June 2012

SEPA Lutherans Have A Second Chance

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is marking the commencement of Bishop Claire Burkat’s second term as bishop.

She and much of SEPA Synod have been jubilant at her reelection on the first ballot (by one vote) at May’s Synod Assembly.

Bishop Burkat refused to recognize one congregation which by SEPA governance was entitled to about five votes (a clergy vote, one male and one female vote, a vote as a predominantly black congregation and a vote as a multilingual congregation.)

The rest of Synod Assembly and the ELCA never questioned the edict and turned a deaf ear to our protests.

Other congregations were muscled out of existence before us, reducing the voting pool. One way to guarantee success is to intimidate or eliminate opposition.

Redeemer is not an authoritarian church and we have no idea how our delegates might have voted at the last four Synod Assemblies that have turned us away with no constitutional authority. Neither does anyone else!

We suspect that Redeemer’s five votes might have made a difference.

Redeemer, now supposedly excommunicated from Lutheran fellowship, remains loyal to the Lutheran Church. Even amid oppression, Redeemer has made a difference in the Lutheran presence in the five-county area. In court in 2009, Synod’s legal representation argued that Redeemer is the first of six churches they plan to close by force.

It would appear that a few congregations have been spared (for the time being) because of Redeemer’s stand.

We hope that in her second term, Bishop Burkat does a better job. This time we hope she leads good people in exercising the values the Lutheran Church teaches — love, compassion, gentleness, kindness, forgiveness, reconciliation, atonement and grace.

Everyone deserves a second chance.

June 30: Social Media Day—July 1: Social Media Sunday?

Do We Need Social Media Sunday?

Three years ago, the Social Media company, Mashable, created Social Media Day. In 514 cities, Social Media enthusiasts will gather (many in a bar) to put a real live face and warm handshake to the entities that drive the keyboards and hide behind little square avatars. It will happen again tomorrow, June 30.

Perhaps we will someday declare a Social Media Sunday, a time when Social Media Ministries physically welcome the people whose lives they touch from a distance.

It raises an interesting concept? What kind of program would a church’s SM Sunday promote?

There would be a temptation to do things the way the Church always does things.

They would hold a big worship service centered around a few people doing a few things in the chancel while everyone else sits or stands (as able) on demand. They would ask the strangers to break into ancient song at appropriate times, prompted by an overpowering organ. They would focus the newbie’s attention on the scriptures as interpreted by one person for fifteen, twenty, or thirty restless minutes. They would require that they shake everyone’s hand without really knowing a thing in the world about the hand they are shaking. They would bless them as they turn to walk out the door to be greeted warmly (perhaps) by a caring pastor and one or two others before returning to total anonymity.

That’s how a church service might seem to the uninitiated. Churches all over the country do this every Sunday, many with feeble results.

(And people say Social Media doesn’t create true community!)

How would you plan a Social Media Sunday?

For the faithful who like to think . . .

If you like to think and aren’t afraid of participating in a dialog that challenges your thinking, take a look at this new web site.

The God Debates is a forum for theological discussion presented by a panel of eleven writers from varied backgrounds, including atheists.

Reverse Evangelism: How to Shrink Your Numbers

2×2 has written before about math in the church. Often when church leaders with a flair for management put pencil to paper they end up recommending the merger or consolidation of faith communities.

Looks good on paper. It might make sense on the map. But the equation is faulty.

We’ve experienced the failure to understand Church math before in East Falls. We’re seeing it again. This time our Roman Catholic neighbors are the victims of Church managers wanting what is best for the bottom line —their bottom line— rather than the congregational mission.

It is textbook church math, where 1 + 1 can equal 0.

The proud neighborhood school of St. Bridget’s had fairly steady enrollment for the last six years, dipping slightly to 198, a loss of only 26 students in the midst of a terrible recession. Not bad!

Two or three miles away, Manayunk’s Regional School—already the product of several closed churches or church schools—had experienced a much sharper decline during the same period (about 50%) — 213 down from 419.

So the Roman Catholic Blue Ribbon Commission looked at the map and the numbers. Here’s what they came up with. Pick a new name for the Manayunk school (where consolidation is already failing) so that there is no heritage or loyalty. (Where has Redeemer encountered that logic?).

Which direction should the schools merge? Real estate is hot in East Falls. There are likely more lucrative options with that property in a collegiate neighborhood. Decision: Send the East Falls kids to the crowded streets of Manayunk.

The magic number to make the new St. Blaise viable was 255. Manayunk already had 213. They needed — a mere 42 willing Fallser children.

Except it doesn’t work like that with families and their passion for their children’s education, their faith and their loyalty to their neighborhoods and traditions.

Despite desperate pleas from parish priests in Manayunk and East Falls, the math wasn’t working. In this case, 213 + 198 = 155. Neither school community liked the idea. They fell short of the minimum by 100 children. Nearly all the families in both neighborhoods decided that some unknown solution was superior than the one dictated to them by the Church. There will be no St. Blaise. No Holy Child. No St. Bridget. No Saint Lucy, Saint Mary the Assumption, Saint John the Baptist or St. Josaphat. The last four disappeared in previous downsizing.

Down. Down. Down. More damage is likely as the churches suffer from the loss of community and tradition which the schools created and fostered.

And still church leaders turn first to closing churches and merging churches — as if fiscal sense makes evangelical sense.

It doesn’t.

God Speaks to Peter’s Successors

God speaks to Peter's Sucessors

One bishop hears something entirely different.

Danger Zone: Trust in the Church

“In God we trust. All others pay cash.”
That’s a fairly common American sentiment.

The Church has a way of warping our innate sense of caution. The old hymn teaches us to “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.”

The concept of trust in God, foundational to our faith, gets projected onto trust in people, trust in leaders, trust in the hierarchy. People may not be asked to trust church leaders, but there is an expectation that they are worthy of trust. So why not?!

There are good answers to that question.

Why not?

Because Church leaders are people. Church leaders are subject to the same temptations and challenges in life. They are just as capable of self-interest and foolishness. Donning a collar or a fancy robe or hat does not change human nature.

Placing unquestioning trust in Church leaders is all the more dangerous because trust in people becomes intertwined with trust in God. If we challenge people in the Church, are we challenging God?

Recent struggles in the Church suggest that blind trust in Church leadership is no more fruitful than blind trust in politicians. Children have had their lives shattered because they trusted men whom the Church presented as trustworthy. It took decades for Church leaders to come to grips with the problem. There is no reason to mention the expense. The price paid by the victims is so much higher.

Stories that make the news are not isolated. The Church shatters relationships with the faithful in other ways as well. It is just as slow to self-correct. It may even be impossible.

Seth Godin wrote yesterday on the subject of trust. He made a valid observation. Trust grows in times of crisis, when leaders stand by their people, when the going is tough, when it would be easier to run or hide, abandoning the faithful—or to lie.

Indeed, it is in times of crisis that trustworthiness shows its mettle. It is rarely seen in today’s Church.

photo credit: jrodmanjr via photo pin cc

Short Posts or Long Posts — Which Are Better?

How do you write for today’s audiences?

Common answer: In short posts of 200-500 words.

Better answer: It depends.

Who is your audience? Are your readers busy people scanning a dozen blogs like yours every morning in hopes of finding one useful piece of information? Are your readers people searching for information that is not easy to find?

One exasperated institutional Church blogger threw her hands in the air. She was following the common advice and looking for guest bloggers among clergy. “It’s impossible to get preachers to limit themselves to 500 words,” she concluded as she waded through the lengthy submissions.

Getting people who tote Bibles to limit their message to shorter thoughts is a new discipline—and there is value in it.

But wait! Who made this rule? The fact is there is no rule. Some of the most popular bloggers take a thousand words to introduce their topic.

Most blog posts that are bookmarked are probably those that truly define an issue.

More people may be attracted to shorter posts, but serious readers (the kind you hope will consider you an authority) are looking for truly helpful information. They don’t want to be spoon-fed answers to their questions in five posts spread across two weeks.

The wonderful thing about blogging is that creative people are no longer bound by the costs of paper and production. [Tweet this!]

You can write the article you want to write without leaving room for advertising space within a newsletter’s budgeted pages.

So what happens? We finally have the freedom to do what we want, and the sages come in with new “rules.”


Write with your audience in mind. If your audience is diverse, mix it up. A short post here; a long post there.

Guard against falling in love with your own words, but otherwise, type away.

Final answer: If you have something to share, by all means—share it!

photo credit: philipp daun via photo pin cc

The Story of David and Goliath Endures

This week’s Old Testament lesson is one of the most enduring stories in the Bible. David, a peon in King Saul’s kingdom, takes on Goliath, the huge and well-equipped leader of the Philistine Army.

We all know the story but it never hurts to re-read it. Ever notice how much detail the writer includes about Goliath’s weapons and armor? There is no room for doubt. Goliath was the superior leader in every way. This is followed by a rare comic description of the boy, David, stumbling through the palace, trying to walk a straight line while wearing the armor King Saul has provided.

We all know the story and the outcome. Little David rushes unprotected into battle and slays Goliath with a homemade sling and a pebble picked up from the wadi.

We know that David’s victory catapults him to a prestigious position in Saul’s court that eventually sends Saul into a jealous, mad rage. We know the side story of David’s fast friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan.

The story endures because we can all empathize. Everyone knows how it feels to face a foe that is larger, better funded, more powerful and attractive to followers. Little children stand before parents, teachers and the many authorities they encounter. They are weak and defenseless. They understand David.

Adults can empathize. They’ve stood before bosses who hold the purse strings and offer security —the more you follow their leadership, the greater likelihood of security.

Athletes know the feeling of facing with dread an opponent of stronger repute.

We all understand the story of David and Goliath.

Especially, we little churches. We — and our members — face the unchecked power of the bigger Church. When positions of power are abused, the result is bullying. The Church is not immune.

Things are changing. Young men in Philadelphia are challenging the Church hierarchy in Philadelphia that looked the other way as Church leaders abused their power. It took decades to muster courage and their fears were realistic.

And then there is little Redeemer, facing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which stripped them of their property and endowment, and shut the door on their individual participation in the denomination. They’ve fought back while others in the Church have watched from positions of safety.

It’s a different kind of battle. One little pebble is not likely to end this conflict. More than five years after the opening volley, Redeemer is still alive, fulfilling its “missional” purpose and fighting with no war chest or armor — only a web site to speak for them and trust in God.

Will it ever end? Pride, power and a disregard for purpose are the Goliath that stands in the way.


Illustrate Saul preparing David for battle. Ask a small child to stand before the congregation. Prepare the child beforehand. Make sure you choose a child who can participate without harming his or her self-image.

Start to dress the child with sports gear (hockey of football) until it becomes apparent that the child can barely move, much less play a sport. Then start to take the gear away. Ask the child how he or she feels without the “armor.” Draw the comparisons to David. Take your pastoral message from there.

Undercover Bishop Is Now Available In Ebook Form

Have your congregation read Undercover Bishop, a new parable of the modern church, now available for download. Compare your own church stories with those discovered by the newly elected Bishop Ruby Kinisa as she travels from church to church incognito to learn what clergy and lay members would never tell a bishop.

Sixteen short chapters are followed with suggested discussion questions.

Bishop Kinisa visits

  • an urban neighborhood church,
  • a small town church, and
  • a church in the country.

She needs to return to each church to reveal her identity. You are invited to act out your own endings and submit them to 2×2.

Undercover Bishop is an ebook, which means it can be amended. We’ll be glad to add your endings in prose or video form to keep the discussion of small church ministry going.

Social Media and the Social Graces

The goal of Social Media is to engage others in a topic of mutual interest.

Social media is just beginning to be explored by churches. Judging from 2×2’s analytics, there is great interest. Much of it may come from lurkers just starting to remove their socks so they can dip their big toe in the water. We recommend diving in!

There is great potential for the church in the use of social media, but it requires engagement. Engagement requires time. More important, engagement requires sincerity and the careful exercise of the social graces.

Think of Facebook dialog as if you were at a party. How far would your conversation go if all you did was acknowledge someone else’s comment? If there is to be a flicker of life at this digital party, you must foster dialog. When you acknowledge a comment, leave the door open a crack to let your virtual guests come in — if and when they feel comfortable.

Here are some simple social graces to use in engaging with your readers.

  • Respond with a question.
    Glad you enjoyed our review of “We Have a Pope.” How did you like the ending?
  • Answer a question.
    Good question! Thanks for asking! Here’s our answer: . . . .
  • Add some additional information to the comment, even if it means sending them to another site. This is expected on the web and can be helpful to you, too.
    Glad you enjoyed our post on children’s sermons. You might also enjoy this web site (add link).
  • Make an invitation. 
    If you are interested in movies, you might like to attend our movie night next Friday. We’re showing….
  • Acknowledge a commenter’s expertise.
    Thanks for pointing out our mistake in today’s post. We corrected it right away. Overall, did you like what we are trying to say? Please, if you disagree, let us know!
  • Invite participation.
    Thanks for your comment. You seem to know what you are talking about. Would you like to contribute a post to our site? Our readers would love to hear your point of view!
  • Ask for links.
    Thanks for telling us about that youth project. Do you have a link we can share with our readers? 

One caution: readers expect the owner of a Facebook page to be a real, live person. If they share serious concerns, you must be prepared to have the most qualified person in the church respond with true empathy and unselfish advice.

Your guests may choose to remain anonymous, but there should be real names attached to the responses from your congregation. Truth and transparency are vital.

Engaging in social media is work, but it is the easiest way for the church to reach the most people. It is well worth the effort.

If you don’t invest the appropriate time and resources and have an open attitude, your Facebook presence will be as effective as the generic caveat on every church bulletin board. “All welcome.”