Thursday, May 31, 2012

New Senior Associate Rector called to St. Paul's

The Rev. Peter Carey
Dear friends of St. Paul's,

I am delighted to announce that I am calling the Rev. Peter M. Carey as our new Senior Associate Rector.

Peter comes to us with broad parish and teaching experience. He is currently the Associate Rector at Emmanuel Church, Greenwood. Peter and his wife, Lisa Plog, and their three children - Zachary (age 9), Sam (age 6), and Lily (age 4) - will be with us for their first Sunday on July 8. They will also join us for our Shrine Mont parish retreat weekend July 13-15.

Peter and Lisa have long-standing ties to Charlottesville and St. Paul’s. They were married at St. Paul’s and their son Zachary was baptized here. Lisa grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from the University of Virginia. Her parents still live in the area and her father is on the faculty at UVA. Lisa currently teaches history at St. Anne’s-Belfield School.

Peter is a graduate of Bates College in Maine. He holds a master’s degree in education from George Washington University and is a graduate of the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. Prior to serving at Emmanuel church, he was the head chaplain at St. Catherine’s Episcopal School in Richmond. He is also well known in the wider Church as a writer for Episcopal CafĂ©.

After the departure of Ann Willms, I spent a good deal of time talking with parish leaders about how we have managed and shared our clergy responsibilities. I concluded that St. Paul's would benefit from having a more senior associate rector with significant prior parish experience and a broader scope of responsibility. I asked Paula Kettlewell to form a committee to draft a position description which reflected the manner in which she and David Poist so successfully shared their ministry.

After I identified Peter as a candidate, I asked several groups of parish leaders, representing a broad cross section of the St. Paul's community, to meet with Peter and give me their advice about how Peter would fit in our community. After meeting with these groups, Peter then met with the Vestry. I received extremely positive feedback from the members of these groups, and with the consent of the Vestry, I offered this call to Peter as our next Senior Associate Rector and Peter enthusiastically accepted.

You will discover, as I have, that Peter has tremendous energy and fresh ideas for ministry. He will participate broadly in every aspect of parish life with us, including working with families, children, adults, and in pastoral care, education and the use of social media. Peter is extremely friendly and outgoing with a magnetic personality. He will make a great addition to our clergy staff.

In explaining why he has decided to join us, Peter wrote this:

“There is great hope and passion for St. Paul's, and many, many folks I met with are so excited about not only St. Paul's past, but also the present and future of this wonderful church. The energy and excitement of the folks I’ve met with is contagious and I am so excited to join you! 
“There are a plethora of opportunities for new programs, for new approaches, and for new ideas at St. Paul's, of course, some choices will need to be made about what direction this wonderful church should go, and the Long-Range Planning process will help in this area. I am excited about the energy for the future of St. Paul's, and grateful that God has moved me to find you at this time.  
“We are huge Wahoo fans in our family, especially my 9 year old son and myself, the opportunities for engagement with the UVA community are wide and deep and I am psyched to see what we can do together.” 
I am thrilled to have Peter join our clergy team. Please join me in welcoming Peter and his wonderful family (see picture below) to our parish.

Peace to all,

The Rev. James Richardson, Rector & Chaplain

The next chapter in the life of the Diocese of Virginia is now

VIRGINIA: ‘Continuing congregations’ turn focus to future

Church of the Epiphany Episcopal welcomes the community to worship. Photo/Frances Caldwell
[Episcopal News Service] The past weeks have been a time of transition for the Diocese of Virginia. Congregations that have worshiped away from their home churches for more than five years have made joyful homecomings to their church buildings. The entire diocese has joined in celebrating these returns, all while entering into a discernment process to help these congregations make plans for the future.
The recent returns and celebrations have been a longtime coming for the four “continuing congregations” that have worshipped in temporary spaces while the diocese and breakaway congregations that had joined the Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America fought over rights to diocese-owned properties in the courts. The breakaway congregations occupied the church buildings throughout the court proceedings.
In all, seven church properties (and a number of additional buildings and land parcels) have been returned to the Diocese of Virginia following the near conclusion of a five-year legal dispute. Each has a different story to tell, and telling these stories is a key part of a diocesan initiative known as “Dayspring,” an effort to discern the work of the Holy Spirit with graciousness and patience as the diocese explores how best to use resources and properties for the ministry of the church.
As the continuing congregations have begun discerning their way forward, each has realized that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a new beginning.
Members of Church of the Epiphany in Fairfax returned home on May 6, after worshiping in a local school. While making that transition, they’re also welcoming a new interim vicar and are turning to social media and marketing to increase their visibility in the community.
It’s been a time of challenge, but since returning home the congregation has tripled Sunday attendance and doubled its membership from 25 to 50 members.
The congregation also has benefitted from what the Rev. Jennifer McKenzie, interim vicar, calls the “Blessing-a-Day Club.” A slew of blessings that “seem to fall out of the sky,” she said, have landed on Epiphany’s doorstep, including volunteer musical groups for Sunday worship, pro-bono graphic design services, and more.
“The biggest challenge right now for us is building the staff infrastructure that we need to support this growth, so that as this growth continues, we don’t let people slip through the cracks and lose people,” said McKenzie.
The congregation’s hopes for the future are high. It’s launching a new branding- and direct-mail effort to raise the church’s image and presence in the community; hosting community groups, from the Boy Scouts to an Irish dance group; and participating in a local festival. And it’s rolling out the welcome mat. “Our big thing here is, ‘All are welcome,’ said McKenzie. “And we really mean that. When people walk in the door, we want them to know that there is a place for them.”
The Rt. Rev. Ted Gulick, assistant bishop in Virginia, and the Rev. Kate Chipps, priest-in-charge of St. Margaret's, Woodbridge, celebrate a baptism with the continuing congregation. Photo/Courtesy St. Margaret's, Woodbridge
The continuing congregation of St. Margaret’s in Woodbridge, meanwhile, hasn’t made an official “move.” Although the original St. Margaret’s church property was returned to the diocese earlier this spring, the congregation continues to worship in its “temporary” worship space, which it shares with three other denominations. Members of the congregation are joining together to discuss what shape their physical church will take in the years to come. Meanwhile, they’re saying goodbye to the Rev. Kate Chipps, priest-in-charge, who has led them through this difficult process. Chipps will retire in July.
St. Margaret’s vestry is leading the congregation through this time of transition, gathering input from members on the best possible worship space to meet their needs, and meeting with the Dayspring teams to discern a way to move the congregation out of “reaction mode” into “planning mode,” explained Eleana Boyer, senior warden.
“The spirit of the church is moving more toward a positive direction,” added Boyer. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t facing challenges, including how to grow their congregation and how to financially support their ministries. But they’re meeting those challenges head-on. “Once we get through this transition and change, you’ll see us really shine,” said Boyer. “We are a faithful people. We have come this far by faith, and we are moving forward in faith.”
Members of St. Stephen’s in Heathsville returned to their church building on Palm Sunday and the congregation is as active as ever. Members are busy planning their community strawberry festival and the annual spring barbecue and bluegrass event. Read more about their story here.
And then there’s the Falls Church, a congregation that continued to grow while worshipping in a temporary space, and where a large number of members have just “returned” to a church building where they’ve never worshipped before.
“It’s just really exciting to see how things are falling into place,” said the Rev. Cathy Tibbetts, priest-in-charge.
On the congregation’s first evening back in its worship space, members opened the doors to the building, inviting families to come and explore the church grounds. “We wanted them to have the opportunity to explore the blessings that God has bestowed on us,” said Tibbetts.
The congregation is looking at growing its clergy staff, including calling a “planter-builder” to oversee the church’s growth process.
A community focus is a large part of the Falls Church Episcopal DNA, according to Mike Lockaby, the senior warden.
“I think that being involved in the community is going to draw in people who previously did not feel welcome, or previously were un-churched,” he said. So the congregation focuses on “being more open to our community and more positive toward our community and more involved in what’s local.”
In addition, they’re looking inward by establishing small group ministries, in which 10-to-16 parishioners will gather for fellowship and/or Christian formation. The congregation also has instituted a “partnership ministry,” which gives newcomers a contact person who is familiar with the church’s culture and spirit and who can determine the best way to welcome that person. “The message that we have been stressing and that we wish to continue to stress is, ‘We welcome you,’ and there’s no asterisk to that,” said Lockaby.
The Falls Church Anglican is the only one out of the seven properties returned to the Diocese that continues to pursue its appeal. The diocese has made settlement negotiations with the other six congregations involved in the litigation. In these cases, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America congregations agreed to return church property and Episcopal funds, and to withdraw their appeals.
In addition to the church buildings belonging to the four continuing congregations, three additional church properties have been returned to the diocese as a result of the litigation. These churches previously did not have continuing Episcopal congregations associated with them. The diocese already has reinstated Episcopal worship services at St. Paul’s in Haymarket; and the property of Church of the Apostles, Fairfax, also has been returned to diocesan ownership. The diocese has arranged a yearlong lease with the Anglican congregation of Truro Church, Fairfax, and both parties have agreed to enter into a “covenant of mutual charity and respect,” a piece of the agreement which the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia, describes as “an opening for a transformative witness to many across the worldwide Anglican Communion.”
Coordinating these efforts amidst unique circumstances is no small task. And that’s where Dayspring comes in. The Dayspring initiative – so named for the poetic, biblical term that translates to “new dawn,” brings together leaders from across the Diocese of Virginia to plan, vision and strategize about the properties returning to the diocese, and how best to put them to use for the mission of the Episcopal Church in Virginia. Johnston is at the head of the effort, which also is guided by the Rev. Canon Susan Goff, bishop suffragan-elect, and Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the diocese.
“It is heartening to consider how the Diocese of Virginia is responding to the staggering richness of the possibilities before us,” said Burt in a recent letter to the diocese. “Each of the continuing congregations remains profoundly committed to its mission and ministry. They are experiencing significant growth, and Dayspring teams are considering a number of transformational mission efforts at churches where no continuing congregation exists. There is tremendous energy and a gracious spirit ever present in this work.”
– Emily Cherry is the communications officer for the Diocese of Virginia.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Finding an old treasure on my bookshelf

The other day I was rearranging books on one of my shelves when I ran across an old book with a green cover that I didn't realize that I had: Christian Faith and Life, by William Temple. My copy was published in 1936 and the pages were none too worse for wear. A kind saint must have given it to me; doubtless I had set it aside and forgotten about it.

William Temple (1881-1944) is one of the great figures of Christianity of the 20th century and a heroic prophetic voice during the rise of Nazism. He became Archbishop of Canterbury, denounced Hitler and anti-semitism, and  famously gave a speech in the House of Lords decrying how "Jews are being slaughtered at the rate of tens of thousands a day." Temple became the first  Archbishop of Canterbury to go into battle since the Middle-ages, landing with the troops on the beaches at Normandy. He worked tirelessly to create ecumenical and interfaith dialogue particularly between Christians and Jews.

Let me tell you about his book I found on my shelf. It is short -- 139 pages -- and it is compilation of eight lectures Temple gave at Oxford in 1931 when he was Archbishop of York. The language is a bit dated, a bit muscular and male-gender-specific, but he nonetheless has much to teach us and much that sounds still fresh.

I read the book recently on an airplane, and it was a perfect way to launch my summer reading program. This summer I want to look at what it means to call ourselves "Church," and how old ideas meld with newer ideas of our own time. Our Vestry has been in a lengthy conversation over the past year about our future as a parish, and it seems to me the basic question -- what is Church? -- fits in that dialogue. I will take you along with my summer reading, writing occasionally on this blog about it, sharing some of what I read.

A good place to start is with Archbishop William Temple. Today I leave you with an excerpt from Christian Faith and Life (pages 128-131) that is well worth considering in any conversation about what it means to be the Church of the 21st century:
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As Christ’s purpose was to found a Kingdom, so we should think of the Church as the army of that Kingdom. It is, no doubt, true that we have repeatedly substituted compromise for warfare and prudence for the spirit of adventure. The world in which the Church is set to work has, over and over again, made terms with it, which the Church of that period has most wrongly accepted. One of the commonest of the compromises that have been made is for the world to allow the Church to be at peace in proclaiming what may be called its philosophical paradoxes provided that it keeps quiet about its moral ones. And to some extent we have to confess that the Church, as we ourselves constitute it, has fallen into the snare. We have shown, no doubt, a disproportionate of concern about the distinctive philosophical doctrines of Christianity as compared with the moral duties of all disciples of Christ. We have, for example, been much more silent than we ought concerning Christ’s perfectly plain teaching on the subject of wealth and poverty. We have not driven home upon men His clear intuition that though, if wealth comes, it ought to be accepted and used as an opportunity, yet it must be recognized as rather a snare to the spiritual life than an aim which the Christian may legitimately set before himself and pursue. … 
An Army does not exist for its own benefit; it exists for its kingdom and its king; and you must come to the Church not chiefly for what you can gain from it, but for what you can give it. When you come like that, you will gain far more than if you come looking for gain. … Come to lend yourself as a member of the Body of Christ – one of His limbs, to be moved according to His will in cooperation with the other limbs in His Body. … 
And, remember, the supreme wonder of the history of the Christian Church is that always in the moments when it has seemed most dead, out of its own body there has sprung up new life; so that in age after age it has renewed itself, and age after age by its renewal has carried the world forward into new stages of progress, as it will do for us in our day, if only we give ourselves in devotion to its Lord and take our place in its service.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The prayer you won't get to hear for another 200 years

We have entered the long Season After Pentecost (some churches call it the “Trinity Season”). The season is calculated based on where Easter falls each year, itself a calculation based on the first full moon after the equinox (Cartoonist Dave Walker at right can explain this).

What all this means is that there are Sundays and weekdays with assigned biblical readings and prayers from the prayer book that we almost never get to hear.

In fact, the first of these prayers won’t be heard again in church on a Sunday for another 215 years. The next time Easter will be early enough will be March 23, 2228.

This year we begin the Season after Pentecost with the prayer and readings for “Proper 3,” which is church-speak for starting three weeks into the earliest possible date for Pentecost. Had Easter come three weeks earlier (like in 2228) we would have started on the Pentecost readings and prayers three weeks ago. Since we are not going to hear these prayers for a very long time on a Sunday, today I am offering you these prayers that you didn’t get to hear.

And since this coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday, you don’t get to hear the prayer for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost either. So here are all four Sunday prayers – or “Collects of the Day” that you won’t get to hear:

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Proper 1    Week of the Sunday closest to May 11
Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called us to your service, make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Proper 2    Week of the Sunday closest to May 18
Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep us, we pray, from all things that may hurt us, that we, being ready both in mind and body, may accomplish with free hearts those things which belong to your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Proper 3    The Sunday closest to May 25
Grant, O Lord, that the course of this world may be peaceably governed by your providence; and that your Church may joyfully serve you in confidence and serenity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Proper 4    The Sunday closest to June 1
O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Monday Funnies

It is true. I have been loafing, at least in so far as this blog is concerned. Spring fever and a few other diversions. So it is time to get back into gear. What better way to start than with the Monday Funnies?

Here is a new cartoon by Dave Walker entitled "Excuses for Absenteeism in church," and a yarn passed along by Mildred Robinson, who is a law professor. Enjoy your week.

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A bar called Drummond's, in a town in Texas, began construction on an expansion of their building, hoping to "grow" their business. 
In response, the local church started a campaign to block the bar from expanding: petitions, prayers, etc. About a week before the bar's grand re-opening, a bolt of lightning struck the bar and burned it to the ground. 
Afterward, the church folks were rather smug - bragging about "power of prayer." The angry bar owner eventually sued the church on grounds that the church ... "was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, through direct actions or indirect means." 
Of course, the church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection to the building's demise. 
The judge read carefully through the plaintiff's complaint and the defendant's reply. He then opened the hearing by saying: "I don't know how I'm going to decide this, but it appears from the paperwork that what we have here is a bar owner who now believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that does not." 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Canterbury meets Katie Couric at UVA graduation

This just in -- our own Sarah Hunter Simanson standing with Katie Couric this morning at the University of Virginia commencement. Sarah is to Katie's right. Our Canterbury students do have connections!

Congratulations to all the graduates!

Graduation blessings

Today is graduation at the University of Virginia with the traditional "final exercises" on the lawn across the street from our church. Congratulations to all the graduating Fourth Years and your friends and families! We've gotten to know many of you through our Canterbury ministry -- you will be missed!

This morning we will have an 8 am worship service, and then we are vacating the Corner. There will be no 10 am service. But we will reconvene for Holy Eucharist and a picnic at McIntire Park. Please come if you can!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Monday Funnies

It is rainy today in these parts, so a few laughs are in order at the expense of organized, and disorganized, religion. Enjoy your week...

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Q: What did Noah say as he was loading the Ark?

A: Now I herd everything.

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A local pastor was invited to play golf with two friends. Although he said his game was terrible, he went along anyway.

At the first tee, another golfer joined them to make a foursome. So as not to make the stranger nervous, the pastor insisted they introduce him as "Ron." On the fourth hole, the other golfer turned to Ron and asked him what he did for a living.

Confronted, Ron admitted that he was a Baptist pastor.

"I knew it!" the stranger exclaimed. "The way you play golf and don't swear, you had to be a preacher!"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Practice of Noticing

My sermon today is based in these lessons: Acts 10:44-48Psalm 981 John 5:1-6 and John 15:9-17

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“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

This time of year, I can almost feel the walls of this church breathe a sigh of relief. The end of the school year for our kids draws near; our University students are finishing their semester, and the fourth years are heading for graduation in another week on the lawn across the street.

Here at St. Paul’s we’ve had some huge Sundays and Big Events, one after the other since Christmas Eve.

We’ve had the Yule Log Hunt, Lenten luncheons, guest preachers and speakers, visits from bishops, Holy Week and Easter, Baccalaureate Sunday, the Parish Tea, weddings, funerals, and more meals than I can count.

And today is one more Big Event – Youth Sunday, with our youngest members leading our worship. Today we are celebrating their gifts and declaring once again that Christ’s body needs everyone, of every age, and every gift.

We might feel something like the disciple, Peter, discovering again the Holy Spirit is at work in people long before institutional religion catches up and notices.

And note that Peter stayed “for several days” to enjoy the party. Peter enjoyed big events. If you are feeling a little fatigue from big events, so am I.

But before you think you have graduated from church for the summer, just hold on. Today we get this reminder in the Gospel of John about why we are here, and what we have left to do: “This is my commandment,” Jesus says, “that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.”

The gospel lesson comes fast on the heels of last week’s teaching from Jesus about how he is the vine and we are the branches.

To put this in context, the Gospel of John was written many decades after the time of Jesus, and it is important to hear these lessons with the ears of those who wrote this down.

They faced persecution and possible death at the hands of the Roman Empire. To hear Jesus say there is no greater love than to “lay down one’s life for one’s friends” had a particular poignancy in those evil times.

But there is more lacing through this lesson than martyrdom. There is also Jesus explaining what he means by loving our neighbors and “abiding in love” with him by being a true friend to each other.

Many through the ages have heard a mystical tone in the Gospel of John because Jesus is teaching about how we are connected to God and to each other as spiritual beings.

Yet the lesson can sound daunting for those of us who are not particularly mystical or monastically inclined. Even if we wanted to devote eight hours a day to silent prayer and meditation, that is not the reality of most of our lives.

So I want to make a few simple and practical suggestions about how we can live into this concept of abiding in love with God and each other.

I take my cue from a wonderful short book that I heartily recommend you add to your summer reading list: “An Altar in the World” by Barbara Brown Taylor.
In her book, Taylor writes about the “practice of paying attention.”

Wake up each morning and give thanks for the day, for new possibilities, new opportunities. If the only prayer you make is to give thanks for the day, that will be prayer enough.

Take a few moments out of your day to notice the small details around you – the trees, the pebbles, the food on your table, the roof over your head. Approach everything with a touch of awe and wonder – and with that old-fashioned word: reverence.

Go for a walk and notice where you are walking. Brown calls it “the practice of walking.” Don’t get so caught up in the destination. Notice where your feet are stepping, and notice what is around you.

Notice other people. Brown calls it “the practice of encountering others.” Notice your loved-ones, and notice your friends. Give thanks for them especially when that might feel like a challenge.

Then take a moment to notice the people you encounter every day who you might otherwise ignore as part of the landscape:

The checkout clerk at the grocery store, the stranger who passes you on the hallway at school, or the person who sits behind you in church.

You don’t have to say anything to them, but just notice each of these people, and give thanks that they share the world with you and are as beloved of God as you are.
I have one more idea for the practice of paying attention: Let’s call it the “practice of compassion.”
When Jesus says “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends,” he is talking about compassion.

We don’t have to be martyrs to be compassionate, but we do have to open our hearts and feel some of the pain and brokenness around us.

From our open hearts will come compassion, an from compassion comes the practice of giving – and giving in every sense of the word.

God gives each of us more abundance than we often realize. Each of us has time, talent, and treasure.

God gives us everything we need, beginning with the gift of today.

We can live thinking we never have enough. We can be like the rich man of the parable who cannot bear to part with anything, or we can be like the poor woman who gives everything of herself knowing God will give her even more.

And then let’s take our compassion to another level and change the practices of the world that cause suffering – ignorance, lack of education, lack of jobs, lack of health care, prejudice, crime, violence, hatred.

When we do this, be aware something more. Notice how each of these practices of noticing, walking, encountering others, and compassion are changing you to the core of your being.

I promise you will never be the same again, and the world will never be the same again because you are here in it.

“You did not choose me but I chose you,” Jesus says, “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Holy places, Holy mountains

Big Meadow, Shenandoah National Park
Photo by Lori Korleski Richardson
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK – The day was sunny, cool and gorgeous here in Central Virginia.

What better way to spend it than exploring the national park that is at our doorstep?

Lori and I live only 30 minutes from the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park, which also means we've only seen the southern end of the park.

So Friday, we drove up Highway 29, turned west on Highway 33 and drove a few miles up into the mountains and entered the park roughly in the middle. We then drove north along the spine of the Shenandoah.

Trailhead, Shenandoah National Park
Photo by Lori Korleski Richardson
A few miles in, we went off onto a dirt road to a trailhead, parked, and then hiked into the woods.

Our destination: An Episcopal church long ago abandoned when these mountains were incorporated into a national park.

It is a story not often heard of how those who lived in these mountains were forced to leave to make way for the park; there are still hard feelings among some of the folks who live nearby  and remember their grandparent's pain.

We found the old church about a mile from the trailhead, off on a trail spur. All that is left are the ruins of two stone walls and the wreckage of an old wooden shack that probably served as a vicarage.

The stones of the church were held together by mud. A rusty old sink lay in the dirt near the shack. The roof of the shack had been crushed by falling trees. Nothing looked touched in decades.

Ruins of old Episcopal Church,
Shenandoah National Park
Photo by Lori Korleski Richardson
I tried to imagine the prayers that were said in this place, the vestments the minister must have worn, the old prayerbooks and the wooden pews no longer there.

But that was hard to imagine in the tangle of vines and fallen trees. It was a small chapel, really. It was holy to someone long ago. The stones had absorbed the prayers and maybe still held them. The chapel gave a hint that people once lived in these mountains.

We left everything as we found it, and took no souvenirs. We hiked back up to our car and pushed northward on the two-lane highway.

As mountains go, the Shenandoah are not particularly spectacular. The range is old – very, very old – eroded over tens-of-millions of years.

The Shenandoah peaks are round, the texture of the mountains comes from the trees. The highest peak is a little over 4,000 feet – foothill size by the standards of the Sierra Nevada. The trees continue to dig into the rocky loam, grinding into the bedrock, pushing the mountains lower. The tops of many of the mountains are flat, dominated by gentle meadows.

Trillium flower, Shenandoah National Park
Photo by Lori Korleski Richardson
The splendor of these mountains in not their height, but in their fine details. It is still Spring up here, the dogwoods are blooming. Everywhere we walked were wildflowers – yellow, purple, pink. The delicate leaves of woodruff line the trails. Streams from tiny springs cross under the trails. Life is everywhere.

Mountains are holy places. The ancient Celts called them “thin places,” believing mountains are a little closer to God than the flat places.

I believe the Celts got it right. You don't need to build a church in the mountains to feel the holiness.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Friday, May 11, 2012

Awakening to the day, love in the country

We live out in the country – not too far out, but far enough. The nearest big city, Richmond, is an hour to the east, or if you go north, Washington D.C. is two-plus hours away.

We live on the outskirts of Charlottesville, on a hillside in the woods. Our water comes from a well. We need to go for a short hike down the hill to pick up the mail.

We've had a lot of rain lately. People around here say we need the rain. They have a way of shaking off the dreary weather. For me, I'd rather have steady sunshine, and that we have in abundance this morning, thanks be to God. The air is crisp, the trees around us are waking up.

Our friend Karen in Tennessee sent this short poem last night, and I think it captures things pretty well. Enjoy your Friday.

Love in the Country
by William Stafford
from Stories That Could Be True

We live like this: no one but
some of the owls awake, and of them
only near ones really awake.

In the rain yesterday, puddles
on the walk to the barn sounded their
quick little drinks.

The edge of the haymow, all
soaked in moonlight,
dreams out there like silver music.

Are there farms like this where
no one likes to live?
And the sky going everywhere?

While the earth breaks the soft horizon
eastward, we study how to deserve
what has already been given us.
By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New Dean for our Cathedral in Jerusalem

It was our honor and privilege last summer to spend time with Hosam Naoum at St. George's College in Jerusalem. Yesterday he was named Dean of St. George's Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem. He is a native of Bethlehem and has quite a number of connections to Virginia. Please keep him and his family and the Holy Land in your prayers. Here is the story from Episcopal News Service:

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Hosam Naoum named dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem

The Rev. Canon Hosam Elias Naoum
[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Canon Hosam Elias Naoum has been named dean of St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem. He will become the first non-English incumbent to serve in the position.
Naoum, 38, has served as canon pastor at the cathedral since 2005, and was the acting dean from 2007-2009. As dean, Naoum will continue to serve as pastor to the cathedral’s Arabic- and English-speaking congregations.
“I call upon all our partners and friends around the Anglican Communion to hold Hosam and his family in their prayers,” said Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani in a May 3 letter announcing the appointment. “May his term as the dean of the cathedral be a blessing to many and to the glory of God.”
Following the announcement, Naoum told ENS: “I am so happy that I am in this position to serve not only the local diocese but the whole Anglican Communion. … This cathedral will always be a welcoming and hospitable place for many pilgrims and visitors.”
Naoum said he appreciates the “trust and confidence” shown in him by Dawani and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, both of whom gave their blessing to the appointment.
He also acknowledged his gratitude to Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori who, he said, has been “very supportive to the diocese and to me personally.”
Dawani said the appointment comes “after a long time of discernment and prayer and a lawful and constitutional procedure. Canon Hosam will continue to serve, especially in his new capacity as the dean of St. George’s Cathedral, both the Diocese of Jerusalem and the worldwide Anglican Communion.”
Naoum completed his initial theological training at the College of the Transfiguration and Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, and in 2011 earned a Master of Theology degree in Canon Law from Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. Dawani also is a graduate of VTS, most recently earning a Doctor of Divinity degree in 2006.
The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, dean and president of VTS, said in a statement that the seminary “considered it a privilege to train Canon Naoum for this important ministry. We celebrate with him and his family as he becomes the dean of the cathedral. We commit to remembering him in our prayers as he takes the important position both for Jerusalem and for the Anglican Communion.”
The cathedral was consecrated in 1898. Today, it is home to two congregations: the indigenous Palestinian Anglicans, often called the “Living Stones,” and a community of expatriate English-speaking members.
The Diocese of Jerusalem includes parishes and institutions throughout Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria.
Prior to moving to St. George’s, Naoum spent nine years as priest of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Nablus, a town in the West Bank.
Naoum will be installed as dean in St. George’s Cathedral on Ascension Day, May 17, at 11 a.m. Archbishop Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada will preach.
Hosam is married to Rafa. They have a son, Wadi, and two daughters, Laurice and Krista.
– Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Taking our faith beyond the four walls of our sanctuaries

Oscar Romero memorial
Yesterday the Lord’s Prayer. Today the social gospel. The one flows to the other like “on earth as it is in heaven.”

The readings in the Daily Office lectionary this morning underpin the Jewish and Christian imperatives toward mercy and justice to the poor.

If we take these biblical readings seriously, they compel us to think of our religion as going beyond the four walls of our synagogues and church sanctuaries.

They compel us to get our hands dirty in the world.

In Psalm 72 comes this command to rulers:
“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.”
And in Leviticus 19:1-18 comes the law given to Moses including uncomfortable items like this:
“You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard: you shall leave them for the poor and the aliens.”
And Moses goes on: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

There are no loopholes there.

We move onto the Apostle Paul in  1 Thessalonians 5:12-28. Paul loads the letter with advice about how to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Then we come to Jesus who puts it quite plainly in Matthew 6:19-24: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Greed, selfishness, exploitation, hatred of the alien, oppression of the poor and the outcasts – none of those things are of God.

Yet how do we, in the world as we find it, live out these commandments? It is not always so easy to see.

At St. Paul’s we have a steady stream of people who live hand-to-mouth coming through our doors. We do our best to assist them, or at least we think we do. But it never feels enough.

We support organizations like The Haven, a homeless shelter, and local food closets, but it never seems enough.

We are part of IMPACT, a coalition of 31 congregations working on structural change in the community, and yet, it never seems enough.

Our regional diocesan organization has built several houses with Habitat for Humanity, yet it never seems enough.

We support development work overseas through the African Development Project and Episcopal Relief and Development, yet it never seems enough.

We don’t always get it right. We don’t always succeed. We make mistakes. But we don’t give up. The gospel won’t let us.

I take solace in the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was murdered by a death squad in 1980. He never gave up. He put it this way, and this is enough:
“This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Lord’s Prayer: Bringing Heaven to Earth now

In the Daily Office readings, we come once again to those words that have become known as “The Lords Prayer.” The words have become very familiar to Christians through the ages, perhaps too familiar. In the 4th century, the Lord's Prayer was kept as a secret, given only to new Christians after their baptism. New initiates were ushered out of the worship service before the reciting of the prayer.

The prayer was not such a secret to Jews in the time of Jesus. The words are, in fact, quite Jewish and come from what was known as the “18 Benedictions” that were supposed to be recited three times a day. When Jesus is asked “How shall we pray,” he replies, in effect, “you already know how to pray; you already know these words.”

And yet there is something in how Jesus presents the familiar prayer that feels new because the words cut to the core of our relationship with God, with each other, and with the trials we confront in this life. Notice the prayer doesn't say anything about the next life. It doesn't say “get me to heaven someday,” rather it says “bring heaven here now.” There is an immediacy to the prayer, and its final words are in the command voice. The prayer is entirely about here and now.

The prayer appears twice in the New Testament; first in the Gospel of Matthew 6:9-13, which is the version more familiar in our worship, and then again in the Gospel of Luke 11:2-4 with the more simplified version that we heard a few moments ago.

Before we go into the heart of the prayer, a note about the familiar ending, the part about “the kingdom, the power and the glory.” That does not come from Jesus. It comes from 1 Chronicles 29:11 in the Old Testament, and is known as King David’s benediction.

Although Jesus taught this direct prayer with no adornment, the Church felt the need to dress it up a little at the end.

Today it is my hope that we can enter into the prayer as those who might have first heard it. We begin:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...”
The words we translate “Our Father” come from the Aramaic “Abba” which is better translated “Papa.” God, you are as close to us as a loving parent.

Yet, in the same breath comes another way of knowing God: “Hallowed be your name.” Your name is so holy we don’t know your name; You, our creator, are beyond our comprehension just as eternity and infinity are beyond our comprehension.

We live in the tension, the restless sea, of knowing you both ways.
“…your kingdom come, your will be done, in earth as in heaven.”
We pray that God will bring heaven to earth, not in some distant time after we die, but right now. Let the promise of the future come here today. Guide us to see where your kingdom is being born, where heaven is springing forth among us.
“Give us today our daily bread.”
These words are possibly are the most mysterious and misunderstood words in the entire prayer. This is not a prayer for a subsistence meal.

This prayer asks for the food only God can bring, the manna of Moses, the bread of the Last Supper, the meal that will sustain us when we are on the restless sea.

The phrase “daily bread” comes from a single word – epie-ou-sion – and it appears in the Bible only in the Lord’s Prayer. The better meaning is “give us the bread – the food for our restless soul – that lasts for all eternity.”

We pray for the bread that will put us face-to-face with God, allowing us to touch God with all of our senses.

And that brings us face-to-face with each other as human beings. How are we living together? How are we sharing this planet together?
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
We have turned away from God and we’ve turned away from each other. That is the classic definition of sin.

Forgive us.

We hurt other people and we hurt ourselves. We lie when we should be honest; snide when we should be kind; talking when we should be listening.

Forgive me. Forgive you. Forgive us.

This is not asking for a plea bargain, rather we ask for the strength to forgive each other just as God forgives us before we ask.
“Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.”
We have arrived at the very center of the prayer. The familiar “lead us not into temptation” is not quite what it says.

The more accurate translation is “save us from the trial too big for us, and save us from evil.”
Keep us safe, keep us out of harm’s way, and protect us from all that threatens us in the world or inside ourselves.

When we pray, nothing is held back, and so we are bold to say: Give us courage when we need it most; rescue us when we need rescuing; deliver us from evil.

In a little while, we will say the Lord’s Prayer in our Holy Eucharist just before we break the bread and then share in the cup of our Communion.

Today, just this once, I am asking you to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the translation from our Prayer Book that is a closer to the words Jesus taught. You will find it in the program when the time comes.

Even if you’re familiar with every version of the Lord’s Prayer there is, it is my hope that today you will pray this as if it were brand new to you. Let the prayer pull you in like it never has before.

Maybe this will feel a little uncomfortable. Maybe you will hear something in it you’ve never heard before. Maybe the point is to get out onto the restless sea.

At its core, the prayer affirms what Jesus tells us over and over: that people everywhere are blessed, and that God loves all people – all creation – and wishes for us the bread that lasts for eternity.

“Ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”AMEN

Postscript: Here is a paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer that I wrote in 2003, based on my own meditations about the prayer:
Creator God, Parent of us all,
the one who exists inside and outside all of your existence;

Your very name is so Sacred it is beyond our knowing;
Let come your loving, gentle embrace;
And the justice that is yours alone;
Let come all that you wish for us and for all of your creation;
Make perfect this earth just as your dwelling place is perfect;
Feed us today with the bread of life that you have promised us forever;
Cancel the debts we have created with our wrongs because we cannot cancel the debts by ourselves,
even as we ask you for the strength to cancel the wrongs
that have been done to us;
Protect us from trials so difficult that they will break us;
And Rescue us from the numbing coldness of the power of Evil that always seeks to block our path and keep us from being with you!
Truly (Amen)

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux