Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Photos from the Community Garden celebration

Alas, we missed the Community Garden celebration last week, but we sent sunny weather from the West! Thanks to Martien Halvorson-Taylor for a terrific slide show (see below) of the celebration. By the way, if you want to do an hour or two of work at the garden, it is all for a good cause -- producing food for the poorest among us. The garden is located on 10 1/2 Street just south of Grady.

And if you have photos of other St. Paul's events, PLEASE send them to me and I will post on this blog. To see the photos from the garden celebration, just click HERE.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Remembering my father's birthday

Today is my dad's birthday; he would have been 86 today. David Richardson died five years ago. My dad loved the sea and loved sailing. He had skippered various small ships in World War II, and after the war he captained a sea-going tugboat between San Francisco and Pearl Harbor.

Even after he left the Navy and went into the business world, he kept his love of the sea all his life. When I was young, he and I spent countless hours sailing on San Francisco Bay.

In later years he brushed up on his seamanship, took an exam and got a Coast Guard license so he could hire out skippering yachts for those who owned them but did not know what to do with them on the water. Mostly he worked the Pacific coast, but he and I once piloted a large yacht down the Hudson River, past Manhattan, and out to its summer mooring in Connecticut Sound (he the skipper, I the crew).

The photo at right of my father was taken by a U.S. Navy photographer in 1944 while he was on a patrol searching for downed American fliers along the coast of New Guinea (sadly, none were found). The sailing photo below is from the day we took my father's ashes out to San Francisco Bay and scattered them at the Golden Gate. Our friend Karen sent this poem a few years ago, and I always think of my dad when I read it.
To Alexander Graham
by W. S. Graham

Lying asleep walking
Last night I met my father
Who seemed pleased to see me.
He wanted to speak. I saw
His mouth saying something
But the dream had no sound.

We were surrounded by
Laid-up paddle steamers
In The Old Quay in Greenock .
I smelt the tar and the ropes.

It seemed that I was standing
Beside the big iron cannon
The tugs used to tie up to
When I was a boy. I turned
To see Dad standing just
Across the causeway under
That one lamp they keep on.

He recognised me immediately.
I could see that. He was
The handsome, same age
With his good brows as when
He would take me on Sundays
Saying we’ll go for a walk.

Dad, what am I doing here?
What is it I am doing now?
Are you proud of me?
Going away, I knew
You wanted to tell me something.

You stopped and almost turned back
To say something. My father,
I try to be the best
In you you give me always.

Lying asleep turning
Round in the quay-lit dark
It was my father standing
As real as life. I smelt
The quay’s tar and the ropes.

I think he wanted to speak.
But the dream had no sound.
I think I must have loved him.
The Monday Funnies will be taking a break for a few weeks during General Convention.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Senate... one more time tonight!

Well, my prayer on Friday in the California Senate didn't take. They are still stuck in the mud with the biggest budget mess for any state in national history. I got a call last night asking me to come back tonight to open a rare Sunday evening floor session with a prayer (Senate Chaplain Rabbi Mona Alfi has wisely fled on her vacation). So back I go tonight. This better work. I am not phoning these in from Virginia. Here is a sneak preview of tonight's prayer, for the California Senate:
Holy and gracious God, we give thanks for the people of this state who have put their trust in this government and in the leaders in this chamber. Give to our lawmakers the strength to bear the burdens before them; instill within them the courage to make difficult choices; fill them with patience to work together especially when it is seems impossible; and grant them the heart to make decisions that are just and right for all those who dwell in this blessed land. AMEN

Baby John

We are still taking some time off, visiting family and friends. I want to share this photo with you from last weekend's wedding rehearsal. You may have noticed the photo on the left of the baby being baptized (that's my arm sprinkling the water).

Well, baby John is a little larger now. Here he is, on the right. He is the nephew of Susan, our bride last Saturday (and Susan took the baptism photo a year ago used on this blog). Here is a photo I took of John at the wedding rehearsal dinner. His grandfather's arm is on the left (the father of the bride).

Blessings and love to all,

Jim & Lori

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Back in the Senate

You may have heard that California is struggling to fill a $24 billion hole in a $101 billion budget (were it fully funded). This is a seriously awful mess.

Meanwhile, we've been hanging around Sacramento the last few days seeing friends including folks who work in the Legislature.

So when word got around we were here, I was invited Friday morning to the state Senate, where I served as the Chaplain for four years, to offer the morning prayer. It was great seeing many old friends, and being back up on the dais. Lori took the photo. Here's the prayer I offered for Friday:
Holy and gracious God, be with our governor and lawmakers as they confront the issues that perplex them; give to them clarity in vision, creativity in thought, and openness to listening. Give to all of these leaders here gathered patience and forebearance with each other, and the courage to act not in their own self-interest, but for the good of all your people in our state and nation--Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2009

What do you want The Episcopal Church to look like?

The Episcopal Church is taking a survey amongst the rank-and-file about our vision for the future. What should the church look like in ten years? Should we focus on evangelism and diversity? Social justice? What should our priorities be as a denomination? The national church has an eight-question survey for you. Take it by clicking HERE. The deadline for completing the survey is July 28. You can read more about the survey at Episcopal Life on-line by clicking HERE.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, sand dabs and other delights of summer

We took lunch to my mother today after first grazing the Berkeley Bowl, an independent grocery which must have the largest produce section in the western world.

We picked out choice avocados, lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, fava beans and mushrooms. Then we moved onto the fish counter and selected a few sand dabs, a Pacific Coast family favorite for generations.

We then drove to my mother's house and Lori prepared an amazing meal. My job was to cut the tomatoes and debone the 'dabs. And thanks to one and all for asking about my mom -- she is doing much better these days and walking much better.

Technically speaking, we were at the new Berkeley Bowl. The old one is still around, a feast for the senses in its own right. The new one, further west of Ashby, is big, clean and has a produce section at least as big as the old Berkeley Bowl. We are truly blessed to have so much fresh food and the farmers who grow it here in California.

Here are a few photos I took at the Berkeley Bowl. And if this is making you hungry, check out Lori's food blog by clicking: Lori K's Cafe.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Focusing on the mission, looking around corners

Over the years I have heard a few people say that the church should be “run like a business.” By that they sometimes mean the church should spend as little money as possible.

It is true we should not be wasting money. However, the most efficient way to run the church would be to close it. We don’t produce anything. Closing the place would be cheaper than paying for salaries and upkeep on the building.

That probably won't work real well.

Yet there is another way to look at how the church should be run like a business.

On Monday evening, I saw an interview of Ivan Seidenberg, the CEO of Verizon, the cellular telephone and communications giant, on the Charlie Rose show. Seidenberg made two points about business with broad implications for any organization including churches.

First, he said, successful businesses stay true to their core mission. The people in the organization know exactly what they do, and they do it with excellence.

Second, Seidenberg said, leaders “look around the corners.” They figure out what is ahead and get there first.

The challenge, Seidenberg said, is being lulled into complacency by concepts that work well now but which will not work well when the world changes. And since the world is constantly changing, leaders must always be looking around the corners to see what is ahead and be ready to get there. It isn’t easy and leaders don’t always get it right.

Let me reflect on his points as they relate to the church.

First, we need to know who we are and what our mission is: We are the people of God and our mission is to proclaim by word and deed the reality of the Resurrection. Our tools are many: liturgy and music, education for all ages, pastoral care, and reaching into the community with justice and compassion, to name only a few.

But the tools are not the mission. The tools change and adapt to changing circumstances while the mission never changes. You might say our mission can be summed up as “Giving Hope.” We must be creative in finding new tools even as the mission never changes.

To keep our mission steady in our gaze, it helps to have a succinct and clear mission statement (though most church mission statements I’ve seen usually say more about the tools than the mission). We ought to be able to measure what we do with the yard stick of our mission statement. Here’s St. Paul’s mission statement, and when you read it, ask yourself whether specific things that we do fits the mission:
The Mission of St. Paul’s Memorial Church is to celebrate and
bear witness to God’s love in our community, the University of
Virginia, the region, and the world beyond us. By our worship,
our teaching, and our outreach we seek to make known God in
Christ, equipping our members for service in the world.

Keep in mind the mission statement is not the mission; it is only another tool to focus on the mission. We should not be overly focused on creating the perfect mission statement. We should be focused on the mission itself. If we do not keep our focus on our mission we have no reason to exist as an institution. In other words, maintenance of the institution is not the purpose; the mission is the purpose.

And that brings me to Seidenberg’s second point:

To be truly faithful to the mission requires looking around corners to see what is ahead. For us it means we cannot be content to do things the way we’ve always done them. Ministry must adapt before we round the corners.  

What worked 40 years ago – or even 10 years ago – may not work now. For example, the clergy cannot assume that providing Sunday worship and weekday pastoral care is all they need do even though that worked before. The clergy must be in the classroom and in the community, and exploring new ways to deepen and expand our core ministry. 

Meanwhile, laity’s role in ministry is expanding at every level. One recent example: our university students launched a highly successful Taize worship service on Tuesday evenings which will be back in the Fall. Another example: We have a dedicated group of hospital visitors who provide pastoral care beyond what the clergy can do. Each of those tools is working well now, but we must be ready to adapt each of these tools as circumstances change. The laity and clergy together need to find new ways to work as team in providing ministry at every level.

I would be remiss in not mentioning one other corner we need to look around: communications. At St. Paul’s, we have joined the internet revolution with websites, blogs and electronic newsletters. But there is much more that we can be doing if we are to reach new people and continue to be faithful to our core mission. I will say more on that in another post.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Taking time away: A wonderful wedding and the wonders of Pt. Reyes

We are in Northern California reconnecting with our dearest ones. On Saturday I had the pleasure of presiding at the wedding of Susan, who we've known since she was quite tiny. Susan and her two sisters are as near to being daughters as we will ever have, so this wedding was truly "in the family."

Our joy was ten-fold -- a thousand-fold -- because we nearly lost Susan 18 months ago from a medical condition she did not know she had. The UCLA Medical Center doctor who saved her life and his wife came to the wedding, and everyone shook his hand Saturday and more than a few tears were shed. Miracles do happen.

The wedding was held in a wonderful little chapel at Nicasio, a tiny town near Pt. Reyes (and the wedding party and guests occupied nearly every inn around Pt Reyes this weekend).

For those unfamiliar with the geography, Pt. Reyes is a triangular chunk of land that sticks straight out into the Pacific Ocean north of the Golden Gate. The distinctive landscape is shaped by the San Andreas fault slicing it off from the mainland.

It is said that in 1579 Sir Francis Drake beached the Golden Hind at what is now called "Drake's Bay" because the ship's seams were splitting open from the weight of Spanish gold. That would also mean the first Anglican worship service in North America was held in California at Pt. Reyes.

Pt. Reyes is now part of the Golden Gate National Seashore, making it part of the National Park system.

The terrain unbelievably spectacular, and the weather is windy and harsh. Sandstone
cliffs resembling Dover can be seen far from shore, and from vistas near Chimney Rock on the point jutting out to sea.

Sea lions long ago set up shop in a rookery below the steepest rockiest cliffs near the point, and we could see a few in the water this weekend (and hear their barks from the cliffs above).

During the whale migration season in April or so, the California Grays can be spotted from the lighthouse as they round Pt. Reyes on their migration to warmer waters off Mexico. Terrific hiking trails abound at Pt. Reyes, and we've dayhiked and backpacked most of them over the years.

Here are a few photos from the wedding and around Pt. Reyes I took this weekend.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Monday Funnies

Thanks to artist Dave Walker, here, at last, is a tour of a typical clergy office. Any resemblance to the living or dead is merely a coincidence. Welcome to the Monday Funnies...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bishop Johnston meets at St. Paul's

A few days ago, Bishop Shannon Johnston visited St. Paul's and met with members of our Gay-Straight Concerns group. Bishop Shannon listened as each person told something of their own story. The bishop then discussed various developments in the Anglican Communion and some of the issues that are facing General Convention this summer. 

We are very grateful that Bishop Shannon spent time at St. Paul's and with this important group in the life of our parish. We look forward to having him back on a Sunday later this year or early next year. 

I am especially grateful to those who came to the meeting, for their faithful sharing and listening, and for their courage and their commitment in standing up for the equality of all people. I pray we will continue to witness to the Grace and love God intends for all of us.

And thanks to Gwynn Crichton for the photo.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fiat Lux: One year later

I launched this blog one year ago today. I had never blogged before, but somehow managed to maneuver through the labyrinth of blogspot.com to get this out in the ethernet. 

My first blog entry was brief, and I wrote this: "I will post here from time to time items I find of interest, either in the church world or in the world at large, and I invite your conversation. Yes, this is no substitute for talking over a glass of your favorite beverage, so consider this to be a conversation starter."

That first post generated six comments.

Since then, there have been 367 posts in this space, including this one. In October, I added a counter, and since then there have been more than 20,000 views of this blog from all over the world and from every continent except Antarctica. Many of you have left comments (for those wondering how, click on "Comment" below each post). Many more of you have sent private emails or mentioned something in conversation about something you saw on the blog.

For me, I've enjoyed this immensely. My journalistic bones get their exercise by writing this blog daily, and I suspect I get more out of this than you do. I am especially appreciative of those who have sent me poems, essays and jokes for inclusion in Fiat Lux. Forgive me if I haven't used everything. There are days when a poem from Karen or joke from Bill or Pat have kept this blog up-and-running. Many mornings I have no idea what to put here until after I've read the papers and my email, and had a cup of coffee.

You may not have noticed: there is a related blog to this one where all of the poems on this blog are compiled in an easily accessible listing. You can reach that blog by clicking HERE or by clicking on the hand-and-pen icon on the left side of the screen.

I've tried to keep things simple; usually only one entry per day. On the left side of your screen are various links for causes and organizations that I support, and a blogroll of various blogs that I enjoy, not all of them church-related. This week I also added a link to the St. Paul's Memorial Church site on Facebook. From time-to-time there will be other additions, tweaks and improvements, and please send me your suggestions for others.

Some have asked about the name of the blog -- Fiat Lux -- which is Latin for "Let there be Light." The phrase comes from my personal mission statement, borrowed from the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79), quoted to the left at the top. And those with blue-and-gold toenails have also noted that Fiat Lux happens to be the motto of a certain large public university from which all Richardsons have graduated.

Thank you so much for following this blog, for your prayers and support and all of your comments. And, again, as I wrote at the outset, "this is no substitute for talking over a glass of your favorite beverage, so consider this to be a conversation starter."

Photo of Nepal sunrise, credit to REI.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Standing in the rain

It rains a lot in Charlottesville, and lately it seems like every day. The woods are now thick with foliage, and from our front porch the line of trees now blocks the view of the Ragged Mountains a few miles beyond. Here's a poem for a warm rainy day from our friend Karen in Tennessee (another place where it rains a lot):
What’s Left
by Kerrie Hardie

I used to wait for the flowers,
my pleasure reposed on them.
Now I like plants before they get to the blossom.
Leafy ones – foxgloves, comfrey, delphiniums –
fleshy tiers of strong leaves pushing up
into air grown daily lighter and more sheened
with bright dust like the eyeshadow
that tall young woman in the bookshop wears,
its shimmer and crumble on her white lids.

The washing sways on the line, the sparrows pull
at the heaps of drying weeds that I’ve left around.
Perhaps this is middle age. Untidy, unfinished,
knowing there’ll never be time now to finish,
liking the plants – their strong lives –
not caring about flowers, sitting in weeds
to write things down, look at things,
watching the sway of shirts on the line,
the cloth filtering light.

I know more or less
how to live through my life now.
But I want to know how to live what’s left
with my eyes open and my hands open;
I want to stand at the door in the rain
listening, sniffing, gaping.
Fearful and joyous,
like an idiot before God.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Come help at the community garden

Our community garden at 10 1/2 and Grady is sprouting! Please come join the crew tomorrow (Thursday) at 5:15 pm for an hour or two of weeding, staking and tending to the garden. 

All of the food will be donated to the community, and this is a great opportunity to meet other members of St. Paul's and some of our neighbors.

Next Wednesday June 24, the garden organizers are planning a celebration at 4:30 pm. Plans for the celebration: food, musical instruments, games, possibly creating an art project inside the circle, and to have some poems be visually up in the garden by that time as well as scriptural or poetry by anyone  who would like to read.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Saints of Summer: Evelyn Underhill

I cannot let the week pass without mentioning one of the saints of summer, whose day we remembered yesterday: Evelyn Underhill (pronounced "Eve-linn"). Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) came to the faith later in life, first becoming a Roman Catholic and eventually an Anglican. 

Born and educated in England, Underhill is one of the giants of 20th century Christian theology and spirituality. She brought back into the conversation a recognition of mysticism as a valid expression of the religious experience.  She was the first woman to give a series of lectures at Oxford on theology. At her height, she spent the mornings writing and the afternoons serving the poor and providing spiritual direction to those she mentored.

Underhill's most important book was Mysticism, published in 1911, and it is still quite readable, though long (my copy is 519 pages). She wrote at a time when modernism had dismissed religious experience as psychologically irrational, and there was more than a whiff of class prejudice in that. Underhill was able to explain the mystical experience as an exploration of the self and God's presence deep within us and outside us:
To say that God is Infinite is to say that He may be apprehended and described in an infinity of ways. That Circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, may be approached from every angle with a certainity of being being found. [Mysticism, p. 238]
Without Underhill, we might not have an appreciation of such medieval giants as Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) or Hildegard of Bingen. Underhill's influence extends to this day, and among those she exerted a crucial influence upon is L. William Countryman, the now retired professor of New Testament studies at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific; he, in turn, influenced a generation of scholars and priests with an approach to biblical studies that plumbed the underlying mysticism of the Bible. You may detect Underhill's strong influence in my preaching, for example a recent sermon I did on the Trinity and my sermons in Lent. 

Underhill's approach is to see God in both the light and the darkness, in beauty and ugliness, seeing God as permeating all of existence. She concludes her great book on almost a poetic note:
According to the measure of their strength and of their passion, these, the true lovers of the Absolute, have conformed here and now to the utmost tests of divine sonship, the final demands of life. They have not shrunk from the sufferings of the cross. They have faced the darkness of the tomb. Beauty and agony alike have called them: the time of the singing of birds is come. From the deeps of the dewy garden, Life - new, unquenchable, and ever lovely - comes to meet them with the dawn. [Mysticism, pgs. 45-451]

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Monday Funnies

For those of you with teenagers, you've probably discovered that you can communicate with them sometimes best by texting them. For those of you unaware of this technological advancement, "texting" is the sending of semi-literate messages back-and-forth on cellular telephones.

And so it is with religious education, as we in the Church ever strive to keep up with the times. So, parents, here is how to text your kids instructions on the Ten Commandments. We got it straight from the mountaintop. Welcome to the Monday Funnies...


1. no1 b4 me. srsly.

2. dnt wrshp pix/idols

3. no omg's

4. no wrk on w/end (sat 4 now; sun l8r)

5. pos ok - ur m&d r cool

6. dnt kill ppl

7. :-X only w/ m8

8. dnt steal

9. dnt lie re: bf

10. dnt ogle ur bf's m8. or ox. or dnkey. myob.

ps. wwjd?

Cartoon by Dave Walker

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sustained with love

This was a very difficult week for many people we love, both here in Charlottesville and far away from us in California. Lori and I are very grateful to so many of you who helped us stay connected with those who are so dear to us. I will say more at some point, but for now I want to simply give you this poem:
From “Meditation” 
by Teilhard de Chardin (French) c.1881

is the free and imaginative outflowing
of the Spirit over all unexplored paths.
It links those
who love in bonds that unite,
but do not destroy, causing them to discover in their mutual contact
an exultation capable of stirring in the very core
of their being all that they possess
of ‘uniqueness’ and ‘creative’ power.
Love alone
can unite living beings
so as to complete and fulfill them,
for it alone joins them by what is deepest
in themselves. All we need
is to imagine our ability to love
developing until it embraces the totality
of the people of the Earth.

this transformation of love is quite possible.
What paralyzes life is failure to believe
And failure to dare.
The day will come when,
after harnessing space,
the winds,
the tides,
and gravitation,
We shall harness for God the energies of love.
And, on that day, for the second time
in the history of the world,
we shall have discovered fire.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Public policy and the Church: Our voices can be heard

You may not be aware of this: The Episcopal Church in Virginia is deeply involved with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, which works on the nitty gritty of social justice issues in the Legislature in Virginia.  The center sends periodic email updates on its activities, and you can register to receive these by clicking HERE.

The Center maintains a terrific website with updates on public policy issues ranging from health care to jobs, education to hunger. The center earlier this year published a report on how health care costs are skyrocketing in this state, far exceeding growth in wages in this state. I highly commend the report. You can read it by clicking HERE.

Any discussion of public policy inevitably leads into the political arena, and that makes many devout church goers nervous. Politics is messy and polarized, and it is easier to keep the peace in the church by staying away from it. The problem with that is the Gospel won't let us, not if we are being truly faithful to the Gospel.  "Truly I tell you," Jesus says, "just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me." (Matthew 25: 40).

The Bible is replete from beginning to end with declarations that to hear God's call is to hear the call to care for the poor, the sick and those who suffer. The prophet Micah puts it: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

As a deacon friend of mine says, it is true that we are called to pull people out of the river before they drown; and, it is equally true that  we are called to walk upstream to see who is pushing people into the river. And That leads us to the messiness of the legislative process. 

I must say, as a relative newcomer to Virginia, that I am much impressed by the quality and depth of the work of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. And I say that as someone who has spent most of my adult life in public policy and politics, including on the staff of the California state Senate. I hope you will support this vital work.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

St. Paul's Community Garden: Sprouting more than food!

We haven't checked in lately in this space on the progress of the St. Paul's Community Garden, located in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Charlottesville. So I went over this morning and took a few photographs in the early morning light. 

With all of the recent rain, the garden is very green with beans and tomatoes and lettuce and lots of other wonderful things. The food when harvested will be donated to the community. Great thanks goes to a dedicated group of volunteers who've lovingly tended to the garden.

Special thanks to the Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor for his vision and leadership and to Louise Gallagher for building the shed and to Peggy Galloway for leading the volunteer team.

I am totally inspired by this project. Besides growing food,  the garden is growing relationships between segments of the congregation that don't often interact: students, young people, retired people and all manner of families, and with people who live in the surrounding community.

In the days ahead I hope we can especially deepen our relationship with the neighborhood through this project. 

More volunteers will be needed throughout the summer. To find out how to get involved, contact the church office.

The Body of Christ is definitely growing in the garden!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Saints of Summer

With Pentecost and Trinity now behind us, and the green of summer in front of us, the calendar is dotted with special days for the saints. The Episcopal Church saints and saint days are often the same as those on Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox calendars, but not always. We have a few of our own, like Martin Luther King, Jr

The saints on the Episcopal calendar are approved by General Convention, which meets every three years and will meet this summer (and it was my privilege in 1997 as a deputy to convention to vote to include on the saint calendar Absalom Jones who founded an integrated Episcopal Church in Philadelphia 1786). Becoming a saint in our church is not as elaborate as in some other traditions; miracles are not required, but courageous lives are.

Today is one such saint day: Ephrem of Edessa, aka Ephraim the Syrian. He is not exactly a household name, but that is one of the charms in remembering the saints. Ephrem died around 372. He was a deacon chiefly known as a hymn writer, and he accompanied his bishop to the Council of Nicea (as in Nicene Creed). As a deacon, he served the poor. He lived in a cave, and he distributed food to the starving during a famine in 372 and became so sick he died. It is for his selfless service as a deacon that Ephrem is remembered as a saint of the church.

You can keep up with the saint days by consulting the daily lectionary by clicking HERE. And we will probably celebrate a few more on this page this summer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fitting in: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

Lori and I have been here almost a year, and we definitely still consider ourselves very new. It takes time to figure out a new community, the customs, the personalities, and the simple details of daily living that we took for granted in our previous community. 

When new people join a group, any group, it takes time to fit in. And that is true of new people joining a church. I bring this up to point out a few things as we work on our hospitality as a welcoming and inclusive faith community.

First, new people shouldn't be expected to simply "blend in." For one thing, expecting new people to adopt all of the ways of the established people puts all of the burden on the new people, and is not welcoming. 

For another, it doesn't really work that way. If new people find the circle so tight they can't enter, they will simply leave. And that deprives everyone of their gifts and talents.

It might help to know a little about group dynamic theory: Every healthy group goes through at least four stages of group life (different theorists have different words for this, but it is the same theory). Healthy groups are (1) Forming (2) Storming (3) Norming and (4) Performing.

Forming occurs each time someone new joins a group, or someone leaves the group. The group becomes a new group when the membership changes. In a church, whenever new people come into the community, or leave (or die) the church is a new church in big ways or small. Each time a new person arrives, the church is in a state of forming once again.

If you think about, St. Paul's is very accustomed to forming and re-forming. Every Fall new students, faculty and staff arrive at the University of Virginia and many land in our parish. Every Spring many move away. This annual cycle of forming has repeated itself now 100 times at St. Paul's.

Forming creates a certain degree of tension, or storming. In this stage, the group members work out who fits where and how the group will operate. Unhealthy storming manifests as a struggle for control, or defensiveness about "we've always done it this way" or "we tried that, it will never work here." The circle closes, and if the storm is fierce enough it will keep out anyone new. Unhealthy storming will lead eventually to the death of the group, either through attrition as the old members die off and are not replaced, or through a certain atrophy of the group's soul because the group forgets why it exists.

But there can be healthy storming: Healthy storming is creative, and brings new energy, new ways of looking at the group, and sees new people as seeds of growth, bringers of new energy and new perspective. The existing group members begin to adjust to the new members, and the new members begin to adjust as they learn about the richness of the old group. 

Storming, done well, leads to the next stage. The group is new, and it creates itself in a new way, leading to norming, or a new normal. The group looks both the same and differently, and acts both the same and differently, sometimes subtly. And that brings the group to the next stage: performing. 

The group is thriving, productive and everyone in the group is working together in ways that are new but echo the old. The new seeds have sprouted and everyone benefits from the growth, and the group is performing like an orchestra, each member playing their individual instrument yet in harmony with the whole.

These categories are a bit simplistic. Truthfully, every group of people can be in each of those stages at different times of the day sometimes. Most groups are in one stage more than in another, and may slip back and forth between stages. Churches have many subsets of groups, and those groups are in various stages at any given time. The larger church can be seen as working through those stages over and over, and in a macro sense, it can take years to get from one stage to the next. 

Yet, I also find these categories helpful; as we grow in our life together as a faith community, it helps me to recognize these cycles so that I understand what we are going through. If we all recognize the stages, we might be better equipped to surf our way through each stage.

And that brings me to a point made by Lyle Schaller, one of the more perceptive analysts of church dynamics of the last few decades. In his book, Create Your Own Future, he notes that good church leaders (lay and clergy) work together in understanding the group dynamics in the church, and then use their understanding for building of God's Kingdom:
These are the leaders who are convinced God has given to them the freedom to plan, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the future of that particular worshiping community. They can study, reflect, plan, articulate their dreams, formulate goals, and implement those plans. With God's help all things are possible.

Cartoon by Dave Walker

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Monday Funnies

We haven't had many jokes here in awhile, lame or otherwise. So here's a few, at the expense of religion, organized and otherwise. Cartoon by Dave Walker, as usual. Enjoy your Monday...

Little Johnny was at Sunday school, when the teacher asked, “Why do we have to be quiet in church?”

“Because people are sleeping,” answered little Johnny.

To which little Billy quipped, “Oh, I get it. They must be bored again Christians!”


A young woman brings home her fiance to meet her parents. After dinner, her mother tells her father to find out about the young man. The father invites the fiance to his study for a drink. “So what are your plans?” the father asks the young man.

“I am a Torah scholar,” he replies.

“A Torah scholar. Hmmm,” the father says. “Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice house for my daughter to live in, as she's accustomed to?”

“I will study,” the young man replies, “and God will provide for us.”

“And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring, such as she deserves?” asks the father.

“I will concentrate on my studies,” the young man replies, “God will provide for us.”

“And children?” asks the father. “How will you support children?”

“Don't worry, sir, God will provide,” replies the fiancĂ©.

The conversation proceeds like this, and each time the father questions, the young idealist insists that God will provide.

Later, the mother asks, “How did it go, Honey?”

The father answers, “He has no job and no plans, but the good news is he thinks I'm God.”


Our church assigns people to be greeters at church before worship.

According to my mother, this practice is known as “Howdy Duty.”

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bless our kids this Sunday

We have another big Sunday coming up at St. Paul's. We will thank and celebrate our Sunday School leaders, and we will send our youth group off on their mission trip to the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in South Dakota. 

Then around 1 pm Sunday, please join us for the parish picnic at Pen Park off Rio Road. Hope to see you then! 

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Moment...

Fridays seem like a fine day for a bit of poetry, a few words to start your weekend, your sabbath. Here is a sabbath gift from our friend Karen in Tennessee...
The Moment
by Margaret Atwood
Morning in the Burned House)

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

Photo taken in the woods near our house.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Time for a picnic and celebrating our children's teachers!

This Sunday we will say a big "Thank you" to the volunteers who led St. Paul's Sunday School "Godly Play" program for our children. These wonderful adults put in many hours to launch this new program, including preparation time and their work in the classrooms. 

Our children are not just our future, they are our present. They bring us light and hope, and it is such a delight to see them "Marching in the Light of God" up the aisle on Sunday mornings.

By the way, you don't need to be a parent to be a volunteer in the Sunday School. Working with young kids could be one of the most rewarding things you've ever done. All the teachers work in teams, no adult is alone in a classroom. And the more adult volunteers we have, the more the load can be shared. Talk to Iris Potter to find out how. 

On Sunday afternoon, we will have a celebration picnic for the entire parish at Pen Park, which is off of Rio Road. Please join us and bring something to eat. There are big shelter pavilions in case of rain. Hope to see you then!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

KANSAS: Wichita-area clergy, Presiding Bishop express horror at George Tiller's murder

[Episcopal News Service] Bishop Dean E. Wolfe of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas and a dozen clergy who serve Episcopal churches in the metropolitan Wichita area have issued a statement expressing their sadness and horror at the murder on May 31 of abortion doctor George Tiller.

Tiller, a physician who provided abortions, had become a target of people who oppose the procedure. He was shot dead during a Sunday morning service in his church, Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a June 2 statement that she was horrified to learn of Tiller's murder "made even more painful for occurring in a place of worship and sanctuary. I pray for him and for his family, that all may know they are held in the palm of God's hand. I also pray for those who believe that violence is ever the answer to disputes or differences, that they, too, may be healed.

According to reports, 51-year-old abortion opponent Scott Roeder was arrested a few hours following the shooting as the prime suspect in Tiller's murder.

The Wichita-area clergy included 10 priests and two deacons, along with Wolfe. In their statement, they said Tiller's murder "was not a Christian act; this is not what Jesus taught," adding that their faith in Jesus Christ makes them "absolutely certain that violence will never prevail, and that darkness will not win."

The clergy said they were reaching out to neighbors of all faiths in Wichita and beyond.

By early afternoon June 1, two Wichita rectors had announced that they would be available to their parishioners for special prayers June 3. The Rev. Cathie Caimano of St. John's Church said her parish's regular Wednesday Evening Prayer service would include special prayers for the tragedy. Dean Kate Moorehead of St. James' Church told her parishioners in an email that she would be at the church in the evening June 3 to pray and talk with anyone who wanted to stop by.

The clergy statement, along with its signatories, is available here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hospitality living in tension: Tradition vs. The New

There are many reasons people go to church. Some have gone to church their whole lives and wouldn't think of doing otherwise. Some even have gone to the same parish for all of their lives.

Others come as they have children, or as they move into a new community. Sometimes they've gone "church shopping" and settled on a church for a particular reason.

Some come seeking answers to questions that are huge. Others come because of a crisis in their life: the death of a loved one or the death of a marriage. Some come seeking friendship, or a relationship with Jesus, or God as they conceive of God. And many come for a combination of those reasons.

That holy mix of reasons can create tension in a faith community. One of the strengths of the Episcopal Church, I believe, is that we are able to live in the tension as a community -- most of the time -- through our worship. Yet the tension sometimes plays out as a conflict between traditional and contemporary forms of worship and music. Some prefer the "traditional" Lord's Prayer ("Our Father who art in Heaven...) while others prefer the newer version ("Our Father in Heaven..."). Some love only the hymns in the blue hymnal, while others love only those in the newer hymnals.

Both can exist together if our values include hospitality -- welcoming all people.  To practice hospitality, we need to find ways to live in the tension of accommodating, as best we can, the many reasons people come to church, the theological ideas they bring (or the lack thereof), and the tastes they have in worship and music. It may help to know that much of what we think of as tradition is sometimes not that old; traditions can grow up in a hurry in a church. The wording of the  "traditional" Lord's Prayer dates from the 1880s (check out the Middle-English version sometime). Many beloved hymns began as beer hall tunes in the Reformation. Meanwhile, a number of supposedly "contemporary" church songs are now more than 30 years old.

Sometimes someone at St. Paul's tells me of how the congregation "all knows" a particular tradition. I tend to wince at those pronouncements; we have 1,600 people listed on our rolls, and many new people, and many subsets of people. No one knows everyone or every "tradition." Meanwhile, some people bring "traditions" from other places, and they sometimes expect it will be exactly the same as the place they left. It won't.

It is my hope and prayer that we can find ways to live in community together by yielding to each other now and then (that is the point Paul makes in his Letter to the Romans when he talks of yielding to those who won't eat meat). Can you be happy that someone likes a particular hymn (traditional or contemporary) even if you don't like it? Maybe you don't need a service program to find your way around the prayer book, but can you appreciate that someone else needs the help? And if everyone has a program, then no one needs to feel embarrassed by using a program. Those are small items, but they loom large as details of hospitality. If we are truly serious about calling ourselves "inclusive" it must begin not with abstract theological arguments about the Bible, but with hospitality at the front door.

This is one in an occasional series on hospitality.

Cartoon by Dave Walker

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Monday Funnies: From Celestial Crabs Descending

For those of you having difficulty understanding the hymns, comes now to a church near you a special video with subtitles to popular hymns -- or what they seem to say. Thanks to Bill Bergen for this contribution, and a word of caution, there is mildly salty language here. Welcome to The Monday Funnies...