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.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January 25, 2017

What am I waiting for?

We have just come through our first annual meeting together. It was, in my experience, neither the best nor the worst annual meeting in which I've ever participated. Nor was it the shortest or the longest. As far as annual meetings go, it served its purpose. Veterans of St. John's annual meetings will know that this was the first one in recent memory, maybe ever, where we had to go to a third nominating ballot in order to finally elect Susan S; and there weren't even any hanging chads! Bill A, Sr., took to the microphone to remind everyone that it wasn't about the budget, it was about evangelism. And at the preceding services, I preached a sermon around the topic of immediately following Jesus in the ministry of the church.

I find it interesting then, and maybe even a little providential, that on Monday morning as I was reading The Living Church I came across two articles having to do with getting us out into the world. One was on Prayer Book revision, which I'll address next week. The other one was entitled “Twelve-Hour Coffee Hour.”

In that article the author wrote about priests who had made an effort to get out of the office and into the community. One priest did this by sitting in a coffee shop offering to listen to people's stories. Another one walked around the community where the church was located and talked with people. When I was in Montana, I hung out in the local bars on a regular basis. These are all good things. These are things I want to begin doing because, as Bill, Sr., pointed out, it's not about the budget, it's about evangelism. And evangelism is more than simply unlocking the church doors on Sunday.

The issue I face, though, is, “When?” Between people scheduling time to meet with me in the office, staff meetings, planning meetings, mid-week Eucharist, sermon writing, Wednesday Words, various clergy gatherings, commission meetings, vestry meetings, parishioner visits, and hospital visits, when? Because, really, I can't exactly announce on Sunday morning that there will be no sermon today since I was hanging out at the bar. Add to that a confession that I haven't really gone out looking for places to be (bars, coffee shops, or otherwise) because trudging through downtown when it's cold, wet, and dreary, looking for spots to hang out and meet people, isn't necessarily my idea of a good time.

Maybe I'll wait until it gets warmer. Maybe I'll wait until my schedule clears up.

Maybe I need to quit waiting for the perfect time and just go. After all, isn't that what the whole “Immediately” thing of this past Sunday's gospel was all about?

Jesus is calling me. What am I waiting for?


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

January 18, 2017

Eucharistic Thoughts

I have a clergy friend who served with me in Montana. While I was at two congregations in the southwest corner of the state, he had three congregations a little north and west of where I was. He liked good steaks and good cigars, and he has since been called to serve a congregation in Oklahoma.

He posted a rather lengthy quote on his Facebook page from J.R.R. Tolkien the other day. You probably know him as the author of “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings.” But he was also quite the theologian, a member of the Anglican church, and good friends with C.S. Lewis.

I won't copy the whole thing here (because it's long), but I want to put up the part that caught my attention. When discussing the Eucharist, Tolkien said:

Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your Communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children—from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn—open-necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand—after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.

I think this caught my attention for two reasons. First, these past two Sundays, for me personally, have been Sundays of extraordinary joy. We baptized three young people into the household of God and we had a service the following week where nothing particularly special happened other than it was a day on which people seemed to be genuinely happy to be here. These past two Sundays have confirmed for me in their own very different ways that St. John's is a special place and I am blessed to be part of it.

And Second, we are approaching our Annual Meeting, which will be held after the 10:15 service this Sunday. Part of that meeting will be to look at where this church has been in the past year, and part of it will be to look at where we might be going in the upcoming year. As we move forward I hope you all see the value of being present in the life of this parish. I hope that you come to see St. John's not as a weekly obligation to be fulfilled, or as a place to come every so often when it fits into your schedule, but I hope you see it as a place of regular nourishment.

And when you come for nourishment, know that you are coming to a place with a sometimes proud, vulgar, and self-important priest. Know that you are coming to a place where things aren't always as well-placed and people aren't always as well-behaved as we think they should be. Know that you are coming to be among the 5000, the rabble, to be fed and nourished by this foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

The more you participate in this holy mystery, the more you participate in this feast, the more you participate in the celebration and wonder, the more you participate in the Eucharist, the more you will learn to see the face of Christ in others; and maybe, just maybe, the more you will see Christ present in your own life.

This is the Eucharist. May you come often enough to be nourished regularly.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

January 11, 2017

Hi. Wassup?

One of the other places at which I was involved in a search process was just a little east of Buffalo on the shore of Lake Erie. During our site visit we were given the obligatory tour of the two churches (it was a two-point call). As we were being taken through one church I noticed a large mailbox in the narthex. I had never seen a mailbox in a narthex before, so I asked our tour guide what it was for.

She explained that they had a program for the Sunday school children where they could write letters to God. They would put their letters in the mailbox and then either she or the priest would answer them. She told me it was a way for the kids to ask any and all questions without feeling pressured, and without the possibility of being ridiculed in public. She also told us that they got all kinds of questions from, “Do I have to drink the wine at Communion?” to, “Why do people have to die?”

We thought this was a great idea and were either a) looking forward to seeing it in practice should we end up in New York, or b) looking forward to implementing a similar program should we end up elsewhere.

We obviously ended up elsewhere, and shortly after I arrived I told Margaret about it and asked her to find a way to get it going. After getting through the Christmas season, she was able to concentrate more fully on the Letters to God program and dropped the first set of letters to my office this past Monday. One of the first letters included this gem, “Hi. Wassup?”

So, God . . . Wassup?

Wassup is that there were three new people adopted into the household and this branch of the family tree.
Wassup is that there were a whole lot of people on hand to witness that event and pledge their support for these newest family members.
Wassup is there are still far too many people being victimized, abused, and neglected in the name of God.
Wassup is that far too many people are working to bend God's will to their own, rather than their will to God's.
Wassup is that too many people see no problem with Monday through Friday behaviors that conflict with Sunday statements of belief.

Wassup is that in the good and the bad, in the celebratory and the sorrowful, in the winning and losing, God is with us. The trick is to discern the difference between what God wants and what we want. And that takes a good bit of patience and a lot of time to listen.

So, God . . . Wassup?