Sex in Lent (Again): Last year it was sex-themed Lenten sermon series at Epic Church, an LCMS affiliate in Detroit, MI.
This year, it's the 30-Day Sex Challenge sponsored by Relevant Church in Tampa, Florida (Paul Wirth, head pastor):
A great sex life is a challenge and takes focus, determination, and planning. Some say it's an unrealistic goal, but we disagree. We believe you can have a great sex life, in fact we believe God wants you to have a great sex life.
Relevant Church is proposing a challenge encouraging married couples to purposely engage in sexual activity for 30 days and singles to intentionally forego sexual activity for 30 days. We know, it sounds crazy. However, we believe this challenge will not only improve sex lives, but also strengthen relationships. In this series married couples will review the obvious needs of him and uncover the forgotten needs of her and singles will cut through the illusions and consider the qualities that result in healthy relationships.
For far too long the church has remained silent on the subject, leading many people to believe that God is against sex, which is completely counter to what the Bible teaches. Join us February 17 - March 16 to find out what the buzz is about.
And of course, there's a YouTube Infomercial.
Exigencies of Our Apostleship: On January 24, the San Francisco Conference of the Sierra Pacific Synod elected Pr. Steve Sabin to the office of Dean. On January 30, Sierra Pacific Synod Bishop David G. Mullen (pictured) issued a letter in which he cited SB12.01.04 and SB12.01.05 from the synod constitution and declared the election invalid and the deanship of the conference vacant because Pr. Sabin is not on the Synod's clergy roster. (Pr. Sabin is rostered with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.) Copies of the Bishop's letter went to all congregations and pastors in the synod. On February 18,, a letter over Pr. Sabin's signature went out from the Conference Cabinet and clergy of the San Francisco Conference to Bishop Mullen. Copies went to all congregations and pastors in the synod. The letter reads in part:
Since the assembly of the conference has already made known its will and opinion regarding the provisions of SB12.01.04, we the Conference cabinet and clergy are constrained and by conscience bound, respectfully, to decline to regard the election as invalid, to appoint another Dean, or to abide by said provisions.
This refusal is with profound sadness. We had hoped that you would better understand the exigencies of our apostleship in San Francisco. The policies of the ELCA regarding noncelibate lesbian and gay clergy, the heart of this unfortunate episode, are a scandal and grave hindrance to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this city. As Christ himself declares, "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Mt 18:6) We cannot allow the policies of the ELCA, which hardly rise to the level of adiaphora, to hinder the central mission of the Church. In this conviction, we take hope and encouragement from your powerful and inspiring sermon on the Feast of the Presentation. Your sermon that evening was a refreshing example of the true power of bishops as outlined in Augsburg 28. Your call to make present within the Church God's baptismal call to discipleship and service regardless of gender or sexuality deeply moved all who heard your preaching.
We are your flock in San Francisco. Heeding the admonition of Scripture and keeping faith with our Confessional heritage, we desire nothing but to live in obedience and harmony with you, our Bishop. Yet this harmony and obedience is only possible when you, our Bishop, stand in the place of Jesus Christ and mediate to us Christ's gracious and reconciling Word and example. With humility and hope, we urge you to take up the work you so wonderfully outlined in your sermon. Set the example for the reformation and strengthening of Christ's Church by affirming the election of our new Dean. Join with us in taking up the Cross of Christ and enduring the doubts and scorn of this sad, divided world so that the love of Christ, his forgiveness, and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit might reach into every heart.
Lambeth Machinations: Lambeth Conferences are periodic (roughly once a decade), invitation-only assemblies of bishops of the Anglican Communion hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The conferences, begun in 1867, are recognized as the most influential of Anglicanism's four "Instruments of Communion" and represent the 'mind of the communion' on issues such as the ordination of women (1968, 1978) and homosexual behavior (1998).
The 14th Lambeth Conference will take place between 16 July and 4 August 2008. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has invited more than 880 bishops to attend. Notably absent from the invitees are the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson and the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns. Robinson is the first Anglican bishop to exercise the office while in an acknowledged same-sex relationship. Minns is the head of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, and is regarded by the Church of Nigeria as a missionary bishop to the United States, despite protest from Canterbury and the U.S. Episcopal Church.
On February 15, 5 of the 38 primates of the Anglican church announced that they (and their bishops) would boycott the conference: Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, Henry Orombi of Uganda, and Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone.
In a letter declaring their intention to boycott, the five primates acknowledged that some of them "have not been able to take communion with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church since February 2005" because of the 2003 consecration of Robinson, an openly gay partnered man, as bishop of New Hampshire.
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Pr. Sophie is all a-Twitter. Again.
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"The consecrators of Gene Robinson have all been invited to Lambeth, contrary to the statement of the Windsor Report (para 134) that members of the Episcopal Church should 'consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion,'" the primates said.
The five primates also noted that some of their bishops who objected to Robinson's consecration have "been charged with abandonment of communion" for "making arrangements for orthodox oversight" of congregations in other provinces. According to the primates, these congregations "have either forfeited or are being sued for their properties by the very bishops with whom you wish us to share Christian family fellowship for three weeks," at Lambeth.
"To do this is an assault on our consciences and our hearts. Further, how can we explain to our church members, that while we and they are formally out of communion with the Episcopal Church, and provide oversight to these orthodox colleagues, we at the same time live with them at the Lambeth Conference as though nothing had happened? This would be hypocrisy."
The five primates noted that their action was "not intended to signal that we are walking out of the Communion."
And Now for Something Completely Different: With the election of a new bishop looming at this year's synod assembly (April 25-27), the Sierra Pacific Synod claims to have created the first "synod profile", a self-assessment tool patterned after congregational profiles that are used in many congregations for the call process.
After a number of listening posts in 2005 and 2006, an on-line survey, and three gatherings (in Fresno, Lodi, and San Mateo), the Synod Profile Team has produced an 18-page report that consists more of questions than of answers. The profile is not a "state of the synod" report but a framework for individuals, congregations, and conferences to work out for themselves the forces that pull the synod in different directions.
Perhaps the most helpful contribution of the profile team is to provide thirteen topics that have emerged as definers of the synod's identity. In alphabetical order they are:
Bishop's Ecclesiastical Duties
Caring for the Pastors
Healthy, Multiplying Congregations
Staffing of the Bishop's Office
Associated with each topic are discussion questions to shed some light on the characteristic tradeoffs facing the synod in each of these areas. For those who want to follow the discussion of the profile, there is also a blog.
Ask Pr. Sophie: Pr. Sophie Fortresson, our resident expert on all matters of theology, Lutheran etiquette, and social protocol, answers questions submitted by our readers and occasionally simply volunteers advice when no question has been asked. If you have questions (and who among us doesn't?) send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Pr. Sophie:Thanks for taking on this diversity of practice regarding the Eucharist among all of us who want full participation around the font and table.
For me, fasting from tables where I am not fully welcome is less about what it will do for the ELCA or any other institutional church but about conscience, spiritual practice and what it does for me. It is almost as scandalous for me as tab collars and multi-colored clergy shirts (don't even get me started on breast pockets!). Each time I choose not to go forward to accept the meal that I am promised - and as a good confessional lutheran know is valid and effective for me regardless of the integrity of the presider (and I would extrapolate, the institutions and traditions that create sides of the table and who gets to play where) - I am viscerally aware that I could be wrong. Am I adding to my separation from the body or fasting with the hope that a more whole expression of that body might be experienced? I don't know. So as Luther advised, I sin boldly and trust in G_D's grace even more boldly. For now, especially in Lent, that is enough.
My hope is that this or other diversities of spiritual practices and acts of conscience find room within the hospitality of ELM -including the rather Disciples of Christ (or Arthurian?) interpretation of guest and host at the table suggested in your thoughtful response to the Vermont Refugees. Which leads to my question:
So ELM is calling what used to be the ECP roster the "Collegium", Neither is a very snappy name which could be why there has not (to my knowledge) been a huge influx of pastors who have come out in recent years. Maybe "Knights of the Round Table" would be a more attractive collective identity that gets at how truly cool we are. Thanks as always for the inspiration, Pr. Sophie!
Dear Pr. Pellinore: Well, what can Pr. Sophie say? She came very close to saying she was speechless, but that just wouldn't do now, would it? So Pr. Sophie says, "Wow!"
Pr. Sophie remembers that in the early days of her theological education (at a largish Missouri Synod congregation that shall remain nameless) there was a great deal of talk about "eating and drinking to your own damnation" which was a particularly dramatic way to advise impressionable catechumens that one should not approach the table "unprepared," as it were.
Pr. Sophie (though at the time she was neither female nor a pastor) spent much of her adolescence terrified that she might not be adequately prepared for the Lord's Supper. She inferred that perhaps it is not always automatically right to approach the table. Much has changed since those days, but Pr. Sophie believes that the "visceral awareness" that one might be wrong is an experience that she and Pr. Pellinore share. Pr. Sophie is convinced that the absence of certainty is not necessarily a bad thing, and indeed she hopes that behind our current "diversity of practice" we find common ground in the realization that even in our best efforts to be conscientious, we might nevertheless be mistaken.
With respect to the roster/collegium, Pr. Sophie appreciates the "round table" metaphor, but in her heart of hearts she knows that the reference to "Knights" will be a deal breaker for many.
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