The Rector's Blog
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August 23, 2018, 12:23 PM

GENERAL CONVENTION @ HOME


At General Convention in July, the Episcopal Church was invited to focus on three areas of ministry and mission:  Evangelism, Racial Reconciliation, and Stewardship of Creation.  I am trying to figure out how we might sharpen our focus here at Christ Church – and I would like to invite you to weigh in with your ideas and questions! 

On the question of Evangelism, there are two events occurring this fall and winter in our Diocese:  First, in Columbus on September 22, an introductory workshop called “Evangelism with Integrity,” that talks about what works and what helps; and second, in Indianapolis in January, a three-day Forma Conference on evangelism and liturgy. Forma describes itself as a “network for formation” (Christian education and discipleship).  There will be several moderated discussions and workshops on offer.  (If at least 3 people go, there is a price break!)  See as well, the presentations on Evangelism taped at General Convention.

On Racial Reconciliation, the goal is to “create a ‘network of healers, justice makers, and reconcilers’ who would benefit from the pool of knowledge and shared experiences of one another and those who work in this area of ministry.  See the presentation on Racial Reconciliation.  We’ll be following up on this subject in Jefferson County as a number of area groups and organizations are moving from a responsive to a proactive approach, taking the initiative away from the Klan and other hate groups, and working to create, brand, and publicize our conviction that there is no place here for hate, that we are an inclusive community, and that all are welcome.  Having a continuous,  in-depth conversation about racial divisions, healing, and reconciliation will make our community a stronger, more diverse, and friendlier place.

Finally, Stewardship of Creation has become incredibly topical as headlines on an almost-daily basis call our attention to issues of climate change,
pollution, “eco-justice,” and the importance of clean air, water, and land. 
See the presentation on creation care.

We’ll start our exploration of the stewardship of creation with a liturgical focus on Sundays from September 1 – October 4.  While we will continue to use the Revised Common Lectionary, you will notice that our hymns and prayers (and my sermons) will speak of the place creation holds in our theology and faith. 

I’m considering offering a couple classes, perhaps on the theology of creation and/or on the ins and outs, or at least the basics of climate change science.  We might gather on Sundays between the services to hold those discussions.  I’m still working on the PLAN, but will let you know (and as noted above, if you have ideas or questions, by all means pass them along!) when I have something to offer.

Here are a few basic ideas to bear in mind
Creation is Good.  Creation speaks of its Creator.  Creation praises the Creator.  Creation is designed for our good.  Humankind struggles with the concept of “dominion.”

We will be using a new mass setting, called the “Red Lake Mass,” by Monte Mason, with music adapted from Frances Densmore’s “Chippewa Music.”  Densmore was an ethnologist who spent considerable time in Minnesota, at Leech Lake, White Earth, and Red Lake in 191-13.  She recorded quite a bit of the music (on wax cylinders!) of the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) people, and from different tribes all across the country. 

You may not be aware that the Leech Lake band is now fighting the installation of an oil pipeline through their reservation’s native rice-growing lands.   What goes around…

I hope you will be able to come and learn together as we worship together the Creator of all good things, the one who binds us in love to all Creation and all people.

Blessings to all!                            Evelyn+




August 9, 2018, 9:22 AM

Transfiguration


Transfiguration

"In those moments when God’s glory shines in the face of another, we see them as they truly are and always have been, with unveiled faces, the beloved of God being changed from one degree of glory to another. And the same is true for us. For the transfiguration is not an idea. It is not a story. It is not a fable. It is a lived reality."

~ Br. James Koester, Society of Saint John the Evangelist

At a recent workshop on trauma and resilience, we were invited to sit down with someone we did not know, and spend just two minutes looking them in the eye.  It was an interesting two minutes – minutes of embarrassment for some, giggles for others, and a spark of delight for still others.  I remembered Jesus told the disciples that whatever they did for the “least of these” they did for him, so I went into the exercise looking for the presence of the sacred, and I don’t know if I found it or not, but as we proceeded from one exercise to another, I found a person with whom I could share some of my own deepest fears and hopes, a person who would listen and not judge, and I did my best to respond in kind. 

Now, of course, this workshop was intended for people in the helping professions, primarily mental health workers, but still.  It does raise the question, the opportunity, even the hope, of finding such people all around us.  When the focus is not on me but on you, then openness is not just risky, but necessary and liberating.

Would that we could experience such moments with all those with whom we come in contact.  One on one, human being to human being, open heart to open heart. 

I am of the opinion that the only way we can re-create a health-giving society is through relationship.  We know that God has risked all to be in relationship with us; we know that our lives are frequently transformed through relationships with others – if we are fortunate – for the better.  We know the power of friendship when things are hard; we know the joy of friendship when we are celebrating; we are who we are as much if not more because of our relationships to God and other people than how we perceive ourselves internally.  Social groups define themselves not just by who they are, but by who they are not … on and on we can see these truths.

Jesus invites us to be in relationship with God; and then to share the gifts that God gives us in our relationships with others.  Don’t hold on to your love, share it.  Don’t hold on to your talents, share them. Don’t hold on to your treasures, share them.

It’s risky, loving people.  We know that.  We might be hurt, injured, even killed, just because we choose trust instead of distrust.

And I don’t think God means for us to forget who we are, as beloved of God, in any of that.  If you’re in a violent relationship, do all you can to get out.  If you’re the target of racial hatred or other forms of bullying and bigotry, protect yourself.  Seek help.  Not everyone is called to enter places of danger; some are called to help others get out.  And still others are called to help heal the wounds that we bear from trauma.

Not everyone whose eyes you meet will be able to meet yours in the same way.  Some are too afraid, too wounded, too angry, too lost, too confused, too conflicted, to be vulnerable in turn.  Pray for them.  Weep for them.  Remember they are God’s children, too. 

Blessings to all!                            Evelyn+




July 26, 2018, 8:57 AM

General Convention


As you know, I spent almost two weeks in Austin Texas (city motto: “Keep Austin Weird”) at General Convention.  Although I went as the “first clergy alternate,” there were several times when I was asked to sub for one of the other clergy deputies, which meant sitting in the House of Deputies and occasionally voting for or against a proposed action.  Being an alternate, though, meant I was not assigned to any committees, so I was able to “float” and sit in on committee hearings, occasionally offer my views on an issue, and to generally keep tabs on overall developments. 

The big issues, the ones that caught media attention and much commentary on Facebook, were Prayer Book Revision and Marriage Liturgies.  (More on these below.)  We also welcomed the Episcopal Church of Cuba back after 52 years of separation; Cuban Christians were highly restricted under Fidel Castro and maintaining their ties to TEC would have been dangerous for them.   

There were five “movements” that shaped events:  Bishops United Against Gun Violence offered prayers every morning to bring attention to those killed for various reasons – on average, 96 U.S. residents every day die as a result.  On Sunday, July 8, a special prayer service was held, featuring family members of a student killed at Majorie Stone Douglas High School.

The Presiding Bishop asked Convention to consider action in three topic areas: Evangelism, Anti-Racism and Racial Reconciliation and Healing, and Stewardship of Creation.  Special presentations were made in Joint Sessions (that is, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies together), and follow-on conversations were offered for those interested to learn of resources available and share ideas.  See the presentations: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/teconversations

The fifth “movement,” part of TEC’s response to asylum cases, included was a prayer service near a migrant women’s detention center in Taylor TX, about 45 miles away.  Here, women who were separated from their children at the border were being housed pending deportation or asylum hearings.  Roughly 1,000 of us attended a prayer service across the field from the center, and about 300 also walked around to the front of the building to pray and sing and wave through the windows.  We received word the next day that the women saw us and heard us, and thanked us for being there, reminding them that they are neither alone nor forgotten. 

I realize that the subject has fallen out of the headlines, but so far, of the over 2500 families eligible to be reunited, less than 900 families have been reunited, and the pain continues.  Estimates are that something like 463 people have been deported without their children, sometimes at their own request in the belief that their children stand a better chance at life by remaining in the U.S. than returning to their countries of origin – but of course, all may still be subject to deportation proceedings. 

OK, back to The Top Two:  First: Prayer Book Revision.  There was a big push to enter into a wholesale look at the current 1979 Prayer Book with an eye to updating the language we use to speak of God and of humankind, and to create new or additional liturgies for situations not included in the ’79 Book or the Book of Occasional Services, and so on.  There was also a lot of push-back. 

In the end, the House of Bishops proposed to “memorialize” the ’79 Book, and to issue trial use updates to Eucharistic Prayers A, B, and D, as well as encourage dioceses to work internally and in cooperation with others to assess how people worship and what our practical experience would suggest.  This means that our current Book continues as the authorized guide to worship, but allows for new liturgies to be tested.  One example of a change to updated (expansive) language would be in the Sursum Corda, where the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and the people would respond, “It is right to give our thanks and praise” – instead of give him (I know some of us already do that…)

Second and finally, Marriage Liturgies:  There are some interesting developments.  There are eight dioceses within the U.S. whose bishops have banned all their churches and clergy from performing any liturgical rites of marriage or blessing for same-sex couples.  A resolution was passed, over their objections, that makes it clear that parish clergy are authorized to conduct (or not conduct) any sacramental rites (including marriage and blessing services) as in their judgment seems suitable, and if the bishop disagrees, now the bishop must find another bishop to assist as needed – including in cases where a person desiring to marry has been previously divorced.  (This has always been the rule in case of marriages involving divorced person(s); but in the case of same-sex couples with a dissenting bishop, the review is now to be conducted by a bishop from outside the diocese.) 

Placing the option in the hands of the priest and not the bishop represents an unprecedented step and potential precedent that those bishops see as devaluing their  role as “shepherds of the flock.”  

Even more interestingly, the Convention approved Resolution B012 “Marriage Rites for the Whole Church,” which authorized two versions of a text for Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, one of which closely tracks the language in the existing BCP Marriage Rite, with some adjustments to recognize that the couple being married may be of the same sex; as well as rites to bless a civil marriage.  This is a pretty big step, and responds to the desire of many couples to have their marriage ceremony reflect the traditional form in the Book of Common Prayer.  These rites become available for use on and after the First Sunday of Advent. 

Technically, these are “trial use” liturgies, to be used until such time as a wholesale revision of the Prayer Book is completed; that’s a step up from “authorized” and a clear indication that this is the direction in which the church is moving.

In addition to these changes, a third resolution set up a task force to consist of up to 14 people, half of whom hold that marriage is “a covenant between and man and awoman,” and half that marriage is “a covenant between two people.”  This proposal is designed to provide a space for those with opposing views to be heard, and for a deeper theological conversation to take place.  Whether minds will be changed is, of course, unknown, but the first stage in any difficult conversation is to listen and be heard; so as a former diplomat, I have to say this is promising.  It is way better than yelling.

I know that’s a lot of information to take in; if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me!

In the meantime, I would just say it was an interesting two weeks; I’m really glad I was able to go; and I’m really glad to be home again! 

Oh and by the way; this is my wrap-up, but if you’d like to hear Bp Jennifer’s, you can find it at https://indydio.org/bishop-jennifers-general-convention-wrap-up/

Blessings to all!                            Evelyn+

 




June 28, 2018, 10:36 AM

Spiritual Practice


This issue of the Epistle covers three weeks, as I will be away to attend General Convention until July 15.  That week, Karen Ricketts will be on vacation, plus we will have our annual Ulster Choral Evensong, so life is likely to be a bit chaotic when I get back.  Maybe chaos is good, yes?

So, what shall we talk about this week?

I’ve been poking around in a book on spiritual practice (Strength for the Journey, by Reneé Miller).  In the introductory section she writes about what spirituality is and is not.  So, she says, spirituality is not practice; that is, it is not what we do (although we may do any number of practices such as prayer or meditation, worship or study, ministry or movement).  She also says spirituality should not be confused with the fruits, such as peace, and inner calmness, an alertness, or a sense of connection with the universe.

Funny, I thought that was what spirituality is!

No, she says, spirituality is about relationship.   The practices and the fruits are the method and the byproduct, but the core of spirituality is to be in relationship with God.

If we look at the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), we will see Jesus telling the disciples, “Come, follow me.  Come and see.”  Miller says, “He didn’t demand moral perfection or theological certainty.  He wanted people to be in relationship with him.  In relationship, they would hear him, watch him in action, be questioned by him, and come to know his love for them.”

Miller writes that we might “be in relationship … mystically, intellecturally, sacramentally, or companionably.”  We shouldn't expect that relationship to be static; we should expect change and growth.

When I was in seminary, we were taught that every time we worship, every time we do liturgy, even if all the words are the same, it will always be different.  That’s because we are not the same today as we were yesterday, and today we may hear something in the liturgy we have never heard in quite the same way before.

We all know that friendships we had as children may have been lost – people grow up, they change, they move, they switch jobs, they develop new interests, they marry and have kids or they become ill and struggle to survive.  But we also gain new friendships and relationships – with neighbors, co-workers, lovers, spouses, and children.  All these relationships undergo change, even massive changes.

Thus we can conclude that, despite appearances, even despite times of dullness and boredom, today is never quite the same as yesterday.  And the same is true of our relationship with God.

It is not a substitute.  Doing practice doesn’t automatically make us better Christians, any more than feeling that inner calm and sense of connection will. 

Spiritual practices, and even the fruits of those practices, help us to maintain our awareness of our always-evolving relationship with the Divine.

Living out that relationship is how we participate in the incarnation.

Mother Teresa once wrote:
  “I always begin my prayer in silence, for it is in the silence of the heart that God speaks. God is the friend of silence – we need to listen to God because it’s not what we say but what he says to us and through us that matters. Prayer feeds the soul – as blood is to the body, prayer is to the soul – and it brings you closer to God. It also gives you a clean and pure heart. A clean heart can see God, can speak to God, and can see the love of God in others.”

If you didn’t begin your day with prayer today, pray now.  Sit in silence for the space of a few minutes, breathe with attention, listen for the small sounds of life around you, give thanks for your presence on this good earth, and for the presence of those whom you love.  Then just let stillness be.   Just for this space of time.  Just for right now.

 

Blessings to all!                            Evelyn+




June 14, 2018, 6:00 AM

Is chaos good?


Is chaos good?

I ask, because after 22 years (less two months) in the Foreign Service, I am truly shocked by the actions of the current Administration that seem to be undercutting the foundations of long-standing world order – tiffs with allies, praise for autocrats, exits from treaties and agreements and standard practices, etc.

I’ll grant you, the idea of picking something apart, particularly something that has not always been easy to fathom, motivate, or change, has its attractions.  There is a certain atavistic appeal to nihilism, and to the question: How bad can it get?  We all know, of course, that it can get very bad, if we wind up in war, or the economy crashes, or the hostility wrecks not just alliances but the social fabric on which we all rely, knowingly or not.

Is there a brink?  Are we careening towards a cliff?  What happens if we get in over our heads?  What happens if relationships that have been tended and maintained over decades suddenly end?  Where will we find ourselves then?

And if we do find ourselves isolated, is is that bad? 

After all, there is a long strand of isolationism in American politics; it’s not like we haven’t set ourselves apart from the rest of the world in the past.  For evidence, just take a look at the history of U.S. involvement in the two great wars of the 20th centruy – it took three years for us to join the fight against Germany in World War I, and nearly as long to join the fight against Germany and the Axis powers in World War II – and in both cases, we might not have done so at all had it not been for military attacks against U.S. interests and the appeals of our allies around the world.

Americans have a history of opposing immigration (which I do find ironic considering we practically eliminated the people who lived here before the first Europeans set foot in the western hemisphere).  During the 1930s and 1940s, there was an active “Bundt” movement in the U.S. that supported Hitler, and the elimination or deportation of Jews and black people and other identifiable minorities.

Perhaps our current sitution reflects that history; perhaps it reflects a deeper malaise in the human soul, and is not unique to the U.S. 

Perhaps we can look at the current chaos and see the lancing of a boil – ridding ourselves of what is diseased in the body (the white cell fixing what is wrong) – or perceive a disease that attacks (the cancer cell creating greater wrong).  Sadly, it’s likely to be some of each.

So, where is God in all this?

If my take on the prophets is right, God has been adjuring the people – both the folks in the streets and the folks in halls of power – to take care of the vulnerable for millennia.  And roughly 2,000 years ago, God came to us as one of us to bring the message home – again – and to provide a way forward:  mercy, forgiveness, love, teaching. 

Jesus showed us it is possible for human beings to live the life God has been asking of us.

At times, God’s approach doesn’t seem to be working.  We still ignore the Good News, the guidance, and the commandments to love God and neighbor, seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

How is it that the message of fear is stronger than the message of love and possibility?

I think it may be because we still don’t quite believe it, despite our best efforts.  We let the world’s woes, and our own woes, outweigh the promises of God.  I know I can do that.  Too many times we have heard the message as “if you believe in God, you will have everything you need in this life,” and too seldom do we hear “when you believe in God, you will have freedom” – especially if we don’t really know what “freedom in Christ” means.

God sits with those who suffer, as a good friend or a parent or a pastor sits with the sick – not simply to bring a cure of the physical ailment, but to uphold the spirit, to face whatever comes together, to asuure us that nothing – nothing – can ever separate us from the love of God.  Not even chaos. 

Blessings to all!                            Evelyn+


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