What's new at Nativity

Vacation Blogging Part II

July 22, 2012

I am currently on vacation . Please enjoy a previous post.

By nativitypastor : July 23, 2011

It’s hot in Avalon. Too hot for the beach, or for much of anything else. Fortunately, the heat provides even more incentive for me to sit tight, in a cool spot, and continue to plow away at “the book.” Our working title, by the way, is called “Beyond Retail Religion.” This past week I rewrote a troublesome chapter that was all about our small group experience here at Nativity. Today I am digging into a section we’re calling “Things We Still Don’t Know.” Presumably that should be a huge chapter, but I’m actually not sure what we don’t know. Maybe that’s the problem with not knowing, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

Today is also church day for me in Avalon. I go on Saturday to “get it over with.” I guess I’ve already made it clear what I think about that experience. It hasn’t been so great and last week was worse. Another fundraising pitch, in place of God’s word. This time from yet another charity, though again it was unclear what they wanted money for. I guess the basic exercise is, they have a captive audience for two or three months a year, so they just shake the trees for every possible nickel and dime. It didn’t take long though, nor did the rest of the Mass. In fact, I am sure others feel the same way I do when it comes to the “getting it over with” part. In place of the closing “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” the celebrant actually said, “Enjoy happy hour.”

Maybe I’m being too hard on the parish. But my point isn’t to beat up on them. It’s is to open us the conversation about our Church community and be honest, even if it doesn’t seem very nice. We have some deep seated problems that seem to me to be cast in stark relief in my experience here in Avalon this summer. These problems aren’t about one parish community simply getting it wrong, or trying their best and failing. It goes deeper than that. Much deeper.

Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends on the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” It’s also about the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a group (religious, social, political). And it is the characteristic features of everyday life shared by the group. When we try and make the point in “the book” that the Church has “cultural problems” it is to this range of issues we are speaking. It is not really about the quality of preaching in some parish in South Jersey; it probably doesn’t have much to do with whether the new Archbishop of Philadelphia can clean up the problems he’s been handed; even some of the more prominent and contentious debates in the larger Church today do not get to the core of this problem, however we might wish they were resolved.

Culture, not mission, not even vision, culture is the most powerful factor in an organization. As author Samuel Chand has pointed out, culture determines how receptive people are to new ideas, it encourages or suppresses creativity, it creates a sense of pride or discouragement, and it shapes individual morale, teamwork, effectiveness and outcomes. That is what “the book” is aiming to address. We propose a return to the Church culture described in the New Testament. Go back and read verses 42-47 of the second chapter of Acts. It describes the pattern of life and worship Christ intends for his Church. And it helps us understand the fruit of doing it the way he told us to:

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 2.47

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  1. I like the new book title. And your comments about culture being more important than mission is right on target. Gives me a lot to chew on while I am sitting on the beach up here on LBI.

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