May 13, 2010

Back from the Associated Church Press Convention

Our Abbess, Meredith Gould, reports back about her experience at last week's ACP convention in Crystal City, Virginia.

Last week I was privileged to present a workshop at the Associated Church Press convention about who we are and what we're currently doing as an (evolving) community of modern monastics.

Fancy title for my presentation: The Virtual Abbey: Community & Evangelization for the 21st Century. Since this was a convention for folks in the religion press, it was a welcomed opportunity to talk about where to find great stories about faith and religion these days. Our growth as a prayer community is a great story!

During the allotted hour, I talked about our ongoing conversations (e.g., inclusive language, what's our labora) and highlighted some lessons learned thus far (e.g., be centered in Christ, commit to ongoing communication). Later, while participating on a panel about blogging I talked about about how our blog/ezine is evolving.

And not for the first time I was asked if we see ourselves (or are perceived) as a substitute for church-the-building. More than one person wanted to know if we might be encouraging people to opt out of worship services.

As you might imagine, these questions allowed me to blather on* about:
  • what it means to be the Body of Christ and the priesthood of all believers;
  • how we can serve those healing from church-the-building encounters;
  • where real and virtual worlds intersect; and
  • spiritual practices v. sacramental events.
I say we're blessedly breaking through denominational barriers sustained by buildings and making prayer practices more available. I say we support rather than undermine so-called church. Did I get this right? How would you have responded?

*Fueled by Diet Pepsi instead of the much preferred Diet Coke. Lord, have mercy.


Jan Blencowe said...

"I say we're blessedly breaking through denominational barriers sustained by buildings and making prayer practices more available. "

To this I say a very heartfelt AMEN!! The proesthood of all believers is such a precious truth and it's true to virtul world makes it easier to be a part of this. Unity within the body of Christ is one of my greatest desires and I believe that this type of endeavor helps with that mission.

I dearly love my morning and evening twitter prayer times they are a joy to me.

Rob said...

Well said, Meredith. I think most of us are active in church-the-building as well as with the Abbey. Personally, I find our prayers here a welcome supplement to my church-the-building activities. Here I am able to fully participate in worship, where IRL I assist in leading worship.. Leading (even on Twitter)is a nourishing experience (ask those who tweet prayers) but to fully immerse myself in prayer without worrying about what comes next is a wonderful opportunity. Also, I find it wonderful to interact with Christians from other backgrounds and denominations. I am not recovering from any IRL church experiences but I know people here and IRL who are, and praying with The Abbey provides all the spiritual practice without any (or little) of the church politics stuff.

I would never give up church-the-building for all the opportunities and community it provides, but I don't ever want to give up the discipline and community and spiritual comfort I find here at the Abbey.

Um.. all that without any cola... lots of coffee, though!

Shawna R. B. Atteberry said...

I agree with Jan. I haven't stopped going to church because you post prayers. (It's not like any churches are open for The Daily Office anyway.) And at the end of long day when I'm chilling out on Twitter, it's wonderful to pray Compline with this community.

Mary Dempsey said...

I so enjoy your presence & Christ radiance that you bring to twitter...I just love what your doing...I love the images and I find them very soothing and easy to enter the spirit of prayer and connection with Christ.

Thanks for being here.


Raima said...

It's wonderful that you had the opportunity to talk about the Abbey with this group, Meredith. Thanks for letting us know how it went and some of the responses you got.

I must say, though, that after a week of devotional chanting outside of anything resembling church-the-building, a week that will surely rank among the peak religious experiences of my life, I was really taken aback by the question you received about whether the Abbey "encourages" people to opt out of worship. What an odd thing to worry about!

The idea that what church leaders should be doing is encouraging people to go into a building to attend worship boggles the mind - isn't the point supposed to be to bring people to God? Maybe I'm missing something...or maybe I'm not!

I am so pleased to be a part of this community that has its priorities straight and is centered right where it should be: in God.

Brenda Finkle said...

I echo all that has been shared so far Meredith. So proud you were able to present a new prayer platform with ACP on behalf of the Abbey.

"Church building?" Methinks the focus is too narrow. God isn't just in the building - as Raima shared some of our most moving experiences with God may not be "in" a church building. Honestly? The focus should be on how we as Christians reach out to others, embrace all faith practices, being where people are in order to meet the current needs in Christ's name. I truly believe God has blessed our community and those that follow the Abbey ~ we receive those blessings - all of us -from those that join us every morning and evening in prayer. The community of believers is a rich, loving community that supports one another without the benefit of meeting each other IRL. Extraordinary. Love in action. I've recently been the recipient of prayers from Abbey prayer partners and through the Abbey been surrounded by their love, prayers and support. It's more than I've EVER received from the "building" experience of my past and those that worship in "church."

I wonder - how do we define "church?" I know how I define it. Wherever we encounter God.

As with the others I love my Abbey prayer time and fellowship with other believers both morning and evening as we bow our heads in humility and pray with one, strong voice to God.

~~Melinda Y.~~ said...

Kudos Meredith! for choosing a tender and true title- "The Virtual Abbey: Community and Evanglization For The 21st Century"

Essentially, there is a growing fellowship of believers and "wounded believers" who are joining TVA in prayers daily simply because they are seeking, knocking,and searching for a way to draw closer to God.

To be effective prayer leaders in "The Body of Christ and the priesthood of all believers" TVA need not be a substitute for "Church the building" but, instead a vital contributing source to the spiritual needs of a community united in one-heart and one-voice for Christ.

Praying with The Virtual Abbey has brought personal fulfillment through real change and real comfort in seeking God's direction and will for my life.

Elizabeth Cunningham said...

blessedly breaking through denominational barriers sustained by buildings and making prayer practices more available.

Absolutely right and well said!

Brian said...

Great stuff, Meredith. And I offer this definition of "church" (i.e. ekklesia): a gathering of Jesus-followers. That's all. The scriptures do not reference, let alone teach, anything about a "building" related to church. (Except where we ourselves ARE the building/temple.) Not that buildings are necessarily bad, of course. But my point is that where TVA is gathering *is* real spiritual communion... *is* real ekklesia... as is any place and time where Jesus-followers gather and pray and worship.

Meredith Gould said...

Amen, amen to all these wonderful, spirit-inspired and heartfelt comments that are yet more evidence of community.

Here's more: what some visitors might not know is that over the past year, TVA participants have connected IRL and, in some instances, gone out of their way to visit with one another during cross-country trips. Why? I'm convinced this happens because we pray together.

Josh said...

2 things stand out for me. First, prayer is prayer, whatever the form. We don't tell people who pray the office with a prayerbook by themselves they aren't "being church," we applaud them for having a robust spiritual life that immeasurably enriches their corporate worship experience and the larger Body of Christ.

I love the simplicity of Brian's definition of church. The Greek ekklesia basically translates to "the called-out ones." It seems to me that this is what we do, morning and evening...responding to the call of God, into healthy and deep relationships in and with Christ.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't really call TVA a church. I appreciate the commitment to the daily offices, especially as people have expanded the offerings to include morning prayer as well as Compline. The way the prayers come out on Twitter, I find it a lot easier to grab a hold of a short prayer for my day. I have considered following others who seem to participate regularly, but it often seems like I am one of the more theologically conservative persons. I value praying, particularly as a corporate discipline. But I think a lot of the "community" exists as like-minded social circles.

BrownSheep said...

In the Virtual Abbey community, I am known as PostulantDeacon. Therefore, I am a member of the community who maintains ties to a brick and mortar church and a denomination. I don't see the Virtual Abbey and my home parish as being mutually exclusive.

When I came across the Virtual Abbey, I thought what a blessing it could be to people who for whatever reason were not connected with a church building at the moment. I believe that God created us with 5 senses and that it is optimal that our worship and prayer involve as many of those as possible. Therefore, I think it is best for people to connect with a brick and mortar church family in healthy ways. For instance, there is one member of my church who only attends our Wednesday healing services. She is a full member but does not attend on Sundays. That is what works for her.

I did take issue with one of your statements. You said that the Virtual Abbey emphasizes spiritual practices versus sacramental events. I chose to worship as an Episcopalian because I believe that sacraments are a sign that God is at work in the world working out His plan of redemption and sanctification. For me, participating in the two sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist and the five sacramental rites are spiritual practices. They are forms of worship involving a great deal of prayer and Scripture.

I am blessed to be a part of the Virtual Abbey and to share the gathering of many more than 2 or 3 in the name of the Lord.


Meredith Gould said...

Probably should have specified baptism and Eucharist when I mentioned "sacramental events."

Raima said...

I've always thought of the Virtual Abbey as more like a monastery than a church. It is a place (okay, a virtual place) where a committed group of monastics gather daily to pray the office.

Visitors may drop by and join in the prayers, or may even make a commitment to join the community, but the core group continues to carry out the daily practice, as it would in a monastery.

To me, this makes the abbey a little bit different from what we call church. I would be interested to hear what others think of this distinction.

Janet L. Bohren said...

I agree with many of the comments above. Especially I like the emphasis on the ecumenical aspect of Virtual_Abbey.

Like others have said, for those of us in church relationships the Virtual_Abbey community extends prayer life beyond Sundays, the 4 walls of the church and the denomination. That is why Virtual_Abbey is so meaningful to me. I am in daily contact with others in prayer morning and evening. I maintain a FB page for our church and often quote a phrase from the Virtual_Abbey prayer tweets on it as a daily welcome.

So, yes, I think this growing online ecumenical community can be a vital part of a person's spiritual life, that enhances one's membership in a brick and mortar church.