HOORAY for one more brave bishop acting upon his role as teacher and shepherd!

October 22, 2008

From Standard Speaker:

Local and national Catholics reacted Tuesday to statements by Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph F. Martino apparently discounting teachings of the national body of bishops during a political forum at a Honesdale Roman Catholic Church this weekend.

Martino arrived unannounced in the midst of a panel discussion on faith issues and the presidential campaign at St. John’s Catholic Church on Sunday. According to people who attended the event, the bishop chastised the group for holding the forum and particularly took issue with the discussion and distribution of excerpts from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ position on voting issues. The document defines abortion and euthanasia, as well as racism, torture and genocide, as among the most important issues for Catholic voters to consider.

“No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” he was quoted as saying in the Wayne County Independent, a Honesdale-based newspaper. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”

Thomas Shepstone, a local businessman and Catholic who spoke about his opposition to abortion rights during the event, recalled Tuesday that Martino also told the audience that he voted against the U.S. Bishops’ statement and described it as a consensus document “written to mean all things to all people.”

According to participants, Martino expressed dismay that the panelists did not discuss the pastoral letter he directed all priests in the Diocese to read in place of their homilies on Oct. 4 and 5. In that letter, he called on Catholic voters to consider abortion above all other issues, except those he defined as having equal moral weight, like euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research.

“The only relevant document … is my letter,” he said at the forum, according to the Independent. “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”

According to the Independent, the bishop also said he no longer supports the Democratic Party.

A diocesan spokesman on Tuesday confirmed the bishop’s comments as reported in the Independent.

The spokesman, William Genello, also released a statement that noted the bishop attended the event because he “was concerned because of the confusion and public misrepresentations about Catholic teaching on the life issues.

“Certain groups and individuals have used their own erroneous interpretations of Church documents, particularly the U.S. Bishops’ statement on Faithful Citizenship, to justify their political positions and to contradict the Church’s actual teaching on the centrality of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research,” the statement said.

“When Bishop Martino heard how some of these issues were being presented at the forum, he determined that he must address the forum to fulfill his obligation as the authentic teacher of the Catholic faith in his diocese.”

Professor Douglas Kmiec, a Catholic constitutional legal scholar who advises Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama, said Tuesday he respects Martino’s passionate speech about life and doubts the bishop intended to separate himself from the larger church.

“That said, we have to be faithful to the church as the church universal exists,” he said. “And the church universal exists in places other than Scranton. It’s everywhere. Its teaching is timeless.”

Participants at the event described a spirited exchange of ideas that was either interrupted or invigorated by the bishop’s arrival.

Gene Tagle, the moderator of the event, said the bishop “torpedoed” the forum, even though he had been told about the event as early as May 27 this year.

“If the bishop disapproved, it seems all he had to do was have his secretary pick up the phone, call our parish pastor and tell him not to go ahead with the forum,” he said. “Instead he came in at the midpoint of the meeting and totally surprised everyone.”

Tagle said the bishop criticized the resident pastor, Rev. Martin Boylan, for holding the forum and “seemed to justify his presence there by stating that he owned the building.”

He also described the bishop’s tone as “angry and admonishing” and said his words created a surprising level of emotion in the audience.

“When he left it was chaotic,” Tagle said. “He incited his supporters to wild applause and shouting. And some individuals were castigating others for supporting pro-choice candidates. It was pretty wild there for a while.”

The bishop left shortly after his remarks and many audience members — some put the number at two-thirds of the group, others say a quarter — left after him.

Shepstone, the panelist, was one who left.

“I left because it was singularly inappropriate to continue the meeting after the bishop had spoken,” he said Tuesday, explaining that the bishop had made it clear he wanted the meeting to stop.

“He spoke eloquently and he spoke forcefully and there was nothing else to be said.”

Wendell Kay, another panelist and a Wayne County commissioner, stayed for the scheduled question-and-answer session after the bishop left, despite being startled by the interruption.

“He’s my bishop and I accept what he says, but I was a little bit surprised at the turn of events,” he said, “and thought if there had been an objection from the diocese in advance we probably would not have held the forum.”


Pillow-less through the Election

October 22, 2008

From Dust of the Time:

Do you like to sleep with your pillow? I certainly do. But I’ve decided to be pillow-less through election day on Tuesday, November 4. The kids at St. John’s Middle School in Beloit, KS have initiated a Crucial Pillow Fight:

Sleep without your pillow till the election! Redemptive suffering (Col. 1:24) is worth every toss and every turn during the night. Email us at pillowfight4life@yahoo.com to notify us of your commitment to the cause! We currently have over 450 pillow-less warriors…we need the pillow off your bed!

My mother was able to keep a straight back through her nineties by always sleeping on her back without a pillow. Even though I’ve tried to imitate her, I’ve always regressed. This time I will pursue the sacrifice with a much more rigorous attitude because of the exceedingly grave consequences of the coming election.

I’ve discovered that St. John’s Catholic school system is unique among Catholic schools in the country. Most large cities have shut down their Catholic schools, but Beloit with only 4,000 population supports Catholic education from kindergarten through high school. Here’s the website of their parish.

Another aside: Did you know that nuns in cloistered convents sleep only on their backs without pillows? At least that’s what one Carmelite community told me.

Coffee Shop Churches?

October 22, 2008

From Peregrin Pages:

“It’s not up to us to increase our membership.  It’s our job to preach the truth, love God, love others, and do good in our world.  God will take care of everything else.”

A very interesting debate has been going on over at 4everhis about Jesus cleansing the temple as recorded for us in John 2.  This discussion, as most do, has come down to a single point–should coffee shops be in churches? (see previous post)  Now I know that sounds ridiculous–who cares right?–but the coffee shop is really only a metaphor.  It is a metaphor for the same attitude and actions that Jesus railed against in the temple–namely–turning the church into a place of business rather than a house of prayer for the nations.

One of the things we can thank (should I say blame?) the seeker-sensitive movement for this the idea that we need to market our churches, create brand awareness and compete with the world.  It has always been my contention that the church has no business competing with anyone.  We don’t have to.  We are the church of the living God.  We just need to be the church.  It’s not up to us to increase our membership.  It’s our job to preach the truth, love God, love others, and do good in our world.  God will take care of everything else.

In fact, the modern obsession with numbers has resulted in a watered-down gospel of easy believism that forgoes a life of discipleship and submission.  It has resulted in the creation of the “megachurch.”  You know, that mall-type building down the street with the Starbucks that sings Stairway to Heaven for its altar call and offers sermons on how to prosper financially.  It has resulted in a clergy that looks more like a cult of personality, with legions of pastors who are willing to compromise the truth in order to further or save their “careers.”  After all, they have a multi-million dollar building to pay for.

There are exceptions to be sure.  John MacArthur for one.  John Piper for another.  These are men of God with enormous churches, but no one would ever accuse them of watering down the truth.  But were those churches built through clever marketing campaigns?  I don’t know for certain, but I tend to doubt it. 

So, should a church have a coffee shop?  Perhaps the better question is–Why does our church have a coffee shop?  If it’s because we are creating a place for people to gather, connect and drink some java, then so be it and save me a mocha.  If it is because we are trying to create brand awareness, and build market share then shame on us.

What do you think?

Take up your couch(?) and follow me

October 22, 2008

From the Wisconsin State Journal:


Parishioners at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Waunakee listen to the Sunday morning worship service while drinking coffee and relaxing on couches and plush chairs. The pews and communion rail were taken out in August, part of a new approach intended to appeal to the “unchurched” in the community.


Many churches are taking a less-formal approach to some of their worship services:


• Blackhawk Church, 9620 Brader Way, Verona, just began using chairs, lamps and rugs to convert its gym into a casual Sunday worship space called “The Living Room.” Attendees view a live feed of the sermon from a larger auditorium but otherwise have their own worship service. “It’s more intimate, with unplugged, acoustic music,” said Nancy Lindroth, director of team development.


• Trinity United Methodist Church, 1123 Vilas Ave., Madison, held its first “U2 Eucharist” Oct. 5, with a cover band providing the music of the Irish rock band. Three of U2’s four members are committed Christians, and the band is known for its work in addressing world poverty and health issues. “So much of their music has terrific theology in it,” said the Rev. Amanda Stein. A special offering supported work by the United Nations. The service likely will become an annual event, she said.


• Lake Edge United Church of Christ, 4200 Buckeye Road, Madison, holds a traditional worship service at 9 a.m. on Sundays, then offers a different feel for its 11 a.m. service, which it calls “Worship at the Edge.” A band of professional and volunteer musicians led by Madison songwriter Marques Bovre performs a mix of music, and the sermon is delivered not from the pulpit but in a more conversational style.


• Heartland Community Church, 800 Wilburn Road, Sun Prairie, bills itself as “a different way to do church.” Its Bible-based services are “doctrinally pure but culturally relevant,” with contemporary songs and dramatic sketches, said the Rev. Jon McNary, who typically wears jeans to services. “We’re relaxed in our dress,” he said. “We don’t want anything to be a barrier for people to worship.”

And from a recent Washington Times article that looked at why Americans seem to be leaving churches in droves:

“Once spiritually powerful churches had become “seeker-friendly” congregations, and their main aim seemed to be to make the service as short as possible. Everything seemed packaged.”

Is this squishy “Couch” Christianity the answer?