Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Las Vegas II

Did you know that right in the middle of this desert city is a swamp? There is. It's a wetland preserved as a park by the County. Two of our folks from St. Matthew's work there.

The swamp actually has water and watery plants. There are roadrunners, hawks, and all sorts of little swamp critters about. It isn't the Okefenoke or the Everglades but it is a bona fide swamp. And there are ducks, little brown ducks indigenous to Nevada.

However, awhile back an eco-terrorist or at least a vandal released four domestic white ducks into the swamp. That was uncool so the swamp authorities rounded them up -- that is they rounded up three of them. The fourth was too smart, too fast, or too something. They could not catch him.

For months, he eluded the swamp police. But there were occasional sightings, and more frequent quackings, to let us know he was still there. We called him Osama bin Duck. I heard a rumor the duck was eventually apprhended. He's probably in Git-mo by now.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Achy Breaky Heart And The Kingdom Of God

Last Sunday we said goodbye to Fr. Ed Lovelady who is retiring from All Saints, Las Vegas. It was a fantastic service. It was tri-lingual and multicultural. A packed house. Great worship!!!

Then came the party. One of my best friends, a Georgian of the gay persuasion, was visiting. At one point, I saw him line dancing, holding hands with Rose (Fr. Jun's mother in law) a Filippina from the Nothern Mountains. Other dancers included Fr. Arsi and Benadette, Fillipionos of the South -- different language, ethnicity, and piety. More of the dancers were Latino. And the music was: Billy Ray Cyrus -- Achy Breaky Heart.

As I watched this wonder, even before I watched Fr. Ed whaling a pinata and scads of children scambling after the candy he broke loose, I thought to myself, "Sometimes the Church works. Sometimes the Church really is a Kigngdom event right here and now."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Las Vegas Valley Isn't What You Think

There is a lot more to life in the Vegas Valley than most people know. I was driving from Albertsons to our house in Henderson this week when a coyote trotted in front of my car, did a 180, and trotted back. It reminded me of Mark Twain's classic account of the deceptive gate of the Nevada coyote, who never seems to quite run -- and yet coyotes, with their casual stiff legged amblulation, always maitain -- not increase, just maintain -- their distance from pursuers, until the pursuers lie prostrate in the dust, their tongues hanging out. Is this how Coyote became the Native American trickster deity.

Did any of you who do not live in Las Vegas know that there is a swamp right smack in the midst of this desert city? In my next post, I will tell you about the elusive duck that haunts our swamp.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Youth Ministry: Starting Over

Youth Ministry in our diocese blew up a few years ago -- especially in the South. There were several events: the collapse of TEC, the inability to continue funding the diocesan youth coordinator, a floor fight at convention. I am sure I don't know the whole story. But this is what I know of how things have been since then: there are very few dynamic youth programs in Nevada and we have had huge difficulty getting participation at the diocesan level.

So this year we are trying something new: we have created two youth networks -- one northern and one southern. Representatives from these two networks will constitute the Diocesan Youth Council. Having two geographical networks, we hope, will get more people involved and allow them to meet face to face more often.

The Southern Youth Network met for the first time last Sunday. It was a good, creative, hopeful meeting -- looking forward, not backward. It's time to move on. There was talk of sponsoring New Beginnings for the younger youth, promoting the Provincial Youth Event in Salt Lake City next summer, and having a Southern Youth Network gathering for music.

We need more Youth on the planning committee which will meet again on November 1. But the events will be for everyone in all the southern churches, not just for those who go to the planning meetings.

The essentia l foundation for a vital youth ministry in Nevada, in my opinion, is children attending camps at Galilee. I suspect that the youth program we had before would have survived the controversies if the youth had previosly formed a solid base of relationship built at camp. Under Stuart Campbell's leadership, Galilee is back. Kids from all over Nevada, even in Arizona, are befriending each other at camp. In five years, I believe we will see the strongest youth program we have had in a long, long time -- if ever.

What we are doing today is just a beginning. We need youth planning thier own program. It is essential that we set up the structures for youth leadership now. That is what we are beginning. My hope is that, in time, more congregations will form collaborative ministries such as the one at Trinity - St. Paul's. I hope more congregations will offer support to youth who are not the children of members, as St. Martin's in the Desert does now. I hope we will see genuine youth ministry specialists in our congregations. At the diocesesan level, I hope to see the day when we have New Beginnings in diverse places, Happening in diverse places, a Diocesan Youth Event in the years when there is no EYE or PYE. I hope to see more youth mission trips like the one we had this summer and a partnership trip to the Philippines.

Youth ministry will not be back full force immediately. But we have begun. Youth ministry is not a problem to be solved with money. It is a mission opportunity to be embraced with our hearts and the investment of our lives.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Budget For Mission -- Not Maintenance

The Standing Committee recently made a bold decision. They supported, in pricipal, using unrestricted savings as seed money for Hispanic ministries. This Saturday, the Diocesan Council followed through by recommending a budget that does just that. An investment of $120,000 could launch several Hispanic congregations this year and lay the groundwork for more next year. None of the savings devoted to this year's budget would come from sale of stocks or bonds. The resources we would devote to this mission are presently in money market accounts earning about 1%.

The remarkable growth of the Hispanic congregation of Todos Los Santos, accomplished through the leadership of Fr. Bernardo Iniesta Avila, in his spare time -- he is a social worker by day -- shows what can happen. The increase in membership, the vitality of worship, and the entusiastic participation of youth is truly dynamic.If Convention follows the lead of Standing Committee and Diocesan Council, the days of our stagnant membership level could be over.

Our Evangelism Budget is not just for the Hispanic community. Council has approved funding of the new Evangelim Committee's request for $15,000 to let people know we are here. This will follow an NPR sponsorship blitz during the final quarter of 2009.

But the best Evangelism efforts will fail unless when people come to our churches they see life in our congregations. That depends on the quality of ministry we do -- all forms of ministry. Most ministry is done by lay people. The quality of our ministry depends on Ministry Development.

Hiring someone to recruit, train, and coordinate a team of lay ministry developers is a budget priority. Diocesan Council supports this initiative as well. At last, we have a plan to empower Ministry of All Baptized without the Regional Vicars program we lost several years ago. This approach will cost roughly 25% of what we spent then. But I believe, in important respects, it will be even more effective.