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Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

What if the Shakespearean-slow death of the mainline church in America were really an opportunity?

I think it is.  In fact I would venture to say that the possibilities for new life for God’s people and the world are breathtaking.

With declining church membership and budgets, the older model- of a seminary-trained minister “professional” called and salaried to shepherd a flock- appears more and more clunky in places.  The opportunity? We face a critical juncture when maybe for the first time in a long while the church as “the priesthood of all believers” will step into the gap.

I am grateful to friend and minister Jake Dell for introducing me to how his pocket of mainline Christianity, the Episcopal Church, is responding to this challenge.  Through an online initiative called “Sermons That Work,” the Episcopal Church is equipping “lay ministers” to fill empty pulpits where professionally trained ministers once stood, by giving these lay ministers and others all that they need to deliver sermons. “Sermons That Work” shares real and relevant homilies for Sundays and other feast days and seasons throughout the liturgical year, with a view to making them available for use, teaching and inspiration.

You might even call it “sermon karaoke.”  Any good sermon, like any good song, shouldn’t have to be shared just once.  Consider, for example, how many times some jilted lover after a break-up sings and swoons to “I Will Survive” in the corner of some random karaoke bar lounge.  You don’t have to be Gloria Gaynor to find strength in her lyrics or courage in her manifesto.

“Sermons That Work functions a bit similarly.  Sure, it would probably be forced and artificial to transplant and reproduce exactly (word for word) an original sermon in a totally different context.  But the refrains and the anecdotes might be very much the same.

By way of example, the sermon for this upcoming Sunday addresses the critical distinction between the church and just another “do-good” club or organization. It’s an age-old question, really, and I suspect it cuts to the heart of a common misconception about why we Christians believe what we believe and do what we do. The Rev. Danáe Ashley’s simple but profound answer, “following Jesus,” becomes the lead-in to a conversation about what it means to follow Jesus (apropos this season of Lent).

So I applaud “Sermons That Work” as a very helpful and ecumenically accessible response to the needs and opportunities facing the mainline church in our contemporary landscape.  You can find Ashley’s sermon and others here:  http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/

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