Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March 22, 2017


Technically speaking, this word is probably not the word I want. Colloquially speaking, this word works. Protocol is often used when discussing how things are supposed to be handled. It's used when discussing proper procedures, especially within organizations. Protocol, or the establishment of a system, is often used to create clear lines of communications, and/or to avoid that thing called triangulation in which people talk about things or other people in order to avoid dealing directly with a specific situation.

There is a lot going on in this church. We have many people involved in many aspects of our parish life. Some of these things are directly overseen by me, and some of them are directly overseen by others. Some things I am responsible for, and other things I am basically a cheerleader, offering encouragement and support. But even when it comes to things for which I have minimal oversight . . . well . . . as Harry Truman famously said, “The buck stops here.”

The reason I'm bringing this up is because there have been a couple of recent situations involving the Sunday liturgy in which it would have been best if proper protocol had been followed.

These situations include people other than Chad or Kristy giving the acolytes additional instructions or correction, and one in which someone tried to give the LEM's instructions on doing their task during the service.

Normally I would discuss this privately with people. However, I felt I needed to put this out publicly for a few reasons.

First, I think it's important for everyone to understand that discussing liturgical tasks with our vested ministers during the service is inappropriate.

Second, I think it's equally important that we all understand the proper protocol when addressing concerns you may have. If you are concerned about something in one of those areas in which I may have minimal oversight, you are encouraged to speak with either the chair of that organization or with me at an appropriate time. If you are concerned about something in the liturgy, please speak with me first, also at an appropriate time – and the appropriate time is never during the service.

We all have a role, or roles, to play in the life of St. John's. Please don't bypass proper protocol by offering instructions or corrections to those whom you think need it. Come instead to me, or to the person(s) with direct oversight, about your concern or observation. You may be right and we can make necessary corrections, or you may be given a good reason why things are done the way they are.

Either way, we will be much better off by avoiding the he said/she said game.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March 15, 2017

And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins . . .
BCP 317

A few weeks ago I was asked if I offered confession during Lent. I think I offhandedly replied that I offered to hear confessions any time during the year, not just during Lent. As we talked, I realized that what was really being asked was, “When is a good time for me to come and make a confession?” They pointed out that some priests make it a practice to sit in church on certain days at certain times and simply wait for people to show up for confession.

I don't do that – sit in the church and wait, that is. What I do instead is to let people know that I am willing to hear confessions, but I prefer to do it through appointments rather than the hit or miss system of waiting in the church. And then it occurred to me that I may not have made that clear to the people of St. John's.

So let me be clear – if you wish to participate in a formal confession (officially known as the Reconciliation of a Penitent in the BCP) during Lent, or any other time for that matter, please contact me to set up an appointment and I will do so. All you need to do is say something like, “Do you have time to hear a confession?”

There are a few things you should know about this rite. First, we don't need to go through a litany of sins you have committed since 1975. Stay focused on one or two things that are troubling you at this particular time. It may help to spend some time in prayer before coming so that you are fully in tune with what needs confessing.

Second, this is not mandatory. The rite is available for all who desire it. It is not limited to times of sickness. And confessions may be heard at any time and in any place, although I prefer to use the church proper. There is an old saying that holds true regarding formal confessions: All should, some may, none must. The general confession we say together during Holy Eucharist is a catchall for the sins we commit. But you may feel this isn't getting to the heart of the matter and so desire to make a personal confession.

Finally, the Exhortation advises us to go to a “discreet and understanding priest.” And the rubrics for the rite specifically say, “The secrecy of a confession is morally absolute for the confessor, and must under no circumstances be broken.” In other words, what is said under the seal of the confessional remains under the seal of the confessional until I die. This does not mean you can get away with murder (as there are procedures for those kinds of discussions), but it does mean that you can be assured I will not discuss your confession with any other person.

On Ash Wednesday you were invited to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance. If you find yourself bothered by a specific sin and feel the need to confess that sin, please know that, by the authority granted me through God's one, holy, apostolic Church, I am here.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

March 8, 2017

What are you doing for Lent?

That seems to be a common question around this time of year. For whatever reason, we ask what others are doing for Lent, either giving up or taking on. Maybe that's because we want an assurance that we aren't the only one practicing a Lenten discipline. Maybe it's because we want to figure out how we stack up – how does giving up desserts compare to fasting every Friday? Maybe it's just religious small talk, akin to, “How are you enjoying the weather?” Or maybe that's just me.

As a rule I don't discuss my Lenten discipline. Part of that reasoning comes from Scripture when Jesus admonishes those who fast to wash their faces, put oil on their heads, and not let people know you are fasting. “Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing,” he says.

I'm going to break that rule this year.

Since I arrived at St. John's, I have found myself busier than I think I have ever been as a priest. That happens in a parish this size with the amount of things we have going on around here. And it seems that every day when I go home, I go home thoroughly exhausted. I'm not complaining – it's been a very good busy and a good tired. But, upon reflection, I discovered that I was doing too much time reacting to things rather than having a good plan.

My Lenten discipline this year, therefore, is to fix that. And I think I have a plan.

I've been working on a weekly schedule that puts things into blocks of time. It's taken a few drafts, and a few suggestions to tweak it, but I think I've got it. This schedule includes times to meet with people both in and out of the office; it includes times for prayer, study, and education; it includes times for worship; and it includes times to be visible around Hagerstown.

My hope is that it will help me be more proactive in how I go about the job of being your priest, as well as offering needed flexibility to react when necessary. Melonie, as well as the rest of the staff, has a copy of the schedule and she knows when and where I am available.

What I'm asking from the good people of St. John's is for you to help hold me to it. Please be understanding when requesting appointments. Please call me to accountability when I seem to get out of whack. And please know I am doing this to (possibly) avoid past mistakes and be the priest you all deserve.

As it turns out, sometimes it IS important for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing.

May your Lent be filled with discovery,


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

February 22, 2017

On Weddings

This past Sunday during the Children's Moment, I briefly discussed the upcoming Celebration of New Ministry (tomorrow at 7 p.m.) and compared it to a wedding. As with most Children's Moments, it was all too brief, so I want to revisit that comparison here.

With regards to marriage, the BCP has this to say: The union of two people in heart, body and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity . . . marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently [and] deliberately.

In discussing marriage, the Rev. Tobias S. Haller, an Episcopal priest and member of the Brotherhood of St. Gregory, writes: “Marriage is about permanence and fidelity, suitably imaged by unending rings, and mapped to things as diverse as religious profession by a nun and the union between Christ and his Body, the church.”

In wanting to explain the Celebration of New Ministry to the kids without getting too complicated, it seemed to me that a wedding ceremony was something they could all basically understand. And with the words of Fr. Haller echoing in my head, I thought it a good idea to elaborate on that image.

What happens at a wedding? In short, two people who have met, gotten to know each other over a period of time, and who have fallen in love, have agreed to come together and form a union in heart, body, and mind. They agree to support each other in prosperity and adversity. And they exchange gifts symbolizing that union and promising to work for the betterment of the relationship. They do not give up who they are, but they take on a new form that changes and adds to their being.

Almost exactly 13 months ago to the day I sent an e-mail to the Rev. Cn. Stuart Wright saying, essentially, that I found the profile of what looked to be a great place and I would be interested in being part of their search process. That's Episcopal church-speak for, “Hey, do you think you could introduce me to them?” Over the course of the next several months we got to know each other better. That period of learning was done reverently and deliberately. It was during those meetings and visits that I found myself falling in love with St. John's. And at some point we both realized that this particular union of priest and people would be good for our collective hearts, bodies and minds. The question was asked. The answer was given. And we were on our way to coming together as one; not giving up who we were, but taking on a new form that would change and add to our essence.

Tomorrow our relationship together is formalized in a wedding that is officially called A Celebration of New Ministry. We will sanction our union together as priest and people. We will promise to uphold each other, to help and comfort each, and to be with each other in prosperity and adversity. We will exchange gifts suitable for the occasion. And we will celebrate. We will celebrate tomorrow night after the service. We will continue to celebrate on Sunday.

As with all weddings, there is an air of excitement here that I hope never fades. I can't say exactly what our future together holds; but to borrow from Timbuk 3, “Our future's so bright, we gotta wear shades.”


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February 15, 2017

On Lent

We are exactly two weeks away from Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Like so many things in life – birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas . . . Valentine's Day – Lent can sneak up on us and surprise us with its arrival. We have been lucky this year in that we had a long Epiphany season, allowing us the space to recover, breathe, and prepare. But it is coming, so consider these next two weeks your time of preparation.

In the Ash Wednesday service we are invited to the observance of a holy Lent “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.” If we are to do that properly, intentionally, and successfully, it would be a good thing to use these next two weeks and consider how we might live into that Lenten invitation.

One thing that people have both asked about and been interested in is the resumption of a Monday night adult education forum. And I have been looking for a way to offer more opportunities for worship. I think I have found the answer to both.

Beginning Monday, March 6 (the first Monday in Lent), I will offer a service of Evening Prayer every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 5:30 to no later than 6:00 p.m. My overall hope is that this service can be lead by others in the parish, as well as it becoming the vehicle for an occasional Evensong service led by members of either the parish choir or one of our two children's choirs.

If you are looking for a way to pray and meditate on God's holy Word, I would urge you to consider adding at least one of these services to your schedule.

And then on Mondays after Evening Prayer, I will resume the practice of a Monday night education forum. This will follow immediately after Evening Prayer, beginning at 6:00 and, depending on how much people talk, ending by 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. at the latest.

I've also heard from several people that they are looking for a confirmation class. With that in mind, the first education piece will be what I call “TEC101, or, A Class Leading to Confirmation.” If you have no interest in being confirmed but would like to know more about the Episcopal Church, I invite you to attend. If you would like to be confirmed, this is where you will want to spend your Mondays for the next several weeks. And if you are a cradle Episcopalian but just want a refresher course, this is also a good place to be.

So if you are looking for a way to incorporate more study into your Lenten discipline, I invite you to participate in the Monday education forum.

There are two weeks until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Instead of it sneaking up on you and then trying to find a way to fit something into your schedule, may I suggest taking these last two weeks of Epiphany to prepare for a schedule change so that you will be ready for
Evening Prayer: M, Tu, Th, F
5:30 – 6:00 p.m.
Monday Education Forum: 6:00 – 7:00/30 p.m.
TEC101, or, A Class Leading to Confirmation


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

February 8, 2017

On the Reception of Holy Communion

Consider today's Wednesday Word both a theological reflection as well as a practical reflection. First, the theological.

As I travel down the altar rail distributing the blessed Sacrament of the Body of Christ to the great variety of people who come forward looking to be nourished, there is just as great a variety in the manner in which people receive that Sacrament. Some stand. Some kneel. Some reach their hands forward. Some rest their hands on the altar rail. And one Sunday while I was making this sacred journey I had a sudden vision of Michelangelo's “Creation of Adam” as painted on the Sistine Chapel.

In that painting God is seen reaching out with what seems to be every fiber of his being in an effort to touch Adam. It is clear that God is putting maximum effort into this event. Adam, on the other hand, is making no effort to reach God. He is, quite literally, reclining on a hillside, one arm supporting his body, and the other arm resting on a knee, his wrist relaxed and pointing downward. Even his face lacks enthusiasm for what God is trying to give him.

Now I'm not saying that when some people come forward to receive Holy Communion they are making no effort to reach God or that they lack enthusiasm. But I wonder if a different posture at the Communion rail might make a difference in how one perceives receiving the Body of Christ. Instead of resting arms on the rail waiting for God to make the effort to reach you, what if you raised your arms so that your hands were on a level with your chin, upraised and, in effect, reaching out to God? It just might be that a more active posture at the Communion rail might lead to a change in how you discern your part in the reception of Holy Communion.

And now for the practical. Although I am generally physically fit, I have suffered from back pain for almost my entire life. I cannot honestly recall a time when my back did not hurt. Although it hurts on a regular and constant basis, there are some things that cause it to hurt more. For instance, washing dishes causes great pain. The reason is due to the angle at which I need to stand for that particular chore.

Another thing that causes me pain is making that same bending motion as I place the Body of Christ into hands resting on the altar rail. The more I have to make a half-bend, half-stoop motion, the more painful distributing Communion becomes. On a practical level, I am asking the good people of St. John's to raise your hands up to roughly chin level (putting elbows on the Communion rail is a good position) so that distributing Communion becomes a less painful experience for me.

Church is full of practical things (candles to see in the dark) that have taken on theological meanings (candles symbolize the light of Christ). Raising your hands at Communion is a practical way to keep your Rector from hurting, while also having a theological symbolism of actively reaching up to God.

Think about it; but know that regardless of how you approach the rail to receive Communion, you are still approaching and will be nourished with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

February 2, 2017

Where are we going from here?

Last week I talked briefly about the annual meeting and going out to immediately follow Jesus in the ministry of the Church. I also talked about two articles I had just read, one entitled “Twelve-Hour Coffee Hour” and one around the issue of Prayer Book revision; both articles had to do with getting out into the world. Whereas last week I focused on the “Twelve-Hour Coffee Hour,” this week I'm going to focus on Prayer Book revision.

Now before anyone starts to panic, this isn't even a certainty. The 2018 General Convention will be deciding a course to take regarding revision, and it isn't clear what the results will be. Because of this, TLC has been running an ongoing series around this topic with people weighing in on any number of sides. This particular article was written by the Rev. Scott Gunn, the executive director of Forward Movement (the publisher of Day-by-Day). He made two comments that were especially appropriate for us at this point in time.

The first thing Fr. Gunn said was, “The Church's place is gathered around the altar, but the place of the Church's members is out in the world, doing mission work and sharing the good news of God in Christ.”

Worship, and particularly the Eucharist, is our center. Everything we do should emanate from our act of adoration and participation in the life of God. As the Church, it is what we do; for no other organization has as its central focus the worship of God and the feeding of God's people. But as individual members of the Church, as the various parts of the body of Christ, we are each called to serve God in a variety of ways, all of which should be based in the sharing of the good news of God in Christ. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” doesn't mean we are finished for the day, it means our work week is just beginning.

His second comment was, “Lately I have wondered if we would do well to offer a robust Morning Prayer on Sunday, geared especially toward seekers.”

According to Fr. Gunn, the Daily Offices are the perfect place to introduce seekers to the church because 1) you never have to leave your seat; and 2) it's an easier service to learn.

As some of you know, I offered daily Morning Prayer when I was at my previous parish. After getting settled in and mulling this over for a few months, I don't think that is doable here. However, a regular Evening Prayer and/or Evensong seems to be much more practical. So with that in mind, and working through various schedules, I will begin offering an Evening Prayer service every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday beginning March 6. Be looking for more information in the coming weeks.

As we begin moving forward, I invite you into a deeper knowledge and love of God through a deeper corporate worship, and I invite you to look for ways that your worship of God can inform how you work to share the good news of God in Christ in the world around us.

I also invite you to invite people to join us for a safe, robust, quiet, and moving service of Evening Prayer.