A Haiku, Incense, and The Great Vigil of Easter

A new fire kindled
My whole world, forever changed
Incense, holy smokes!
I’ve rediscovered incense, my world is forever changed, thus the above Haiku–an ode to my new love. Now you know that in addition to being just crazy enough to agree to plant a church, I’m also a total church nerd (maybe just a nerd, in general). You are not wrong.
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These are the two thuribles I found on my adventure, thanks to the Rev. Peter Casparian.

Incense is one of those things in the church world that elicits strong opinions. When I went adventuring to find a thurible to use for the first liturgy where we used incense, I ended up finding not one, but two thuribles. The first was lent to me by a dear friend while the other was happily given away, it’s custodian remarking, “Just promise you won’t bring it back.” Ha!!! Her Haiku might sound more like this:

A burden relieved
Thanks to God, no more incense
I can breathe again
Her loss is my gain, as far as I can tell. I’m thrilled to be starting a church where we use incense at our weekly services, which, as I see it, invites one more sense into our full-bodied participation in the liturgy. I’m not an advocate of the miasmata* that can sometimes be created by the over-use of incense, after all, I do still want to see the congregation, but an appropriately modest amount of incense is a wonderful way to elevate our worship and watch our prayers rise up to heaven.
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He could just be smoking, you’d never know.

In general, I am having a rich and enjoyable experience of discerning my own liturgical sense and then crafting liturgies that are both ancient and traditional but also lively and expressive. I’m especially excited about our upcoming Easter Vigil, which will start in the darkest hour of the night, which is always just before the dawn of a new day–a dramatic way to experience the transition from darkness into light that Jesus ushers in with the resurrection. We will celebrate the Service of Light with a beautiful bonfire, which we will light outside under the stars, after which we will hear the retelling of our creation, fall, and redemption while we sit around the fire (weather permitting). We will renew our baptismal vows with the waters of new life, sing, chant, and celebrate the first Eucharist of Easter–the start of a whole new life for each of us. And we’ll burn some incense.

 

If you are around and want to join us, please come on by! We’ll start outside at 6am at San Francisco de Asis (7000 Woodhue Dr, 78745). The service will last about an hour and a half and will be followed by a festive reception. We’ll be finished with it all shortly after 8am with plenty of time to make it to brunch!
And now, a final Haiku:
From ashes, new life
The Great Vigil of Easter
Incense all around
*Miasmata is also, apparently, a survival style video game
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Some New Press!

Back in December I was interviewed about the new church by the Communication Director from the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, along with two other recently-called church planters. Check it out here.

My favorite quote: “There is no more perfect fit [than church planting]. I get to do the things I like most, talk to people about where they are in their walk with Jesus and do something together. It’s a bold statement that the Diocese of Texas is planting these new churches. It says God is speaking to people and we are following Jesus into the community.”

I couldn’t be happier than to be part of this bold vision!

Brin in South Austin

Photo by Carol Barnwell in front of the great Austin mural on South First and Mary St 

What is Worship For?

One of my regular spiritual practices is studying theology. My favorite classes in seminary were theology classes (followed closely by Old Testament and Preaching), and soon after I graduated I started a theology study group with several other priests in Austin that has been meeting for a few years now. We’ve read all sorts of different theologians, from Soren Kierkegaard to James Cone to Karl Barth to Kathryn Tanner. We’ve studied the trinity, love, race, and the incarnation, just to name a few topics.

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Since beginning my new work of church planting, I’ve directed my personal study to liturgical theology. In a nutshell, liturgical theology asks the question: “What does our worship say about what we believe about God and ourselves in relationship to God?” This matters because worship is central to our life as Christians. It is how we offer ourselves back to God in thanksgiving for our lives, it shapes the way we come together as the Body of Christ, and it equips us for the work of mission that we aspire to live out in the rest of our lives.
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“For the Life of the World,” Alexander Schmemann, for the win!

After asking the religious hive-mind on Facebook for recommendations, I began reading “For the Life of the World,” by Alexander Schmemann, which is currently blowing my mind every time I pick it up. Schmemann admits that to speak of liturgy is to invite controversy, in part because we now talk of “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” churches as though liturgy were simply an esthetic matter, which he says reduces it to a “‘cultic’ category” (For the Life of the World, p. 25). But that is to misunderstand the term. The Greek word leitourgia means “an action by which a group of people become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals—a whole greater than the sum of its parts” (p. 25).

The liturgy isn’t something we do, it is who the Church is as we are called “to act in this world after the fashion of Christ, to bear testimony to Him and His kingdom” (p. 25).  The purpose of our worship, then, is to point the Church toward the Kingdom of God—to create a separation between this world and the next so that we can step into the kingdom that God intends for us. Thus by inhabiting this other-world in our worship we will be equipped to show people who Jesus is and the peace he comes to bring to us all in this world.
I’ll end with one more quote by Schmemann: “In church today, we so often find we meet only the same old world, not Christ and His Kingdom. We do not realize that we never get anywhere because we never leave any place behind us.” What is most exciting to me about all of this is the possibility of forming a worshiping community who indeed become something greater together than the sum of their parts, and who step into a new dimension through our worship as we gain a taste for God’s Kingdom. As I refine my own thinking about this, the church I am hungry for is one that is shaped by worship for the work of mission, all of which is “liturgical.” What is the church you are hungry for and what does worship mean to you? Please share your thoughts with me in the comments.
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Worship with part of the Mission Team

What do you want?

Since I started this work of planting a church I have been meeting with a ministry coach by phone once a month to get feedback and set goals related to my work. In our last conversation, one of the goals I set was to ask 12 people this question: “What do you want?”

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I found this handwritten sticker on a wall outside a coffee shop. An unexpected reminder that God is always listening. 

It’s a simple enough question, but was surprisingly hard to ask people. My first week of undertaking this assignment was a flop. I mostly forgot to ask the question, and when I did remember, I was hesitant to ask total strangers, or to interrupt people in the middle of their work or conversations. By the end of the week, in my last meeting on a Friday afternoon, I finally asked someone who said he wanted “wisdom and humility.”

Encouraged by how simple the question and the process really were, I started asking others. The answers I have gotten have been refreshing and wonderful, and even the brief interaction between these folks and myself has felt vulnerable and wonderful and holy. The answers have ranged from simple to elaborate and though none of them have been particularly religious, all have felt spiritual in some way. They have included personal desires as well as professional goals and ambitions for success, and at heart, they’ve all had something to do with finding happiness, wellbeing, or connection. Moreover, I’ve been blessed in every encounter. 

After listening to a friend who I run with tell me what she wants, she asked me the same question. What do I want? I had to think about it for a minute but what eventually bubbled to the surface was this: I want to be part of a church that has the most authentic expression of Christian community that is possible for broken humans to put into practice. I want a community that is engaged in the work of becoming disciples and that is committed to knowing and following Jesus through worship, service, study and prayer. And I want to worship in a way that both preserves ancient mysteries and holy traditions, but that is also fresh and expressive. I want all of these things, not just for the church that I am working to create, but for my family, myself, and my own spiritual journey.

Here’s a photo of my and some of my Trail Roots running friends on a recent excursion at Walnut Creek.

Now that I’ve cracked the surface of asking this question, I am eager to hear what people have to say and look forward to many more conversations. I hope you’ll be part of the conversation too. What do you want? Post your comment here or drop me a line to share your thoughts with me directly.

On a different note, I also told my running partner that I want to survive my first marathon, which I will be running in Marble Falls, TX, on Sunday morning, November 11. If you have any spare prayers, I’ll be happy for you to send some my way!

 

What do you do all day?

This question: “What do you do all day,” is closely linked with the question, “If you don’t have a building yet, where do you work?”
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Mark Charbonneau, Lead Pastor at The Vine, Austin, sharing coffee and church planting tips written on napkins at the South Austin Whole Foods

It is a widespread church joke that pastors/priests/ministers only work 52 days out of the year–that apart from a few hours of sermon writing and planning Sunday worship, we really only work on Sundays. But, as you can probably imagine, that isn’t really the case.

When I worked in a traditional parish my days were filled with pastoral meetings, program planning, Bible Study, lots of conversation with parishioners and others about their spiritual lives, hospital visits, outreach to the community, and yes, sermon writing and planning worship on Sundays.  Much of this took place in my office or at the church building (with one major exception–I am WAY too social to write sermons in my office where I was constantly distracting myself with conversation rather than with writing, but I digress). “Without a church building or office,” I am asked, “where do you work?”

The answer to both questions is also closely linked. Being that I am only one month into this new gig, I’m not sure I can declare that I have a regular routine, but my days are certainly full. By the end of this week I will have had over 30 scheduled, face to face meetings with all sorts of people, almost all of which have happened in coffee shops or cafes, over meals or hot beverages (and a few cold beverages too!).

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Breaking bread with Fr. Shawn McCain from Resurrection Anglican Church over creme brûlée pancakes at The Funky Brunch.

Most of these meetings fall into one of three categories: meetings with South Austin natives who help me know the geographic, social, and cultural features of the area; meetings with potential church goers in South Austin, some of whom might end up on our planting team; and meetings with South Austin pastors and priests who I hope to work closely with in our mutual work of following Jesus and helping others find their own faith in Christ, and who help me understand the spiritual landscape of the area.
These meetings are by far my favorite part of this work! It is wonderful to meet new people, to hear people’s stories, and to learn about South Austin, as I try to tune in to the frequency of the Holy Spirit here. And, the fact that I work out of coffee shops and cafes most of the day is pretty cool, too. If you have something to share with me about the landscape and culture of South Austin–geographic, spiritual, or otherwise–or have a cool South Austin hangout to suggest, leave me a note in the comments section or contact me directly.
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Cosmic Coffee + Beer with some Electric Jellyfish from Pinthouse Pizza, a South Austin original