Alban Weekly | The church in summer - the whistling, fluid body of Christ

10 months ago

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The church in summer -- the whistling, fluid body of Christ
Church life slows down in the summer. Bible studies go on hiatus, worship services combine, and office staffers cut out early. We are in Ordinary Time, counting the Sundays since Pentecost, but the half-filled pews evoke dwindling embers more than a church on fire.
It is no time to start a stewardship campaign. Everyone, including Jesus, seems to be on vacation.
Even for me, an island pastor in a tourist town, summer ministry is mostly about maintenance. Every Sunday, faithful churchgoing tourists dutifully boost our attendance, but our actual church members are gone. As the summer gets longer, the excuses get wilder:
"I'm working three jobs." "I have to take my kids to camp." "It's my one day to run errands." "I have to catch a wave while the conditions are right." But just when the summer malaise seems to settle into the sanctuary for good, the whistler shows up. One Sunday every summer, this elderly tourist in T-shirt and sandals slips into the back pew and waits for the first hymn. With unnerving accuracy and power, he matches the pitch of every song, every choral response and every musical interlude with a crisp, clear whistle.
Spellbound for an hour by his unique gift, I am reminded of an essential truth: church is defined by the people present, not the people missing. We pray for the sick and the traveling, we grieve the loss of our loved ones, and we talk about the unchurched. We feel their absence, but we -- the souls who are present -- are the ones who give the church its incarnational glory. Straggling and bleary-eyed, the people who show up form a powerful whole. They are the body of Christ for that appointed time.
Read more from Laura Stern »
Reflective Leadership Grants offer Christian leaders "balcony time" to reflect on accomplishments, broaden perspectives and discern next steps.
Leaders must simultaneously manage immediate needs and look ahead to what is coming next. In today's rapidly changing context, leaders often spend so much time reacting that they don't have the time or space to "get on the balcony," stepping away from daily obligations and focusing on the long view.
The Reflective Leadership Grant program offers lay and ordained Christian leaders up to $15,000 to step away from their current work to reflect on accomplishments, broaden perspectives and discern next steps.
Learn more and apply »
Vernon Jordan considered becoming a preacher -- but the law was his calling. Yet the church was a great influence on him. He grew up in and was formed by the African Methodist Episcopal Church. And as an adult, he was privileged to count the great Baptist preachers Howard Thurman and Gardner Taylor as close friends. In this conversation with co-host Bill Lamar, Jordan talks about growing up in Atlanta, leading the National Urban League, how his mentors helped him as a young man -- and why his mother didn't want him to become a preacher.
Read or listen to this podcast »
How do I listen to a podcast? » 
How to welcome church visitors: What if your church was reviewed on TripAdvisor?
Churches spend a lot of time on the big things, like a glorious anthem and prophetic preaching. But a UMC pastor says small details matter, too, like lights that burn brightly, signs that make sense and greeters who greet.
Read more from Donna Claycomb Sokol »
Grace to get through summer
She never expected old hymns to bring "showers of blessing" on a hot summer Sunday in East Texas. But that's the power of music to connect us -- a gift of grace, says a Christian writer.
Read more from Jane Webb Childress »
What I learned at Vacation Bible School this summer
A pastor charged with teaching a third-grade VBS class realized she was learning not only from the children but with them, by open-heartedly engaging in the activities meant for kids.
Read more from Bristol Huffman »
The Wisdom of the Seasons: How the Church Year Helps Us Understand our Congregational Stories
by Charles M. Olsen
The church year is often seen as a framework for church programs, but well-known Alban author Charles Olsen shows readers how it can be a prism through which congregations more deeply understand their own stories.
By weaving together our narratives and those of Christian tradition, a congregation can clarify its identity, grow in wisdom, and discover a new vision and ministry. Olsen draws parallels between the church seasons and practices of spiritual formation -- letting go, naming and celebrating God's presence, and taking hold. He shows us how these movements are expressed in the three major cycles of the church year -- Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. 
Focusing on communal narratives, he presents a process for telling a story and forming a corporate memory of the story, and then deepening and reflecting on it by exploring the season of the church year that captures its character.
Learn more and order the book »
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