Category Archives: Variety

Miscellaneous thoughts about faith, life, and leadership. © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

“Integrity” A Civil Air Patrol Core Value

by Ch. Maj. Eric Cooter, CAP Group 5 flyingChaplain/Unit Chaplain

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “Integrity” both as “the quality of being honest and fair,” as well as “the state of being complete or whole.”  When most of us think of integrity, the characteristics of honesty and fairness usually come to mind.  However, a life of honesty and fairness requires us to be emotionally, physically, as well as spiritually whole.  Wholeness means that we are living in a state of “not lacking or leaving out any part.”

Life’s circumstance can often leave us lacking.  When we are physically ill or we experience an injury, our entire state of wholeness shifts.  Our mental state becomes challenged, we may become despondent, and our spirit focuses on the negative. When our emotional state is challenged because of stress, we often feel that emotion in our guts or for some of us, our immune system becomes compromised and we catch a cold or some other minor illness.  When we overlook our spiritual practices, or we fail to care for our spiritual selves, we may experience the emotions of despondency, fear, or a lack of peace.

Alternatively, when we exercise and eat properly, when we take time for meditation, prayer, or other spiritual/religious practices, and when we spend quality time with friends and family, our health tends to improve, we focus more on the positive, and we feel more connected to others and the world around us.  An online Mayo Clinic article states, “Taking the path less traveled by exploring your spirituality can lead to a clearer life purpose, better personal relationships and enhanced stress management skills.”(1)

We are a whole person that cannot be divided.  We are more than mere mental and physical functions. We are intelligent, emotional, and spiritual beings, who require balance in order to be whole.   An aircraft engine requires fuel, air, and spark to run properly, and if any of those things are out of balance, the engine does not run at its optimum level.

Accomplishing our individual mission tasks and working together as a team, to insure we accomplish our team mission requires all of us to function at our optimum level.

Living the core values of CAP can be a challenge for all of us, but achieving our goals, accomplishing the mission, and living a life of “honesty and fairness,” living as a person of integrity requires each of us to be whole.  Like packing up your “mission bag” with MRE’s and water purification tablets, or conducting a pre-flight before starting the engine, begin the practice of taking care of yourself and your mission readiness.  Eat well, get plenty of rest, have fun and play, spend time with your family and friends, study and work to improve your skills, and take care of your spirit.  Pray, meditate, and consider committing to a frequent observance of the religious practices of your faith tradition.  Commit to be your whole self, your balanced self, and your best self.  Live with integrity!


Articles – “Ministry Matters”

My articles published by Ministry Matters online magazine


By Eric Cooter

I grew up Methodist, became Baptist as a teen, wandered around the “religious cereal aisle” in my college years, and eventually in my mid-twenties, I found the ancient liturgy… read more


By Eric Cooter
Is it possible for authentic Christian community to form in ‘unlikely venues’?” When I served as the rector in a transitional size parish it was difficult, due to the intense… read more


By Eric Cooter
“Holy Week” for Christians has been and is just that, the holiest of weeks in our liturgical calendar. Through the liturgies of Holy Week, we experience a tradition that is… read more

Encouragement for Experimenters, Innovators, and Risk Takers.

1903_banner_rightGod equips each one of us for specific ministry. (I Cor. 12:12-27)  Some folks are uniquely and adequately equipped to serve as protectors of the tradition as it is, and others are gifted to experiment, innovate, and try new approaches. Others are gifted to stand in the middle holding both tradition and innovation in tension. We need more risk-takers in the church!
Consider the early innovators of science and technology, people like the Wright Brothers, who failed many times at their attempts to achieve the first manned powered flight. Now, forty-seven years after the successful Apollo 11 landing on the moon, NASA has still failed to move humans beyond Earth’s orbit, but there are some who are dreaming about traveling to Mars. Innovation requires vision, patience, and fortitude both in times of success, in the midst of failure, and after periods of many setbacks.
Experimentation is costly and it may never show measurable results. Risk-taking and experimentation requires fortitude in the midst of setbacks, doubters, and detractors. Fear can keep us from trying or sustaining something different, from dreaming new dreams, and from stepping out and taking a risk. If trepidation wins, we will never know what possibilities might have been. Innovators, experimenters, and risk-takers require encouragement and support.
So, it is easy for folks to sit on the sideline and say, “stay with it” or “buck up and keep going” or even “it is time to give up.” When you are in the middle of the storm, when all those around you have lost faith in your vision, and when behind you there lies a string of false starts, early departures, and utter failures, the choice then is this, “you can just quit, or you can keep trusting God and keep going.” The future depends on innovators and experimenters who are willing to traverse the rocky and difficult road of failure, in order to see their vision come to fruition.
By the way, the next time you hop in a Boeing 737 for that short flight to see a friend, give thanks for the patience, fortitude, and vision of two men, Orville and Wilbur Wright. They were just two guys from Ohio that many people thought were simple, crazy bicycle makers that dreamed of flying with the birds.

Space, Rockets, and Making Disciples

a-baa-rocket-failThe other night at the weekly Civil Air Patrol meeting of my local USAF auxiliary squadron, I taught a class (as I sometimes do) on Aerospace Education for a group of about 20 cadets and 5 adult officers.  For this particular class, I offered a lesson on the history of four pioneers in the science of aerospace and rocketry. I love teaching because the lessons always include more than merely sharing facts, figures, dates, and data. Many times when we teach others, it is an opportunity to inspire young people, to reach beyond what they perceive to be their own limitations.

Four aerospace scientists, Konstatin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, Hermann Oberth, Robert H. Goddard, and Werner Von Braun were truly pioneers in the field of astrophysics, mechanics, and space flight.  Here are three interesting facts that I learned that were common among all four of them:

(1) Despite the fame and accolades given them years after their work and research had been accomplished, all of these three men were frequently challenged by their skeptics, and often ridiculed by their peers. (2) Experimentation and failure was at the heart of their work, and they never lost sight of the vision that had been given them, despite their many failed attempts, experiments, and “hair-brained” ideas. (3) Each of these leaders contributed in some way to the modern space programs we have seen make such advancements over the past five decades. The Apollo missions to the moon, the Space Shuttle program, the International Space Station and now, the eventual missions that will inevitably take us to Mars and beyond were all made possible because four men were inspired to reach for the stars.

Although our current and future space programs operate on the surety of precise measurements, proven facts, historical data, and measurable results, the path to aerospace success was not always paved with surety and precision. If not for the willingness of a few people to risk ridicule, skeptics, and failure, we would still be wondering what it would be like to set foot on our closest orbiting satellite (the Moon), rather than planning to reach our closest neighboring planet (Mars) in the next ten to fifteen years.

Why do I share this? Simply because I believe that the mission of the church requires us to take risks and to be willing to reach beyond what we perceive to be our own limitations. Jesus commissioned the church, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) This sounds like Jesus was serious about the work he has sent his church to do, and my suspicion is that he expects us to step out of our comfort zones and go do just that; make disciples. Go!   To go and make faithful followers of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ today, we may have to take a few more risks. We may have to be willing to accept failure as a part of experimentation and ultimately, we may have to be willing to risk the skepticism and ridicule of our colleagues. The failures and experimentations, starts and stops, disappointments and hopes, are all necessary experiences of leaders who are willing to go into those places, others dare not go.

Maybe making disciples in the 21st century and beyond may have to look a whole lot less like a production operation, where our systems, processes, and ideas are rigid, well planned, and measurable. Maybe making disciples of Jesus Christ in the 21st century, a time in our culture that is changing more rapidly than any of us can imagine, may require the church to be more willing than ever before, to experiment, to fail, and to step out of the boat and trust the Spirit to lead us.  Maybe we have to listen more openly to the dreamers, to the people who have a passion for folks on the margins of the church, and maybe, just maybe we have to be willing to partner with those folks who may show up at our doors with really some “hair-brained” ideas.

“Fresh Expressions of Christian Community: Where the Spirit Blows.”

balloon(July 7, 2012)

In the Book of Common Prayer, we can find these words, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (BCP p. 855) It is interesting today, to observe how the Church wrestles with her mission in the world. There are some communities of faith that are working diligently to restore ALL people to God and each other by being Christ-like and doing so, in their own backyards; feeding, serving, teaching, loving, sharing, and transforming. There are some communities of faith, who equally live out their mission by becoming spiritual respites for the broken, distraught, and lonely around them. Traditions of service and transformation found in many of our existing parishes and mission churches, serve as beacons of hope. Even so, there are communities in our family that require re-visioning, re-freshing, re-planting, and re-imagining, so they might discover how the Spirit is calling them to serve and proclaim Good News in the years to come. This process of “Re” is vital and absolutely necessary for the Church to continue her mission of “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ,” but “Re” may not be enough, there may be more we can and there is more we must do.

Two words in our mission statement may become merely an nice “addendum,” if we continue down the path we are on today. (ALL People) Our mission statement alludes to a mission that is vast, diverse, broad, deep, and multi-faceted and embraces way of accomplishing our purpose. There are many people in the Church today, who believe that the Spirit is calling us now, to embrace a pioneering approach to being Church. These folks work diligently to birth, alongside traditional expressions of the faith, new forms of Christian community. At the most recent General Convention, the Episcopal Church affirmed, as Tom Brackett (Officer for Church Planting and Ministry Re-Development) asserts in his blog, “Over the last ten days, the legislative and deliberative processes of the 77th General Convention clarified two priorities (among many): develop new ministries as well as nurture new and innovative expressions of ministry.” (Church Planting Central Blog)

Several years ago, the Church of England recognized that there were previously unobserved shifts in the culture that were influencing the church’s ability to continue reaching “ALL PEOPLE.” In Europe, there is a growing decline in the number of people, who proclaim a faith community affiliation. In response, the leadership of the Church of England began a process of discernment with hope and a pioneering spirit. Eventually, leaders committed to investing resources and began to empower ministry pioneers to respond to the Spirit’s call to evangelize in fresh ways. This initiative was not about revitalizing, re-imagining, re-planting, or re-visioning existing parishes, but the focus of this pioneering, entrepreneurial approach was to reach into the cultural context, and allow the Spirit to birth new communities of faith. Out of this discernment process, a renewed evangelistic fervor birthed what has become known as the “Fresh Expressions” movement.

This movement of the Spirit is not limited to the UK or Europe, but it has been in motion here in the United States for two decades or more. At the National Church level, The Rev. Tom Brackett in his unique leadership role, offers resources and networking opportunities for pioneer mission planters throughout the Episcopal Church. In addition, the Diocese of Southern Ohio’s The Right Reverend Briedenthal (Diocesan Bishop) has recognized the need to explore, support, and engage “Fresh Expressions” of the faith. The Rev. Jane Gerdsen serves the Diocese of Southern Ohio as “Missioner for Fresh Expressions” and in her ministry, she serves as a link between the Bishop’s office and the faith communities who are emerging out of a unique community ethos. There are many other “grass root” efforts sprouting throughout the Church today, and our work has just begun.

A recent ARIS (American Religious Institute Study) indicated that in the last two years, the number of people in the United States who proclaimed “NO RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION” grew from 8% to 16%.  A more recent 2012 Pew Survey asserts that 1 in 5 (20%) of Americans acknowledge they have no religious affliilation at all. I imagine that if most of our congregations took a survey next Sunday, they would realize that we are missing a few generations from our worship services. Where are “ALL the PEOPLE?” We must act, we must take risks, and we must innovate and recapture an entrepreneurial spirit in our evangelism efforts, in our response to Our Lord’s mandate to “make disciples of all nations.”

We must with caution, undertake this great journey, not with an expected outcome of “putting young people back into our pews.” We must not take this path believing that one of these emerging communities will look like St. Swithins, once it matures. The Right Reverend Graham Cray, the “Fresh Expressions” pioneering leader in the Church of England, cautions us about our expectations of these emerging communities. He states, “Maturity will not mean they become like the churches which planted them. They must remain relevant to their cultural context.”[1] He also reminds us that we must be innovators, entrepreneurs, pioneers, and risk takers. He states, “Because there is no standard model of fresh expression of church, they cannot and should not be cloned! Rather there is a process, which is normally followed when they are established. It begins with listening – to God and to the community or network, you are trying to reach. It is more about discernment than strategic planning: Looking for the Holy Spirit’s opportunities, and obeying his call.”[2]

A “Fresh Expressions” initiative is not about creating a model of church planting, and implementing it repeatedly, until we reach some pre-determined benchmark. We need a fresh way of engaging in community building, and it may require us to do it in new, fresh, never-tried paths.

As a licensed Commercial Pilot and Certified Flight Instructor, I have made several “cross country” flights to distant airports. I have taught hundreds of flight students to traverse the skies of Florida from Naples to Miami, Venice to Jacksonville, and Marco to Key West. When my students prepared for a flight, it was crucial for them to research the weather along the route of flight, explore the conditions of the destination airport, eliminate mechanical risks by thoroughly checking out the airplane, and insure that the route taken to the destination would be followed with great precision using the navigation aids along the way. I offer this lesson about aviation training as a metaphor for how in the past, we may have used a particular model of church planting. We may have used a “tried and true” method of birthing new faith communities. Like planning for a long flight, we knew where we wanted to go and we knew what we wanted the community to look like on the other side. Like any good pilot, we may looked over our craft, our route, and the weather, we knew the pitfalls along the way, and we tried to reduce the risks of failure associated with birthing the new community. Using the navigation aids along the way, we may have established set “benchmarks of growth” and along the way, we evaluated the progress of the little community as she grew and matured. Finally, we arrived at our destination, and the congregation was welcomed into the Diocese as a parish. We landed safely.

Pioneering new forms of Christian community may look a lot different and it will require a fresh approach. As we consider our response to the Spirit’s beckoning to support multi-faceted and fresh ways of birthing new communities of the faith, maybe we should consider another metaphor for church planting; “Balloon Flight. The difference between piloting an aircraft and a hot air balloon is simple. The pilot of the hot air balloon can only control two phases of flight; liftoff and touchdown. The balloon pilot must depend less on solid planning and “tried and true” methods of years past, and more on the wild, wooly, and uncertain movement of the wind. Once the balloon becomes airborne, it lazily and yet with purpose, rides the wind to where ever she might lead. The pilot responds to the wind and either adds or reduces the heated air which helps the craft rise to stronger streams, or descends into calmer paths. The pilot has no control over the direction of flight because the balloon is at the mercy of the wind.

When we take on the challenge to engage in new forms of community building, we must be willing to take a risk and ride the movement of “Pneuma,” wind, breath, Spirit. The Spirit blows where she wills. The Spirit is blowing and calling us aloft and when we make the choice to jump into the basket and take flight, we will surely find ourselves on an adventure, a journey that may take winding turns, achieve unexpected heights, recoil into uncertain descents, and maybe even offer us a unique surprise or two. The Spirit is blowing and calling us aloft. May we have the courage, commitment, and patience to pull the cord that releases this craft aloft, and through our pioneer response, may we continue to “restore ALL people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (BCP p. 855)


[2] IBID

Millenials – Wrestling with Faith

I had the most amazing, humbling, and enlightening experience a few weeks ago.  I spent a few hours with a new group of Christians who gather not too far from where I live.  In a city in our diocese, a community of young adults have been gathering together for study, fellowship, and support for about a year now. This was my first visit with “First Tuesday,” an emergent community, which averages fifteen (15) or so attendees and most, if not all are twenty (plus) year olds. This community is currently led by an incredible young woman, who is a leader in one of the parishes in the diocese. This group gathers together every month to discuss faith, to bear each other’s burden’s, to share a meal, and to explore what it means to live in community with each other. A couple of the young adults attend an Episcopal Church, most go to church somewhere, some go to multiple churches, and some go to no church at all.

I asked this diverse group this simple question, “If you had the opportunity to tell church leaders something, which you would like to see changed in faith communities today, what would that be?” I had several very direct, helpful, engaging, and honest answers.

Here is what I heard this group say: (1) The teaching must be applicable and understandable for living as a Christian today, (2) A welcome at the door that is authentic and engaging, (3) Music that is familiar (4) Non-Judgemental church culture, (5) A community that actually IS good news to each other, long before it attempts to go out into the world and BE good news to others, (6) Sermons that are encouraging, which provide sustenance to get me through the difficulties of life during the week. (7) Give young adults the chance to take an active leadership role.

What are your thoughts?

“Fresh Expressions”: Exploring the development of Christian Community Today.” By The Rev. Eric Cooter

What is Fresh Expressions/Emergence Christianity?

I imagine asking someone experimenting with ministry in the Emergent movement to try and explain it, is like asking a physicist conducting experiments with “Dark Matter,” to completely explain how it works, where it can be located, how one can extract some of it, and how one might use it to improve one’s life.   In trying to capture the complexity, frustration, and lack of clarity in the Emergence Christianity movement, I really like the metaphor some use, both critics and supporters alike.  Some say defining the fundamentals of Emergence Christianity is like “nailing Jell-O to the wall.”  It seems that when engaging in experimental forms of Christian community, the moment you think you have gotten some of it to stick, it slides through your hands, falls to the floor, and you are left only with nail and hammer in your hands.  Oh, and by the way, you may have a confused, dazed, and frustrated look on your face.  Emergence Christianity has been called a “movement” or “conversation” and I sometimes think it is because, it is less like a great program we can implement in order to create church growth, and more like a movement of the Spirit, and thus a movement we cannot “nail down,” and pre-package up in a hipster, Americana, technologically advanced package available for wide distribution.

I have been reading about, exploring, experimenting, and “nailing Jell-O to the wall” in this Emergent movement for about eight years now.  It all began back in 2005, when a Lutheran pastor and an Episcopalian priest, who were the pastors of the parish where my family worshipped, recruited me to develop a ministry for younger adults who were living near us.  Back then, I was in my early forties and in that congregation of 500+ folks, there were few, if any, 20 -40 year olds.  I think I was asked to begin this ministry back then, because in the years prior to finding this unusual, quirky Lutheran-Episcopal parish I, like many of my younger counter-parts, experienced my own frustrations, disappointments, and detachments from institutionalized religion.

I grew up in the  Methodist church, when I was 13 my family became Baptists, I wondered around the “Religious Cereal Aisle” in my college years, and eventually in my mid-twenties, I found the ancient liturgy, rich history, and progressive theology of the Episcopal Church.  Nonetheless, the ten years after my adult confirmation in the Episcopal Church, was fraught with a search- a bouncing around from community to community, and sometimes no community at all – yearning for a deep, beyond Sunday, communally intimate, spiritually forming, faith exploring, gifts-engaging community, in which I and my family, could sojourn with others who were also seeking God’s grace.  For ten years, I was then, what some now are calling, a religiously unaffiliated person.  I was a “None.”  I was a person who, if I had been polled about my religious affiliation in a national survey, would have claimed “no religious affiliation at all.”

I, like many of my colleagues experimenting with community in the 21st century, came to this Emergent movement not through a desire to save the institutional church, but from a life of spiritual searching, seeking, and yearning, and a desire to help others grow in a love of Christ and neighbor.  It was through these external doors, and through this process of searching, the Spirit developed a passion in me, to provide others the opportunity to gather in community, to find God’s grace, to grow in a deeper love of Jesus, and to go out into the world and share that love with others, not as propositional evangelism but rather, as a spiritual journey of questioning, searching, learning, and yes, Christian formation.

Phyllis Tickle, in her book, “The Great Emergence” quoted Rowan Williams the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who once said, “We are not to read and study and discuss Emergence Christianity in order that we might save the Anglican Church (fill in your own affiliation) or any other such institution.  Rather, he said, we are called to read and study and discuss Emergence Christianity in order that we may discern how best to serve the kingdom of God in whatever form God is presenting it.”2   The Emergent movement is not a formulaic program for church growth; it is a risk taking adventure in God’s mission of reconciling the world to Godself.  So, whether we see the Emergence Christianity movement as “nailing Jell-O to the wall” or an “impossible mission of trying to explain, harness, and use ‘Dark Matter’,” at its simplest, “the Emerging Church movement is about forming church communities that fit the postmodern cultural context.”


Phyllis Tickle, a major voice in the Emergent movement wrote, “There is a hard fact that something dramatic and irresistible is happening to every part of our lives right now, that it has been first building and then occurring for some several decades, that it became irrefutably obvious and present at a popular or lay level somewhere around or in conjunction with the opening events of this century, and that we can either be its passive medium or its active architects.” 2  Tickle, and many other scholars attribute the social upheaval we are experiencing today, to the dramatic, exponential changes in every aspect of life, taking place in the 21st century, and technology has been a major influence on some of these changes.  

Postmodernism is a cultural phenomenon in societies that have challenged the values and practices of the modern world.  The availability of data, opinions, globalization, and social interactions have influenced, are influencing, and will influence our society in the days, months, years, and decades to come.  Postmodernism is an overarching term for skeptical interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, economics, architecture, fiction, and literary criticism.  When we accept the influence of postmodernism on all aspects of life, we as theologians, pastors, and religious leaders, must surely see the impact it has on the faith communities we lead, the way we relate to the communities around us, and how we share the Good News of God in Christ.  Ian Mobsby, Priest in Charge of the Guild Church of St Mary Aldermary in the City of London and Missioner to the Moot Community, a Fresh Expressions (emergent) Christian community asserts, new research suggests that the cultural combination of consumerism and information technology has created a new spiritual hunger that stems mostly from a devotion to material possessions that cannot answer the existential questions of life.”1    

Social media with its offering to connect virtually through technology, along with the ongoing societal pursuit of material fulfillment, and culture’s readily available products to satisfy those desires, our culture seems to be increasingly spiritually empty and relationally detached.  Ian Mobsby asserts, One of the most crucial hallmarks of the postmodern situation is what might be called `the return to relationships’ … Humans are fundamentally social creatures and therefore the emptiness individuals sense can never be filled by the abundance of possessions but only in relationships with others.” 1    It seems the key to effective and lasting ministry in any culture, is that those ministering must recognize the uniqueness of that culture and thus, examine how they might create space for open dialogue within that culture.  I believe at the heart of the movement, the folks experimenting with Fresh Expressions of Christian community and the Emergence Christianity Movement, have discovered that in the 21st century, there is a profound need for “robust, theological dialogue” within our ever-changing culture.    This discovery is nothing new, because if we look back through the history of the Christian community, we will recognize that intimate relationships of trust, birthed through authentic communities, is embedded in the DNA of the followers of Jesus.

Consider the story in the Acts of the Apostles of the Apostle Paul’s visit to Athens.  Paul was a little discouraged to learn that the city was full of idols, but this did not stop him from sharing the Good News.  Paul did not stay in the synagogue rather, he went out and engage in “robust theological dialogue” in the marketplace, and with all types of.  I imagine that Paul went out into the public and talked with people about their dreams, struggles, concerns, and yes, their spiritual uncertainties.  Paul debated with some well-learned philosophers (Epicurean and Stoic to be exact), but Paul engaged openly with them, only after he had been in the marketplace and learned about the culture.  Those same philosophers invited Paul to join them at the Aeropagus, and it was there that Paul used what he learned from the marketplace to continue to share the Good News.  Paul proclaimed, “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.  So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”  (Acts 17:22-23 NIV)

Paul modeled for us, a fundamental concept in discipleship, because he learned it from the Master himself; Jesus.  We must intimately know our context.  Jesus spent time in the marketplace listening to the people, getting to know them, hearing about their culture, experiencing their societal nuances, and it was here where he taught about the Kingdom of God.  According to Ian Mobsby, the work of the emerging church today, is predicated on a “movement characterized by: contextual and experimental mission; new forms of church; the removal of barriers and division; a blend of evangelism and social action; attention to both experience and tradition; the breakdown of clergy/laity distinctions.”1


Why is all of this Important

OK, so we see a cultural shift taking place, we know technology is changing faster than we can keep up, we know that social media is beginning to change how we relate to one another.  “So what,” you may say.  In 1989, the American Religious Identification Survey showed that 8% of the American population claimed no religious affiliation at all (the so called “NONES).  In 2009, twenty years later, that number moved to 16% of the American Population responded to the survey as “NONES.” 6  In 2012, the Pew Research survey indicated that 19.6% of the American population now claims, no religious affiliation.7  Diana Butler Bass asserts,  “The religious unaffiliateds are primarily young adults. In the United States, somewhere in the range of 25 to 30 percent of the population under thirty neither attend religious services nor have any religious preference, although about half of the unaffiliated group still say that they believe in God or understand themselves to be spiritual.”3   I wonder, if the Apostle Paul were to traverse the American frontier today vs. the ancient Athenian metropolitan, would he say to us, “People of America! I see that in every way you are very spiritual, but increasingly less religious.”

There seems to be a misguided paradigm in U.S. culture today, that somehow one can travel a lone spiritual path, just as one might traverse the lone path of technological social interaction.  Many people describe their self-directed spiritual path using the phrase, “I am spiritual, but not religious.” I wonder though, does a lone journey seeking spiritual encounters, lead merely to an emptiness of the soul?  Ralph Peters, a New York columnist once remarked, “The great paradox of the 21st century is that, in this age of powerful technology, the biggest problems we face internationally are problems of the human soul.”8   The phrase “spiritual but not religious” seems to be a cry from the soul for a deeper engagement with the divine.  I know in my own journey, the path I chose traversing, the “Religious Cereal Aisle”-the plethora of spiritual experiences available to me-I yearned for authentic relationships of trust in which, people would challenge me, pray with me, and guide me in the “Way of Jesus.”  Diana Butler Bass in her book Christianity after Religion asserts, “To say that one is ‘spiritual but not religious’ or ‘spiritual and religious’ is often a way of saying, ‘I am dissatisfied with the way things are, and I want to find a new way of connecting with God, my neighbor, and my own life.’ It might not be a thoughtless mantra at all— in many cases, it may well be a considered commentary on religious institutions, doctrine, and piety.” 3 What Bass seems to be saying, many of us may not like to hear.  The church may need to change how we relate to the world in order to be a light to the world.  In other words, we may need to return to our heritage of evangelistic mission in the world, but we may have to do so not only wih words, but also through action!

We MUST Experiment

In my current ministry in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, I assist the Bishop in forming new communities of faith. As Missioner, I explore, plan, and work through ecumenical, diocesan and community partners to set the conditions and plans that lead to such communities.  I am a seeker of “modern wells,” “safe spaces,” and “third places” in which, I try to gently hold hearts that are seeking grace, reconciliation, and love in Christ.   I encourage and send out new leaders to do likewise.

I am less like a practitioner of “tried and true” methods of church planting or even “hip and happening” methods of emerging church.  My pioneering colleagues and I, are more like explorers, experimenters, and ecclesiological scientists.   Our laboratories are out there in the marketplace, where we are trying to create spaces for robust theological exploration with people who are on the margins of the institutional church.  We invite people to Pub Theology groups, Dinner groups, home churches, and coffeehouse groups where we explore deep, theological questions like, “Who is Jesus, and what is this “Way” that he taught?” “What is liturgy, and why is tradition something in which we might find something beyond ourselves?” “What is prayer, and what do the ancient prayer practices have to do with life today?”

Currently, in the Diocese of Southwest Florida we have several new groups gathering in various venues, led by clergy and lay leaders in many of our parishes, meeting with people from very diverse backgrounds, and having discussions with people of varying levels of faith community experience.  Recently, my spouse and I facilitated a group in Sarasota, where we spent two hours with a couple we had never met before; one of our group was a self-proclaimed atheist who does not attend church, the other a woman who grew up in a Jewish family but had never participated in the faith.  We explored so many topics that evening and by the end of the night, my head was spinning.  I would not have traded that evening for anything, because the last remark the woman made to me after our little dinner gathering was this, “My prior negative impression of all Christians, is no more.”

In addition to gatherings like this, each week, I spend two to three hours in a coffeehouse in one of the fastest growing, youngest communities in all of Southwest Florida.  At this little coffeehouse, I know all the Baristas and they know me, both as a priest and as a friend.  When I arrive, they readily tell me what is going on in their lives, they ask me to pray for them, and we discuss God openly.  Every single time I sit in my favorite chair and sip my latte, I find myself in a robust theological discussion.

In my experience, the statistics we hear about in the ARIS survey and the 2012 Pew report, seem to hold hold true.  More and more people are “spiritual but not religious,” but I believe people are still yearning deeply for authentic community in which, they can explore their questions with others who will listen, who are willing to wrestle with hard questions, and who will readily seek understanding, provide attentive hearts, and are willing to be patient, as they walk a spiritual pathway.   Presenting the Good News of God in Christ Jesus in this postmodern culture, is going to take much more than merely finding and implementing the latest marketing scheme, buying and starting the hippest new young adult program, or hiring the best contemporary music band.  In the book Ancient Faith, Future Mission, Stephanie Spellers offers some sound advice for those of us, who wish to effectively continue God’s mission in the 21st century,  “We start by creating some common ground where we can sit down and learn the language and culture of the people we are seeking to serve; listen to their questions; understand their concerns; and then begin to share with them the story of Christ.  As we serve, listen and proclaim, so the possibility of church is born: a community formed by the impact of the story of Christ and the witness of his church.” 1

What we can do

It would seem then, in order to come alongside our sisters and brothers who are experimenting in the Emerging Church movement and for us to respond to this renewal movement of the Spirit, the institutional church does not have to shrug off our heritage, our tradition, or even our liturgy, and we do not have to add another program to the plethora of programs, already overflowing on all our plates.  It would seem, we may just need to embrace that which, the emergent movementfavors now; “the sharing of experiences via testimonies, prayer, group recitation, sharing meals and other communal practices, which many Emergents believe are more personal and sincere than propositional presentations of the Gospel.”4

We must move out of our four walls, and move out into the marketplace.  We must meet people, just as Our Lord met them; we must meet them, not to proposition them or to sell them the Gospel.  Lord knows, people today are confronted with nearly 5,000 propositions, enticements, or advertisements every single day.  It would seem, the message of Jesus, the Good News of love, reconciliation, grace and mercy, is getting lost in the plethora of messages offering consumer fulfillment.  Sharing the Good News today requires us to once again, develop relationships of trust through conversation and listening.  My friends, that takes time, it takes some effort, it takes patience, and yes, it requires that we be present.

In the book Ancient Faith, Future Mission, the Rev. Tom Brackett wrote these words, and I return to them often, especially when I am discouraged, “Start this ministry now-don’t wait until you have this all figured out.  Experiment joyfully and publicly with new forms of ministry that match the cultures in which you find your ministries. Fail early and fail often until you learn what works. Learn to trust the young prophets in your midst and don’t be afraid when the visions they share are out beyond your comfort zones. Be daring and be bold!”

I encourage you to get out their in the marketplace and listen to those whom God loves, those with whom God offers reconciliatory grace, and those to whom we are sent as messengers.  We must never forget, as we weigh our decision to step out and take a risk to go out and make disciples, that “every church owed its existence to the dedicated ministry of a particular group of Christians, at a particular time who were seeking to respond to the needs and challenges of their day, by establishing some new expression of Christian life.” 1

1 Steven Croft;Ian Mobsby;Stephanie Spellers. Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition (Kindle Location 82). Kindle Edition.

2 Tickle, Phyllis (2012-09-01). Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters (Kindle Locations 270-272). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.


3 Bass, Diana Butler (2012-03-13). Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (Kindle Locations 578-580). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.