Friday, April 30, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Dear members and friends of St. Paul’s,
I am writing to update you on the staffing changes here at St. Paul’s Memorial Church. This is a long letter, and I hope you will take the time to read it carefully.
When I was called as the Rector of St. Paul’s nearly two years ago, I felt the staff needed sufficient time to discern their individual callings during the transition to new leadership. It was my belief that each individual who works here needed a time of deliberate discernment before decisions were made about their continuing on the staff.
I feel very grateful and personally blessed that all of the staff decided to continue for the first year of my ministry among you. The Rev. David McIlhiney chose to retire last summer after 40 years of ordained ministry. Dr. Don Loach retired at the beginning after 37 years as music director. Parish Secretary Betsy Kennan also decided to retire after 19 years of service. We are blessed that she is now volunteering in the office one day a week.
Others have stayed, including John Reid and Tony Potter, our parish administrators; Debbie Little, our financial secretary; Iris Potter, our children and family ministry director; and Albrecht von Gaudecker, our organist. I am delighted that each feels called to continue in their respective ministries.
Recently, our youth leader, The Rev. Janet Legro, decided to step down at the end of this school year. We plan to thank her for her ministry this Sunday as part of our Youth Sunday celebration. After Janet’s announcement, in consultation with the Vestry, I made a difficult decision to bring more cohesion to our mutual ministry. In recent years, St. Paul’s has been ably served by two part-time associate rectors: Janet, who works primarily with youth, and The Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor, who works primarily with undergraduate University students. Both work on an academic year calendar, and under the terms of their employment agreements, neither was available during Christmas or other holidays, or in the summer. St. Paul’s is a large parish with year-round needs. In consultation with our Vestry, I decided to merge the two part-time associate rector positions into a single full-time position. This model was used effectively at St. Paul’s several years ago, and I believe it will meet the needs of our burgeoning parish.
By merging these two positions, a new full-time, year-round associate rector will have primary responsibility for youth and university ministry. Each of these ministries is distinct and demanding, but by merging these responsibilities into a single position it is my expectation that a full-time associate rector will grow and strengthen each of these ministries.
I have had several conversations with Neal about this full-time position. As Neal described in a letter to you earlier this week, he does not feel called to the position as it is now envisioned and will resign at the end of the academic year. I respect his decision, and I am very grateful to Neal for his many contributions to the life of our parish including the community garden, his leadership with the Canterbury student ministry, and our Sunday evening worship. He has blessed us with many gifts and much inspiration, and I hope you will demonstrate your thanks to him at a reception on May 9 following the 10 am service.
Here is how we will move forward: I have received many applicants for this new associate rector position. Several of our parish leaders are assisting me in evaluating the applicants. With the concurrence of the Vestry, I plan to call a new associate rector by the end of May, and have the new associate in place in Charlottesville this summer. Last year, we called The Rev. Dr. Ann Willms as associate rector for pastoral care. She has quickly become a vital presence among us, and her ministry continues to expand as she explores avenues of need in our parish life. I hope that our next new associate rector will bring the same kind of positive energy to this new position.
A few words about other important staff changes. Earlier this year I appointed a search committee, chaired by Bruce Carveth, to seek a new music director. I plan to follow the recommendation of the music director search committee, and will make an appointment when the search committee feels ready to recommend.
I have also made a difficult decision about our office staff. Because of budget constraints, it was necessary to lay-off our part-time receptionist earlier this year, leaving us short-handed during the week, particularly with answering phone calls and greeting visitors and guests. I have asked Jacqueline Gergen to organize a group of office volunteers during weekday business hours. If you are interested, please contact her at 434.972.2406.
Finally, a few words about the membership and financial health of our parish: I am pleased to tell you that we reported to the diocese an increase in membership of 17 members to 1,705 in 2009. Our average Sunday attendance held relatively steady at 382. Those figures reflect a healthy parish at a time when all mainline denominations (including ours) are reporting sharp membership declines. That said, our financial pledges for 2010 are $15,000 lower than in 2009, at $655,000. The average pledge is $2,090, slightly higher than the previous year but coming from fewer pledging units. These figures reflect several trends, including a reliance on a relatively small number of large pledges (and we lost several significant pledges in 2009 due to deaths). Our financial health would be greatly strengthened by broadening our base to include a larger number of pledges.
At our Vestry retreat earlier this year, our parish leaders adopted an annual budget that reflects three basic priorities: our financial commitment to outreach and social justice in the community; strengthening our pastoral and worship ministry within the parish and the University community; and maintenance of the tools of our ministry – our buildings and grounds. We also pledged to live within our means by adopting a budget that did not depend on using unrestricted reserve funds. To do so, we chose to cut our office support staff. Our budget places its primary focus on ministry. I am happy to talk with you individually about these changes, and I will answer questions at a forum on May 30 at 11:30 am.
Finally, let me say again what a joy it is to be your Rector, and to be a part of this amazing faith community. While this letter has been focused on the staff, truthfully 90 percent of our ministry occurs each day through the faithful dedication of volunteers like you. We have vibrant worship and effective outreach in the community through PACEM, IMPACT, and AIM (to name three) because of you. Our children are educated because of you. Teens, University students, and adults of all ages deepen their faith because of you. We are a strong parish with great people who are committed to each other and to the world beyond our walls. We have much to be thankful for at St. Paul’s Memorial Church in our centennial year, and I am especially thankful to God and to you.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. James Richardson
Rector & Chaplain
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Oh, dear. A prominent evangelist, the son of an even-more-prominent evangelist, has just been uninvited from a prayer breakfast at the Pentagon after it was discovered that he had made some ignorant comments about Islam, calling it "a very wicked and evil" religion. This was a problem -- there are many Muslims in our military. Some of them work at the Pentagon. He elaborated -- he thinks that observant Muslims have to kill their children if they engage in premarital sex. They are slaves to their religion, he says. You couldn't practice Islam here in America, he says, because killing adulterers is illegal here. He seems unaware that millions of Americans do practice Islam here and don't kill their children or their wayward spouses.
I know Christians who are slaves to their religion, too. Religious fundamentalism of any stripe enslaves its adherents to the past, forcing them to see all the customs of their ancestral cultures as permanent, forbidding them to do what people of faith must always do: wrestle with the world as we find it in light of what we know it to have been when the sacred texts we love were written down. All of history is held in God's hands, but fundamentalism seeks to imprison God within history, powerless to do anything besides what he did thousands of years ago. God, the elderly curator of Museum Earth. God, who conceived the universe but hasn't had a new thought since.
A Christian or a Jew who followed everything in our Holy Scriptures would be a pretty violent person, too. Adulterers would be stoned by the community. Fortunetellers would be executed. So would people who cursed their parents. Men might have multiple wives. Men would have to marry their deceased brothers' wives. Slaveholding would be acceptable. Life would be absurd.
And so we don't live that way. Nobody does -- fundamentalists may think they do, but they also interpret, elevating some scriptural values over others, choosing Jesus over Leviticus in some cases and not in others. We do live within our tradition, but we live there in our own time. We acknowledge the march of history, and the reality of change. We don't assume that everything that happened in ancient times was better than what happens now, nor do we assume the reverse. We think. And we acknowledge the possibillity that we may be wrong and have to change our minds and our behavior. This is not a modern failure of nerve or a moral defeat. It is what religious people have always done with respect to the conduct of their lives.
When the Massachusetts Bay Colony came to these shores, everyone in it assumed that the conscious experience of being saved would be a universal one in the community -- that, or you would have to leave. But something happened: the children of that community, some of them, could not produce a moment in their lives when they knew for certain that they were saved. They'd been raised in their faith: they didn't have a "prodigal son" moment, one in which they knew themselves to have been lost, but now found. The rules of the community were clear: they needed to leave.
But love won out. The elders created what they called "The Halfway Covenant:" You could stay, in anticipation of a future moment in your life which would surely come. We would depend on the nurture of the community to guide you there. We wouldn't have to give you up. Because we just couldn't do it, we loved you so.
We need to let love win out more. I suppose some of our noisier pundits will seize the opportunity for a rant about how anti-prayer-breakfasts the government is. But no -- the prayer breakfast will go on, with a different speaker. There has got to be a better reason to be a Christian than that other religions are evil and wicked -- if you can't think of one, try reading your Bible less like a cookbook and more like a prayer.
Art work from the St. John's Bible, a handwritten illuminated Bible being created by monks in Minnesota that you can view by clicking HERE.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard
by Mary Oliver
His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes - when he lifts their soft lids -
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder -
or the Book of Revelation.
Never mind that he eats only
the black-smocked crickets,
and the dragonflies if they happen
to be out late over the ponds, and of course
the occasional festal mouse.
Never mind that he is only a memo
from the offices of fear -
it’s not size but surge that tells us
when we’re in touch with something real,
and when I hear him in the orchard
down the little aliminum
ladder of his scream -
when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,
a flurry of palpitations
as cold as sleet
rackets across the marshlands
of my heart
like a wild spring day.
Somewhere in the universe,
in the gallery of important things,
the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,
sits on its pedestal.
Dear, dark dapple of plush!
A message, reads the label,
from that mysterious conglomerate:
Oblivion and Co.
The hooked head stares
from its house of dark, feathery lace.
It could be a valentine.
Monday, April 26, 2010
* * *
A little girl was in church with her mother when she started feeling
ill. "Mommy," she said, "can we leave now?"
"No" her mother replied.
"Well, I think I'm gonna be sick, Momma!"
"Then go out the front door and around to the back of the church and
then behind a bush."
After about 60 seconds the little girl returned to her seat.
"Were you sick?" her mom asked.
"How could you have gone all the way outside to the back of the church and
returned so quickly?"
"I didn't have to go out of the church, Mommy. They have a box next
to the front door that says, `FOR THE SICK'."* * *A paramedic was asked on a local TV talk-show program: "What was your
most unusual and challenging 911 call?"
"Recently we got a call from that big white church at 11th and Walnut,"
the paramedic said. "A frantic usher was very concerned that during the
sermon an elderly man passed out in a pew and appeared to be dead. The usher
could find no pulse and there was no noticeable breathing."
"What was so unusual and demanding about this particular call?" the interviewer asked.
"Well," the paramedic said, "we carried out four guys before we found the one who was dead."
* * *
An Anglican vicar, well into a lengthy sermon on the Gospel for the day,
suddenly stopped and called down to the his warden "that man's asleep."
The warden replied: "You put him to sleep; YOU wake him up."
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Later today, Lori and I are hosting our first “Parish Tea,” a Southern tradition whereby we open our home to the parish for tea in the afternoon, followed by Evening Prayer, followed by cocktail hour.
Having a big party is precisely what we need at St. Paul’s right now. Our parish is suffering through a wave of illnesses and deaths; yesterday was the first Saturday in weeks that we’ve not had a funeral or memorial service. Alas, there are more coming up in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, at least a half-dozen parishioners have recent diagnosis of cancers. Others have been laid up with serious debilitating maladies. The people of St. Paul’s are going through a great deal right now.
In many churches, today is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the gospel lesson (John 10: 22-30) focuses on Jesus vowing to find his sheep and bring them safely home no matter what. Today we hear some of the most soaring, assuring and familiar words in the New Testament:
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”I think these words are meant not just to offer comfort, but courage. People get sick and die. But death is a horizon over which we cannot yet see. Healing will come, either on this side of the horizon or the other. The Good Shepherd will be with us, even when we don’t see it or feel it, no matter how difficult and rocky the path may be. We aren’t alone in this walk. God is with us. We will get through this.
One of the reasons we gather as faith community is to be the face of Christ to each other, and have faith when others’ faith is faltering. When my prayers don’t come, I know you will have prayers for me.
Sometimes I wonder why we offer prayers for the sick and those who have died. Doesn’t God know all this already? Of course. But maybe God likes to hear us say the words about those who are suffering, and by our words, we connect our souls to each other. When I pray for someone who is sick, a part of me – maybe just a sliver – shares in the sickness with that person. When all of us pray, the slivers become a giant redwood.
Recently I came across a book of poems about loss, grief and recovery compiled and edited by Kevin Young, a remarkable young poet in his own right (I mentioned him HERE a few weeks ago after hearing him read at the Virginia Festival of the Book). Poetry, like prayer and art, reaches depths in our souls that lengthy prose and scientific treatises just cannot reach.
Below is a poem from this book by one of my favorite poets, Jane Kenyon. The artwork is by Kathrin Burleson (that’s how she spells her first name), who lives on the North Coast of California. This painting, entitled “Resurrection,” is the last in a series she painted on the Stations of the Cross.
Notes from the Other SideReprinted in The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing, edited by Kevin Young, 2010, Bloomsbury.
By Jane Kenyon
I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.
Now there is no more catching
one’s own eye in the mirror
there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course
no illness. Contrition
does not exist, no gnashing
of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.
The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,
and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The work at our community garden is definitely in full swing. A number of dedicated folks came out Saturday to till the ground, weed, plant and get the garden in shape. Here are a number of photos taken by Jane Rotch.
Monday, April 19, 2010
A preacher of the old school was describing the events of Judgement Day
and, of course, he used Biblical phraseology whenever he could.
"Oh, my friends," he intoned, "imagine the suffering of the sinners as
they find themselves cast into the outer darkness, removed from the
presence of the Lord and given to eternal flames. My friends, at such a
time there will be weeping, wailing and a great gnashing of teeth!"
At this point, one of the elders of the congregation interrupted to
say, "But Reverend, what if one of those hopeless sinners has no teeth?"
The preacher crashed his fist on the pulpit, "My friends, the Lord is
not put out by details. Rest assured: teeth will be provided!"
* * *
Father Smithers, looking over his large congregation on a sunnyCartoon by Dave Walker.
Easter morning, startled them with this announcement "My friends, realizing
that I will not see many of you until next Easter, may I take this
opportunity to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!
That must have been going through the minds of the disciples in the days after Jesus’ death as he kept popping up here and there, on roads and in closed rooms.
We hear today about the third time he came to them. This time, Jesus cooked them breakfast.
It was over this meal he told them what he wanted them to do next: “Feed my sheep.”
And in case they didn’t get it, he told them three times:
“Feed my sheep.”
“Feed my sheep.”
“If you love me, feed my sheep.”
Today, in the Gospel of John, the story continues as the disciples go back to work doing what they know best – fishing.
And when Jesus comes, it is perhaps the most profound of their encounters with him because this time Jesus tells them that growing in faith, loving God – being utterly devoted to him – takes one more thing they still have not done:
“Feed my sheep.”
In the last two weeks, I’ve been talking in this pulpit about the nature of a life of faith. Two Sundays ago, on Easter Sunday, I talked about how faith is based on things hoped for and not seen, and listening for the living God who is right here among us, who loves us especially when we feel we have little or no faith at all.
Last week I talked about how doubt is a tool of faith by compelling us to ask the hard questions of life and death. By bringing our faith and doubts together in community, we can deepen our faith in all its dimensions, and find the fullness of faith that none of us can find alone.
This third leg is the most fraught with peril, and maybe that is why it comes last. This third leg is action: “Feed my
Without action in our faith, we will stop breathing.
As it happens, today in this church we are marking Earth Day, an annual observance that began when I was in high school to bring attention to our stewardship of the earth, and to prod us to be less wasteful, less polluting, more respectful of all the other living things with whom we share this planet.
But I am mindful that Earth Day, even with its noble goals, has its own peril: It can come off as a political bludgeon that alienates more than persuades.
Or conversely, as a West Coast friend of mine put it, Earth Day can seem like we are ticking off a box that says “look, we are doing the green thing” in church, and then we go back to life as usual.
I do not propose to do either.
I’d like instead to propose that we observe Earth Day as something larger. I’d like to propose that we our relationship with all of Creation as central to the meaning of Easter and what Jesus is getting at over breakfast:
Feed my sheep.
Go forth and feed the world, Jesus tells Peter: Feed those who are hungry, give them shelter. Go to places scared by hurricane, earthquake, disease, neglect, pollution, warfare, corruption, poverty, ignorance.
Feed my sheep.
Make our world whole, bring new life, become the hands and feet of grace wherever you go. Make Easter alive in the dead places. Feed my sheep.
To fully walk in faith is about putting feet to our prayers and the longings of our heart. That kind of faith can pull us outside ourselves and connect us to each other and to all of creation in ways we have not dreamed.
Yet many things get in our way. Much political rhetoric is now being spent on the issue of global warming, or climate change. Some of you have done extraordinary work researching this crisis, but not everyone is convinced that it is really happening. The problem, I would submit, is the language politics has eclipsed not only the language of science, but the language of faith.
So I would like to suggest that we take up the language of God’s healing grace and extend it to the good earth. Salvation is not just about humanity, but, in the words of the hymn, about “all creatures of our God and King.”
Or, as the book of Revelation puts it: “Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea” is singing to God.
So what can we do to join this chorus of all Creation?
We can start with a few simple things: turning off lights, recycling cans, bottles, paper, cardboard. We can use fewer resources by not buying more than we need, driving fewer miles, and eating food grown closer to where we live. Later this morning we will hear a few more ideas to reduce our footprint.
But even if we do all that, it will not be enough. Inevitably, we will end up in the realm of public policy because the solutions are larger and more complicated than anything any of us can do as individuals, or even as a single nation.
The rising ocean that is inundating an island in the South Pacific is related to a mining disaster in West Virginia and to the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap in Canada, and all because of our addiction to fossil fuels. The crisis is literally global in size.
We look to governments not because we think they hold the solution to every problem, but precisely for the opposite reason. We have to live with governments in our age, so we don’t trust governments to get it right without us.
As faithful people, we need to find a way to set aside partisan differences, and shallow slogans, to support smart public policies that are good for the earth.
Where we differ, we need to model, as people of faith, ways to listen to our differences with respect and openness, and acknowledge none of us have all of the answers. Maybe our greatest contribution might be modeling how to do just that.
All this takes hard work, creativity and the courage. In our walk of faith, Jesus is invites us to be part of his loving, graceful, redeeming work in this world. He is inviting us to a walk of faith that brings healing and wholeness to that which is broken, not just in our souls, but everywhere on this planet.
If you love me, feed my sheep.
Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Consciousness, the Light ofApril 14, 2010
My Dear People,
Memory: a golden bowl, or a basement without light.
--Mary Oliver, Poet
The light of consciousness is the light of the One.
--Eckhart Tolle, Mystic
I joked with a friend last week, while in South Carolina, that I was getting used to being in Virginia and being embarrassed by South Carolinians (my distant cousin Joe Wilson's "You lie!," the governor's "hike on the AT," the lieutenant governor's comparison of the poor to stray animals), but it was a new thing, for me, to be in South Carolina and be embarrassed by something a Virginian did. But so it was a week ago, with our governor's proclamation of April as Confederate History Month.
A lot of commentary has gone under the bridge since then, as would be expected. (I commend to you, by the way, yesterday's RTD op-ed by Charles F. Bryan, Jr.; and M.P. Williams' column, particularly as it quotes U of R's Ed Ayers.) Embarrassment has been a common motif, as has sadness; and there has been talk of blindness. Language like "shockingly amateurish" and "gaffe" has been used. Apologizing for leaving African-Americans and slavery entirely out of the proclamation, the governor explained that he had not been "focused" on slavery.
The thing is, this was not merely about a misstep, or an inattentive moment. This was not a gaffe. This was not about things being done in an amateur fashion, versus professionally. To think or speak of it in those terms is to trivialize the substance of the matter, is to miss entirely what is important about the moment. Something much deeper and much more significant was and is at play.
He was standing by Hagood's side on the right of the line, when Hoke's aide brought the order to advance. The men, who had been told to follow his lead, were intently watching him, and when he was ordered to go, without speaking, he drew his handkerchief from his breast and raised it aloft. The men sprang over the parapet with a yell and rushed upon the enemy across the intervening space, he moving upon the right of the line... When they were driven back and had laid down in the oats (as they were instructed), to await the coming of the supports, he moved east along the whole length of his line under the close fire of the enemy and shortly after reaching the left, disappeared.
"He," like me, was a South Carolinian in Virginia; and he was my great-great-great grandfather Nelson. He died that day, in 1864, in between the lines at Petersburg, just below the Appomattox River.
I was raised to be very proud of him, and my ten other direct ancestors who served in the Confederate armies. I grew up, meanwhile, with no meaningful consciousness of what that whole war meant for African-Americans.
My sons will grow up differently. They will be conscious of their two great-great-great-great grandfathers named Nelson, one who served in the 7th South Carolina, and one who served in the 7th Vermont, both of whom died honorably in that service. They will also grow up more consciously than I did of what that war meant for and means to African-Americans, namely, the end of an "evil and inhumane practice," as the amended version of the governor's proclamation put it, and the beginning (albeit a far from perfect beginning) of liberty and justice for African-Americans.
The religious quest can be spoken of in many ways. There is, however, no more apt way to speak of the religious quest (or, to put it another way, the human quest) than to speak of waking up; of consciousness; of emerging, from the unconscious darkness, into the light of consciousness. ("In him was life, and the life was the light of all humanity," the Gospel of John says of the Word made flesh, Jesus.)
Let us pray for a greater and more whole consciousness, for ourselves; for all Virginians, including our governor; and for all people; especially as we approach the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War and of Emancipation. Again, last week's excitement was not about a mere gaffe. It was about being awake; it was about being conscious. And how we talk about our history (memory) is as true a sign as any of how conscious we are; of how awake we are; of how much the light of the One shines in our minds, in our hearts, and in our lives, today.
May our history be for us, not a basement without light, but a golden bowl.
As the song says: Shine, Jesus, shine.
Your brother in Christ,
Friday, April 16, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Money Goes Upstream
By Gary Snyder
I am hearing people talk about reason
Higher consciousness, the unconscious,looking across the audienceThere are people who do business within the law.
through the side door
where hot sunshine blocks out
a patch of tan grass and thorny buckbrush
And others, who love speed, danger,
Tricks, who know how to
Twist arms, get fantastic wealth,
Hurt with heavy shoulders of power,
And then drink to it!they don't get caughtIs this reason? Or is it a dream.
they own the law.
I can smell the grass, feel the stones with bare feetthough I sit here shod and clothed
with all the people. That's my power.
And some odd force is in the world
Not a power
That seeks to own the source.
It dazzles and it slips us by,
It swims upstream.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Ode to Boudin
By Kevin Young
You are the chewing gum
of God. You are the reason
I know that skin
is only that, holds
more than it meets.
The heart of you is something
I don't quite get
but don't want to. Even
a fool like me can see
beauty, the way
out in this world where most
things disappear, driven
into ground, you are ground
already, & like rice
you rise. Drunken deacon,
jambalaya's baby mama,
you bring me back
to the beginning, to where things live
again. Homemade saviour,
you fed me the day
my father sat under the flowers
white as the gloves of pallbearers
tossed on his brier.
Soon, hands will lower him
into ground richer
than even you.
For now, root of all
remembrance, your thick chain
sets me spinning, thinking
of how, like the small,
perfect, possible, silent soul
you spill out
like music, my daddy
dead, or grief,
or both--afterward his sisters
my aunts dancing
in the yard to a car radio
tuned to zydeco
beneath the pecan trees
Monday, April 12, 2010
Barbie gets ordained, and has the smells-and-bells wardrobe to match
By Leanne Larmondin
(RNS) With her careers as veterinarian, astronaut and U.S. president behind her, Barbie has at last found her true calling: as a second-career Episcopal priest.
The 11.5-inch-tall fictional graduate of Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif., has donned a cassock and surplice and is rector at St. Barbara’s-by-the-Sea in (where else?) Malibu, Calif.
She arrived at the church fully accessorized, as is Barbie’s custom. Her impeccably tailored ecclesiastical vestments include various colored chasubles (the sleeveless vestments worn at Mass) for every liturgical season, black clergy shirt with white collar, neat skirt and heels, a laptop with prepared sermon and a miniature, genuine Bible.
Apparently a devotee of the “smells and bells” of High Church tradition, the Rev. Barbie even has a tiny thurible, a metal vessel used for sending clouds of incense wafting toward heaven.
The Rev. Barbie, who in less than a week had drawn nearly 3,000 friends on her Facebook page, spends most of her time in the office of the Rev. Dena Cleaver-Bartholomew, rector of Christ (Episcopal) Church, in Manlius, N.Y., near Syracuse.
The doll, her wardrobe and portable sacristy were a gift from Cleaver-Bartholomew’s friend, the Rev. Julie Blake Fisher, a priest in Kent, Ohio.
“I got a phone call from my husband who said a large package had arrived;Julie had told me that she was making something for me. She used to be a dressmaker and she makes gorgeous stoles, so I thought she was making me a stole,” said Cleaver-Bartholomew. “When I came home and there was this enormous box, I knew it wasn’t just a stole!”
Fisher had made Episcopal Priest Barbie and a few vestments two years ago for the children in her parish to dress.
“I thought the children would like to practice playing with the vestments and learning what they are,” said Fisher. The Rev. Barbie was a hit with both the children and a local group of women clergy, including Cleaver-Bartholomew.
When Cleaver-Bartholomew later got called to her parish in New York, Fisher the perfect gift for her friend.
“I thought, `I don’t have time to make her one of her own; I’ll just send her Episcopal Priest Barbie for her farewell gift,”’ said Fisher. “But then, when I sat down to start to package everything up, I thought `What if I added this? What if I added that? What if I made this? It would just take one more day.“‘
One more day turned into 100 hours of painstaking labor, and “before I knew it, it was Episcopal Church Barbie—High Church Edition,” Fisher said.
Barbie’s clergy garb is the real deal, made from dress patterns that were crafted or adapted by Fisher. Barbie’s collared blouse was cut down from the fabric of a genuine clergy shirt; the chasubles and alb are made from real silk and linens. Her capa nigra (black funeral cloak) sports pewter buttons. Her nearly-complete Bible was originally sold as a keychain. The thurible was crafted from a teeny tea ball.
Episcopal Church Barbie’s popularity exploded after she got a shout-out on the popular blog, BeautyTipsforMinisters.com. A “Friends of Episcopal Priest Barbie” Facebook group has grown exponentially since its March 31 inception.
Many of the Rev. Barbie’s online admirers asked about her career aspirations.
“How long till she is Bishop Barbie?” asked one.
Fisher has found a calling of her own: She responded that her next project will be Episcopal Priest Barbie: Cathedral Edition. She promises an African-American Bishop Barbie, a Hispanic Ken doll who will be cathedral dean (rector) and his African-American friend, Stephen, will be a deacon. Barbie’s little sister, Kelly, will be an acolyte.
For her part, Cleaver-Bartholomew thinks Barbie could be a tool for evangelism for the Episcopal Church—particularly for conveying that “we have a sense of humor, we can be fun.
“Barbie’s very versatile that way,” said Cleaver-Bartholomew. “She’s open to new possibilities, so evangelism is definitely in her future.”
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Last week, in this pulpit, I talked a fair amount about faith, definitely a good subject for an Easter Sunday.
For those of you who just might have been elsewhere, I mentioned that living a life based on faith requires holding values that are sometimes foreign in our world, values like kindness and forgiveness; courage and tolerance.
I talked about how a life of faith is based on things hoped for and not seen, and comes by hearing with all our heart and all our mind for the living God who is right here among us, who loves us with no strings attached; who loves us especially when we feel we have little or no faith at all.
Today I want to talk about another dimension to this life of faith.
To live a life of faith sometimes requires living with doubt, and making doubt into a tool of faith.
Yes: Doubt is a tool of faith.
To fully live into a life of faith is to be out on the edge, asking the greatest questions a human being can ask.
By honestly acknowledging doubts we can come face-to-face with faith.
The best way I can explain this is to give you examples – two examples of people who changed my life.
Let me back up: During my training to be a priest, I worked for a summer at a big urban hospital undergoing the rite-of-passage known as “clinical pastoral education,” or “CPE,” working as a student chaplain.
I got to know two patients especially well that summer. One was a drug addict. She was 40ish, and her liver was giving out. Her name was Cathy. She had grown up in the suburbs and worked in professional positions until the drugs took over her life.
The other was a 92-year-old man, and his body was simply wearing out. His name was Ben.
Neither would regain their physical health. I preached at both of their memorial services before I became a priest, the first two of many I would do.
What I am about to tell you I mentioned at both of their services with their respective family’s permission, so I am not violating any confidences.
Cathy and Ben, as I found out, were Episcopalians, or had been, as both had become very alienated from the church of their upbringing. When I met them, neither had darkened a church door in many years.
For Cathy, it was about feeling judged by the chorus of boos about how she had lived her life, and truthfully, she was dying an early death because of how she led her life. She made no excuses.
For Ben, his alienation was deeper than just the church. His alienation was with God.
As a young man, Ben had become an Episcopal priest, and I came to find out, he was the United States Navy chaplain at the terrible Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942 and 1943. The horror was more than he could bear, and when World War II was over, he quit being priest. He was done.
That summer I saw Ben and Cathy nearly every day, and I continued to see them for many months after my chaplaincy was officially completed at the hospital.
Both talked bluntly about their doubts and fears. Somehow, both Cathy and Ben found a way in their final days to work through their doubts.
For both of them, faith was a struggle that went to the deepest core of their being, and they never let go because it was that important.
They both found a way through the muck to find the living God who had been with them all along. There was not a single moment of revelation, but many moments along their path, and it was my privilege to walk with them for a time on that path.
Both died quietly in their sleep, and each left me a gift. Cathy left me the gift of her smile. Ben left me his Bible, the same Bible he had used at Guadalcanal.
My bishop used this Bible at my ordination as a priest.
I sincerely believe both of them found a sense of spiritual health in their final days because they had found a way to express their doubts.
And through the expression of their doubts, Ben and Cathy found a deeper place of faith – a relationship with God – that was all their own, springing from the rubble of their doubts. I only wish the church had welcomed their doubts sooner.
Doubt can be a tool of faith by propelling us to ask hard questions and compelling us to not settle for easy answers.
It is a story about the power of doubt.
In the days following the crucifixion, Jesus appears to the disciples, but Thomas is somewhere else whenever it happens. “I want to see it,” he proclaims. “I want to touch Jesus’ wounds.”
So Jesus comes to him and shows him.
The image of Jesus in this story is haunting. Jesus enters a locked room. He comes in physical form, yet he is beyond physical, as if he is from some other dimension of time and space.
Notice that no one – none of the other disciples, not Jesus, not anyone – judges Thomas for saying what surely others outside the room must also have felt. They give him the benefit of the doubt.
Giving the benefit of the doubt can break down walls of isolation and create islands of kindness so that each of us can grow, as God would have us grow.
Jesus tells Thomas that it is blessed to believe without seeing. He tells Thomas to doubt his doubts, and Thomas does, and by so doing he comes to a new understanding of himself and his own walk of faith.
For Thomas it begins by proclaiming openly his doubts.
Communities of faith that leave no room for the expression of doubt can become hollow and stale – or worse, self-destructive cults.
The tools of reason, inquiry and analysis are gifts from God, and can yield truths beneath surface readings of religious texts and doctrines.
When we put those tools of the mind with the tools of the heart through prayer, we can grow in faith beyond anything we can imagine, both individually and as a community of faith.
The story of doubt and faith does not end in the closed room for Thomas. The door opens; Thomas goes into the world different, changed, somehow new from his encounter with the Risen Christ.
Nor does the story end for us today. The doors here will open, and we will go forth from this room today different, changed, somehow new from our encounter with the Risen Christ.
And it begins by asking questions, openly and honestly; and bringing all of our trust, all of our prayers, all that we know and all that we doubt – truly all of our being – on this walk of faith, and then watching anew for the Risen Christ coming among us.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Saturday, April 10, 2010
April 9, 2010
The Standing Committee, key leaders in diaconal formation and some members of the diocesan Committee on the Diaconate recently gathered for a conversation on the formation process for the vocational diaconate. After the meeting, the Standing Committee made two decisions that affect the process and that will have implications for the formation of future deacons. First, the Standing Committee voted to recommend Candidacy for Holy Orders for the first class of postulants who have completed the Diaconal Formation Institute. "The Standing Committee recognizes candidacy as a time of significant formation and we invite the group to continue in that formation," said Don Metheny, president of the Standing Committee.
The Standing Committee also postponed consideration for ordination of the initial class until all canonical requirements are completed successfully. The five members of the initial class will begin their practicum placements in parishes at the end of May, completing them in late November. The Standing Committee plans to consider the initial class members for ordination at that point.
For the five candidates, this means a second delay of their ordination, which was originally scheduled for January of 2010, then rescheduled for May. The ordinations are now tentatively scheduled for early 2011. The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia, said, "I concur with the Standing Committee in their decision, while standing in support with these five and with all who are in formation for the vocational diaconate."
"These pioneers have been on an emotional roller coaster, but they continue to experience God's call and to feel God's grace," the Rev. Canon Susan Goff, canon to the ordinary, said after sharing the news with them.
In 2008 and 2009, the first two classes of vocational diaconate postulants entered the diocesan Diaconal Formation Institute. Vocational deacons live out their entire ordained ministry as deacons, focusing their energies on a bridge ministry, which is intended to build significant ties between the Church and the world, particularly in service to persons in need.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Letters from Bishop Shannon Johnston and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia concerning their votes on Canon Mary Glasspool as bishop
The Rev. Canon Glasspool, who serves as the canon to the ordinary on the Diocese of Maryland, was elected suffragan (assisting) bishop by a convention of the Diocese of Los Angeles last Fall, which would make her the second openly partnered gay bishop in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.
To be consecrated, anyone who is elected a bishop by a diocese must undergo a confirmation process involving the entire Episcopal Church. To be confirmed requires receiving consents from a majority of the elected Standing Committees representing each of our 110 dioceses, and a majority of the bishops. Canon Glasspool has, in fact, received the required number of consents to be confirmed, and she will be consecrated a bishop at a ceremony in Los Angeles in May.
The statements coming today from Virginia were to tell us how our representatives voted; both Bishop Johnston and our Standing Committee voted to withhold consent (i.e., voted no). Bishop Johnston, by the way, mentioned in his letter that he voted after Canon Glasspool had already received enough consents to be confirmed.
I believe you should let these letters from our leaders speak for themselves, and the letters are posted below. It is unusual, by the way, for bishops and standing committees to explain their votes, so this is also a mark of the sensitivity of this matter. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
April 9, 2010
Dear Diocesan Family,
The Rev. Canon Mary Douglas Glasspool, a priest of the Diocese of Maryland and a partnered gay woman, was elected to serve as a bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles in December 2009. The consent process, a 120-day period, requires the receipt of consents from majorities of the Standing Committees throughout the Episcopal Church and from the Church's bishops with jurisdiction. On March 17, just before the opening of the House of Bishops meeting at Camp Allen, Texas, the presiding bishop's office announced that Canon Glasspool had received the number of consents required to proceed with her ordination and consecration as a bishop.
Along with several other bishops, I had been delaying my vote until the House of Bishops meeting so that we might confer with one another as to the implications of this episcopal election. As consent is a responsibility upon all diocesan bishops, I then sent in my ballot even though the process had already been decided. Understandably, the diocesan offices have received numerous inquiries as to how I voted. I write this to announce my decision for this particular process and to say something about what this means (and doesn't mean) for my leadership in the Diocese of Virginia.
Bishop-elect Glasspool's election has been both a source of celebration and of alarm for many in our diocese, just as in the Episcopal Church and our wider Anglican Communion. In my judgment, both "sides" make compelling arguments and have quite legitimate concerns. Personally, I am more torn by this decision than by any other decision I've yet faced, whether as priest or bishop. After deep prayer and thought, I voted to decline consent to the ordination of Bishop-elect Glasspool. This is not to reflect on Bishop-elect Glasspool herself (who, by all accounts, is indeed highly qualified and well suited for the ministry of bishop) but rather is about the circumstances of this case.
My decision was based on the unique context of this particular election. Under other circumstances, I would have voted differently. Frankly, I look forward to the time when I can. As it is, however, several points swayed my decision; taken together they presented what was to me an overwhelming weight.
First, as I have stated before, I believe that it is theologically inconsistent to ordain a partnered gay person as a bishop without provision for the Church's recognition and blessing of that partnership. (We would not do this with heterosexuals.) As things stand now, the cart is before the horse. To me, the controversy about partnered gay bishops would be moot if we dealt successfully with the blessings of monogamous gay relationships. I will continue to work for that result: first things first.
Second, immediately following last summer's General Convention, both the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies wrote to the archbishop of Canterbury (in letters made available to the Convention) stating that the Convention's actions did not overturn, and should not be interpreted as overturning the moratorium on the consecration of partnered gay and lesbian bishops. That moratorium had been in place since 2006. With statements from both presiding officers of Convention affirming that it remained, for the present, the policy of this Church, it seemed to me that a denial of consent to this election was necessary.
Third, the 2006 General Convention committed the Episcopal Church to participation in the work developing an Anglican Covenant for consideration by the Communion. My understanding is that we pledged to cooperate in those deliberations until the Covenant was either adopted for this Church or not. We gave our word, and I believe that we should live up to that word. To proceed with such a controversial move at the very time that the Covenant is under consideration is, I believe, contrary to the good faith necessary in our commitment to that work and ensuing discernment.
As I made clear when I was elected bishop for the Diocese of Virginia, I am committed to the Anglican Communion. The Communion is not some patched together entity; still less is it something merely abstract. Communion across international bounds and embracing the globe is nothing less than a gift of grace. This is why it must be held dear. I do not know just where this controversy will lead us, but as your bishop I will work to support and strengthen the unique witness that is the worldwide Anglican fellowship of faith.
At the same time, as I have stated clearly in a variety of settings, I am no less committed to the full inclusion of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in all areas of ministry in the Church's life. I understand that my vote to deny consent in this case could be interpreted as backing away from that commitment. Even so, I can only declare again my deep conviction that full inclusion is also a sign of grace-and we should be reaching to embrace it.
From this, it follows that I am both "pro-Communion" and "pro-inclusion." I reject completely any notion that these positions are mutually exclusive. I remain hopeful, even confident, that there is a way to be faithful to this "both/and" witness. Our history teaches us that we Anglicans-when we are at our best-have been able to hold perceived opposites in a creative and liberating tension that has room for everyone and gives birth to new answers. This is the time to reclaim our best yet again.
The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
Statement of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia
The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia has declined to consent to the election of the Rev. Canon Mary Douglas Glasspool as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles because, in the view of a majority of the Committee, her election is inconsistent with the moratorium agreed to by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. That majority believes that, at this time, failure by individual dioceses to respect the Church's agreement to the moratorium would be detrimental to the good order of our Church and bring into question its reliability as an institution. The committee found no other reason to withhold its consent to the election of Canon Glasspool.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
What are you most afraid of? What wakes you up in the middle of the night? For some here tonight it's probably about where the next paycheck will come from. I have one friend who's just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and another whose son is in jail for statutory rape. For almost all of us, there is some primordial fear linked to thoughts about our freedom and our own mortality.
Fear can keep us from life and hope, and any possibility of new creation. I've known people who died a lot younger than they probably should have, because they just weren't able to acknowledge that their symptoms were signs of something serious. It was somehow easier to ignore that intuitive knowledge than it was to face the possibility and get more information, like going to the doctor.
We've been haunted this week by the story of an Irish immigrant girl in South Hadley who committed suicide because her classmates taunted her so unmercifully. She saw no hope.
Fear could paralyze the people of Haiti, but they go on, with the help of their friends, working yet one more time to build a society of abundance for all.
Fear could have stopped Martin Luther King that night after his house was bombed. But that experience of violence led him deeper into his conviction that God had something else in mind. He went forward in hope, even though it led to his death 42 years ago in Memphis.
Your own American Civic Association is going forward, even more deeply committed to helping new generations of immigrants and refugees. The deaths here a year ago could have been the end of that work of building community, but the fear engendered in the shootings did not prevail.
We're here tonight looking for hope.
We're here tonight to hear the old, old story of God bringing life out of death, and finding a new way through the fear that so often paralyzes us.
The ancient prophets have two responses to that kind of terror: "fear not, for God is with you," and "learn wisdom." We just heard each of those comfortable words twice. Moses says to his traumatized band, "don't be afraid, stand firm, God will deliver you." Zephaniah says to a much later band of depressed and terrified people, that the day will come when they will hear that “God has turned away your enemies, there’s no need to fear disaster any more. Don’t be afraid, God is with you.”
Isaiah and Baruch both talk about Wisdom -- and it's important to know that Wisdom is a personification of God. If God is the architect of creation, then Wisdom is its builder or crafter, and she's often spoken of as hosting a feast, which is what we hear in Isaiah, "turn in here and get what you need -- wine, milk, bread. Come and feast and return to God." Baruch speaks of befriending wisdom in order to find peace -- or in other words, the absence of fear.
In a few minutes we'll hear the oldest gospel account we have of the Resurrection (Mark). It tells about Mary Magdalene, another Mary, and Salome, coming to the tomb at dawn and finding it empty. The angel tells them, "fear not, he's not here, go find him in Galilee. He's waiting for you there." "Fear not, for God is with you." But they flee the tomb and run away, terrified.
Yet somehow those women at the tomb found the strength and courage to tell their story. They turned in at wisdom's door and discovered peace. We only know the good news of Easter because they told of their frightful encounter. Wisdom's invitation keeps on going out: "turn in here, join the feast, find blessing, life, light, and peace."
We still struggle to find the courage to tell frightening news. My friend who's just gotten the cancer diagnosis announced it in an email blast like this, "It is against my religion to share extremely personal information or to ask anyone for help, but the Universe has sent me a lesson here and it’s time for me to start learning it." I find it intriguing that she'd start that way -- and it's a reminder that religion doesn't always tell good news. I think she means that she wants to be self-sufficient, and not dependent on others. But she goes on to tie it to a sense of being connected to all that is. It's an echo of that ancient teaching, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." That "fear of the Lord" is an unfortunate translation in the old King James, because it actually means something more like a "deep awareness of God's otherness" or "being in awe of the Creator's majestic work." Yet it is that sense of awe and connection to all that is that encourages any of us to turn in at Wisdom's door and join the feast.
That's what Jesus did over and over again. He insisted that God's intent is for a feast for all people, not just the rulers of the Roman empire. He healed and fed and welcomed people who had been put out of the feast by religious rules or their own suffering. At the end of his ministry, he turned his face toward Jerusalem and the feast that waited for him there -- a feast he celebrated with his disciples in an upper room, and continued through the ages in the banquet we're going to share here -- but also the feast of his own life, made holy in its offering. He went to Jerusalem to challenge the un-wise, who insist that power, rules of exclusion, and violence rule this world. Jesus offered an alternative kingdom, where all are welcome to the feast, none is excluded, and no one lives in fear or want.
We all hunger for that feast. We search for a link with something or someone beyond our limited or painful or excluded experience. We have a deep yearning to transcend the nothingness of death, to bring meaning into what we most fear.
Fear not, for God is with us. Christ is risen, trampling down death, entering into hell to search for those who can find no way out, going ahead to wait for his disciples. Fear not, and join the feast created before the beginning of the world.
Photo from Bishop Katharine's visit at St. Paul's Memorial Church, Jan. 31, 2010