On December 5th I had the honor of preaching the funeral sermon for my mentor and friend, The Rev. Dr. Ronald Thiemann. We lost him too soon and will miss him greatly.
I remember the first time I met Ron Thiemann. It was 1996 and I was a newly minted first year Master of Divinity student at Harvard Divinity School and Ron was the Dean. I was invited, along with all first years, to the traditional welcome cookout at Jewett House, the Dean’s residence. We shook hands in the receiving line and said hello. And that was it. In that brief moment, neither of us could have possibly imagined that our journeys would somehow lead us here today.
I never had a class with Ron, a fact he would later tease me about frequently. I tried to explain that he just wasn’t in my area, but he didn’t buy it. But I did see him often. You know, at Harvard, professors are our versions of celebrities and Deans all the more so. I remember seeing Ron walking hurriedly across the Div School campus. I’d say, “Hey, there’s the Dean!” It was like seeing a theological rock-star. I knew that he was brilliant, important, and busy teaching and guiding the Divinity school, which he did for 13 years.
So, perhaps you can imagine that when Ron and Beth appeared unannounced for Sunday worship here at Redeemer when I was serving as pastor, I had to do a double take. I peeked into the sanctuary from the back door and said, “Is that the dean? That’s the dean!” I walked up and, I’ll never forget, I nervously said, “Hello, Professor Thiemann, I’m Keith Anderson.” And Ron said, “Yes. I know.” Eek! And then I had to preach in front of him a sermon I didn’t particularly like. My heart thumped in my chest as it did for my sermons in the weeks to come. After weeks of calling him Professor Thiemann, he finally had to say, “Keith, please, call me Ron.”
And in the time since, I came to know Ron, not only as the incredibly accomplished scholar and institutional leader, advisor to political, religious, and business leaders, but as a colleague, a wise mentor, and, truly and most of all, a friend.
It’s a common complaint among clergy types, “Sunday morning sports is taking people away from worship!”
This lament and the exasperation that accompanies it goes deeper than just whether a family shows up on a particular Sunday. It is the lament of the loss of the privileged place that the Church—and clergy—once enjoyed in our culture. And in our lament we risk alienating the very young families we seek to engage.
The emergence of Sunday morning sports is just a symbol of a shift that’s happening in our society where the church is no longer accommodated or propped up by our culture.
Clergy lament this. It makes our jobs harder. But, if we are honest, there is something deeper: it is the resentment of the loss a privileged place of not only religious institutions, but Christian institutions, and not just Christian institutions, but Christian people, and the leaders of those people, the professional clergy, us. We are mourning our own diminishing cultural position and privilege. That’s what I hear just under the surface when clergy complain to each other about Sunday morning sports—its the loss of our place, our privilege, our position.
The church finds itself on the verge of uncharted territory, a geography that is unsettling and unfamiliar.
No one knows how the future is going to unfold. Our answers are partial, at best.
Sometimes it seems like we standing at edge of a cliff, but, for me, it feels more like the opening of a vast new territory that calls us to exploration and adventure - and I am excited for it.
I recently took heart in this from reading Stephen Ambrose's excellent book, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, which tells the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803-1806 to find a route to the Pacific coast.
It was an epic journey, one with great lessons for the church as it finds itself thrust into a new age of exploration.
Here are six pieces of inspiration and wisdom I took from Lewis and Clark for church leadership now:
I generally run away from pre-packaged adult formation programs. I experience them as stiff, watered down, answer-oriented, and too focused on theological orthodoxy.
So, I am naturally skeptical when a “Wonderful! New!” adult education program rolls out.
Yet, I was hopeful when I heard about the new program Animate | Faith from SparkHouse. The speakers, including Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lauren Winner, and Lillian Daniel, encouraged me to give it a shot, and they did not disappoint.
We are currently doing the Animate series this fall at our church. So, I have reviewed all the sessions myself and done about half of them with our congregation.
And I have to say - I love it.
Here are the things that I value most about Animate:
If you create audio recordings of sermons or educational programing at your church (or want to start), its a great idea to podcast them in iTunes.
In today's web, its not enough to just make your content available, you want to serve it up in a way that makes it easy for people to access and listen. Podcasting on iTunes is great for this. With iTunes, people don't have to sit at the computer and listen for 10, 15 minutes or more, they can subscribe and get them automatically delivered to their mobile devices - which makes them more likely to actually listen.
Setting up a podcast on iTunes is a very managable process, you just have to know where to begin. iTunes provides an extensive information page. In this post I break it down into five steps and include some advice for getting the most out of your podcast. I just set up my own podcast for my sermon blog using this process and it works like a charm.
There is something very cool about singing Beautiful Savior, Amazing Grace, and A Mighty Fortress in a pub.
Sure, its partly the novelty of it, but it also worshipful, spiritual, intimate, fun, great outreach, and an affirmation of God's presence in our daily lives - in all the places we gather, including pubs.
I've helped to host four Beer and Hymns events. They've each been a little different but they have been great experiences. The singing is beautiful, the environment is relaxed, it takes us into the community, and it opens something up for people spiritually.
Beer and Hymns has been popularized in Lutheran circles by Nadia Bolz-Weber and House for All Sinners and Saints. Jodi Bjornstad Houge and Humble Walk Church also regularly host Beer and Hymns. Jodi writes about their experience here. I've included several links at the bottom of this post with examples of how people have done Beer and Hymns and what it means to them.
Here's my version of how to host your own Beer and Hymns event: