Wednesday, June 13, 2018

June 13, 2018


A few months ago I was at a church leadership conference held down at Kanuga, the sprawling and well-appointed conference and retreat center of the Episcopal Church located in Hendersonville, NC. One of the speakers at this conference was the Rev. Jay Sidebotham. Among other things, he is most well-known for illustrating the cartoons on those large church calendars (one of which is hanging in the parish house where the Sunday offering is counted). And in a previous life, he was an illustrator for the old School House Rock animation bits.

One of the things he does as a priest is a weekly meditation piece, similar to my Wednesday Word, but his come out on Mondays and are called Monday Matters. My reasoning for writing on Wednesday is to help give a little “pick-me-up” in the middle of the week. His reasoning for writing on Mondays is to give his readers a good start to the week.

In his reflection last week, he reflected on Sabbath rest. He was primarily focused on the gospel reading from June 3 where Jesus healed the man with the withered hand on a Sabbath. Where Jay was going with this was that Jesus spent so much time challenging the rules of the day about Sabbath rest because we need to be reminded that sabbaths are occasions to recall that God is love and we are to show that same love to all people all the time. “The Sabbath,” he wrote, “is a time to get to know God better.”

But in taking the time to get to know God better, we must also take the time to get to know ourselves better, and this is another aspect to sabbath. Jay said he once received advice from an older priest to make sure he took a Sabbath day for himself. Weekly. Religiously. I don't remember asking an older priest for advice along those lines, but somewhere someone let me and my classmates know to do this. Since my first week as an ordained clergy person, I have always taken Friday & Saturday off. And I've been pretty good about making sure that those days are not interrupted (obvious emergencies and rare instances being an exception).

I bring this up because this week I am taking a type of sabbath rest. I am down at Virginia Theological Seminary engaged in the first week of that preaching seminar thing. It's a type of Sabbath because I can spend time learning more about myself as a preacher. I can spend some quiet time (hopefully) learning more about where God might be calling me along these lines. And I'm trying not to worry about what my in box is collecting.

Sabbath time is important for everyone. It was important for God to rest after six days spent creating. It is important for clergy to rest so they don't burnout themselves, or their families, while living into their calling. And it is important for all of you as well. Do you spend quality time away from those things which push and pull you in different directions? Do you spend quality time reconnecting with those you love? Do you spend quality time with God?

If not, take some time for a Sabbath rest. After all, both God and Jesus did.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

June 6, 2018

Traditional Marriage

In the most recent edition of The Living Church (June 3, 2018), Bp. John Bauerschmidt of Tennessee writes about possible changes to the Prayer Book in general and marriage in particular.

At the upcoming General Convention next month, the Episcopal church will consider making changes to the current BCP. This is a long process and whatever might get approved for action will take several years to implement. One change being considered is adding gender-neutral marriage liturgies to the BCP. As Bp. Bauerschmidt points out, these liturgies were developed with same-sex couples in mind, but could be used by any couple desiring to be married in the church. This would also require a change in the Catechism which would state that Holy Matrimony is a life-long union between two people.

The bishop sees this move as “troubling” because it would effectively change the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church. He writes, “As an attempt to make the trial liturgies more widely available, it is a singularly blunt instrument to employ,” and he is fearful that those who value the traditional understanding of marriage will lose their place within the Episcopal Church.

A few thoughts.

When people use the word “traditional,” I've noticed it often means, “How I understand it to be.” If we talk about traditional biblical marriage, that can mean multiple things: one man/one woman; one man and his (dead) brother's wife; one man, one woman, and concubines; a rapist and his victim; a man, a woman, and her slave(s); a soldier and a female POW; a man, a woman, and a woman, and a woman, and a woman . . .; a male slave and a female slave. Biblical marriage is somewhat . . . malleable.

And let's not forget that marriage was, for a long time, seen as a property transaction; hence the “giving away” of the bride from one owner (dad) to a new owner (husband). It was a property transaction because the State needed a way to keep track of legitimate heirs. The church didn't really get involved in marriages until about the 12th Century.

Last week I presided at the marriage ceremony of Jerry and Bruce. It was one of the best events I have ever been a part of. Marriage is a covenant between two people and is (ideally) to be a life-long union. What if, instead of focusing on the players in the game, we focus on the game itself. The game of marriage is to be life-long; it is to represent the union between Christ and Church; it is for mutual joy, help, and comfort. Holding marriage up as ideal should be more important than who we allow to participate.

And, finally, in reviewing the bishop's words, I note that he is fearful of losing his place in the church. This seems to me to be the same fear that men had about women voting, the same fear that whites had (and have) about granting equality to non-whites, and on and on. Those in power are always fearful of losing their piece of the pie.

What those who are fearful need to remember is that God will bake more pie, because all means all.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

May 30, 2018


I'm writing this reflection on May 29. Yesterday, Monday, May 28, was Memorial Day and the offices were closed, so this is my first day back in the office after a very long weekend.

This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, and the day we remember, celebrate, and honor the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And on that day, we were surrounded by Trinitarian images.

I presided at three services – 8, 10:15, and the 3 pm wedding of Jerry and Bruce. It was one of the longest days I've ever had as a priest, but it was also one of the best. The Holy Trinity was present in those three services.

At the 8 and 10:15 services I compared the Trinity to a dance. God the Father is the dance itself that binds everything together. God the Son is Fred Astaire, the first dancer that comes to mind when we think about great dancing. God the Holy Spirit is Ginger Rogers, the third person in the relationship that makes the dance whole and does things we can't explain. The Holy Trinity is present in the relationship of dancers.

At the wedding I said that 1+1=3. Jerry and Bruce were coming together in Holy Matrimony and their relationship of two individuals would come together to create a third person, the marriage itself. The Holy Trinity is present in the loving union of two people.

During the wedding service we heard from 1 Cor. 13, “And now faith, hope, and love abide.” These three things are eternally intertwined. Faith leads us to trust in another. Hope is our longing for how others will see or treat us. And both of these are wrapped up in love. Love allows us to have faith. Love urges us to hope. And even if we fail in upholding the other two, love will remain. The Holy Trinity is present within all relationships if we take the time to see it.

Trinity Sunday. Three services. A dance. A marriage.

They say good things come in threes. Maybe there's a reason for that.

Where to you see the Holy Trinity present in your life?


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

May 23, 2018

The Mission of St. John's is to . . . Worship, Welcome, Serve, and Encourage

The focus this week is the final word in our Mission Statement: Encourage

This just might be the most difficult of the four parts of our mission to define. It's not that to encourage, or to be encouraging, is difficult to define, but just how do we do that?

I'll name a few, but then I'm going to leave it up to you to find ways to encourage people.

In our worship, we encourage people to experience the holiness of this place and the liturgy. The Episcopal liturgy is similar to some liturgies, but also different from many. One of the things that makes our liturgy different is the tandem use of the BCP and the Hymnal. This can be confusing to some; but by sitting with people who are new to the Episcopal church and helping them through the different books, we are encouraging them to experience the liturgy in its fullness.

We encourage people to a life of discipleship through our different classes. Both the Sunday morning forum between services and the Monday night forum offer something different for people. And the Sunday school classes for the various age groups of children also encourage them to learn about Christianity, life in the church, and discipleship.

We encourage people to participate in various ways during the service, from ushering to serving at the altar and singing in the choir.

Beyond our worship, we have a variety of areas which people can serve. We have a family-oriented shelter where we encourage participation of our parishioners, and the shelter itself encourages the residents to move on to permanent housing. Our participation in the Micah's Backpack program helps feed children which encourages them to learn, because you can't learn properly when you're hungry. Our Community Cafe program feeds both adults and children one Saturday a month. This program encourages people to come in and eat, encourages them to take supplies they may need, encourages them to a (possible) different kind of behavior when they are in our building, and hopefully offers the encouragement of God's love.

Our parish culture of welcoming people into our midst also offers a form of encouragement. I believe that people are truly encouraged to see a church that actually lives into its stated belief of, “All are Welcome.”

As we move forward, how might you encourage people to worship with us? How might you offer encouragement to those around you through your presence and acts? How might you be encouraged to serve? Encouragement can also be described as joy. So when we Worship, Welcome, and Serve, if we do it with a sense of joy, then we will also be doing it with an encouraging attitude.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

May 9, 2018

The Mission of St. John's is to . . . Worship, Welcome

The second point of our Mission Statement is to Welcome. The Episcopal church in general, and St. John's in particular, states that we are a church who welcomes all people. And, in general, I think we do a good job of that. Joelene and I felt very welcomed by the parish as we were interviewing and then settling in. You might say that's because we were the new clergy family, but I can tell you from experience that that isn't always the case. And I have spoken with several people who have felt the same way.

Being a welcoming place takes effort. It takes more effort than simply saying, “Welcome to St. John's,” handing them a bulletin, and then feeling you've done your part. As far as Sunday goes, it means doing the above, but it also means asking people you don't know, “Have we met?” If you find out they are new, it means asking if they are familiar with the Episcopal church. If not, it means offering to have someone sit with them. It means escorting them to coffee hour and introducing them to a few people.

We are also a welcoming parish when we invite people to join us for Community Cafe, as servers or guests. We are a welcoming parish when we invite outside groups to use our facilities. We are a welcoming parish when we “seek and serve Christ in all persons” regardless of their outward appearance. We are a welcoming parish when people know that this is a safe place.

We are a welcoming parish when we exhibit proper boundaries and behaviors. People in leadership positions and certain ministries are required to take the Safeguarding classes, not because we think they are people of questionable behavior, but because we want to be able to say to people, “We do this because we take your safety seriously; welcome to this safe place.” Mayfest is this Saturday evening, and along with it the sale of wine. We have worked to ensure that this is a welcome and safe place by putting certain boundaries and expectations in place regarding the presence and sale of alcohol.

Those proper boundaries and behaviors also extend to church theology and doctrine. As I wrote for Soundings a few months ago, we are a big tent circus of a church that welcomes all people into the household of God regardless of gender, race, orientation, or any other difference we might assign to a person. We welcome all. There is a caveat to that, however.

Part of having good boundaries is knowing who you are and what you will and will not tolerate. That said, as a parish who welcomes all, we will not welcome those who espouse racist, misogynistic, or other hateful views. We will not welcome those who abuse or belittle others. We will not welcome those who try to limit the limitless love of God to only a select few. In short, we will welcome all those who welcome all those.

The mission of St. John's is to welcome. I invite you to work at that, because it's harder than you think.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

May 2, 2018

The Mission of St. John's is to . . . Worship

In this month's Soundings I wrote about the process the Vestry went through to come up with a mission statement that captured what we did as a parish, was active, and was easily remembered. The result of that process was Worship, Welcome, Serve, and Encourage. Over the next four weeks I want to reflect on those words.

Worship is defined as “reverent honor and homage paid to God.” And the Catechism states, “In corporate worship, we unite ourselves with others to acknowledge the holiness of God, to hear God's Word, to offer prayer, and to celebrate the sacraments.”

Churches can do a lot of things, but the one thing churches do that no other group does is the intentional worship of God. Scripture is full of accounts of people worshiping God. Worship entails thanksgivings, blessings, deliverance, and a whole host of other reasons. But I think the primary reason for our worship of God is tied to creation. In the beginning, God created . . . and that alone is worthy of worship. One of my favorite references to this comes from the beginning of Canticle 18 in Morning Prayer: “Splendor and honor and kingly power are yours by right, O Lord our God, for you created everything that is, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

The Prayer Book is a reflection of Scripture, and in it we have a bountiful and beautiful resource for the worship of God that spans every time, day, and season of the year. This is a good thing because there are times when we don't feel like worshiping God. Maybe we have just lost a family member or a job. Maybe we're having difficulties in a relationship or with our children. Maybe we're just too busy or too tired. But worship should never be based on how we feel. As we say in the Rite I Eucharistic Prayer: It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord . . .

Our worship of God is very proper. Our worship of God is right. Our worship of God is our obligatory duty. Our worship of God is formational, in that it forms who we are and who we understand God to be. There's a reason the Israelites prayed/worshiped seven times a day. There's a reason Islam requires prayers/worship at least five times a day. There's a reason Christian monks prayed/worshiped up to eight times a day. Worship is where we connect most with God.

As with any relationship, we need to cultivate times to focus on and connect with the other. Worship allows us to focus on and connect with God. I encourage you to participate in this primary act of our faith as often as possible. Obviously that includes Sunday mornings, but it also includes other times such as Evening Prayer that is held in the church at 5:30 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. It includes the 12:15 Wednesday Eucharist. It also includes morning, noon, and evening prayers you do on your own.

The mission of St. John's is to Worship. I invite you to join us as we are formed by that act.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

April 25, 2018

Saying Goodbye

Last week was a particularly hard one for a lot of people, myself included. Among all of the unusual stuff that got piled up on top of the usual stuff, there were a lot of deaths. A stepdaughter, an aunt, a grandson, a mother, and a friend all passed from this life to the next last week. I was affected by most of those through the simple fact that I am priest to the people most touched by death, those left behind. But one of them hit close to home.

Last week I was notified by some of my officiating colleagues in Oregon that one of our partners had died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. The news was . . . surprising to say the least.

Officiating is an interesting hobby. It's one of the few avocations where you are expected to be perfect from the time you step onto the field or court and get better from there. It's the only job that I know of where people feel free to publicly berate you for every decision, tell you how awful you are, and scream out how anyone but you could do it better. It can be extremely stressful. Officials have been physically assaulted, some have even been killed.

But officiating is also a stress-reliever, in that game stress is totally different from job stress. It offers camaraderie like very few other things can. It can forge lifetime friendships. And it can provide stories. My friend Lou had stories.

Lou was one of the most irreverent officials I have ever come across. He never took himself or the game too seriously. No matter the game, sport, or level, he always had a good time. Despite his irreverence, he always protected the crew. And he could tell stories, because he had a way of falling into a good one.

Three of my favorites include: the time his crew had to cancel a baseball game because the home school used an inappropriate method of killing weeds and set the infield on fire; the time he spent a whole game glaring at me because I deemed the weather to be passable for short-sleeve shirts (it wasn't); and the time he saw a belligerent, loud-mouth, obnoxious fan working in a grocery store and came up behind him to berate him for stocking shelves improperly.

Yes, Lou was one of a kind. But then again, we all are. All of us have our quirks and skills. All of us have something that nobody else has. All of us have stories.

Share your stories. Have fun. But may this past week also remind you that all of us will, at one time or another, pass from this life to the next. And make sure you have things in order while you can so that the shock of your passing doesn't become a burden to those left behind.