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.


We had a wonderful day in Spoleto! It didn’t rain all that much even though it waited until we were walking out of the parking garage to start. We have checked the weather channel and now don’t expect to see much sun on this trip at all. Spoleto’s history includes both Umbran and Etruscan roots prior to the Roman occupation. We started at the Teatro Romano – those Romans surely did love their theater! – and then began walking up into the town. We did some window shopping along the way and arrived at the Duomo only to find it closed until 3:00. So we began the real climb to the Rocca, a walled town at the top of the hill. But we found a simply wonderful store just up the hill from the Duomo so we had a shopping break before continuing the climb.
Needless to say, the views from the top were quite spectacular and the rain stopped for most of the rest of the day. We found a gelatteria and had our second helping for this trip – I had pistachio and stracciatella – and then set off to see the aqueduct that spans the gorge, 278 ft. high – or down - from where we were. It is an incredible structure and I managed to get right up to the railings on the path to take pictures (I don’t like heights). Then, wonder of wonders, we discovered that you can walk across to the other side of the gorge on the aqueduct! Taking our phobia in hand, we all walked across. Fortunately, the path is about four feet wide so I could stay close to the wall. It really was a spectacular view from the middle. Lee stayed on the “left bank” quite awhile, walking all of the trails and getting higher and higher. We ladies opted to go back across and walk the rest of the way around the Rocca, taking pictures of flowers and trees along the way. When we got around to the Duomo side, we discovered the path blocked by construction so we retraced our steps, located Lee, still on the other side, by his whistling and then headed back to the Duomo.

It really is a beautiful church. A school group came in about the same time we did. They were pretty quiet and respectful. Most of them dipped their fingers in the holy water, looked at the high altar and crossed themselves, then kissed their hand. I hadn’t seen that last part before. No one at St. Christopher’s does it that way. ;-)

After taking all the pictures we wanted, we walked up the steps again so we could walk back down by a different street. This led to a piazza where we sat down to rest and have a glass of wine. As we sat, we talked about maybe finding an internet café. Lee looked up and found it right across the street! So he finished his wine and went over to check it out. Since he didn’t come back, we paid our bill and followed him over. Well, the internet was free to patrons so Lee had gotten another glass of wine. Bev and I followed suit while Claire switched to cappuccino. We checked emails, weather and found a brochure listing housing for sale in Spoleto. The latter gave us a chance to expand our Italian and also listed a perfect apartment that Bev wants to buy. We put the brochure back in order to avoid temptation.
We figured we ought to think about dinner since it was 7:00 so we asked the bar owner if he had a recommendation for us. And he did, calling to make us a reservation even! So we walked down the street, right past the restaurant, down a few more streets and then asked for directions. She pointed us back the way we had come and we found the back door but it wasn’t marked so we kept looking. Lee went down the opposite way and I headed back the way we had originally come. Sure enough, twenty feet from the street corner, there was Tempio del Gusto. We went in, told them Mauro had sent us and were treated to a wonderful dinner. They always begin with “amuse bouche” – three little hors d’ouvres, one we can’t remember except for its taste (good!), one beef with truffle sauce, one ham trout which was pickled trout, we think. Lee had ordered a primi piatti so they brought complementary primi to us ladies, a wonderful combination of cheese and puff pastry topped with truffle sauce. And *then* we had our dinners and, of course, dessert. We left there quite happy and more than a little full only to discover that the walkway to the parking garage was closed! No one panicked except yours truly. Lee finally found an elevator that took us right to the car and off we came home.

Sunday in Orvieto

Sunday morning, we came as close to hurrying as we have managed on this trip. I got into and out of the shower, dressed and came back into the living room only to discover Claire lighting clown candles on a cruciform cake! I had completely forgotten it was my birthday but they hadn’t.
We took an overland route to get to Orvieto. At one point, we followed the Tiber River for quite a ways and ended up in the middle of a bicycle race. Cars parked on the side of the road – more like in the road – and police watching to make sure no one hit anything. This road reminded Bev of the Blue Ridge Parkway without the curbs and I have to say I was very glad to be in the front seat!
Once in Orvieto, we had just enough time to find the Church of the Resurrection, the Episcopal mission there. Finding it was purely serendipitous. We were on the right street and I had found the Tabacci shop and wine bar that were supposed to be opposite the church. But the church refused to reveal itself. Finally, a young lady in a dress walked into this little alcove/courtyard and I said she looked like she was going to church. So we followed her and, sure enough, that’s exactly where she was going! Russ, the new vicar, greeted us as we came in as did Kay who I remember from our last visit. After the service, one of the others I remember (Rod) walked up and said “Father Kempton! That’s what our connection is!” He and his wife live in Belgium half of the year and go to Kempton’s church there. I hadn’t remembered that connection so we chatted about both the church in Orvieto and the one in Waterloo for some time. This is a great congregation.
We had lunch in the restaurant where we ate two years ago and it was very good. We drank white wine since that is what Orvieto is known for and the waiter brought us complementary Asti after the meal because it was my birthday. This was a “sec” Asti, much better than the sweet stuff we get in the States.
And after lunch, it began to pour. No gentle rain this. It came straight down all afternoon. That didn’t stop us from seeing the Duomo, my favorite church in all of Italy, and doing some shopping. Bev happened onto a sweater store and bought three! Claire and I kept ourselves to shopping for family and friends. We also found probably the priciest internet café ever and checked emails for the first time. They had good tea, though, and it was warm and dry. We took the major road route home even though it was supposed to be longer. Timewise, it was a lot shorter and all of us arrived home without feeling queasy. :-)

Trevi, Montefalco and Deruta

On Saturday, we set out to see Trevi. It is a lovely little town with a new piazza and an old one. We waited in the new piazza for Lee to park the car and enjoyed basking in the sun. Then we set off up the hill, ostensibly to look for an internet café, and stumbled into San Francesco. They were setting up for a concert that evening. We think this church has been deconsecrated. In any case, we looked around for a few minutes and then they kicked us out. So we kept walking up and found the Church of Saint Emiliano. I’m going to guess this is a Romanesque-era church given the style of walls and the statue of the saint on the outside wall. Inside is very bright, thanks to clear clerestory windows. We took lots of pictures as you can imagine.
When we wandered back down to the old piazza, there was the internet café but it was lunchtime so it was closed. We decided to take ourselves to Montefalco, a town not too far away but not all that easy to get to. Sometimes the road signs in Italy aren’t too clear. We found the car park and climbed up to the town gate. Once inside, we realized it really was lunch time and we were hungry. So we took ourselves to the piazza and had a very nice lunch outside the Hotel Federico II. We did a lot of people watching while we were there. I hate to say it but we picked out the British tourists by their teeth. A school group wandered past us once or twice and some families looking like they were on vacation, too. Must be an Easter holiday?
Montefalco is known for its red wine. As with Brunello in Montalcino, there’s the official Sagrantino di Montefalco and then there’s Rosso di Montefalco. The rosso is excellent. We had the same brand at lunch that we had had the day before in Gubbio. Still good. Since there was also an enoteca at the hotel, we bought some Montefalco wines to bring back with us. We opened a sagrantino yesterday and it, too, is excellent, drier than the rosso - actually, I decided it was too dry for my taste but I was in the minority. Then there is the sagrantino di passito which is a very nice dessert wine, good with cantucci (sort of small biscotti with almonds). And yes, we bought some of that too!
After lunch, we decided to head for Deruta and get the pottery cravings out of the way. We wandered up hill and down dale, over where rivers ought to be but not through the woods and finally found it (actually, it was right where the map said it would be but getting from one road to another was exciting as they didn’t always seem to be where they belonged). The road was lined with ceramic stores so we just picked one, went it and bought all the pieces we had planned to buy. They are being shipped even as I type and will arrive at my house before we do.
And then we decided we had had enough wandering around for one day so we found the SS3, our main highway to everywhere, and headed for home. We had a lazy evening and set an alarm so we could get up early enough to make church in Orvieto Sunday morning. Naturally then, Claire and I didn’t go to sleep until after 2:00.


We had a leisurely morning before heading north to Gubbio. We parked near the Roman Theater. The day was mostly overcast so who knows whether Bev can Photoshop enough sunshine into those pictures to make them worthwhile. The town is lovely and old. We found a good hotel restaurant for lunch. Claire and Bev had risotto with zucchini. Bev had some kind of wonderful artichoke tart with a magnificent sauce on it. We all sampled it. I had a pasta made from bread crumbs and parmesan cheese combined with vegetables and Lee had a scrambled eggs and black truffles dish that was served, as were all the others except for the artichoke tart, in an odd sort of parmesan basket. I have no idea how they made those! We wandered from the the Piazza dei Console down to the church of San Francesco, stopping in the church of San Giovani along the way. Both of the churches “felt” like churches rather than museums as so many churches do in big cities in Europe. Then we had the first gelato of the trip before heading for the car.

One doesn't really expect to look up and see a dog in the window! But this little fellow was watching everyone go by from his perch about ten feet above the street. Given that there are no front yards in Gubbio, I suppose this is as good as it gets.
This splendid statue of St. Francis and the wolf was, naturally, outside the church of St. Francis! The light wasn't poor so I couldn't get a really good shot. This wolf is smiling.

Arriving in Bovara and lunching with Ettore

Our agriturismo is in Bovara – bigger than Bald Creek but only just. It is called I Mandorli and our apartment is downhill. There’s a set of twenty steps and then six or seven more down before the four up to the apartment door. We have a lovely view of the grounds out our windows. We can hear the church nearby ring the hour, quarter hour and sometimes three quarter hour. Oddly, we seem to miss the half hour! Last night, it rang continuously for a few minutes but we didn’t bother to see if there was an emergency as we were feeling very lazy.

After we arrived and unpacked, we opened a bottle of wine, pulled out the cheese and salami and bread that our hosts had left us and feasted in the backyard. By the time we had polished off all the food and two bottles of wine, we simply went to bed. Lee is still working through his cold so he was first in but the rest of us followed not too far behind him.

Thursday morning, we lazed around the apartment until it was time to meet Jo-Ann a little ways down the road at Ettore’s farm – that’s Eh’ tore ay. We are the only Untourists in Umbria this two weeks so we had a mini-orientation as we already know about road signs, parking lots and using the right kind of fuel in the car. After Jo-Ann talked, Ettore showed us around the farm. It has been in his family for four generations, having started life as a convent. He grows spelt, olives, organic fruits and vegetables and tobacco – yes, we had a hard time believing that last one and were too polite to stop his lecture by telling him we already knew about curing tobacco. He also keeps chickens, sheep and four cows. Three of the cows are Chianina beef and one is a milk cow. He grows enough grapes to make wine for his family and his brother’s – both families live on the farm. His wife, Lorella, made us a wild asparagus omelet for part of our lunch. Ettore made bruschetta over the fireplace coals and used his own olive oil on it along with salt. That’s all real bruschetta is supposed to be. More than that is crostini. We finished the meal with a wonderful blackberry tart, all home grown right down to the flour and lemon.

Our trip to Italy

Greetings! We have been to Italy, Umbria mostly with a few spots in Tuscany as well, and have returned home to warm Spring weather and a swine flu outbreak. Well, no swine flu here yet but it certainly is the hot topic - the only good news being that the Church is recommending hugs instead of handshakes at the passing of the peace.

I kept a travel journal on the trip but it is too lengthy to post all at once (12 pages!). So here's a summary and then I'll post pieces with pictures which will, in fine computer style, be posted ahead of this post. The last shall be first....

Overall, we had a wonderful time in Umbria. Our agriturismo - the best way to see Italy is to stay at one of these and do day trips, I am convinced - was in Bovara at the foot of the town of Trevi. The weather was cool and more often than not also rainy. That only stopped prolific picture taking but not our travels. We went to Gubbio, Trevi, Montefalco, Orvieto, Spoleto, Bevagna, Bettona, Spello, Deruta, Assisi, Florence, Montalcino, Buonconvento and Sant' Antimo. We also spent a fair amount of time just resting in our apartment with a lovely fire in the corner fireplace, a bottle or two of wine and local cheeses and meats. We found some really wonderful little restaurants - the one in Trevi was so good, we ate there twice in one day and came back two days later - lots of goodies we simply had to buy, and fell in love with some of the local wines, most notably the whites which none of us usually drink at home. The day of the worst rain, we saw a double rainbow and then had about a half dozen more rainbow sightings even as the sky grew darker and darker.

The people of Italy continue to charm us and my Pimsleur Italian really did come in handy more than once. Sitting in the airport Wednesday morning waiting for our flight, I eavesdropped on a conversation behind me and discovered that I could understand some of what they were saying. This doesn't mean, of course, that anyone there would have understood me!

One of the renewed insights, though, is the marked difference between a church that is active and one that is merely a museum. There is such a different feel and smell to those places where people still gather for worship. It affects the whole space, even the art on the walls and the statues in their niches, bringing life to what would otherwise be rather dead. The loveliest painting in a museum cannot hold a candle to a fading fresco in a church where candles are lit in prayer, music is sung and liturgies are offered. None of that will likely come through in the pictures we took but it is a sense that we will always remember when we look at them again.