Last week I read an interesting article by a priest and scholar named Ephraim Radner. He challenged church leaders to help their members be mature Christians, as Paul says in Romans 6:5 and 8:17. Many churches are now on Facebook Live a few times a week, if not a couple of times a day. As we try to comfort our wearied church members by shifting our programs to an online format, we must honestly ask ourselves, “Are we helping our members grow into mature disciples of Jesus Christ?”
Radner warns of coddling our members by doing everything for them. Examples include Morning and Evening Prayer, a reflection at noon by the pastor, or a one-man Bible study, all on Facebook Live. But as helpful as this might be (and honestly, I've done most of these myself this past week), are we really helping our members do the important spiritual work that we are all called to do as baptized believers?
Radner concluded his article by saying, “When it comes to worship, we might learn to pray alone. We might learn to use the prayer book with our families, aloud, regularly — using an actual book, turning pages, touching paper. We might learn to sing hymns together, rather than listening to the broadcast through the computer. We might learn to become lonely (or finally to admit that we already are) and to cry out. We might learn to hunger and thirst even for the Bread of Life, for the Body of Christ, as many have done over the centuries in this or that place of desolation or confinement. We might learn to read the Scriptures audibly, for ourselves and with others in our homes. We might let clergy and others make home visits, one on one. We might — I might! — stop telling everybody what to do, and let them grow up. We might. But we might not.” (Full article can be found here.)
As the Church, we must be there for people, but that doesn’t mean that we have to spoon-feed them. In many ways, I don’t think I’m doing enough for my church members, but then again, this may be a great time to cultivate new lay leaders. Too many times the priest or pastor is seen as the only one who does the ministry of the Church. This time away from our church building may, in fact, help others to realize their gifts for ministry.
To put it another way, this time may teach leaders what it means to lead and not to be a helicopter parent. We must give our members the tools and training they need, and support them in ways that we can, but ultimately, give them the freedom to do the great work that they have been called to.
So with that said, here are a few ways that you can grow daily in your walk with Christ even though you may be stuck at home:
Create a Holy Place at Home: Dedicate a place in your home for prayer. You could create a small altar with candles and a cross on it, and that’s where you could say your prayers. Or you could dedicate a chair in the corner of a room to be the place where you always go to read your Bible and pray. The longer we are away from our churches, the more we will long for those sacred spaces in our lives. Why not make one of those spaces in the house we are stuck in for the next few weeks? If you have kids, let them help decorate the altar, or get them to be a part of the ritual of lighting or snuffing out the candle. Ask them to add their own prayers, or to read a Bible passage.
Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families (The Book of Common Prayer pp. 136-140): This has a nice, simple structure to it that has space to Scripture reading and personal prayer. It can be done in five minutes or thirty minutes, depending on how you want to do it. It’s easy enough that it can be done with children, or you can do it by yourself. I’ve used this structure many times over the years.
The Daily Offices (The Book of Common Prayer pp. 75-135): These different prayer services are based on the hours that monks and nuns pray on a daily basis. They include Morning Prayer (pp. 75-102), Noonday Prayer (pp. 103-107), Evening Prayer (pp. 115-126), and Compline (pp. 127-135) to end the day. All these services have call and response parts to them, so it may seem a little awkward at first if you are doing it alone. Fear not, though, there are a number of Christians around the world praying the same prayers, so you are taking part in a much larger prayer even though you are saying the words by yourself.
Pray the Psalms: Notice that I didn’t say read the Psalms. I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve told me that they just can’t get into the Psalms. They have read the other books of the Bible, but get stuck when they start reading this particular part of Scripture. We must remember that the Psalms are the Bible’s hymnbook. Ancient Israel and the early Church used them as such. In many churches even today, the Psalms are sung, not said. I love the Psalms because they show the whole range of human emotion. They have anger, fear, frustration along with hope, joy, and praise. They have a lesson to teach us, but we must meet them where they are. They are not a book to be read, but ancient prayers that are to be prayed. Shift your expectations of the Psalms, and you may come to a greater appreciation for them. One helpful note: in The Book of Common Prayer they have organized the Psalms into sections that can be prayed morning and evening. If you follow this structure you can pray all 150 of them in a month.
Read the Bible: This may sound like a no-brainer, but this is the time to dust off that Bible that has been sitting in the corner and start reading. I know it’s a big book with a lot of intimidating names and strange stories, but just try reading a chapter a day. That’s easy enough. One chapter, five minutes a day. You may like it so much that you read a few chapters a day. If you’re looking for a place to start here are some options:
1st and 2nd Samuel-I love the stories in these two books. You’ll read about the Prophet Samuel, King Saul, and the life of King David. There is so much there! If you like it, you may also enjoy Judges, and 1st and 2nd Kings.
The Gospels-You can read Mark in three hours. It is the shortest of the gospels and goes by quickly. You’ll get the main idea, but miss out on some of the stories found in the other books. Luke is probably my favorite. Some scholars have called him the Shakespeare of the gospel writers.
The Book of Acts-This is the second part of Luke’s narrative. It picks up right where his gospel ended. You’ll read about the earliest days of the Church. It’s somewhat broken down into two parts. The first part focuses on Peter and the second deals more with Paul and his adventures. It’s a great read.
Philippians-This is one of Paul’s most beautiful letters. It is short and inspiring, with a number of verses that are worth reading over and over again.
Online Resources: Though I think the most helpful thing we can do is put down our electronic devices, I do want to offer a few online resources. Unfortunately, we're glued to our phones and laptops more now than ever. If that's the case then let's put some of our time to good use. Here are a couple of websites that you may want to check out. They have plenty of stuff to keep you occupied.
Forward Day by Day: This is an Episcopal daily devotional that is very popular and has some wonderful stories.
The Bible Project: This has so many great videos that young and old will enjoy. They can be academic, but also accessible. You could spend months going through all their material.
Building Faith: This is a great resource for parents. Though most of it is geared for parishes, a lot of it can be adapted within your home.
I hope these suggestions help. As we patiently (or impatiently) wait for life to return to normal, may the Lord continue to bless you through this season of life. May it be a time of growth and renewal within your own life in Christ. And may the Lord have mercy on us all.