Bearings

Navigating Life-as-Ministry

Becoming Digitally-Integrated Church

A Media Scholar and a Church Staff Advisor Reflect on How Our Online Lives are Shaping Religious Practice Today—And How Churches can Respond, Connect, and Engage Online and Off

A decade and a half ago, Heidi’s book, Exploring Religious Communities Online, documented how traits of early forms of online religious communities emerging in the late 1990s posed both a potential challenge and opportunity to offline churches. These early “virtual communities,” as they were referred to, grew out of the web 1.0 era of email… Read More

Singing the Past into the Future

Evensong as the Voice of Faithful Becoming

On a recent Saturday around sunset, a group of 40 people gathered in the chapel of our suburban Connecticut “tall steeple church” for “Evensong,” a weekly contemporary Christian service we have offered since September.   Imagined and led by our associate pastor, it is the kind of service that is flourishing in many other churches throughout… Read More

Cultivating Creativity

A Guide for Reflection & Conversation

The three essays in this month’s magazine describe some ways creativity is being cultivated in some churches and church-like spaces. There are varied expressions highlighted: there is poetry; there is music; there is visual art. Ellen McGrath Smith describes The Bridge Series, a monthly gathering of poets and other writers who read their work in… Read More

Art as Justice-Making

Painting and Writing Holy Women Icons

How can we repair a damaged world? As the American embassy was bombed in 1999, I was hunkered in a Russian orthodox church gazing at the brooding faces of male saints that filled every inch of the sanctuary. Where were all the women? As a sensory overload accosted my eyes in Saint Catherine’s Monastery on… Read More

Generating Church through Sound

Showing up, Listening Deeply, and Practicing Together

I teach community singing and chanting as a spiritual practice. I travel around the country meeting and singing with people in different denominations, teaching and learning new songs and insights, and moving on to the next community. Through more than 30 years, the singing together has become as much a metaphor for noticing our internal… Read More

Plowshares, Pruning Hooks, and Poems

Bridging Faith, Literature, and Advocacy

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” W.H. Auden famously wrote in “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.” And indeed, writing poetry often feels that way, since it’s on the fringes of both literature and public discourse. Writing in other genres—essays, even stories—seems closer to the world of action, of making things happen. It’s said (apocryphally) that Lincoln, upon… Read More

Small Is the New Big

A Guide for Reflection & Conversation

The articles in this month’s Bearings magazine, “Small Is the New Big,” illuminate questions raised by the realities of small church ministry. In them we read eyewitness accounts of the spiritual energy in churches described as “small”—small that is, when the metric applied is a numerical count of members or weekly worship attendance. The articles… Read More

Small, But Not Alone

Collaborative Parishes Offer Hope and New Life for Small Churches

With few exceptions, Christian churches in America are in trouble. Membership has been trending slowly downward for decades with the most pronounced declines occurring in churches in the mainline Protestant tradition. I am not writing, however, to sound the alarm about the shrinking numbers of the faithful. I would guess that none of it is… Read More

Small Church Magic

A number of years ago I found myself sitting in an auditorium, surrounded by colleagues, listening to a speaker talk about church growth. It was not the first time I had found myself in this situation: A speaker from an urban center telling people in a judicatory that is predominantly rural and low-income what they… Read More

How Many Crockpots Does It Take to Keep a Small Church Afloat?

Small Is the New Big Issue

We sit quietly in a 125-year-old, former Methodist church sanctuary (now a space used for art events). A cello, violin, and guitar lead us with instrument and voice. We sing one line of one psalm 108 times. We sing the line 108 times because the musician who leads us is also a yogi, and that… Read More

Making Peace with Peacemaking

Nick Nagy, “Peacemaking in the Middle” Over the winter break, our editorial assistant, Nick Nagy, took a close look at people of his home state, Indiana, and by association the rest of the Midwest, who, especially since the 2016 election, have been characterized as “hopelessly isolationist and dismally Trumpian.” Nick’s lead-off article in our January… Read More

No Peace until All the Children are Well

“And how are the children?” goes a traditional greeting of the Maasai people of East Africa that places the safety and wellbeing of children at the forefront of all other community matters. The response, “All the children are well,” confirms that the priorities of the community are in order. The Maasia greeting came to mind… Read More

An Inconvenient Incarnational Peace

Real peacemaking doesn’t start with abstract concepts for me, but with faces. I see faces of children in Salvadoran refugee camps and Mothers of the Disappeared I met in 1989. I see U.S. war veterans: Debbie, Jim and Miguel, who willingly served their country and came home emotionally, spiritually wounded. Jim was a parishioner who… Read More

Peacemaking in the Middle

I was back in “the middle” this holiday—back in Indiana, the flyover state I call home. Indiana has garnered much attention these past two years as the current Vice President hails from the state. Unfortunately, the presidential election of 2016 might have you thinking that Mike Pence is a good representation of what it means… Read More

Claiming, Cultivating & Creating Sacred Space

A GUIDE FOR REFLECTION & CONVERSATION

Editors Note: Each month, Bearings contributors offer insights on a key theme in the practice of life-as-ministry. As the final installment in the issue, The BTS Center’s scholar-in-residence Pamela Shellberg, PhD reflects on the articles in the issue and poses questions for further reflection by Bearings readers and the communities in which life-as-ministry plays out for… Read More

Make a Place for Yourself in the Darkness

It is dark. Rain falls soft and visible from beneath the streetlights. Heard faintly in the cacophony of the night is a homeless man yelling something into the air. Something indeterminate. Unsettling. Avoidingly, nervously, people walk past. Through the glass windows of a Mexican restaurant, I am waiting for him to arrive. He comes in,… Read More

Where Can I Run To?

Creating Sacred Space as a Black Woman

The 1990s R&B girl group, Xscape, has a famous song entitled “Who Can I Run To?” The song discusses the complexity of whom to rely on when one needs love. I can relate. I entered my thirties this year full of hope, only to be hit with three significant losses in a six-month time span.… Read More

How the Grinch Told Christmas

Or, Sacred Space is Where It Finds You

The end of the year is upon us. And end is where we shall start: this tale will end with poorly described travelogue of where to find your sacred space hidden in this year’s festivities, mostly through the process of elimination. Or maybe not. Actually you might want to stop reading now. I wouldn’t trust… Read More

Giving Thanks in Thankless Times

A Guide for Reflection & Conversation

Editors Note: Each month, Bearings contributors offer insights on a key theme in the practice of life-as-ministry. As the final installment in the issue, The BTS Center’s scholar-in-residence Pamela Shellberg, PhD reflects on the articles in the issue and poses questions for further reflection by Bearings readers and the communities in which life-as-ministry plays out for… Read More

Finding Deep Gratitude in Ordinary Time

My Sunday night yoga class is an anchor in my week. It grounds me and prepares me for the week ahead. The teacher is wise and the community that gathers is special. Recently one night a couple I hadn’t met before showed up. A bit older than me, they looked to have shared many, many… Read More