Archive for Church

Rally Day is on the way!

It’s September, which means that Rally Day will soon be here! I have a fondness for antique Rally Day and Sunday School postcards, so I’ll break my long silence by bringing out a few I’ve picked up in the past year.

Rally Day Invitation 1923 crop rsz

This Rally Day Invitation was addressed to “Master Francis Warnock” (does anyone still call little boys “Master?”) and postmarked September 22, 1923. The girl in the blue coat must be passing out the “Rally Day Herald,” given the message on the back.

Rally Day Herald 1923 back rsz adj

I believe this gentle scene is a companion to a Rally Day card with crystal radio headsets that I posted last year.


The next postcard in my ephemera haul was addressed to “Misses Elva and Florence Waggy” of Baltimore. I was quite taken with the juxtaposition of the Gothic-style cathedral and the man riding the red girder up into the sky. I’m not sure who the artist is, though I’ve seen at least one other Rally Day postcard with the same monogram (see the lower right corner).

Rally Day FEP building church crop rsz

Many work in many ways / some great edifice to raise…

Each to help — and none to shirk / Rally to the best of works!

Elva and Florence apparently stayed active in the Church of the Brethren long past this Rally Day. They would later be responsible for building Nettie Memorial Chapel on Upper Reeds Creek (near Franklin, WV) in honor of a woman who I believe was their sister, Nettie.

The last postcard I have to share with you was sent from the Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School in Frederick, MD. The historic Evangelical Lutheran Church, now over 275 years old, was a pioneer in the Sunday School Movement.

This card, sent in September 1916 is noteworthy for several reasons. You can see that the message on the back was printed especially for this occasion. Most churches would fill in the particulars of their location, date, and time on a pre-printed message.

The postcard itself is an embossed design by Ellen H. Clapsaddle, the most prolific postcard and greeting card artist of her day. It has a nostalgic feel for 1916 — looking back to the late 19th century, perhaps. The woman at right looks over her shoulder to where we must be standing, as if she wonders whether we’ll follow her into the church.

Rally Day 1916 crop rsz


Rally Day 1916 back crop alt rsz

All this speaks to a well-established and well-funded Sunday School at a church that in 1916 was already over 175 years old. I wonder about the 1:45 p.m. time. Perhaps morning worship was followed by a fellowship luncheon and then the big Rally Day assembly.

So many of these early Rally Day cards speak to me of a time when parades and rallies, revivals and chautauquas were a much bigger part of American life. A time when marching bands and fiery speeches were good entertainment and a source of inspiration. While sometimes the invitation is gentle, and the spirit is warm or humorous, often Rally Day postcards’ vision is grander than “back-to-school.” Then I sense the call for Christian folk to mobilize, to Rally! and pledge themselves to the work ahead.

Happy Comradeship

Three more vintage postcards invite everyone to church: happy children, shy teens, and even those who fly in on Sunday mornings. (How convenient to have the runway so near the church!) Charming illustrations, full of light and affection.


Good landing place HiRes multi


Happy Commradeship2


Empty place 300ppi

Spots and wrinkles on social media

Brother URL greets you The Monastery of Christ in the Desert

Brother URL greets you
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert


I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time. Writing it feels sort of like telling a friend their breath is bad. You could just let it go, but they really need to know, and it’s better to hear it from someone who cares.

Over the past few years, a lot of clergy and denominational staff have discovered social media and embraced it as a communications tool. You can now read the postings of pastors, bishops, news services, seminaries, and historical societies. And these church professionals are just like everyone else, with learning curves and subsequent successes and failures. They deserve to be cut a certain amount of slack. But the Church as a whole is far enough along the path of digital engagement that we can stand some self-examination, and I see some behaviors that make me uncomfortable.

Of course, there are many wonderful, inspiring people and ministries online. There are people of good will and great faith. Unfortunately, our human failings are also quite visible, and even amplified online, and when those failings are manifest by Christians, our ministry to the world suffers. We form cliques and echo chambers; we are prideful and self-promoting; we lack hospitality and genuine openness.

The world wide web is not just a communications tool; it is a channel for the Spirit where we can unite the Church and welcome those who do not yet know God. It is a space for connection, for outreach, for prayer, prophesy, and forgiveness. It is the world.

And so I ask a difficult question:

Does your online presence witness to the unity of the Spirit or does it promote your ministry, your denomination, your causes? 

I doubt the answer will be simple. We all have our own work to do. We all seek our own tribe. Leaders are accustomed to leading–to being “on” whenever they’re in a public space.

But if the Church and her clergy could lead by example, and manifest online that love that binds us all in Christ, our witness would be strengthened. Small changes would make a difference.

Here are a few questions that may help us think about the degree to which we help or hinder the Spirit’s work online. I hope it will stimulate thought and increase mindful practice within the Networked Church, that blessed company of faithful people.


As we each consider our habits and practices online, we might ask…

1) Do I ever look at the posts that appear in my Facebook news feed or do I only go to my own timeline?

2) Do I follow anyone on Twitter who is not of equal or higher ecclesiastical rank?

3) Do I follow anyone who is not at least as well-known or popular as I am?

4) Do I follow anyone from another denomination?

5) Do I ever share anything about another denomination and cite it as exemplary?

6) Do I ever hold a conversation on social media or do I only offer my opinion and pronouncements? Do I listen and respond as well as speak?

7) Is there anything I can do to increase my sense of others’ humanity in the virtual world? Is there anything I can do to support individuals I meet on social media?

8) Am I humble? Am I thoughtful? Do I appear online as a learner as well as a teacher?

9) Do my postings ever deride or ridicule another person?

10) Do I know why I am on social media?

Seeing the Church from another point of view

I’m always interested to see how other Christians “do church.” It helps me retain some sense of the strangeness of God, and it keeps me from thinking that what I’m used to is normal and everything else is not-quite-right. I recently visited Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and here’s a bit of what I saw. (Click on the thumbnails to see the full image, then again for a larger image.)

Betrayed by the Church

Photo credit: Tybo


It is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;

it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to hold sweet converse together;
within God’s house we walked in fellowship.

Psalm 55:12-14


Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of partisanship, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice.  

Philippians 1:15-18



The Church will make you crazy. Really. She’ll break your heart. If you care deeply about the the Church–or any particular congregation–there’s a good chance that someday you will pull out your hair and say in astonishment, “I can’t believe this is happening in a church!”

I’m not saying that Christians are naive. We know what people are like and we know what they’re capable of, and out in the world that knowledge is armor from the slings and arrows and plain stupidity and meanness that come our way.  But at church… At church, we were hoping for better; hoping to see the good that people are capable of strengthened and motivated by love for God and neighbor; hoping to be part of a community–working out our differences, striving to do God’s will. That’s what we’re hoping…

…and then one day something happens, and it all looks like just another power struggle and a pack of lies.

It’s especially painful and damaging when the people behaving badly are clergy.

“I thought you were going to help me to learn about God, and this is what you show me!? This is what He’s like?!” 

It feels like betrayal, like moral injury–which is why it’s so damaging and why the damage is long-lasting. And unfortunately we’re not always clear on who’s betrayed us–the clergy person or God?  When that happens, people don’t just switch churches, they leave The Church. They lose their faith, or get disgusted by it and throw it away.

A lot of dear, loving Christians have been deeply hurt by the Church.  Truth to tell, a lot of ministers and priests have been deeply hurt too. Not just upset because they didn’t get their way, but wounded and scarred, betrayed and abandoned. It’s not something Christians talk about much. It’s ugly and difficult. And even if it’s not a newsworthy scandal, people within the power structure of the institutional Church will sometimes protect their own or ignore the problem. Do damage control. Circle the wagons. Obfuscate. Think, “If we wait long enough, the problem will go away.” Because, at times, the Church behaves just like the police, the military, government, schools, and business–constructing its defenses so tightly that even the Holy Spirit would have trouble getting in.

And yet, Christ loves the Church. And forgave us. All of us. From the Cross. And somehow, he uses this crazy, flawed, sinful group of people to proclaim his gospel.  It’s really quite astonishing. You think he’d find some better tools.

Perhaps we need to talk more about the injuries we suffer, and those we visit upon one another. Perhaps that would bring greater healing and forgiveness, and perhaps some repentance and reform. I don’t know. But I know that Christ suffered betrayal and did not give up on us. Perhaps that’s the place to start.


“The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization, needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness.”

–Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, October 27.






Postcard from England

Scissor Arches at Wells Cathedral


A few pictures for all the traveling folks. One of the most wonderful places I have ever been, and a postcard I picked up once on my own travels.  If you’d like to hear the Wells Cathedral Choir sing, click here.  The peace of the Lord be always with you.


Called to ministry, but not in the Church

If you, like me, have been pondering the rise of the “unaffiliated” in American religious life, then here’s something to consider.  Michelle Boorstein writes in The Washington Post about the increasing number of people who graduate from seminary but do not intend to pastor a church.  According to the Association of Theological Schools, about 41 percent of master’s of divinity graduates expect to pursue full-time church ministry, down from 52 percent in 2001 and from 90-something percent a few decades ago.  It seems that skepticism about religious institutions has broadened the concept of ministry. I suspect skepticism about the value of institutions of higher education and the tracks they lay out for us also plays a part.

 “Millennials really think people my age have screwed it up,” said Shaun Casey, founder of the new urban-ministry program at Wesley, where 65 percent of graduates go on to full-time church ministry compared with 85 percent 20 years ago.

“They look at the institutional church and say, ‘I’m happy to change the world with the church’s help, but if the institutional church gets in my way or makes it harder, I’ll join [a nongovernmental organization] or nonprofit.’ There’s a fair amount of impatience with institutional bureaucracies.”

 If you have a minute, go read the article.  It’s not just about education, it’s about the future leadership of the Church and how the Church will be situated within society.  It’s about being faithful to God’s call in a changing world.

Worship and workout

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and every-
where to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of
heaven and earth.

Book of Common Prayer – The Great Thanksgiving, Rite II.


If your Lenten discipline involves adding something to your routine instead of giving something up, you might consider this Ohio congregation and their response to the “heart, soul, mind, and strength” commandment.  I don’t suppose they began meeting at the Y to “get fit with God,” but their experience reminds me that God is already everywhere.  Our challenge is to meet him in all our circumstances, so that every part our lives may be transformed.


From United Methodist TV:

The Rev. Leroy Chambliss lost too many relatives in their 50s. At age 64, Chambliss says he has found the appointment of a lifetime in running a church in a YMCA. The congregation of Stillwater United Methodist Church at the YMCA near Dayton, Ohio combines Sunday morning worship with workouts. Entire families exercise together. Church member Nathan Jones and his family are regulars at the Y church. “Having the mental, physical, and spiritual part of it just kind of ties everything together,” says Jones.

More at


The Church: body and bride


The Church is holy and sinful, spotless and tainted. The Church is the bride of Christ, who washed her in cleansing water and took her to himself “with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless” (Ephesians 5:26-27). The Church too is a group of sinful, confused, anguished people constantly tempted by the powers of lust and greed and always entangled in rivalry and competition.

When we say that the Church is a body, we refer not only to the holy and faultless body made Christ-like through baptism and Eucharist but also to the broken bodies of all the people who are its members. Only when we keep both these ways of thinking and speaking together can we live in the Church as true followers of Jesus.

                                       –Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey.


O Sing to Me of Heaven

Today is Reformation Sunday and if you found yourself in a Lutheran church (or some of the other Reformed church congregations) you’re likely to have sung “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The Reformation, of course, was one of the Church’s Great Disagreements that yielded both good things and bad, and eventually resulted in a whole slew of denominations.

Among the many groups born from theological disagreement are the Primitive Baptists.  Also known as Hard Shell, or Anti-Mission Baptists, these American Christians split off from other Baptists in the 1800s due to a controversy over missions and the understanding of grace and atonement.

Because they believe the New Testament only commands us to sing, Primitive Baptists do not usually play musical instruments as part of worship.  All singing is a cappella.  The hymn “O Sing to Me of Heaven” is sung here by a congregation from southwestern Virginia, and is another example of lining out.  It’s an ecstatic song about dying and the joys of heaven. When I listen to it, the plainness of the voices, the interplay between the leader and the congregation, and the over-the-top imagery unexpectedly combine to convey strangeness and power.  It’s an other-worldly sound.


O Sing to me of Heaven –  words: Mary Dana Schindler

O Sing to me of Heaven.
When I am called to die.
Sweet songs of holy ecstasy.
To waft my soul on high.

There’ll be no sorrow there.
There’ll be no sorrow there.
In Heaven above where all is love.
There’ll be no sorrow there.

When cold and sluggish drops.
Roll off my dying brow.
Break forth in songs of joyfulness.
Let Heaven begin below.

When the last moments come.
O, soothe my dying face.
To catch the bright seraphic gleam.
Which o’er my features play.

Then to my raptured ear.
Let one sweet song be given;
Let music charm me last on earth,
And greet me first in Heaven.

Then round my senseless clay.
Assemble those I love,
And sing of Heaven, delightful Heaven,
My glorious home above.