Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The lull in Holy Week and the rock of our rescue

Tuesday in Holy Week feels like the lull before the storm. Palm Sunday is behind us, but the Great Three Days is not yet here. Perhaps my chief accomplishment of the day was cleaning up the Paschal Candle and attaching the "2010" gold lettering to it. It will be lit next on Saturday evening at the Great Vigil of Easter.

On Tuesday, we had a lengthy "walk through" with key participants for each of the services beginning with Maundy Thursday. There are many details to remember, and some of it is still evolving.

The Rev. Dr. Ann Willms, our associate rector, was the celebrant at our noonday Eucharist. She spoke of how the apostle Paul "boasted" of the Cross. It got me thinking about the sermons I have yet to write. Holy Week is first and last about the death of Jesus long ago, and what that means to us now. It is about how Jesus walks with us into our own valley of the shadow of death and brings us out into the light of Easter and into the place of salvation.

Recently I've been using Robert Alter's translation of the psalms in my morning prayers. His language has sharpened my understanding of the meaning of salvation. Psalm 95 is used each Friday in Lent to open Morning Prayer, and I've been using Alter's version rather than the prayer book version. Here is the opening line from Alter's translation of Psalm 95:
Come, let us sing gladly to the LORD, let us shout out to the rock our rescue.
Rescue. That word is usually rendered "salvation" in English translations. But rescue is closer to the Hebrew meaning of salvation, and Alter's translation captures it perfectly. The verb rescue is active; it comes with the hope that God will find us and snatch us away from whatever harms or hurts us. Rescue does not have to wait until the afterlife, but comes to us now. That is the boast of the Cross.

Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be
whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept
joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the
glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Liturgical notes: Some have asked about the use of red on Palm Sunday and the days of Holy Week. Red is the traditional color for days remembering martyrs, and because Jesus is truly the Church's first martyr it is appropriate to mark the week with red. Red has long been used throughout the Episcopal Church in Holy Week, and again on Pentecost. The red chasuble (the priestly tunic) used on Palm Sunday was made by The Rev. Deacon Anne Scupholme last year as a gift to St. Paul's. We will put away the red on Maundy Thursday when we strip the altar and store all the linens and clerical stoles until the Great Vigil of Easter when we will use white.

Book reference: The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter, 2007, W.W. Norton & Co.

Postcard art of Glacier Point, Yosemite

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Prayers for Peace in Holy Week: Remembering those who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Before I came to Charlottesville, St. Paul's Memorial Church had set aside Monday at noon as a time to pray for peace. These prayers began sometime after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq started, and that is now going on seven years -- longer than World War II.

The prayers are meant to be just that -- prayers for peace. The attendance on Mondays has waxed and waned, and there are weeks when there is only one. Yet whomever is there is praying for all of us, praying that wars may finally cease, that violence may end, that voices may lower, that swords may be beaten into plowshares, and that we may find peace at the last.

So it is that I joined the prayers for peace yesterday, Monday in Holy Week. A handful of us sat in the church, not exactly in silence because the sounds of traffic outside and voices inside echoed throughout the building (it is amazing to me how well sound carries in our building). We sat together, listening and longing for peace to come into our midst.

About 25 minutes into our time together, Darren Ball, a member of our Vestry, a father of two young sons, began to read the names of American soldiers, sailors and Marines who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of the year. Every Sunday, we pray for those who have died in the last week in service to our country in these wars, and we pray for them by name in our prayers for people.

Darren read the entire list for 2010 so far. Then we ended with a Eucharist that was, to say the least, somber.

Below are the names of those Americans who have died this year in these wars. We could add other names of soldiers from other countries and civilians caught in the cross fire, and we could add the names of our nation's enemies. The list could be very long.

Please take a few moments to remember these soldiers, sailors and Marines from our country, people who represented us and gave the last full measure of their devotion to our country. Please take a few moments to say their names -- out loud -- and pray for their families, for the people they loved who they left behind, for the lives and dreams they left unfinished, and for the Iraqis and Afghanis who have died or been injured in these conflicts. Pray for peace.
Week through January 7

Brushaun Anderson
David Croft
Michael Jarrett
Anton Phillips
Brian Bowman
Joshua Lengstrof
John Dion
Bradley Smith
Jason Hickman
Mark Juarez
Jacob Meinhert
Nicholas Uzenski

Week through January 20
Gifford Hurt
Jaime Lowe
Matthew Ingham
Geoffrey Whitsitt
Daniel Merriweather
Lucas Beachnaw
Kyle Wright
Christopher Hrbek
Robert Donevski
Michael Shannon
Adam Ginnett
Paul Pena
Thaddeus Montgomery

Week through January 31

Scott Barnett
Gifford Hurt
Carlos Gill
Zachary Smith
Daniel Angus
Timothy Poole
Jeremy Kane
Xin Qi ("Gin Ki")

Week through February 5


Scott Barnett
Zachary Lovejoy
Daniel Whitten
Michael Freeman
David Thompson
Marc Paul Decoteau
Rusty Christian
David Smith

Week through February 13

Adriana Alvarez
Adam Ray
Dillion Foxx
David Hartman
Matthew Sluss-Tiller
Mark Stets

Week through February 19
Sean Caughman
Alejandro Yazzie
Noah Pier
Guy Mellors
Jason Estopina
Jacob Turbet
John Reiners
Jeremiah Wittman
Bobby Pagen

Week through February 27
William Spencer
Daniel O'Leary
Billie Grinder
Marcus Alford
Scott Barnett
Marcos Gorra
Matthais Hanson
Eric Ward
Adam Peak
J.R. Salvacion
Christopher Eckard
Michael Cardenaz
Gregory Stultz
Joshua Birchfield
Kielin Dunn
Jeremy McQuery
Kyle Coutu
Larry Johnson

Week through March 5

Nigel Olsen
Vincent Owens
Carlos Aragon
Ian Gelig
Matthew Huston
Josiah Crumpler
William Ricketts

Week through March 13

Aaron Arthur
Lakeshia Bailey
Garrett Gamble
Jason Kropat
Jonathan Richardson
Nicholas Cook
Alan Dikcis
Anthony Paci

Week through March 19

Richard Jordan
Erin McLyman
Steven Bishop
Adam Brown
Robert Gilbert II
Glen Whetten
Jonathan Porto
Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an
instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life:
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly
suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior
Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

List compiled from iCasualities.com

Monday, March 29, 2010

My experience on Palm Sunday: Descending into the Valley of Holy Week where I already dwell

On the church calendar, we officially began Holy Week yesterday on Palm Sunday. But for me, Holy Week began in early March with the deaths of several people dear to us at St. Paul’s. My experience of Holy Week this year is especially woven into the memorial services we held last Thursday for Thomas Buckley and on Saturday for Joseph “Pepe” Humphrey.

Tom Buckley was a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Simeon, a small church a few miles from here. His family asked if we could use our space for his service, so of course we opened our doors and our hearts. He was only 53, and died suddenly the Saturday before last. Tom was a neo-natal care nurse, and known and loved by many both inside the University of Virginia Medical Center, and in the community at large. He was a friend to many in our congregation, so a service for him with us was only fitting. We had more than 600 people at his service, and the outpouring of love for him and his family was huge.

Pepe Humphrey was a scientist of formidable intellect and achievement, holding professor posts in both the engineering and the biology departments of the University of Virginia. He was among the first people we met when we came to Charlottesville; he and his wife Sally were members of All Souls Parish in Berkeley, where I had previously served before coming here. He had been fighting cancer for several years, and it was my privilege to walk with him the last two years of his illness. To me, Pepe was a theologian; he never tired of asking where God dwelled in the workings of the universe. Pepe died March 1.

We’ve recently lost three other beloved members of St. Paul’s: Carol Hine, Kitty Olton and Charlotte Scott. It was my privilege to preside at Mrs. Olton's memorial service earlier this month; although I did not know her, I was much touched by the reflections of her children about their mother and her love of life and love of people.

So I must acknowledge at the outset that I enter Holy Week with a weariness of death, and a weariness of so much sadness. I’ve been dwelling in Good Friday for a few weeks already. I did not need the passion story to get there.

Indeed, hearing the passion story of Jesus on Palm Sunday felt particularly difficult for me this year. I could hear the cries of those who loved Jesus as he slipped from their grasp; those cries felt very real to me yesterday for they were the cries of real people right here. The story of the crucifixion so long ago seemed very present in the pain of families living now with the reality of losing someone they dearly love. As we told in church the age-old story of the passion, I found myself listening for a glint of hope, a place of rest, a moment of comfort, but I heard none – at least not in the words.

The hope for me Sunday was in the palms.

The hope was the in laughter as we circled the nave, waving our palms and having a bit of fun in church. I saw hope in the faces of our children as they carried their palms, and later as they marched back into church to the hymn “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.” And my hope came in seeing people – so many people – come to the Table for Holy Communion, to share with each other for a few moments in the hope of life eternal, and life where weeping is no more. The hope that will carry me through Holy Week was in the faces of kids, and in tasting the bread and wine, and hearing the music.

This is the week we descend to the valley of the shadow of death; this is the week when we march to the Cross, and the week we when we come face-to-face again with the hard questions of death and life.

Easter will come, but not yet.
Collect for Monday in Holy Week
Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.
Art by He Qi (Chinese)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palms to Passion: Holy Week begins

The earliest known account of Palm Sunday comes from a Spanish (or perhaps she was Gallic) pilgrim, Egeria, who described the elaborate ritual she saw in Jerusalem in about 381.

Palm Sunday took all day, with time out for a mid-day meal before the faithful joined the bishop on the Mount of Olives for a procession with palms into the Holy City. Egeria wrote about her experience, and by the fifth century Palm Sunday had caught on in Spain and soon spread through the Christian world.

Our Palm Sunday does not take all day, nor do we have to walk so far. We began with a procession of palms that winds down the aisles and around, led by our acolytes and wonderful choir. We sing and pray, and we wave our palms.

And so our walk into Holy Week, and to the Cross, begins on this beautiful, sunny spring day. There is something fitting about the contrast of such a gorgeous day with the Passion story that comes next. I believe it is the contrast that gives Palm Sunday so much power.

Tomorrow, Monday in Holy Week, includes our regular noon Prayers for Peace, with prayers from many traditions. At about 12:30 pm we will celebrate a simple Eucharist. Please join me if you can, and wherever you are at noon, please pray for peace and especially for the peace of Jerusalem.

I will blog each day, as I usually do, but I will focus more on what I am experiencing this Holy Week and share those reflections with you. The Monday Funnies will return next week.

May your week be blessed.

James+

Art by William Hemmerling

Saturday, March 27, 2010

And so it begins again: What happens in Holy Week

We enter into Holy Week tomorrow: We remember the events of betrayal, crucifixion, and entering into Hell itself. At the end of Holy Week comes the joyous declaration of Resurrection, new life. The fruits of Easter – and Spring - will soon be with us.

Before we go there, I’d like to sketch for you what transpires at St. Paul's in Holy Week. It is my hope and prayer that you will not rush through this the holiest of weeks of our year. I’d like you not to skip from Palm Sunday to Easter without experiencing the richness of what comes in between and the depth of its meaning for us in our walk of faith.

Please accept my personal invitation to participate in as much of Holy Week as you can, wherever you are, and to be especially attentive to the Holy Spirit working within you. Listen for the Holy Spirit, allow yourself to be made new, just as Easter makes each of us new.

As I did last year, I will post on this site each day of Holy Week to explain a bit of what we are doing and why, and to share what I am experiencing. I will also give you a heads up on what comes the next day. And, sorry, no Monday Funnies this week, but it will return the day after Easter Day.

Holy Week is first and last about servanthood, ours to each other, and Christ as servant to all of us. The events of Holy Week represent Jesus lowering himself, step by step, into the fullness of servanthood: Jesus declares, “Where I am, there will my servant be also.”

The first day of Holy Week is tomorrow, the day called, The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday. It begins with the waving of palms and the great triumphant entry by Jesus into Jerusalem, and then Palm Sunday quickly slides into remembering the tragedy and torture of the crucifixion soon to come.

Monday of Holy Week, we will end our regular noon Prayers for Peace with a Holy Eucharist at 12:30 pm. This year we are also adding a meditation on the "Stations of the Cross" led by University of Virginia student Peter Kang. The reflections will be at 6:30 pm, ending on Good Friday. Each "station" will be at a location inside the nave of St. Paul's.

Tuesday of Holy Week, we will hold our noon Holy Eucharist, and at 7:30 pm, our university students will lead their very moving – haunting – chants of Taize.

Wednesday of Holy Week is marked by our Evening Prayer at 5:30 pm and our community night supper. Then I will lead an instructed Eucharist at 7 pm, pausing along the way to explain a bit about how and why we do what we do in the Eucharist.

The three days of Easter begin on Thursday evening at 7:30 pm – Maundy Thursday. We begin the Great Three Days on Thursday, in keeping with the Hebrew calendar in which the new day begins at sundown. The third day begins at sundown on Saturday.

During the Great three days, classically called the Easter Triduum, there are no blessings or dismissals. The reason is the Church understands the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the Great Vigil of Easter to be one great continuous liturgy.

The word “maundy” derives from Middle English, and it means “mandate.” Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus “mandates” that we remember him each time we experience the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist.

On Maundy Thursday, we recall that Jesus ate with his disciples, then washed their feet. The focus, though, is not on the meal, but on his act of lowering himself to the feet of his followers.

At St. Paul’s on Maundy Thursday, we will wash the feet of all who wish to have their feet washed, and we will celebrate our last Eucharist before the day of Resurrection. Truly, our mandate is to serve each other and the world.
We will strip the Altar to its bare wood, and we will take consecrated unleavened bread and keep it in a place of reverence in the chapel. We do so to signify that Jesus is still with us even as he hangs on the Cross.

At noon on Good Friday, Jesus lowers himself still further. He goes to the Cross, crucified between two criminals, giving to us his supreme act of love to suffer with us in our pain, and show us that there is more to life than death. We will sit in prayer and hear reflections for those three hours.

On Good Friday we will offer solemn prayers at noon, and again offer those prayers at 5 p.m. After the five-o’clock prayers, we will, in silence, distribute the bread we have reserved in the chapel, a mark of Jesus being with us especially in times of pain.

Once more on Good Friday, at 8 p.m., we will assemble for prayers, and we will dim the candles, one at a time, in the solemn observance of Tenebrae, a Latin word meaning “shadows.”

On Holy Saturday morning, at 9 a.m., we will assemble here for a brief time for the prayers of Holy Saturday, the day that marks when Christ descends into Hell itself to open the gates wide and let everyone out. The prayers of the morning are brief, and I am especially inviting those of you who are preparing our sanctuary for the evening Vigil to participate in this short service.

Holy Saturday is the anvil upon which Easter rests. Without Jesus going to the dead to break the chains of Hell, the resurrection has little to do with us.

With Holy Saturday, Jesus takes us with him at the Resurrection. I hope you will join me for a few minutes Saturday morning in the chapel.

On Saturday evening, after sundown comes our first opportunity to celebrate the third day of Easter: The Resurrection. We assemble for the Great Vigil of Easter – the biggest, most splendid and opulent worship of the entire year.

We light a fire outside, and bring the light of the Paschal candle into the church. The Paschal Candle leads our procession, and there are no crucifixes carried on this night. We are done with the Cross. Inside the church, sitting in the dim light, we hear again the story of creation. And then with lights on, and bells ringing, we declare the Resurrection – we loudly declare Christ has Risen – and we experience again the joy of Easter and our first Eucharist of the Easter season.

Bring your bells and come join us.

On Easter Day morning we come here in the sunlight, our Lent completed and our new life in Christ begun once again.

And with grateful hearts we join in our prayer for The Great Vigil of Easter: “Stir up in your Church that Spirit … which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth.”

May each of you, wherever you are, have blessed and Holy Week, and a season of hope and renewal in the Easter that is to come.

James+

Paintings: "Palm Sunday Procession," 1967-1968, by Romare Bearden; "Three Women at the Tomb," 1979, by Romare Bearden; traditional icon of the crucifixion, Russian.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Sabbath Manifesto: Shabbat, unplugged

My friend Ilana DeBare, who you may recall is studying for her Bat Mitzvah as a middle-aged adult, posted an item last week that I don't want you to miss. Today is a good day to read this because tomorrow is Saturday.

Ilana wrote about the "Sabbath Manifesto" to get off the grid for sabbath (and Saturday is the sabbath), and refraining from some other modern addictions. See what you think, maybe give this a try. Ok, in all honesty, I'd like you to read my blog tomorrow because it is about Holy Week, and then get off the grid.

Here is Ilana's item from her blog:

March 19, 2010 by Ilana DeBare

A few weeks ago my dear hubby Sam wrote a guest post about how he tries to observe Shabbat — no email, no meetings, and no work-related reading, but lots of biking, napping, and socializing.

This weekend a new national group is encouraging everyone — Jews and non-Jews — to celebrate Shabbat with a National Day of Unplugging. The idea is to “slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world.”

Sabbath Manifesto, a project of a group called Reboot, has suggested that from sundown on Friday March 19 to sundown on Saturday March 20, we:

Artist Jessica Tully designed this cell phone "sleeping bag" to tuck away your electronics on Shabbat.

  1. Avoid technology. (Yep, including this blog!)
  2. Connect with loved ones.
  3. Nurture your health.
  4. Get outside
  5. Avoid commerce
  6. Light candles.
  7. Drink wine.
  8. Eat bread.
  9. Find silence.
  10. Give back.

Here’s a little insider’s tidbit: The person responsible for publicizing Sabbath Manifesto (including getting a write-up in the New York Times!) is my friend Tanya Schevitz, another emigrant from the land of the downsized Chronicle. This was her first big foray into the world of public relations. Way to go, Tanya! More proof that there is life after newspaper journalism.

Meanwhile — and totally independently, I believe — my synagogue is organizing a cool 25 Hours of Shabbat celebration this weekend.

Temple Sinai is asking members to get out of their work/shopping/household-chore routines, and offering a slew of Shabbat activities — from family nature walks and bike rides, to a challah baking lesson, to programs about Ladino music or the influence of Yiddish culture on Tin Pan Alley. And of course a variety of Shabbat services and community meals! You can find more information about it here.

Which activities will we be doing? Ironically, none — although I love the idea.

We have an opportunity to use our new beach house — which we bought with two other families — every third week. And this is “our” weekend there.

So we’ll be at Stinson Beach — Sam biking for some 40 miles or so, me walking on the beach for a much shorter distance, and Becca (most likely, being a teenager) sleeping late.

It sounds very unplugged, and very Shabbat.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The cycle of conception, birth and rebirth begins today

Today holds a curious key to understanding the Christian calendar and the deeper meaning within it. Go with me here for a bit.

The march to Christmas (yes, Christmas) begins today with The Feast of the Annunciation. This is the day the Church celebrates the angel Gabriel coming to Mary and telling her she is with child.

Nine months from today will be Christmas. You may have heard that Christmas was selected by the early church to co-opt the Roman's winter solstice celebration.

That is an interesting legend but doesn't really hold up; for one thing, the solstice is December 21. The early Roman church likely set December 25 as Christmas after counting forward nine months from today, the Annunciation.

It gets even more complicated than that. There were great debates for centuries in the Church on when to set the date of Easter. The Feast of the Annunciation in some quarters marked the new year, and was related to the marking of Easter and the Spring equinox. There were some who insisted that Easter should coincide with the Jewish Passover. Others wanted to keep it on a fixed date; Easter began moving around the calendar, but the Annunciation and Christmas remained fixed.

A broader way of thinking of this is that the Annunciation, Easter and Christmas are connected to each other in an eternal cycle. Mary becomes pregnant, giving birth to Jesus nine months later; his life and ministry is marked in the days between Christmas and Easter. The day of her pregnancy is near to the day of his Resurrection, and so the cycle begins anew marking Jesus' conception, birth, life, death and new birth.

That makes the calendar a marker of incarnation. The calendar is a reminder that God dwells with us (or in the Greek, God "tents") with us in the person of Jesus, and he remains with us before and after the historic events of long ago. The calendar therefore becomes not just a keeper of days, but a method of prayer that, like the seasons, marks how new life leads to death that leads to new life.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
Luke 1: 26-38
If you want to know more about the development of the calendar, Thomas J. Talley, S.J., is considered the leading scholar on the topic. His books are a bit turgid but a goldmine of information.

Painting "The Annunciation" by Fra Angelico (1387-1455).

Bishop's draft report on same-gender relationships

The bishops of the Episcopal Church have been meeting the last few days at Camp Allen, Texas, and they reviewed a long-awaited report on the theological issues of same-gender relationships. The report is 95 pages, and the reactions amongst the bishops is (not surprisingly) mixed. A number said yesterday it did not break any new ground, but at least it keeps the bishops at the table talking, and that is a good thing. To read the report click HERE.

Truthfully I don't have time at the moment to read the report and give you my reaction. But it is newsworthy, and if you get a chance, please read it and share your reaction. Below is a news story from Episcopal News Service with various links:

Bishops' theology committee publishes draft report on same-gender relationships

[Episcopal News Service] Published at 07:20 p.m. EDT, this story updates an earlier version to add comments from the meeting's news conference.

The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops, concluding its six-day retreat meeting at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas, has posted a draft of the long-awaited 95-page report titled "Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church" on the College of Bishops' website here.

"For a generation and more the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion have been engaged in a challenging conversation about sexual ethics, especially regarding same-sex relationships in the life of the church," Theology Committee Chair and Alabama Bishop Henry Parsley wrote in the report's preface. "The hope of this work is that serious engagement in theological reflection across differences will build new bridges of understanding."


To read the full news story clicking HERE.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Remembering Oscar Romero

Remembering today Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered at his altar in San Salvador on March 24, 1980. This is what he said:
"This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own."

The alleluias! jumped off the page

As I do nearly every Tuesday, I celebrated the Eucharist at noon yesterday. And though the congregation is small, it is one of the high points of my week.

Well, yesterday I slipped up: I added the "alleluias" in the Eucharistic prayer. They are supposed to go away in Lent. Yesterday, those alleluias just jumped right off the page. My tiny congregation giggled, and we all said "alleluia!"

We are ready for Easter.

But before we get there, we still have this business of Holy Week, and winter's grip is still hovering in the air. So I thought I would give winter one final shot with a poem by Lisa Russ Spaar, who is an English professor at the University of Virginia and comes to St. Paul's on occasion. The photo I took a few days ago at the Barracks Road shopping center; that is the pile of snow that is still in the parking lot. Rio Road is a short distance away.

This poem is from Lisa's book Satin Cash. If you like it, go buy the book.
Stairwell, Rio Road
By Lisa Russ Spaar

All winter the doomed house held
in a stranglehold of dozers,
rigs, and wrecking balls,

sinuses of private hallways
exposed as facades fell, then roof,
sleet insulating skulled chapels of the attic;

joists, wallboard, tiled cavities of tub
and basin all collapsing week by week.
But not this aortic staircase,

via negativa flanked by crimson panels,
opening my chest each morning
as I drove past its futile climbing,

its bezeled taboo wound.
My own houseless heart jolted,
recovering, and I'd grapple with the radio

as the windshield wipers ticked
and wooshed, singing disappear,
appear, disappear
,

appear, now a blotting slurry of ice
and snowmelt; now clear.
Now gone; now still here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Author Kate Braestrup brings her humor to Charlottesville Wednesday

Author and chaplain Kate Braestrup will be in Charlottesville Wednesday at 12:30 pm. She brings a touch of humor to her sometimes grim ministry. Braestrup is the author of the bestselling Marriage and other Acts of Charity, and her books will be available for sale at the talk. If you have time, this will be worth it.




Wednesday, 24 March 2010 · 12:30 pm, Jordan Conference Center Auditorium

THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT GIVING BAD NEWS


The Reverend Kate Braestrup, Chaplain, Maine Warden Service,

and author, Here If You Need Me, Lincolnville ME

Scott A. Syverud, M.D., Professor of Emergency Medicine, UVA


At first glance, medical practitioners and law enforcement officers seem to have little in common, but there are surprising similarities and connections between their professions. A really weird sense of humor is a common characteristic that springs to mind! And this may emerge from the inescapable fact that both fields require practitioners to be present and active in situations involving human suffering and death. Cops and doctors alike wield great power and bear heavy responsibility, and those they help—be they victims of accidents or crimes or patients and families—expect them to offer both technical skill and human compassion. And both physicians and law enforcement officers must often be bearers of bad news.

In this Medical Center Hour, the Reverend Kate Braestrup draws on her work as chaplain to the wardens in Maine to explore these correspondences, especially the challenges and opportunities inherent in giving bad news. Dr. Scott Syverud offers comments from his perspective in the emergency department.

Co-presented with the Department of Chaplaincy Services and Pastoral Education

___________________________

The Medical Center Hour is produced weekly throughout the academic year by the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities. In partnership with Historical Collections of the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, our series includes History of the Health Sciences Lectures. For more information, call 434.924.2094 or seewww.healthsystem.virginia.edu/internet/medcenterhour and

www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/internet/library/historical/lectures.cfm.

People of faith making an IMPACT last night

Last night, the faith communities of Charlottesville gathered at University Hall to show our unity, and to press public officials to support focused solutions to assist the poorest in our community. The issues for the evening were translation services for immigrants and pre-kindergarden education.

I am proud to tell you that more than 100 members of St. Paul's came. We jammed two tiers of seats in the old basketball arena. Our turnout was probably the largest of any Protestant denomination in Charlottesville.

We were there as part of IMPACT, a coalition of 33 congregations including Christians, Jews and Muslims. IMPACT stands for "Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together." You can read more about IMPACT and its successes by clicking HERE.

The cornerstone issue this year was the lack of translation services, and how immigrants get caught in a bind particularly in the legal system.

We heard positive responses from the police chiefs of Charlottesville and Albemarle County who committed their departments to designing and implementing a language translation plan. Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said it was simply common sense so that his officers can solve crimes, control of crime scenes quickly and serve the community.

We also heard from education officials who committed to early childhood education programs and promised to report back to IMPACT in the fall about successes and failures.

In one sense, IMPACT is theater minus the drama. We fill the hall with committed people, and we generally know how the public officials will respond because volunteers from IMPACT have met with them for months to work out practical solutions.

Therein is the genius of IMPACT and its method; the public officials want to be able to stand in front of us and say "yes" and we are happy to oblige them by applauding their "yes." Our being at these large meetings is important precisely because it provides the leverage to get solutions.

The real work has gone on behind the scenes with dedicated volunteers including John Frazee and Joan Burchell from St. Paul's, and many others from other faith communities. They've exhaustively researched the issues, and the public officials know that we are standing behind them.

And make no mistake: IMPACT has had an impact in the short time its been in Charlottesville by bringing dental care to the poor, creating more affordable housing for low-income people, and extending bus lines into poor neighborhoods. None of these successes would have been possible without the faithful commitment of our congregations in finding unity on issues of common interest.

Thanks and blessings to all those who came last night.

Here is more from John Frazee about last night. He is the president of IMPACT this year, and his report has much more detail than mine:
What a great night! Highlights for me: the opening prayer by Dr. Sabri from the Islamic Society, Vickie Johnson-William's impassioned closing statement, and the Education testimony by Jeanette Wingfield with her twin 5-year-old sons in tow.

Thanks to all the nearly 150 (still figuring out the sign-in sheets) St. Paul's members at last night's Nehemiah Action. It was a great success. We got commitments from the city and county police chiefs and the county jail administrator to put an LEP (limited English proficiency) plan into place, and, on Education, the representatives from the city and county school boards agreed to our goals, which were:
- make sure 90% of the kids in city and county funded pre-school are at or below the poverty line (as measured by access to free- or reduced-fee lunch)
- track their progress from kindergarten to 3rd grade, to make sure the program's working
- put a plan in place for phased expansion of the pre-K program

Approximately 1600 people attended last night's meeting. And, for those who were there and wondering why the number of hispanics seemed low, according to an IMPACT member from Church of the Incarnation, there was a immigration scare this weekend, where word circulates that the INS is looking to step up arrests of undocumented immigrants. This person told me that, at a church service on Friday that normally draws 300 people, only 3 showed up. I can't imagine what that feels like.
Also, to read Channel 29's coverage with a link to video, click HERE.

The Daily Progress news story can be read by clicking HERE.

Top photo by Marsha Trimble; bottom photo from my telephone.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Monday Funnies


Spring is here. Daffodils blooming, redbuds budding, and the deer are brazenly back in our front yard. It is time for The Monday Funnies...

This joke comes from John Reid, our parish administrator. He clipped it from a magazine:

Louie was shipwrecked and lived alone on a desert island for years until he was finally rescued. Before leaving the island, he gave the rescue party a tour.

"I built myself a house. That's it there. Here's the barn, and over here is the church I worshipped in."

"What' that building over there?" one of the rescuers asked.

Louie sneered, "That's the church I used to belong to."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

We will always have the poor with us: Be extravagant

Today's sermon is based on John 12:1-8.

* * *

“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”


I did something extravagant on Thursday afternoon of this week, something I’ve dreamed about doing all winter long. I put my old pine rocker on the front porch.

And then I sat on my old pine rocker, and gazed out across the Ragged Mountains, and I basked in the wonderful warmth and sweet, sweet aroma of the afternoon, and I didn’t do any work at all, and no rich man could have been more extravagant than I.

Today we hear of the extravagance of Mary, and the nard she uses to anoint Jesus’ feet before his death. Let me tell you something about nard, or spikenard as it is also called. Spikenard is an herb that grows to be about 10 feet tall in northern India, in the deep woods at the foot of the Himalayas.

In the time of Jesus, a rich yellow oil was painstakingly
extracted from the spikenard plant and placed in alabaster boxes, then carefully transported by caravan through India and Persia and across the long flat desert of what is now Iraq and Jordan before it finally reached the markets of Jerusalem.

The oil of spikenard was much sought by kings and wealthy Romans throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. The oil is said to cure migraines and bring calm to those who inhale its aroma.

Nard oil has a sweet fragrance similar to sandalwood, and, in fact, nard is one of the ingredients in sandalwood incense.

As you can well imagine, the oil of spikenard is expensive. As we just heard, it cost Mary 300 denari for one pound of nard oil. Let me translate that for you: it took a common laborer one day to earn one denari – so it cost nearly one year’s wages to purchase that pound of nard oil.

In our day, spikenard is still costly – a pound now runs about $480. There are many places on this globe today where that would be one year’s wages.

With that in mind, we hear of Mary’s shocking extravagance in John’s gospel. In the story, Jesus comes to Bethany to see Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus, for what they all surely know is their farewell in the final hours before his death.

After this sad meal, Mary brings out this incredibly expense, wonderfully aromatic oil, and she anoints Jesus’ feet, and then wipes his feet with her hair. Mary lovingly prepares Jesus for his death.

Jesus, who ministered to so many, who raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, who fed the 5,000, who cured the sick and made the lame walk, who gave living water to the Samaritan woman, and who made the blind see – Jesus allows himself, finally, this one time, to be ministered to with expensive nard oil.

There is another reference to spikenard oil in the Bible – in the Song of Solomon, this great ode to human love. Perhaps Jesus thanks Mary with this verse from the Song of Solomon:

“How sweet is your love, my sister … how much better your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!”

The love of Jesus in these final hours fills the room like perfume, and those who are in this room embrace his love and hold it in their hearts through the crushing crisis that is about to come. And Mary returns his love by preparing him with the oil of kings.

Lest we forget, Judas is in that room, too. And the chain of events that is about to unfold will take Judas to a terrible end. But for now Judas asks a question, and it is not an unreasonable question:

“Why was this perfume not sold…and the money given to the poor?”

Why, Judas asks, is this extravagant oil being used to wipe the feet of Jesus? Couldn’t this money be better spent on the poor?

The gospel writer whispers to us that Judas is a thief and has no intention of spending the money on the poor. But that doesn’t really answer the question, and still the question lingers in the room at Bethany, and lingers in the air down through the ages to us:

Couldn’t that money be better spent on the poor?

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replies. “She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

When I hear these lines, I think of all of the loving hands of those who have prepared this space for worship Sunday after Sunday, year after year.

I think of the hands that have pressed the linens, and polished the silver used in our Holy Communion; and those who have baked the bread, filled the cruets with wine, and arranged the flowers that will soon adorn this sacred space at Easter.

And I think of those who clean up after the rest of us have gone for the day.

The poor are with us and there is much work for all of us. Today, though, Jesus reminds us there is love in this room, and he bids us to linger awhile because precisely because the poor are with us, and precisely because we have work to do tomorrow.

The poor are with us, and I want to tell you something of that today. In my nearly two years in Charlottesville, I have been struck by a population that remains largely invisible here: Latino immigrants.

They live in apartment buildings behind shopping centers, and in other out-of-the-way neighborhoods.

Many work in poorly-paid service jobs, and with limited English abilities, they are at a disadvantage when maneuvering through the legal, health and education systems, and that disadvantage that can become a cruel spiral leading to deeper poverty and isolation.

There is a serious shortage of translation services in Charlottesville, and it is not something most of us English-speakers think much about.

We are not talking about a huge government program.

We are not talking about huge handouts.

We are talking about providing a few translators in key places so that some poor people might have a chance in the labyrinth of our society.

IMPACT, a coalition of 33 congregations – Jews, Muslims, and Christians including St. Paul's – wants to do something about that issue this year. We may not agree on many things, but we can agree on this.

On top of that, the cornerstone issue from last year -- early childhood education -- remains on the burner. It all fits together.

Tomorrow evening we will gather at University Hall to hear proposals for solving these issues, and hear the reaction from public officials. Our strength is in our passion as people of faith, and our passion shows when we come together in unity with large numbers.

So, tomorrow evening, please come to University Hall. If you can give do something as simple as giving two hours of your time, you can change the lives of people who need to be heard.

Tomorrow we have work to do. Today, linger here awhile; Jesus is filling us with life and love, and the strength to leave this room to feed each other, and to feed the poor in body, mind and spirit.

So today, linger awhile. Be extravagant in your love for the living Christ dwelling with us, and be extravagant in your love for each other. Worship fully, pray earnestly, sing loudly, give generously, and share in the bread and wine of our Holy Communion.

Today, may each of us be strengthened and fed. The poor are with us; tomorrow there is work to be done. AMEN

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Duduza dolls for Haiti: Stitchers get out your needles!

Many of you have been generous in so many ways to help the people of Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake. At St. Paul's, we've now contributed more than $24,ooo to Episcopal Relief and Development to assist with purchasing trucks to bring food and supplies into the country. You can learn more about ERD's efforts and make a contribution by clicking HERE.

There is one more way that you can help, and it is catching on big time at St. Paul's: stitching Duduza dolls, or comfort dolls, for children in Haiti. They are simple, beautiful, a easy to make (for those of you who are stitchers).

Jane Rotch, Margaret Haupt and Anne Marshall have been making them at St. Paul's, and we will be sending them to Lauren Stanley, our missioner in Haiti, to get them into the hands of children. You can find the directions for making a doll by clicking HERE.

The photograph at right shows the doll Jane finished a couple of nights ago. Jane wrote me an email about making the dolls, and her is what she told me:
My early experience with knitting a doll showed me that it's much simpler than it appears to be. I did the knitting in an evening (it's only 32 stitches on your needle) and am now working on finishing and stuffing. You can use scraps of leftover yarn, combining bright colors as you please, as long as the face and feet are brown yarn. Dolls can have knitted black hair or a cap, and can be boy or girl (trousers or skirt.)

Thanks Jane!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The health care debate: The Catholic nuns vs. the Catholic bishops

As you know, the health care debate is reaching climactic votes this weekend in the Congress. As you may also know, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is opposing health care reform unless the bill contains strong anti-abortion provision. The bishops are close to abandoning their long-sought goal of providing universal health care especially for the poorest among us.

However, the bishops are not the only voice of Roman Catholicism. Enter the nuns.

Many years ago, I got to know a courageous nun, Sister Simone Campbell (photo at right), introduced to me through mutual friends. I got to know her when she was the executive director for Jericho in Sacramento, a religiously-based public interest lobbying organization that works on health care issues.

When she got to Sacramento, Sister Simone looked me up and picked my brain about how to work in the Legislature and who-is-who. I happily gave her a crash course.

A few years ago, Sister Simone moved to Washington D.C. where she is now the executive director of Network (read about her and her organization by clicking HERE).

For months, Sister Simone and other nuns have been in the thick of the health care debate. My friend E.J. Dionne wrote about her and the force of the nuns on Thursday in The Washington Post. You can read his column by clicking HERE.

The conflict between the Catholic nuns and the Catholic bishops on this issue is part of a larger conflict that is just beneath the surface. The National Catholic Reporter wrote recently about how the male hierarchy is attempting to muzzle the nuns. The lead: "Bishops have stones in their hands aimed at women religious..." You can read the full story by clicking HERE.

And it should go without saying but I will say it anyway: thanks be to God we have ordained women in the Episcopal Church with full voice and vote in our governance. If you ever had any doubt about what a difference that makes, ask a nun.

The invisible population of Charlottesville

We've been in Charlottesville not quite two years. As a newcomer, and as a westerner, I've been struck by a population that remains largely invisible here: Latino immigrants. They live in apartment buildings behind shopping centers, and in other out-of-the-way neighborhoods.

Many work in poorly-paid service jobs, and with limited English, are often at a disadvantage when confronting the legal, health and education systems, and that can become a cruel spiral leading to deeper poverty and isolation. To put it mildly, there is a serious shortage of translation services in Charlottesville.

The faith communities of Charlottesville want to do something about that. IMPACT, a coalition of 33 congregations including St. Paul's, has made translation services the cornerstone issue for the year. It may seem like a simple issue, but it is crucial to the well-being of this disadvantaged population. On top of that, the cornerstone issue from last year -- early childhood education -- remains on the burner.

This coming Monday evening (March 22), we will gather at 6:30 pm at University Hall to hear proposals for translation services and early childhood education, and hear reaction from public officials. Our strength is in our passion, and our passion shows when we come together in large numbers. So, this Monday evening, if you are in Charlottesville, please drop what you are doing and come. This will be two hours that will change the lives of people who have very little voice in our society.

IMPACT is not the only organization working to better the lives of Latinos in Charlottesville. I've also been privileged to attend meetings of Creciendo Juntos, and you can read more about that by clicking HERE.

Here are details about IMPACT provided by John Frazee, a member of St. Paul's who is the president of IMPACT this year:
IMPACT is a coalition of 33 congregations working together to live out our religious tradition's call for justice in our community. Since 2006, we have worked for long term, meaningful improvement in the lives of all residents of the city and county.
Here are some of our successes:
* We have pushed for, and gotten, increased bus service to under-served neighborhoods. Not to mention service on Sundays, allowing thousands of riders to attend church, go to work, or otherwise lead normal lives on Sunday.
* We have advocated, and increased, the funding for and attention paid to affordable housing for those at the lowest level of income - people who are essential to the workforce of our community, but can't afford to live here, or even nearby.
* We have pressed for, and obtained, increased dental health care for those without means, lightening the burden on our emergency rooms, and improving the health of our entire community.
And this year we are working for:
* A commitment to pre-Kindergarten programs - in these difficult times, we can't neglect our future, and we must truly "leave no child behind."
* A commitment to the creation and implementation of language access plans in the local legal system - the law supports this, the community needs this. Ignoring it, or denying access, degrades the performance of the legal system as a whole.

Please consider joining us on March 22 at 6:30pm at University Hall - and PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD! Let friends, family, and neighbors know about the meeting, and that, in exchange for one evening's worth of time, they will get a stronger, more just future for our community.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Inclusion in the Church: Beyond the arguments

Yesterday we received word that The Rev. Mary Glasspool of Maryland has received the necessary consents of diocesan standing committees and bishops to be ordained a bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She will become the second openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion and in our branch of it, the Episcopal Church. There really is no going back.

Before the rhetoric becomes overheated, I think it important to step back and have a look at how far we have come, how we got to this moment, and where we might be going.

On March 4, The Rev. David Norgard, the president of Integrity USA, gave a speech at the Virginia Theological Seminary entitled "The Future of Inclusion." I think this is an important speech, and I am reprinting it in full today because I think he gives a good summation. It is also timely; the House of Bishops convenes tomorrow at Camp Allen, Texas, for its Spring meeting, and at the top of the agenda is a discussion about same-gender relationships.

In his talk, Norgard sketches a highly readable history of the fight over including LGBT people in the Episcopal Church. He notes that his giving such a speech at the Virginia seminary is historic and would not have been possible a few short years ago.

At the conclusion of his speech, Norgard asks provoking questions about the relevance of the Episcopal Church, and evangelism beyond LGBT community; he looks beyond the fights of the last 30 years, and he ends on an optimistic note:
But as I see it, it’s not a matter of acquiescing to a more inclusive future for the sake of those who have been on the outside. It is rather a matter of embracing opportunities that give us all a future as a community – a community of mystery and reason, of determined commitment and unconditional love.
I commend this to you today. It is worth your time to read:
* * *
The Future of Inclusion
By the Rev. David Norgard
Good evening. I want to begin by thanking the Dean for the invitation to be with you this evening. It was a most gracious offer that he made to me to come and speak here at the seminary and I am delighted to be doing just that. I also wish to thank you all for being here. I consider it both a great pleasure and a privilege to share with you my perspective on “The Future of Inclusion in the Episcopal Church.”

As you may be aware, the Dean issued the invitation to me to speak on this topic in my capacity as President of Integrity USA. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with it, Integrity is an organization dedicated to advancing the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons (LGBT) in the life and ministry of the Episcopal Church. Composed of individual members and parish partners from across the country, it has been engaged in its ministry of advocacy and education for thirty-five years now, ever since being founded by an Episcopal layman from Georgia, Dr. Louie Crew, in 1974.

When Mike Angell, a student here from the Diocese of San Diego and occasional preacher to the President, first contacted me about arranging this visit, he posed a straightforward yet intriguing question: What is the future of inclusion in the Episcopal Church? If I were someone who was prone to pithy answers, I would say “bright” and call for the next question. The very fact of my being here – at the Virginia Theological Seminary – as President of Integrity – provides strong evidence for the soundness of such optimism. There was a time within the living memory of some in this room (myself included), when such an occasion as this would not have been contemplated, let alone realized. This moment we are sharing right now, my friends, is in itself richly symbolic of the long road we have traveled together as Episcopalians over the past four decades. In fact, I believe that it is a directional sign toward where we are headed as a church….as you put it here, “orthodox and open”

I am not prone to pithy answers though, as you can already tell. So I would like to expand on my sunny forecast and give you a full report of the indicators as I read them. Speculating intelligently on the future is always first an exercise in interpreting history, particularly recent history. So let me begin there.

Recent history clearly has been a story of advances toward a more and more inclusive church, with only occasional setbacks. Looking at the issue broadly, we can see this progression a number of ways. For instance, we can observe how the role of women in the church has evolved and expanded. Thirty-five years ago, there were no women in the House of Bishops. Now there are sixteen. Thirty-five years ago, women were still somewhat new to the House of Deputies. Now a woman is President. In a similar vein, we can look at how the Spanish language has entered the life of the domestic Episcopal Church. Four decades ago, to hear Spanish in an Episcopal church was a novelty. Nowadays, many dioceses have at least one congregation where Spanish the primary language. We can look at various demographic trends and, generally speaking, they point to a denomination that is exhibiting more diversity in both its membership and leadership. My particular competence, however, lies in the area of the conscious inclusion of sexual minorities and, on the national level, that particular storyline begins in 1976.

That year General Convention debated a resolution which acknowledged and recognized homosexual persons as [quote] “children of God.” When you stop to think about that for a moment now, in 2010, to some of us it sounds just a little quaint…kind yet presumptuous in that old-guard, true-blue Episcopalian sort of way. That body of mostly churchmen, in all their magnanimity and sagacity, were moved to vote on the question of who was a child of God.

Thankfully – and to the great relief of many whose ontological validity hung in the balance, the vote was in the affirmative. (Don’t some of you feel much better now?!) Soon after that, presumably in the spirit of that declaration, the Bishop of New York, Paul Moore, ordained the first openly lesbian woman to the priesthood, Ellen Barrett, at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan.

The church at large was not at all amused, however. Mountains of letters of protest were delivered both to the parish rectory and the diocesan chancery, including (sadly) no small number of bodily threats and spiritual curses. Apparently, being a child of God was one thing; being a priest was entirely another. In a notable demonstration of elegant backtracking, another resolution passed at the next convention, declaring the Ordination of “practicing homosexuals” to be “inappropriate” at that time.

Permit me a personal excursus here. Despite the apparently ill-timed nature of my desire or desires (whichever), upon returning from the convention in Denver, I proceeded with my own plan of seeking Ordination and enrolling in seminary. It was a very big step for my home diocese, Minnesota, to sponsor an openly gay man. As a lot, Minnesotans are quite reluctant to be inappropriate; it’s just not in their nature. But the bishop, Robert Anderson, was a man of steadfast conviction and quiet courage. As the local process proceeded and the national debate intensified, he never wavered in his support. I recall one instance that might resonate especially with those here tonight. After receiving my admission application, the dean of the divinity school where I applied called my bishop to express his serious concern. He explained ever so delicately, almost apologetically, that I had listed Integrity – of all things – among my church involvements. The dean discreetly whispered over the phone to the bishop, “He is probably gay;” to which the bishop whispered back, “Actually, I have met his partner, and he is definitely gay…Is there some problem?” There was none for him if there wasn’t any for the bishop, the dean stuttered, leaving the bishop to wonder: Was it his chairmanship of the board or his matter-of-fact approach that had been more persuasive?

Back to the larger saga: For the next dozen years, no convention was without its resolutions about homosexuality. The topic seemed to move from being the love that dare not speak its name to the debate that would never end. Meanwhile, more and more lesbian and gay people, lay and ordained, lived on one side or another of an increasingly sharp and deep divide within the church. On the one side, more than one bishop prohibited any known homosexuals from serving at their cathedral’s Altar, unless they first took a vow of celibacy. At a prominent seminary, openly gay clergy were barred from serving as supervisors of field education. On the other side, another divinity school named a scholarship after Dr. Crew…and several bishops became increasingly vocal about their gay-supportive views, rejecting outright the argument that the church would fall apart if it accepted lesbian and gay people fully. Douglas Theuner, a predecessor of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, coined the rallying cry of the whole movement. “There can be no unity without justice,” he declared emphatically to the House of Bishops. For years, his quote was displayed on the front cover of every Voice of Integrity magazine. And I dare say that it is still timely and pertinent today on an even larger plane.

By the start of the nineties, more than a decade of debates and studies and hearings and speeches had brought no resolution. They had brought dozens of resolutions actually but no solution to the controversy. So, what was an “Episcopal” church to do when confronted with such vexation? Turn to its bishops was the answer that came to the Phoenix convention in ’91. The theologians among them (“bishops” and “theologians” not being coterminous, you realize) would undertake another extensive study and report back at Indianapolis in ’94. If nothing else, we are a studious church. Just parenthetically, I do wonder about our bishops sometimes. They have studied homosexuality for years and some still claim to be perplexed. It only took me a summer to learn it…but I suppose that is a story for another time.

Back to Indianapolis: The bishop who succeeded Paul Moore of New York, a man by the slightly unfortunate name of Dick Grein, delivered the report to a packed and tense House of Bishops. The report started well enough from the perspective of those hopeful for a breakthrough in LGBT equality. It recognized that gay people existed, that they were in the church, that indeed they were children of God, that they did some good things, and that many of them were actually very nice…lovely, in fact…devoted to partners, devoted to church, great on the Altar Guild, etc., etc…but…But the report concluded, nevertheless, they still should not be ordained and we should not be marrying them either, particularly to each other.

That night everyone felt a pall hang over the entire convention. Liberals were in despair. Conservatives were anxious. What would happen next? It was not at all obvious. Integrity folk worried: Would these unfounded conclusions somehow end up enshrined in canon law? Had the struggles and efforts of so many of us for so long been for naught? As a church, were we about to retrench?

Well, perhaps I should have guessed what was coming, since I happened to know the antagonist so well. The next afternoon, a son of this very seminary, the famous or infamous Bishop of Newark, Jack Spong, stood to a point of personal privilege. Slowly, dramatically, he read what eventually became known as a Statement of Koinonia, i.e. of community. With forceful eloquence, he stated unequivocally that he would ordain whoever was fit and called, homosexual or heterosexual. He took a similar stand with respect to blessing the committed relationships of same-gender couples. Then, with savvy and audacity, he invited his colleagues with courage enough to share his convictions publicly to sign the statement along with him. That evening the special service sponsored by Integrity was overflowing…and so were the tears. By 7:00 o’clock, about five hours later, dozens of other bishops had signed that statement and by late the next day the number had reached 78. There could be no mistake. It was by no means the end of the struggle…but our church had reached a turning point.
Still, skirmishes continued through the rest of the decade. Between General Conventions, the Episcopal Church caught the attention of our nation’s secular media by the novelty of conducting a heresy trial, namely that of the Rt. Rev. Walter Righter for ordaining a gay man named Barry Stopfel. As anachronistic – can I say medieval? – as it appeared to many reporters, several were nonetheless kind enough to note how the Episcopal Church maintained its sensibility throughout the ordeal. The Wall Street Journal, for example, noted that afternoon tea was served to the journalists and from a proper silver service.


The new century and the new millennium arrived…but not the end of the conflict. The story picks up in Minneapolis in 2003. That bastion of radical liberalism, New Hampshire, had the audacity to elect Gene Robinson, a gay man with a partner, as its bishop and, because of the timing; it was up to the General Convention to consent to the election. The line of people rising to speak their mind, pro and con and sometimes both in truly Anglican fashion, stretched all the way to the back of the huge hall. The testimony was variously emotional, logical, political, personal, and theological. Frankly, it was probably also unnecessary. Most people knew how they were going to vote before they ever entered the room. Nevertheless, the debate ran its full allotted time and then the House of Deputies voted. With a majority that was neither vast nor slim, it confirmed the election of the church’s first openly gay bishop in the church of God and the bishops did likewise, with the added dramatic flourish of a score of them abruptly walking out upon announcement of the results. Eventually, Gene tied with Desmond Tutu as the most recognized Anglican bishop in the world. (Sorry, Rowan.)

With the advent of a gay bishop, a reasonable outside observer might have expected the Episcopal Church finally to get on to other business. It had now been debating essentially the same subject for three decades. The Nicene Creed had been produced more quickly. Yet in 2006, at the proverbial eleventh hour, the same Presiding Bishop who had presided at Gene’s consecration pushed through a resolution designed to ensure that what had happened in New Hampshire stayed in New Hampshire. Although couched in sober and pious phrasing such as “exercising restraint,” Resolution BO33 basically called for a moratorium on the consecration of any more gay bishops.

That brings us close to the present moment and to Disneyland, or, I suppose I should say, to the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim, California. The passage of two resolutions by the convention brought the saga that had lasted nearly as long as “Days of our Lives” to its long-awaited conclusion. The resolution finally came.

Resolution #C056, originating from the Diocese of Missouri (whose Standing Committee just consented to the election of Mary Glasspool), moved the Episcopal Church decisively toward recognizing – and solemnizing – same-sex unions. Specifically, it acknowledged the changing legal landscape with respect to marriage and called upon our bishops to provide for generous pastoral response, especially in those places where civil unions of one sort or another are now permitted. Furthermore, it mandated the Standing Liturgical Commission “to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender relationships” while, it added, “honoring the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality.” In other words, we recognized that not everyone is happy about the emerging reality but it is what it is and we are moving forward.

The other landmark resolution, #D025, unequivocally affirmed that God has called and may call LGBT individuals to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. In other words, the de facto moratorium of 2006 on gay and lesbian bishops was lifted and what was characterized as “inappropriate” and untimely back in 1979 was at last found to be entirely appropriate and indeed timely.

That brings us to 2010, to the present day, which is by definition of course, the threshold of the future. Looking across the ecclesiastical landscape now from the perspective of the history I have just recounted, I believe the direction that this church is headed is clear. Collectively, we are now moving in the direction of transforming the legislative victories attained at the national level into living realities at the diocesan and congregational levels. We have decided, finally and unabashedly, in favor of being the kind of faith community in which lesbian and gay people are truly part of the family. We have become a “Modern Family,” to borrow another TV show title, and Mother Church, if you will, has come out. She has come out as a “P-FLAGer.” As an individual Episcopalian and as President of Integrity, my outlook is both hopeful and optimistic because once you have come out of the closet, friends, it really is not all that easy to go back in.

Having said that, I hasten to add that, as it is with the stock market, so it is in politics: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Even the freshman student of history knows that human progress is not inexorably linear. History is littered, in fact, with examples of progress not merely coming to a halt but taking a violent u-turn. The “war to end all wars,” World War I was followed by World War II. In China, the move toward a free market was followed by the brutal clampdown of free expression in Tiananmen Square.

Nevertheless, there are multiple sound reasons for optimism. Let me cite just a few. Just recently, the Attorney General of Maryland announced his official opinion that his state should recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere. The nearby District of Columbia, of course, just became the latest civil jurisdiction to allow such unions and even though the city has long been regarded as a bastion of liberalism (like New Hampshire), the symbolic value of the nation’s capital city doing so is potent. Likewise with Iowa: Today, in the Midwestern heartland, same-gender marriage is the law of the land and a fact of life. Looking northward from here, the Bishop of Massachusetts, Tom Shaw, has granted his clergy permission to perform marriages for same-sex couples in the churches of that diocese, C056 being his justification. And across the country in my new home diocese of Los Angeles, the convention elected the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, to serve as one of its two bishops suffragan. As of yesterday, 55 of 56 required Standing Committee consents have been received and her consecration is tentatively scheduled for May 15th.

Why all this movement in a forward direction? Fundamentally, I believe it is because nearly everyone today knows someone who is dear to them and lesbian or gay: a brother, sister, son, daughter, father, mother, neighbor, teacher, student, judge on “American Idol.” This increasing familiarity has brought contempt some places, to be sure, but mostly, to know us has been to love us.

My primary ministry these days is as an organizational development consultant to churches and nonprofits. In that work, I spend a fair amount of time helping leaders articulate mission and vision statements for their organizations and communities. A vision statement is essentially an articulation of what you want to be true when you have succeeded in your mission. It implies a commitment to do whatever is possible toward making that preferred future the reality. If I were to draft the de facto vision statement of the Episcopal Church, it might read, in part, something like this: “The community and its leadership are diverse in age, gender, race, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and familial constellations. This fact is a great blessing and is nurtured in the way we live together.” If this phrasing sounds familiar to you, it should be. I adapted it from the student body section of the VTS website.

As with any great cultural shift, this one will too will continue to meet resistance. A review of the national church’s website illustrates the point. There is an extensive section on diversity that includes a, b, c, d, x, y, and z…but not l, g, b, or t. Thinking historically again, just consider the Ordination of women or the adoption of the current Book of Common Prayer. Years after the formal actions were taken at General Convention moving the church forward on these matters, battles still raged on. Every great struggle, it seems, is defined by and motivated in part by the resistance with which it must continue to contend. And in this vein, I see the struggle for a diverse faith community as no exception to that historical rule. Three challenges in particular are possible and substantial enough to merit specific mention.

First is the desire for a scapegoat, a common temptation in community life. Whenever some crisis occurs or some unforeseen disaster descends upon the scene, it can seem expedient or advantageous to cast blame upon a vulnerable target. Jerry Falwell blamed AIDS on gay men, for instance. Never mind HIV. The only necessary ingredients for combustion are some inflammable scandal or incendiary economic friction coupled with invidious rhetoric.

Another viable force of resistance to a diverse church is the temptation of political expediency. It is well within the realm of possibility that the Episcopal Church might persuade itself to do the wrong thing (in my view) for the right reason. For instance, it is not implausible to imagine a scenario in which our church moves toward a recognition of global interdependence and, in the process, negotiates away aspects of its own identity or polity.

The third challenge I would name is perhaps the most worrisome of all because it pertains to our very viability as a community. I speak of the challenge of our own apparent irrelevance in the sight of the world around us. What if we Episcopalians finally do invite all the gays and lesbians in our neighborhood to our party…and they don’t to show up? What if what we have to offer is just not seen as being all that appealing? I do wonder: Have we fought for two generations to be included in a community that our younger gay brothers and lesbian sisters will simply regard as unimportant?

This question, it seems to me, leads to an even larger one: In an increasingly complicated world…one in which individuals are at once bowling alone and inextricably interdependent…one in which many doubt the primacy of any one theological narrative just as others defend their one true faith ever more militantly…one in which the strongest trend is identifying as “spiritual” and not “religious”…in such a world as this, is what we have to offer sufficiently authentic and compelling to appeal to those we would welcome?

I would like to offer two suggestions before I close. First, I believe we are perhaps uniquely positioned as a Christian denomination to offer to the spiritual seeker a community where a sense of mystery in life goes hand-in-hand with a respect for reason in the life of faith. As a communion, historically we have welcomed honest inquiry. To borrow words from the VTS website again, “our church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has been open to new truths discovered by reason and experience.” At the same time, it is a church that has generally also been open to the ineffable, especially through experience of the aesthetic. In short, we are equally comfortable with answers and questions, with art and science. In my personal experience, this perspective on the world resonates with individuals who identify as belonging to a sexual minority. It does so because, in a culture where gender roles are still defined by straight lines, they are outliers on the spectrum of conventional understandings of social reality.

Secondly, I believe we are necessarily yet nonetheless sincerely at last beginning to see ourselves not first and foremost as an institution to which people, if they have enough sense, will just join naturally. In our most vital congregations anyway, I see evidence of a very different self-understanding. Instead of institutions bound by law and dedicated to self-perpetuation, they see themselves as communities bound by love and dedicated to purposes beyond themselves. This also resonates with LGBT persons in my experience for it mirrors the story of LGBT families and communities. No social conventions have brought us together, let me assure you. It has been nothing other than the soulful desire to belong to a family of choice and a community of choice that allows us not only to be ourselves but also to be there for the other.

If we continue along these lines, I believe there is hope not just for the future of inclusion but for the future of our church over all. We will be a community whose appeal to all sorts and conditions of folk is neither a passing fad nor an artifice of political strategy but rather the natural further expression of a catholicity that stretches all the way back to the coming together of Jew and Greek.

Friends, in the first few years after the advent of the Ordination of women, I recall a question arising frequently in conversation: Do you believe in women’s Ordination? It was almost like out of the Baptismal Covenant. Whether it was intended to elicit an affirmation or a renunciation, you couldn’t always be sure. In either case, the most memorable response I ever heard came from a very sincere if somewhat na├»ve man who said, “Do I believe in them? I have seen them!”

As openly gay and lesbian people become a common and unremarkable aspect of the cultural landscape, I do believe that more bishops will ordain LGBT persons, more vestries will elect them to serve as rectors, more congregations will elect them to vestries, and most importantly of course, Altar Guilds won’t wince at the need to set up a wedding for two grooms or two brides. We are past the turning point. We have crossed the tipping point and the forecast is bright.

There will be resistance. The impulse to respond eagerly and faithfully to the emerging realities of each succeeding age is always met with the opposing impulse to preserve and hold fast to what has been familiar and comfortable. But as I see it, it’s not a matter of acquiescing to a more inclusive future for the sake of those who have been on the outside. It is rather a matter of embracing opportunities that give us all a future as a community – a community of mystery and reason, of determined commitment and unconditional love.

Thank you for your kind attention this evening and your willingness to reflect on these intriguing questions together. I dearly appreciate your hospitality and your openness to this conversation. I invite all of you – lay and ordained, straight and not-so-much, to walk with Integrity in your ministries going forward. It is, after all, by walking with integrity (small “I”) that we have arrived at the threshold of the future we behold, one that is bright precisely because it is blessed with a veritable rainbow of color.