Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Author-speaker Brian McLaren to be with us Saturday and Sunday

A few years ago I came across the writings of Brian McLaren, and then I saw him on a webstream as he addressed the Anglican bishops at their worldwide gathering at Lambeth in 2008, a once-every-ten-years convocation of hundreds of bishops. I was quite taken by Brian's vitality, creativity and his ability to make recast ancient concepts, and make them alive in our complicated multi-cultural chaotic world.

I've been trying ever since to get him to come to St. Paul's. And he will soon be with us!

Brian McLaren will conduct an all-day workshop called "Why Everything Must Change" this Saturday March 3 from 9 am to 3pm (lunch on your own), and he will preach Sunday March 4 at 8 am and 10 am. He has a book by that title that I would recommend reading before he comes. We are then planning to build our Sunday Lenten adult education around what we hear from Brian and the issues he raises. I am very excited, and if you are in our area, I hope will come. His appearance is made possible for us by the Koinonia Foundation.

Let me also recommend another book that is terrific, and take a deep breath -- it has a long title that by its length tells you something of his perspective: A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished Christian.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Opening our heart and hands: Having an impact this Lent

“Happy are they who consider the poor and needy! The Lord will deliver them in the time of trouble.”
Psalm 41
As you know, Lent is a time of inward self-examination and confession. Lent is also a time of looking outward at where we have fallen short, especially in our care for the poorest and neediest among us.

That is one of the reasons that I agreed to serve this year as the co-president of IMPACT, a coalition of 31 faith congregations – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – who have banded together to work on social justice issues. One of the reasons I am committed to IMPACT is that it focuses on specific solutions that have an immediate positive impact on the real lives of real people.

One of the qualities of IMPACT that I especially appreciate is that the organization is careful about the issues it picks. We come together to vote on which issue we will pursue. It must be an issue that unifies us, has clear cut solutions and one where our effort will have an impact.

Last year we focused on mental health issues. I can tell you that as the pastor of a large church on an urban corner that the safety net for the mentally ill is very thin in our community. We see people coming through our church doors on a daily basis who have only the barest connection to reality and who are barely surviving. Many live on the street, and they end up in jail.

They have very few places to go in Charlottesville.

Inevitably, the issues of poverty and mental illness take us into the realm of public policy. I know that makes some people uncomfortable, and it makes me squirm, too. Religious people should be extraordinarily careful when wading into political arenas, and we have many recent examples of religious leaders pushing themselves onto ground where they do not belong.

But I am also mindful that the Bible is abundantly clear that we must take care of the poor, the sick, the hurting and the needy. The mentally ill are all of those, and they have so few places to turn. Sometimes we, as people of faith, must get our hands dirty in the arena of public policy, and this is one of those times.

Last year the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors agreed to allocate $42,500 for a transitional housing program for the mentally ill so that they have a place to go when being discharged from a mental hospital, prison or psychiatric unit. The program is humane, common sense, saves money by preventing re-incarceration, and it is the right thing to do.

It is also just barely enough.

This week, the county staff recommended eliminating the program. That is only a staff recommendation, and does not necessarily mean the Board of Supervisors will follow that recommendation.

But the board needs to hear from us.

There will be a hearing on this budget proposal tomorrow Wednesday February 29 at 6 pm at the County Building at 401 McIntyre Road. Filling every seat in the audience will send a message to our elected officials that we want them to do the right thing for the mentally ill. Please come if you can; IMPACT supporters will meet outside at 5:45 pm.

You can also email the board:, or call individual members of the board by clicking HERE.

One more thing: Even if we succeed in restoring funding for this program, we aren’t done. On March 5 at 6:30 pm at the Church of the Incarnation, we will get an update on how we have done on this issue and hear more on the issue we are engaged with this year: jobs for young people.

Then on March 26 at 6:30 pm, members of all 31 congregations will convene at the John Paul Jones Arena for our annual Nehemiah Action. Please put all of these dates on your calendar and come.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Monday Funnies

Into Lent we go, and Monday seems like a good day to lighten up a bit. Here are a couple of jokes from Pat Hill. Enjoy your Monday. . .

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An elderly woman walked into the local country church. The friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. “Where would you like to sit?” he asked politely.

“The front row please,” she answered.

“You really don't want to do that,” the usher said. “The pastor is really boring.”

“Do you happen to know who I am?” the woman inquired.

“No,” he said.

“I'm the pastor's mother,” she replied indignantly.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked.

“No.” she said.

“Good,” he answered.

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I asked the children during story time at church if any of them knew what a saint was.

They were silent.

“Do you know anything at all about saints?” I asked again.

One lad tentatively raised his hand.

“Yes, Clayton?” I asked.

“Well,” he offered, “they go marching in.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The First Sunday of Lent: Prayerful paths and slowing down

Lo, we descend into the valley of Lent…

This is supposed to be a time of simplicity, introspection, fasting and penitence. But it gets complicated quickly at St. Paul’s.

This morning we will chant the Great Litany, as complex an opening to worship as ever there was. We will be commissioning our new pastoral care Stephen Ministers at 10 am, and Pastor Ann Willms will be preaching today.

Later in the day, I will be offering the first in a seven-week course leading to adult baptism, confirmation or reception into the Episcopal Church.

Meanwhile, Pastor Heather Warren will be offering an introduction to the work of author-speaker Brian McLaren who will be joining us next Saturday and Sunday.

Lent is supposed to be a time of slowing down, but it does not yet feel that way for me. So I feel somewhat hypocritical in urging you to slow down and have a Holy Lent (as my mother used to put it, “Do as I say, not as I do”). So please let me offer a few brief ideas about what Lent should really be about, and I offer this to you much as a reminder for myself:

Lent is a gift to the heart. Lent can be a time not of obligation but of careful and prayerful discernment about our life path, and how God is calling us to live our life of faith in the world. It is a time of confession, of looking honestly at where we have fallen short. It is also a time to feel reconnected in our deepest self to God our creator and celebrate the gifts God gives us. This can be a time a feeling affirmed on our path, or feeling called to new directions, or maybe a combination of both.

Traditionally the Church asks that we “give up” something for Lent as a way of focusing on what is truly important. Fasting can nudge us into being less self-indulgent and more aware of the needs around us and the places God is calling us to go. Fasting that is falsely pious is no fast at all.

My suggestion is to make your fast something important and hard. Maybe instead of giving up chocolate, give up fear. Or instead of giving up meat, give up gossip. Or instead of giving up ice cream, give up petty complaining.

Lent is a time for renewal of prayer. There are many ways to pray, but all require practice. Find a regular time in your day to pray that works for you and stick to it. Get up earlier if you need to, or turn off the television or computer earlier in the evening. Use the prayer book or pray spontaneously from your heart. Reading the Bible daily in small doses can enrich your prayers and your life. Rather than getting hung up on the factoids of the Bible, let you imagination find the Holy inspiration between the lines.

You can get instant help on this: We’ve provided a series of reflections for each day of Lent written by members of St. Paul’s, and each reflection is connected to the Scripture readings for the day. All of this can be found on a special blog by clicking HERE, and the blog has links to each day’s biblical passages.

Sometimes the biblical passages fall flat with me, and that is perfectly OK. But sometimes they touch my deepest core. Today’s Epistle from 1 Peter 3:18-22 is written in coded first century language, but decoded it is a declaration of hope, that no one is beyond grace and redemption, that Christ went to the grave to find people in the grave:
“He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.”
Finally, let me leave you with a poem for Lent that I rather like, by Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007), whose writing reflects her deep faith and her interest in science.
For Lent, 1966
By Madeleine L’Engle

It is my Lent to break my Lent,
To eat when I would fast,
To know when slender strength is spent,
Take shelter from the blast
When I would run with wind and rain,
To sleep when I would watch.
It is my Lent to smile at pain
But not ignore its touch.
It is my Lent to listen well
When I would be alone,
To talk when I would rather dwell
In silence, turn from none
Who call on me, to try to see
That what is truly meant
Is not my choice. If Christ’s I’d be
It’s thus I’ll keep my Lent.
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May your Lent be filled with holiness and hope.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What makes us human?

The other day in our Education for Ministry (EfM) group we did one of the exercises known as “common lessons.” The exercise asks each of us to write our own creed by answering a series of questions.

The questions are as you might expect – who is God? Who is Jesus? Who is the Holy Spirit? All rich questions for thought and conversation.

I’ve done this exercise many times before in EfM groups. But there was one question this time around I found most intriguing:

What makes us human?

We had many answers, starting with the obvious: our DNA. But what else makes us human? What connects us as human and makes us different than any other living creature on this planet?

We had many answers.

Is it human intellect? Not all humans have intellect.

Is it technology? Other primates make tools.

Is it language? Chimpanzees and whales have language.

My answer: Humans have story.

A wise sage once said there is no past and there is no future. There is only the present. We give the past and future shape by the story we tell, and how we tell the story.

We certainly have secular stories and call it history. The story of wars, heroes and villians, national myths and traditions. Science itself is story by the selective examination of the facts that science discovers. The fact of the cosmos – the stars and planets and this earth, our island home – is a story.

Quran, 11th century, North Africa
British Museum
Our stories connect us as human because at some level each of us become part of the story.

Human religious traditions are essentially story, whether it is the Hindu saga of many worlds, or Moses leading the exodus out of Egypt, or Muhammad’s prophetic vision, or Jesus Christ dying on the Cross.

Each of the religion tells the story its unique way.

The Christian story is a continuum connecting the people of God to the primal story of creation, to the desolation and redemption of the Jewish people, to the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his Resurrection, and to the people of God who came after living into the hope and promise of salvation.

Baptism is story.

When Christians are baptized they enter into the story and thereby continue the story of salvation into the next generation and beyond.

It is true that there are many things going on in baptism – the initiation into the Church and the outward and visible sign through symbols of water and words of the inward grace of the Holy Spirit present in the person being baptized. All that is true.

Yet there is something more to baptism that makes it completely human: When we are baptized we enter into the great story of salvation history. The ancient story continues onward through us.

It doesn’t matter our age or intellectual capacity to understand because baptism brings us into the story. It doesn’t matter that we fall short, or whether we are a sinner or saint or combination of both. We continue to write this story of baptism the rest of our lives.

It is no accident that Christians use the Apostles’ Creed at baptism. Unlike the Nicene Creed, which is an abstract (and hard to access) statement of the definition of the Trinity, the Apostles’ Creed is a story. It isn’t abstract. Hear the Apostles’ Creed again, and hear it as a story without an ending:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth;
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
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This Lent I am offering a special course for adults who have not been baptized or confirmed in the Church. The course, entitled “Journey of Faith,” begins this Sunday at 11:30 am at St. Paul’s, and will continue for seven weeks. All you need to do to get into the class is show up.

Even if you have been baptized or confirmed, the course is a good way to explore your faith, your doubts, and this great story we share together as the people of God. Come ask the hard questions of faith and life and meet fellow sojourners on the path.

For those adults who are interested, the course leads to baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter on April 7 at 7:30 pm. We are also offering baptism for babies and children on the following Sunday April 15, and for information on that please contact our office.

For those who are interested, the course leads to confirmation or reception as an Episcopalian at a special service Wednesday April 18 at 5:30 pm with Bishop Shannon Johnston.

You can still take “Journey of Faith” even if you aren’t interested in receiving any of these sacraments. I hope you will join me beginning this Sunday.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Flip back to flapjacks: Photos from Shrove Tuesday

Before we get too far into Lent, let's back up a few days to Shrove Tuesday and our pancake dinner. It was by far the largest turnout on a Shrove Tuesday we've had in the four years I've been here.

We had many teens and University students flipping flapjacks and serving them up, and I saw a lot of new faces.

Thanks to Pastor Nik Forti for organizing it, and the Canterbury students and the youth group for pitching in. Daniel Hine took a few photos and I share them with you here today:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

From the ashes will come Easter

Another Ash Wednesday has come and gone. With its emphasis on death, it is something of an acquired taste. This year's Ash Wednesday was fuller than the previous three I have experienced at St. Paul's, and we had many more students than in the past.

Late yesterday, the verdict was handed up in the trial of George Huguely; he was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, Yeardley Love, when both were students at the University of Virginia. Her death has rocked this tight-knit community in ways that we are now only beginning to perceive.

We saw quite a number of women students (many I did not recognize) at our Ash Wednesday services yesterday, and I wonder if the trial had something to do with it. Somehow we were the right place to be for them, thanks be to God for that.

Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our mortality, that we are from dust and to dust we shall return. It is a reminder that our bodies will die and will become dust. But Ash Wednesday also has within it the spark of hope, that healing and wholeness can come even from the ashes. Easter will come. Not quite yet. But soon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Today we begin Lent, the season of fasting, simplicity and penitence. We begin again in the ashes, with the stark reminder of our own mortality.

We will kneel in silence, and we will be branded on our foreheads with the ashes burned from the palms of last year's Palm Sunday.

For a few brief moments we are reminded that we will leave this earth, our bodies will die and disappear, but we will be made new and whole.

Our own mortality is not an easy topic, and why would it be? Maybe the poets grasp this fact better, and can help us to see it with a little less fear. I was looking through a remarkable book of poems last night, The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, edited by Kevin Young, and I came across this poem which I share with you:
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Notes from the Other Side
By Jane Kenyon

I divested myself of despair

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, nor 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.
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Please join us today for one of our Ash Wednesday services:
7:30 am
12:10 pm,
5:30 pm
7:30 pm (with choir)
We are again offering a special booklet of reflections for each day of Lent written by members of the St. Paul's congregation. The booklets are free, and you can pick up a copy at the church. Or you can read each day's reflection on a special blog by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pancakes and ashes: Preparing for a Holy Lent

 Today in the last day before Lent, and we traditionally have one more celebration with pancakes on "Shrove Tuesday." The word is past tense of "shrive," which means to confess. The idea came that we "shrive" by eating up the remaining fat from the pantries and prepare for the 40 days of Lenten fasting and devotion.  Today is also sometimes called "Fat Tuesday."

Tonight our young adults at St. Paul's will serve pancakes, so come if you can. The pancakes will be drenched in real maple syrup.

Tomorrow our Ash Wednesday services will be at 7:30 am, 12:10 pm, 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm (with choir). The ashes are made with the palms from last year's Palm Sunday. I burned the palms and ground the ashes on Monday.

There is a great deal going on at St. Paul's this Lent. For now, let me commend to you a series of meditations written by members of St. Paul's for each day of Lent, beginning with a reflection tomorrow Anna Askounis. The mediations are a gift from the people of St. Paul's Memorial Church, and come in a booklet that is yours for the asking.

We've put the mediations on a blog; a new mediation will appear each day on this new blog. The name of the blog is Lenten Devotions 2012, and you can access this site at or  by clicking HERE. I hope you will bookmark this site and go back each day for a few minutes. You can also leave your own reflections in the comment section of each entry.

Thanks to all of our authors, and especially to Ann Ribble for coordinating and editing this huge effort.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Monday Funnies

Goodness, Pat Hill and the bloated-and-overpaid Jokester Department on the back lot at Fiat Lux Productions has gone dredging in the oldies file for this Lent joke. Well, it is an oldie-but-goodie. Enjoy your Monday and your week...
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John Smith was the only Protestant to move into a large Catholic neighborhood. On the first Friday of Lent, John was outside grilling a big juicy steak on his grill.

Meanwhile, all of his neighbors were eating cold tuna fish for supper. This went on each Friday of Lent. On the last Friday of Lent, the neighborhood men got together and decided that something had to be done about John, he was tempting them to eat meat each Friday of Lent, and they couldn't take it anymore.

They decided to try and convert John to be a Catholic. They went over and talked to him and were so happy that he decided to join all of his neighbors and become a Catholic. They took him to Church, and the Priest sprinkled some water over him, and said, "You were born a Baptist, you were raised a Baptist, and now you are a Catholic."

The men were so relieved, now their biggest Lenten temptation was resolved. The next year's Lenten season rolled around. The first Friday of Lent came, and just at supper time, when the neighborhood was setting down to their tuna fish dinner, came the wafting smell of steak cooking on a grill.

The neighborhood men could not believe their noses! WHAT WAS GOING ON?

They called each other up and decided to meet over in John's yard to see if he had forgotten it was the first Friday of Lent?

The group arrived just in time to see John standing over his grill with a small pitcher of water. He was sprinkling some water over his steak on the grill, saying, "You were born a cow, you were raised a cow, and now you are a fish."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sitting by the fire, snow gently falling

We've had a joyful Transfiguration Sunday, and now Lori and I are sitting by the fire, the snow gently falling outside. I am thinking of many friends, near and far, old and new, and very thankful.

Here is a photo Lori took a short while ago from our front porch of the Redbud tree in front of our house on the hill.

The tree is transfigured, don't you think?

Standing on the mountain, looking into the valley

Mt. Tabor, Israel
Today is the Last Sunday of the Epiphany, also known as "Transfiguration Sunday." The readings are 2 Kings 2:1-12Psalm 50:1-62 Corinthians 4:3-6 and Mark 9:2-9. Here is my sermon for today:
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Today we stand on a mountaintop, gazing across the valley. The mountain on the other side of the valley is Easter. Soon we will get into the valley, where we must go before we get to that mountain beyond.

Today we also stand at the exact halfway point in the Gospel of Mark.

If you read Mark on a literary level, everything until now has led up this mountain beginning with the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, the lowest place on earth.

Then comes the gathering of disciples, the teachings and healings, and casting out of demons.
Everything has led upward in Mark to this shimmering moment on the mountaintop where Jesus is flanked by the two great Hebrew prophets: Moses and Elijah.

Soon, very soon, Jesus and his followers will descend back down the mountain into the shadows of a very deep, deep valley.

Soon. But not yet. Today we linger awhile longer in the brightness.

It is tempting to dismiss this story of Jesus glowing on the mountaintop as a neat literary device, or as a metaphor for something else, or as pure science fiction.

And yet, the story keeps showing up in the accounts of the life of Jesus, and the story has its own peculiar power that won’t let us go.

Something very life changing happened on this mountain, and something happened to these first followers of Christ, and they never shook it off. The more they tried to understand their experience, the less they did.

I know from my own encounters with people who live in the desert – and I mean the real desert, not the metaphorical desert – that these kinds of inexplicable numinous encounters happen to people who live in the desert.

So I find it easy to believe that James, John and Peter witnessed this vision of their rabbi, Jesus, glowing in the clouds, and it was both awesome and terrifying.

It was so frightening they said nothing of it until long after Jesus died. Their experience on the mountain became known as “the Transfiguration” as if that single word could contain what they saw.

But we know from the story that the disciples really had no idea what was happening.
Peter blurts out the first thing that comes to mind: “Hey, I know – let’s make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Peter goes to the only reference point on his mental map he’s got, the scriptural stories of the prophets.

For those who might be unsure what these dwellings are, the dwellings are “tabernacles” – or tents – that devout Jews erect once a year for the Festival of Tabernacles.

Peter declares his devotion and respect for Jesus and the prophets by proposing to build tabernacles to house them.

But, as Peter soon finds out, his idea misses the point entirely. Their experience cannot be housed.

Instead of tents, God calls to them, and maybe only in a whisper: “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him.”

Peter, don’t try to contain this experience inside a tent. It won’t fit. Listen. Just listen. And see.

But listening and seeing comes hard to Peter, and to us.

Humans seem always to be containing religious experience inside human categories – inside tents. That was true then, and true now. But these experiences don’t stay contained inside the tents.

Last summer Lori and I went to the top of Mount Tabor, the peak where legend has it the Transfiguration took place. It is the highest mountain for miles around and the view is stupendous. The most frightening thing today about Mount Tabor is the twisting road up that guides drive at 75 miles per hour without slowing down.

There is an irony on top of Mt. Tabor: Although Jesus ordered his disciples to build no dwelling, the Church built a beautiful basilica on top of the mountain with side chapels, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Jesus and the prophets got their tabernacles whether they liked it or not.

Do you notice something else about the story?

Only three disciples went up the mountain with Jesus. What about the others? Where were they?
Back down in the valley.

The shimmering vision on the mountain is wonderful but it is fleeting. It is not enough.
To really understand the identity of Jesus, and our own identity with him requires going into the valley.

I would suggest it is not the mountain that is the most important part of the story. It is the valley.

The most powerful experiences people have with Jesus are not on mountaintops. They are in the valleys.

Jesus feeds the thousands near the Sea of Galilee, one of the lowest places on earth.
He heals the lepers and the possessed by the pools, in the low places. Even the Sermon on the Mount was on a hillside in Galilee, way below sea level.

Jesus by his actions is saying you can’t really know who I am, or what the Kingdom of God is about, until you get off the mountain and walk with me through the valleys where people dwell, and the valleys where people hurt. That is where you will find me – in the valleys.

In a few days, we will descend into the valley of Lent, a time of simplicity, of introspection, and confession. I hope this will be a time not of obligation, but a time for you of renewal and recommitment to the health of your soul.

Lent does not have to be an artificial experience of “giving up” something for the sake of giving up. It can be a time of giving back to the world around us by reconnecting with the God who creates all things and us.

Lent is a time when we can look into the valleys of our own life and discover how to climb to the mountaintop of Easter and beyond.

Lent can be a holy gift to ourselves and everyone around us.

Lent is also a reminder that we are not alone, that many people live in valleys near us and far away.

When we walk with into those valleys with those in the greatest need, we are truly walking with Christ, and truly keeping a holy Lent.

Our journey in the Valley of Lent can be a time for re-commitment to the values of justice, peace, and equality for all – a time for rediscovering how to truly love our neighbors as ourselves.

Our time in the Valley of Lent is near, and it can, if we let it, be among the richest experiences of our life.

To walk through this valley takes really only one thing – to listen the beloved Son – to hear him in our hearts, and hear him with all our soul, and hear him in each other.
May it be so for you this Holy Lent.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The lamp of life

A friend sent this along and I give it to you today. . .
Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.
Rabindranath Tagore

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lenten Message from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori: Healing poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance in our world

Lent Message 2012

I greet you at the beginning of Lent.

In this year I’m going to invite you to think about the ancient traditions of preparing in solidarity with candidates for baptism, to think about the old disciplines of prayer and fasting and alms-giving and study, through the focus on those beyond our communities, in the developing world, who live in abject poverty.

I invite you to use the Millennium Development Goals as your focus for Lenten study and discipline and prayer and fasting this year. I’m going to remind you that the Millennium Development Goals are about healing the worst of the world’s hunger. They’re about seeing that all children get access to primary education. They’re about empowering women. They’re about attending to issues of maternal health and child mortality. They’re about attending to issues of communicable disease like AIDS and malaria and tuberculosis. They’re about environmentally sustainable development, seeing that people have access to clean water and sanitation and that the conditions in slums are alleviated. And finally, they are about aid, foreign aid. They’re about trade relationships, and they’re about building partnerships for sustainable development in this world.

As you pray through the forty days of Lent, I encourage you to attend to the needs of those with the least around the world. I would invite you to study, both about how human beings live in other parts of the world and our own responsibility as Christians.

What the Bible says more often than anything else is to tend to the needs of the widows and orphans, those without. Jesus himself says, “Care for the least of these.”

I invite you to consider your alms-giving discipline this Lent and remember those in the developing world who go without.

I wish you a blessed Lent and a joyful resurrection at the end of it that may be shared with others around the world.

God bless you.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Thursday, February 16, 2012

And now for a moment of personal privilege . . .

Photo by Lou Dematteis/Reuters
As some of you know, I was a journalist for many years before entering the priesthood, and I dust off my journalist credentials from time to time. I wrote a 506-page book published in 1996 about Willie Brown, then the powerful Speaker of the California State Assembly who was eventually elected for two terms as mayor of San Francisco. He is still a powerbroker in California politics and still richly entertaining.

I am grateful to still get calls on the aforementioned topic, and I was quoted Wednesday in The New York Times in a profile about Mr. Brown. Here is the top of the story, and you'll need to click on the full story at the bottom to find my quote:
Out of Office, but Not Out of Things to Say

SAN FRANCISCO — Wilkes Bashford, of the renowned clothing store here that bears his name, places a John Lobb suede oxford, size 11, marked down to $1,650, on the table at Le Central.

“It’s a gorgeous color,” says Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco and Mr. Bashford’s customer and close friend of 45 years. “I wouldn’t even call that burgundy. It’s headed for ... It’s Bordeaux.”

“The color is the reason I brought them over,” Mr. Bashford says. “I wouldn’t push shoes at lunch otherwise.”

“Wilkes, that’s the most sensitive thing you’ve ever said,” Mr. Brown quips.

As repartee, it is pure Willie Lewis Brown Jr., perfected over the four decades he has been a central figure in the city’s political and social life, and served up for almost that long at Le Central, where Mr. Brown, Mr. Bashford and a select group of others — Herb Caen, the San Francisco Chronicle columnist who died in 1997, was a founding member — have assembled every Friday since 1973 to talk politics, restaurants, real estate, children, grandchildren and the occasional pair of shoes.
To read the full story, click HERE.

Guest commentary: Stand back, God is free

Among the privileges of my work is sitting on the Committee on Diaconate in the Diocese of Virginia. I've been with this wonderful group of people, lay and ordained, for a couple of years now as we discern with individuals whether they are called to be vocational deacons.

Although deacons have been a vital part of many parts of the church for decades, this order of ministry is relatively new in the Diocese of Virginia. Bishop Shannon Johnston ordained only the second class of permanent deacons last Saturday. Our committee worked with each of these three candidates for several years as they moved to that moment of ordination.

Deacons are called to be servant ministers and to be icons of servant ministry for the whole church. They are to bring the church into the world, and the world back into the church.

Our committee met Wednesday in Richmond to continueironing out the details of diaconal discernment and formation in the Diocese of Virginia. And so it happens that Barbara Crafton sent this last night from her archives, a perfect reminder of how imperfect our work of discernment is:
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By Barbara Crafton

I spend lots of time with people who are hoping to be ordained in the future -- seminarians, new clergy, people who hope to become first one and then the other of these. So I think often about what it means to be called -- not just to ordained ministry, but to any life's work.

Stand Back. God is Free. - February 2003

"He that is not against us is for us." This is what Jesus said to his disciples when a couple of them came running to tell-tale on somebody outside their circle who was performing healings. Same thing Moses had said to a couple of his folks centuries before, when they came running to tell on Eldad and Medad for prophesying, when they hadn't specifically been chosen to do so. Sometimes people we didn't authorize to exercise a gift of the Spirit do it anyway. This can happen, because the Spirit doesn't belong to us.

We keep forgetting this.

In the Church, we regularly seek to discern spiritual gifts. We have ornate processes for doing so, some of them involving phalanxes of psychologists and rank on earnest rank of interviewers, all bent on trying to figure out if God has called one among us and, if so, to what work. None of can really know what God is doing, though, so we must satisfy ourselves with the discovery of talents and predilections that seem suited to the performance of whatever calling we're hoping to discern, coupled with adequate mental health to enter into the often-thankless work of ministry. We make our call. Usually we are right, I think, but sometimes we're wrong. Still, we make our call, and hope for the best. We never really know.

History reveals it, though. A call of the Spirit lives, even in difficult circumstances. It may not always triumph -- we are not in heaven yet -- but it always remains. One at war with the Spirit withers and dies. Put a person in the wrong calling and you're doing him a terrible disservice. Refuse a right one and you miss the chance to share in the mighty works of God, but you won't wreck it. The Spirit is stronger than we are. It'll get through somehow.

What our inability either to predict or contain the work of the Spirit, our failure ever to be exactly sure of our discernment, gives us is something we need: an ongoing sense of the freedom of God. God is free. We draw lines in the sand and God hops nimbly across them. We set up systems and sometimes God just does something else. With God, Mary of Nazareth so astutely observes, nothing will be impossible. And she should know.

All this is not to say that we should aspire to anarchy. That the best rules for us are always no rules at all. We do the best we can to regulate our lives -- we must. But we should never be surprised when our careful arrangements turn out not to be the last word. We don't really have the last word.

Copyright © 2001-2012 Barbara Crafton - all rights reserved

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

EfM mentor moonlighting as taxi driver?

If you've been around Charlottesville awhile you know that the taxi drivers in this town have an odd sense of humor and they like to display it on the trunks of their cabs.

And, if you've been around the Episcopal Church awhile you know that we love our metaphors and we love to say "The Lord be with you" on any occasion. And spinning metaphors is the foundation of the popular Education for Ministry program.

So imagine my delight at seeing this all mixed up on the back of a C'ville cab.

I was caught in traffic the other day behind this taxi, and took a photo with my iPhone when we were stopped at a light. I am wondering if the cabbie is an out-of-work EfM leader or just a very inspired EfM graduate. Maybe someone will see him again and ask.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love is patient, love is kind

Couples ask for this passage more than any other, and it offers great wisdom whether you are coupled or not. May you have a blessed Valentines Day...
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” 
1 Corinthians 13:1-8

Art: White Rose, by Georgia O'Keefe, 1887-1986

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Monday Funnies

The Jokester Department at Fiat Lux Productions, headed by Pat Hill, are back at work this week, thanks be to God! Here are a few jokes to start your week, and a cartoon that so many of you have sent me I figured I better run it. Enjoy your week...
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One of the congregation members was very surprised to find her pastor coming out of the casino, and she asked him for an explanation.

“Well for one thing, casinos are very religious places,” the pastor explained.  “When people pray in there, they're REALLY PRAYING!”

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Father Murphy was playing golf with a parishioner. On the first hole, he sliced into the rough. His opponent heard him mutter, “Hoover!” under his breath.

On the second hole, the ball went straight into a water hazard.

“Hoover!” again, a little louder this time.

On the third hole, a miracle occurred and Father Murphy's drive landed on the green only six inches from the hole! “Praise be to God!”

He carefully lined up the putt, but the ball curved around the hole instead of going in. “HOOVER!”

By this time, his opponent couldn't withhold his curiosity any longer, and asked why the priest said “Hoover.”

“It's the biggest dam I know.” he replied.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Have you ever been surprised by compassion?

I am back in the pulpit today at Charlottesville, and it is good to be back. Today's readings are 2 Kings 5:1-14 1 Corinthians 9:24-27Psalm 30 and Mark 1:40-45.

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Have you ever been surprised by compassion?

Have you ever been surprised by a kind word from someone at the very moment you needed it the most? Maybe from someone whom you least expected it?

Or, have you been surprised by someone who opened a door, or a friend who squeezed your hand in the moment you needed it most?

Have you ever been surprised by your own compassion maybe with someone you have a very hard time with?

Sometimes compassion is simple, and the simplicity surprises us.

Take, for example, Naaman, who we meet in the Old Testament lesson today. Naaman is a soldier who is very sick and in need of compassion. The prophet Elisha tells him to go wash in the Jordan seven times.

But Naaman goes away angry, thinking Elisha is mocking him. Surely it must be more complicated than this.

Prophets are supposed waive their hands and do prophet-y things. The simple moment of compassion is not as he expects.

Thanks to a lowly servant, Naaman finally catches on. He washes and is healed. And he is very surprised, and humbled.

It was as simple – and as surprising – as Elisha said, but Naaman almost misses it by being too caught up the complexities.

Or take the nameless leper who is healed by Jesus. Things are not as he expects. Jesus heals the leper and tells him to go to the Temple to be washed, and not talk about what he has seen.

Of course, the healed man goes out and blabs to everyone, and soon large crowds descend upon Jesus.

These biblical stories, and others like it, are meant to push us off kilter so we can see God’s compassion that is so close to us we might otherwise miss it.
These stories are meant to surprise us.

Sometimes it takes a surprise so that we can see God more clearly and love more dearly.
The apostle Paul is driving at the same point in his letter today, but coming at it from a different angle. This idea of running the race is not about being the fastest or the first past the finish line.

Rather, Paul is talking about how we can run the race of life by being open to the holy, and being open all of the time to the compassion that surrounds us.

He implores us to practice looking for compassionate surprises. And keep practicing, practicing, practicing.

We live in a world undergoing tremendous change and complexity, and it can feel overwhelming. Compassion is not always easy to see in the noise and cruelty of the world.

This week in our community, we have the trial opened for George Huguely, accused of killing his girlfriend, Yeardley Love, when both were students at the University of Virginia. For many, the trial reopens wounds that have not healed. The killing shook the tight University community to the core.

Yet I am also mindful of how this terrible incident sparked many acts of compassion, and still does. Cruelty does not get the last word.

A few months after the brutal killing, Teresa Sullivan gave her first public speech in this pulpit as president of the University of Virginia.

She called upon all of us to build a more compassionate community because we are all connected.

We here have taken up that challenge in big ways and small. That is our mission and has always been our mission. Building a compassionate world is really what it means to build the Kingdom of God on earth.

This church is a refuge for those who are hurting and needing solace, and may that always be so.

But the Church is not a refuge from surprises or change. Indeed, the Church is often characterized as the “rock,” but it is not an inert lump of stone. The church is alive, it is an organism, and it is changing because we are changing.
I believe there is a holy spark of compassion here at St. Paul’s that is truly extraordinary. That spark will change us into the compassionate people we were created to be, and we in turn will change the world around us.

By practicing compassion we are running together the race that Paul encourages us to run. 

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu 
To practice compassion requires not worrying when something doesn’t work exactly right, trusting that Holy spark will carry us through.

And here’s the good news: We don’t have run this race of compassion alone. We can find strength together, as a community of faith. When we do, we will find that new growth and healing will come to us, day by day.

When we run this race of compassion together, we will spread healing and hope into the world beyond, and we have no greater mission in this life than that.

But we need to be ready for the unexpected. We need to listen for the holy from unexpected corners, from unexpected voices, in moments when we least expect it.

God’s Kingdom really can be that simple – and surprising.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Guest commentator: Sacred moments just happen

My friend, Ilana DeBare, shared this Friday on her blog, Midlife Bat Mitzvah, from a friend of hers, Sue Fishkoff, who is an editor for J Weekly. I like this a lot, and so I am happy to re-post this here. Maybe we have more in common than we think...
The sacred meets the profound in a rite of passage
By Sue Fishkoff

I’ve always been fascinated by rituals. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through so few — no bat mitzvah, no prom (not cool, it was the ’70s), no graduation (’70s again), no wedding. Nothing sacred to mark the passage from one state of being, one phase of life, to another.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There was my conversion ceremony, that magical day when I dunked in the mikvah and joined the tribe.

At least, it should have been magical. Instead, it was odd, somewhat sad, but also kind of funny.

It was the summer of 1977, and I’d spent months studying the laws of kashrut and marking up my copy of Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin’s classic, “To Be a Jew.” I was 19, had spent a year on kibbutz, finished two Hebrew ulpans, milked hundreds of cows, and knew I wanted to formalize the connection I’d always felt to my father’s people.

The monumental day arrived, an August scorcher like you don’t know from in the Bay Area. I showed up at the run-down Orthodox mikvah in Perth Amboy, N.J. and stood in a darkened room while three long-bearded rabbis from Brooklyn quizzed me about traif, asked me why God gave the Torah to Moses and not to Noah or Abraham (a trick question, you have to know the answer going in), and tested my Hebrew. 
An antiquated air-conditioner sputtered noisily in the corner. One of the rabbis barely spoke English. I would have giggled if I weren’t so petrified.

I passed — everyone does, apparently — and was shunted off to the changing room where I disrobed, cleaned myself and stepped into the fetid enclosure that passed for a ritual bath. An elderly woman squinted at me and told me to get in the water, quick, quick, the rabbis were coming.

The rabbis were coming? Wait a sec, I’m naked here! I scrambled down the steps and hunched over in the water, folding my arms over my breasts as the mikvah lady growled at me to take my hands away and let the water touch every part of my body. Oh boy, oh boy.

Suddenly she threw a wet washcloth on my head, the rabbis stepped behind a screen to my right, one of them mumbled a prayer, and the mikvah lady hissed at me to dunk.

Down I went, and up I came. More mumbling, more hissing, down again and up again. Then once more — mumble, hiss, down, up. And I was a Jew. No muss, no fuss, dry yourself off and out the door.

In the parking lot, the sunlight nearly blinded me — was it God’s blessing pouring down upon my head? Or just summer in New Jersey?

Again, no Champagne toast, no lifting of chairs, no kicking up of heels in a wild hora. Just me and Aunt Joan grabbing a tuna fish sandwich at the local diner.

Deprived of what should have been a glorious occasion, I decided that my next Jewish step would be marked with the proper solemnity. I was going to have an adult bat mitzvah. And I was going to don a tallit.

Here’s the thing with me and the tallit: I’m all about egalitarianism in shul. I feel uncomfortable behind a mechitzah. I like a woman’s voice leading services. I like being called up to the Torah. But I always declined the prayer shawl. I felt I hadn’t earned the right to wear it.

I was going to wait for my bat mitzvah and do it right. I was going to bask in the ritual.

Then last fall I was invited to be the scholar-in-residence at a Conservative synagogue in Florida. During Shabbat services, I was called up to the Torah, and there was the gabbai smiling and holding out a tallit for me.

I paused, then blurted out, “I’ve never worn a tallit before.” The gabbai hesitated. The congregation fell silent.

I took a deep breath, thought about my carefully laid plans and brushed them aside. How could I offend my hosts? Why was I being so arrogant? I took the shawl, said the prayer, kissed the fringes, and draped it carefully over my shoulders.

And I burst into tears.

Sometimes sacred moments just happen.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bricks, stones and prayers

BERKELEY -- I am heading East today. I've been here most of the week for meetings at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, our seminary in the West serving the entire Episcopal Church and the Pacific Rim.

Last night was the weekly community night when students, faculty, staff and administrators gather to pray, hear the Word of God, and share in the bread and wine of Holy Eucharist. The school is smaller now than it was when I was here in the 1990s. There was something about the gathering last night that reminded me of what the first disciples must have been like.

It was more intimate than when I was here, and these disciples are perhaps closer, and faced with enormous challenges to the seminary itself, they need to be stronger than we were. I am grateful beyond measure for their fortitude.

In the candlelight last night, I also noticed the bricks in the chapel. I always notice the bricks. They are a darker crimson than the bricks in Virginia. They aren't warm like Thomas Jefferson's bricks, rather these bricks give off a serious hue that feels more like an abbey, which I suppose, is what they are meant to feel like. CDSP is a seminary, after all, so that should not be too surprising.

I wonder if bricks absorb prayers? The bricks of our chapel have heard many prayers for many decades. They heard  our prayers last night, they heard the prayers of my class, and they heard many prayers for many years before we were here.

The Morning Prayer reading from today in Genesis 28:10-22 has Jacob resting his read on a rock, and as he sleeps he dreams of how heaven and earth are intimately connected, like a ladder, and he is blessed by God in his dream. When he awakes, he pours oil on the rock and names a city for it. He honors the stone where he laid his head. We are connected, to each other, and to the universe around us. The bricks and the stones know it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"

I wonder at the juxtaposition of the Morning Prayer readings today. First we get Genesis 27:30-45 with Jacob having tricked his brother Esau out of his inheritance and getting caught. Isaac says, in effect, "Sorry Esau, you were tricked by your brother but I can't take it back. He gets everything and you will be cast away to live by your bow. Bye."

Esau swears he will get revenge on Jacob, and then Rebekah, mother of them both, sends Jacob away to hide until Esau calms down. "Why should I lose both of you in one day," she says, and never mind that this caper of Jacob's was her idea in the first place. Modern therapists would have a field day analyzing the dysfunction in this family.

So we have that story above.

And then we get the Apostle Paul at his very finest, declaring an ethical standard in Romans 12:9-21 that must have come to him somehow from Jesus himself:
"Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them."
If your head is spinning at the contrast in these two stories, that is understandable. Aren't both of these stories in the Bible? Indeed. Which direction are we going? Are we supposed to honor Jacob's deceit or go with Paul's turn-the-other-cheek ethic?

Paul, of course, knew the Jacob-Esau story quite well, and he was aware of how the story comes out -- with the two brothers reconciling in Genesis 33:1-17. Jacob is re-named "Israel," and he has a boatload of problems with his own sons, and yet Jacob will be honored as the patriarch of the nation. Down through the ages, Esau is portrayed in art as looking like a Neanderthal Man and in sermons he gets the short end.

But it is Esau who will show forgiveness, who demonstrates mutual affection, forgiveness, honor, and letting go of hatred and evil. I wonder if Paul had Esau in mind when he wrote his letter to the Romans?
"If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
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Art above: Jacob and Esau, oil on canvas, by Matthias Stom, 1600-1649

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Our new Vestry at St. Paul's Memorial Church

Here is a photo of our 2012 Vestry in front of the chapel at the Roslyn retreat center on Sunday at the conclusion of our three-day retreat.  From left to right, Gwynn Crichton (co-chaplain), Christie Thomas (senior warden), Susan Cluett, E.D. Rambo and Josephine; Lloyd Snook (junior warden), Tara Little, Robert Viccellio, Jay Bourgeois, Wayne Nolen, Janice Dean (co-chaplain), Peggy Galloway, Sandy Gilliam, Jane Butler, Joel Hoppe, Bruce Carveth, Chris Lee, and yours truly, Jim Richardson.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Recounting the ancient mysteries for generations to come

BERKELEY -- I arrived here yesterday for meetings at our seminary for the Pacific Rim and the Western United States, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, where I graduated in 2000.

I've served on the Alumni Council for a year or so, and it has been a time of fascinating transition.

As you know, The Episcopal Church is undergoing tremendous change as we attempt to understand how to "be church" in the 21st century and beyond. Not surprisingly, the Episcopal seminaries are struggling to keep up with that change while forming leaders for a landscape that is shifting under everyones' feet.

Most of the schools, including CDSP, are facing serious financial challenges, but those challenges are also forcing a fresh view of how education and formation is created for the next generations of lay and clergy leaders.

The Episcopal Church has been always underpinned by an educated clergy and that is one of our bedrock values. That education does not come free, but it is a little like the infrastructure of towns and cities -- it is hidden from view but crucial to the life of the community. If it is neglected, it will decay and eventually collapse.

As it happens, Psalm 78 appointed for this morning has opening stanzas that are apt descriptions of the mission of the seminaries:

Hear my teaching, O my people; *
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

I will open my mouth in a parable; *
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us, *
we will not hide from their children.

We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD, *
and the wonderful works he has done. 
Psalm 78:1-4

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Monday Funnies

The joke cupboard is a bit bare today, but I hope you get a smile with this cartoon: A little professional humor.

I am traveling today to San Francisco for meetings this week at our seminary, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley. I will check in here when I get a chance.

Enjoy your Monday.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Vestry election: Christie Thomas elected senior warden; Lloyd Snook junior warden

From left to right:
Janice Dean, co-chaplain
Christie Thomas, senior warden
Lloyd Snook, co-chaplain
Gwynn Crichton, co-chaplain
ROSLYN -- This morning we held Vestry elections for our officers, and we used a method of discernment whereby each member of the Vestry is able to say who he or she believes is called. It takes time and the willingness to be vulnerable to each other, and to hear the Holy Spirit calling to us through each other.

It gives me great pleasure to tell you that we have unanimously elected Christie Thomas as senior warden; Lloyd Snook as junior warden; Jack Bocock as treasurer; and John Reid as register. We agreed that the Vestry project for the year is a continuation of the long range planning project begun last year. Lloyd agreed to continue leading that project as junior warden. We also discussed at the length role and position of a Vestry chaplain, and agreed to elect two co-chaplains to share that ministry. Elected Vestry co-chaplains were Janice Dean and Gwynn Crichton.

I am very thankful to everyone who participated in the retreat, and for the prayerful, thoughtful rich conversation -- and for the laughs. We were ably led by Canon Susan Goff, for whom all of us are deeply grateful.

This morning we celebrated the Holy Eucharist, and used Prayer C, dedicating it to the Glory of God in memory of Paul Brockman who died last year before completing his term on the Vestry. Paul's career had been working for NASA, hence the prayer with its celebration of space seemed appropriate to us all.

Please keep all of these wonderful leaders in your prayers, and please support your 2012 Vestry as they go about their work among us.

God sends the portents we crave, and sometimes we are befuddled

Roslyn Chapel
ROSLYN -- All day Saturday, and into the evening, we discussed the knotty topic of spiritual discernment at our Vestry retreat. All of us here at the retreat are very grateful for being ably led by Canon Susan Goff.

We've talked about prayer and spiritual practices, and tried to get at the difficult question: What does it look, sound and feel like when God is speaking to us? Are we hearing only our own voices? How will we know it when we've truly found God's will for us?

Today at our Vestry retreat we will be electing our wardens and officers for the year and have Holy Eucharist together before returning to Charlottesville.

A member of our Vestry shared with us a poem that speaks to the question of discernment in a quirky kind of way. Maybe I like this poem because we have chickens at our house on the hill, and the chickens do just as described by the poem. Or maybe I like this because discernment often comes by surprise especially when I am befuddled, or maybe I just like this poem because it made me smile.

Enjoy your Sunday and here is the poem:
Our chicken Betty, photo by Lori K. Richardson
Celestial Favor
By Ethel Pochocki

Last night
I asked God
for an answer,
a sign of approval
that my step was sure,
my intent pure,
anything would do, I said.

This morning
there is a chicken
at the winter feeder
on the railing of the deck,
a plump white chicken
of dazed demeanor,
holding her own
amidst the jays
and mourning doves
squabbling and feasting
in the twelve-below freeze.

What farm is missing her,
I wonder,
what providence blew her here?

She roosts atop the feeder
like a feathered weathervane,
cocks her head at me
as I stare in disbelief.
“You called?” she asks.

I know God sends
the portents we crave
in our neediness,
each with meaning

for the one disposed –
a flurry of doves,
the whisper of an angel,
bedside visits from the Little Flower
or Saint Anthony glowing in the dark,
God himself
to a holy few!

To me God sends a chicken,
a befuddled chicken,
who, like me, suffers
a deficiency of direction.
I deduce I am dealing
with a Prankster.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

On Vestry retreat

Walker Hall where we are meeting
ROSLYN -- I am at our retreat center near Richmond with the St. Paul's Vestry. We will be here until Sunday, forming ourselves as a community, praying, brainstorming, and laughing. Candidly, some of us stayed up too late last night doing the latter. On Sunday we will elect wardens and officers for the year.

We are blessed to be led on our retreat by the Rev. Canon Susan Goff, the Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Virginia. As it turned out, quite coincidentally, she joined us on the day it was announced that she is among the candidates for Bishop Suffragan (see below).

I will keep you posted on our retreat, and please keep our Vestry and Canon Goff in your prayers.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nominees for Bishop Suffragan announced

Here is the official announcement from the Diocese of Virginia on the slate of nominees for Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Virginia. Our own Mildred Robinson was on the Search Committee, and she kept confidences well. Here is the slate and more information about the upcoming election (and in the Episcopal Church, we elect our bishops):

February 3, 2012

After 11 months of prayerful discernment, the Nominating Committee for Bishop Suffragan announces the following slate of nominees: 

The Rev. Randy Alexander
Rector of Christ Church, Pelham
Diocese of New York

The Rev. Canon Susan Goff
Canon to the Ordinary
Diocese of Virginia

The Very Rev. David May
Rector of Grace Church, Kilmarnock
Diocese of Virginia

The Very Rev. Dr. Hilary Smith
Rector of St. Paul's on-the-Hill, Winchester
Diocese of Virginia

The Very Rev. Shirley Smith Graham
Rector of St. Martin's, Williamsburg
Diocese of Southern Virginia

The Rev. Canon Sue Sommer 
Subdean and Canon Pastor of Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral
Diocese of West Missouri 

The slate of nominees has been received with commendation and gratitude by Bishop Johnston and the Standing Committee. 
You can learn more about the candidates, plus a detailed description of the Nominating Process, in the Final Report of the Nominating Committee for Bishop Suffragan. This report contains the candidates' biographies, a letter of introduction and responses to three essay questions. 
The six nominees were selected from an initial field of 78 names submitted to the Nominating Committee last year. Of these, 38 agreed to enter into the discernment process with us. Through careful and prayerful discernment, the committee then narrowed the potential nominees over the course of several months through a review of submitted documents, telephone interviews, travel to visit potential nominees and a discernment retreat. 
Additional nominations are allowed by petition from February 3 until February 13.Learn more about the petition process on the Bishop Suffragan Search Process Web site.

All nominees will visit the Diocese in March to participate in a series of walkabouts, a series of meetings scheduled to provide the Diocese with the opportunity to meet, hear from and talk with the nominees. These gatherings are open to anyone and not just to delegates to Council.
These are scheduled to take place at the following dates and times: 
March 19, St. Paul's, Ivy, 7-9:30 p.m.
March 20, Christchurch School, Christchurch, 1-3:30 p.m. (*Note Location Change)
March 20, St. George's, Fredericksburg, 7-9:30 p.m.
March 21, Christ Church, Winchester, 7-9:30 p.m.
March 22, Good Shepherd, Burke, 7:30-10 p.m.
March 23, St. James's, Richmond, 7-9:30 p.m.
The Transition Committee invites members of the Diocese to submit potential questions for the nominees to respond to during the scheduled walkabouts. Questions can be sent to, and should be submitted no later than February 17, 2012.
The Bishop Suffragan will be elected at an Electing Council held at St. George's, Fredericksburg on April 21, 2012.