What Would Jesus Do? What Can We Do?

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: I Corinthians 12:1-11; St. John 2:1-11

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, who has called and equipped us for ministry. Amen.

Does anyone remember those WWJD? bracelets that were so popular in the 90s and 2000s? They came in a ton of different colors and, for most of my childhood, they were everywhere. Yes, we all wore them in youth group – and it became a point of pride to show how dirty yours was after years of church rafting trips and Christian rock concerts.

And who remembers what the letters WWJD stood for? “What would Jesus do?”

These bracelets – and later, t-shirts, bumper stickers, necklaces, signs, and hats were supposed to be both an outward witness, a way of starting conversations about the faith, and also a reminder to the wearer to follow Christ.

So…you’re at a wedding, and they run out of drinks. What’s your move? Well, “What would Jesus do?”

Turn water into wine! Someone want to give it a go?

Continue reading “What Would Jesus Do? What Can We Do?”

Born Again From Above

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent

Text: St. John 3:1-17

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, who gives us new birth. Amen.

Nicodemus - John 3:1-21

Evening has fallen over Jerusalem, and the cool air of the spring night is settling in. The city is packed to overflowing for Passover feast, and this metropolis is in even more of an uproar after a wandering preacher from Nazareth entered the Temple to drove out the animals and money changers using an improvised whip. And yet this same preacher has attracted a large following. As St. John phrased it just a few verses before our Gospel reading, “…many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.”

So it is that, as we read, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a religious leader among the Judeans, came to Jesus under the cover of darkness. It might be a stretch to suggest he “believed in [Jesus’] name,” but he is definitely curious. “Rabbi,” he says, “we know you are a teacher who has come from God” because how else could anyone work such miraculous signs?

Which brings us up to the more familiar part of the story… Continue reading “Born Again From Above”

Covenant: “Mind the Generation Gap”

Writing at Covenant, Hannah Matis speculates on the one-two punch of fewer young clergy facing an uncertain future of part-time positions and “junior” positions:

Meanwhile, if the number of full-time jobs has shrunk, the number of part-time positions has ballooned: and I for one would not be surprised if those positions were disproportionately occupied by women, old and young, and by junior clergy hanging on by their teeth and, heaven forfend, trying to raise families on a part-time church stipend. Whatever our political beliefs, who we hire is a statement of worth: that we ordain women may be a balm to liberal consciences, but what does it say about those values if those women are doomed forever to be supply?

Even as denominations face shortages of ordained clergy, newly ordained young adults, persons of color, and women are finding it harder and harder to find full-time positions.

While Matis is speaking specifically about the Episcopal Church, a similar situation is playing out in the ELCA. While the ELCA faces a clergy shortage, we also have many young and minority pastors who can’t find full-time calls. In seminary, we were told about a coming golden age for those seeking calls as Baby Boomers moved into retirement.  But congregational decline has kept pace with “Boomsday,” leaving a slew of open but part-time pulpits.

I write this as someone serving a parish part-time. I love my vocation, I love my parishioners, and I enjoy the flexibility to have multiple days off a week to run and maintain this site. But the challenges are numerous; just to name three:

  1. Ministry is unpredictable, making it difficult to work a second job when my schedule can change at the drop of a hat.
  2. Working in a parish that can’t afford a full-time pastor means working in a parish striving for renewal. That’s not something easily achieved on a schedule of twenty-hours a week.
  3. I graduated with a debt that exceeds my annual salary, and I was fortunate enough to have amazing scholarships and a spouse who is both debt-free and has a good job. I’m one of the lucky ones, and it’s still a struggle.

In the Church, a thirty-five year old presbyter is deemed “young” clergy and might very well be serving as an associate pastor, in a part-time call, or in multiple congregations. “Aren’t you too young to be a pastor/priest/preacher?” is the constant refrain. In the secular world, a thirty-five year old with a graduate degree would be moving up into management.

Matis concludes with a warning:

That is both the lesson and the warning the Episcopal Church needs to heed: When Millennials don’t need either the political visibility or social advantages of the Episcopal Church and they (or their children) are treated like nuisances, they will just leave. When Millennial clergy bear the brunt of a demanding vocation and receive no investment from their church in them, their families, or their future, they will just leave.

I remain more optimistic. Living into this challenge and knowing many young pastors in similar situations, most of us have no intention of leaving. None of us took up this vocation because we thought it would be easy or because the world would greet us with open arms. We’re here because we’re called by God to this holy work.

But my optimism is not naïve. Soon, and very soon, the Church will have to engage in a very serious and difficult conversation about how we form young clergy and make room for their voices and gifts.

Post Script: Covenant also went back into the archives to re-publish this helpful article by the Rev. Robert Ehrgott on an earlier clergy shortage and the restoration of the permanent diaconate. It’s a fascinating read for those of us interested in such things but also a timely reminder that our present struggles are nothing new. On the heels of the ELCA’s decision to form a united roster for “Ministers of Word and Service” and as we consider, at long last, joining in the apostolic tradition of ordaining our deacons, Fr. Ehrgott’s piece provides a helpful history of the topic within the Episcopal Church but also the Church Catholic.