Tag Archives: Forward Today

Forward Today: Making it up as we go along

Dear friends in Christ,

Just yesterday, I had a chance to talk with a priest at a medium-sized church in the middle of the country. I was interested to hear how this church is coming out of the pandemic – what is changing and what is staying constant. The priest was asking me for examples of how similar-sized churches are adapting Christian formation to the needs of today’s church. It was a lively conversation.

This priest told me about some of the vibrant lay-lead pastoral care ministry, the beloved Bible study, and other ways lay leaders and clergy work together to make disciples. It was, for me, inspiring. At one point, I said to her, “I hope you’ll find ways to share the amazing work you’re doing with the wider church. Other congregations could learn from what you’re up to.” She said, “Well, we’re making it up as we go along.”

Making it up as we go along is actually a useful practice. Of course, our faith is eternal and constant. We don’t have to make that up! And we are blessed as Episcopalians with an ancient and comprehensive liturgical tradition that we don’t have to make up. But a lot of parish ministry benefits from a spirit of improvisation.

Interior of a church with stained glass windows

Making it up as we go along could be alternative language for, “We’re adjusting our practices to changing circumstances.” It requires the willingness to try something and fail. It requires a desire to find ways to share our ancient faith for today’s church. It makes us like St. Paul, who sought to “become all things to all people.”

Making it up as we go along doesn’t sound like much, but it is essential in today’s church. We’re emerging from a pandemic. We’re emerging from Christendom. We’re entering into a time when we can’t take anything about the church for granted.

Is your church adapting for our time? Are you discovering new practices that you could share with others? Are you running into roadblocks that others might have figured out? We’re all in this together.

I’ll be checking in with the priest I spoke with in a few months. She’s an amazing leader serving a wonderful church. I can’t wait to hear what they’ve discovered in their efforts to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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More from our ministry:

RenewalWorks: Connect: Hybrid Church: A Way Forward, with the Rev. Tim Schenck
Wednesday, June 9 from 7-8pm ET
RenewalWorks: Connect is a monthly online conversation series with Jay Sidebotham, Director of RenewalWorks and other thought-leaders exploring ways to continue the work of spiritual growth. Watch past recordings here.

Reading Suggestion: Gifts of God for the People of God  |  Exploring Worship in the Episcopal Church

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Forward Today: Summer reading

Dear friends in Christ,

Summer is getting closer, at least for most readers of this email. Lots of websites and organizations offer summer reading lists. This is often a time to relax a bit more, perhaps to dig into a good book.

We at Forward Movement have plenty of books you might like to read. We have a whole catalog of suggestions, but here are just a few ideas for summer reading.

The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to Following Jesus. You’re probably heard a lot about the Way of Love, our Presiding Bishop’s invitation to engage in the seven spiritual practices of turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go, and rest. I wrote this little book with the assistance of seven lay people who share testimonies about how the practices of the Way of Love have shaped their lives. Bishop Curry was kind enough to write the foreword. It’s a practical guide aimed especially at people who might like to refresh their prayer lives or their efforts at evangelism or any part of our journey as followers of Jesus.

With Gladness: Answering God’s Call in Our Everyday Lives. Christopher Martin wrote this book we just published not long ago. It’s a fresh Benedictine-inspired way to answer the question, “What is God calling me to do today?” Martin believes that sometimes we get hung up on the big questions but miss opportunities to serve God in this moment. There’s also a video course based on the book. You’ll love Christopher, whether you read his book or enjoy his teaching on video.

Gifts of God for the People of God: Exploring Worship in the Episcopal Church by Furman Buchanan explores worship, especially the Eucharist. After a time when many of us were not able to share Holy Communion together, what better time to re-engage our experience of Eucharist. Moving from the first spoken word of the service—blessed—to the last phrase—Thanks be to God—Buchanan explains the theological and scriptural elements of the service, helping newcomers and longtime members alike gain a deeper understanding of this gift of God.

There are plenty of other books on our website. And of course, lots of other publishers have great books, too! Whatever you read, I hope you’ll make good use of a slower time of year to learn and to grow as a follower of Jesus.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


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Walk in Love | Episcopal Beliefs and Practices

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Forward Today: Can we understand the Trinity? Does it matter?

Dear friends in Christ,

I love Trinity Sunday, but I often despair at going to church on this glorious feast day. You might ask, what’s not to love? We get to sing some fantastic hymns! We get one last dose of white vestments before the long, green season coming along. We get to offer our praise of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And therein lies the rub. Too many preachers decide this is the day to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity in eight minutes or less. It usually doesn’t go well, especially if the preacher decides to use metaphors for the Holy Trinity. This hilarious video explains the problem nicely.

Today is a day to bask in the glory of God. To use this day to delve into theological teaching would be a bit like going to your wedding and then offering a scientific explanation of what might be happening in our brains when we experience love. You see? It’s not a bad activity, but it’s the wrong activity for a moment that should be a celebration.

Can we understand the Holy Trinity? At a basic level, yes. The creeds do a pretty good job of summarizing things. Basic theological teaching, or a study of scripture can unpack how God is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but it’s also not the most complicated. I mean, plenty of people enjoy watching a good cricket match without understanding all the rules! Or, to use a scriptural example, we don’t have to understand where the wind comes from to know that we need to pay attention to the weather forecast (John 3).

On Trinity Sunday, I hope we can simply enjoy the glory and majesty of God. Rather than get out our flowcharts, we do well to belt out the hymns.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

P.S. If you can’t sing because of the pandemic, find some good renditions of the hymns on YouTube and have a bit of Hymnal 1982 karaoke at home!

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Image: Wikimedia


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

Walk in Love | Episcopal Beliefs and Practices

Browse the ChurchNext library | ChurchNext

5 Spiritual Growth Strategies for the New Normal | RenewalWorks

Forward Today: Making room for the Holy Spirit

Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday is the Day of Pentecost, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.

My experience of this feast day is that it’s often accompanied by gimmicks. People make cakes and sing happy birthday to the church. The red balloons come out. And so on.

Now I have no objection to any excuse to enjoy a good cake. And if balloons liven up your worship, you’ll get no complaint from me!

Still, I wonder if we are doing these things to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit or precisely because the Holy Spirit makes us a bit uncomfortable. As one who has a habit of making jokes in awkward situations, I know what it’s like to try to distract away from serious topics.

If we read the Book of Acts, we’ll see that the Holy Spirit led the church into all sorts of amazing new ministries and opportunities. The Gospel was spread in places that would have been inconceivable without the Spirit’s leading. The Spirit is not something that made folks smile so much as the force that compelled people into terrifying but fruitful directions.

In the days leading up to Pentecost, I encourage you to sit down and read the whole Book of Acts. It won’t take too long. It’s filled with amazing stories about what happens when the church lets the Spirit lead.

I wonder what would happen if we let the Holy Spirit lead us as a church? What if we used the Day of Pentecost as an opportunity to open ourselves up to what God wants, not what we might personally prefer? What are the places in our world that need Gospel witness, and how might the Spirit lead us there?

Let us pray that the fire of the Spirit animates our hearts to take us where we could not go on our own.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Image: Ted, Pentecost Icon, Flickr


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

The Way of Love | A Practical Guide to Following Jesus

Browse the ChurchNext library | ChurchNext

50 Days | Celebrating Easter with Daily Reflections

5 Spiritual Growth Strategies for the New Normal | RenewalWorks

Forward Today: Don’t look for a magic elevator

Dear friends in Christ,

Tomorrow is Ascension Day. It’s one of the Principal Feasts of our church right along with Easter and Christmas, and most churches won’t even celebrate it. It’s a pity. Ascension Day is worth celebrating for lots of reasons, and not just because our prayer book tells us to.

On Ascension Day, we celebrate the day that Jesus left us to carry on his earthly ministry. As he was departing, he blessed his followers to carry on. Instead of sorrow, they were filled with great joy.

I think Jesus blesses us, too. Jesus trusts that you and I will carry on his earthly ministry of proclaiming the kingdom, teaching, healing, truth-telling, and reconciliation. We should be filled with joy at the honor to do this work.

So why don’t we celebrate Ascension Day? I think people get hung up on the physics of it. Too many bad teachers have undercut the faith by saying this feast day is an intellectual embarrassment, an old-school way of looking at the world. Jesus can’t go up, they say, because heaven isn’t really “up”.

So don’t look for a magic elevator. To do so misses the point of this day. It’s all about Jesus trusting his followers to carry on, and that includes us. It’s all about joy. It’s all about the promise of the Holy Spirit.

If your church isn’t celebrating Ascension Day, find one online. Or you can at least say prayers of the day on the Forward Movement prayer site.

A blessed and joyous Ascension Day to you.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Image: Pixabay


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

The Way of Love | A Practical Guide to Following Jesus

Browse the ChurchNext library | ChurchNext

50 Days | Celebrating Easter with Daily Reflections

5 Spiritual Growth Strategies for the New Normal | RenewalWorks

Forward Today: Love one another

Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday, we hear verses from John 15 in the Gospel reading. Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

I know I say this a lot, but we Christians really have to work at understanding what Jesus means when he talks about love. It’s not a feeling. It doesn’t come with a Hollywood soundtrack. It’s not just being extra-nice to people.

Christian love is work. It’s not always easy. It doesn’t care about our preferences or convenience. Christian love takes practice. A lifetime of practice.

Think about what Jesus is saying when he tells us we are to love one another as he loves us. He loved us perfectly. He loved people who convention said should be unloved. He always told the truth. He challenged assumptions. He loved us sacrificially.

That means we are called to do the same. We are called to love the unlovable. We are called to speak the truth always. We are called to challenge assumptions. We are called to love others sacrificially. We are called to love perfectly.

It’s an impossible commandment to keep. After all, we are not Jesus Christ! But Jesus sets our direction, the way we should orient our lives. Our baptismal liturgy challenges us to grow into the full stature of Christ. Part of that is growing toward perfect love. We’ll never make it, but it is our hope.

How can we do this? Left to our own devices, we can’t. But we have two secret weapons.

First, Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit would abide with us. We are not left on our own.

Second, we have the church. We have a bunch of other disciples who are stumbling along with us trying to figure out what it means to love others as Jesus loved us. We can celebrate when we get it right, and we can hold each other up when we get it wrong.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Image: Pixabay


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

The Way of Love | A Practical Guide to Following Jesus

Browse the ChurchNext library | ChurchNext

50 Days | Celebrating Easter with Daily Reflections

5 Spiritual Growth Strategies for the New Normal | RenewalWorks

Forward Today: Hope and reality

Dear friends in Christ,

The last week or so has brought strange weather to Cincinnati where I live. We’ve had some gorgeous, sunny spring days of almost 70 degrees. And we had snow. It’s almost cruel to experience the glory of spring and then have to wear full-on winter garb.

As I was walking around some gardens downtown lately, it occurred to me that the weather isn’t so different from my engagement with other parts of my life.

On the one hand, we have vaccines and in many places COVID numbers are going down. On the other hand, variants are spreading, people engage in reckless behavior, and COVID cases are surging in some places. Should I be filled with hope? Or despair?

More people are broadly aware of systemic racism now, and George Floyd’s murderer was held accountable. On the other hand, I know that racism abounds and we have so very much work to do to create an equitable, just society. Should I be filled with hope? Or despair?

Mainline churches were in decline before the pandemic, and it’s likely that these tough times will cause many churches to close. On the other hand, I think more leaders are gaining clarity on what the church is here for in the first place, so perhaps we’ll actually get to the business of making disciples. Should I be filled with hope? Or despair?

It can seem naïve to cling to hope when the immediate picture is grim. I don’t blame people who get worn down by life’s circumstances and lose hope. But I think hope is where we’re called.

Things looked grim for Jesus and his followers on Good Friday. But Easter was coming. It wouldn’t have been wrong for Jesus’s disciples to shed tears and bemoan their situation while also hoping for something better. Hope does not deny our experience of pain and grief.

In fact, I think hope can be exactly what allows us to take an honest look at the challenges in our lives, in our church, and in our world. We can see where we are. We can dwell with all the pain we experience. And, at the same time, we can be filled with Christian hope.

There’s no better time than Eastertide to practice Christian hope. Let us all take an honest look at where we are. Name the difficulties. Experience the grief. And then let us look toward the day when God will wipe away every tear and all will be made right.

As for me, I’ll try not to grimace if I have to put on my winter coat again. It’s part of the journey, after all. Summer is coming.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Image: Scott Gunn


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


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Forward Today: Move every human heart

Dear friends in Christ,

I was just sitting down to write this week’s Forward Today when the news brought word of the guilty verdict in the trial of George Floyd’s murderer. Almost a year ago, Mr. Floyd was murdered by a police officer while being arrested on suspicion of having committed a fairly minor crime.

Mr. Floyd breathed his last on May 25, 2020. His death unleashed protests across the nation. People took to the streets demanding justice for Mr. Floyd but also seeking justice in a legal system that is demonstrably and unequivocally racist.

Black people are arrested in higher numbers than white people. Black people are more likely to suffer violence at the hands of police. Black people are more likely to be incarcerated—and with longer sentences—than white people.

All of this was true before a police officer knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for several minutes last May. But in the wake of protests, more people became aware of systemic racism in society and especially in the legal system.

No justice, not even today’s guilty verdict, gives Mr. Floyd’s daughter her father back. No justice erases the unspeakable cruelty of kneeling on an immobilized man’s neck. No justice erases the loss in countless cases like Mr. Floyd’s where people died but without someone who bravely recorded the unfolding scene on video.

I pray that Mr. Floyd is redeemed in heaven, because there isn’t really a way to redeem the loss of life on earth. But we can do more than pray.

This paragraph is written for white people like myself: The time is long past when we white people can look the other way or pretend we don’t see the systemic racism that benefits us. We must work to change systems. We must yield our privilege. We must, as Jesus commanded us, love our neighbors.

Just this week, church leaders released the findings of a racial audit of our beloved Episcopal Church’s leadership. The results are sobering, but there are also recommendations for concrete steps we can take to help our church become the beloved community as the Gospel demands.

Racism, the original sin of the United States of America, harms all of us. People of color suffer discrimination, economic deprivation, physical harm, and the constant burden of being treated without respect. White people suffer too, albeit differently, because our complicity in evil systems prevents us from being the people of love, grace, and mercy that Jesus calls us to be.

The racial audit recommends steps for our church. We can all advocate for justice where we see injustice. We can look carefully at our own lives and see what changes might be needed in our hearts. We can learn more. We can build relationships. We can be the brave person who records video or intervenes when we see a risk of discrimination or harm to anyone.

I don’t know what you’re called to do. I’m still seeking to understand my own work in the area of racial justice. But I do know that I cannot claim to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ if I ignore the sin of racism in our nation or in our church.

Let us pray.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 823)

As we pray, let us speak and work. We cannot restore Mr. Floyd’s life, but I pray that the outrage at his death moves people toward justice and mercy.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


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Forward Today: Thinking about the post-pandemic church

Dear friends in Christ,

I’ve been thinking a lot about what church might be like when we emerge from this time of pandemic. Of course, we aren’t going wake up one morning and everything’s “back to normal.” First, ending this strange time will happen gradually, by fits and starts, over time. It might be months or longer. Second, I don’t think we want to go back to “normal” because that would imply everything was fine.

Instead of thinking about getting “back to normal”, I hope we’ll talk about post-pandemic life. We have a mandate for change unlike any other in our lifetimes. What do we treasure about our churches and our world that we want to sustain? What are the things we can finally let go of? Where should we be looking for change?

My colleagues at RenewalWorks recently published a wonderful blog post, “Now What? 5 Spiritual Growth Strategies for the New Normal”. There are some solid, practical tips on how your church might take stock of its spiritual well-being, along with some recommendations for how to nurture spiritual growth.

It has been too easy to forget why churches exist. There are a lot of good things churches do, but the fundamental reason Jesus commissioned us is to make disciples. So maybe this is the perfect time to figure out where we excel and where we need to improve.

In the RenewalWorks best practices, pastoring the community is an important part of our life together. This practice invites us to get to know the communities around our churches and to find ways to serve the needs of the community. In some ways, Episcopalians are often quite good at this work. But in other ways, we have room for growth. I very much hope we will use the lens of anti-racism to scrutinize our work in communities and our churches themselves. Do our churches reflect the diversity of people in our area?

It’s not just the post-pandemic world we need to talk about, but the post-Christendom world. Most people in our society simply don’t know Jesus. How will they learn about him if we don’t practice evangelism? Let’s try to do better at sharing the amazing news of God in Jesus Christ with our neighbors.

If you need a fresh dose of inspiration, I invite you to visit 50days.org, which I wrote about last week, too. I’m writing reflections every day of the Easter season to remind us all of the joy and wonder that is made possible by Christ’s resurrection. You can visit the site daily or sign up for emails.

Let us at Forward Movement know if there are ways we can support your church in the post-pandemic world. We have some ideas, but we’d love to hear from you.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

Subscribe to receive Forward Today in your inbox.


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


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50 Days | Celebrating Easter with Daily Reflections

Forward Today: 50 Days of Hope, Joy, and Reflection

Dear friends in Christ,

Happy Easter to you! I’ve celebrated Holy Week and Easter all over the world, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to celebrate Easter Day than this year.

After what seemed like an endless Lent and an interminable winter (at least here in Cincinnati), I was greatly heartened by the glorious spring day and the thrill of gathering with people outdoors to offer Easter praise, sing our favorite resurrection hymns, and shout some joyous alleluias.

Despite my joy, I must also acknowledge this year’s Easter wasn’t the one we might have hoped for. We couldn’t be inside a packed church. The music was a bit different from usual. Elbow bumps had to replace hugs.

Still, we cannot deny Easter joy coming forth any more than a large stone could contain Jesus from emerging from his tomb.

For several years, Forward Movement has offered Eastertide reflections on a blog called 50 Days. This year, instead of inviting a company of bloggers, I decided to write 50 reflections myself. Partly this was because in a complicated time of pandemic, doing this simply seemed better.

But also, I must confess, I thought it might be good for my soul to write 50 reflections on Easter. Turns out I was right. Diving deep into Easter has been just what I needed to help me re-center my life as we start to imagine what it might be like in a post-pandemic world.

So, friends, I invite you to join me over on 50 Days for Easter reflections. We’re just getting started! You can sign up for daily emails on that website, if you like.

May Easter joy fill your heart and your life. And may it spill over in those around you as you proclaim Good News and share Christ’s love.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Image: Pixabay


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

Download and print locally: Easter Calendar | Forward Movement

Pre-order your Golden Halo mug | Forward Movement

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My Way of Love | The Episcopal Church and RenewalWorks