Bearings

Navigating Life-as-Ministry

Not a Dirty Word

Administration as a Spiritual Practice

I only signed up for the class because my seminary required it. Church Administration sounded boring. I associated “administration”” with business. It seemed unlikely that I would go to work for a large church, and even if I did, the jobs I would apply for as a new seminary graduate would be associate positions. “Administration”… Read More

Achieving Failure

Lessons Learned from a Progressive Church Start-Up

With a big smile, a bit of money raised, and enough naiveté to blind me, I showed up to the office of the Conference of the Northern California Nevada United Church of Christ. It was the fall of 2010, and I had left a beautiful village church in New England to follow the call to… Read More

Getting Our Bearings: Ministries of Coping

A Guide for Reflection & Conversation

If you look up the words “cope” or “coping” in a dictionary, you’ll find entries like these: “to struggle or deal with, especially on fairly even terms of with some degree of success,” “to face and deal with problems or difficulties, especially successfully or in a calm or adequate manner,” or “to have the capacity… Read More

Coping Through Creativity

Holy Women Icons of Grief

As ordained clergy, I’ve officiated a lot of funerals. For fourteen years, I shaped burnt ash across congregant’s foreheads on Ash Wednesday and reminded them that we all come from dust. To dust we shall return. Yet these words and rituals rang hollow when my brother died over a year ago from a drug overdose.… Read More

Life Happens

5 Ways to Continually Cultivate a Spirit of Resilience

In my new book, I know What Heaven Looks Like, the word “resilience” isn’t mentioned once; however, it’s a story about my life, and my life has surely been one of resilience. As someone who has overcome traumatic life circumstances including childhood abuse, poverty and homelessness, I’d like to share with you 5 ways to… Read More

Five Days in a ‘Thin Place’

A Pilgrimage before Coping

As someone who has volunteered in hospice for ten years and has written on the spirituality of dying and death, I am often asked about grief and coping with loss. I used to balk and say, “I do dying and death; not grief. I know nothing about coping with loss.” While I still do not… Read More

Reflection and Discussion Guide for Bearings, “Becoming Church”

The articles in the recent “Becoming Church” issue of Bearings have a different character than many of the articles we’ve published on the topic of the change in the 21st century church. We might say that, up until now, many articles have been descriptive; that is, they have described what the changing church “looks like” –… Read More

Becoming a Cosmopolitan Faith (Again)

Practicing Christianity beyond Belief

This week the Pew Forum reported that belief in God—the transcendent, supernatural being who intervenes in human history and forms often deeply personal relationships with humans, according to the scriptures revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims—remains strong among Americans, with some 80% answering “yes” when asked whether they believe in God. But what that belief… Read More

Finding the Face of the Church Becoming

Can a Renewed Pluralism Nurture a ‘Church on the Way’ that Engages Young People?

It was May, 1965 when a group of African-American Episcopalians from the Episcopal Society for Culture and Racial Unity, also known as ESCRU, attempted to enter an Episcopal Church in St. Augustine, Florida for Sunday mass. As explored in United By Faith: The Multicultural Congregation As An Answer to Race, these Episcopalians were blocked from… Read More

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