Friday, June 11, 2010

Robust Baptismal Theology

When the recent economic crisis struck North America, having an extra impact on the already struggling people of Allentown, The Rev Dr. Patrick Malloy and the congregation of Grace Church decided to renovate their building’s liturgical space. This was not the action of a parish out of touch with the surrounding community. Rather, it flowed from Grace’s normal pattern of worship doing justice doing worship.

Grace, AllentownAs APLM Council devoted its first day of the 2010 meeting to exploring the implications of a robust baptismal theology in worship and in the overall Missional life of the church, Patrick Malloy, Professor of Liturgics at General Theological Seminary in New York, spoke from his rich experience as Rector of Grace Church, Allentown, PA. Throughout the afternoon session, he offered a series of talks, video and slideshow presentations, and times of discussion which demonstrated how liturgy can do and spark justice.

For a number of years, Grace has navigated the treacherous waters of economic downturn and social instability which have been characteristic of Allentown since long before the recent crisis. At one time on the verge of closing, the congregation decided not to follow in the footsteps of other churches and flee the core of the city. Instead, it found renewed vitality by engaging in ministry in/with/to the area in which its building stood. Over time, this congregation of only 55 people has developed an active food bank, a Montessori school, an AIDS services center, an employment agency, free legal counseling service, a rehab program for young offenders and a shelter for chronically homeless people.

What is telling is that all of this missional activity fuels and is fueled by the liturgical life of the church. As one member of the congregation put the matter, “In liturgy, we don’t just sit around here and watch somebody do something; we do it. So during the week we do it, too.” It’s not so much the words of the liturgy that form the parish, then, but enacted rites. The Christian life is not something passive; it’s about doing something. The congregation finds that there is no need to import texts focused on an economic-justice agenda to form people in and for God’s Reign. Instead, Grace has discovered that the 1979 Prayer Book liturgy has the capacity to “sustain and compel a Church as it confronts an inequitable economy…the layering upon them of justice-themed texts from outside the BCP tradition is, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, a distraction from the real business of enacting in ritual form life in God’s Reign.”

One key element in all of this was the liturgical renovation of the church building. Not only has this proved formative to the congregation through liturgical enactment, it has also provided purpose, economic stimulus and a show of stability to the surrounding area.

APLM plans to post further reflections and video clips of Patrick’s inspiring and enlightening presentation on our website and Facebook pages over the coming weeks and months. Please stay tuned…

We also encourage you to visit Grace Church’s website:

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