From Douglas Barclay

Coordinator for Mission

Christianity and Islam: Shifting Starting Points

February 4, 2015

I’ve just started taking a very timely course on Jesus and the Bible in Islam at the seminary in Philadelphia. As you know, I’m on the home stretch of my seminary career: only 108 days till graduation!

Even so, this course is encouraging reflection on really important issues within our world, culture, and tradition. The intersection of the East and the West was a hot topic in Luther’s day, in the 19th century British imperial aspirations, in the cold war conflicts, and now in our own day with the much politicized and polemicized conflicts between Christians and Muslims.

So, there is little new under the sun.

But how we approach the questions at hand is incredibly important. How we portray the religion, scripture, and beliefs of another group is important. How we portray our own religious and political commitments is also important to how the debate might unfold.

I wanted to share one insight with you from my class last night.

We typically think of Christianity and Islam like this:

Jesus was a religious/prophetic figure … Muhammed was a religious/prophetic figure. So, they are comparable.

The Bible contains both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures … the Koran is a compilation of the Muslim scriptures. So, they are comparable.

On the same page? I was too, until last night.

My professor (an expert in Arabic, Islam, Interfaith Dialogue) pointed out, that in reality, that is pretty much the completely wrong way to think about things.

In fact, the Bible, for us, is much more comparable to the role of Muhammed, in Islam.

For us, as Christians in the Lutheran tradition, we confess that the scripture “bears witness to the living Word: Christ.”

For Muslims, Muhammed bore witness, and, in fact, was the direct mouthpiece of the living God.


Christ is more comparable to the Koran itself.

For us, Christ is the living word of God, the very revelation of God made flesh. In the words of Colossians, “Christ is the image of the invisible God.”

For Muslims, the Koran is itself the direct revelation of the ineffable God. God’s speech to humanity. A direct, and incorruptible speech from God.

so, the diagram looks more like this:

Jesus Christ  The Koran

The Bible  Muhammed

Now, that might be a lot to take in. It was for me.

However, it gives us a fresh perspective on things, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t answer questions or solve issues immediately, but it does reorient us to different starting points.

Isn’t it a perennial truth that we sometimes uncritically import our own preconceptions and experience and understandings into dialogue with others? We have a tendency to just presume x=x and y=y, when in fact, x=y and y=x. Or better yet y + x= something new and broad and life changing.

And, my friends, this isn’t just academic mumbo jumbo or a shell game.

It has an impact on the way we see our own faith, our commitments, our families, and our mission as a congregation here at St. Stephen's.

In what ways are our preconceived ideas holding us captive to old ways of thinking and being church?

What if we reframe the conversation from the starting point of


to a different trajectory:


You see, it could really make all the difference! Let keep this conversation going. What are your thoughts?

--Douglas Barclay

Sacred Spaces

January 28, 2015

You'll hear a lot in the coming weeks about ways in which you can be involved and have a voice as St. Stephen's looks at how our budget and building are connected to our mission as a congregation. These will be important conversations and it is essential that you be involved! Watch for an invitation from Chuck Landry, the council president, soon to see how you can connect.

I offer this brief article from The Christian Century magazine which talks about creative uses for church buildings to create more connections with the neighborhood and broader community. We have already entered into a partnership with Bootless Stageworks, what more could be possible? I hope that this article encourages you to think about other ways in which we can make our building work for our mission.


~Douglas Barclay

Promises, Promises

January 5, 2015

Even though I wrote to you last week about New Year’s resolutions, apparently some of the world has not read that devotional. I could see this as I drove by the Planet Fitness yesterday: the parking lot was packed.

I had forgotten that many really do choose the turn of the new year to resolve to be different, to try new things, things like: losing weight.

Predictably, although some will find themselves in the glory of youth reborn, the truth is that the parking lot, even next week, will be only half-full, at best. Of course, the core of the issue isn't about the making of resolutions so much: goals and commitment and transformation are generally good things. The problem seems to run deeper.

And this all brings me to the heart of the matter, a little problem that we mortals have, including me, your humble scribe: Lip Service.

I love that phrase.  You see the lips moving, but they are not seemingly connected to a brain or hands or heart. Lip service has been around a long time, of course. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus admonishes his followers, “Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

Workplace consultant Peter Block says this about Lip service: “nothing kills transformation faster than lip service…the future does not die from opposition, it disappears in the face of lip service…lip service sabotages commitment…it offers an empty step forward…it is an agreement made standing next to the exit door.”

He continues in his book Community: the Structure of Belonging to speak of commitment as “a promise to peers about our contribution to the success of the whole. Promises that matter are those made to peers…the future is created through the exchange of promises between citizens, the people with whom we have to live out the intentions of the change.” And he challenges, “not being a person who honors his or her word by either fulfilling our promises or retracting when we know they will not be fulfilled sabotages community.”

Wow. That’s a lot to take in. These business community realities that Block speaks of are also very true in the community that is the church of Jesus Christ, right? Promises, promises. Lip service.

Another great writer on community and its trials and struggles is the prophet Jeremiah, who, as I also quoted last week, shows us a God who keeps God’s word…not a God of lip service, but a God of promise, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

We’ll gather again on Sunday, in community, to celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. A celebration that focuses on both the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John and our baptism in our local waters as either adults or infants, into community, into God’s promises, into God’s community with the one who was born, baptized, taught, suffered and died for our sake.

We’ll be asked once more, “Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”

Our yes, our “Amen” to this question can go a few different ways. It can be just so much lip service, as we have been talking about.

Or, it can be a yes that is a commitment wrapped in a promise. A promise made among your peers, one to another, a promise made in faith through grace in the presence of the living God. The God whom we trust to be faithful to God’s promise in baptism: “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything becomes new!” (2 Cor 5:17)

We’ll keep this conversation going after the service on Sunday when we will have time, led by the mission team, to join with peers in a Holy Conversation about baptism and what it means for us and for our community. Until then, consider these questions:

--Douglas Barclay

New Year's Resolutions

December 31, 2014

New Year’s Resolutions

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”- Jeremiah 29:11

What will the coming year look like? How will we change, how will we be changed? Will this be a better year?

All good questions.

Maybe these questions, the uncertainty of the future and the disappointments of the past, are why we try to take the reins at this time of year…you know…gym memberships, diets, sticking to a budget, working on relationships, solving the problems of the world: NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS!

If you’re like me, I can’t quite remember what my resolutions were last year. I think I wrote them down somewhere, maybe on that slip of paper that might be with my new gym bag that I can’t seem to find since January 9, 2014.

As I was conjuring up some more plans for my life,  I got to thinking about how things might be different in 2015.

So, here goes…I’ve made a resolution that instead of making more resolutions for myself, I’d like to make some for you, the wonderful people of St. Stephens. You are welcome to make some for me as well, but lets resolve to remind each other long after the new year throughout 2015.

Here are just three resolutions to get you started drawn from my experience in the last few months around this neighborhood:

1.) Walk in the neighborhood around the church on Sunday afternoons. Go to brunch after church with old friends. Or, if you aren’t already coming to Bible study, go for coffee before church. Mention that you are from St. Stephen’s. Tip well. 

2.) Invite one of the many new people who have begun to worship at St. Stephen’s on Sunday to coffee or brunch in the neighborhood, especially the many young adults who are new to town. Pay the bill. Tip Well. Be curious about their story, not what they can do or how they can serve, but first, ask who they are, what are their passions, what are their needs and hopes. Warning: do not “invite” your new friend to serve on a committee or to help press the altar linens. Relationships first.

3.) Continue to be curious about your growing and dynamic faith. Join a bible study. Host one at your home, if you don’t live near to the church. (We’ll get you the resources). Learn about your tradition, worship, theology. (We’ll also get you those resources). Explore how giving more of your money, your time, and your talents can free you up for God’s work in your life.

It strikes me that this is a good way to start the new year: to make resolutions for others for the sake of all that we love. This is one of the beautiful things about community. It isn’t about the individual alone, but rather, together, as the body of Christ, we resolve to grow, together, through grace, into the people and community that God calls us to be and to become.

So, my resolution for each or you is that, at the beginning of this new year, you lay claim to your best hopes and dreams for St. Stephen’s, and resolve to live into what God is calling us to be together, as church, in this neighborhood.

Happy New Year! Here’s to many more!

~ Douglas

Impossible Possibilities

December 17, 2014

What an excruciating time of waiting these last Advent days before Christmas were as a child! Decorating, church, cookies, Santa’s imminent arrival. They were days of anticipation, days of, well…possibility. 


I caught a glimpse of that possibility last evening as my seminary class celebrated the end of our semester in center city Philadelphia. As part of the evening’s festivities, we went to Wannamaker’s (Macys) for “Christmas in the Grand Tradition” narrated by Julie Andrews and all and to hear the largest working pipe organ in the world fill the women’s shoe department with luscious chords. 


What was most amazing to me was that late in the evening, around 8 pm, the whole store was filled with strollers, parents, children, babies, many sitting on the floor, waiting for the show to begin, touching the famous brass eagle, hushed in anticipation.  I caught the face of one little girl who was just about two years old. She had a look of complete terror on her face as the disembodied voice of Julie Andrews boomed throughout the store and the show began.


Her father looked at me and laughed…”I’ve been coming her since I was her age every Christmas, and I can still remember being scared.” I was curious and I asked “why were you scared?” He thought a bit and responded, “I never figured out that it was the same thing every year, I always went in with the thought that something was going to happen, I don’t know, it’s just like a magic show, you know, the tricks are predictable, but they just never get old.” He continued, “I guess I want my daughter to know that about life.” 


Honestly, I don’t really know what the guy was saying, but there was this brilliant poetry and hint of possibility in the frightened but expectant eyes of his daughter, his trying to make sense of it all as a new dad, sifting out his own life to discover what he wants to pass on to his daughter.

And it got me thinking about how as I’ve grown a bit older and potentially more immune to the “magic of Christmas” I need now more than ever to hear the words from the angel to Mary in the gospel of Luke, “with God nothing shall be impossible.”

In that story right at the start of Luke’s gospel, we are plunged into the mystery of the familiar scene, of Mary’s fear at the Angel’s greeting and her wonderment. A calming of fears. Then a promise. Then an openness to the new. Then a blessing. Then a time for living into the promise.

Mary knew the stories of her people well, it was nothing new, really, she shouldn’t have been surprised, just like countless times in the history of her people, a startling appearance, fear, even tears, calmed with the words, “don’t be afraid, God is up to something new!”

Back at Wannamaker’s last night, as the show stared, and the lights flashed and the organ played, some tears began to well up in the little girl’s eyes. Her father took a finger and dried them. He said to her, “honey, it’s ok, don’t be afraid, just watch, something’s going to happen.”

Can’t you sense it? Don’t be afraid! God’s about to do something new.

~ Douglas Barclay

Thanksgiving Day

November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Day


A Happy Thanksgiving from St. Stephen’s!


On this Thanksgiving Day, we celebrate the plenty of our land given by God’s hand and we pray for a justice and love that shares that plenty with all in need.


In the blessing of this week we offer these prayers and readings for your use to grace your table and your meal, in whatever way you celebrate this day.


Simple Graces for All Ages:


Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blest.

Blessed be God, who is our Bread: may all the world be clothed and fed. Amen.


Every good and perfect gift comes from you, O God. Bless this food, and help us to receive it with thankful hearts. By your Spirit nourish our love for one another and for our neighbor in need; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.


A Prayer of Thanks: Almighty God of all mercies, we humbly thank you for your goodness to us and to all that you have made. We praise you for your creation, for keeping us and all things in your care, and for all the blessings of life. Above all we bless you for your immeasurable love in redeeming the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies that with thankful hearts we praise you, not only with our lips but in our lives, by giving ourselves to your service and by living in your gifts of holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all worship and praise, now and forever.


A Prayer at Harvest: God, our creator, you have ordered seedtime and harvest, sunshine and rain. Give to all who work the land fair compensation for the work of their hands. Grant that the people of this and every nation may give thanks to you for food, drink, and all that sustains life; may use with care the land and water from which these good things come; and may honor the laborers who produce them; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


A Prayer in Times of Abundance: God of abundance, you have poured out a large measure of earthly blessings: our table is richly furnished, our cup overflows, and we live in safety and security. Teach us to set our hearts on you and not these material blessings. Keep us from becoming captivated by prosperity, and grant us in wisdom to use your blessings to your glory and to the service of humankind; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Notes on Thanksgiving Day: For thousands of years, human communities have kept harvest festivals. Indeed, several of the annual celebrations described in the Old Testament were previously harvest festivals onto which the Israelites layered their tribe's historical memories. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln called for a national day of Thanksgiving, in hopes that such a festival might bring some unity to the North and the South. This holiday became attached to the memory of an autumn harvest festival held in 1621 in Plymouth colony, Massachusetts. Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower in 1620, only 53 were alive a year later, but 90 Wampanoag came for the three-day celebration, bringing with them much of the food. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday in November to be a national Thanksgiving holiday. -- Gail Ramshaw


On Giving Thanks (From Luther’s Small Catechism): I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, paternal, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey God. This is most certainly true.


For those who travel: We ask for God's protection and traveling mercies upon those who travel this week by plane, car, and train to gather with friends, family, and loved ones.  Watch over their

journeys and return them safely home.

Inside, Out

November 19, 2014

Each week when the laundry was finished, it was my job as a boy to go through the enjoyable task of getting each load of the warm laundry ready to be folded and sorted. A basket was placed before me with the command…”Turn these inside, out.” What has now become a tedious task was then made sweet by the colors and the textures and the warmth and the downy fresh  basket of possibilities.

On this Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church’s year, we will hear of another sorting. We encounter in the Gospel of Matthew a final story of turning things inside, out. This story is set against the backdrop of the coming story of Jesus’ passion. In this story, the “Son of Man” gathers the nations together for a great separation. We hear the famous inside, out line, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

What kind of king do you know of that gives medals of honor based on these not so flashy achievements? Kings and queens, for that matter, aren’t exactly known for paying attention to the “least among you.” The American colonists, after all, didn’t find the concept of kingship or queenship terribly helpful either. Even with the highest ideals, however, we, who are inheritors of this kingless America still struggle to place primary emphasis and importance on “the least of these.”

And maybe that’s why, even as Americans, and for that matter all nations, need a sovereign, well, a different kind of king, an inside, out type of king. One who is always reorienting, challenging, and calling all people and all nations to an inside, out type of reign, a kingdom of hospitality. Imagine if France, or South Africa or China or the United States would measure policies and laws and budgets against the rule of hospitality?

I know, I know, it isn’t as simple as just turning the basket of laundry inside, out. That would be too risky and too idealistic and too radical of a reorientation for us. Or is it, actually, the only real way to be a subject in kingdom come?

We should think on these things in these last days of the church year, even as we sort, and fold, and reach into the laundry basket of warm possibility. 


--Douglas Barclay

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St. Stephen's 

Lutheran Church

To Love, To Invite, To Serve


1301 N Broom Street Wilmington, DE 19806


As a Reconciling in Christ congregation of the ELCA, we believe that the gospel is God's gift to all people, shared unconditionally and without regard to race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic or family status, age, physical or mental abilities, outward appearance, or religious affiliation. We seek to live the truth written in Ephesians that Christ breaks down the dividing walls between us and makes us one.


© 2020 St. Stephen's Lutheran Church. All rights reserved.

St. Stephen's Lutheran Church

1301 N Broom Street, Wilmington, DE 19806



We are a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Delaware-Maryland Synod.



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