Saturday, March 31, 2012

So it begins again: Holy Week, waving palms and Easter beyond

The culmination of Lent is Holy Week – the days leading to Easter. For me, it is the most spiritually moving week of the year.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. As we did last year, instead of hearing the entire Passion narrative in one sitting, we are pausing in the garden with Jesus and the disciples and our palms. The gospel lesson we are hear will be the first segment of the Passion according to Saint Mark, and it will end as Jesus is arrested.

We will let each day of Holy Week unfold for us, one scene at a time.

On Maundy Thursday, we will hear John's gospel and the washing of feet. On Good Friday, we will take this theme a step further. Beginning at noon, we will hear the full passion narrative according to Saint John, and then seven people from our congregation will describe seven people who were there at the Cross. On Holy Saturday morning, we will mark the descent of Jesus into Hell. On Saturday night, the darkness will be pierced with the first proclamation of Easter.

As I have done in the past, I will blog throughout Holy Week with some of my own experience. I hope you might add your comments about your experiences. There will be no "Monday Funnies" in Holy Week, but don't worry, the jokes will be back in Easter.

Here is a thumbnail guide to the events of Holy Week at St. Paul’s Memorial Church that begins tomorrow:

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Palm Sunday, India, 2006
BBC News
Palm Sunday begins outside with the waving of palms and the great triumphant entry by Jesus into Jerusalem, and then Palm Sunday quickly slides into remembering the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. This year our guest preacher is The Very Rev. Dr. Ian Markham, the president and Dean of the Virginia Theological Seminary.

Monday of Holy Week, we will hold noon Prayers for Peace and a reading of the names of all the soldiers, sailors and Marines who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last year, and conclude with a Holy Eucharist at 12:30 pm. Each weekday in Holy Week we will have the “Stations of the Cross” at 6:30 pm, led by our ministry intern, Joe Lenow.

Tuesday of Holy Week, we will hold our 12:15 pm Holy Eucharist.

Wednesday of Holy Week is marked by a noon Eucharist and Evening Prayer at 5:30 pm, and our community night supper.

Maundy Thursday begins the Great Three Days, or Easter Triduum. Consistent with the Hebrew calendar, the first day begins at sundown on Thursday and the third day begins at sundown on Saturday. During the Great Three Days, there are no blessings or dismissals until Easter. The reason is the Church understands the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the Great Vigil of Easter to be one great continuous liturgy.

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

On Maundy Thursday, we recall that Jesus ate with his disciples, then washed their feet. The focus is on his act of lowering himself to the feet of his followers. Joe Lenow will be preaching.

The first day continues at noon on Good Friday, Jesus lowers himself still further. He goes to the Cross, crucified between two criminals, giving to us his supreme act of love to suffer with us in our pain, and show us that there is more to life than death. From noon to 3pm, we will hear reflections offered by members of the congregation about the figures who are part of this great story – Mother Mary, Herod, Peter, Pilate, Mary Magdalene and others.

At 7 pm, we will distribute Communion bread that we have reserved from Maundy Thursday and kept in the Chapel. At 8 p.m., we dim candles, one at a time, and hear readings from the Book of Lamentations, in the solemn observance of Tenebrae, a Latin word meaning “shadows.”

On Holy Saturday morning, at 9 a.m., we assemble in the chapel for a brief time for the prayers marking the second day, when Christ descends into Hell itself to open the gates wide and let everyone out.

On Saturday evening at 7:30 pm, after sundown comes our first opportunity to celebrate the third day of Easter: The Resurrection. We assemble for the Great Vigil of Easter – the biggest, most splendid and opulent worship of the entire year.

We light a fire outside, and bring the light of the Paschal candle into the church. The Paschal Candle leads our procession, and there are no crucifixes carried on this night. We are done with the Cross.

Inside the church, sitting in the dim light, we hear again the story of creation. And then with lights on, and bells ringing, we declare the Resurrection – we loudly declare Christ has Risen! – and we experience again the joy of Easter and our first Eucharist of the Easter season.

Bring a bell and come join us.

On Easter Sunday morning we gather in the sunlight, our Lent completed and our new life in Christ begun once again. Our services Easter Sunday are at 8 am, 9:15 am and 11:15 am and 5:30 pm.

Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Friday, March 30, 2012

He did not hide his face from me

Russian icon of Jesus, undated
The Daily Office lectionary readings this week are full of foreboding as Jesus and his disciples walk to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified a week from today.

The Way of the Cross has begun. Biblical scholars will tell you that these events compressed into a week of lectionary readings probably took about six months, but no matter.

Today in Mark 10:32-45 we hear James and John telling Jesus that they would like to "sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." To our ears it sounds like an arrogant request, and the gospel writer tells us that the other disciples are quite angry when they hear about it.

There might be another way to hear this: James and John are saying that they are willing to die with Jesus and that they will go with him to the grave and beyond. They are declaring their willingness to give the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. Maybe the other disciples are angry because they are not so willing to die. Who can blame them?

And Jesus tells them it is not their turn. He wants them to live, to spread the Gospel, to declare to all who will listen that they are the Beloved and that grace will be their guide. Your turn will come, but not this week, so don't argue about it.

Today's psalm gives another clue to their mission. Today we hear the very haunting Psalm 22 that begins with the familiar, and depressing line, that Jesus says upon the Cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Yet there is more to the psalm, much more. When we hear Jesus saying those words on the Cross, we are meant to hear all of the psalm. Here the last words of the psalm:
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live for ever!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Announcing your place in the family of things

The other day I was looking through poems by Mary Oliver and ran across this one. Seems like a good day for a poem. I've probably run this before, but here it is again:

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Wild Geese
By Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
call to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Art: Hiroshige (1797 - 1858) Japanese Woodblock print "Wild Geese against the Full Moon"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My role as co-president of IMPACT

Hopefully by now you have seen my post below about our big community meeting for IMPACT on Monday evening with members of the Board of Supervisors and City Council (look below this post for that). Many of you were there -- thanks for coming!

I was asked yesterday by a few people in our congregation about my role as co-president of IMPACT, a role I am sharing with Dorothy Jordan, a lay leader from Zion Baptist Church North Garden. A few of our parishioners voiced concern that as a priest I should not be involved in "politics."

I agree with them. I am much suspicious of clerics playing politics.

But please allow me to elaborate by sharing some of my reply:

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I accepted this position as co-president after a great deal of prayer, thought, and talking with people both in our congregation and outside, including other clergy in our community.

I share your concern that religious leaders need to be careful about "political" roles -- we see plenty of demagoguery by religious leaders these days. Nonetheless, all of us are called by our baptismal covenant to work for "justice and peace" and the "dignity of every human being," and that inevitably will lead us into public policy (carefully we pray). That must include me because I share the same baptismal covenant with you and our congregation. One of the reasons I accepted the call to be Rector at St. Paul's is because of the leadership of this parish in IMPACT. My role as a priest will take me to uncomfortable places.

While we spend a great deal of time and resources helping people in needy situations (like with food banks and soup kitchens) we also need to look at the systems that put them there, or keeps them there. There is an old saying: "When we see someone drowning in the river, we need to pull them out. But we also need to walk upstream and see who is throwing them in."

Another thing that is hugely important to me: IMPACT is the only organization that I've seen in Charlottesville that unites very diverse congregations across denominational lines, and even interfaith lines, with Christian, Jewish and Muslims participating. That is truly rare and remarkable, and is perhaps a model for the rest of the world. The issues we work on are derived at a meeting in the fall that all of our congregations are invited to participate in. All of this is done out in the open.

Candidly, the organization needs clergy leadership, and I could find no excuse to avoid that other than the uncomfortable feeling that this is somehow "political." And, candidly, I have spent much of my life involved in public policy and the media, and perhaps God is calling me to share those gifts in a new sphere.

I've written about my role with IMPACT in the latest issue of The Beacon (scroll down and look inside for the article). I elaborated further in a sermon a couple of weeks ago which you can listen to or read HERE.

I must acknowledge that serving as co-president is as much as stretch for me as it might be for you. I am more accustomed to standing in the wings as a reporter with notebook. To be on a stage in front of 1,500 people Monday night was a new experience for me, but I was also thrilled and invigorated to see so many people of so many faiths come together united in their belief we can build a better world together.

Thanks again to one and all for your support of IMPACT and your willingness to consider how my own role as a priest is continues to develop.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We had an IMPACT on Monday night: Thanks!

Photo by The Daily Progress
More than 1,500 people representing 32 congregations jammed into the John Paul Jones Arena on Monday evening to show our support for IMPACT and the two proposals we are backing that could make life a little easier for the neediest in our community.

The official count for St. Paul's Memorial Church was 141 -- our highest ever. And we had the second largest turn-out, with the Church of the Incarnation was first.

The Daily Progress has a good story about our "Nehemiah Action" Monday evening, and the proposals, which you can read by clicking HERE.

I especially want to thank John Frazee and all the volunteers who labored so hard the last few weeks.

We won a major victory with commitments from the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council to fund a program for mental health transitional care for people getting out of jail and prison.

But we were unable to get commitments from decision makers with local hospitals and vocational educators for a proposal for a collaborative health care employment training program that would require an unprecedented degree of cooperation between hospitals and schools, both private non-profit and public entities.

We aren't done. We learned a few things.

We have learned that the proposed health care training collaborative proposal is the most complex project we have taken on in the six years of IMPACT. We have learned that this is going to take more than one year to achieve because there are multiple layers of decision makers. We have learned that it will take small steps, and our proposal is really only a small step in solving a larger problem.

And we have learned that it is crucial that the decision makers are present with us and that the public’s business is conducted in public. In the last few weeks these decision makers expressed support for this proposal in meetings with our research team. Yet, for some reason, they could not express their support with us publicly. So we have learned that we have a ways to go.

Finally, the news coverage from Channel 19 was also quite good. These television news reports tend to be taken off the web relatively soon, so have a look:

Expect healing and the far reaches of hope

Bishop Steven Charleston consistently amazes me with his prayerful wisdom and the holiness of his words. He is formerly the bishop Alaska and former dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

He put this on his Facebook Monday and I pass it along to you:

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If I were bold enough to proclaim a healing, would you be bold enough to believe me? I work no miracle more than you. I have no special power to offer. But I do know that when we bring our love to bear, when we seek mercy, when we summon comfort from the far reaches of hope, something happens. Take my prayer as your own. Feel our words as one. Let this healing be our soul shared certainty, our fixed point of faith. Be bold not because you expect magic, but because like me you have been witness to a wholeness that no broken body can deny.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Monday Funnies: Extra Edition

No comment necessary...

The Monday Funnies

Spring is in the air, and I hope in your step. How about a laugh or two at the expense of church people? Enjoy your Monday -- a hat tip to Tony Ramirez for sending the cartoon, and thanks to the many of you who sent me this joke...

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Jane, the church gossip, and self-appointed monitor of the church's morals, kept sticking her nose into other people's business. Members did not approve of her extra-curricular activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence.

She made a mistake, however, when she accused Frank, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his old pickup parked in front of the town's only bar one afternoon. She emphatically told Frank (and several others) that every one seeing it there would know what he was doing!

Frank, a retired Marine and man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just turned and walked away. He didn't explain, defend, or deny. He said nothing.

Later that evening, Frank quietly parked his pickup in front of Jane's house, walked home, and left it there all night.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

The Rev. Dr. Ann Willms
Celebrant at our Centennial Service 2010
Photo by Bonny Bronson
Today is last Sunday that The Rev. Dr. Ann Willms will be with us at St. Paul's. I hope you will join us for worship and to hear her final sermon with us.

I must again express my sadness at her departure, but also my gratitude for the tremendous ministry she has done among us. Please join me in wishing her many blessings as she explores new ways to live into her baptism and ordination vows.

Thanks Ann!

On Friday, at our Lenten Luncheon, Professor Margaret Mohrmann quoted from poet Mary Oliver with a stanza from her poem Sometimes: “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

I thought you might enjoy reading the full poem:

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By Mary Oliver


Something came up
out of the dark.
It wasn't anything I had ever seen before.
It wasn't an animal
or a flower,
unless it was both.

Something came up out of the water,
a head the size of a cat
but muddy and without ears.
I don't know what God is.
I don't know what death is.

But I believe they have between them
some fervent and necessary arrangement.


melancholy leaves me breathless...


Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source!
Both of them mad to create something!

The lighting brighter than any flower.
The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.


Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Two or three times in my life I discovered love.
Each time it seemed to solve everything.
Each time it solved a great many things
but not everything.
Yet left me as grateful as if it had indeed, and
thoroughly, solved everything.


God, rest in my heart
and fortify me,
take away my hunger for answers,
let the hours play upon my body

like the hands of my beloved.
Let the cathead appear again-
the smallest of your mysteries,
some wild cousin of my own blood probably-
some cousin of my own wild blood probably,
in the black dinner-bowl of the pond.


Death waits for me, I know it, around
one corner or another.
This doesn't amuse me.
Neither does it frighten me.

After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.
It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.
I walked slowly, and listened

to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.
Photo by Lori Korleski Richardson

Art above by Chiura Obata, Untitled, 1927

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Rain of God

He changed deserts into pools of water *
and dry land into water-springs.
Psalm 107:35

This morning there is a gentle rain falling in Charlottesville, and I sat on our front porch in my time of meditation, reading the day's psalm (above), and Morning Prayer.

Usually I close my eyes, but not this morning. The drizzle seemed to make everything seem more alive. The biblical writers are fond of images like "breath of God." This morning I could could see another image: the "rain of God."

I am reminded of another psalm: "It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore." (Psalm 133:3)

Lori took a few photos this morning from our front porch of the Redbud tree on our hill in the rain. May the rain bring you abundant life and many blessings.

Photos by Lori Korleski Richardson
By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Friday, March 23, 2012

A week of conversation about community, social media and ethics

Dr. Margaret Mohrmann
at our Lenten Luncheon;
photo by Lori K. Richardson
We got back to Charlottesville Friday in time for a Lenten luncheon at St. Paul’s featuring a talk by my friend Dr. Margaret Mohrmann, who is a professor at the University of Virginia in both the medical school and the Department of Religious Studies.

Dr. Mohrmann is a long-time member of St. Paul’s and she has a passion for ethics. She challenged us to think a little more deeply than we might otherwise about what it means to live a moral life in community. As she reminded us, the ethical choices we make have a great deal to do with not only our personal lives, but how we live together on this planet.

One of the underlying conversations at the Episcopal Communicators national conference that we attended this week in North Carolina was about how our use of communication tools represent moral choices about living in community.

The ethical questions were not confined simply to when, or how we lift photos off the Internet, though that issue is certainly important.

Nor were the ethical questions simply about institutional transparency, as important as that is (we can easily think of churches that have covered up pedophile scandals).

The ethical question is bigger than all of that.

As Bishop Stacy Sauls reminded us at the conference, the word “communication” comes from the word “communion,” and so we must ask: Does the sheer volume of information build communion or tear it apart?

I don’t have an easy answer.

But I believe the Church – especially the Church – must engage with that question, both concerning its own practices and in the wider trends in our culture.

All of our workshops had something to do with the uses of “social media” – these rapidly evolving Internet tools like Facebook and Twitter that enable people to form vast networks with each other using personal electronic devices.

As several speakers noted, if our church isn’t using Facebook we are signaling that we are saying we don’t care about the people who are.

We have seen recent examples of how Facebook has the power to knit people together all over the world, and how it can change political structures and shape events. The “Arab Spring” that brought down the government in Egypt was organized through Facebook. Both the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party owe much to social media.

At our Episcopal Communicators national conference, we were given reams of ideas for how we can use social media to draw people into our churches. Some ideas were better than others. One speaker told us how a church encourages its congregation to use Twitter and Facebook to message the preacher, and each other, about what they think of the sermon – during the sermon.

I would prefer to avoid that one, thanks.

We also heard how we could use these tools to find out a great deal of information about the demographics and personal characteristics of the people who go to our churches, and the potential “market” around us. Businesses are doing this, and so should we, or so we were told.

All of this got me thinking: How ethical is this? When does social media become anti-social?

We, as the Church, must pause to ask: Are we building community or contributing to the cultural forces that are fracturing community? Just because we can flood you with information, tailored especially for you that might attract you to our church, should we? Is evangelism simply brazen marketing by another name?

And when does Facebook, Twitter, blogs (oh please, not this one) feed an addiction that isolates people from real relationships with each other?

One of our speakers, a professor at the University of North Carolina told us how her students have said they would rather talk by social media than to have face-to-face meetings with her or each other. “That’s scary,” she said.

Don’t get me wrong – I am fascinated by social media, and intend to keep writing this blog and exploring others ways of connecting with people through social media. These tools have an amazing capacity to reach people in new ways, and reach people who we are not otherwise reaching. We can use these tools to bring the Gospel out beyond the confines of the physical walls of the Church. And I am continually awestruck by how many people read this blog all over the world.

Yet I also think it is incumbent upon us as the Body of Christ to continually ask the ethical question: Is what we are doing here in cyberspace building the Body of Christ or tearing it apart? This seems a ripe area for inquiry by moral theologians, and all of us.

As Dr. Mohrmann reminded us Friday, we should be careful to not settle for simple or quick answers. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts here on this blog, or in person.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stacy Sauls: "You are the keepers of our stories"

Bishop Stacy Sauls;
photo by Lori K. Richardson
KANUGA, North Carolina – Here at the Episcopal Communicators national conference, the conversation today shifted away from nifty Internet tools to the mission of the Church.

We were treated today to hearing Bishop Stacy Sauls, who is the chief operating officer of The Episcopal Church and is lately in the line-of-fire with proposals to restructure and trim the bureaucratic structure at the top. He left his position as Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, to take on this job at the Church Center in New York, serving at the behest of Presiding Bishop Katharine.

Sauls, by the way, is a graduate of the University of Virginia, and he went to St. Paul’s Memorial Church when he was an undergraduate years ago.

Sauls talked with us for two hours about how the mission of the Church is to feed the hungry, free the captives, and heal disease – to be the incarnation of Jesus in the world. To do that, he implored us, we must continually “remember God” in their work.

“I believe we are at a time when we are beginning to remember,” he said. “We are beginning to remember who we are… This is one of the most hopeful moments the Church has every experienced.”

Sauls gave a short history lesson on how the Church lost its way beginning with its compromise with power in the 4th century and how it connects with our present predicament as a church (the video below has a segment of that portion of his talk). “We got into bed with power and power has thrown us out.”

Sauls then asked the Episcopal Communicators to be in forefront of telling a different story based not based on power, but a story based on the mission of Jesus to feed the poor, heal the lame and free the captives.

“We have an opportunity to remember who we are,” he said. “Communication exists to promote communion.”

Our church, he said, needs to reclaim the language of God and Christ. “We have ceded a lot of good stuff to the crazy people,” he said. “You are the keepers of our stories,”

“This is the most interesting, rewarding time in the history of the church.”

The video below was taken by Lori:

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Evangelism spelled with a capital "C"

Scott Gunn
KANUGA, North Carolina – I must admit my head is reeling from two days of workshops on Communications with a capital “C” in The Episcopal Church.

Here at the Episcopal Communicators annual conference, I’ve heard about amazing Internet tools that make it easier for us to communicate far beyond the walls of our church, and tools to find out how well and with what kinds of people we are connecting with – and not connecting.

It would be easy to hear all this as technical geek talk. There is a good deal that is way above my head, and a great deal of jargon that escapes me. Around 3 pm I stopped taking notes – I could absorb no more.

Yet all this comes down to one word scarier than all the other words in our good staid church:


“We are at a hinge point in our church,” said Scott Gunn, executive director of the Forward Movement, the publishing house that produces those nifty purse-size booklets with daily meditations, and now a good deal more than that.

“We can make a real contribution to the world… or have a narrative of collapse and decline.”

Gunn led a terrific panel discussion on communication as evangelism in the church. I found it enlightening and encouraging to hear the top communication professionals in The Episcopal Church cut past the minutiae of search engines and social media sites and talk about the purpose of what we are trying to do.

“Part of the problem is communicators think in terms of tools. The conversation needs to be about evangelism,” said Gunn. “If we talk to our bishops and rectors, and we talk about are tasks, that sounds like something that can be cut.”

Communicators are often seen as technicians transmitting press releases and promoting events. To confine them to that silo is to squander the gifts that they offer that is central to the mission of building God’s kingdom and transforming the world.

“Communication as mission assumes external focus,” said Anne Rudig, director of the Office of Communications at the Episcopal Church Center in New York. “But many in the church don’t have an external focus so they see communications as maintenance.”

With social media and Internet analytical tools, the communicators are now able to transmit back to the church how our message is being heard, and who we are missing.

I would love to see the best of our church professional communicators travel the country and conduct workshops and panel discussions at diocesan conventions and clergy conferences.

We no longer live in a Yellow Pages world, but in a highly interactive universe that is getting more complicated by the minute. Ironically, it may be leading to less human connection. And that is precisely what we have to offer as The Episcopal Church.

James Richardson

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Skipping from 1950 to 2050: The Episcopal Communicators

KANUGA, North Carolina -- What would an "extreme makeover" look like for the Episcopal Church?

A lot of things, says The Rev. Cindy Voorhees, our keynote speaker here Tuesday at Kanuga for the Episcopal Communicators conference. She is a priest, architect, general contractor, church builder, and one of the most creative minds in our church today.

She is a skeptic of the "Emergent Church" -- "it's a Bandaid," she said.

She has a Top-10 list for what she would do "if I were God" with the Episcopal Church. The list includes closing churches with rusted and faded "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You signs." (Note to self: check the sign)

We need to get focused again on basics, she implored us. What are we here for? Who and how are we reaching them? What are we doing with our buildings? Why do we have such a hard time talking about money and tithing? How can we incorporate new technology, new ways of communicating, and new ways of interacting while providing authentic community and proclaiming the Good News of salvation?

"We have what 20-year-olds want," Voorhees noted. "Generation Y wants to know why?"

"We don't know how to talk about our faith in a personal manner. People come to our churches because they are invited. We don't invite them."

The conference is a gathering of communicators from around the church -- bloggers, writers, techies, media experts. They work for dioceses, parishes, and Episcopal foundations.

Although I write this blog, I consider myself a piker compared to the people here. Many walk around with iPads, and, yes, they do seem to be Tweeting and Facebooking a lot during the presentations. My head is spinning after hearing about "management tools" for the internet like HootSuite and TweetDeck. I not quite sure what those do, but I am willing to find out.

Most of all, I am glad to be here because, on general principle, I want to hear what else is going on in our church beyond my parish and diocese. What new ideas are out there? This is a group of dedicated professionals who have a lot of ideas, but it is a corner of our church many are unaware of or take for granted. This conference is truly a rich part of a larger conversation about how the Church can, and should, transform itself to meet a world that is reeling from constant change.

"We need to skip past 1950 and get to 2050," said Voorhees.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Heading today to the Episcopal Communicators annual conference

Lori and I are headed South today to Kanuga in North Carolina for the Episcopal Communicators annual conference. We've never been to Kanuga (we hear it is gorgeous), and I've never been to the Episcopal Communicators conference (Lori was a guest speaker in 2002 in Denver).

The conference is a national gathering of the best of bloggers, writers, techies and professional communication experts from around our church. I hope to pick up a few new ideas and make a few new friends. And maybe sit in one of these rockers to the right. I will post from Kanuga and let you know what we are learning.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Monday Funnies

Yesterday we heard about Moses fed up with all the complaining and whining. So God sends snakes to show the people something they can really complain about.

Maybe getting to Monday is not so bad after all.

May you have a good week, enjoy the early Spring (on the East Coast -- we hear it is rather miserable in the West). Here are a few jokes from Pat Hill, director of the Jokester Department at Fiat Lux Productions:
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Father O'Malley answers the phone. “Hello, is this Father O'Malley?”

“It is!”

“This is the IRS. Can you help us?”

“I can!”

“Do you know a Ted Houlihan?”

“I do!”

“Is he a member of your congregation?”

“He is!”

“Did he donate $10,000 to the church?”

“He will.”

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King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was astonished that the hungry lions had not eaten Daniel. He summoned Daniel and promised him that if he would reveal his secret, the king would give him his freedom.

“It was easy, your Excellency,” Daniel said. “I went around and whispered in each lion's ear — ‘After dinner, there will be speeches.’ ”

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bread is a miracle: Lori's reflection

In case you want to read our Lenten reflections by members of our congregation, you can see each day's meditation by clicking HERE. And it so happens that Lori wrote the reflection for today -- on bread (how appropriate).

In case you are wondering, we are using the lectionary readings for Morning Prayer for the Lenten reflections, and so the biblical readings for today's reflection are different than the readings we heard in church this morning for the Holy Eucharist.

Here is Lori's reflection, with links to the biblical readings for Morning Prayer that go with her reflection:

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Psalm 66  Genesis 48:8-22  Romans 8:11-25  John 6:27-40

It is said that John is the most mystical of the Gospel writers, yet he has Jesus telling his disciples: “I am the bread of life.” What can be mystical about bread?

Bread has sustained humankind since before the written record of history. It can be made a number of different ways, with many kinds of grain, but it depends on a living organism, yeast, to make it what it is. The yeast takes the dense flour, feeds on its sugars, multiplies, raises the mass into a bubbling sponge, full of air pockets that will make the inside of the loaf soft and cloudlike while the outside, the crust, contains it and absorbs the direct heat, turning brown and stiff in the process. The process is somewhat of a miracle.

Bread has about 60 percent of the amino acids we need to sustain life. (Add cheese and mushrooms and you get as much protein as a chicken breast. Or look for Ezekiel bread; it has all eight essential amino acids in it.)

Yet as good as bread is, it can still go bad. Molds love to grow on bread, an excellent food source for them. Some molds are beneficial, such as penicillin; ergot, another bread mold, causes hallucinations. Some are just toxic.

But Jesus told them of a bread that held no such perils: “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” No wonder the disciples said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

A hymn I often find myself humming is based on this passage:

I am the bread of life
He who comes to me shall not hunger
He who believes in me shall not thirst
No one can come to me
Unless the Father beckons
And I will raise you up 
And I will raise you up 
And I will raise you up 
On the last day.

— Lori Korleski Richardson

What are you afraid of? What do you believe in?

Today we get snakes: the lessons are Numbers 21:4-9Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22Ephesians 2:1-10 and John 3:14-21. Here is my sermon for today:
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What are you afraid of? Snakes?

Are you afraid of the dark, or change in your life, or maybe afraid to try chanting the Lord’s Prayer?

Don’t worry, we won’t be doing it forever.

Or are you afraid of people not like yourself?

And what do you believe in?

Power, money, prestige – fear itself?

Or something else?

The lessons today have a common thread – fear and belief – and they squarely confront us with these two questions: What are you afraid of? What do you believe in?

In the Old Testament today, Moses leads the people out of slavery and into the desert. No one has a clue where they are going, least of all Moses. They don’t like their food, they are thirsty, and the people are very cranky and believing mostly in their own complaining.

Biblical scholars call this story from the Book of Numbers one of the “murmuring passages,” and the people are murmuring plenty loud, and Moses is fed up.

Listen closely to what happens next in this very curious, and, yes, strange story: God unleashes snakes to slither around among the people. You want something to cry about? Have some snakes.

Then God tells Moses to make a bronze figure of a snake, and hold it up for the people to see: “Everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

So Moses makes a bronze snake, puts it on a pole, and when people see it they are healed, just like that.

Well, wait a minute. I thought God got real mad last week with those Ten Commandments. Remember the golden calf? No graven images? What’s with the bronze snake? Isn’t this magic idol worship? Or is this something else?

Is the bronze snake a way for people to look squarely at their fears – snakes – and overcome them?

Look at your worst fears – look at the snake – and the power of fear will be taken away. Fear will be no match for the power of God’s love and grace that, as Paul reminds us in the Letter to the Ephesians, is freely given to us. We don't earn it. It comes to us as a gift.

The story of Moses and the bronze snake is central to the story in the Gospel of John today, where Jesus predicts his own death.

The Cross upon which he will hang is like the bronze snake. The Cross is an executioner’s tool, and it is not to be worshipped like an idol.

But look at the Cross, Jesus says, and look at the snake. Look at your fears.

Look through them to the healing and wholeness that will come in spite of the crosses and snakes that come in life.

By going to the Cross himself, Jesus becomes the window into seeing the power of God’s love and grace.

There is another question that comes with this: What is it you believe in? What is it that you want to believe in?

Is it power, money, prestige – and fear itself?

Much of our world believes in exactly those things, and uses fear to create power, money and prestige. You see this fear-based formula playing out over and over in our election politics in our country.

The Gospel of John confronts square on this belief in fear:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

The word “believe” is not about an assent to intellectual precepts and dogmas. The word “believe” really means “trust.”

What is it you trust?

Is it your fear that your trust? Is it the darkness?

Or do you trust in light and life and grace and Jesus himself pointing the way to eternal life that begins in this life?

The Gospel of John is like a symphony on the theme of grace, love and the meaning of Jesus coming into the world to show us how to live without fear.

With many words, many images, many notes, John’s gospel proclaims that God’s deepest desire is to heal the world, to save all who are wounded, to reconcile humanity to all of God’s creation.

God’s deepest desire is not to destroy life, but to destroy fear – to create, to save, to heal – and for us to respond as partners with God.

“Believe” is an active verb. It calls for action.

Grace is freely given and grace asks for a response freely given by us.

Last Wednesday, Pastor Alvin Edwards, from Mount Zion First African Baptist Church, spoke at our community night dinner. He said that to linger too long in church is a sin, and he is right. We are called to respond to God’s love by giving feet to our belief.

There are many ways to do that, and I want to mention one this morning:

On Monday March 26 – a week from tomorrow – many of us will gather at the John Paul Jones Arena with 30 other faith congregations working together on social justice issues as part of the organization IMPACT, which stands for “Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together.”

We will ask public officials to support concrete proposals for transitional housing for the mentally ill, and for employment training programs for young people in our community.

I would like to invite you to join me next Monday evening at JPJ.

Yet I am also aware of the misgivings some of you have about IMPACT, and the method that sometimes feels confrontational.

I know it can feel uncomfortable, especially if you know some of the public officials who are on the stage. For others, I know that the IMPACT mass meeting, called the “Nehemiah Action,” feels stage-y and contrived.

I’d like to share a few thoughts about this today:

First, the issues were chosen at a gathering of our congregations last fall, and everyone in all of our congregations was invited to participate in choosing the issues.

Since then, many hours by volunteers have gone into researching these issues and talking with public officials about solutions.

It is hugely important to these volunteers that people from 31 faith congregations will come to the arena next Monday to stand behind them – and our presence in large numbers gets the attention of public officials.

But there is also something else at work with IMPACT, something at least as important. Half of the congregations that belong to IMPACT are primarily low income and non-white.
Nehemiah Action, 2011

It is no accident that churches with large African American and Latino congregations will turn out in big numbers next Monday night.

It is one night when they discover they have a little power to make a difference how the world operates.

The public meeting next Monday night gives voice to the voiceless, and power to people who rarely believe that they have any power.

And that brings me back to Moses and the bronze snake. What are we afraid of?

Many of us here in this church have more personal power than we realize. Many of us here have entrée into the corridors of government, business, the media and academia. We know how to make the system work for us.

Are we afraid to share our power?

Or are we willing to share that power for just one night even if it makes us squirm a little? Can we be uncomfortable for one night so that others who have so little power can have a voice on issues that matter to them? Can we stand with them by being there?

Jesus lived with people on the margins – with lepers, fishermen and poor people. He lived with people with no power, and then he went to Jerusalem to confront the people with power.

How might the world truly change if we do the same? And what if we did that on more than one night a year? Might there be just a little more hope, and real change in this world if do? 
What are we afraid of? What do we believe in?

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Etching above: From the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us: Containing 400 Illustrations from the Old and New Testaments: With brief descriptions by Charles Foster

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's "breastplate" and an Irish hymn for your day

Today is St. Patrick's Day, the 5th century English saint whose mission to the Irish made him an icon of Ireland and Celtic spirituality.  It is also Saturday, a day I hope you find not just chores but rest, and maybe a green beer at the end of the day.

Among the most traditional hymns of our Church is St. Patrick's Breastplate,  based on a prayer said to have been written by St. Patrick. Most likely it came later, but no matter, and many verses have been added over the centuries. Here is a beautifully lyrical version sung by Angelina, followed by another version below it by Alison Krauss:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to step down

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who has arguably had the most tumultuous tenure of any archbishop since the English Civil War of the 1640s, announced today his retirement. The Queen of England will appoint his successor later this year. In a statement issued from the Archbishop's Lambeth Palace, he had this to say:

It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade, and moving on has not been an easy decision. During the time remaining there is much to do, and I ask your prayers and support in this period and beyond. I am abidingly grateful to all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane and myself in these years, and all the many diverse parishes and communities in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that have brought vision, hope and excitement to my own ministry. I look forward, with that same support and inspiration, to continuing to serve the Church’s mission and witness as best I can in the years ahead.
I've been critical at times of Archbishop Rowan on this blog, particularly over his promotion of an "Anglican Covenant" that many, including me, feel will do more harm than good. But I've also expressed my gratitude for how he has attempted to hold the center, and for his brilliance in guiding the Lambeth gathering of Anglican bishops in 2008. Nor should we forget that he was in lower Manhattan on 9/11 and witnessed first-hand the attacks on the World Trade Center; his words and presence showed great courage and comfort in the days and weeks that followed.

In the days ahead there will be many plaudits and barbs directed his way, but for now let us keep him and his family and the whole Church in our prayers.

For the full statement from Lambeth, click HERE.

The New York Times today published a solid article on Williams' impending departure. The story includes speculation on who comes next. You can it by clicking HERE.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bishop candidates appearing next week

Next week, the six candidates for bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Virginia will participate in a series of walkabouts. These events are open to all, and are especially geared for those who will be voting delegates at the April 21 election at St. George's, Fredericksburg. The walkabouts will be a chance to hear from the candidates and listen to their responses to questions submitted in advance by the people of the Diocese.

The walkabouts will take place:
  • Monday, March 19, St. Paul's, Ivy, 7-9:30 p.m.
    851 Owensville Rd., Ivy, VA 
  • Tuesday, March 20, Christchurch School, Christchurch, 1-3:30 p.m.
    49 Seahorse Ln., Christchurch, VA 
  • Tuesday, March 20, St. George's, Fredericksburg, 7-9:30 p.m.
    905 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg, VA 
  • Wednesday, March 21, Christ Church, Winchester, 7-9:30 p.m.
    114 Boscawen St., Winchester, VA 
  • Thursday, March 22, Good Shepherd, Burke, 7:30-10 p.m.
    9350 Braddock Rd., Burke, VA 
  • Friday, March 23, St. James's, Richmond, 7-9:30 p.m.
    1205 W. Franklin St., Richmond, VA 
No registration is required for the walkabouts.

We look forward to seeing you at one of these events, and invite you to view the Job Description and Ministry of the Bishop Suffragan document to learn more.

Read profiles of the candidates online. Delegates, don't forget to register  for the Electing Council by April 15!
For Christ For This Time For All Time

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

God's Grandeur and a poem for your day

I am late today on the blog, and, yes, I know the flowers in the photo below are daffodils (edit made). Our friend Karen in Tennessee sent this wonderful poem a short while ago, and so I pass it along to you...

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God's Grandeur
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs -
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Photo of gnarly pine at Yosemite, by Bill Stevenson

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The daffodils are here at St. Paul's Memorial Church

Winter is definitely in retreat here in Charlottesville. Did the clock change have something to do with it? It snowed a week ago, and Monday it was in the 70s.

The other day I got this wonderful photograph from Thomas A. Marshall, a professor at the University of Virginia who likes to take photos in and around the grounds of the University. Thank you!

The daffodils are definitely in their glory this week on our grounds at the church. Maybe we should have a daffodil festival one of these days?

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Monday Funnies

Lori reminded me the other day of an oldie-but-goodie. There are a number of versions of this joke, so here is one, written by Lori with a few edits from me. Enjoy your Monday and the rest of the week...

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A young man entered a monastery had a rather firm rule of allowing only two words to be said once a year during the annual meeting with the abbot.

Brother Lawrence went about his duties for the first year, and then had his annual meeting with the abbott and said: "Hard bed."

The next year at his meeting with the abbot, Brother Lawrence said: "Cold toast."

The young monk continued his work, his prayers, and other duties as assigned.

At the end of his third year, he told the abbot: "I quit."

The abbot turned to his assistant and said, "I am not surprised. All he ever did was complain."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Never pray in a room without windows -- The Talmud

I am not preaching today.  I want to share with you that our Vestry this Lent  has undertaken a daily practice of prayer, led by our Vestry co-chaplains Janice Dean and Gwynn Crichton.

To make this simple, they are sending us a daily meditation from The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer, a book by Joan Chittister (and we have permission to do this). Each morning comes a wonderful reflection along with a few prayers.

This reflection came the other day, and it struck many chords with me, beginning with the mention of windows. I begin my mornings in quiet prayer and reflection in a corner of our house with a big window. I like to begin my prayers by looking out the window as the sun dances on the tree tops.

I leave this with you today from Joan Chittister...

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Never pray in a room without windows.
— The Talmud

The rabbis are clear: Prayer is not meant to make us into a world unto ourselves. We do not pray in order to escape the world around us. We pray with one eye on the world so that we can come to understand what is really being asked of us here and now, at times like this, as co-creators of the universe.

When God put humankind into a garden called earth, it was, Scripture is clear, to steward it to fullness of life. We were intended to keep the earth in good condition, to use it and develop it, to do our part in bringing every aspect of creation to fulfillment.

What God did not complete, we are meant to finish. God gave us the plants and intends us to garden and harvest them for the good of the entire world. God gave us the sun and intends us to use its energies in ways that maintain not destroy life. God gave us all the raw materials of life—physical, psychological and mental—and expects us to bring to full growth what was created in embryo.

We must learn to pray with more than ourselves in mind.

We do not pray for our own needs alone. We pray to become holy agents of the God who made us to care for the earth and all its peoples.

We are each workers in the garden of life.

Our most contemplative people — Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Siena, Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day — are those who most actively sought the coming of the reign of God on earth. We pray to become like them.

To be assured that we are living an authentic prayer life we must forever and always examine its fruits in us. Are we really more concerned about others because we have come closer to God who loves them? Or have we turned prayer into a refuge from what being fully human demands of us?

Prayer is meant to bring us to see the world as God sees the world. It is meant to expand our vision, not trap us in the world that is only ourselves.

Commitment to the needs of the world is a sign of the presence of God in us.