I’m so glad I remembered Dean Conniry’s advice this afternoon at 3pm as I was leaving school. Our first day in Hong Kong way back in 2015, he told us a story of how he missed his daughter’s soccer game to write a paper. With my blog still only half-baked, I closed my laptop and got in the car and headed to my daughter’s softball playoff game. It has been such a rough year for her. The school she was expecting to attend for her last two years of high school closed. Being forced to attend a new school as a junior with no friends, I don’t exaggerate when I say, this has been one of the roughest years for our family. I am so glad I chose to go to the game! Not only did all her hard work pay off with a starting position for today’s game, but she got a hit and even scored a run. But that is not why it was important for her dad to be there today. Her pitcher was on fire! Meghan’s star teammate was pitching her best game ever. In fact, going into the last inning, Lily was pitching a perfect game. This means the other team did not get any hits or walks. Meg’s team was about to win a huge game.
Finally, two outs, two strikes and one pitch away from a perfect post-season game. I put my hands to my mouth and yelled to my left-fielder-daughter, “Look alive out there!” I knew in my gut that the batter was going to hit the ball to her and I wanted her to be ready. The pitch, the swing, the crack of the bat and the ball went lazily and cunningly to left field. Meg did everything right, all her hard work and practice were evident. She sprinted to where the ball was going to be, positioned herself perfectly to make the final out. The coy and spinning ball hit her glove with a thwack.
And then it bounced out of her glove and fell to the ground like the Titanic.
E9 is the official scorers designation.
Meghan dropped the ball. Perfect game ruined. No one could look at one another in the eye. How could this happen? Even the other team was silent. Her team won the game, but it felt like a loss. I am so glad I got to be there and give her a big hug right after. This all just happened an hour ago and is still fresh in our home.
This whole experience reminds me of my favorite part of Shaping the Church. Percy says that the church is called to wait. Like Meg waiting to perfect her position, the church is called to wait and the promise of implicit theology holds the potential that comes with waiting. Often times as pastors, we know Jesus has won and is winning, but all too often the day to day ministry can feel like a loss.
I look at Percy’s, Shaping the Church as a passport, most likely Swiss. This book, like a passport, gives the holder permission to travel out of one’s country and embark of various adventures. Like the empty pages of a passport waiting to be stamped by foreign Visa agents from countries around the world, reading Shaping the Church invites me to think and ponder so many questions. The idea of implicit theology comes with possibilities for the christian church around the world.
I resonate with Percy that baptism has become a “privatized ecclesial rite” (31). I have had the joy to baptize three people in the last ten months. One was at the Hub, the church I pastor, during our Sunday Morning Worship Gathering. The other two were private ceremonies in a relative’s back yard pool. One girl wanted to be baptized with all her friends and family as part of her 16th birthday. The other non-churched baptism took place as part of a larger ceremony of graduating from university. It’s always a struggle for me when someone asks to be baptized in a private ceremony. One the one hand I desire to celebrate this act as part of our Sunday morning. Therefore as part of my pre-baptism meetings I encourage church participation and community involvement. On the other hand, I know that there is a reason why this person is requesting me to baptize them and that they are probably going to be baptized either way.
I do not like the message this sends though. I am still working it out, but I do wonder what doing private baptisms implies. I think they are a chance for me to preach the gospel, but I also think it shows a love view of one’s church community.
Percy writes about how denominations and churches have climates. I found this fascinating. Is the Hub hot? Cold? God forbid, luke warm? I learned from this book that how people dress, the words they use or don’t use can contribute to the implied theology.
One huge value of the Vineyard is “Come as you are.” This means that people should come to church in all their authenticity. One way I show this is I don’t wear a tie or jacket on Sundays. I heard a joke recently that one pastor is trying to loosen up a little so he just started untucking his shirt on Sundays. There are so many jokes today about how pastors and worship leaders dress. There is even a really funny chart describing what different types of jeans pastors wear and what each means about them.
Words are important to me and with implicit theology so I make a big issue that Sundays mornings never be called a service. I just hate that word and what it implies. The Hub does not perform a service for people. The Hub is a group of people who gather for worship. I tell people that if they want a service they should go to my mechanic and get their car serviced.
This book also has me thinking how cool it is that men teach our children Sunday school. What does it say to women and children and men when in some churches women are not allowed to be pastors but are allowed to teach Sunday school?
Percy references Donald McGavran and his church growth models that were, and still are, so influential in my tribe. It seems for Percy, and for me, his homogenous grouping theory and church growth ideas are more about American consumerism than Jesus kingdom expansion. I like Percy’s writings about the smell of an old musty country church and how that can inform our spirituality. What does it say for our theology that people show up to church and watch a video sermon? What does it mean when people refuse to worship at a local church and instead drive 45 minutes to an hour or more to another church?
On Easter Sunday as we wrapped up our morning a young woman asked to speak privately with me. I invited her to my office, which is actually the sidewalk on the boulevard next to a liquor store and asked her what was up. She softly and confidently told me that she has been wanting to tell me for a long time that she is gay. I instantly flashed to one of Percy’s lectures to us in Oxford. He was referring to a student’s death then, but he told us that pastors know exactly how much pressure to put on someone’s shoulder to comfort them. He told us pastors know what to say and in which tone to say it. In that split second, I knew I had no choice but to hug my friend and tell her that Jesus and I love her. This type of gentle and patient response is how Percy perceives the Anglican communion responding to the issue or ordaining homosexual priests like Eugene Robinson. It is this gentle, patient, and loving demeanor that Percy surmises will keep his Anglican Communion lasting for generations. It’s kind of like playing softball and losing a perfect game, but still winning.