Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Salvation from Seniors

This past weekend I had the chance to spend some time with my longtime friend and mentor, Bishop Claude Payne, retired Bishop of the Diocese of Texas. Some of you will remember that it was Bishop Payne who wrote the book, Reclaiming the Great Commission, which I have found to be a very helpful guide in my ministry as Bishop. Bishop Payne was in town to preach at the installation service of The Rev. Philip Jackson, the new rector of Christ Church of the Ascension in Paradise Valley. Philip's connections with Bishop Payne go back further than mine. They worked together in Texas, and the Bishop presided at Philip's marriage ceremony.

Bishop Payne was one of the oldest bishops ever elected in this country, not taking the reins of the Diocese of Texas until age 61. But once started, he accomplished some amazing things. Prior to his call to the priesthood, Bishop Payne was an engineer. Like most engineers, when confronted by a problem, he devised a solution and then implemented it. The newly-minted Bishop Payne faced a diocese with declining membership, stagnant growth and lack of vision. But thanks to his methodical approach to problems and solutions, the result is that Texas is now one of the largest and healthiest dioceses in the country.

What struck me most strongly during the time we spent together this weekend was that although now well into his retirement, and at an age when many of us would be content to play golf or bridge, Bishop Payne has taken on a quiet, but determined, reformation of the Episcopal Church. A few years ago, he began a series of informal meetings of bishops and clergy, a "Gathering of Leaders." Those attending share a common goal of not being sidetracked by the all too ubiquitous political infighting and to keep focused on the church's main task of spreading the Gospel. We share best practices with each other, and give each other mutual support. I am honored to be part of this group, and I have, in turn, invited several young clergy of our diocese to participate.

Not long ago I visited a vestry where, after I had challenged them to commit to a new vision of growth, one exasperated vestry member said, "We can't do that, we're too old!"

I recalled the saying of Winston Churchill, "Most good is done in the world by people who don't feel very well."

Bishop Payne is an example of someone who is having a huge effect on the lives of many in his "retirement." I am sure you can think of other examples in your own church or community who contribute to a future they may never see. I am quite proud of my Dad who last year at the age of 84 volunteered to work on a building project for the poor in Guatemala, who spearheaded a library expansion program in their town, and who sat on the board of directors of their county community college district. I recall a gentleman from St. John's church in Glendale who sang in the choir there-up to when he was 102!

It is true that the Episcopal Church is "grayer" than many denominations. That is certainly true here in Arizona. But that does not mean that even our older members can't continue to exercise dynamic, thoughtful, and productive ministries, and even change the course of the church for the future.

I wonder what Bishop Payne plans to do once he turns 80?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Interviewing for the Faith

This past week I joined some of my Episcopal colleagues in New York City for some “media training,”—translated, “how to give an interview on television and not look like a doofus.” Together at the recent House of Bishops meeting in Texas we had all had a taste of this, but a group of us decided that we needed some more intense work in this area, including some practice runs on camera.

I think that the Presiding Bishop (probably prompted by our own Chuck Robertson) realized that at the upcoming Lambeth Conference we are likely to have a microphone stuck in our face and we had better be ready to respond intelligently. Moreover, I realized that since I have been bishop, I have probably given about 25 such interviews.
After last week’s media training, I wish that could have done most of them over again!

Dealing with journalists is not easy, but there are at least three main points that we learned in our training—take time to prepare, know your core story (the point you want to make sure you get across in what is likely to be a seven second sound-bite), and always include a story.

It occurred to me that these tips for doing a good interview are also fundamental to being a good evangelists—know the topic (the Gospel of Jesus Christ), insist on the core point (this is “Good News” for all people); make it personal and passionate (speak from your own experience).

We had a chance to critique several recorded television interviews. It was amazing to see how many people when confronted by a camera wander off-topic, or string together the worst kind of generalities, or are distracted by curve-ball questions which have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

How are we doing when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel? Do we take time to prepare what we are going to say? Our coach reminded us that most clergy spend 10-20 hours a week preparing a sermon that a few hundred people might hear. What about an interview that thousands or even millions will read or listen to? I am often saddened by the small number of folks who participate in parish education classes or the Church School teacher who brags that they “looked over the lesson for a few minutes on Saturday night,” or the priest who clearly has not his or her homework, or the Sunday morning service which is thrown together with no real thought. “Be prepared” is not just the Boy Scout motto, but for any of us in Christian leadership.

Likewise, our frequent lack of passion about what we proclaim is often a result of the fact that we don’t take it personally. Unless we share with others our own experience of God’s work in our lives, then we cannot expect to influence them. This does not mean that every sermon has to be a personal testimonial, or every coffee hour an occasion for witnessing, but it does mean that our religion is rooted in our experience ( Frederick Buechner once said, “Religion begins with a lump in the throat”), and unless we base our words on what is going on in our hearts, our presentation of the Gospel will be boring and irrelevant.

Most of us will never have to face a camera team, but each of us is called everyday to be interviewed by others about our faith. It can happen in simple ways: around the water-cooler, on the sidelines of the soccer field, at the senior center. The questions may be more subtle than on TV, but they are asking the same thing—tell us about what you believe and why?

What will be your answer?

“Film at 10”