Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Eve?

A young couple, traveling through Kingsport on their way to Washington DC, were forced to stop their journey becaue the wife was in labor. It took all the money they had to make the trip to the capitol but they were hoping that they could get help from their representative. They had written to him asking for assistance but their letters were never answered. So, despite Mary's condition, she and Joseph decided that the only wat to get help was to plant themselves in their congressmans' office. Little did they know, he had gone to the islands for Christmas and his office was closed until late January.

Joseph drove their old jalopy into Kingsport, following the big blue signs with an H on them. he wanted a doctor to see Marry and, if this really was the time for their son to be born, perhaps the hospital would deliver the baby even though they had no insurance. But the hospital turned them away.

So they drove downtown, trying to find some place to stay and give birth. All the agencies were closed for the holidays and the Salvation Army could only provide a bag lunch as all their beds were full that night. The couple knocked on all the church doors but everyone was busy singing Christmas carols and the ushers didn't like the way the couple was dressed.

Mary and Joseph kept driving around but could find nowhere willing to let them stay. Their credit cards were maxed out and none of the motel operators were willing to take a chance that the bill would get paid.

Finally, they decided to take shelter on a loading dock on Stone Drive. It was clear to them that Mary couldn't go any further. And there she had the baby. Joseph looked through the dumpster and found some boxes and wrapping materials to make a bed of sorts for the child and scrounged some more to find bubble wwrap and more cardboard to keep them all warm.

There was a security guard patrolling the parking lot. She was the activity over on the loading dock and decided she'd better check it out. The closer she got, the more she realized there was something different about these vagrants. And then she saw the child.

Well, she went right up and asked Joseph if there was anything she could do for them. He smiled and thanked her for her consideration. He allowed as how they could use a bite to eat. So the guard went right up the hill to Kroger and started looking for things they could eat without having to heat them first. She found some blankets, too, and added them to the cart. When she got to the checkout, she told the clergy aboud Joseph and Mary. And the clerk told the manager and the manager got on the loudspeaker and told everyone in the store. Pretty son, everyone was picking up groceries, socks, diapers and baby wipes and heading for the checkout. All the store staff rushed to help them check out and quickly locked up the store.

Then all of those people rushed to their cars and followed the security guard to the place where the baby lay. It wasn't hard to find because there was a great big star shining over the loading dock by this time. Everyone unloaded their gifts into Joseph's car and then went to see the baby. They stayed and stayed, reluctant to leave because there was something about this scene that woke a distant memory in each of them.

And then one of the store clerks remembered. "For see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." And she was so surprised that she blurted it out! Everyone's heds came up and they looked at each other realizing that the clerk had it right.

Someone began singing Silent Night and slowly, everyone else joined in. Even those who hadn't sung it since they were little children remembered the words.

And suddenly, there was with the people a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heave, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just another Wednesday?

There is a rhythm to the life of a parish priest. It is based first on the weekly liturgies and the work that goes into making sure they go well. Sermon preparation is ongoing starting Monday and, in a good week, might be completed by Thursday.
Then there are calls to folks who need checking up on, mostly for health reasons, and home communions. Youth Group is a weekly occurrence and some planning is required for that. We are a small enough church that there aren't a whole lot of meeetings and that's nice. I enjoy the ones we do have more that way.

But sometimes, a nice quiet week on the calendar can turn into a whirlwind of activity. The call asking for a ride to the doctor an hour and a half away. The day the phone rings off the hook like this morning. People stopping by for one thing and another - this morning's impromptu question about our theology of when the Spirit comes within us! - and emails that require attention right away or need more time and study before answers can be written.

My ex used to say there were days when all he did was put out fires. That's an apt description of the life of a priest. Even when it is a scheduled fire, like a meeting or a counseling session, it's still putting out fires.

No one teaches you how to do that in seminary! Although, if you listen closely when professors talk about their days in the parish, you can pick up the basic knowledge that life will often be about putting out fires. Still, the necessary tools are not sold in the bookstore or lectured about in any class.

The key is not to turn a match into a roaring blaze. I try to start by not adding any accelerant to the conversation. And listening, asking a few questions - bot not too many! - helps slow the burn. If we are lucky, the fire goes out as quickly as it began.

I am a fan of chaos so I don't want my days to be regimented and strictly ordered. But I did learn about organization when I was a librarian and I find it helpful to pull out those lessons now and then. Otherwise, I would need cloning in order to be in more than one scheduled place at a time. ;-)

Regardless of how long the day or how many unexpected events occur, today is in so many ways just another Wednesday. A day the Lord has made, a day I've tried to remember all I have to do and maybe even gotten most of it done. A day to be cherished and to give thanks for.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

OMG! Proverbs 31:10-31

Even my secretary expressed offense at the fact that we are reading this lesson tomorrow morning. I automatically determined that it would not receive homiletical comment in *my* church. But then, at a meeting of women on Thursday, I began to think more about why I really dislike this description of the capable wife.

Basically, this is a classic example of reading ancient passages with eyes of the 21st century. I would guess that none of the teenagers in the congregation can relate to this passage at all. They have likely never met this woman. Frankly, when I think of my grandmothers, as much as I loved them and see some of these traits in their lives, I can't say they were as selfless as this virtuous wife. I see my mother in some of it and my mother-in-law in there, too. But this image of a woman who worked 24/7, ran the household, bought and planted the vinyards, made all the clothes and out of the best fabrics, laughed in the face of the future, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, doesn't ring true for me. She's too good. I am inclined to think that a group of men sat over their wine one evening and decided to imagine "the perfect wife." Good of them to toss in a line about loving the Lord while they were at it.

The problem here is that we are more than a few centuries away from this particular time in history and we have no idea what on earth is so great about giving your whole life to make your husband look good. For that matter, it doesn't read well if the genders are reversed either, does it? Do any of us want a husband who spends his whole life making us look good as we sit in the city gates doing woman's work?

All too often, we like to slide past the parts of Scripture we don't like. Some folks skip straight from Genesis and Exodus - the stories are good - stop off at Psalms for a bit and then head straight for the New Testament, giving a short nod to Isaiah on the way. Obviously, the great lectionary gurus thought we ought not to do that. So does Proverbs 31:10-31 have anything to say to us?

Since it is linked with Mark 9:30-37, I think it just might have some use. Mark tells the disciples once again that he will be killed and rise again but they didn't understand. So they chose to discuss who among them was the greatest. You know the story. Jesus asks them what they were talking about, they have to confess and he tells them that the one who is first is really last and servant to all even to the point of welcoming little children, the very least of all humanity.

In other words, if we want to be welcomed into the Kingdom by God, we need to be more like the capable wife. We need to fight for the needs of our family - remember the Kingdom family is a lot larger than who live in our houses - and make sure everyone has warm clothing for the winter. We need to laugh and be happy because we are daily engaged in the work of the family and in proclaiming the greatness of the head of our household.

And there is one particular line in Proverbs that speaks directly to the image of Jesus with the child: "She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy." Children in our world have a lot more power than they did in Jesus' time. But the poor are the most helpless today. They have no voice. Without a residence, they have no way to access the miserable system of red tape we have devised in order to secure food and shelter for themselves and their children. One in four children in this country live in poverty. That means an awful lot of adults are there, too, adults who are fighting for their families just as hard as the capable wife. But they have no way to buy a vinyard or the cloth to make fine linen garments of the richest colors.

That's where we disciples come in. Forget about being first, last or coming in a good second. Spend all that energy seeking ways to help those who cannot help themselves. Don't add to their burden by asking them whether they are truly needy. Just feed them, give them warm clothing and a place to stay.

I talked with a priest today who told me his congregation is losing members because the folks who run the soup kitchen at his church refuse to turn away people who have come from other towns. The feeling of those leaving is that they should only feed those who live in their town - not a town that looks to have a lot of hungry people in it to start with. But the organizers won't turn anyone away and they haven't run out of food yet. In fact, they have helped organize another soup kitchen in a neighboring town. This is what Jesus calls us to do. Willingly, happily, with no strings attached.

So despite the feminist hackles that go up as soon as we hear Proverbs 31, there is something about this amazing surreal woman that can still teach us how to live, how to raise up our bridegroom and pay no attention to our own status. Don't you just hate it when what you want to ignore turns out to have something to teach you? :-)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

John 6:56-69

"This teaching is difficult," they said. "It's too hard. Who can accept it?"

Probably the first time I said "it's too hard" was in algebra class. And despite my parents' urging to try, try again, I gave up quickly and skated by on poor grades. Then there was the zipper I couldn't seem to get into a suede cloth jumper. After the third try, I said, "this is impossible. It can't be done." My mother, with her teeth gritted, said, "oh yes it can!" and went to the sewing machine and did it in no time at all.

One of the things I believe my generation (boomers) has to answer for the most is the way we deal with "this is difficult/too hard." Even those of us who never bought into "free love" liked the idea of "if it feels good, do it." Difficult things don't feel good, at least not right away. So we walked away from the hard things, especially in our faith as we asked, "how can God allow this to happen?"

Eventually we came back for the most part. Our parents might say that we finally grew up. We started doing the difficult things - working real jobs, raising families, learning to budget our money - because we didn't really have a choice. There was no one else to do it for us. But we didn't teach our children to tackle the difficult things, did we? We particularly didn't manage to teach them the importance of belonging to a faith community.

I remember the next time I said "this is too hard." It was when my dad had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, late stage. I was talking to my mother-in-law. I told her that losing a parent was too hard and that I didn't want to do it this time, let alone three more times. She merely said, "you don't have a choice."

It is true there are difficult things that we can't walk away from. But difficult teachings is another matter. I have friends who have left their faith behind because someone died, because someone didn't die soon enough, because they didn't like the priest, because the new hymns replaced old familiar ones, because the size/shape/ethnicity/sexuality of the congregation changed and they couldn't deal with it. Too many of them, confusing faith in the Christ with membership in a worshiping community, walked out.

Peter has the right of it in his answer to Jesus. Jesus asks, "do you also wish to go away?" and Peter answers, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

When people tell me they are leaving The Episcopal Church, the first question I ask is whether they have found another church. We humans need a church to help nurture and support our faith when it wobbles. If those who want to leave TEC haven't got somewhere else to go, I urge them not to leave. If they have found another community that is more nurturing and supportive, then I urge them to become a part of it with my blessing.

But the difficult teachings don't go away just because we change congregations or denominations. They are always there, poking and prodding us.

The teaching of Jesus is difficult, sometimes too difficult. That is when we turn to our brothers and sisters in faith. Sometimes all we need is their presence with us. Sometimes we need them to listen to our doubts and questions and help us come to understand better. After all, we are supposed to grow in faith, not rise from baptism fully formed. You don't teach a child to count from one to ten and then put them in an advanced calculus class.

But once we have come to believe, there really is nowhere else to go. Leaving doesn't help solve the difficult things. Staying might not, either, but choosing to stay means we have chosen to continue working on the hard teachings. And just because Jesus no longer walks among us teaching in parables doesn't mean the difficult teaching isn't still going on.

Difficult teaching makes us uncomfortable. It's supposed to. If we have made ourselves a cozy nest of our faith, a hammock that rocks us gently in the shade of the trees, then we are not working hard enough on being faithful. Reread the gospels. Go back and hear what Paul wrote while he sat in prison. Nowhere will you find Easy Street. Almost everywhere you will find challenges, obstacles, tests, hard teachings. Paul speaks of being a prisoner in the Lord. This is not an image of comfort yet it is a state of being that Paul relished.

So when the teaching is too hard, when there are obstacles in the road, turn to your church family. Ask the hard questions there. You will likely find that others are struggling with the same question.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Story and Public Narrative

One of the things we were asked to do at General Convention this year was telling our stories through the use of Public Narrative. The focus of our conversations was mission. The idea is for each person in the group to tell a one to two minute piece of their story that tells how they began doing mission work. The next step, after hearing each of those stories, is to create the story of the group and then to move the combined story into a story of now - what our combined story is telling us we need to be doing together now.

Public Narrative wasn't my favorite part of the Convention. In fact, we were arranged in table groups with our dioceses and most all of us had done this same exercise - in diocesan groups - at our synod meetings. So, after the first day, we opted out. Frankly, it was time we used to rest and our daily lunches together were, in a less structured way, our time of sharing story and hearing how we need to move forward now that we are home.

But there was one example of Public Narrative - me, us, now - that I realize I didn't share with you all and that I didn't think of in those terms at the time. One day, we had many ecumenical visitors. They were from all kinds of Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations. One of them spoke to us and then asked a cantor, a muezzin and a priest to chant the Abrahamic Prayer that we share in common (The Lord bless you and keep you....). The cantor began and his chant transported us all. As he ended, the muezzin took up the prayer with equal power. He was followed by the priest whose chant was Anglican in form. And then all three of them chanted together. Rather, they chanted in their own style at the same time, sometimes creating blissful harmony and at other times dissonance that should have been jarring but seemed to be right.

When the last note faded away, our combined story woven together in incomparable manner, the need to love, honor and respect our brothers and sisters of all faiths was made clear. We don't have to sing the same tune. There doesn't have to be perfect harmony. But we must recognize our common bond and work together for the peace we cannot achieve separately.

Friday, July 17, 2009


We have concurred, adopted, amended, heard millions of points of personal privilege or clarification, moved to suspend the rules, moved to change the rules, probably moved to ignore the rules forever and still finished all of the remaining business by 4:30 pm on the last day.

I have carefully weeded out my five inch wide three ring binder and thrown out all the now useless paper. My Blue Book is about to be deep sixed here in my room. For those of you who are concerned about the environment, this area sorts and recycles anything that can be recycled, something I wish more cities, counties and states would consider. So all of that paper as well as the cardboard cover of the notebook and the metal binder will find itself becoming something else.

It is now time to pack, to discover just how much I can get in my suitcase, how much will go in my backpack and what "extra" bag I can pass off as my purse for boarding purposes. I don't think there is much more I can throw out at this point and I have done my best not to pick up and/or buy too much in the exhibit hall while I was here. Okay, there are those two bags of books from Church Publishing but no one who knows me really expects me to pass a book display and come away empty handed. ;-)

For all the times when we wished people would stop talking, when tempers flared and we found ourselves taking sides even if we didn't express that out loud, the tenor of this General Convention has been reasonable. We weren't always quiet in expressing our opinions but, with only two exceptions that I know about, no one was rude or out of line - both times it was the same person.

We do have fun. The rules are a good thing but we tend to break them appropriately. One of them is that we do not applaud; however, when someone is introduced, we usually applaud before being given permission. We sing together in the House. We do laugh, especially the last two days when the president and secretary kept referring to each other by the wrong title and then getting the giggles. And we have been blessed this year with meditation and prayer twice a day done by The Rev. Frank Wade of the Diocese of Washington, a deeply insightful man who has an incredible way with words.

Despite the fact that most of the deputies are over 50, our young deputies are increasing in number and also in voice. They speak well and passionately and I am very proud of them. Since my first General Convention 24 years ago, the number of persons of color has increased dramatically as well. The Episcopal Church is not monochromatic or geriatric as we are often led to believe.

And so dear friends, I bid Anaheim a very fond farewell. I have seen old friends, made new ones and look forward to getting back home to friends and family and my animals.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Money, mission and courtesy

Today began with a special order to consider the budget. We had the rules for the special order read to us. Then we spent more than 30 minutes asking questions about the rules. Then we began talking about the budget and promptly forgot the rules. When we finally settled down, it was almost time to go to Eucharist. We started at 9:30 and hadn't adopted the budget by 11:30. I give thanks that this is not how we do business in East Tennessee!

After church and lunch, we did finally adopt the budget but the last 19 minutes of debate took us about 45 minutes. Except that there were no commercials or color announcers, passing the budget was much like a football game. What is supposed to take 6o minutes really takes three hours. :-)

And then we put on our running shoes and took off. All the courtesy resolutions have been passed and sent on to the Bishops. We passed resolutions on the environment, the Defense of Marriage Act, Honduras, some changes to the canons and we defeated a resolution to give the Official Youth Presence the vote. A deputy who is about 18 got up and said if the youth presence wanted to vote, they should run for General Convention like everyone else. That pretty much convinced those on the fence!

I had a short meeting of the Prayer Book committee immediately following the 6:00 recess but our legislative day is now over. There is no session tonight for which I know we all give thanks. Many of the EAst Tennessee deputies are heading downstairs to have dinner together, having decided we are just too tired to venture out. I'm having breakfast with a friend - a real breakfast with eggs! - in the morning. This is only the second time I've had the time to go somewhere, sit down and be served that most important meal of the day.

Tomorrow will be the final sprint for the finish line. The finish line will happen even if we are not ready for it. So pray for extra stamina tomorrow and we will see you back in East Tennessee at post-Convention meetings next week. The one for Upper East is at St. Christopher's on the 22nd at 7:00. That's Wednesday night.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wild Wednesday

As is so often the case, we started off slow this morning. Lots of announcements, procedural questions and reports from the House of Bishops. Then we did elections for the Executive Committee and General Seminary's Board of Trustees (it is the only seminary owned by the Church so we have to do this).

Then it was time for the Eucharist and I was so tired, I came back to the room and took a long nap, almost missing lunch. I gave up coffee today and I guess it really does perk me up! This afternoon, we passed the Denominational Health Plan, Lay Pension Plan and a long document on interreligious conversations. We also heard from the Program, Budget and Finance Committee. The budget is seriously cut. They listened to our Bishop's resolution and cut the interim bodies' budgets by almost half. The House of Bishops and the Executive Council also took cuts so there will be fewer face to face meetings for everyone in the next triennium and that's a good thing. We are also going to try having an eight day convention in three years. While that feels like it is impossible, the fact that the interim bodies have less time to work will lessen our work as well.

The exciting news on the liturgy front is that the bishops passed an amended version of the resolution on same gender liturgy. It will come to the House of Deputies tomorrow at some point and we will move to concur. Rather than summarize, here is the text:

"Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge the changing circumstances in the United States and in other nations, as legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons is passed in various civil jurisdictions that call forth a renewed pastoral response from this Church, and for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consulation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological, and liturgical resources and report to the 77th General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consulation with the House of Bishops, devise an open process for the conduct of its work inviting participation from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are engaged in such theological work, and inviting theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality; and be it further

Resolved, That the members of this Church be encouraged to engage in this effort. "

I know there are many who will be upset about this and I am sorry about that. This is a justice issue for me. It affirms that there is but one baptism and it is not qualified in any way. Jesus made it pretty clear that the neighbor we are to love is more often someone it is hard to love rather than someone just like us.

And now I am heading for bed. Many of us went to LA night at the Arena and I'm sure one of them will fill you in. I needed the down time in order to make the next two days. We are pretty much assured of a night session tomorrow.

Peace to you all.

Do you want fries with that?

To say we are getting a little punchy at this point is to understate the obvious. As we sang All Things Bright and Beautiful this afternoon - at a pitch that basses probably loved but altos definitely did not - John Talbird and I began to waltz. Lynn Schmissrauter took the afternoon off and sent us cookies. We did remember our manners and shared them with Mississippi and Rochester, the deputations to our left and rear.

I would love to tell you we did lots of good stuff today; however, even though we have passed a special order that puts us in speed mode - 10 minutes for discussion and then vote - we are being slowed down by a group of dioceses that move all sorts or procedural things and ask for points of personal privilege. It feels to me like this is being done intentionally and I can only think that the point is either to get us so backed up that controversial resolutions cannot be heard or that the point is merely to stall convention entirely. I do hope I am wrong about this but the problem with having a legislative system is that this sort of thing can happen.

We have passed D025 fairly overwhelmingly. Bishops got it first, made a slight amendment that I like very much - pointing out that there is a mystery of the Spirit involved in being called - and then we approved their language. Now it depends on who you talk to what the effect of this resolution is. First of all, let me say that the committee that crafted it, World Missions, was very sensitive to the fact that many would be upset and took that into account. I have rarely seen a more pastorally worded document. Second, I need to point out that gays and lesbians have never been barred from the ordination processes according to the canons. Each diocese chooses, though, to interpret those canons and in our own Diocese, the policy is that we do not send postulants to seminary unless they are married or celibate. Celibacy applies to anyone not married and not just to gays and lesbians. I am required, for instance, to remain celibate unless I remarry (God forbid!).

So I am on the side of those who would argue that we have affirmed what has been in place for many years. Nowhere in the resolution does it say that we will consent to the election of a partnered gay/lesbian bishop or that we intend to elect a bunch of them. Am I picking nits? I'm sure many will argue that this is the case.

We are waiting to see what, if anything, will come from the Bishops on same-gender blessings. My committee passed a substitute resolution yesterday morning which was largely crafted by the six bishops on the committee. At the moment, it seems to be stalled in the HOB and I understand a small group of bishops are working on a rewrite. I will know more when our committee meets again tomorrow morning. I confess it is beginning to seem like we will have more meetings than there are days left to have them on.

Tonight, we had our East Tennessee dinner at a very good restaurant. There are enough of us here counting alternates and a few spouses and our communications director that we needed two tables. I know my table went solidly for the seafood. I couldn't tell if the other table did too but it looked like there were some dissenters who went for the beef instead. Thanks to Annie and Charlie for hosting our time together. We do have a good time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday, later than usual

It's time for my nightly ramblings. This has been a good day overall. My committee met twice and got several things done and ready for debate in the House of Bishops. I made a substantive change to a single paragraph in Rachel's Tears, Hannah's Hopes and feel quite good about that. This is the new liturgies and pastoral resources for issues around childbirth, including abortion, stillbirth, miscarriage and infertility - although less of the latter that the rest. In any case, we passed the document out of committee this evening.

You will likely read about the resolution I talked about yesterday in tomorrow's (this morning's?) newspapers. Please read the section I quoted yesterday as well as what the papers said. In essence, we didn't change the stand of the church all that much. What we did was revert to our canons which we "set aside" in 2006 to pass B033. The House of Bishops made a small change that I haven't read yet and passed D025 today. I'm sure this one will make all newspapers that are looking for sensational news. It is not really all that sensational.

We passed a new revision of Title IV of the Canons today. This is the canon that deals with discipline. I confess to not having read the entire document but I understand from summary versions and Peter Keese, who sat in all the sessions, that this is a very good revision. Still not perfect, but then most things don't really reach that exalted state.

The next four days are going to be packed and I am sure there are things I won't realize I need to tell you. The pace gets to the point where it is very difficult to do more than read a summary of what is being passed. Then you have to keep up with what the bishops have passed and/or concurred with. I promise you that by the time we have our post-Convention meetings, we will have a comprehensive understanding of all that happens here. Meanwhile, we are all still tracking particular areas and that's where each of concentrate our energies.

On that note, we have consented to the election of a new bishop for Ecuador Central. It is a long and painful story as to why this was such a controversial election. No one disputes the qualifications of the bishop-elect but many people in that Diocese question the process. There was not a clear vote - it was a tie - and the interim bishop cast the deciding ballot that threw the election into the House of Bishops, a very kosher decision. Well, emotion and pride of place complicate it greatly. Bishop Luis has his work cut out for him in the next few years.

And that's all I have to say about today. I had dinner with a few of my committee members. It was really great to have a chance to talk without large tables and rules between us. Above all else, this is a large part of what General Convention is about. Just as we greet old friends and welcome new ones at diocesan conventions GC is all of that on a grander scale. There are seminary friends to see, people I know from my other diocesan residencies and then new friends to meet and get to know beyond a handshake or nod of the head. Worship is a large part of our time together, too, and I need to say that our chaplain, The Rev. Frank Wade, is incredible. Frank's meditations and prayers are insightful, poetic and spot on every single time. I do hope these will be published somewhere and soon.

Until tomorrow, God bless you all.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunday, the half way mark

We began our day together with Eucharist at 10:00. The Presiding Bishop celebrated and preached. The two previous presiding bishops concelebrated and it really was good to see all three of them at the altar together. They were applauded out at the end of the service. This was the UTO Ingathering service so all the UTO representatives from each diocese presented the offerings. The offering at the service - the only service with an offering collected - also goes to UTO. Given that there were probably five to eight thousand people there, it should be a substantial gift to fund work around the globe.

The afternoon session of the House of Deputies was taken up largely by a single resolution. D025 is titled "Commitment and Witness to the Anglican Communion." It begins by reaffirming our commitment to and participation in the Anglican Communion; encourages congregations, individuals and dioceses to participate in the many networks within the Communion and makes it clear that we are willing to commit ourselves financially to the Communion as well. I'm going to quote the text of the rest of the resolution rather than paraphrase it. I remind you that all of this resolution still has to be concurred by the House of Bishops or it dies.

"Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm the value of "listening to the experience of homosexual persons," as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God" (2000-D039); and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, which call is tested through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church, as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind , and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters."

We voted by orders (each diocese has one lay vote and one clerical vote based upon a canvass of the four deputies in each order) and the resolution passed overwhelmingly. Now it will go to the House of Bishops and we shall see what they think.

Much of our deputation had dinner together tonight at the Cheesecake Factory. Ann Markle and I decided that we had better walk back even if we did have salads (the menu listed some of them as lo-cal because they had less than 590 calories!) because we also had cheesecake. I mean, what's the point of going to a restaurant that features cheesecake if you aren't going to eat any?! I even walked up three flights of stairs once I got inside the hotel. Eight elevators aren't enough for all of the Episcopalians who seem to all want to go up or down at the same time.

Tomorrow begins with a committee meeting at 7:30 once again. We will try to hammer out a resolution on same-gender blessings. Having looked at this issue from two or three angles, we really cannot use the language of marriage even though several states have. It would require canonical change and also BCP change. I hope we will have this out by Tuesday but it may well be Wednesday.

Good night, all. Or good morning.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

And now for something completely different!

It was my intention to trade seats back with Ann Markle this morning; however, when I got up, I realized neither of us had the necessary signed document from our chair. So I called poor Ann at 6:37 to tell her to go ahead and sit as a deputy. I planned to sit in the alternate section and was looking forward to hearing Ray Suarez from the Lehrer Report preach at 11:00. And then Cal Calhoun and I would switch places in the afternoon so he could have time off.

Well, as I entered the House of Deputies, Cal was coming out. He said, "I just heard about Katie," one of our lay deputies. I asked what he had heard about her and found out that she had fallen and cut her chin. So he and I went to First Aid to check on her. It turned out that she needed to go to an ER to have it checked and likely stitched. So Katie and I got a cab to Western Medical Center and spent five hours in the ER. She didn't have stitches. Katie said the doctor told her that with a cut that close to the face, they prefer to glue it shut! And Katie said she immediately realized she was, after all, in California and not Chattanooga. :-)

Charlie and Annie vonRosenberg had lunch ready for us when we got back shortly after 2:30. Then Katie and I both headed back to the floor of the House with me still sitting as an alternate since I had missed the time for credentialing.

This afternoon, East Tennessee's resolution on universal health care came out of committee for a vote with a few changes but nothing substantive. So sad that Bob Strimer was off today but his brother Peter said a few words in his stead. There was no real debate and now it goes on to the House of Bishops.

In my own committee this morning, we heard testimony on the resolutions on developing prayers/liturgies for the death or illness of companion animals. There were two wonderful dogs with us, Emily and Kona. As Emily's handler was signing up to speak, I simply sat down on the floor in front of Emily and got my face washed thoroughly. She is a great dog and much better behaved than either of mine!

Tonight was the Sewanee dinner. We heard all sorts of good things about what's happening on the mountain and said thank you to the retiring chancellor and vice chancellor. It was a good time and I had a chance to talk to a few old friends and professors and met a few new friends, too.

Tomorrow being Sunday, we will not meet in the morning. The UTO Ingathering and Festival Eucharist is at 10:00. THEN I will head for credentialing and change back to being a deputy for the rest of the Convention. It is so good to have alternates here to give us a break. I can't tell you what is so terribly exhausting about sitting and waiting but I am tireder tonight than any other.

Blessed Sunday to all of you.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Almost a day off

This morning started early which is beginning to feel normal. It's not that much earlier than I start working at home but at home, I don't begin with meetings!

We began deliberating on and thinking about how to craft legislation on same sex blessings. The debate is complicated by state laws this time around. Several states have legalized same gender marriages and the church in those states needs a way to respond. Regardless of what the marriage statutes are from state to state, The Episcopal Church is incorporated in each state and so our canons cannot stray from state law - as I understand it. So how do we write a resolution that will conform in all states? I'm not sure we have figured that out yet. We shall see tomorrow.

This morning's legislative session was again a committee of the whole to allow people to speak about B033. For the most part, people spoke in favor of moving on rather than repealing it, something that hasn't been done very often in our history and isn't really helpful. The World Mission Committee will now take all the comments and begin to craft that resolution.
After lunch, I changed places with Ann Markle and became an alternate for the afternoon. So I had time for a nice lie down, finished a book and had my nails done. What a treat! And then it was back into a committee meeting but a brief one.

Ann, Kay Reynolds, Katie Piper and I had dinner together and then took a cab to a grocery store for breakfast bars, fruit (raisins for me, nectarines for others) and a few other things to make our days easier and our breakfasts and lunches less expensive. The cab was very late coming, arriving just as we were loading our stuff and ourselves into another one. He was a delightful cabbie, listens to classical music and can't imagine why people like to get drunk. Neither can we so it was a friendly ride back. We had been offered a ride by a retired bishop and his wife if we were still there when they came back out of the grocery store. Since they were driving a fairly small car and none of us are fairly small, it's a good thing we didn't have to take him up on it.

The good news tonight is that the House of Bishops passed our Bishop's resolution today without amending it. This is a resolution to cut in half the budgets for all interim bodies. I said more about it on the Diocesan blog site (http://gc.etdiocese.net).We ought to get it in the House of Deputies in the next few days. Of course, we are already behind by at least a day in our own business. The most controversial thing to come before us this afternoon was the consent to the election of the new bishop for Ecuador Central. It is a long story, the short version of which is that the election was very close and the deputies here are contesting it. The Credentialing Committee, headed by Lynn Schmissrauter of our deputation, feels that the bishop-elect is well qualified and a fine man. I am told that the consent has been tabled to a time certain and that's a shame.

Tomorrow is another day and who knows what joys await us. It really is exciting to be here and an honor to serve East Tennessee as a deputy.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Thursday that felt like Wednesday

I suppose it is because we began meetings on Tuesday but my internal clock is telling me it is a day earlier than it really is. Another component may well be that I am wondering how we can possibly do what still has to be done in the time left. This is not a rationale for a longer Convention!

I began the morning at 7:00 with a two hour Prayer Book meeting. We spent the entire time reviewing, editing, amending - pick the word you like best - six sets of commons and proper prefaces. Think of these as generic "feast day" collects. I think we managed to do good work despite our size - about 35 people - and our varied liturgical backgrounds. A key question was, "do all collects need to end with a trinitarian doxology?" Kind of makes you wonder how I managed to stay away, doesn't it? :-) Oddly, I rather thrive on this sort of thing.

This afternoon, we had a hearing for people wishing to speak to the resolutions that have been proposed on same sex blessings. I would guess there were more than 500 people in the room. Thankfully, not all of them wanted to speak! We will begin discussing the next step tomorrow morning at 7:30. Subcommittees will need to be formed so that we can get through all the legislation assigned to us in a timely manner - in other words, before we all fly home. At this point, I have no idea what will come out of the committee on same sex blessings but I can assure you it will have been prayed about, deliberated on at length and given very serious consideration before it leaves our hands.

This afternoon, the House of Deputies met as a Committee of the Whole to begin talking about how/if this Convention will return to B033, our agreement not to consent to the election of a bishop whose lifestyle is offensive to the Communion. We heard the history and a summary of the ways we can reasonably move and then we had one on one conversations with someone we did not know about our own experience of B033, the church's experience and what God is calling us to do now. It was a useful conversation and time well spent. We will continue that conversation tomorrow morning and the World Mission Committee is still in a hearing on the subject as I type (my own Committee's evening hearing wore me out or I'd be there).

So, dear readers, I am going to brush my teeth and go to bed. Tomorrow begins early and will be a busy legislative day since resolutions are beginning to come out of committees. It won't be the rush it always is at the end of our time together but it is enough to keep us from getting bored.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Officially Open

This is what the House of Deputies looks like from our table. There is another deputation behind us but, otherwise, we are at the very back of the hall! If it weren't for those big screens, we would need binoculars!

Another busy day and yet I am not nearly as tired as yesterday. We had our first day of legislative sessions. After spending much of the morning hour's session doing organization stuff, we actually got down to legislation this afternoon. As you can imagine, the only kind of resolutions to clear committees so quickly are not the least controversial. All resolutions must clear both houses to be official.

We had the opening Eucharist today. It was wonderful! We have a pick-up choir so I got to sing and that always makes me feel good. Some of the music was from the African tradition and ably led by a canon of the Diocese of Los Angeles. Along with those of us who run in at the last minute and sing - very bad choir form but that's all the time we have - there are some fine singers here from LA as well. Bishop Katharine preached.

My own committee met twice today. We have moved some legislation forward, rewritten the several funding requests into one bill - I moved to delete most of the funding requests and was soundly voted down - and sent another piece of liturgical change into subcommittee for substantial reworking.

This evening Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke to us on the global economic crisis. He believes that more than an economic crisis we have a crisis of truthfulness. We have been lying to ourselves and we have learned to tolerate high levels of evasion. We have lied consistently about our own place in the world and the unlimited nature of goods and resources.

I have more notes on his speech but I am hoping it will be published in one of the daily publications so I'll wait to say more.

Three of us snuck out after Bishop Rowan's speech because, quite simply, we were hungry! We had a good dinner not too far away and now I am planning to watch the last hour of So You Think You Can Dance and go to bed. Tomorrow's first meeting starts at 7:00.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Still Pre-Convention!

For the day before Convention, I must say my day has been every bit as busy as a Convention day. I started with a Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music committee meeting at 8:00. We spent four hours deciding how we are going to proceed with hearings and meetings on the 65 resolutions that have been assigned to our committee, knowing that there will likely be a few more added once the deadline for submitting resolutions passes. It was a good morning although I suppose people who are not detail oriented might have felt like they had fallen down the rabbit hole.

After lunch, we met at 2:00 for presentations from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. In introducing the theme of this Convention - Ubuntu - Bishop Katherine spoke of the Great Western Heresy, which is believing that we can be saved as individuals, putting ourselves at the center of life rather than putting God there. Ubuntu says that I can only become a person in relation to other people, that community and relationship are central to who I am and who you are, that my salvation depends on yours.

President Bonnie Anderson introduced Public Narrative, a way to tell our stories in relationship to mission, a process we were introduced to at our Provincial Synods. Mission, she said, is the reason the church exists.

Marshall Ganz, the man who developed Public Narrative, spoke next, relating how he came up with the process and pointing out that it is an ancient practice by citing Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush.

The last meeting of the afternoon was an orientation session for the House of Deputies. Voting procedures were reviewed and an amusing "play" about how resolutions are introduced on the floor of the House and then debated and voted on kept us all laughing.

After a short gathering in the Bishop's quarters, several of us headed out to committee hearings. For me, that meant hearings on the Blue Book resolutions regarding acceptance of Holy Women, Holy Men - the proposed revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. We heard testimony from several people about changes they would like to see made. After the hearing and an hour of committee deliberation, several of us met in subcommittee to redraft the resolution to put this revision into trial use. It became clear that we either ask the churches to use the whole revision for three years or spend all of General Convention picking and choosing who should and shouldn't be included. As many of you know, I have serious questions about many of those recommended for commemoration; however, if we will take seriously the fact that this is for trial use and that we are encouraged to make our feelings about that use known to the committee, I believe we will end up with a good list of commemorations to add to our Calendar.

Now, it remains to be seen if this passes the House of Bishops and is concurred by the House of Deputies! I'll let you know the continuing saga.

A media heads up. We have scheduled hearings on same sex blessings for Thursday afternoon. That same day, there will be hearings on Resolution B033 which passed the last Convention. This resolution says we will not consent to the consecration of anyone whose life style will cause further conflict within the Anglican Communion (my words, not the exact wording of the Resolution). There will also be two sessions on Thursday and Friday to deliberate on B033 as a Committee of the Whole. So Friday's news outlets may well pick up on that. Do please remember that it is likely not to be as sensational as they make it out to be. Also remember to check official Episcopal sites for more reasonable coverage.

And now it is almost 10:00 out here in California. The fireworks at Disney are over for another day - I can hear them even if I can't see them - and it is time for all good deputies to go to bed. We begin our legislative day at 8:00 tomorrow and end the day with a speech on global economics from Archbishop Rowan.

Good night all!

Monday, July 6, 2009


The Magic Kingdom is somewhere nearby but, thankfully, I can't see it. I did hear a lady in the elevator say she could see the nightly fireworks from her room which is at the other end of my floor. I'm happy to be at this end.
We are beginning to gather. Some people, mostly committee chairs, came out to Anaheim yesterday but the bulk of deputies and bishops will arrive today. My first committee meeting is at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow as are many others.
My flights were good and smooth enough that I slept through both of them. Herb Berl and I had the same fliight from Houston so we met and had a nice lunch - shrimp po boys! - before getting on the plane. The Hilton Anaheim, where our deputation is staying, is truly right next door to the Convention Center. It is such a short walk that I may have to sign up for the health club (a mere $35 for our ten day stay) to get much exercise at all.
Even in the short hour we have been here, I have seen friends from Mississippi and New Hampshire and had a good conversation with a deputy from Arkansas. I know there will be times in the next ten days when I won't want to sit through one more meeting but I am excited to be here. If my past experiences hold true, I'll still be excited when it is all over and done for another three years.
Stay well and stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hardness of heart?

One of the web sites I use in my sermon prep is RevGalBlogPals. This morning, I read a post that talked about the people of Nazareth alreadyhaving their mind made up about Jesus. They were closed off to hearing anything new because of that. This person went on to say that she plans to talk about how we make up our minds and then don't change them, especially when we are going to meetings.

I don't know if this person is a General Convention deputy but I got her point. Have we all already made up our minds before we arrive in Anaheim?Is there any room for the Holy Spirit to move? I don't think it matters what "side" we are on, we need to leave the HS some breathing room. If our agenda is fixed, there is no place for God.

It is hard to sit in meetings for most of ten days and not have moments of heart hardness. We get weary of listening to the same points being made over and over by people who feel they simply have to speak even if someone else has already made their point. Sometimes we get so caught up in being a legislative body that we forget we are *supposed* to be listening for God in all those speakers, that amongst all the resolutions that have been proposed, there just might be a path opening up before us. I hope we have enough sense not to make our minds up about that path before we have listened and read and prayed. And having said that, I know from experience that it is so easy to "go negative" and stop listening and reading and praying for anything except a break.

So when you pray for General Convention, I would ask that your prayer include something about opening our hearts and minds, about not prejudging each other or allowing our own agendas to get in the way of God's agenda. Pray that we might be brave enough to do God's will.

Thank you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


There is a tradition, particularly among Jewish scholars, called mishnah. It is storytelling based upon a biblical text that attempts to retell the text in a new way. It puts faces and lives on people about whom Scripture tell us just a little. I would like to share with you a mishnah I learned many years ago on this Sunday's gospel from Mark.

There was a young man named Jairus and a young woman named Miriam. Their fathers arranged, as fathers did in those days, for them to be married to each other. Jairus and Miriam were quite please with the match and it was no time at all before they fell deeply in love.

A year after the marriage, Miriam gave birth to their first child. Jairus was so delighted to be a father that he didn't even mind that this first child was a girl. He named her Hannah. Miriam was sure their next child would be a son. But this birth had been a hard one. Miriam suffered from hemmorhages and there would be no more children.

The laws of Israel are quite clear about this sort of thing. The hemorrhaging made Miriam unclean, ritually unclean. Because Jairus was a leader in the synagogue, it was most important for him to follow all the laws religiously. Miriam's problem was not only embarrassing, it jeopardized his own ritual cleanliness. And so, Jairus had to divorce his wife even though he still loved her. He gave back her dowry and set her up in a house with her favorite maid.

For years, Miriam sought a cure. Every quack and magician soon learned that Miriam was an easy touch. She rapidly ran through her dowry, had to send the maid back to Jairus and ended up sleeping on the street and begging for a living.

In the meantime, Hannah was growing up in her father's house. As she grew towards adulthood, she was afraid her mother's disease would also be hers. Hannah thought if she didn't eat, she wouldn't grow up. So she stopped eating. Soon Hannah was so malnourished she became very sick, so sick she was close to death. Jairus was beside himself. First he had lost his beloved wife and now it appeared his daughter was going to die.

A servant told him that the Teacher was nearby. Jairus knew all about Jesus. He knew that synagogue leaders weren't supposed to have anything to do with this man. But Jairus believed that Jesus really did heal people. He ran to find Jesus. He begged Jesus over and over to come heal Hannah.

Miriam had also heard that Jesus was there and she rushed to the square in the hope that this man could do what no one else could. There were so many people crowded around Jesus. It was hard for Miriam to work her way through them all and when she finally got to the front of the crowd, she was shocked to see Jairus on his knees begging Jesus. She was more shocked to hear that her daughter was dying.

Miriam followed Jairus and Jesus, keeping back far enough in the crowd that Jairus would not see her but not so far back that she couldn't reach out and touch a corner of Jesus' cloak. She knew that was all it would take to heal her finally.

As she touched the hem, she felt the disease leave her. Jesus stopped and asked his disciples who had touched him. But they pointed to the size of the crowd and said it could have been anyone. So Jesus asked the crowd the same question.

Miriam was afraid to tell him but she knew she had to. Jesus compelled her to speak just by his quiet presence. So she stepped forward and knelt to beg Jesus' forgiveness. Jairus couldn't believe it was her! Jesus simply said, "Your faith has made you well," and then he began walking again.

Now a servant of Jairus' household broke through the crowd and told Jairus that Hannah was dead. Before either Jairus or Miriam could cry out, Jesus said to them, "Do not fear. Only believe."

When they came to the house, Jesus took three of his disciples inside along with Hannah's parents. When they came to Hannah's room, Jesus took her hand and said, "Little girl, get up!" Hannah got up from her bed and walked toward her parents. "Give her something to eat," Jesus told Miriam.

In a fairy tale, this is when I'm supposed to say they lived happily ever after. That's only partly true. Jairus was glad to have his wife and daughter back but he couldn't imagine leaving his prestigious job in the synagogue. He thought his happiness was there.

Miriam was glad to see Jairus and Hannah again but she knew that her life was different now. She wasn't too concerned about happiness. She had been healed because of her faith in the Teacher and she knew that she had to follow Jesus.

Even to the foot of the cross.

[I first saw this story more than twenty years ago on a preaching listserv. Alas, I did not save that original message so I don't know who the author was. I have added a few touches of my own but the original is not mine. Thanks to the woman who originally wrote it.]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

the run up to General Convention

It's been quite a while since I posted anything here. My excuse is that I've been reading all 400 pages of the report from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. I'm down to reading through the lessons proposed for particular commemorations. Some of them work well and others leave me scratching my head. Of course, some of the lessons assigned to existing commemorations also leave me scratching my head! I can't complain too loudly, though, as I have no desire to or expertise for assigning more appropriate lessons.

There are many weighty matters that will come before the General Convention in July. I think that the most important one is returning ourselves to a mission-oriented church. We have become so overwhelmed by program - Episcopalians love writing and reading, after all - that we have lost sight of the purpose of program. If it doesn't directly result in or support mission, then perhaps we can do without it.

We also like to reinvent the wheel or at least make it better. This is a concept borrowed straight from capitalism. The notion that streamlining the bumpers or adding cruise control will get consumers to buy the new model when there really isn't much, if anything, wrong with the old one. Our commissions and committees, though, must come up with something to do or they may find themselves dissolved.

So I propose that we suspend the work of almost every single commission, committee and board for the next three years unless the work is clearly missional. I also believe we can do most of this kind of work electronically. Face to face meetings are really great but conference calls, emails and skype will drastically reduce expenditures. Consolidating efforts - for instance, information gathering which is done well by Church Pension and the State of the Church group might join forces and produce one report - would reduce duplication and save hundreds of trees.

And then when we come together for the General Convention of 2012, we can consider whether we have managed nicely without certain CCABs or whether they need to be reactivated. Would it be so bad, for instance, if the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music didn't produce a new addition to the Enriching Our Worship series or revise The Book of Occasional Services? Can we manage to survive with the current Book of Common Prayer, the five EOW books, Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the current Book of Occasional Services for three to six years? I think the answer is probably yes.

Of course, the hardest thing in the world is to stop a group from meeting after they have gotten used to doing so regularly. And there just might be groups whose work we would miss. But we will never know unless we try to get along without them and redirect our focus outward.

And that's my nickel's worth!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Casting lots

Do you remember the last time we read of anyone casting lots? Yup, it was the soldiers trying to decide who would get Jesus’ cloak. Casting lots is an ancient way of making decisions. It is similar to flipping a coin or eeny-meeny-miny-mo. It is drawing straws or tossing the dice. Casting lots is relying on the old ways to move the new way forward.
We might ask why Peter thought there had to be twelve disciples but he doesn’t really explain his reasons other than to say that they need to replace Judas.
It is true that there were twelve tribes of Israel and Jesus did call twelve
disciples. So I suppose Peter equated one twelve with the other and, indeed, scholars too have often done so. If that’s the case, then eleven was an insufficient number. Perhaps Peter was wondering how the Holy Spirit, the one to come after Jesus, would know who they were if there weren't twelve.
In fact, Luke says there are about 120 people gathered in that place and Peter set up rather arbitrary qualifications for disciple candidates. The potential disciple has to have been a part of the group from the very beginning, from the banks of the Jordan where Jesus was baptized – an event, by the way, that none of the disciples witnessed – to the crucifixion – another event witnessed by only one of the eleven. So just as the number twelve is arbitrary, so are the qualifications for discipleship.
In any case, prayers are made, lots are cast and Matthias is elected to take Judas’ place. And then we never hear about him again! He is a place holder,
someone to fill the void only.
It appears that the disciples, in this interim period when Jesus is no longer with them but the Holy Spirit has not yet come into their midst, have reverted to old ways instead of praying to discern new ways. And are we any different?
In the Episcopal Church, the process for calling rectors and bishops is relatively similar. A search committee is appointed, names are submitted for consideration, the list is pared down to about three to five people and then a decision is made. Thus it has been for as long as any of us can remember.
Except it hasn’t. Bishops used to place rectors in their parishes and there are still bishops who do that, particularly in mission churches. In our own Diocese, we offersparishes three ways to call a new rector. There’s the standard full search which is the method used most often. There is an option
to have the Diocese submit six to twelve names to the search committee.
And there is the option to choose one of two or three candidates to be priest in charge for one to two years during which the priest and parish discern
whether this is a good fit.
There is a diocese in our church located on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is a very small, isolated diocese and, over the years, this diocese has developed a way of being church that is called Total Ministry. Total ministry draws on the gifts of all the members of each congregation to get done the work not just of the parish but also much of the work of the priest. You see, there aren’t enough priests to have one celebrate and preach every Sunday. So people have been identified who can preach, teach, administer the parish and do pastoral calling. The gifts of the whole congregation are necessary to be the body of Christ.
Total ministry is a wonderful addition to our understanding of how we are to be the church. It is rooted in the teaching of St. Paul. In the Diocese of East Tennessee, we call it Shared Ministry and there are several parishes who now work this way or have borrowed part of the model to enhance and enrich the ministry of the laity.
Well, back to the Diocese of Northern Michigan. Discernment is critical to the success of total or shared ministry. The vestry doesn’t meet and arbitrarily
decide that Lucy should preach and Horatio should make pastoral visits. No, over a period of as much as two years the whole congregation meets in prayer
to do the work that will help them hear the Spirit’s voice, will, in effect, elect
the right person for each job.
Just a few months ago, this diocese elected a new bishop. Their previous bishop, Jim McElvey, died in June of 2007. Normally, we would instantly begin the process of electing a new bishop. But Northern Michigan, fully invested in the discernment process of total ministry, decided to use that same
process to find their new bishop.
And it worked. One name was put forward as the person who should be the next bishop. A special convention was called and the Diocese concurred with the discernment committee’s decision.
But the rest of The Episcopal Church, a majority of whose dioceses have to consent to the election of every new bishop, immediately had fits. How, we asked Northern Michigan, can you have an election if there is but one name on the ballot?
Northern Michigan dared to do a new thing, to trust that the way the Spirit has been moving in their Diocese would effectively lead to the right person for the job of bishop. But the rest of us want to cast lots. We like the old ways and aren’t interested in learning new ones.
Sometimes, we have to change. Sometimes the old casting of lots needs to make way for the new discernment through the Spirit. This lesson, of course, doesn’t just apply to how we elect bishops and clergy. It isn’t even just about how we organize our churches.
Life is not meant to be static. I once knew someone who washed all her clothes with hot water because that is how the washer was set when it was installed. But sometimes you need cold or even warm water and most of us don’t use hot water much at all. Her argument was that it came that way and so that’s the way it would be used.
We don’t come with carefully defined never to be changed settings. If that were the case, we would all still be in diapers. The fact that we are supposed to change and grow and keep on learning is not a new idea for any of us. But the fact that the changes and the growth and the learning are guided by God through the work of the Spirit just might be.
Sure, we believe the Spirit guides us in spiritual decisions but we have carefully divided our lives into sections. There is the spiritual section in which God is present and active and there is the worldly or everyday section which I control myself, making decisions with the help sometimes of other people but this is not God’s area of expertise.
Well, that’s just not true! All of life is spiritual and God is in all of it. It goes back to the notion of abiding that we have heard in the gospel readings the last two weeks. In fact, that is what Jesus is still talking about in this week’s reading; he just uses different words.
We are God’s and so God abides in us. Therefore, it is right and good to make decisions and changes in conversation and partnership with God. And sometimes God helps us to realize that the old ways are just that – old. They were right for their time, served their purpose, but now we need to put them away and seek new ways to do what we are called to do.
Listening for God is one of the hardest things we are called to do. But it is also one of the most rewarding. Because God opens doors and windows we didn’t know were there. God takes us to surprising places along with people we never thought we would share the journey with.
What are the old ways that don’t work for us anymore? How might the Spirit be calling us? We will never know unless we decide to listen.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

liturgy and fiction

It seems to me that authors are skimping on their research these days. I remember when I worked at the State Library in Florida an author called to check train schedules from the early 20th century. I was impressed she was going to that much "trouble" since I was pretty sure most of the people who might remember when trains arrived and departed stations in Florida at that time would likely be dead. Still, she was doing her research.
In recent years, glaring errors in liturgy and clerical dress in fiction seem to jump out at me. Are there more of them or am I just more sensitive now that I am a priest? Rita Mae Brown had her Lutheran priest wearing a green surplice once. Green! And Laura Childs' most recent book has a funeral set at Grace in Charleston that would likely never happen in an Episcopal Church. The funeral director preceded the casket down the aisle, it was set crosswise at the steps to the chancel and the "minister" was wearing a black suit with a white notched collar!
So why can't authors research liturgy before writing about it? In traditions with a book of worship, it's easy to find out what the prayers would be and how the service would be conducted. As far as dress goes, most clergy would probably be happy to have someone ask them what they wear to do a funeral or a wedding or even Sunday services.
Okay, I'm climbing down from my soapbox now. Sometimes you just have to vent. :-)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Love one another

Once again this Sunday, the lessons are about love. Peter's declaration that "Truly God shows no partiality" seems to cry out for an institutional response. But I think my job this week is to tie together loving as God loves us to removing boundaries and barriers on a more personal level. I need to help my parishioners realize that the Holy Spirit is working in their lives to help tear down barriers that God did not build in the first place and how seeing each other through the love of God that we know in ourselves is the only way for that to happen short of an experience like Peter's. And I think it helps to know that Peter learned the lesson more than once as he backslid on occasion.
Loving as God loves us is, for most of us, a lifelong education. We might think we are doing really well but then we realize that there are still people we aren't loving so much as we are judging them. Where is the line between those two things?
My guess is that there is at least one person in each of our lives that we love deeply, maybe even unconditionally (or as close to that as we humans get), who has done unlovable things. How have we managed to keep the barriers from coming up? How has the love we feel mitigated the circumstances?
I don't know where these thoughts are leading yet. It's only Tuesday, after all, and the Holy Spirit has a few more days to work me into shape.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Vines, abiding and loving one another

Abide in me as I abide in you. We don’t talk about abiding much these days. It’s more than living, has a touch of remaining, and, when I looked it up on my computer thesaurus, it’s current use has to do with toleration. The thesaurus says it means to put up with, to stand or to stomach something.

Well, that’s a far cry from what Jesus had in mind. Abide in me as I abide in you is a direct translation of I am the vine and you are the branches. Jesus says that a branch that tries to abide without the vine will be fruitless, won’t be able to do its job and, in fact, will wither and die.
So abiding is a quality of relationship, the relationship that gives us life. Think of it as being in the same skin as Jesus, really being an extension of the Lord. Abiding is more than believing.
It is sharing Jesus’ DNA.

And abiding leads to fruitfulness, an “activity deeply rooted in the soil of God’s grace.” There was once a man who liked people but would rather spend time with his books. He and his wife were new to the town and the wife wanted to make friends with other couples their age. On paper, it sounded like a good plan but sometimes in the middle of a dinner party, the man would find himself drifting in the direction of his library.

Over time, though, he discovered he really liked their new friends and couldn’t imagine life without them. He realized that he was an extension of them. This group got together once a week and they prayed, ate, and played together. They also ministered to their neighborhood

And then, one day, they all decided to move into the city because they felt their gifts –
especially their model of Christian community – were needed there. They began sharing more than ever – cars, food basics and shelter when one apartment or another was being worked on. And good things happened in the city with the help of this community.

Think of them as a kind of family if you will. Or think of them as branches on the same vine,
there to help each other be fruitful.

The hard part about being a branch on Jesus the vine is that it calls for community over individuality. It requires us to understand that abiding in Jesus is not limited to the two of us.
It is not a case of me and my Jesus over here and you and your Jesus over there and we are all doing our own thing. We don't even get to have starring roles and it is not a one person play.
No, the vine is our source of life and the branches are – all together – the rest of the plant. No branch gets to stand out. No branch is immune from pruning done to help us become a better branch. And the pruning is for the whole plant even if it happens only to a single branch.

We have a hard time with that concept. Our culture has hammered into us the importance
of being me or you so much that we have lost sight of the fact that not being us makes both me and you poorer, can cause us to wither and die.

There is a small town in Mexico. It is at the base of the mountains and also on a main railroad route. Every day, trains go by the town loaded with agricultural produce, some manufactured goods and people hanging on however they can. These people come from areas of Central America that are so poverty stricken that they are willing to risk everything to make the treacherous and illegal journey into the United States.

When the trains get to this town, they often slow down, I guess because they are beginning the climb into the mountains. And the people of this town take advantage of that slowing down to run out to the train and pass up food and sometimes clothing to those clinging to the train.
The town is not a poor one except perhaps by our standards. The people are happy to share
whatever food they have with these people who, for lack of food, have been driven from their homes. A reporter asked the townspeople how they could be so generous when they might find themselves also without food.

“Whatever we give, God multiplies,” said one woman. “We help because they are suffering more than we are.”

There are some in the town who do not approve but most everyone is united in doing what they can to help.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. Those who abide in love abide in God. Abiding in God requires loving one another even to the point of putting the needs of others
on a par, if not above, our own. We cannot be fruitful just for ourselves. We must be fruitful for God, wherever and however God calls us to do that.

When Philip ran out to join the Ethiopian, he did not go alone. He knew that he was part of a community, that he abided in God. And so it was easy for him to invite the Ethiopian to abide in God, too. And it was that same community, confident in the love of the Lord, that the Ethiopian instinctively knew was what he had been waiting for all of his life.

Abiding is serious business. It can’t be done in a few hours a week and it can’t be about just me and my Jesus. May this bundle of branches come to abide in the vine as we work together to be fruitful for God.

[Many thanks to Meg from RevGalBlogPals and Christian Century for the inspiration.]

Friday, May 1, 2009


Lee and I asked Sarah, one of our hosts, where we should go on our last day. She said we definitely needed to go to Spello and so off we went. It is not that far away from Trevi and it was nice to have a short drive rather than a relatively long one. We walked up into town and found a wonderful church, Church of Saint Mary Major – not sure what that means but this is definitely a church dedicated to Mary the mother of Jesus. I did find a statue of St. Christopher and took a few pictures without flash. Then I bought a book and some postcards about the rest of the place. There are some famous frescoes and I am currently too dumb to remember who painted them.
Lee decided that, while we had bought wine and we had eaten some fine meals, we had never done a wine tasting. So we wandered into an enoteca – fancy name for place that sells wine but also has great food – and asked if they could do a tasting for us along with lunch. Sure! We sat down at noon and got up at 4:00. In between, we tasted five really good wines and had bruschetta, antipasto tipici (five different kinds of area meats including prosciutto, bacon, salami, and two we don’t know the names of but one was the best “pastrami” I’ve ever eaten), a plate of four different ages of pecorino cheese with pumpkin marmalade, and finally two kinds of lasagna. One was pesto and pine nuts and the other was traditional but nothing like I make or anyone else in the States. And, as you might have guessed would happen, we decided we needed to take some of the wines home. But, alas, we cannot find a box to carry them in safely as luggage so we have them tucked into our suitcases.
And so we have now made our way back to the States. All the wine arrived safely as did the honey, olive oil, spelt and art work. I did manage to get toothpaste on my pashmina but it has washed out nicely, too.

Montalcino, Sant' Antimo and I Poggioli

We had a wonderful day, one with no rain at all and lots of sun. We arrived in Montalcino shortly after one. April 25th is a national holiday so there were lots of people in town for festivities we managed to miss most of. As is also the case here in Trevi, holiday activities take place until about noon and start up again late in the afternoon, going until around nine or ten at night. Our favorite wine store and the internet point are both gone but, otherwise, Montalcino hasn’t changed a bit. Claire and Lee took pictures in town and down into the valleys around as well. We had a good lunch at Il Grifo, found the store that one of our favorite wineries has opened up and did some tasting. The woman running the store was from Denmark and spent an exchange year in Columbus, Ohio. So we had a good time talking with her and then bought some Brunello di Montalcino to bring home. She also told us that we could buy a box for shipping our wine nearby. It is just like the one we brought home from California last year and we will check it as luggage since we are each allowed two bags and no one has more than one.
We headed down to Sant’ Antimo and had an enjoyable hour there. I asked the caretaker if they had a picture of the St. Christopher fresco but he said no. I thought I told him that my church is St. Christopher’s but he looked at me strangely and told me no, this is Sant’ Antimo. Yes, I agreed, it is but *my* church is St. Christopher’s. Since he got it the second time, I don’t think my pigeon Italian was to blame. ;-) And by the time we began the journey home, we found ourselves outside Buonconvento at 7:00 so we stopped at I Poggioli for dinner. Maria Angela greeted us at the door as usual and we told her when we had been there last (this was my Italian lesson for yesterday: two years ago = due anni fa).
There are some incredibly old olive trees at Sant' Antimo. I've been trying to get the "perfect" picture of one that I can enlarge and have framed for five years. This may be the one!


It was the best of days, it was the worst of days. We arrived in Florence by car. Mostly it was a good drive except for the roads around Perugia which slow down to a dead stop for several kilometers. But Lee told me when we got to Florence that he had managed at one point to drive 100 mph (*not* kilometers!) so he had enjoyed the drive! The sun was out in force in Florence, something we have had too little of, so we began by sitting at a café above the city having a cappuccino before setting off down the hill. It took two panoramic pictures to get from one side of the city to the other.

We crossed the river just below the falls – a five foot drop but still falls, I guess – and headed toward the Uffizi to find a restaurant Bev and Lee have been to before. Lunch was quite good and relatively light. Our waiter was a very nice, chatty man who quickly picked up our names and joked with Lee about traveling with three women. Bev told him that she and Lee were married and I said I was Bev’s sister but I got the word wrong, using the word sister like a nun so she corrected me. He asked if I was actually a nun and I said no, I am a priest and so is Claire (who was off finding the WC). Well, that set him back but he gradually figured out it was okay and we were from the same church as St. James in Florence where he is going the end of May for the wedding of friends. A “real” priest walked by and Giuseppe tried to get him to meet us to no avail – and no surprise, either. ;-)
When he left to get our drinks, Lee said he thought he wasn’t from Italy. Bev, Claire and I assured him he was dead wrong; however, we had to eat our certainty when Giuseppe told us he is from near Bethlehem. He still has brothers there.
We were slow to get up from lunch as it was so nice to sit outside and be warm and dry. When we did, we wandered down to San Lorenzo and the market where the porcolino statue is found. Yes, Claire and I succumbed to a little bit of shopping and then we all rubbed the boar’s nose, dropping coins out of his mouth into the grate below assuring our return to the city. Then we had to rush to find the Academia since our tickets were for 2:00. We got lost but found it just in time. The Michelangelo statues are as powerful as ever. I heard an American tourist wondering what that was David had on his shoulder. He thought it might be a snake so I told him it was the slingshot and pointed out the stone in his other hand. There was also an exhibit of some archduke’s musical instrument collection that included an Amati violin.
When we walked the two blocks to San Marco, the real reason for our trip to Florence, we discovered it had closed at 1:50. So Claire didn’t get to see the Fra Angelico’s but she did find a book. We stopped for gelato before going into the Museo dell Opera dell Duomo and the skies were beginning to get dark with clouds.
The museum was wonderful. I don’t think I had seen the panels from Ghiberti’s bronze doors before. Everything in this museum is original works from the Duomo that have been moved to preserve them much as the Academia has the David which used to be in a piazza in the city. By the time we finished at the museum, it was 4:00 and raining. We tried to see the Duomo but it was now closed. We had left umbrellas and raincoats – except for Claire who needed the pockets of hers to carry cameras – in the car so we broke down and bought two umbrellas from a street vendor. And that was when the day went south. We finally hailed a cab to take us back to the parking lot. When we got out of the cab, Bev told us that her wallet was no longer in her purse. So Lee and Bev spent about an hour canceling a credit card and her debit card. The rain was the worst we had had as we drove home and none of us envied Lee having to drive in it. But the sun was still shining somewhere behind us and we saw about six different rainbows! The last was in a sky so dark you wouldn’t expect to see one at all but there it was. Not really much comfort and yet they were some comfort. Kind of an "all will be well."

Montefalco, Bevagna and Bettona

We decided, starting rather late in the morning, that we would go back to Montefalco and see the rest of the town, then head for Bevagna and end up with Jo-Ann. So off we went with Beverly driving this time.
We entered Montefalco from the opposite side of town than the last time and took several pictures but, before we knew it, we were right back in the middle at the piazza and pretty much everything was closed up even though it was lunch time. We did find an internet café, though, and we checked our emails. Lee knew he would have some business that needed seeing to. It was a good place to people watch.

Bevagna started out being just about as interesting as Montefalco but without a good restaurant. As we walked from gate to gate not finding the Roman Theater – well we found it but the entrance was under construction so we couldn’t get in – we began to understand why Umbria is called the “undiscovered Tuscany.” But Lee pulled out a map of Bevagna and said we had missed the piazza where the two churches were together so we set off to find it/them. Thanks to the help of a nice man who knows the sign of people staring at a map and then all around them, we did indeed get to our goal. Alas, we didn’t have time to look into both churches – I’m not really sure we knew the second one was there even! – so we settled for the one. It really was a lovely little church, completely renovated in the last twenty years. The building was 13th century, I think, but the frescoes were much newer than that, maybe 18th.

After a few wrong turns – fortunately there were two ways into the parking lot so we made a few circles – we got on our way to Bettona, a tiny town of about 350 people that was begun by the Etruscans, razed and rebuilt by the Romans, razed and rebuilt by Napoleon and somehow not destroyed by WWII. The view is incredible! On one side of town you can see from Perugia to Assisi and beyond. We had a nice glass of local red wine before setting off on a tour of the town. One of the chapels was open enough for us to see their costumes and statues from the Good Friday parade – called something like the parade of the dead. Jesus was in a large wheelbarrow kind of cart and Mary was dressed in the most awful black garments lavishly trimmed in silver and gold. The chapel was pretty, though. ;-)
We trotted off home, again stopping at the grocery store. Bev and I baked the leftover pasta from our second night, adding ricotta, zucchini and a jar of sauce with basil in it. It was quite good and plenty for everyone. We tried a cheap bottle of Montefalco Rosso and it lived up to its price. I’m beginning to think that the wine is what is keeping us awake at night.


Despite the dark and threatening skies this morning, we headed for Assisi. And we did actually see some sun but not much. We wended our way into town by a new route that sometimes went completely the opposite direction to where we wanted to go but it all worked out, putting us out at the intersection that led to our usual parking lot. We discovered that there is a tunnel into the old part of town from that lot so we took it and it ended up just about where we were hoping to go first, the Church of St. Claire. This is a lovely 13th century church built out of white and rose stone. There was a very large piece of art in the piazza in front of the church that depicts immigrants coming to Italy. It is made out of wood from rundown houses and barns that would otherwise be thrown away.
After seeing inside the church – no pictures allowed – we wandered down the street. When I say down the street in Italy, it means truly down. Likewise, up ascends, sometimes very steeply with steps to assist. We did far more shopping that we needed to but it was lots of fun. Assisi is known for lace and, of course, there are always ceramics. Claire and I looked at some stoles and chasubles but weren’t wowed by any of them. Too Roman, I guess.

We stopped for lunch at the Buca di San Francesco, sampling the white wine from the Assisi region and very good food, even dessert. I think everyone in the restaurant were Americans. The people at the table behind us were from Columbia, SC and Cleveland, Ohio so we swapped “we’ve been there”s. We had fun trying to get the water in the bathrooms to run for more than a very few seconds. Bev expected her hands to foam if it started raining again – they did not.

Of course, our next stop was the Basilica. They are very strict about pictures but that didn’t stop many people from trying to take them anyway. It was hard to get a feel for the place this year as there were more tour groups than ever. This must be a school holiday week. We have had school groups everywhere we have gone but Assisi was swarming with them. The frescoes, though, never disappoint and there is an altar area where they are restoring the frescoes so we spent time watching that. Today, I was particularly aware of the fresh flowers on all the altars since so many of them were lilies. But the altar where we sat watching the restoration work was decorated with several kinds of flowers, one of which looked like rhododendron bushes – they were potted.
So we wandered up this time, heading for San Ruffino which is the Duomo where Francis, Claire and Frederick Barbarosa were all baptized. It’s 11th century, I believe. Most of the outside stone decorations are very worn, to the point it is sometimes hard to figure out what they are. We like the crucifix in this church. Jesus looks like he just breathed his last and is at peace. I think he looks a little sad still. Naturally, there are no pictures to be taken here, either, although I think we did the last time we came.
And so home again, stopping at the grocery store for a few necessities. Bev and I have done some laundry and it is drying by the fireplace. It’s given new meaning to the term hot pants. We have had wine, cheese, salami and crackers for dinner, downloaded two of three cameras and shared some good conversation and laughter. Soon we will head for bed, perchance to sleep.