Magi Musings…an Epiphany epilogue

(the Epiphany mural above was photographed by yours truly at the Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in Paris)

I must confess that before I moved to Paris to work at The American Church, I did not know what Epiphany was, so if you find yourself wondering the same question…no worries!

In the liturgical worship of the Christian calendar, Epiphany is celebrated on January 5 this year to mark the arrival of the wise men or “magi” to worship the infant Christ.  Of course we do not know how many of them came to visit Jesus, but we do know that at least three signficant and symbolic gifts were presented.  We also do not know when precisely they arrived, but most scholars maintain it was probably a few months (or even up to two years) after the birth of Christ.  Either way, it is important to celebrate their arrival of these first Gentiles to worship the Savior of the nations.

Epiphany also concludes the 12 Days of Christmas, which contrary to some, is the 12 days of giving gifts after Christmas, not before. Epiphany is celebrated among liturgical denominations and Orthodox Christianity. In fact, a number of students and young adults from ACP who are from places like Russia, Romania and Greece, wait until January to give and receive their Christmas gifts.  Epiphany also marks the end of Christmastide and when the decorations are stored and festivities conclude, thus ushering in a new season of preparation for Lent.

The actual word Epiphany can be translated “manifestation”, “striking appearance” or “vision of God”, and as mentioned  traditionally falls on January 6. It is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a  human being in the person of Jesus Christ. Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the magi to the baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptisms in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God. Many of the Eastern Churches follow a different calendar and so may observe this feast on January 19.

I rather enjoyed rethinking my normal Christmas traditions and assumptions and appreciate the continuation of the season and spirit into January. I was always one who wanted to keep up decorations at least through New Year’s day, but now I actually have a theological reason to do so!

Concerning the magi, we do not know much about their story (background, beliefs, or future faith journey), but we know that they were guided and lead by light.  They responded in faith with what they had.  a vision. a desire. a star.  hope

Many of us are on a similar journey.  We do not know where it will end up but we hope to encounter the Christ along the way.

As I reflect back upon the story, part of the beauty  for me is the journey of the magi.  People in biblical times were accustomed to rather long and tiresome journeys.  Hoping on a plane and traveling from Asia Minor to Bethlehem in 2 hours was not an option.

I  wonder what they were thinking during the day, week, and months of their pilgrimage.  These individuals were scholars, astrologers, and cosmologists.  They were intelligent, observant, and rational people I assume.  They were men of science…and faith it appears and God revealed himself to them in means they could understand and interpret.

A reasonable conclude from this story is that God worked, and works, in mysterious ways and we should not limited God to work only within traditional “religious” or even “Christian” parameters.

Many questions come to mind looking back upon this fascinating story

What the magi were hoping to find?

How much of God’s story did they know or understand?

Did they fully grasped what kind of Savior-King this would be?

Unlike some of our Christmas gifts, which I am sure were returned on “Boxing Day”, how much thought actually went into their gifts.

Did they really know that this baby would be a King unlike any other?  Did they ever come to understand or know that his baby ould serve as God’s High Priest eternally, and would die on behalf of the human race.

Did they know this on their journey towards Nazareth?

Did they leave their visit with this knowledge?

I suppose we cannot know.  But we do know that God spoke to them in amazingly clear and directive ways.

Is God speaking to you?

Might this new year be one of many “epiphanies”?

Are we prepared to hear the voice of God is strange and unusual ways?

May we be open and ready to discover God, not only through these miraculous manifestations but also  in the commonplace; arts, conversations, culture, and sciences.

It has become clear to me that God desires to be discovered in all, and through all things.  He is a self-revealing God, and we should not box God in by our own expectations and limitations.  God will come to us.  The question is…we will let him on his own terms?

Dispersing the gloomy clouds of night, Putting dark shadows to flight, The Dayspring has come to cheer us. The Lord has come to be near us. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel!

A Community Service of Thanksgiving

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Last week our church organized an ecumenical service of Thanksgiving for Americans in Paris.  Of course, non-Americans were welcomed to participate but the service was held on Thanksgiving Day, November 28 as a way for those of faith to acknowledge our corporate thanksgiving to God.

What was uniquely special was that it was the first time we were privileged to have leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities participate in the worship service.

Since Thanksgiving Day coincided with Hanukkah (which will not occur again for 78,000 years), the Rabbi Tom Cohen light the Menorah on the altar and said a few words about both the Christian origin of Thanksgiving and its Jewish roots in Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.

Scriptures were read from the Koran in Arabic and English and from the Hebrew Scriptures in Hebrew and English.

The new Dean of our sister parish The American Cathedral in Paris, the Very Right Reverend Lucinda Laird offered the homily.

The liturgy, songs of praise, scriptures and prayers were carefully chosen and crafted to reflect thanksgiving to God and provide an inclusive atmosphere for people of faith, regardless of their particular religion of tradition.

The gospel embodiment of hospitality was tangibly evident throughout the service and our Jewish and Muslim friends expressed their gratitude for the warm welcome they received.

Equally, we were blessed by witnessing their passion and appreciation for God’s blessings as well as their commitment in partnering with the Christian community towards the advancement of understanding, mutuality, respect and peace for all God’s children.

If interested, you can see the actual service and liturgy below.

.A Community Service of Thanksgiving

Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

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Let me begin by saying I really, really appreciate this book and applaud Brock for writing it and the good folk at The Youth Cartel for publishing it.

This book should be on the shelf of all youth workers in the U.S and I think Europe as well…but more on that later.

I have known Brock for a number of years and actually sat down with him over coffee (at the same Starbucks he meets his students)

He was very helpful during my decision and transition to leave youth ministry in the US and experiment with it here in France.

I remember Brock sharing about his call to Trinity Church in Greenwich and my honest wondering how he would make the transition from the glitz and glamour of youth ministry in Southern California to the challenging world of postmodernism and post-Christian world in the Northeast.  I had been serving as youth pastor for 10 years in the neighboring town of Bedford, NY and so understood full well the implications of postmodernism in society, the church, and especially with student ministry.

Many are called and few make it.

Brock transitioned well.  He gets it.

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You may not agree with everything he says in the book and I would bet it is because your ministry context is vastly different from his in the metro NYC über wealthy, highly intelligent and often antagonist culture riddled with cynicism, skepticism and secularism.

Because Brock is truly a practitioner of youth ministry, he unpacks the real issues facing today’s post-Christian teenagers better than anyone else I have read.  He really understands his context including the challenges facing the message of Christianity..or at least the image of Christianity.

You may think your environment is nothing like Brock’s and you may be correct...for now

Statistics and social experts correctly predicted that the Northeast of the United States would follow the trends in Europe.  This has already happened and will eventually sweep through the rest of the United States, hitting urban areas and both Coasts first before merging in the middle and …wait for it…actually impacting the “Bible Belt” of America’s heartland.

Whether you like it or not, we will be living in an ever-increasing post-Christian society.

Here in Europe, and especially in France, Christendom has long since evaporated and I would argue that for the best 25+ years students and churches have been experiencing what Brock describes is now happening in his area.

So, if you live in the Northeast, the first few chapters of the book you will understand because it is the reality in which you are serving. These chapters will be crucial for those trying to discern where society and culture is heading in the next 5-10 years.

For me, the chapter “The Way Forward: Response to a post-christian world” is paramount.

Brock argues that youth workers must embrace Christian relativism, embrace tolerance, embrace spirituality, embrace intellectualism, embrace mystery, embrace the miraculous and embrace answers.

Of course he unpacks each one with stories and strong theological arguments while remaining unwavering in his focus on Christ and passion to see students embrace and encounter Jesus.

In the chapter “A New of Mission”, Brock shares about moving away from an agenda of conversion to full engagement in the community. “We don’t serve to get people saved. We serve because we are saved.”

This indeed is a radical paradigm shift, seeing ourselves as ambassadors of God’s grace and blessing to the world in which we live.

In the chapter “A New Measurement for Success” Brock brilliantly and carefully attacks the numbers game of youth ministry in favor of relational and spiritual development as measures of a healthy youth ministry (and youth pastor) “My relationship with Jesus is my ministry”, and we are challenged and called to truly live out our faith with our students in honesty, transparency, authenticity and grace.

Brock Morgan has a challenging task and he approaches it as a missionary. Brock stands outside of the post-christian culture and observes as a missiologist and then delves into that world with optimism and hope.

From the stories I hear, God’s Spirit is truly moving among his church and youth ministry in Greenwich.

After finishing the book, a few questions linger.

I wonder if this approach is still valid for a society already gone through this shift away from Christianity.  Though hard to disagree with the movements in England, in France and other parts in Europe the history of the Church is so sullen people have lost faith. Whereas in the U.K and U.S, the church and state have not really been separated, a nation like France nationally split from the Church and makes it almost illegal to display one’s personal faith publicly.

I also wonder what youth ministry will look like as the next generation rises up in leadership, a generation itself raised in post-Christian values and worldview.

Around 10 years younger than Brock, I find myself actually on the cusp of a generational divide.  While others approach youth ministry from the vantage point of missiology, the time is coming when words like “progressive” and “post-modern” will define not only students but leaders as well.

What will faithfulness to God’s work in youth ministry need to look like for those who honestly question traditional beliefs and practices while embracing skepticism, tolerance, pluralism, inter-faith partnerships, social equality in all forms, and Biblical “openness”?

It is still to been seen how post-christian youth workers can embody a new kind of youth ministry.

That book has yet to be written……

Taking a fast train to “Thrive” ville

From October 21 to November 3 over 100 students converge upon Luxembourg City for the annual AICEME Youth Conference.  Members from our ACP lycée group will be taking the famous high-speed TGV train to be amongst the scores of teenagers also traveling by plane or train for this weekend getaway in the tiny country of Luxembourg.

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Our host is All Nations Church and they will be celebrating their 10th anniversary the weekend of our arrival.  http://www.allnationschurch.lu/en/ 

Each year, the Association of Churches in Europe and the Middle East (AICEME) hosts a number of gatherings and conferences including the Pastors and Spouse conference, Youth Pastors conference and also this Youth Conference.

You can visit the website to learn more  http://www.aiceme.net

AICEME is an association of Christian congregations, bearing witness to the Gospel and serving Jesus Christ among English-speaking people throughout Europe and the Middle East.  AICEME member churches are diverse in style, tradition, denominational affiliation, and membership.  Many of the churches were started by English-speaking Christians from North America. Today, the association includes believers from 6 continents who are business people, expatriates, diplomats, refugees, missionaries, and students.

What brings everyone together is the English language and  love for Christ.

There are approximately twenty-eight member churches in this association and each church has middle school and high school students involved.  While some churches are not yet able to hire a youth pastor or have an official “youth group”, AICEME creates an opportunity once a year for all churches to send students to an international conference where they can make new friends, be inspired in their faith and equipped as a follower of Jesus.

What I have discovered is that these Third-Culture students find commonality and solidarity with one another and instantly forge friendships.  Why?  Party due to the fact that they are all accustomed to transitions and having to open up to new students on a regular basis.  Many of these churches are full of transient families and, like my church here in Paris, have learned to become a welcoming community for all, even if only traveling through for six months.

Another reason why students love this conference is that they understand each other.  Many are from multi-cultural families, speak multiple languages, have dual citizenship, feel 100% comfortable at an airport by age twelve,  and struggle to answer the often posed question “Where are you from?”

So, once a year we gather from across Europe to support and encourage one another.  This year the 2013 AICEME Youth Conference is themed THRIVE  Real faith: Real life

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Youth pastors from various churches will lead the main sessions and seminars and we have city-wide treasure hunt and Serve the City opportunity to focus our time on having fun together, exploring this new city and serving those in need.

I am honored to be part of a church that supports this association and believes in the importance of our students learning, worshipping, serving, and living alongside each other as we embrace our unity in diversity as followers of Christ.

“Open Paris, in a word”~ thoughts from Marko

*taken from the blog http://whyismarko.com/2013/open-paris-in-a-word/

This last weekend, Adam and i were in paris for The Youth Cartel‘s event called Open Paris. these “Open” events have been adam’s birth-baby, shaped by this short manifesto of vision. but each Open event is completely unique, since there’s a high level of ownership given away to the local organizing team.

i’ll admit something here: while i thought the vision of doing one of these in paris was fun, i was a tad skeptical that it would actually work.

but i was wrong. 100%.

50 youth workers from 7 or 8 countries came. by most event planning metrics, that’s not a win. for this event, it was totally a win. the event had a relational dynamic as a result. we learned from each other; but we also hung out together. like: i have new youth worker friends now who live in germany and holland and england and france.

so, Open Paris in 5 words: LOCATION WAS HARD TO BEAT

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Open Paris in 4 words: OUR HOST WAS AMAZING

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Open Paris in 3 words: FELLOWSHIP TRUMPS PROGRAM

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Open Paris in 2 words: CURIOSITY WINS

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Open Paris in 1 word: LIMINAL*

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* a thin place, often used to describe a spiritual thin place. in this case, a place where the kingdom of god and the world of humans overlapped.

“I loved Open Paris”….thoughts from Adam McLane

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Statement of the obvious post title, right? I mean… Open Paris was kind of my baby. So of course I loved it.

But I mean that from a bigger perspective, too. I mean that I literally loved Open Paris. In so many ways its exactly what is needed in youth ministry. Risky, collaborative, relational, vision-casting, and informative.

Risky

Every single person who was part of Open Paris took a risk. Dan and the host church. All of the presenters. All the attendees. All of the sponsors. A first-time event is inherently risky. But the level of risk was a little higher because very few people knew what to expect.

The result of all of that risk was a sense of anticipation and dependency on God to make it work.

At times, it felt like organizing Open Paris was a wild animal. For me there were simple barriers like time zones. But there were cultural complexities that made it hard to know what was and what wasn’t going to work. About 2 weeks away from it I just gave up trying to tame it. We just let it roll and enjoyed the ride.

Collaborative

One thing that is working really well about all of the Open events is that it’s highly collaborative. It has to be. When we are planning, my role isn’t to dictate how it all goes down, instead I keep pushing the vision that it’ll work best when we all work together.

This was on full display with our panel discussion on ministering to LGBT youth. (Not the theology, the practical realities.) I knew Chris Curtis would be masterful in moderating it. And after meeting Gemma Dunning on Thursday night I had a great feeling that her practical experience would mean a ton. But there were two people that Dan arranged to have attend that I knew nothing about and only hoped would add greatly to the conversation. And, in the end, it was an amazing time. (I’ll post the audio soon.)

Relational

For the first time we added a 2nd day to an Open event. We had intensives all afternoon on Friday, a dinner for everyone, and a time of worship. Together with a full-day on Saturday, meals, and an evening activity, and we all got to know one another really well. Friday evening I went on a walk with some folks before dinner… and it was 15 youth workers from 5 different countries all sharing so many of the same experiences and heartaches. So cool and uniquely relational.

Vision Casting

Open, by nature, is flat. You could say this of our other Cartel events… but it’s even more flat at Open than the Campference or The Summit. Over and over again I’m challenged by the simple upside down vision of Open. When practitioners share with practitioners, new stuff is born.

One byproduct of that, for me, is how much I learn. Another is that the vision spreads.

Informative

Youth ministry is highly contextual. Something that works in one part of a community won’t necessarily work in another. I think one of the “meta” things people experience at Open is the importance of studying your own community (ethnography) and then looking for ideas/solutions/programs to adapt. Long gone are models of ministry that you can attempt to implement without much contextualization.

One of my favorite sessions in Paris was with Markus Eichler talking about the Youth Church movement in Germany. To me, the idea that the church could decide that a solution to disinterested youth and young adults could be a church just-for-them felt foreign to me. (Even though we have youth ministry ghettos all over the United States.) But to look at the data and see that it worked a little bit better than what they’d done in the past, that was really interesting to me. Another part of that presentation which peaked my interest was that it was intentionally temporary. So they tried Youth Church for a few years, systematically, but didn’t continue it after the experiment was over. That was interesting, as well.

Beyond Sightseeing

Of course, you can’t go to Paris without sightseeing. I think it’s impossible to do so as everywhere you look is something you’ve seen in a movie or read about in a book. But to intersperse the sightseeing at night and during breaks with the relational parts of exploring with new friends as well as the unique content… all of that combines in my mind to a single phrase: I loved Open Paris.

Open Paris…in review

Open Paris

This past weekend, 50 youth workers from across the E.U., U.K. and the U.S converged upon Paris for the inaugural Open Paris.

We were tremendously blessed with a stacked lineup of diverse speakers and seminars including Mark Oestreicher, Andrew Marin, Chris Kidd, Chris Curtis, Gemma Dunning, Markus Eichler, Tabea Weiler, Tim Eldred among others.

Tim Eldred

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For the full range of the schedule, seminars and vision for Open Paris you can check out the website here:http://paris.openym.org

Hosting was fun and I really enjoyed playing tour guide in the city of Paris and The American Church in Paris.

More importantly, I loved connecting up with such a wide array of youth workers from 6-7 different countries. Each person shared his or her unique story, context, struggles, successes, hopes and dreams for God’s work in the lives of their students.

Some of the highlights for me included a very delicious traditional French dinner served for all guests on Friday evening followed by a sacred time of worship in the church’s catacombs.

(photos courtesy of Tim Eldred and Andrew Marin)

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Open Paris was highly interactive, participatory, inclusive and relational.

In my opinion that is the way forward for youth worker gatherings.

Though some well-known speakers were on site, Open Paris was NOT about creating a dichotomy between the “professionals” and the ordinary youth workers.  We were all together all the time, and this is unique among these type of conferences.

Open Paris was about taking some bold risks and opening up honest conversations about real issues facing youth workers today including ministering to the ever-increasing LGBT community, embracing ecumenicalism as a way forward,  and inter-faith dialogue in pluralistic contexts.

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I applaud the vision of The Youth Cartel (Adam and Marko) for desiring to create this kind of atmosphere and am excited to see what the future holds for other Open events and also for the connectivity and friendship of youth workers across Europe.

We have much to learn from each other and I hope to see more of these gatherings in the near future!

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