Forward Today: Becoming evangelists

Dear friends in Christ,

A couple of days ago, we celebrated the major feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist. Sometimes he is known as Saint Luke the Physician. I love the way the collect for the day ties together the themes of healing and evangelism:

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I wonder if we would think of evangelism differently if we thought of it as a way of sharing the “love and healing power” of Jesus Christ. That’s certainly more compelling than inviting people to church so we can have a few more committee members or pledge units! Too often we confuse our internal need for institutional survival with the world’s need to hear the healing and freeing Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the church, and it’s critical for the mission of the church that its institutions be healthy. But the structures of the church are a means, not an end. Our mission is to make disciples of all nations. Making disciples means offering the Gospel of Jesus Christ that offers people true healing, freedom, wholeness, and salvation.

Our world sometimes seems overrun with chaos, fear, greed, and violence. What if we were out there more often to share a different way? What if we followed Saint Luke’s example and offered the Gospel as healing? What if we told everyone that we live in a world that is ultimately governed by grace, mercy, hope, and love?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Explore the Lord’s Prayer in this new book: Bold to Say
From Grow Christians:  The Good News as Luke Understood It
50 Day Bible Challenge: A Journey With Luke

Forward Today: Living as those who serve

Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday brings another challenging Gospel reading from Mark. This time, Jesus is talking with his disciples about status and role. Who is called to what role? Who is important? As usual, his disciples don’t get it right.

I find the ineptness of the disciples strangely comforting. It makes me feel a bit more at ease about my own frequent ineptness as a follower of Jesus, and it also gives some comfort when I see the church so often get it wrong.

But, also, the Gospel is clearly a summons to do better. Jesus has a clear message to impart, and it’s a message that’s tough for many of us. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Jesus’ disciples have been jockeying for position and prestige, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. Instead, they should be quick to yield position and jettison prestige. After all, the way of Jesus is a servant ministry.

We live in a culture where the myth of the self-made person dominates. People are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The cultural message often says, those who have less simply need to try harder. But that’s all messed up, and it’s certainly not what Jesus teaches and demands of his followers.

Jesus says we should be quick to give away our power and status. Let someone else have the good seats, the best job, the favorable deal. Point the spotlight at another. Those who have more power and more status need to work harder to give it away.

Are you a servant? Can you give away power and privilege? How about your church? Are there ways your congregation can be a servant community, offering resources to others without expectation of reward?

My experience is that it’s easy for us individual Christians to rationalize the power and status we keep. And it’s effortless for churches to do the same. But, like Jesus’ disciples, we sometimes need to listen to the voice of God or the call of a prophet to pay attention.

I do know this. When I manage to get it right, giving things away feels a lot better than keeping them. The life abundant that Jesus offers all of us paradoxically arrives when we are quick to serve and slow to acquire.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Pray with the Spirituals in this new book: Face to the Rising Sun
Explore the Lord’s Prayer in this new book: Bold to Say
From Grow Christians:  Saint Francis: For the Love of God
Explore this ChurchNext course: Yes, We’re All Called to Mission

Forward Today: Discovering a deeper practice of prayer

Dear friends in Christ,

We publish a lot of books at Forward Movement, and I’m excited about each one of them in their own way. But I am especially excited about a book that will officially release tomorrow, Seek and You Will Find: Discovering a Practice of Prayer by Rhonda Mawhood Lee.

Over the last few years, we’ve published lots of books to help people discover the riches of scripture. We’ve offered all sorts of tools to support people in a daily habit of prayer, including podcasts and apps. But we haven’t had a really good introduction to the practice of prayer. As of tomorrow, we do!

Cover of book: Seek and You Will Find: Discovering a Practice of Prayer, by Rhonda Mawhood LeeRhonda Lee offers a practical tour of prayer practices. If you already have a rich prayer life, this book may help you broaden your practice. If prayer is something that you’ve never quite been able to get started on, here’s the perfect encouragement to begin.

When I was a parish priest, every now and then someone would say to me, “I want to pray, but I’m just not sure how to begin.” If this book had existed back then, I’d have given it to all sorts of folks.

One last bit of advice. Sometimes I hear from people that they want to pray, but they’re just not quite feeling it. Allow me to pass along some wisdom I’ve learned from friends in twelve-step programs. In the spiritual life, we may need to fake it till we make it. In other words, don’t wait to feel like praying. Just start praying every day, and before long, you will almost certainly feel like praying more. It’s really amazing.

If Seek and You Will Find seems like a book that’s useful to you or someone you know, it’s on sale for launch for just $15. More important though, I hope everyone who reads this email will find some way to have a habit of daily prayer. We are commanded to love God and to love our neighbors, and daily prayer is one of the best ways to love God.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Pray with the Spirituals in this new book: Face to the Rising Sun
Explore the Lord’s Prayer in this new book: Bold to Say
Pray with us every day: Daily Prayer website

 

Behind the Screen interview with Isabel Lynn-Ramos

Hugo Olaiz, Forward Movement Associate Editor for Latino and Hispanic Ministries, recently had a chance to interview Isabel Lynn Ramos, October 2021 author for Forward Day by Day.

Below is an excerpt from their conversation. Click here to listen to their entire conversation (in Spanish) on the Forward Day by Day podcast (episode released on September 30, 2021). 

Where are you from? What’s your profession?
I grew up in Toa Baja, a small town in the north of Puerto Rico. I have a degree in education with an emphasis on elementary school teaching. I later obtained a master’s degree in school administration. I have worked for eight years as a school principal and in the Early Head Start program.

How did you end up writing for Forward Day by Day?
I used to have a notebook where I would write down scriptural passages and my own spiritual meditations. That book ended up in my parents’ home, and in 2017, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the house was flooded, and my notebook was lost. I was very saddened. Yet I believe that God intervened: when I learned about Forward Movement’s call for writers, I locked myself in my room and wrote the meditation samples. Only a few days later you called me, inviting me to write about my life experiences. The interactions and encouragement that I received from you and your colleagues have been a wonderful gift. I still can’t believe this is happening!

What would you like people to take away from your meditations?
I wrote about things that I have experienced in my time and place—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I hope and know many people will identify with my experiences.

Tell us briefly about the experiences you had in your neighborhood after Hurricane Maria.
Thousands in Puerto Rico were left homeless and ended up in shelters. People in our neighborhood lost everything. We had no electricity, water, or supplies. So we got organized to help each other. The neighbors set up teams to clean up the mud and debris. We also organized communal meals: on a specific date my mother would cook, then a next-door neighbor, and so forth. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, as if we were a family. And the Episcopal Church did tremendous work all across Puerto Rico, bringing emergency supplies, food, and water; they also spent time encouraging and praying with people.  We grew up as a neighborhood and also as a church.

Is there anything you would like to add?
I’m so grateful to you and the Forward Movement staff! Thank you for trusting this Puerto Rican woman to write these meditations.

Q&A: Rhonda Mawhood Lee, author of Seek and You Will Find

Rhonda Mawhood Lee among the flowers in her back garden.How do we pray? Prayer is an essential part of the Christian life, but it often remains stubbornly mysterious. Rhonda Mawhood Lee, an Episcopal priest, writer, and spiritual director, walks us through the “how” of prayer and many diverse practices of prayer in her new book, Seek and You Will Find. Learn more about Lee and her book in this author Q&A.

How did the idea for this book develop?
A few years ago, I attended a meeting between members of the Society of Scholar Priests and Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The facilitator asked Scott what kinds of books he’d like to see members of the SSP write, and one of Scott’s suggestions was a book about how to pray. That resonated with me, because so many Christians have told me they don’t know how to pray, and don’t have anyone to teach them. I love to teach, and I have devoted a lot of time to learning to pray, so I thought I might write such a book. And after a while, I did.

What is your hope for this book?
I hope, first, that it gives the people who read it a sense of God’s great love for them and desire to keep company with them. And then, second, I hope it helps readers see that there are many faithful ways to pray, and maybe feel inspired to try a few. Finally, I hope that by leading people to prayer, the book helps to spread God’s loving, resurrecting power further into the world.

Which of the prayer practices in this book was easiest or most familiar? What about a practice that was particularly difficult or new to you?
Well, I’ve just about given up on ever doing yoga. I mean, I might, one day, but I’m not counting on it. It just doesn’t draw me.

On the whole, though, I appreciate and use a variety of different practices. The Daily Office, contemplative prayer, Ignatian contemplation, the Jesus Prayer, the rosary (more recently), doodling, walking prayers, lectio divina…I do them all at different times, and I’m glad they’re all available to me.

What surprised you the most while writing this book?
The fact that I managed to write it at all, in the midst of the Covid pandemic. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to focus, given everything that was going on in the world, and the heightened level of anxiety that was present in just about every human interaction. But writing the book ended up being something of an oasis. Thanks be to God.

Cocoa Cinnamon CafeWhere do you typically write?
I often write at my favorite coffee shop, Cocoa Cinnamon in Durham, North Carolina. I’m lucky to have space at home to write, both inside and outside on our back porch (which makes a cameo in the book as a place I like to pray). But I can write just about anywhere, including airplanes, public transportation, and public libraries.

What is your favorite prayer?
The psalms. That may not be a fair answer, since there are 150 of them and you asked for a favorite, but the psalms are the prayers I have returned to over and over, in sorrow, in contrition, in joy, and in questioning and seeking. They are my true friends and teachers, and they connect me to spiritual ancestors and to Jewish and Christian siblings today. And to Jesus, who prayed them too.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I am praying for you. Truly. In intercession and with thanksgiving.


Seek and You Will Find is available on the Forward Movement website. Read a sample or order your copy today.

Forward Today: All things may prosper

Dear friends in Christ,

Painted icon of the Archangel Michael, holding a helmet and spear.Today is one of the great red-letter days in the church calendar, the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. Sometimes this feast day is called Michaelmas, since we are meant to celebrate Holy Eucharist (the Mass) on this day.

This feast day celebrates not only Saint Michael the Archangel, but all the angels and archangels. Unfortunately, many of us suffer from an impoverished understanding of angels. In a world where we are presented with angels as things to adorn pillows and to appear on cheesy art, we forget that angels are not really sweet baby-like creatures.

The scriptures make it clear that angels are often terrifying. There’s a reason the scriptures tell us that many of their conversations with humans begin with “Be not afraid.” Not only are angels themselves frightening, but they often bring messages from God to humanity that also could be scary.

So what do these somewhat terrifying creatures have to do with us in the year 2021? I for one am profoundly grateful for Saint Michael and the whole company of angels. Michael is a warrior for good, someone who rights wrong and seeks justice.

One of the great hymns for today’s feast day is “Christ the fair glory” (listen to St. Thomas Fifth Avenue singing it). The second verse invokes Saint Michael.

Send thine archangel Michael to our succor; / peace-maker blessed, may he banish from us / striving and hatred, so that for the peaceful / all things may prosper.

There is a battle going on in our world today, good versus evil. If you don’t believe me, look at your favorite news website. Fortunately, angels are warriors for good.

As we say every Sunday, we are joined in our worship with angels and archangels. The heavenly host cares about us and our world, and it isn’t just in worship that angels do their work. Aren’t you glad we have Saint Michael and all the angels interceding on our behalf?

A blessed Michaelmas to one and all.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Image credit: Icon of St. Michael the Archangel. 14th century, Byzantine. Via Wikimedia Commons.


More from our ministry:

Coming next week, on Spirituals and Justice: Face to the Rising Sun

On intercession of the saints and other forms of prayer: Seek and You Will Find

Learn more about angels: Angels of the Bible

Related course from ChurchNext: Meditating on Angels

 

Q&A: Mark Bozzuti-Jones, author of Face to the Rising Sun

Spirituals, songs of abiding faith passed down by African Americans through the centuries, offer a remarkable view of resilience, courage, and love. Formed in the crucible of fire, these songs express the suffering and horror of slavery as well as the love of God and the promise of a better future.

Mark Bozzuti-Jones in a white alb and red stoleAuthor Mark Bozzuti-Jones explores the modern-day lessons of these Spirituals with scripture readings, daily devotions, and questions for reflection. The Rev. Dr. Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones is an Episcopal Jamaican priest at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City. A former Jesuit priest, Mark has missionary experience in Belize, Brazil, and Guyana. He is an avid reader, award-winning author, and speaker, and has taught at elementary and university levels. Explore Fr. Mark’s book and writing process in this author Q&A.


How did the idea for this book develop?
The idea of this book emerged as I witnessed the protests for justice and peace organized by the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020. I joined many of these protests and could not help but think that protesting for justice has always been part of the African American story and history. The more I observed the marches, the more I thought of the Spirituals as a legacy of protests. For me, the Spirituals entreat this generation to persevere in the struggle for justice. The Spirituals show that the celebration of the Black spirit and the fight for justice are not only spiritual, but psychological, political, and cultural, too.

What is your hope for this book?
I hope this book will inspire African Americans, and everyone who reads it, to keep the faith, to commit to justice and peace, and to support communities that seek justice. I pray that readers will deepen their commitment to their faith and let their voices ring out on behalf of justice. The Spirituals remind us that we are called to be true to who we are; they invite a commitment to justice, peace, liberation, and respect.

Cover of the book "Face to the Rising Sun: Reflections on Spirituals and Justice" by Mark Bozzuti-JonesIs there a spiritual that was particularly memorable or you during your childhood?
“Nobody knows the troubles, I’ve seen; nobody knows but Jesus.” Whenever a human being suffers, God suffers. What we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to Jesus. Jesus knows our suffering, because Jesus also suffered. In his suffering, Jesus remained faithful to God, and that is what the Slaves did. The Spirituals show that the Slaves identified with Jesus and believed that Jesus identified with them. My great epiphany came in realizing that the Slaves saw themselves in “the Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him.”

What about a spiritual that is especially meaningful in your life today?
“We Shall Overcome” holds tremendous meaning in my life today and always will. This affirmation of strength and hope is the Apostles and Nicene Creeds for me. I believe in these words; they fully express my faith – and they make all the difference.

The book includes several original poems that discuss the experience of racism in America today. What was the experience of writing those poems like?
The poetry in this book is one of the ways I dialogue with the Spirituals. When we hear the Spirituals; we are called to “inwardly digest” and give new voices to them. These poems are my attempts to show that the Spirituals live forever, and the Black Lives Matter Movement is integrally connected to the Spirituals, a reflection of their deep longing.

Where do you typically write?
Typically, I write at a desk at home. This desk is close to a window, because I always believe that writing is about looking out into the world.

What was your favorite part of writing this book?
Recalling my experience of growing up in Jamaica was my favorite part of writing this book. Knowing that Jamaicans identify with the Spirituals gives me tremendous comfort and joy. In addition, I loved the way the Scripture selections complemented and deepened their messages.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I would love folks to know that the Slaves were not only objects or victims but deeply spiritual and faithful people. I would love people to know that the Slaves were well educated and sophisticated in their usage of poetic form to convey the complex realities of trust in the face of oppression, brutality, and all aspects of slavery. I would love people to know that many of the Slaves knew the power of remaining faithful and took their religious beliefs very seriously.


Face to the Rising Sun is available on the Forward Movement website. Read a sample or order your copy today.

Forward Today: Signposts of Autumn

Dear friends in Christ,

Today marks the beginning of autumn. I don’t know about you, but it hardly feels that way to me. Just yesterday we were sweltering with summer weather in Cincinnati. And most of my beloved autumn rituals aren’t happening because of the pandemic.

I’ve spoken with a lot of clergy lately, and it seems like just about every church is out of sorts. Normally, this time of year finds the launch of a program year with new classes and programs and the return of people who may have been away for the summer. There’s often a buzz of positive energy.

My sense is that I’m not alone in feeling that this autumn is strange. Some people might be missing the “usual” activities of this time of year. Others might think too much is happening, and we should step back. And almost everyone I know is tired, exhausted even.

So what are we to do? It’s easy to say that we should let go of our expectations, but it’s hard to live that way.

Perhaps what we can do is find the few signposts of autumn that we enjoy and cling to those. Maybe your church is offering a Bible study this fall again, but it’s online instead of in-person. Is it possible to enjoy it for what it is? There are plenty of other examples.

I’m not here to tell anyone how to feel! But if I can offer encouragement or consolation, I hope I can do that.

You’re not alone if you struggle with life in this moment. And, at the same time, it’s a worthy practice to find positive glimmers of hope.

Now more than ever, I find prayer and scripture study to be incredibly life-sustaining. Perhaps you’ll join your church’s morning prayer group, or read Forward Day by Day, or try out the Forward Movement daily office podcasts.

Blessings to you. We’ll get through this. After all, Jesus has promised to be with us until the end of the age. THAT we can always count on.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians: In the Middle

From Grow Christians: Transforming Our Back to School Fears

From RenewalWorks: Blessed are those who mourn

Spend the program year with Forward Movement: Learn more!

Forward Today: Good News from our land?

Dear friends in Christ,

Last week, I wrote about using money for good. This week I want to say a few words about land.

In the last few days, I ran across an article from The New Yorker, “How a Young Activist Is Helping Pope Francis Battle Climate Change.” I was intrigued for a couple of reasons.

First, I was inspired to learn that one person could single-handedly get the bureaucratic and massive Roman Catholic to change. It’s a good reminder for anyone who ever wonders if one person can make a difference. If she could budge the Roman Catholic church, then it helps me believe one person could budge the Episcopal Church where we need a push to go in new directions.

Second, this article got me thinking about how the Episcopal Church understands and uses all the land and buildings we own. Think about all the churches, rectories, conference centers camps, diocesan offices, church-wide headquarters, seminaries, and more.

Do we understand that all “our” land is a gift from God? How often do we use our land for the good of the world and to the glory of God? Or do we fearfully see land merely as an asset to be protected only for the immediate use of our congregations, dioceses, and organizations?

What if we asked how our land could help combat climate change? Think of wind farms, solar panels, or ecologically informed landscaping. What if we asked how our land might help our communities? Think of community gardens, space for groups to meet, or opportunities to offer restful hospitality and refreshment.

Plainsong Farm vegetables

I’m late to the party. The Rev. Nurya Love Parish and Plainsong Farm have been raising these issues for some time now. If you don’t know about it, check out this innovative ministry that grows good for those in need, teaches about our stewardship of God’s creation, advocates for better land use, and offers young people a residency and transformational experience.

The Episcopal Church’s evangelism office promotes Good News Gardens as a way of growing food for the good of the world. There are other examples.

How is your church or diocese using land? Are there opportunities to share what you have with a world in need? Are there ways you could help combat climate change? Are there ways you could show forth the Good News of God in Jesus Christ by how you inhabit this beautiful world?

Yours faithfully,

 

 

 

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians: Notes from an Altar Guild Intern

Spend the program year with Forward Movement: Learn more!

Order Advent devotionals early for group study: Promise & Praise: Advent Word Reflections

Forward Today: Investing our money for the good of the world

Dear friends in Christ,

I’ve long been intrigued by ethical ways to use money for the good of the world. Of course, one choice is to make donations to organizations who seek the improvement of the common good.

There are also ways to make money while also using our money for good. For example, ethical investing puts money in companies with ethically sound practices to support those who are doing good in the world. There are funds which make micro-loans to people in developing countries to help them start enterprises that can be sustainable and support their economic improvement; one can invest in these funds and sometimes get a modest return on the investment. We can buy bonds that underwrite green energy projects, and these bonds may generate income like any other bonds.

I’ve been thinking about churches and their wealth recently. Should our goal be to seek the highest possible return? Or should we temper financial gains with moral and ethical interests. Can we do both?

At Forward Movement, we reinvested our modest investment fund a couple of years ago. Before we had a typical balanced portfolio with policies that were primarily oriented around financial return. After considering several options, we put our entire fund in a balanced ESG (environmental, social and governance investing) portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other instruments. This means we hope to do good with our money. By the way, since we made the switch, our financial performance has exceeded our previous benchmarks. (So it doesn’t always have to cost something to do good, though it often will.)

I’m not here to give financial advice. Talk to someone who does finance for a living to get financial advice!

But I am here to raise questions. Can we, as a church, change the world with our wealth? Can we encourage our members to pool their money to change the world?

Imagine if the church offered alternatives to predatory payday lending programs. Imagine if the church created investment funds to support the launch of small businesses by racial minorities and other groups who may not find financial support in our current systems. Imagine if we bought bonds to support transformational infrastructure, sustainable resource development, and green energy. There are many ways we could use our money to change the world.

Any time we want to change the world, we can start in our own hearts. At our house, we began with our retirement investments. We’re nearly done switching all of our money to ethical or socially conscious investing. We give money to the church of course, but also to other organizations doing good.

Are you using your money to change the world for the better? How is your church doing?

Yours faithfully,

 

 

 

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


 

More from our ministry:

Online Course: What Every Vestry Member Needs to Know about Money with The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

Book ideas for churches and small groups: Learn more!

A book of pray and practice: Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book