Down-to-Earth Christianity

by | Jan 15, 2015

God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.
God loves the drunkard’s cry
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.
– Amy Grant

Amy Grant is not a staple in the Episcopal Church. She’s not in the Hymnal – didn’t even make it into LEVAS – but I often sing with her on my commute because I appreciate her down-to-earth spirituality. Her lyrics tell tales of the universal human experience, lit through the glow of Christianity. They are down-to-earth and back-to-basics. And lately, that’s my motto for the Office of Congregational Vitality: down-to-earth and back-to-basics.

Since our last Diocesan Convention, the Congregational Vitality team has been hard at work helping parishes re-engage with the deep spirituality of their human experience – as clergy, as congregants, and as community. It’s privileged work, touching the heartbeat of all that we aspire to be.

Programmatically, we’re completing a second season of RenewalWorks. Run by Forward Movement, RenewalWorks is a research-based development program that highlights how we can use predictable catalysts to walk more closely with Christ. It’s a deeply spiritual process that 18 of our parishes have now engaged, and most have found that it inspires them to have conversations about personal spirituality and how church helps foster its growth. Time after time on the heels of a RenewalWorks session, I hear, “Thank you so much! This is what I want to talk about at church and we so seldom have the time.” We are making the time.

Likewise this year, we’ve made time for dozens of vestry workshops on how to deepen spirituality while effectively running the parish institution. These sessions explore how to match program size with parish size, how to balance governance with ministry leadership in ways that can accommodate growth, how to offer what congregations are thirsty for, based on where they are in their spiritual journey. It’s neither chanting nor strategic planning, but something in the middle. It’s something that appeals to the down-to-earth challenges of 21st century parish life and that speaks to the back-to-basics Christianity to most people thirst for.

No matter what the venue, we on the Congregational Vitality staff are asking questions like:

“Why did you walk into church for the first time? How about for the 1001st time? What has church offered that keeps you coming back?”

“Why are you a Christian? Why is that important to the world? How does that play out in your parish life?”

“What do you get from a relationship with God in community? How does it support the rest of your life?”

And we’re getting answers. Answers not for our own use, but for parish use. Answers that shed light on our God stories and on what’s important for us to be doing as communities of Christians.

God loves our Sunday Hallelujahs, I’m sure of it. The mystical experience of our liturgy and tradition are a source of inspiration for us and must be a blessing to Him. But since we’re Christians all week long, I’m sure God is also with us in the cries and refrains of our most basic, less polished days. When we remember to light those days with the glow eternal, when we remind ourselves of the down-to-earth questions of faith, this church we love is better for it.