The Rise of the Nuns

Sister Cristina Scuccia performs during the Italian State RAI TV show final "The Voice of Italy" in Milan on June 5, 2014. The 25-year-old nun is already a talent show sensation thanks to her habit-clad performances but also has on her side the critics, who say her popularity stems from novelty value.  AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLO        (Photo credit should read MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

Sister Cristina Scuccia performs during the Italian State RAI TV show final “The Voice of Italy” in Milan on June 5, 2014. AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLO (Photo credit should read MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

By Joe LaGuardia

Everyone is making a stink out of the rise of the “nones,” people who do not subscribe to any organized faith or denomination.

What about the rise of the “nuns”?

A bad pun with a nun?  Not quite.  The Catholic Church in England and Whales is claiming a 25-year record for women recruitment in holy orders.   Seems that the Catholic Church is growing in a most unusual way.

Here in Rockdale County, I heard that Father Randy was leaving us and departing St. Pius X Catholic Church.  When the news broke, I wondered how long St. Pius might hobble along without a priest.  It is no mystery that the number of priests has waned in recent years, although the number of seminarians preparing for the priesthood has increased and posit a more hopeful future for tomorrow’s Catholic church.

Other thoughts ran through my head:  If the Vatican would only let priests get married, maybe more would become available.

And if the Vatican ever allowed women to be ordained to the priesthood, there might not be any shortage at all.   According to my friend in Decatur, a nun of some 60 years, I am not alone in this assessment.

Little did I know that women have been entering convents and other “contemplative communities” in record numbers across the Pond.  Reasons and theories vary:

Some say its because people realize that the meaning of life can only be found in the womb of the church.

Higher-ups in the Church pat themselves on the back and claim that charismatic priests and bishops are monopolizing and marketing the strengths of cloistered living, including the trendy notion that the priesthood can change the world in ways that can be quantified and qualified.

Others cite frustrations surrounding relationships, sex, and intimacy (or lack thereof).

An article with the BBC quotes novice Theodora Hawksley as saying,  “If our society is obsessed with money, sex and power and the games people play with them, then vows of poverty chastity and obedience represent a profound freedom. That’s what has drawn me to religious life.  It’s not a fleeing from the world – it’s a finding your place in it.”

Nor can we keep God out of the picture.  For all of the ways (and often times, the gimmicks) churches use to grow, gain members, and attract people to full-time ministry, its the Holy Spirit that does the transforming, convincing, and convicting.

We saw this years ago at Trinity Baptist Church when we were affirming our core values of being a place that emphasized inter-generational worship, social justice, and inclusivity.

Back then, we felt we were going against the grain of congregational development and growth, but now we find numerous articles describing how young people are attracted to churches that have similar core values in place, Catholic Churches not withstanding.

Perhaps I’m getting too spiritual here.  Maybe its just something in the water in England.  Perhaps there is just the right group of women who came along at the right time to convince so many other women (many under the age of 30) to enter an alternative life that values celibacy, obedience, and poverty.

We are not sure, but we are certain that trends are finicky things — (Have you heard about the African American lesbian physical fitness trainer in Philadelphia who is finishing her last year of seminary to become a rabbi?  You’ll have to Google that one yourself.)

And, at the end of the day, I’m just a Baptist.  When it comes to all things Catholic, what do I know?  It’s none (or, is it “nun”?) of my business anyway.  (Now that was a bad pun!)

On behalf of Trinity Baptist Church, we want to welcome Father Greg Goolsby to St. Pius X.  May we share ministry together, transform our community for the sake of Christ, and work for the common good of all, attracting people to the light of God rather than our own agendas.  Amen.

Giving thanks for the workers in the harvest

sheep-with-shepherdAs the year comes to a close and a new one begins, my mind has been reflecting on the Lord’s words to his disciples in Matthew 9:37-38: “”The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

That is true: This new year, we need to pray for workers in the harvest as 2014 brings with it a new crop of possibility, people in need of spiritual revival, and programs that need enacting.

Yet, let us not forget to thank God for the workers that are currently in the field, those often over-looked laborers whom God has called into the ministry and mission fields.

This season, let us give thanks for our pastors in our local churches.  I am privileged to have met many of the pastors in this county, and I can say that there is not one whom I wouldn’t turn to in a time of need or crisis.  Such pastors work tirelessly to visit their parishioners, volunteer on local boards, and preach every weekend.

It is true that we have lost a few good pastors over the past year–they will be missed–but I look forward to meeting new pastors who will take their place and take up the mantle of ministry in our local community.  Have you thanked your pastor lately?

I am thankful this year for church planters.  I remember distinctly a conversation I had with my Southern Baptist brother in Christ, Larry Cheek (director of the Stone Mountain Baptist Association) some time ago about church planting.

He expressed a desire for the Association to go from 90 affiliated congregations to having 150.  I and several other pastors agreed that one of the most effective ways to reach this goal was to invest in church planting in our community, especially home churches.

Since that time, many churches have been founded, some for niche ethnic groups, others for meeting unmet needs in our community.  There is one such church meeting at Trinity Baptist–a growing and vibrant, contemporary church founded by church planter, Quincy Barnwell.

This year I am thankful for Pastor Barnwell and all of our church planters in Rockdale County who try to come up with innovative ways to help people come to know the Lord.

I am grateful for the priests, monks, and sisters in our community.  I had a chance to meet the new priest at St. Pius X, Father Randy, and I encourage everyone to get to know him and make him feel welcome.  I showed up at the church one day without calling ahead–just came unannounced–and he took time (30 minutes, a long time for busy clergy) to talk with me.

I am grateful for our clergy at the monastery as well.  I often have people ask me what monks do over there at the monastery, and my answer is a simple one: prayer.  I am convinced that without those prayers in the cloister, our clergy and congregations in the field would be half as effective!

I am thankful for missionaries who have the courage to go beyond their comfort zones in order to bring the gospel to unreached places.  This is where the real value of denominations come into play as so many of our churches give to mission-sending organizations to make sure our missionaries are well-funded and cared for.

I can think of several missionaries our church supports for through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, including our local teacher-turned-missionary, Melanie Martin, who serves in Nigeria through the Rafiki Foundation.

Lastly, I am thankful for the priesthood of all believers–that “silent” majority who are faithful to a local church or small group and simply do ministry in their places of family, fellowship, work and community.  Without these workers, our churches would not be churches at all, our ministries and non-profits would be nothing but skeletons struggling to see tomorrow.

As one year comes to a close and a new one begins, I encourage you to pray, give thanks, and affirm our ministers and missionaries in our local community.  Let your voices be heard: send a card, make a phone call, give a word of affirmation and encouragement!

Priesthood of believers to practice 4-fold ministry

We Protestants emphasize the priesthood of all believers, the notion that we are all called to be a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), but do we practice being “priests” in our daily lives?

When it comes to priests in God’s kingdom, perhaps we need to rediscover the basic functions priests had in biblical times.  I’ve been reading 1 Chronicles in my devotional time, and I am impressed with the instructions that priests are given in order to serve God.  Can these functions be translated in our own time that we too might reclaim our identity as “a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9)?

In 1 Chronicles 23:13, David assembled Aaron’s family and commissioned them to be priests at the soon-to-be-built temple.  This family was “set apart to consecrate the most holy things [in the temple], so that he and his sons forever should make offerings before the Lord, and minister to him, and pronounce blessings in his name forever.”

That sounds like a laundry list of religious obligations, but we too are expected to do these basic functions in our own life.

There are four functions that apply.  The first is to “consecrate” holy things.  In our day and age, there is no temple to consecrate, and many of the things in our churches–the pulpit or communion table for instance–have lost that mystical symbolism that ascribes to it special status.

We are, however, still called to consecrate things, or in other words, make some things sacred by making things meaningful unto the Lord.  It is not a matter of practicing magic or some spell that turns ordinary objects into spiritual entities, but creating sacred spaces and opportunities that help others connect to God.

Take my daughter’s stuffed bunny rabbit, for instance.  At first glance, there is nothing special or sacred about it, but she has had that rabbit for over eight years.  If she ever lost it, she would face grief and sadness.

My wife and I help my daughter see that the same feelings she has about that rabbit are the same feelings she can have towards God.  Just as the rabbit brings her comfort, so too can she look to the Holy Spirit to provide comfort and protection.  We are creating a sacred interaction between the Spirit and my daughter by way of something very meaningful to her.

Another function is to intercede on behalf of others.  Our prayer for others are “offerings” to the Lord in which we surrender our deepest needs, anxieties, and cares to God.  Originally, those offerings consisted of either animals or food, but we can replace that with our very lives.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:1 that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  This presentation also concerns the needs of our community and our loved ones.

A third function is to do ministry.  Often, people in the church look to clergy to do ministry and missions.  As a priesthood of all believers, however, we are all called by God to do the work of the church.

A last function is that of blessing.  It takes grace and courage to bless others because God often calls us to bless the least deserving and the most disagreeable among us.  It’s our job, however, to model grace by blessing–and being a blessing to–all people, whether friend or foe, around us.

F. B. Meyer, writing about this portion of 1 Chronicles in Our Daily Homily, wrote, “We should bless that little portion of the world in which our lot is cast.  It is not enough to linger in soft prayer within the vail, we must come forth to bless mankind.”

Good advice for a people practicing to be priests, and certainly just one of four basic functions for those of us who seek to draw near to God and join God in helping a world in need.