Almost 12 years ago I purchased a copy of Rowan Williams’s On Christian Theology. I can still remember reading the chapter ‘Between the Cherubim,’ in which Williams compares the empty tomb in John’s Gospel with the empty mercy seat in the temple. Something about these two images of God’s presence in the face of divine absence deeply resonated with me.
Many of my hopes are being realized now. When I began work on this topic during my doctoral studies (in the early 2000’s), there were very few published books that engaged the topic of children in the Bible. Slowly resources began to emerge, but over the past ten years publications have proliferated at an unprecedented rate.
The Sunday following All Saints was an occasion for a special lesson in a parish where I was recently serving in Manhattan. The reading for that day was John 11:32-44, the story of Jesus raising Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. The older children read the passage out loud while the younger children listened. I had questions about how that passage related to the lesson on saints that I had prepared that day, but kept silent about them.
Studying theology is one of the great joys and challenges of being in seminary. When will I have the time to engage the great theologians again at this level? Once I’m in a parish (good Lord willing), how will I be able to carve out the time to read Tanner, Coakley, Farrer, and…Williams? And, if I do find the time, how will I struggle through difficult concepts and challenging ideas without sitting in a classroom with my peers and faculty? With these thoughts in mind, I was hugely comforted when Rowan Williams stated during the Paddock Lectures on February 11th that Thomas Merton, Karl Barth, and Austin Farrer helped keep him sane during his early years of learning theology.
An Update from the TryTank
The joint venture between General and VTS, the TryTank*, is now off the ground. What a better time to present an update on some of the work. (*As a reminder, the TryTank is an experimental lab for church growth and innovation.)
By the Numbers
As of the end of the first quarter, the TryTank has 16 experiments in different stages: 4 are in active mode, meaning that they are operating and we are gathering data to gauge the success or failure of the individual experiment; the remaining 12 experiments are in the development phase to launch at different times. We anticipate that those experiments will go live in April (3 of them), May (5), June (1), September (2), and one in January of 2020. With all of the announced experiments, we anticipate working with some 180 congregations across the country. You can see the full list of experiments on our website (www.TryTank.org), and you can see where we are on any of them each week by subscribing to our newsletter on the same site. Every Monday you'll get an insider's view of our work.
As the director of the TryTank, people will often ask me the same questions: how can my church participate in an experiment? and what is the hardest part of an experiment? Let's look at both.
Let's begin with the latter: what has been the hardest part. It has not been, as perhaps my nightmares told me, that we'd have active opposition to our ideas. On the contrary, people have been very welcoming of a new "R&D Department" for the church. True, our sphere of influence is small. Those who get our newsletter now are the "early adaptors." They probably have already been doing experiments on their own and are excited by our work.
What actually has been hard is finding experiment partners. Not every experiment is the right fit for every location. But even when some show interest, typically only those churches with multiple clergy members have been able to sign up to participate. Church diversity is essential in this work. We are committed to trying every experiment in at least two settings so that we can see the differences that the context have on the outcome. And we want the experiments to be relevant to small and more resourced churches.
This leads right into the "how can we participate question." That's easy, just do the contemporary equivalent of raising your hand, sign up. For each experiment, we always announce in the newsletter that we are looking for partners. When we are looking for many, we'll open up a simple online registration form. When we are looking for just a couple, all we ask is that the person hit "reply" and announce their interest. It's that simple.
How you can help
Our wisdom as a TryTank only grows by the more people and congregations who are involved, follow our work, and provide honest feedback. This means we need you to join our efforts. Get our newsletter. Follow the experiments. When the newsletter poses a question you know something about, hit reply and chime in. Share it with others and get them to sign up as well.
So, will you join us in this work?
The Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija is the Director of the TryTank, an Experimental Lab for church growth and innovation
The Chapel of the Good Shepherd was packed with dignitaries, faculty, the Board of Trustees, current seminarians, alumni and friends. The 2019 Paddock lectures were concluding not only by conferring Honorary Doctorates to former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. Anticipation was building to witness a sermon by Curry, whose preaching has made him beloved to a worldwide audience.
Two primates of the Anglican Communion made a historic visit in New York City yesterday on the campus of General Seminary. The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and the Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church both attended the seminary’s Convocation, receiving the degree of honoris causa. Williams lectured to the community earlier in the day and Curry preached at Evensong.
Eulalie Swinton McFall Fenhagen, 88, died peacefully at her home at Arbor Landing, Pawleys Island, SC on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. Eulalie was the wife of The Very Rev. James Fenhagen II (deceased April 5, 2012), who was President and Dean of General from 1978-1992 and rector of several parishes in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and South Carolina.
The Fenhagens retired to South Carolina, and they were members of Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church in Pawleys Island. A funeral service will be held at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church in Pawleys Island on Friday, February 8th at 10:00 a.m.
Mrs. Fenhagen was born June 5, 1930, in Baltimore MD. She attended Sweetbriar College and graduated from Boston College with a degree in Social Work. She lived in Columbia, SC, Washington DC, Hartford, CT, New York, NY, Georgetown, SC and finally Pawleys Island, SC. She dearly loved her three children: daughter (Leila, deceased November 7, 2005); sons James Corner Fenhagen III (Julianne) and John McFall Fenhagen, as well as two grandchildren, Aaron David Fenhagen and Jessica Moreno Trahan. Her full life was a unique mix of gracious hospitality, honest critique, passion for social justice, compassion for those in need, and a deep spirituality combined with a feisty spirit and a robust sense of humor. The breadth and depth of her experiences made their way into stories she shared to mentor, enlighten and entertain her family and numerous friends around the world.
A funeral service will be held at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church on Friday, February 8 at 10 am, and a committal service will be held at St John's Georgetown Parish, Washington, D.C., at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 990, Pawleys Island, SC 29585, or Tidelands Community Hospice Inc., 2591 N. Fraser St., Georgetown, SC, 29440. Sign an online guestbook at www.goldfinchfuneralhome.com. Goldfinch Funeral Home, Beach Chapel is in charge of the arrangements.
A few years ago, I saw a woman falling down on her knees in a church’s thrift shop as she found a pair of trainers on sale. She cried loudly, “thank you Lord! I needed a pair of shoes and here they are! Oh thank you, thank you Jesus!” seeing this, another woman shopper said, “I used to be able to pray like that.”
Nobody about to be baptized promises to make regular retreats. Neither does anybody about to be ordained. The annual parochial report wants to know your Average Sunday Attendance, the number of children in your church school, how your number of baptisms stacks up against your number of funerals, and the vector of your balance sheet, but it does not demand to know whether or not the parish schedules retreats or quiet days for its members, or keeps them informed about opportunities for these experiences in other communities.