthly Message, a printed newsletter that will reach homes on or near the first of every month. As I write this, the September issue is being tabbed and labeled. And I hate to toot my own horn, but I think it looks pretty good.
If you have previously received the Weekly Word by mail, you will automatically get The Monthly Message. If you have not been receiving the Weekly Word by mail, please know that all of the content in the MM will be repeated in the WW emails, so don’t feel like you’re missing anything. But if you would like to get it in the mail, contact the Parish Office to change your communication preferences.
I hope that this system will make Epiphany communications even more focused and effective, so let’s try it out together for a while and see how we like it. And along the way, feel free to send me any questions, concerns, or suggestions.
Judy Naegeli, Communications
Conversations with Agnostics and Atheists
a reflection by The Rev. Doyt Conn
I have been thinking a lot about atheists lately. Maybe it has something to do with being in Europe this summer. As you know, I spent two weeks studying Anglican History through the International Summer School Program at Cambridge University, along with twenty other pilgrims from Epiphany. The genesis for this pilgrimage grew out of my statement to Holy Land pilgrims that if there were other pilgrimages they’d like to take, I was open to suggestions. The Cambridge University idea was brought forward and came to fruition through the industry of a few leaders.
The Holy Land pilgrimage put us in the heart of Christianity. Cambridge set us in the heart of academic secularism. Over and over again when we said we were with a church group from the States people seemed compelled to proclaim they were atheists. If you think about it, this is really the strangest thing. Had we proclaimed we were warlocks, I very much doubt the response would have been, “I don’t believe in warlocks.” But there is something about identifying as a Christian that provokes people to proclaim their belief system.
Our pilgrimage into academic secularism gave us cause to consider our faith and how we engage in conversations about faith. There seemed to be two overriding issues encountered when fielding questions about faith. The first is confidence in our knowledge of Christianity, and second is personal certainty about all aspects of our faith. For a few evenings, as we gathered to pray and review our day, this was the substance of our conversation. Let me summarize what came out of these gatherings.
First, everyone has a system of belief. Second, Christians believe being in relationship trumps information (or as I like to say, belonging trumps believing). And third, Christianity is a huge, huge, huge topic, and there isn’t a soul on earth who has full mastery of it. So now, given these assumptions we bring to mind those unexpected moments when someone asks: “You go to church? You’re a Christian? Why? Tell me about that.” For most of us the temptation is to try to answer these questions. DON’T! Resist the temptation. Instead, probe. Say in response: “Wow! That is a big question, given the enormity of Christianity. Why don’t you tell me a little about your experience with Christianity?” Ask this even if you think you know their relationship with Christianity. Ask even if it is one of your children. You will certainly find out something you didn’t know. Now if they end their reflections about Christianity still claiming unbelief, and still seeking to know why you go to church, ask one more follow-up question: “What do you believe in?”
Let me explain a little more about the line of questioning above. First, it allows us to move into a conversation rather than a defensive apology. This fits with our Christian belief that relationship is primary. Secondly, it invites our conversation partner to invest in the proposed topic as a partner and not as a prosecutor. We move the conversation out of a win/lose dynamic by allowing them to put their cards on the table. And third, it allows us to discern what specifically to talk about regarding our Christian faith and life.
Here is the wonderful surprise we’ll find when we enter into a conversation with a non-believer: we have way more depth of spiritual understanding than we thought. If we are just responding as the primary defender of Christianity, we won’t feel like this. But if we enter into conversation about belief and the spiritual life, we will find that as active Christians, authentically seeking God, we have way, way more to talk about than most atheists I’ve met along the way. We also are very likely to find that our conversation partner’s theology is rather thin and idiosyncratic.
Here are three things you are likely to hear: 1) “I try to be a good person.” 2) “I find spirituality in nature.” 3) “I don’t go to church because my parents made me go to church as a child.” When you hear these things, I invite you to ask more questions and probe with curiosity. For example, in response to the “I try to be a good person,” wonder about how they do this. What are there metrics? How do they practice for improvement? Is there any accountability, or instruction? Seek to understand with sincerity. We know how to train for a marathon, or to train to learn a new language. So wouldn’t one also train to be a good, or increasingly better person? Church is our training ground for becoming a better and better person. Church is our spiritual gym. We can explain this.
How about the “spirituality in nature” belief system? I’d guess most of us, as upper middle-class, affluent citizens of Seattle find a walk in nature a spiritual experience. But is this a belief system, or is it just a benefit of affluence known to the rich or first-world countries? Can a kid in Haiti have the same spirituality? Is there any accountability in this spirituality, or is it just one more example of how we get to do what we want to do the way we want to do it when we want to do it? Does a walk in nature make better our work life, or home life, or improve our understanding of specific moral issues? Does it make the world a better place? Maybe. But church is a place that we go even when we don’t want to go. It is a place that raises issues beyond our general consideration. And our theology is robust enough to make a difference in the life of the richest and the poorest people in the world. I’m not sure a walk in the woods matches up.
And then there is “my parents made me go to church.” In these situations I am always tempted to ask: “What other bad things did they make you do? Go to school? Eat your vegetables?” Resist the temptation. In these situations I usually reflect on the adults I knew as a kid growing up in my church; I usually reflect on the cross demographic benefit I find in church; and I usually reflect on the broad culture references and deep historical influences I learned at church that I might otherwise not have understood.
The risk of engaging the other’s spiritual framework and asking them questions is that we look like or even become the prosecutors and end up making them feel the way we ourselves felt. Resist this, or at least be aware of this potential. The hope is real dialogue and authentic understanding and maybe even opening a friend to the power and joy of following Jesus.
If I could leave you with one thought it is this: You know way more about Christianity than you think. Your formation as a Christian these many years has given you a depth of understanding that is far more robust than the average person walking around Seattle. Honor your faith by engaging the conversation.
Cambridge Pilgrimage 2014
Below is a link to photos that give a taste of our pilgrimage time in England. The theme was “a journey into Anglicanism,” and it was lived out through classes at Cambridge University and church visits throughout England. We worshipped at All Saints Margaret Street in London and later at Canterbury Cathedral. We attended Evensong at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s, and we also visited Eli Cathedral and St. Alban’s Cathedral. Our daily routine was organized by the Hour by Hour prayer book, classes and plenary sessions, lunch in Cambridge, afternoon gatherings to reflect on our experiences, and dinner in the refectory. This pilgrimage deepened friendships, broadened perspectives and leant insight into our tradition and our individual and communal walk with Christ.
Kudos to the Congregation
A word of thanks from Tom Foster
I continue to reflect on the energy in the participation of the Epiphany congregation at worship. Although bolstered this summer by choir members sitting among you, the services have been examples of energetic, intentional participation. Although passive participation can be a viable worship option on occasion, yours has been a model of the opposite!
There are many inspired sources on the subject of church music. The following source has been shared with you from time to time: The great 19th-century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard has said that liturgical worship is like a drama. The service leaders are the prompters, the members of the congregation are the actors, and GOD is the audience.
The Epiphany congregation effectively continues to fulfill its role as actors in the drama of worship. For your up-front musicians at Epiphany, the congregation is an appreciated worship partner, and we want to forward our enthusiastic gratitude. We’ve just had our all-day Saturday retreat, and we look forward to being back as the choir starting September 7.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Last Chance to Sign Up for EfM!
If you’ve been on the fence about signing up for Education for Ministry (EfM), now is the time to commit! Charissa has to order materials in the next day or so, so email her today!
EfM is a four-year program featuring a year of study on each of the following: Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, and Theological Perspectives. For nine months, a group of 6 to 12 people gathers once a week with a mentor to discuss readings, reflect theologically on tradition and experience, and worship together.
- Year 1—Old Testament: focused on deepening our understanding of context, genre, history, and authorship. We get new tools for reading the Hebrew Scriptures and finding meaning.
- Year 2—New Testament: focused on context, genre, history, and authorship issues.
- Year 3—Church History: study of the deep faithfulness within the church, as well as periods of violence and abuse of power, which raises questions about the church’s identity.
- Year 4—Theological Perspectives: contemporary issues, ethics, and interfaith relationships.
Registration opens in August every year for a September start date, and we are still accepting enrollments for the 2014 incoming cohort. There is a $350 fee to participate, and scholarships are available. The time commitment is a weekly meeting of 2.5 hours, plus a couple hours a week of reading.
An Update from the Building Team
Over the last weeks we have had our mechanical and electrical contractors on campus in order to solidify the scope of their work, which will help us firm up prices. Our contractor has done some exploratory investigation in the Fireside Room and Gieth’s office, but both of those spaces are fully usable again.
The Next 100 Years Building Team: Ed Emerson, Laura Blackmore, Bob Barnes, Jim Marlow, Ben Bradstreet
Contact the Building Team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Parish Prayer List
To view the prayer list for this weekend, download the PDF here.
Sunday Lectionary Corner
August 31, 2014
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost