What Would Jesus Tweet?

 Fr. Bill Breedlove

Fr. Bill Breedlove

I may be in the minority opinion on this, but it seems to me that what we call social media is misnamed. To be social media, one might think that whatever that media are, they should have the effect of enhancing our connectivity and deepening our relationships, not making ourselves and our relationship more disconnected and shallow. Unfortunately, that is what appears to be true and it is getting ugly. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to name a few, have become battlegrounds to sharing propaganda, lies, smears, and whatever else might be useful for attacking and diminishing others. The shouting and vitriol, the hyperbole, the partisanship, and the celebrity culture that characterize our 24 hours “news” have infected our social media. Contrary to the headlines, that particular opinion piece by some partisan with weak “facts” did not “completely destroy” or “eviscerate” anything or anyone. So, hold that endzone victory dance and don’t click that like or share button. Would it not be better for people to sit down together and have civil face-to-face conversations about public issues and leave social media for videos of cute animals and vacation photos? I think we made some progress in the past breaking down walls that separated us. Much of that came through direct encounters, face-toface meetings, and efforts at integrating people who were different. I guess it is both harder to be ugly to others when you are looking into their eyes and harder to maintain stereotypes and prejudices when you find out that you are not so different after all. But, when we retreat into social media and we do not have to deal directly with others, we seem to forget our better selves and our manners, and it becomes just too easy to demean others and ourselves. Imagine what things might have been like had social media been around in the first century. Internet memes questioning Jesus’ parentage, a tweet from Caiaphas about how he completely destroyed Jesus one night, and Facebook posts about heartless Pharisees might have been common but not the worst of it. I wonder what Jesus would have Tweeted. No, I don’t. “Love your enemies” “Break bread and remember” #Savior #Yahweh1 #Princeofpeace #Lovewins. If we really are people who claim to be Christian, we should be that everywhere. Even on social media. While I can imagine Jesus posting lots of selfies, like with lepers and demoniacs and Cleveland Browns fans, I cannot imagine him abusing others to make his point or responding unlovingly to someone else’s bad information. He met with people where they were, shared a meal with them, and taught some of them God’s way of loving all. For those who got it, they got it. And those who did not, he loved them too. Be like Jesus and let a shared meal, a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee be the social media that connects us the way he connected with people.

Grace and peace,

Fr Bill+ 

Grace and Hope

The long process of electing the next bishop for our diocese is coming toward its conclusion which will happen with the election on June 25. As part of that process, the final four candidates have been in the diocese for a series of talks called “walkabouts.” These are held throughout the diocese and provide a chance for members of the diocese to see and hear from the candidates. For this election, at least, questions were taken in advance. In brief, what one would see and hear at a walkabout are first the four candidates together with all those attending for a short personal introduction from each candidate. Following are four breakout sessions, where each candidate appears individually to answer randomly selected questions from those previously submitted. After maybe fifteen minutes, time is called and candidates rotate to the next breakout session. Within the sixty to eighty minutes they are speaking to those four breakout groups, candidates average answering thirty or more questions in total. All this is without knowing beforehand what might be asked, without much chance at all to establish rapport with their audience, and without a break. I feel for and pray for these candidates. To get to this point has already been a long journey for them and even if they, as they do, speak of the blessing in the journey, this is a physically, mentally, and spiritually taxing experience. These public performances, done not just once, but multiple times and more than once a day in geographically distance locations. So I feel for and I pray for them.

I went to two of the walkabout gatherings: at Christ School in Arden on the opening night and the next day at noon in Waynesville at Grace Episcopal. Again, I feel for and I pray for these folks. Some were impressive, very impressive, on the opening night. Others struggled, maybe because of weariness, maybe because the format did not bring out their strengths. Regardless, all of them brought to these meetings cause for hope for our Episcopal church and the mission of God in the world. Good and creative things are happening in the parishes and dioceses where our candidates are from. The Gospel is being proclaimed in word and deed, the ministries of the church are bringing us into contact with groups historically underserved, and new ways of being the church are thriving along with the continuing vitality of our traditional ways of being. The energy, ideas, passion and love of Jesus shown by all our candidates were simply uplifting. I went the next day hoping that those who did not show their best at Arden would have a better day in Waynesville. In golf, a bad shot is sometimes forgiven and the person is given another try. We call that a mulligan. I play bad golf and know about mulligans. They are a form of grace and I believe God gives us plenty of those so we should extend them as well as receive them. I feel for and pray for our candidates and offer them grace - a holy mulligan, for all, but especially for those I thought struggled at bit at the walkabouts I attended. The Lord knows I need one and maybe you do as well. I have my favorite candidate and I encourage you to visit the diocesan website and review all their written materials, and that you do so with thanksgiving in your heart and with eyes full of grace for these folks who have been faithful in listening to the Holy Spirit.

Blessed be our God in his angels and his saints,

Fr Bill+ 

Honduras 2017

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
— John 20:21b

It’s a new world. That is fundamentally the message of Easter. In the resurrection, Jesus is the victory of God and has established the reign of God in God’s new creation. The old creation has become the new creation and we along with it are made new. In the reading for the second Sunday of Easter, we hear that Jesus comes among his friends and speaks peace to them. Although the doors are closed and locked, Jesus shows them that there will be no place in the new creation where doors of any kind will be closed and locked to his presence. Then, in what some call John’s account of the Pentecost moment, he breathes the Holy Spirit onto them as he commissions them to do the work opening closed and locked doors and to carry the good news into the world.

In the summer of 2015, a group from Good Shepherd was so sent to work with the people at the LAMB Institute in Honduras. Speaking for the group, I think I am accurate in saying it was a transforming experience. How could it have been otherwise? “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Something of the old will necessarily die, and something of the new will come to life. It is death and resurrection experienced in this life as part of God’s kingdom now present. Doors that are closed will be opened and new life will be found. This is true for us as well as for those we meet and those we serve.

A second mission team is now in formation for our February 4-11, 2017 return trip to Honduras. If you are interested in going, speak to the members of our first mission team to get a better idea of the joys and challenges of the experience: Susan Morgan, Jane Oliver, Amy and Gil Nicolson, Kanute Rarey, Suzi Herbert, and Jim Reynolds. A first meeting for all interested in learning more about the mission trip will be held in the undercroft on June 5 following the 10:45 service.

Grace, peace, and Easter blessings to you,

Fr Bill+

Gifts and Opportunities

The National Church collects and distributes data that provide interesting snapshots of the church as a whole and its constituent dioceses. While these data certainly do not speak for themselves, they give us points for reflection and may be helpful for planning purposes. From the 2014 data, we see that the average age for all Episcopal clergy was 58 years old, while for our diocese was 61. Of the clergy in our diocese, 21 percent are 54 years old or younger. As I now have two daughters in college, I appreciate that in some ways I can still be considered among the younger. Solo priests lead 34 percent of all Episcopal churches while just 20 percent have more than one priest. The rest are led by part-time, supply clergy, or a lay person. Of all churches, only 13 percent of all parishes have three weekend services. We are one of those few. The largest proportion (45 percent) hold a single weekend service. The average Episcopal church seats 192 people while ours seats a bit less than that when we use extra chairs and seating in the chapel. In our current parish membership, 60 percent of us are 65 years and older. We have 58 parishioners who are 80 years and older while 108 of us are 75 and older. For the Episcopal Church, 27 percent of parishes have half their membership above 65 years of age. 

When I reflect on these data I see both gifts and opportunities for Good Shepherd. On the gifts side, I see a church that is blessed with a great abundance of age-tested wisdom and skills honed over a lifetime. Many of us are very active in our retirement, some perhaps even more so now than when we were working, and others perhaps now slowing down a bit from earlier retirement years. We are using that wisdom and those skills to benefit the church and serving others in the community. I am grateful to lead a church with such a high level of participation and where we have such riches of wisdom and talent. True to the Gospel, we are using those as we are able to build up the body of Christ and to bring good repute upon the Church. 

The opportunity for us is that of continuing to care for each other as we age. Our pastoral care system offers a broad range of services including prayer services, wellness services, crisis services, community life services that keep those in a pastoral care situation connected to the church community, and end of life services. We currently offer about 25 different services that in some way offer spiritual, relational, or material support to those in need of pastoral care and especially our more senior members. With so many services, we of course need many volunteers and the generous sharing of our wisdom and skills, and a staff person to equip our volunteers and coordinate their efforts. This parish distinguishes itself in sharing generously with those outside our church. That is a good and holy thing. We must have no less a concern for caring for those who are members of this church. It was the care of others that distinguished the early Christian church and it will be the care of others that continues to be a distinguishing feature of this community. I invite your inquires about how you can help.

Grace and peace,

Fr Bill+ 

The Death of Jesus

His way is the way of generosity and trust in God’s providence. Being like Jesus is for us to love freely and share freely as his Father loves freely and provides freely. Doing so is to be one with God.
— Fr. Bill

Western thought on the death of Jesus currently emphasizes the effect of his death on creating atonement with God. Especially prominent in this line of thought is the belief that God’s justice requires that sins be punished by some kind of payment by the sinner to God. Yet, we are told there is nothing we have to offer of our own to fulfill the required payment. So, Jesus who is God and human, made the payment on our behalf. His death being a perfect offering appeased the wrath of God against our sins or at least somehow satisfies God’s necessary justice. In standard church language, we are considered forgiven through our profession of faith in what Jesus did for us that we could not do for ourselves. I have shared with some that this was not the most common explanation of the atoning death of Jesus in the early church, nor is the one favored in other parts of the world. Whereas the tendency in the Western Church is to individualize salvation and focus on what Jesus did for the individual, many in the early church and continuing in the modern Eastern Church emphasize the cosmic battle between good and evil, with Jesus as Christus Victor who defeats evil, frees us the bondage of death, and make the whole creation new. Salvation is for the whole of creation, not just for the particular individual who says the right thing. Many today recoil at the brutality and implications of the Western model, where punishment is inflicted on an innocent person to make payment to an all-loving God. But many are also not aware of the Eastern Church alternative and that there are still more ways of understanding the death of Jesus. 

One of the more recent interpretations of Jesus’ death is based on the work of anthropologist and literary scholar Rene Gerard. For Girard, the death of Jesus is an example of universal cultural practices and the way societies everywhere deal with potentially catastrophic violence. But it is one that exposes the violence for what it is, it draws back the curtain, and leads us to an awareness of a new way of life that does not repeat the cycle of violence. I recommend his book The Scapegoat to those who want a fuller account of his thinking. In short, Girard draws upon literature, mythology, and a wide sweep of history and anthropology to show that violence in all societies is produced by competition over items believed to be scarce. He called this “mimetic violence” because it comes from imitation of what others have. Violent competition for these items tends to escalate to a point where the whole social system may be destroyed. The common relief mechanism is the identification and killing of a scapegoat. The bitterness between rivals, their hatred and unhappiness, and the situation of scarcity is blamed on the scapegoat who is killed and whose death allows those who were once enemies to find a new bond of cooperation. You may recall that in the Gospels, Caiaphas reminds the council that it is better for one man to die than the whole nation to perish and that on the day Jesus dies, Herod and Pilate became friends. Throughout history, it has been primarily children and women, old people, those with physical abnormalities, racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, and those with exceptional beauty, wealth or talent who have been scapegoated. In the Gospels, what is shown is that the scapegoat (Jesus) is clearly an innocent man killed in a highly volatile situation, who has warned the people that their violence will lead to their destruction, and who has taught that the way out of the cycle of violence is to end our desire of imitate and acquire. “Sell what you have and give to the poor and follow me.” “Do not store up what will rust, but seek treasure in heaven.” “Do not worry about what you will eat or drink.” His way is the way of generosity and trust in God’s providence. Being like Jesus is for us to love freely and share freely as his Father loves freely and provides freely. Doing so is to be one with God.

Happy Easter,

Fr Bill+ 

Credo: The Universal Church

What matters more is that we are Christians.
— Fr. Bill

The early Church gave us three generally recognized statements of the Christian faith that have become part of our treasured inheritance - the Apostles’ Creed, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Quicunque Vult. You can find them in your Book of Common Prayer on pages 53-54, 358-359, and 864-865 respectively. These are fairly concise summaries of the main points of the faith and they provide a useful starting point and study guide for those interested in examining more deeply the traditional understandings of the faith during the season of Lent. That we call these the creeds of the church comes from the first line of these statements in their Latin form, namely “Credo in Deum” or “I believe in God.” By “believe in” the creed is not suggesting head knowledge like “I believe the Earth is round” but heart knowledge more like “I put my trust in” such as “I trust that there was a man named Jesus who was God incarnate” or “I have confidence in there being only one God.” The saying of the creed is the expressing of our assent to those statements, our heartfelt conviction that they are true, and our commitment to living our lives according to the truths expressed by those statements. That is much more than saying that either they express factual statements which can be proven or falsified or that they are mere opinions.

 Fr. Bill Breedlove

Fr. Bill Breedlove

While there are probably several phrases in the creeds that cause folks to pause, such as “born of the Virgin Mary,” for Episcopalians and those coming to our church from churches that do not regularly recite the creed, it may be the statements about the Church that are also puzzling. For example, in the Nicene Creed regularly recited during the Celebration of Holy Eucharist, we say “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” I have known people who have stumbled over the word catholic, thinking it was a reference to the Roman Catholic Church and leading to questions about whether the church they were in was Protestant or Roman Catholic. So what are we saying? In part we are saying that we are members of the body of Christ which we call the church. In the Greek text of the New Testament, the word for church is ekklesia meaning those who have been called out, separated from the ways of the world, and brought into a new community with Christ as our head. By saying we believe in one church, we are saying that while we see many denominations and we see ongoing fragmentation and division, we are still part of one body. We are Episcopalians and our neighbors at Oak Forest are Methodists, but what matters more is not our peculiar Episcopal or their peculiar Methodist ways. What matters more is that we are Christians. By saying we are members of a catholic church, we are simply saying that the one church is universal, existing across all space and time. That is what the original Greek word katholikos translated catholic means. To be catholic is to be broad. To say that we are members of a catholic church does not mean we prefer a high solemn mass to a charismatic prayer meeting, but rather that both of those and other expressions of the faith are valid and helpful in their contexts for conveying the Gospel message that is always the same. It is sometimes not easy to explain what it means to be Episcopalian. I am occasionally asked, “Are Episcopalians Catholic or Protestant?” My answer is that as people who embrace and follow the historic creeds of the church we are both, or that is what I believe.

Grace and peace,

Fr Bill+ 

Sanctification

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
— Leviticus 19:1-2

Holiness is an expectation that God has for all people, not just some people. It is an expectation for the young and the more seasoned, for those new to the faith and those well-versed, for the laity as well as the clergy. One of our church words for holy is sanctified and for the process of becoming holy we speak of our sanctification. Both sanctified and sanctification have the sense of something or someone being singled out and set apart from what is not holy and from what is not of the character of God. If we take seriously that God expects from us that we become and remain set apart, that we become holy people, then we should take time out to reflect on our personal state of holiness and for intentional holiness work. Holiness does not just happen but develops through practices such as fasting and prayer, the reading and meditation on scripture, confession and penance, practicing virtues, pilgrimage and spiritual journeying, and through the intentional study of God, among other means. Setting aside time for this intentional holiness work may be harder for some than for others, but it is something that all should do. The Bishop of Kansas would say to his clergy gathered during Holy Week that he knew this was a very busy time, but that was all the more reason for them to gather. I recall that in seminary, required spiritual retreats would seem to come at the most busy time of the semester when papers were due and exams would follow. I have come to realize the wisdom in what at the time seemed like such bad timing. Greater spiritual growth often comes through sacrifice.

As we begin the new year, I am thinking about what holiness work I need to do and what holiness work we all need. Throughout the year, I will have several opportunities to go on retreat with my fellow clergy and I will also be going abroad this summer on a mission trip. Those times away from the parish and to foreign lands have been for me good places for deeper prayer and reflection. I encourage each of you to reflect on your own holiness by answering a simple question: How close do I feel to God? And then ask yourself a follow up question: What am I doing or should I do to draw closer to God? I am interested in hearing your answers and helping you in your process of sanctification, so do share your thoughts with me. The women of the parish are reminded that we have a women’s retreat coming at the end of February. Registration will close at the end of January. Please see the Adult Formation bulletin board or me for more information. For some, this may be what is needed to begin or further their process of sanctification. Being holy is for everyone, so let’s all work in 2016 on being holy people.

Grace and peace,

Fr Bill+ 

One Body in Christ

There is one Body and one Spirit;
There is one hope in God’s call to us;
One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
One God and Father of all.

It may be in our baptismal liturgy that we are most reminded that we are one body in Christ. And it may be in that same liturgy that we are most reminded of our particular Episcopal ecclesiology; that is, our way of being church. There is one body. When we look at the Diocese of Western North Carolina of which we are part, we see that we at Good Shepherd are part of one body spread across twenty eight counties, gathered in sixty three worshiping communities and six summer chapels. We own two conference centers; one at Lake Logan and another at Valle Crucis. The body also contains the Deerfield Retirement Community and Christ School. Though in many locations, we are one body guided by one Spirit under one God and Father. Bishop Taylor reminded us of this oneness at the recently concluded 94th Annual Convention of our diocese. The context of his comments was the diocesan budget and giving to the mission of The Episcopal Church, that body of one hundred and nine dioceses spread across several nations and continents. He reminded us that the thirteen percent of the diocesan budget designated to the National Church for 2016 was not something given to “them.” We are “them.” There is one body and one Spirit.

With that in mind, here is some of the good news from our 2016 diocesan budget. Pledged income is up $52,000 and total income is up $80,000. Total income for the diocese is projected at around $1.7 million. Our children and youth, those from Murphy to Gastonia, from Boone to Saluda, will benefit from a $10,000 increase in funding to Camp Henry. Our Campus and Youth Ministries combined will receive over $230,000 in 2016. We will spend over $54,000 on Justice and Outreach with $30,000 committed to New Mission Initiatives. In other funding, Kairos West, a community organizing initiative in West Asheville will receive $20,000 while our ministries for Congregational Vitality and Support for Small Parishes will receive $44,000 and $40,000 respectively. Church of the Advocate, part of our ministry to the homeless will receive over $21,000 in 2016. Lastly, I note that our Hispanic Mission will be funded at almost $200,000 which is an increase of $65,000 and now supports two full-time priests serving the growing Latino/a population in our diocese. As you can see, we are dedicated to supporting both the future of the church and those less fortunate while also supporting new mission initiatives. All of this is our work. There is one body and one Spirit and we support the mission of our diocese by a 10% pledge of our income. This is not money we could have used for ourselves but money that is being used for ourselves.

The same spirit of oneness should be the spirit found in our giving to Good Shepherd. Our budget includes expenses for personnel and administrative costs, buildings and utilities and supplies, the mortgage and insurance, and funds our many ministries including outreach and children, healing and pastoral care, adult formation and parish life, worship and music, and more. This budget belongs to all of us, serves all of us, and requires contributions from all of us.

Grace and peace,
Fr Bill+

An Invitation to Serve

From the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, page 855.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?

A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

 Fr. Bill Breedlove

Fr. Bill Breedlove

Very soon, members of the vestry nominating committee will begin the work of establishing a slate of candidates for election to the vestry. Episcopalians value lay leadership and consider the service of lay members to be at least as of equal importance to that of the clergy. One could fairly say that lay leadership is more important since most church leadership is provided by the laity. As Episcopalians we believe that everyone has been gifted to serve in the mission of God in the world and part of that service is to take our places in the governance of the church. Serving on the vestry is one of the most important and sacred ways that a lay person can represent Christ and his Church. If you were to ask recent past members of the vestry and those currently serving as vestry members about their experiences, I think you would hear them say that the ministry of a vestry person is firstly a spiritual and formative experience, a chance to grow in fellowship with others, and then that it is about the administration of church business.

While not all churches can claim this, we are blessed to have a healthy and vital vestry to go along with a healthy and vital parish. Now is a great time to serve. I invite all members of the parish to prayerfully consider standing for election to the vestry. I know that not all those who stand for election will be elected but your faithfulness in making yourself available is appreciated by the whole church and is a great witness to your willingness to be a servant to the servants of God. Please contact members of our vestry senior class - Deanna Dubose, Chuck Van Gorder, and Elmer Wilson - to let them know you would like to stand for election.

Grace and peace to all,

Fr Bill

Spiritual DNA

In the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.
— Acts 5:38-39

In the Book of Acts, we find a lawyer Gamaliel speaking to the Temple elite, telling them to take no action against the apostles and their nascent faith community. Gamaliel reminds them that, as has been the case of the many leaders and movements that came before the Jesus movement, if this new movement is not of God it will die. I would add that if a community does not remain in God’s purposes it will also die.

Every faith community has a genesis moment in which its “spiritual DNA” is created and its foundational character and purpose are established. God is up to something new when a faith community first gathers and takes root, working his will in and through the lives of his people in a particular place. Reflection upon that genesis moment and the subsequent development of a church are important matters for church leaders and church members. Remaining true to or deviating from its spiritual DNA may explain much about whether a particular church thrives or fails to thrive.  

Good Shepherd is no different in this matter. Its genesis moment was the coming together of Clay County residents who had been traveling to Murphy for Sunday services and their friends. It was founded by a mixed group of Episcopalians and their non-episcopal spouses who found comfort, support, and welcome in their small Clay County gathering. Initially meeting in each other’s homes, they planted in Clay County a faith community whose spiritual DNA is encoded for showing welcome and hospitality to all seeking to belong regardless of prior religious affiliation. This faith community will continue to thrive if we continue to embrace and continue to live into the full implications of our spiritual DNA.  We must not take for granted that we are and will remain welcoming, but we must be intentional in looking for and greeting those among us who are new, those who are visiting, and those in the community who have not yet found us. We must widen the circle of those who feel at home among us. May God continue to give us the opportunity, the will, and the courage to accomplish his purposes for this church.

In Christ’s service,

Fr Bill+