Time is your friend

By Jean G. Fitzpatrick

Labor Day weekend: our collective crash-landing to the "real world." The prospect is enough to make many young parents shudder. "Summer's been so relaxed," they tell me. "The kids swim all day or go to camp. No school projects or practices or after-school programs to drive to. We eat outside, go for walks together. We have so much more time."

We don't have more or less time, of course. We just use it differently. But in the rush to accomplish everything we think is important, it's easy to forget that. I know I do. This summer a colleague and I talked about taking a poetry workshop that sounded intriguing. "I don't have time for distractions," I said, feeling torn. "I should be working on my book."

"What you do in the workshop could help you with the book," my colleague said. "It's a chance to play with words."

"Yes!" I wanted to tell him. "That's just what I'm longing to do." But the stern grown-up inside my head was warning that play like that would be a detour from what I was really supposed to be doing. "I need to focus," I said firmly. "I'm not going to live forever."

My colleague smiled. "Time is your friend," he said.

For the rest of the day I repeated his words to myself. Time is your friend. What could that possibly mean, I wondered.

To this middle-aged mortal, time feels more like a prankster getting ready to yank the rug out from under my feet. No, time and I are not friends. We're rivals in a game I can never win. These days I find myself racing against time, fighting the clock, striving to accomplish the things that matter to me. I'm not so different, you see, from the frantic young parents who cram too many activities into their family life. Nothing wrong with the things we want to do, but sometimes we get so determined that we undercut our own efforts, take the joy out.

"Time is your friend." I pondered the phrase all the way to summer's end on Cape Cod, a week of relaxation with my husband and grown kids. As I loosened my grip on each passing day, the words started making sense to me. Burrowing my toes in the sand at Nauset Light beach, steaming little-necks for dinner, square dancing on the Wellfleet pier, it dawned on me that my colleague and I had been talking about different kinds of time. I'd had in mind the fleeting minutes and hours of the chronological day, the appointments I schedule on my Treo. My colleague had been talking about God's time.

We all catch glimpses of God's time now and then, when we pause long enough to welcome it as a gift. Enjoying the natural world, playing with a young child, dancing to music, making love, praying: moments like these can transport us to a richer experience of time, to something like eternity. Short of moving to a monastery, I don't know how to live in God's time all day, and yet it is always present to us, always within reach. If we create space for it in the midst of all our busyness, we can stay grounded in it, its fullness enveloping us, informing every moment of our day. Paradoxical though this may sound, that usually means scheduling it. Finding a balance between chronological time and God's time demands attention and a certain kind of discipline, and when we neglect those we end up feeling frantic.

The work and practices and projects and lessons are the stuff of life, and often joyful ones. When they turn into burdens, we've probably squeezed God's time out of our busy day. Caught up in fighting the clock, we've forgotten that time is our friend.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst is a layreader in the Diocese of New York, and the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth. Visit her at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Encountering Verna

Verna Dozier, writer and educator, died one year ago this weekend. The Café offers this remembrance.

By Kathleen Henderson Staudt

Late last summer, I was at the beach with my family, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Checking my email one day in the last week of August, I saw a note from Virginia Seminary asking our prayers for Verna Dozier, former faculty member there and beloved local prophet in Washington DC. She was the author of The Dream of God and The Calling of the Laity, and known as a prophetic voice in the church, calling “the church, the people of God” to claim as our own the work of reconciliation in the world, the work to which our Christian faith calls us.

That last week in August, 2006, Verna was coming to the end of a long illness and nearing her death, and the email asked for our prayers for her peaceful passing. As I absorbed this news, a surprising prayer welled up in me: recalling the story of the prophet Elisha, inheriting the mantle of Elijah. I prayed, “Please, let a portion of Verna’s spirit rest on me, and let the message she carried be continued in me, and in Your church.”

The next day, I was walking on the beach, my favorite prayer-place on these summer vacations. A passing hurricane had whipped up a strong sea-surge, covering the beach and creating dramatic waves, and an offshore wind now stirred the sea oats and dune grasses so that they bent deeply toward the churning ocean. The power of the wind that day reminded me of the power and prophetic energy I had experienced, reading Verna’s works, and being in her presence, and I prayed for her as I walked. Later I learned that she had passed from this life on that day, September 1, 2006. That spontaneous, prayerful connection with her, in those last days of her life, has led me to reflect more deeply on how Verna Dozier’s prophetic spirit and message have shaped my own understanding and experience of the call to Christian discipleship in this hurting and broken world.

I first encountered Verna Dozier’s writing in the mid 1990's, in an adult forum at the Church of Our Saviour, Hillandale in Silver Spring, Md. Bernice Harris Shook, an active participant in that forum, remembered having Verna Dozier as a teacher when she was a student in the DC public schools. This work in the church, including teaching at VTS as adjunct faculty, came only after Verna retired from her career as a school teacher. She would bristle when people referred to her post-retirement work of teaching in the church and ask "when did you begin your ministry?" Her work as an educator, she insisted, was just as much her ministry. That attracted me because at the time I was struggling to connect my growing inner life of prayer with my work and identity as a parent and a teacher, both in and beyond the church. I was convinced that my Christian faith was supposed to make a difference in the way I lived my life, and Verna’s work gave me language and a theological grounding for this conviction.

She herself grew up reading the Bible -- the Bible and Shakespeare were the only books in her household. A lover of literature, she understood the stories of Scripture as containing truths that are greater than factual truth, as telling the continuing story of humanity's relationship with God. That too spoke to my heart, as a poet and lover of literature. When she taught workshops, Verna would insist that every Christian should be able to re-tell the story of the Bible in 10 minutes, as a way of "making it our own." She read Scripture as the story of the “dream of God” -- God’s desire to be in relationship with us, and to see us in loving relationship with one another. From Adam and Eve, through the people of Israel, and the early disciples around Jesus, the story of Scripture records a God who is continually calling us to return.The church of our own time, she argued, still beset by the heritage of Constantine, has lost its understanding of “ministry” to a broken world as the work of all God’s people, focusing too much on the ministry of the clergy, the servants of the institution. The church, the people of God, she argued, is again being called to return to its original purpose – to love and serve the world that God loves. The prophetic energy of Verna’s message about the calling of the laity comes through clearly in her writing. I encountered that energy in person on the first of two occasions when I met her.

It was early Lent of 1996, and both of us had been invited to a party given by Martha Horne, then dean of Virginia seminary. I was wandering around when I spotted Verna Dozier sitting in a wing chair at the edge of the room, a frail figure, watching the proceedings quietly. I went to her and introduced myself, “gushing” like the fan I was about how much her writing had helped me to understand and claim my ministry as a lay person and a teacher in the church. She talked with me a bit about my story and my work, and then fixed me with her compelling, prophetic gaze, pointed her finger at me and wagged it sternly as she said to me, “Now: don’t you go and get ordained: Jesus was not ordained. Jesus was a teacher.”

I had sat down on the floor in order to hear Verna over the ambient noise, and so I was literally sitting at her feet as she said these words, and I have always remembered them as the message I received, sitting at the feet of the Teacher. They helped me tremendously in my efforts during those early years to name and claim a vocation as writer and teacher for which we didn’t have clear categories.

Verna’s was a well known voice in the Diocese of Washington. Her message is inspiring to lay people who hear and read it, but it is still not widely known, and my experience is that few people outside the Diocese of Washington have been aware of Verna’s prophetic message. Part of this is may be because her anti-institutional message is ultimately threatening to the structures of the church that could help to spread the message about the authority of the laity and our call to a mission of reconciliation within the “kingdoms of this world.” The closing paragraphs of The Dream of God still resonate today, for those of us who care about the mission of the church, the people of God, in this aching and broken world. Here’s what she writes:

The people of God are called to a possibility other than the kingdoms of the world. They must be ambassadors—again, St. Paul’s word—to every part of life. They witness to another way that governments can relate to one another, that money can be earned and spent, that doctors and care-givers and engineers and lawyers and teachers can serve their constituencies, that wordsmiths and musicians and artists and philosophers can give us new visions of the human condition. That is the ministry of the laity.

All of them need the support system of the institutional church. There must be those resting places where the story is treasured and passed on in liturgy and education. There must be those islands of refuge where the wounded find healing; the confused, light; the fearful, courage, the lonely, community; the alienated, acceptance; the strong, gratitude. Maintaining such institutions is the ministry of the clergy.

We have all failed the dream of God. The terribly patient God still waits.

Dr Kathleen Henderson Staudt works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area, and teaches courses in literature and theology at Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture. Her blog is at poetproph.blogspot.com.

Anonymous apostles

By Roger Ferlo

About 50 new seminarians showed up here at Virginia Theological Seminary last week, three weeks before the start of the regular term. They’re here to get a head start on their required courses in Hebrew and Greek, and to undergo the time-honored training in the oral interpretation of Scripture that the seminary underground still refers to as “Read and Bleed.” Half of the newcomers seem to be in their twenties and early thirties, continuing the youthful swing we have experienced here in the past several years. (You have to admire these young people, committing themselves to a lifetime working in a church that too many people in my generation seem intent on tearing apart.) As to the other half of the class, a large number seem to be newly retired, in the way we baby boomers retire in our mid-fifties. There aren’t too many people in their 40s. My seat-of-the-pants demographic theory about this is that if you are going to go to seminary in these parlous times, you are more likely to try it either in your twenties (when you are still relatively free of commitments, except, of course, for that sizable college debt), or in your late fifties, after you’ve sort of completed the trajectory of your first career, maybe seen your kids through college, and sense that you now have permission to do with your life what you’ve always known you wanted to do.

I changed careers pretty dramatically in my early thirties, so maybe I’m projecting. To be fair, the best part of working in an Episcopal seminary is that you never really can predict where people might be coming from, or what brought them here. In their first session together last week, one guy introduced himself to the group by looking at his watch, and then declaring that it was now almost exactly 72 hours since he retired from the military. A woman of a certain age marveled that the student sitting next to her was young enough to be her daughter. Several people identified themselves as recovering lawyers. One of the youngest men wore a T-shirt that revealed an amazingly elaborate network of tattoos on his right arm—perhaps setting a new trend in clerical dress.

Whatever the case, here they are, part of our lives for the next three years, God bless them all. Their nametags dutifully hanging from their necks, they gathered yesterday with the rest of us for a Eucharist in the chapel at 8:10 in the morning. I suspect that they were too distracted by a looming pop quiz on Hebrew verbs to listen closely to the sermon, which might have been just as well, as I was the preacher, and it was St. Bartholomew’s Day, and St. Bartholomew does not provide you with the most inspiring of sermon texts even in the best of circumstances.

It was those nametags that set me going. I hate wearing nametags. Maybe that’s why I’m always attracted to the unnamed people in Scripture, like the anonymous woman who washes Jesus’ feet in Mark’s version of the story, or the unnamed young man who runs away naked to avoid being captured by the police who are arresting Jesus in the garden (did he too wear tattoos on his arm?). I think of St. Bartholomew as part of their company. He didn’t really have a name, at least any name the gospel writer cared to record. Roughly translated, Bartholomew just means “son of Tolmai.” No real claim to fame there, nothing really to put on a nametag. Matthew, Mark and Luke mention him only once or twice. John, on the other hand, seems never to have heard of him. As usual with mysterious figures like this, legends have accrued, the most persistent one being that he was flayed alive somewhere in Armenia (“read and bleed” with a vengeance), and that his body washed ashore on the Italian island of Lipari (a long way from landlocked Armenia), where a cathedral still stands in his honor. Colorful rumors, but not much to hang a sermon on.

This being the case, I decided to keep to that ancient principle of Episcopal homiletics--when in doubt, start with the collect. Whoever wrote it knew the score. The collect repeats all we know of Bartholomew—that he had the grace to believe and the courage to preach (and even the latter is only an inference from the scarcest of scriptural data). This being the case, we are made to ask not that we would love and venerate Bartholomew (it’s hard to love and venerate a relative cipher), but that we would “love what he believed and preach what he taught.” The feast of St. Bartholomew thus becomes a feast of holy anonymity.

I more or less said all this, and then looked out on that crowd of newly washed seminarians. I thought about my own ministry through the years, and realized that if what was said of Bartholomew could one day be said of us—that because of what we said or how we acted or who we were, others could be brought to love what we believed and to preach what we taught—well, then, maybe this priesthood thing would mean something in the end, long after our names were forgotten. The priestly life can be such an ego-trip—witness the clash of prelatial egos now bedeviling our common life. “I came among you as one who serves.” Bartholomew knew this about Jesus, and about himself, and acted accordingly. In spite of the occasional need for nametags, a little dose of this holy anonymity in love’s service might do all of us a world of good.

The Rev. Roger Ferlo is Director of the Center for Lifetime Theological Education at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where he also directs the Evening School of Theology. His books include Opening the Bible (Cowley 1997), Sensing God (Cowley 2001) and Heaven (Seabury 2007).

Missing Saints and Psalms

By Deirdre Good

Last Thursday was St. Bartholomew's Day. How many Episcopalians know saints like Bartholomew or other saints and their days and why does it matter? Once upon a time if the saints day fell on a "green" Sunday we celebrated the life of that saint and even if people only went to church on Sunday or if the saints day fell on a Sunday once every seven years, church-going Episcopalians got to know a few saints beside the patron saint of their own local parish. If they were Anglicans they might know St George or St Patrick. Reduced knowledge of the Saints is one of the casualties of the modern prayer book. This year we lost the feast of Mary Magdalene on July 22nd even though that date fell on a Sunday. The 1979 Prayer Book mandates that when a saint's day falls on a Sunday, the saint's day is subordinated to Sunday liturgy.

Another casualty is the psalms. Even though the 1979 daily office lectionary includes the entire psalter, the Sunday churchgoer is no longer exposed to the daily office. Both of these losses, knowledge of saints and recitation of the psalms, reduce diversity in our churches. Loss of knowledge about saints reduces the diversity of models of what it means to be a Christian and loss of psalm knowledge reduces the range of human relationships with God available to the language of prayer.

There has been an effort to include more celebration of saints in "Lesser Feasts and Fasts" but for (most) people who worship only on Sundays, only the Sunday liturgy is available. Even the red-letter days such as the feasts of the apostles and St Mary, are relegated to a weekday service on Monday. And nobody goes to church on Monday! Not even (most) priests!

Starting from Advent 1, all the Psalms are covered in the Daily Office by Epiphany 8 (14 weeks) and some more than once. Why some Psalms (e.g. Psalm 1) are repeated twice is a mystery. However this is only the case if an individual says the daily office. If you go to church on Sundays you only get psalm snippets. In most of the liturgies I attend, clergy elect not to read the whole psalm.

Of course the church is always in the business of recreating itself and its liturgies. In this particular case, it simply needs to rethink privileging Sundays over Saints Days. But most churches don't present the fact that there are saints to be celebrated in the coming week or readings to enrich personal or corporate prayer life. This is a missed opportunity.

Assuming that reading the word of God is central to the life of worshipping Episcopalians, we need to be intentional about providing a context in which people have greater exposure to reading about saints and the psalms.

What might this look like in our parishes? Here are some ideas. It might look like having more than one psalm per service. It might look like inviting people to read the entire book of psalms for Lent or Advent. It might involve inviting people to follow readings like those in the recently published St Helena Breviary.

A priest friend of ours lamented that he was assigned to preach on the feast of St. Bartholomew three years in a row. Why not supplement the assigned gospel with the Gospel of Bartholomew? It contains an account of Jesus' descent into hell-a declaration of the Apostles' Creed that we say in Morning and Evening prayer, at the Easter Vigil, and at baptisms-and it provides an opportunity to think about the symbolic language reflected in the creedal affirmation that there is no place untouched by Jesus' presence. Knowledge of the psalms gives range, depth and texture to our prayer life. Reading about saints and traditions associated with them fills out and celebrates traditions of holy lives.

Deirdre Good, a professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary in New York City, wrote this with Julian Sheffield and The Rev. Dr. Kris Lewis.

My mother, the evangelist

By Kit Carlson

An old youth group friend of mine recently died, and as I read her obituary, about her good work with her local parish, her funeral in a large Episcopal church in Manhattan, I thought, “Yup, Mom, you got another one.”

My mother was very proud of the people she “got” into the Episcopal church. As her own death neared, she would often run them off on her fingers, her friends, my friends, my sister’s friends, all the people she had managed to get firmly planted in some local parish. Jack and Jodie, Marcia and Chuck, Ken and Sally, Susan, Patty, Merrie. She was almost as bad as my high school Baptist friends, totting up her converts with pride.

But my mother was an unlikely evangelist. Her belief in God was tenuous at best, she rejected most of the sentences in the creeds, she railed at the hypocrisy she found in Bible studies and Episcopal Church Women groups, and she complained about the priests in our high, Anglo-Catholic parish. Holding her nose against the incense, she would murmur, “Do they have to swish around like that in those robes?”

Still, she loved getting people settled in a church home. And she believed, to the end of her days, that the Episcopal church was the best church home anyone could find. She relished inviting people to join her at church … even if it was the first time she had gone in months, and she was only going to escort them. She gleefully coaxed my sister’s and my friends into joining us for youth group. And when they got baptized or confirmed, or married, she was there with bells on … or at least a great hat and matching shoes.

Now my mother could sell snow to Canadians. She had a variety of careers selling everything from real estate to home health services. And perhaps her salesmanship just carried over to matters of the church as well. But I wonder, after all these years of Decades of Evangelism and 20/20, and every program the church has dreamed up to introduce people to the Episcopal way … I wonder if maybe her approach isn’t the better one, even if it is the more neglected one.

For we all know people who are lonely, and who need a community. And we all know people who have questions about faith, and who need a safe place to bring those questions. And we know people who are seeking meaning and purpose and need companions in that journey. They are our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, our children’s friends

Somehow, though, we continually fail to overcome our reticence, our “politeness,” our fear of rejection. We eagerly tell these folks about great movies, new restaurants, trustworthy doctors. Yet when the ultimate questions of life and faith and purpose arise, we fall silent. We do not offer what we have found inside the big red doors of our local Episcopal church. We do not promise to take someone with us and sit with them until they learn the service. We do not invite them to parish suppers or Messiah sing-alongs.

Perhaps there is nothing wrong with “getting” someone into the Episcopal Church. Perhaps it is something our friends will thank us for in the end, something their loved ones might thank us for at the very end, when the folks we “got” into the church exit this world and enter the next, borne along on the liturgy of the Episcopal burial service, sustained by the love and care of their church family.

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and was associate and interim rector at the Church of the Ascension in Gaithersburg, Md., for seven years.

On mawwiage

By Helen Thompson

The details of my engagement are half funny, half touching, but mostly chaotic. I have a feeling the wedding itself will be very similar. Here I am, devout Episcopalian heavily influenced by Buddhist readings I did during my atheist phase, marrying a man who won't set foot in a church unless I drag him there for some occasion other than worship: a musical performance, a summer cookout, a labyrinth walk, a drum circle, a Cathedral program. When I was toying with formal discernment, he got very excited that I might become a priest for reasons that weren't exactly the sort of thing I should be sharing with you, gentle readers, but imagine my horror when I found that he had posted exactly that to HIS blog. In the vernacular of the netspeak generation, Oh noes! zomg! Do. Not. Want!

With all the high drama over sexuality in the church (and, for that matter, all the high drama over problems with inappropriate behavior from unexpected corners), it was, however, hilarious. He graciously removed the post when he saw my apoplexy, even though it was, at worst, just PG-13. And probably did more to convince me that even if I was called, my significant other wasn't really interested so much in my turning my life over to God as how I'd look in a collar. (It bears noting that this happened around the same time I stumbled across Collar This, which was all about clerical dress and needs to be resumed (hint, hint VTS grads who started it.)

But at any rate, now that we're heading down the aisle, we can't stop laughing. There's the idea of having a new wedding each year so that I can ask more of my friends to be bridesmaids, since I'm having trouble cutting myself off and already have six lined up with two more I wish I could include. And none of them are my priest girlfriends, who are so abundant I've been joking about letting potential celebrants bid on officiating our wedding on eBay. There's the fact that my fiancé has insisted on May 4 for our wedding date in celebration of the new moon, which happens to be a Sunday, which may make the celebrant status moot, and for that matter, happens to be Derby Sunday, which inconveniences the numerous horse racing fans that I didn't know were horse racing fans among my friends.

And I haven't even figured out where it's happening, except for the fact that it's not happening in a church. That's OK; I mean, my first wedding was in a church and I was pretty much Godless at the time, and that worked out splendidly (hi, ironic tone) despite the pastoral counseling that went in one 21-year-old ear and out the other. Now I'm older and wiser, if a bit heavier, and understand the nifty phrase "functional relationship." And my fiancé actually wrote about that in his blog, recently, when he became aware that female friends were all giddy over running into him again until they realized that he was off the market, and that my friends were a little curious as to what brought him and I together in spite of our differences. Functional relationship, hands down.

So we'll get through that marriage thing ok. It will be funny, touching and chaotic. We'll likely argue over how much church I'm allowed to bring into the service, but a lot of it is overcoming his distaste for his Southern Baptist upbringing. And it's working, even without the collar; last week, after a wry exchange as I left for church on Sunday in which he said in his best Southern preacher bombastodrawl: "Say hi to Jaysus for me!" I shook my head and laughed, and he added, quite seriously, "One of these days I'm going to have to come with you."

It trickles down, it does. In lovely ways. The wedding itself isn't what matters; it's the marriage that comes after that does. But we've got practice, now. We're comfortable, we influence each other. Invisibly. We finish each other's sentences, and we have a reasonable shot at having 50 years together. (Church secretary, after asking my date of birth: "Oh my GOSH you're young!" I guess. This is why I can speak to my teenage son in netspeak. Teh lolz!!!) And I suppose, if I do go through a formal discernment at some point, it won't matter what I look like in a collar, because I know that I (and I'm lucky to be) loved for who I am.

Thank you, God, for bringing us together.

Helen Thompson, known on the faithblogging circuit as Gallycat, is a writer living in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A summa cum laude graduate of Temple University, she has written for the Philadelphia City Paper, RevGalBlogPals, Geez magazine and others. Visit her on the web at Gallycat's Lounge.

In praise of the longest psalm

By Derek Olsen

Psalm 119, weighing in at 176 verses, has the virtue of being the longest psalm in the Scriptures. According to Cranmer’s original 30-day plan for reading the psalms, we start 119 on the evening of the 24th and don’t finish it until two days later on the evening of the 26th. The more you look at, the more unusual it becomes. First, you’ll notice that it’s broken up into twenty-two parts, each containing eight verses, and that our prayer book identifies each with an odd word. Take a look at the original Hebrew and you’ll quickly see why—even if you don’t read any Hebrew at all… This psalm is an acrostic, meaning that different lines begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. There are other acrostics among the psalms but they tend to be 22 verses long: one for each letter of the alphabet. Only Psalm 119 dwells on each letter for eight verses.

Furthermore, this psalm doesn’t “go” anywhere. Some psalms are narratives; they literally take you on a journey whether it’s out of Egypt and into the Promised Land (like Ps 78) or from vignette to vignette (like Ps 109). But Ps 119 isn’t like these; you can read it forward or read it backward—starting with v. 176 and reading back up to v. 1—and it doesn’t change the meaning one bit.

Lastly, the closer you look at each set of eight verses, the more you start seeing certain words. In fact there are a set of synonyms which keep appearing over and over again: “word,” “statutes,” “judgments,” “decrees,” “commandments,” “law”… They appear with such regularity that it becomes clear that there is some highly elaborate pattern at work directing the structure of the psalm: each verse has to begin with the same letter of the alphabet and as many of these synonyms for “law” must be worked in as possible before moving on to the next letter.

For these reasons—especially the last—a whole school of Old Testament scholarship takes Psalm 119 to be people’s exhibit A of everything wrong with the worship of Israel before the time of Jesus. This school, German and beginning in the mid to late 19th century, was heavily influenced by Romanticism and its notions of authenticity, inspiration, and artistic expression. The prophets! they cried, the prophets were the truest and best example of authentic religion in the Old Testament because they present the individual genius (as in Romanticism), directly wrestling with messages from God (not just “texts”), rejecting conventional formulae, and presenting their bold calls to the people who subsequently reject them (a classic Romantic criterion for true authenticity). This psalm (they said) uses a formulaic structure that clearly stifles the creative spirit, points back to a legalistic religious text instead of living personal experience, and is completely and thoroughly anonymous; in no way does it satisfy their religio-aesthetic standards.

I’ve never liked this understanding of Psalm 119. Rather, I see Ps 119 as a word of invitation.

The German school sees this psalm as “artificial”—but, I’d argue—perhaps that is where we find its value. Lately when I read Psalm 119 I’ve been reminded of two things: a poem and a picture. I’d agree that it’s artificial—but then, so is all good poetry. That is, a poet voluntarily embraces restrictions in order to use a form that restricts expression in order to enable meaning. To accept the boundaries of rhythm and meter is to accept a challenge to communicate in a form that itself communicates by its very rules and strictures. Reading Psalm 119, I think of the Pantoum—a stylized form of poem where the first and third lines of each four line stanza become the second and fourth of the next. Because of its shape, the Pantoum lends itself to poems about time or experience because of the constant repetition of elements and the measured progress of meaning. (Here’s a good example.) So what is the function of this psalm’s particular form? Where is it inviting us? What state is it evoking within us?

And that leads me to the picture: a carpet page from the Lindisfarne Gospels. One of the great treasures produced by early medieval English scriptoriums, the pages that set each gospel off from one another are a dizzy and dazzling nest of knots and curls and circles one within another. They, no less than the psalm, are artificial as well—but does this detract from or create the beauty they embody? And indeed it is the very curling and looping that leads me from this artistry back to the psalm. The curls do not lead us anywhere except back from whence we came. They invite us not to linear progress from one side to another but rather to the places and spaces within and among themselves. Just as the picture invites reflection and study and contemplation, so too the psalm invites us to rest, to wait, to ponder.

The form of the psalm—especially if you’re already familiar with the acrostic form and if you’re expecting the psalm to head directly to the next letter—holds you back. It contradicts the expectation of informed readers, deliberately slowing their pace through the poem. The use of synonyms further invites careful reading. They ask that attention to be paid to shades of meaning. Is there a reason why “decrees” appears in one place rather than another? What's the nuance of “word”? Only close and careful attention to the text and its turns, a measured turning over of the verses and repeated readings will yield results.

As the form communicates, compelling a closer reading, to content surges ahead to reveal a why and wherefore. The world that the psalmist evokes is not a safe place. It's a place filled with dangers and powerful enemies. This isn't a psalm about contemplation that takes place away from the world. Rather, the sense the psalmist draws forth is that contemplation of God's commandments and then translating that contemplation into righteous action is a means of survival! But it's more than that too—moving through survival, faithful obedience becomes a source of joy. The word “delight” in regard to the Law appears no less than ten times.

Contemplation blossoming into righteous action proceeding into a disposition of holy joy leading once again into contemplation. At points, the Church has seen this psalm as a paradigm of how daily life ought to be understood. One classical scheme of arranging the psalms for the Daily Office—including the Tridentine Breviary of Pope Pius V—assigned the entirety of Psalm 119 to be read throughout the Little Hours that punctuated the day. Thus it would be begun shortly after the sun's rise, then would be recalled three more times until the late afternoon and the sun's wane, each and every day. Reminding and reforming those who prayed that their daily labor ought to be intertwined and entangled with the contemplation and incarnation of God's Law and Word. A vestige of this theology remains in the first psalm selection of our current Noonday Prayer.

Psalm 119 is long. It is repetitious. But these are the qualities that invite us into a spirit of contemplation. It issues an invitation to dive into the Word and—yes—into the Law, to roll ourselves in it, to lose and loose ourselves within its depth and breadth and height and width. To find hope. To find delight. To learn to say with the psalmist, echoing the spirit of the true Psalmist, the great paradox of Law and Gospel: “I will run the way of your commandments, for you have set my heart at liberty.”

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. His full-time calling of keeping up with two adorable preschool girls and his wife, a priest in the Diocese of Atlanta, is complicated by his day-jobs as a database programmer and an adjunct professor at Emory’s Candler School of Theology where he teaches in homiletics, liturgics, and New Testament. His blog is Haligweorc.

The Sandcastle Lady

By Margaret M. Treadwell

When Daniel from Dover, Del. wanted a romantic way to propose to his love, Lily, he remembered his favorite childhood summer building sandcastles. He googled “Sandcastle Lady” and found his teacher, Lynn McKeown, who was still at work in Lewes. Together they created a plan: He and Lily would take a sunset walk from the Lewes Public Beach to nearby Market Beach, where Lynn promised to have built a castle to fulfill his dreams.

Lynn spent two days crafting the enormous sandcastle, complete with distinct, clear lettering across the base – “Lily will you marry me? Love, Dan.” Spectators who had watched the creation gathered at sunset to enjoy the drama from a distance while an exhausted Lynn went home for dinner. Later that evening, Daniel got down on one knee, Lily gave him a big kiss, his parents emerged from the dunes with their cameras, and the witnesses gathered around with much rejoicing.

Lynn, a born artist, started building sandcastles when her children were young and the family was searching for something they all could do together that didn’t cost any money. Soon other kids along Lewes Beach began to join them. Lynn says, “I’m not all that altruistic, but became a teacher out of self defense because I wanted to make them creators rather than destroyers. Soon I was collecting and giving away sand toys so others could play and spread the joy. Like dropping pebbles in the water to see the ripples expand out, you never know how far they’ll go!”

These days, Lynn spends the entire month of August in the sand at Lewes, building, teaching, meeting and talking with people who stop by in large numbers to sign her logbook. They return summer after summer, and she is thrilled when people visit from miles away – most recently a family of four from Minnesota she met six years ago who thought she wouldn’t remember them. An older woman asked if she had an age limit when she invited “children of all ages.” When Lynn advised her that “they have to be old enough to be away from their parents and able to listen,” she replied, “I’m talking about myself, and I’m 85!”

“How did you learn?” is often the first question asked as onlookers marvel at the intricate details on walls, roofs and steps and the animals that guard the mote. Lynn says, “I look and listen to what the sand wants to do. This just happens to be my gift, but everyone has them. Don’t hide your gift under a basket. Give it away!” At night she ropes off the day’s creation with signs that read, “Sandcastles, Sculptures in Progress. Teaching Techniques and Sharing Tools. July 31-Sept. 2. Sandcastle Lady.”

Lynn often is asked to join competitions in Rehoboth. “Why would I want to do that?” she wonders. “I need serenity with the sound of birds and the sea to get into the zone. Here I can go slowly, practice, develop patience and be positive. Besides, I love to talk. If I could play in the sand all the time I probably wouldn’t have high blood pressure.”

Raised an Episcopalian, Lynn believes faith is all about the way you live your life as a witness to God’s love, and that it’s good for children to experience that from an adult other than their parents.

While she and the children work, she calmly explains, “Never dig a hole for your castle. First put water on flat sand to make a solid base. Then scoop your sand. Pack it hard to make the foundation strong, like the man who built his house on a rock.”

When a little boy complains, “Freddy’s copying me!” Lynn is quick to respond. “I’ll teach you all to be master castle builders with no envy,” she says. “I just ask that you share the techniques with your families and other people you love.”

When I remarked that we all need joy and christened her a “joy spreader,” she began singing a rendition of the St. Francis Prayer: “Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is despair in life let me bring hope. Where there is darkness only light and where there is doubt true faith in you. Oh Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love with all my soul.”

Then with a twinkle she added, “Grant that I shall not so much teach as be taught!”

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. She teaches a course on congregational leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary, creates and leads conferences across the country for bishops, clergy and church lay leaders, helping them to apply family systems concepts to their leadership in diocesan and parish ministry.

Time redeemed

by Deryl Davis

“Time is time and runs away,” a young T.S. Eliot wrote near the turn of the last century. Like many poets intent on detailing the passages of life, Eliot was obsessed with time. His spiritual masterpiece Four Quartets is in many ways a meditation on the subject, the poet coming round again and again to the question of what time is and what it means for human life:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
(“Burnt Norton,” I)

As Christians, we have inherited from Greek philosophy the dual concepts of chronos, clock time, and kairos, the opportune, although unbidden, moment. Ancient statues of kairos depicted a young man racing on tiptoe, a shock of hair hanging over his brow and a bald patch behind. If prepared, one could catch him by the hair as he sped by; for the unprepared, there was only the bald pate of lost opportunity. If one were “present” (i.e. attentive), the moment of opportunity did not go unnoticed.

Kairos is something of a two-way street in Christianity. Not only do we look for the opportune moment, we expect it. Not only do we act in that moment, but God acts with us; in fact, kairos is the moment when we are called to respond to God’s revelation. Jesus proclaimed this at the beginning of his ministry, announcing that “the time [had] come” for the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). Kairos moments seem to abound in the New Testament, nowhere more obvious than in Paul’s encounter with the Athenians on Mars Hill regarding the “unknown God” they worshiped. The time was ripe for proclamation, and Paul was ready. Something similar occurs in the story of Esther in the Old Testament, when Mordecai suggests that God has placed Esther at the side of the king for a specific moment - when the Jewish people are threatened with annihilation.

In Western culture, we have become attuned to thinking of kairos as a series of fleeting moments, largely in the past - Wordsworth’s “spots of time” or the mystical “moments of illumination.” But a more complete understanding of Christian teaching suggests that kairos is always the present moment, and that this is the opportune time for God’s action in the world. Rather than something to be won or lost, according to Greek interpretation, the New Testament makes clear that kairos is the fulfillment of time according to God’s purposes. The most important action, God’s redemption of the world, has already happened in historical time and continues to happen in the present moment of our lives. We think of the sacraments of the church – baptism and the Eucharist – as recurrent instances of this ongoing divine intervention.

Is time really “unredeemable,” as Eliot appears to suggest? Is the past – our lives, relationships, decisions – lost to us forever? Only in the sense that these things have a fixed and unchanging identity, or only if we allow ourselves to be trapped in them. A Christian understanding of kairos suggests that time, in its many forms, is being redeemed by Time in the person of Christ, “who is and was from the beginning.” In Christ, we have the union of chronos and kairos – human time and divine time, the one constantly transforming the other. Past events may not change, but their meaning does; it expands, evolves, and becomes part of a larger, unfolding purpose. In Christian, as in Hebrew thought, time is predominantly a linear concept – everything moving toward the eschatological goal of judgment, resurrection, or the fullness of the kingdom of heaven – at which point time ceases to exist altogether. Kairos replaces chronos for good.

If, then, we redesign the ancient Greek representation of kairos, what does he look like? In the Christian understanding, he is not racing past with his eye on some distant prize, a lock of hair taunting us with the possibility of lost opportunity. Rather, his compassionate, unhurried gaze is directed outward, looking for us. He leaves the main path, if necessary, for stragglers on the road toward fulfilled time. When he engages us, we utterly forget the movement of chronos, that alluring baby who quickly grows into a withered old man. Kairos waits for us to see him, however long it takes, until we realize that he is eternally present. Then we understand that every moment is the right, exact, opportune time for our response to the divine; that, as Eliot says, “all is always now.”

Deryl Davis is producer of the Sunday Forum at Washington National Cathedral and an associate faculty member in religion and drama at Wesley Theological Seminary. His work on religion and culture has appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines and on public radio and television.

Let us play

by Howard Anderson

I took my summer vacation at our cabin on a lake in far northern Minnesota. Because our daughter was doing Clinical Pastoral Education and her husband had long and unpredictable hours as a medical resident, Will, who turned six this summer, spent the entire summer at the lake with my wife, Linda, and for the most of July, with me as well. He learned to water ski, snorkel, swim without his life jacket and became an expert frog catcher. He even caught and released his first “big” fish, a toothy and fierce looking northern pike. The month wasn’t as relaxing as it might have been, but oh how we did play! Each morning, earlier than I would perhaps have chosen, there was a little hand on my arm, and I would look into the very face of God and hear “Papi-what are we going to play today?” The innocence, the wonder at the smallest thing, the lack of judging made the month playful indeed. I think that is one of things God intends for us. And, I contend that we Episcopalians have a special vocation to say to the world, “let us play!”

A friend of mine, a Lutheran pastor, named something about us Episcopalians that I was grateful to claim. He said, “You Episcopalians seem very earnest and dedicated in your worship, but you don’t seem to take yourselves so darn seriously.” But he went on to say, “You guys are the only denomination that can laugh at yourselves often enough to keep conversation going to be able to make decisions. But lately, you have seemed to get all serioused up.”

I think he is right. We are getting “all serioused up” about the latest dust up in a five hundred year family squabble in Anglicanism between the ‘puritan party” who embrace the “sola scriptura” scripture only motto of Martin Luther and the continental reformers, and the via media, middle way of the broad church English Reformers. What I find as I read people on both sides in the “recent unpleasantness,” (with apologies to our southern readers) is a lack of both humor, and the requisite amount of Anglican humility about just what one can know for certain about the great mystery that is God. I love to use a paraphrase of a prayer that a retired Primate of the Church of Ireland used at his farewell dinner over 100 years ago. “Lord, keep me always in the company of those who fearlessly seek the truth. And, my holy God, hide me under the shadow of thy wings from those who think they already have found it.” I use this prayer before preaching on occasions. I can often tell, among those thousand or more (mostly visitors) worshipping here at the National Cathedral at the 11am service, who the Episcopalians are, because they will be the only people chuckling.

Another prayer I use before preaching is “Holy One, May these words be your words. And if they are not, may these clever people hear in them what you need them to hear.” And with all my heart I believe that these two prayers are on target. Any preacher that has been preaching for awhile will know that sermons they think are home runs often seem to fall on deaf ears. Then we give a sermon we are not proud of and a dozen parishioners say, “Wow, that really is what I needed to hear. Thank you!” God uses our words to reach the people and in true Christian preaching the medium through which the preacher and the listener communicate is none other than the Holy Spirit. It is a mystery. One of the things that can be found in the writings and sermons of the early Anglicans was a great humility about what one can know about God. They warned against the dangers of the “puritans” and Reformed traditions coming close to saying that intellectual or even emotional assent to a confessional statement was a prerequisite for God’s Grace to be received. That way lies hubris! And hubris is what I see in Archbishop Akinola’s latest broadside at the American and Canadian churches. His insistence that he, and other Global South Anglicans have the one true understanding of how God’s Word is revealed crosses the line between Anglican humility and the confessional certainty that the Anglican reformers refused to embrace out of their deep and abiding belief that God’s Grace was a free gift to all, and did not depend on human intellect alone.

Sadly, when I read the arguments in the debate about inclusion or, orthodoxy (take your pick and place yourself in the theological spectrum) I find people speaking “ex cathedra.” I am always tempted to interject humor into these heated discussions, and most often, when I am able to get a word in edgewise, it at least loosens up the combatants a bit and allows everyone to catch their breath. Deep in the DNA of Anglicanism is the fact that unlike other Christians, who start their faith story with the cross, we begin with the doctrine of creation. In my Minnesota years, I often would tease the Lutherans, who, in their confession of sin, begin by saying, “I confess that I am by nature, sinful and unclean.” I joke that Episcopalians, of course, actually seem to take the Biblical text seriously. I tease, “Oh yes, in Genesis God says, “We made them, male and female we made them, in our own image, and they are sinful and unclean.” Most often there was a stirring defense by my Lutheran colleagues that the confession did not reflect the ELCA doctrine of creation. More often then not, the pastors would say, “We don’t use that confession any more.” I think our Rite I Book of Common Prayer confession of sin says best what our theology of sin and creation are. “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed.” But we are, as scripture tells us, very good by nature. We are, Jesus tells us, “loved unconditionally.” Nothing God has made is unclean, scripture tells us in Acts 10. But our Puritan brothers” (we hear little if anything from our sisters in places like Nigeria), insist that they know better, and have chosen the latest people to exclude. They seem unable to be embraced by the wonder of God’s liberating love without having a caveat that limits God’s Grace. Maybe God’s Grace just seems too good to be true. It is you know.

But in the light of this almost impossibly good news, how can we help from joyfully embracing that abundant life. God did not need the creation. God was, in our Anglican understanding, already complete, and in the community of the Holy Trinity before “all things were made through the Word.” And we read that God “made the great leviathan just for the sport of it!” And we humans, who are invited to become co-creators with The Holy One, through the power of Jesus the Word made flesh and the Holy Spirit, are allowed the joy of co-creating in a spirit of “just for the sport of it!”

A story is told about the Episcopal priest and Southern Baptist pastor sitting next to one another on the airplane. When the flight attendant asked for drink orders, the pastor ordered ginger ale, and the priest ordered a gin and tonic. The priest soon could feel the beady eyed stare of his seat mate and finally asked, “Does it upset you that I ordered alcohol?” The pastor replied with some vehemence, “It’s disgraceful that a man of the cloth would, with his clerical collar on, order alcohol and be a bad role model for all the other passengers.” The priest replied, “But Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee when he turned water into wine, and fine wine at that.” With a scowl the pastor replied, “Yes, and I think less of Him for it too.” I decided to tease a Methodist friend and suggested that the first miracle of Jesus in the Methodist version was that Jesus turned the wine into water.

I think that our response to God’s largesse, God’s abundant, extravagant, even wasteful love is to embrace life joyfully. Imagine the Lambeth Conference next year with Monty Python style humor. Imagine Rowan Williams teamed with American Episcopalian, Robin Williams doing “the Williams brothers do church humor,” to loosen up the crowd. We know that laughter is one of the very best physiological outlets for tension. And yet we often come to these international, national or diocesan gatherings loaded for bear, eager to tell the “other guys” with whom we disagree, just how wrong they are. What if we started with “let us pray,” and followed it immediately with “let us play.” We need to give it a try. All this seriousness is getting us nowhere.

The Rev. Dr. Howard Anderson is Warden and President of the Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral. He was a long time General Convention deputy.

Does God ever stop nagging?

by Heidi Shott

A dozen years ago, when our twin sons were toddlers and my transmission went kaput, I spent one long afternoon in a car dealership in Augusta, Maine. As the hours slowly passed, one of my fellow waitees - watching as I tried to distract and entertain my wiggly boys - suddenly revealed herself as an oracle of the gods.

"A boy turning 15 is God's way of helping parents accept that he will leave home someday," she proclaimed out of the blue. "Until 15, it's hard to imagine not wanting him around."

I thought, first, "Shutup, lady. Who asked you?" Then, "I'll always want my boys around because they'll be delightful teenagers – bright, perspicacious, engaging and kind." I couldn't imagine a universe where these boys weren't under my constant gaze – to protect, to teach, to cuddle, to read to, to joke with, to love so fiercely.

In many ways, now that they are 13 and a half, I still can't imagine a world where they are out of my line of vision for more than a week at a time.

But it's a world I'm approaching.

On Saturday, my husband Scott and I picked up our sons, Martin and Colin, after a two week stint at Bishopswood, our diocesan camp. Colin, the more reluctant camper, was finished, whereas Martin, a true believer, was to return for another week after being treated to lunch, ice cream, and a trip to the Rite-Aid in Camden to restock flashlight batteries and sunscreen.

Later in the day back at home, Colin and I lay flopped on the porch reading. Colin, a fast and sophisticated reader, was intent on Barbara Ehrenreich's book about white-collar unemployment, "Bait and Switch." I looked up from Richard Ford's "The Lay of the Land," finally out in paperback. This beautiful child of ours, so interesting and complicated, so funny and demanding and kind, is growing up. Over the last year he and his brother have become so much less needful of us, not as people, but as parents. I'm learning to cede control over things that don't matter and learning to back away so they can make mistakes and learn from them. As they enter eighth grade next month, I vow to be less the homework bitch and more the homework angel…available for intervention when called upon but otherwise, "You're on your own, kid."

I look at them and see how far they’ve already reached beyond me…in math, in music, in reading, in skiing, in the formation of their personal political philosophies. I marvel at Colin's vacuuming up "War and Peace" unabridged as a seventh grader and delight in Martin's poetry and memoirs and his ability to stand up and blow an amazing sax improv solo the moment the band director gives him an imperceptible nod. Still I nag and repeat myself constantly. I still holler, "Don't you give me that look" and "Knock it off with that tone" on pretty much a daily basis.

In less than 18 months, when they turn 15 on New Year's Eve next year, they may turn into awful people, but I think not. I hope not. I hope our love and care and frankly less-than-perfect example of how to live this life will have been enough to see them through to the day they walk out our door and beyond.

As I looked at Colin reading and enjoyed the pleasure of his quiet company, all this swirled though my highly distractible mind. How does this pattern of parenting and growing independence play out in our own walk with God?

Having come to faith as a teenager in an evangelical church, my daily personal walk with Jesus was constantly at the top of my mind. For years I prayed and read my Bible daily or felt guilty when I didn’t. I chose a Christian college where I met my husband and made many good and lasting friends. As a junior I transferred to a southern women's college and became involved in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and was confirmed in the Diocese of Southwest Virginia the week I turned 21. The presence of God hovered over me like a benevolent seabird throughout those years: nipping, nagging, loving, and keeping me safely near shore.

In the years since it's not that I've lost the ability to sense the presence of God or really need it any less, but perhaps God – having accompanied me so closely to a certain juncture – is trusting me to get it right with a less supervision.

I'm beginning to wonder if what we experience as children and, for some of us, as parents in this world doesn't teach us how God functions as a parent/creator in the realm of our Christian faith. When we turn the equivalent of 15 in Christian years (however long that takes for each of us), does God start to treat us differently – not because we're annoying – but because we've earned a measure of trust? And does that freedom allow us to flourish and grow into stronger, more Christ-like disciples than we'd be if we were more closely shepherded and nudged along the way.

Yesterday, we went out on Damariscotta Lake in our motorboat with Colin and our friends, Rachel and Jay. We live on a millpond and to get out to the open lake we must motor under a bridge. For years, to safeguard my personal sanity, I've reminded the boys to duck so they wouldn't fatally clunk their heads on the unforgiving steel girders a few inches above us. (Actually, I used to sing the chorus of the Erie Canal song – "Low bridge, everybody down…" – until last year when they begged me to stop being so profoundly embarrassing.) As we approached the bridge and yelled out to the kids who were jumping from above to hold it a minute until we passed through, I was about to remind Colin, who was sitting in the bow, to duck his head. Suddenly, as my mouth opened, he dutifully bent over, well beyond need.

"Jay!" (who was sitting behind Colin and at 62 knows enough to duck), I barked. "Duck your head!"

Apparently, unlike God, I need someone to nag.


Heidi Shott has served as press officer to Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine since 1998. In April 2006 she moved to a consulting role at the Diocese of Maine to become communications director of the Genesis Fund, a revolving loan fund that provides expertise and low-interest loans to nonprofits engaged in community development. Heidi's essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

Episcopal nerd

by Missy Morain

Hi my name is Missy and I am an Episcopal Nerd. There I said it. They say that admitting that you have a problem is the first step, and although I am admitting it, I am not entirely sure that it is a problem at all. I probably cannot be taken to dinner parties where the rules are "don't talk about religion or politics" as one of my favorite topics is religion and I love a good religious political debate. While my parents taught me lovely manners I sometimes wonder whether my Episcopal nerd aspect will slip out in polite company, thus making me inappropriate, which is something, a good Episcopalian should never be.

I work at the Cathedral College of Washington National Cathedral, a little building on the grounds of the National Cathedral that looks strangely like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is sometimes a bit of a surreal experience. In the past year I have been a part of both the Investiture and Installation of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the funeral of Gerald Ford, a gathering called Church for the 21st Century which Phyllis Tickle called "a council of the church" and participated in discussions with a group trying to determine how to have healthy inter-religious dialogue. I was a nerd before I started working at the Cathedral College but I think my nerdyness has increased since I arrived. I even got to be there when my boss told nearly one thousand people what a nerd I was when I first saw Marcus Borg and couldn't even manage to find words to say "hello", I just shuffled my feet and stared.

Lately though I have been witnessing one of the most remarkable things I have experienced since I got to DC and it is not happening at the Cathedral at all, a smaller parish with just a few children, taking another step on their journey towards living out baptismal ministry. This parish has been putting together its first Godly Play room. Godly Play is a process of Christian Formation. While it is a wonderful program for any age it is most frequently used with children. This past weekend a group of us began setting up the Godly Play room after the Sunday morning Eucharist.

While we were setting up various members of the congregation wandered into the room, asking questions and helping organize. A small group began talking about how to make the room even more welcoming. Initially the conversation revolved around painting, then the graphic artists got involved. For the next hour they discussed possibilities and designs eventually settling on a method to further create the room as a holy learning place. Then they began to discuss fabric and banners that could be created. None of the people left in the room were parents of children at the church, but this didn't change their passion for the ministry being discussed. Several times in several different ways I heard a desire on the part of these ministers of the congregation, to have a place where children were welcomed, formed and ministered with and to. They talked about the young people of the congregation, and the young people that they would like to welcome. These weren't people who wanted to create for their children but for the children who didn't even exist in their lives yet. It was amazing to watch.

When I saw Marcus Borg most recently, I managed to be somewhat coherent and didn't drool, I consider that a measure of my growth. I am not sure that I am equally capable of being coherent at this new Godly Play congregation. Each time I am there or interact with the ministers of the congregation I am heartened by their desire to share the Good News and to really welcome young people into their mix. It is also providing a much-needed lesson for me. My inclination is always to work behind the scenes. If I had done that, people with gifts to offer would not have explored or been able to share their gifts. Part of not hiding my light under a basket means that it leaves space for others to shine too.

Missy Morain, Program Manager for the Cathedral College's Center for Christian Formation at Washington National Cathedral, is keeper of the blog Episcopal Princess. She is on the board of directors of the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors.

Health Ministries in
the Episcopal Church

by Marshall Scott

A few years ago, while I was President of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, I was contacted by a person with the Church Pension Group. She called to ask me if I knew just how many Episcopal hospitals there were.

Now, this was something officers of AEHC had been thinking about for a while. The sense among chaplains was that there were fewer hospitals than there had been, and probably more retirement communities and nursing homes. On the other hand, we didn’t have hard numbers about hospitals.

In part, that was because we had trouble with the definition. What would be required to identify a hospital or other health care institution as “Episcopal?” As we discussed it, we came to three large categories. There were those hospitals that still had some official relationship with a diocese or other institution within the Episcopal Church. While no money might go back and forth, they were still considered explicitly as ministries of the diocese; the diocesan bishop was an ex-officio member, if not chair, of the hospital’s board; and there were positions that required an Episcopalian (for example, a chaplaincy program directed by an Episcopal priest, or a percentage of board members). There were also hospitals that had been founded by an institution or by members of the Episcopal Church, and had since changed hands; but that still had a visible expression of Episcopal heritage (for example, again, requirement for an Episcopal chaplain, or certain board memberships). Finally, there were those hospitals that had been founded by Episcopalians and had since changed hands; but had no visible expression of Episcopal heritage, except perhaps in the name of the institution and the memories of area congregations. Yet, with those significant differences, all might be called, at least in some contexts, “Episcopal hospitals.”

With all the changes in health care, and especially the mergers, centralization, and corporate changes of the past generation, there are fewer hospitals still owned or otherwise officially related to dioceses or other institutions of the Church. At the same time, with changes in demographics, both in the Church and in society at large, Church institutions have built more retirement communities and long term care centers, most connected in multilevel facilities.

On my own blog I’ve done some reflecting on what might describe an Episcopal culture for health care. I came to that question in part from the original question from the employee of the Church Pension Group, and in part from watching colleagues in other hospitals. Institutions connected with the Roman Catholic Church and with the Seventh-day Adventist Church have distinct ideas of what describes, respectively, a Catholic or an Adventist institution. I continue to think about how we would identify an Episcopal culture for health care.

But in thinking about that, I wondered just how involved the Episcopal Church is in health care. Now, there are a number of things one might measure, but I thought a simple place to start was in The Episcopal Church Annual. Within the Annual is a section titled, “Social Agencies and Institutions.” While there other things to note in that section, I moved to the subsection, “Health & Welfare Agencies Related To Dioceses or Parishes of the Episcopal Church.” There, listed by diocese, are a number of ministries, some of which are explicitly related to health care. To begin with, I simply went through and counted, and came up with the following numbers:

Hospitals: 17

Retirement and Long Term Care facilities: 145

Other Residential Facilities: 36 Counseling Centers and Chaplaincies: 54

Other: 47

That comes to a total of 299 ministries.

Now, there are some observations to be made about those numbers. The number of hospitals is low. In two dioceses with related hospital systems, the numbers represent the single system rather than the multiple institutions in each system. It also doesn’t include at least one specialized hospital in Haiti largely supported by parishes in the United States, or one hospital related to a religious order. At the same time, taking those that I know of into account, the number is still perhaps 30 throughout the Episcopal Church.

The other categories are also interesting. For example, while most retirement communities include some assisted-living and long term care beds, I’m not certain that all do. I included them anyway. By the same token, there are some social service agencies that might provide counseling and might have been included in that category; but because the description didn’t suggest that I didn’t include them. I noted in several dioceses free-standing chaplaincies serving hospitals that had once been owned by dioceses but were no longer – a sense of Episcopal presence without organic Episcopal connection. Some substance abuse ministries were inpatient, and so listed as “Other Residential;” while others were outpatient, and so listed under “Other.”

Some diocesan ministries did stand out for me. The Diocese of Honduras supports twelve medical clinics. The Diocese of Spokane supports ten residences for senior citizens. Many dioceses support various ministries to persons with AIDS.

One other number did interest me: the number of dioceses represented. In the list in the Annual, only 85 of the 111 dioceses of the Church list any Health and Welfare ministries. Of the 85 that do, eight don’t list any that I could identify with health care. So, these 299 ministries represent seventy-seven dioceses, or about 70% of the dioceses of the Episcopal Church. It’s not that I don’t think there are health care ministries in the other 34 dioceses. As I said, I know of some that aren’t listed, and I’m sure there are others I don’t know about. At the same time, I’m also sure there are some in listed dioceses that aren’t listed in the Annual, and so I might speculate that the proportions are roughly appropriate. That is, the health care ministries in unlisted dioceses are not likely to be so numerous as to radically change the rough proportions of what ministries are supported, and where we would find them.

Another limitation of these numbers is that they don’t represent significant programs of and groups within the Episcopal Church functioning on a national level to support local ministries. The work in supporting health ministries of the Office of the Suffragan Bishop for Chaplaincies and significant programs in support of persons with AIDS, addiction, and disabilities are listed in other places, and so are not in this list. The same is true of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, of which I am a member, and of National Episcopal Health Ministries, a network supporting parish-based health ministers and parish nurses. We can also appreciate the focus of the Office of Government Relations and the Episcopal Public Policy Network, especially as we get closer to national elections.

However, my guess is that the 299 ministries identified in those seventy-seven dioceses are those most likely to be visible to Episcopalians and to others in their daily lives (with the possible exception of parish nurses and health ministers). While the national programs are important, they are primarily ministries and organization within the Church to support ministries of the Church. I think the separate institutions and ministries are more tangible expressions of the Episcopal Church’s work in health care. They incarnate the concerns of the Episcopal Church for health care.

I’m still working on what “an Episcopal culture for health care" might look like. However, it is clear that the Episcopal Church is concerned about health care and involved in providing it. While my review is hardly exhaustive, it is sufficient to make that clear. As we “seek to serve Christ in all persons,” and to “proclaim by example the Good News,” we are caring for bodies as well as souls. We can appreciate these Episcopal ministries in health care. We can pray that over time we will see more.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

In praise of the Daily Office

by Derek Olsen

At six o’clock on a Friday morning the darkened rooms of our seaside vacation condo were filled with the happy shrieks of our fifteen-month old younger daughter, affectionately known as Lil’ H. Dutifully I rolled out of bed, paused long enough to throw some clean clothes on me and fresh diaper on her, lobbed a bottle of milk somewhere in her direction, and strapped her in the stroller; the goal, of course, was to get her out as quickly as I could before she woke my sleeping in-laws or her sister. (My wife was already awake, but I hoped she could catch a little more precious sleep.) By seven-thirty we had strolled the boardwalk several times, visited the playground twice, and had donuts in hand for a light breakfast. As luck would have it—well, okay, maybe it wasn’t just luck—we found ourselves in front of a small Roman Catholic church with a signboard advertising a 7:30 mass. We ducked inside in time for the pre-mass rosary—and left promptly in the middle of the first lesson. Not content to stay in her stroller, Lil’ H insisted on running around as fast as her little legs could go, offering a running commentary on all around her that made up in volume what it lacked in coherence.

That service we left has been on my mind for the past two months now because of what I saw there. That little church, at 7:30 on a Friday morning, in a resort town, had been packed to the gills. The sanctuary that I had expected to be desolate was almost entirely filled. And not all the hair in the place was white either. Certainly the elderly were in attendance but I saw some folks my age, and some a bit older with teen-agers in tow. Some were in beach-wear, others in work-wear; some were clearly vacationers, others seemed to be permanent residents. I was—I am—jealous. Why couldn’t the innards of my church look like that?

The Episcopal church in town was one street over, but was shuttered up and locked down. To be sure we’d been there on Sunday and had been pleased at the size of the congregation and number of children in attendance that seemed to have improved from the year before—but during the week it sat quiet and empty. I would much rather have had Lil’ H run about, gleefully scattering cake donut crumbs (bad choice in retrospect…) in the midst of an Episcopal Morning Prayer service, but it wasn’t an option for us. And I wonder why not. Oh—certainly I understand that there are reasons—but still I wonder…

One of the glories of the prayer book and of its tradition is the retention of the Daily Office. For centuries before the Reformation the Western Church had regarded the eightfold pattern of daily prayer formulated by our monastic ancestors to be the norm for committed Christians—theoretically meaning everybody but practically meaning monastics and clergy. By Archbishop Cranmer’s day, many religious satisfied the obligation of saying the Office by means of aggregation, that is, combining these eight hours into blocks at the beginning, middle, and end of the day. Cranmer—following in the footsteps of a Spanish reformer—sought to restore ancient intention with two aggregated times of prayer, one in the morning and one in the evening that would read most of the Bible through in a year and the Psalms every month. (Don’t believe me? Check out the preface to the first prayer book on page 866 of our current ’79 BCP…) His intention was not to make life easier for the clergy alone but to realize the goal the Church had long sought—to integrate these times of prayer and readings of Scripture into the life of the people.

The Daily Office is one of the things that drew me into the Episcopal Church. Benedictine in spirit, evangelical in nature, the rhythm of psalmody, the constancy of the Scriptures and the experience of the ebb and flow of the liturgical year guided me into a deeper understanding of the Word of God and the way of the cross revealed therein. I can’t pretend I pray the Office every day and every night—but I know I miss it when I don’t or can’t pray it. It has slowly become a part of me, and a central part of what it means for me to be an Anglican, an Episcopalian. The rhythm of the Office punctuated by the Mass on Sundays and feast-days—this is the pattern of Episcopal life as I know it.

I do wonder, though: why isn’t the Office more widely known and practiced in our congregations? Part of the answer, I suspect, is historical and lies with the obligations of the clergy. In former days and in some places still throughout the Anglican Communion clergy were under obligation to say the Office twice daily. (Indeed, I’m told a certain Canadian bishop is known for asking the clergy she meets on her daily rounds of their opinion of the morning’s readings… Are any of our clergy in danger of similar queries?) In such circumstances the priest might as well open up the church and toll the bell to invite others to pray alongside. But this is no longer our way—and I think it’s a shame. Yes, both clergy and laity can and should read the Office on their own, but we as parish communities make an important statement about our beliefs and our values when we take the time and make the effort to pray it together.

I’m told that the reason why Episcopal churches aren’t open in mornings and evenings for the Daily Office is because modern people don’t have an interest in that kind of thing. Really? Then why was the Roman church I stopped in full? One reason I can think of is because of married clergy: morning and evening logistics are far more complex when school, daycare drop-offs, after-school programs, and family dinners rear their heads. I imagine it’s much easier for an unattached Roman priest to roll out of bed for an early morning mass than for an Episcopal priest with a warm lump beside her—and two or three more just down the hall. Another reason is practical: for those hurrying off to work or school an 8:45 or 9:30 service (both of which I’ve seen at some of the few Episcopal Churches that do offer weekday Morning Prayer) simply won’t do.

I have a fantasy about this matter and my fantasy is this: that there would be at least one Episcopal church in a given area that would offer the Office at times when regular people, yes, people who work and have children and all, could attend. I know it’s possible—I think of that full congregation on an early Friday morning, and I think of evenings I stopped at St. Mary the Virgin in New York on my way home in my City days. It may not be easy—but it’s possible.

What stops us? What’s the gap between your average Episcopal congregation and that early morning Roman Catholic crowd? For one thing, it’s a religious culture that sees such observance as the norm rather than the exception. What would it take for us to cultivate that? A recapturing of the rhythm is in order, a recapturing of what Cranmer intended to feed the whole flock—not just the set-apart few. (Clergy, cover your eyes for a second…) The Office isn’t the special province of the ordained, it belongs to us lay people just as much as it does to the clergy. We need to rediscover it and to make it heard. In our homes, in our churches, in our cathedrals. Unlike masses, there’s no part of the prayer book Office that actually requires a priest. If there is no sound of prayer in our churches and in our cathedrals maybe it’s not really their fault; maybe it’s ours…

For those who would like to learn more about the Daily Office, check out pages 75 and following in your Book of Common Prayer (or, if thou wilt, pages 37 and following) or look online at Mission St Clare

Derek Olsen is completing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He is an adjunct professor at Emory’s Candler School of Theology where he teaches in homiletics, liturgics, and New Testament. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.

A pilgrimage to Paradiso

By Deryl Davis

It’s unfortunate that many of us, particularly in our student years, encounter Dante’s gripping Inferno without ever making it to the beatific heights of Purgatorio and Paradiso. Our literary journeys come to an abrupt end in Hell, where fires still burn around a multitude of heretics and Satan chews history’s most egregious traitors. The crisp language and vivid imagery are entertaining for sure, but one wonders if there’s anything more the poet would have us experience?

The answer is yes. Dante invites us to go on pilgrimage with him as an act of spiritual transformation. The concept is not foreign to our age, when interest in spiritual pilgrimage of one kind or another is dramatically increasing, perhaps in response to growing political and cultural instability. Last year, an estimated 70 million Hindus journeyed to the sacred Ganges River in India for spiritual cleansing; a record six million people visited Jerusalem’s Western, or Wailing, Wall; 150 million Christians are estimated to be “on the move” each year to one pilgrimage site or another. (Source: The Washington Post.) The Divine Comedy does not call us to a specific locale, but to an inner journey that, with proper preparation, can be begun at any time. It provides a familiar three-part template for such a journey, based in part on St. Bonaventure’s description of the pilgrimage to God as intra nos (going within ourselves), extra nos (going outside ourselves), and supra nos (going above or beyond ourselves). In terms of the Comedy’s structure, this is represented by the spiritual and moral isolation of sinners in Hell, who must endure their infernal circumstances and the actions that accompany them for eternity; the spiritual and moral community of Purgatory, where all are cleansed, redeemed, and welcomed back into right relationship with God; and the communion of Paradise, in which souls experience the fullness of God’s love and of each other, metaphorically sitting before the divine throne in Dante’s celestial rose.

It is a journey from the false self to the true self, from the toxicity of self-concern to the joy of living with and for others. Rightly, the journey begins and ends in prayer, with the Virgin Mary’s response to Dante’s cries in the dark wood of Inferno to St. Bernard’s entreaty to the Virgin to lift the veils of the pilgrim’s eyes in preparation for the ecstatic vision at the end of Paradiso. It is a difficult journey to begin, however, requiring descent into “an eternal place” of darkness before ascent up the mountain of joy. Like Shakespeare’s King Lear or the ivory trader Kurtz from Heart of Darkness, the pilgrim must strip away the layers of his or her developed persona in order to face the “soul truth” about him or herself. But, unlike the sinners in Hell, change is possible for the pilgrim, who avoids the “second death” of the soul by heeding its call. Descending into Hell with Dante as our guide, we grasp the general effects of misdirected love and see its particular, destructive manifestation through the allegory of sinners like Paolo and Francesca, whipped about by torrents of lust; Ulysses encased in divisive flames; or Ugolino gnawing at the scalp of fellow traitor Ruggieri.

This is a frightening experience, as it should be. Apparently, Dante put it off as long as he could, until waking one day to find himself alone in the dark wood, having lost “the straight path” without even knowing it. Although Virgil tells the pilgrim he must “journey down another road . . . if ever you hope to leave this wilderness,” Dante-pilgrim is hesitant, looking for excuses not to begin the fearful work of transformation. Why me? He asks. I’m not worthy. I don’t know how to do it. It might be an act of folly. Virgil rightly rebukes the pilgrim for “that cowardice/which often weighs so heavily on man/ . . . [turning] him from a noble enterprise.” Explaining the heavenly origins of this rescue operation, Virgil convinces the pilgrim that, if his faith is sufficient and he will allow himself to be guided by the noble Roman, Dante can overcome the demons below in order to rise to the stars.

Time is of the essence when one is journeying toward salvation. Not infrequently does Virgil have to hurry his charge along, when he is stopped in his tracks by an unusually hellish sight or lingers to talk shop with the soul of a fellow poet. Although time is eternal in both Heaven and Hell, the minutes keep ticking by in Purgatory as they do on earth, until the moment when the soul is judged by God. Twice hesitating on his journey, at the entry into Hell and again before the purifying fires of Purgatory, Dante-pilgrim may well deserve the stern rebuke he receives from Beatrice at their first meeting.

But Dante does reach Paradise at last. He beholds the host of the Elect in the celestial rose and receives the mystic vision of the Godhead, its three circles spinning as one. While language fails the poet, the joy and fulfillment of the moment are clear. Here, there is no more striving, no desire or longing; here, all is made one and eternal by “the Love that moves the sun and stars.”

It would be hard to appreciate the fullness of Dante’s vision of Paradise without the journey that precedes it. This is a truth both literal and figurative, as Dante might have it, for reading the Comedy is rightly only prelude to making the pilgrim journey oneself. That is a fearful task for many modern readers, who approach the Comedy with all the humility, real or imagined, of Dante responding to Virgil’s directive to follow him into Hell: “O poet come to guide me,/tell me if you think my worth sufficient. . . . “ Or with all the false pride (cowardice?) of the Tuscan poet’s second evasion, “I fear it might turn out an act of folly!” Certainly, reading the Comedy without the right preparation, or without a good expectation of what it can deliver, might be folly. Despite its majesty, the Comedy is full of medieval arcana that requires pages and pages of annotations under which to bury the contemporary reader. However, many good references and critical studies are available, and as the reader makes his or her way through the Comedy, he or she finds the symbolism and allegory becoming more familiar and more striking, taking on a personal and often very contemporary meaning. That does not belie the fact that the Comedy is a book that deserves – one may say, demands – to be read with others. It is the crystallization of a journey upon which we are all pilgrims, and if the Comedy teaches us anything, it is that, in matters literary as well as spiritual, one needs a companion to share the way. Ultimately, whether the journey begins within, reading the poem first on one’s own; without, reading it first in community with others; or beyond, teaching or sharing it with someone else, is of little consequence. The important thing is to begin with a trustworthy spiritual guide. Seven hundred years after he first set pen to paper on what would become the Comedy, Dante is still one of the best around.

Deryl Davis is producer of the Sunday Forum at Washington National Cathedral and an associate faculty member in religion and drama at Wesley Theological Seminary. His work on religion and culture has appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines and on public radio and television.

Read, mark, learn...

By Will Scott

Scripture, Tradition and Reason, the Via Media, the three sources of authority in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition --- Hooker’s three legged stool. Yes, we Episcopalians are a complicated bunch. In recent years, I have become a strong advocate of knowing the good book, not only for defensive purposes but also for growth and inspiration. In the first week of seminary I still remember how Dean Martha Horne read that colorful collect from the Book of Common Prayer calling us to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the words of Holy Scripture --- so sensual and earthy, as though one was about to sip a fine wine or taste a nice piece of meat.

The truth is that we Episcopalians could stand to learn a thing or two from our evangelical Bible thumping brothers and sisters. Even when we know quite a bit about what’s upon those pages, we are bashful about sharing our knowledge in a way that communicates strength, agility and comfort with these strange stories in which our faith is rooted. This is not to say that our approach to scripture needs to lack sophistication or nuance, but rather than castigate literalists we would do well to engage the narrative and offer more varied interpretations that are accessible to all. There are likely lots of reasons why we Episcopalians are so often accused of not knowing the Bible, some of which are completely unfair, but as the late Tammy Faye Messner said, “if life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

Tammy Faye’s advice resonated particularly strongly for me about three years ago when I started my first parish position. The parish was located in Northern Virginia, and we worked in the shadow of a large, conservative mega-church. We weren’t a tiny church at all by Episcopal standards, but like many of our mainline neighbors, the parish I served as Associate Rector sometimes felt like a tiny fresh vegetable market next to a Super Wal-Mart. Almost everyone I spoke with in our congregation, it seemed, had been invited at some time or another to attend a Bible study at the mega church. I’m sure the offer was extended by concerned and well-meaning neighbors. Some attended, some refused the hospitality; others wished we had more to offer ourselves. When it came to Bible study, the mega church had a thousand different varieties, like the cereal aisle at the grocery store--- one for Dad, one for Mom, one for singles, one for people with green eyes, one for people with green eyes who want blue eyes, and so on. Our vegetable market church didn’t have quite the quantity or the variety, but with sincerity and commitment, we began hosting an assortment of discussion groups, many of which focused on Scripture.

One group read Acts of the Apostles, while another did an overview of the themes and stories of the Hebrew Bible, while another read through the gospel of Mark, then flipped back to Amos, and forward to the Book of Revelation. A group of young fathers wanted in on the Bible study bandwagon and so they started at the beginning reading the Book of Genesis. We hosted these gatherings at various times for accessibility and, having added further groups for parishioners interested in the arts and sciences, soon found ourselves with a busy calendar. Many of us were encountering the story of God’s Salvation for the first time, and all of us were deepened by our studies and conversations. Sometimes the groups were tiny, comprising just 4 to 8 people, but at other times the rooms were packed. Regardless of the size of the gathering or the nature of he texts we read, community was formed, prayers were offered and the Spirit of God was present-- “whenever two or three are gathered together.” I’m convinced that what made each of these gatherings so important was that despite some initial awkwardness, we opened the good book and discovered a feast (including lemonade). These gatherings helped fuel existing local and global service initiatives and inspire new ones as well.

This fall I encourage you to sign up for a Bible study if your church has one, and if it doesn’t, I encourage you to start one (or two or three). What has your experience with the Bible and the Episcopal Church been? If you were to attend a Bible study, which book would you most like to explore? What themes, characters or topics interest you the most? How have you learned from your Bible thumping brothers or sisters?

The Rev. Will Scott, is associate pastor at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. Raised by a school teacher and a social worker in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, he is drawn to intentional community, the pursuit of global justice, and the church's witness for peace. He blogs occasionally at Yearns and Groans.

I object!

By Nicholas Knisely

I’ve been a parish priest long enough that I’ve been through five General Conventions. I learned pretty early on to dread them. Not so much because I had anything to do with them, or frankly in the beginning even paid attention to them. I feared them because of what my parishioners reactions were going to be to actions that General Convention had taken, and with which they disagreed.

When I first started out in the priesthood the concerns were often about nuclear disarmament. General Convention would pass a resolution expressing the concerns of the Episcopal Church, and I would have a parishioner come into my office generally arguing that the Church was incompetent to be making such statements. Then it because gun control. Then it became the Episcopal Church’s stance on the government of Nicaragua. Lately it’s been the issue of the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians. What I noticed over the years, that no matter what the issue, the person’s concern almost always ended at “The Church has taken a position that I disagree with and think is dead wrong. What do I do now? Do I find another denomination?”

My standard response was to remind my congregant that this church had a different understanding of dissent than other churches might have if you dissented from their version of Convention. When Convention takes a stance on a controversial secular or political issue, though that stance would be used to inform the workings of church structures, there was no expectation that individual Episcopalians would have to agree or even that they should agree with said positions. My standard quip to the parishioner was now that they were upset over something that Convention had done, they should rejoice that they had thus gained their full member in the Episcopal Church. (And then I would share my own lists of things I disagreed with. Like the move to the Revised Common Lectionary and ...)

But none of that meant that we stopped being fully a part of the Church. The Episcopal Church really only expects that people will agree (ultimately) on the words used in our authorized liturgies, based as they are on Holy Scripture, the Traditions of the Church and our best use of human reason. We understand that people may need to dissent from even these on occasions, but the expectation is that the community as a whole holds to these as core vehicles that carry us to a full and healthy faith in Jesus and as such members of the community should be diligent in working out their doubts and concerns with them. (Yet another reason we call it the Book of Common Prayer.)

I was reminded of this common experience the other day when I read an increasingly common meme on some of the Anglican blogs that the Episcopal Church is no longer recognizably Christian. The argument most typically states that since the Presiding Bishop has made a statement that the hearer disagrees with or that doesn’t demonstrate a suitable doctrinal basis of the Christian faith, the Presiding Bishop is accused and summarily judged to be a “heretic” or more commonly a person who has repudiated Jesus and thus an apostate. I’m not willing to agree to any of the characterizations by the way, but I skip over their refutation because it’s the next step in the argument that I find most troubling. That step is to claim that since the Presiding Bishop has made a statement that the writer objects to, the millions of people who belong to the Episcopal Church are also therefore heretics and/or apostates who have materially repudiated Jesus.

It’s the argument that “as goes the Presiding Bishop, so goes the Episcopal Church” with which I find fault. The Presiding Bishop is not a form of a Pope who is recognized to speak authoritatively or infallibly for the Episcopal Church. She or he is simply the bishop who is elected by the other bishops to chair the meetings of the House of Bishops, and in recent times to oversee the administrative functioning of the Episcopal Church. So an argument that claims that any views of the Presiding Bishop are necessarily normative for the other bishops much less the whole of the Episcopal Church is just wrong. It’s the equivalent to saying that because the President of the United States makes a claim, all Americans now believe what he has said.

The real office of Primate in the Episcopal Church while titularly belonging to the Presiding Bishop, is actually carefully apportioned to the whole Church in the General Convention. But, now speaking as a parish priest, we’ve long recognized that General Convention often does not take its responsibility in the primatial role seriously. There have been many resolutions and canons passed by General Convention that simply represent the scoring of a political victory by one group or another within the denomination. Some of them are obviously political and some are more obscurely so. However, General Convention most clearly does express its primatial office when it authorizes liturgies for regular use and/or issues a new Book of Common Prayer.

Now, should the primatial authority of the Episcopal Church authorize a new Prayer Book that clearly and intentionally repudiates the sovereignty of Jesus, or denies the Doctrine of the Trinity or rejects the Creeds and other historic formulations of the universal Church, then I would agree that the Episcopal Church is no longer a church and that it has come time to leave for a place that is authentically Christian. But I do not see that such a thing has happened. At most you can argue that Episcopal Church has been overly tolerant of local option and/or questionable teaching by its members, but it has never authoritatively denied Christ.

I have had the real honor of working in ecumenical circles and in formal discussions with other denominations. When talking to denominations outside the Anglican Communion we assume that what they teach and believe is what is found in their authoritative documents and normative practices. Perhaps its time to ask that the Churches within the Anglican Communion with whom we are in Communion and the bishops of the Episcopal Church who are now claiming the Episcopal Church is non-Christian, should show the same courtesy to us?

The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely is Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix Ariz. He serves as Chair of the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communication, is active in ecumenical works and was originally trained as an astronomer before he was ordained. His blog is Entangled States.

Biblical storytellers

By Greg Jones

Many of us know that story time is essential with children. I love the time I spend reading and inventing stories with my daughters. I cherish it. But as the brightest minds have begun to ‘rediscover’ – stories are not just for kids anymore. Studies show in fact that story-telling is the most effective way of communicating a complex of ideas – about truth, about culture, about expectation, about social norms, about values – to any person or group of people. Scholar Harold Cole explains that story telling is defined as transferring a picture in the mind of one person to the minds of others through the full-bodied experience that embraces the mind, the imagination, the emotions and the human will. Anybody who has heard a good sermon, seen a good play, or heard a great ballad understands this.

And, because it is so effective – being indeed the fullest communication a human is capable of perhaps – it works in all environments and settings. When I was a missionary in Honduras, I wasn’t particularly effective at explaining the systematic theology I had read with my illiterate parishioners. Notably, I am still not particularly effective at explaining it with my college-educated North American parishioners. But in both contexts, when I simply told my story and how it was a part of God’s story – in the local language – everybody connected.
It’s that simple – and that brilliant.

And this is why the Bible is filled with stories – shaped and influenced by the inspired telling of thousands of faithful human beings across centuries, nations and languages. Amazingly, they all seem to speak of the same things: the loving God who made us, redeemed us, and sustains us – if only we abide with Him.

The live telling of sacred stories forms the oldest foundation of the biblical tradition. The utterance of the Word was first and foremost an oral communication, only to be written down and put into a finalized form at long last. As such, the heart of the bible is story – story upon story upon story. All of which fit together into a master story, an overarching narrative which encompasses the whole bible.

Thus, part of the magic and mystery of the Bible is that it is telling a universal and eternal story – through many small stories – and we may find ourselves within that story of God and Creation which is the Bible.

It is quite clear that human beings, and Christians especially, are ‘story-formed people.’ The importance of stories and storytelling cannot be underestimated, and in non-literate cultures oral story telling is a highly developed art form. Even for most of the history of the Hebrew Bible, for centuries after it was finally fixed in written form, the vowels were intentionally left out. The bible was not intended to be read silently by literates, but vocalized and intoned and read aloud in a community setting – wherever two or three or more were gathered.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") is husband of Melanie, father of Coco & Anna, rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.

A path breaking bishop

By Howard Anderson

I have just been reading the proofs of a most interesting biography of Bishop Henry Bishop Whipple, the first bishop of Minnesota. He was elected bishop when there was scarcely any church activity in Minnesota, and persevered for over 42 years as bishop building the diocese into a large diocese with over 200 parishes and missions. He also created a second diocese, The Missionary Diocese of Duluth, which survived until World War II. He cut a wide swath in world wide Anglican circles- a personal friend of five Archbishops of Canterbury and Queen Victoria, his colleagues in the House of Bishop’s held him in highest regard. He was a personal friend of Presbyterian leaders in the U.S and Scotland, well known to the Coptic Pope and Armenian Patriarch. He was a personal friend of a number of U.S. Presidents, counted the nations greatest industrialists as friends and certainly donors to the ministry of the diocese.

Traveling by canoe, horse drawn wagon, horseback (his huge and elegant horse, Old Bashaw, served him for 29 years and was a celebrity across Minnesota) he built the diocese into one of the strongest west of the Mississippi, and even got the perennially Eastern location of the General Convention moved to Minneapolis in the 1890’s, the first time it had ever been held in “the West.” He did battle with Congress over Indian rights, and often won. He convinced Presidents Lincoln, Grant, McKinley and Cleveland to modify federal Indian policy, and even got famed “Indian fighter" Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to admit publicly that he was a liar and backed Gen. Phil Sheridan into changing a war like Indian policy for the federal government into a less bloody policy.

He did all this on a financial shoestring. He was in ill health his whole life, bedridden often, and on doctor’s orders spent many winters in Florida to avoid recurring pneumonia and other respiratory problems. This never seemed to slow him down. In addition to the many Ojibwe and Dakota Episcopal churches, he launched missions to the Swedes and Norwegian’s flooding into Minnesota. When he was wintering in Florida he pressed for better treatment of African Americans, and advocated for the Seminole Indians to be able to keep their title to the Everglades. The schools (Shattuck, St. Mary’s and St. James) and seminary (Seabury) he founded educated women and Native Americans at a time when this was rare. He was faithful in adversity, struggling against great odds to advocate for the voiceless. He seldom found a disenfranchised group which he could not advocate for, drawing deeply from the gospel. Whipple felt that indigenous people across the globe needed to be given autonomy “to overcome the colonial nature of the genesis of their churches through the Church of England’s missionary endeavors.”

The most interesting thing I found in this new biography was a warning to the Communion that we should heed in the 21st Century. When the Lambeth Conference of 1897 was held, and the precursor to the Anglican Consultative Council was created under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Whipple warned “In the past, centralization of authority beyond national bounds has been full of mischief and has brought sorrow to the Church.” He reminded the bishops present in a speech that “each national church had its own peculiar responsibilities to God for the souls entrusted to its care…and any intervention of one national church in the affairs of another will certainly bring sorrow.” Whipple had been very supportive of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, and saw in its insistence on a very broad and generous spirited approach to unity, rather than uniformity, the future of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Oh if we had only taken his advice to beware of the meddling by primates and bishops in the affairs of national churches!

When I look at the raredos at the National Cathedral and see the statue of Whipple, I realize that he was a man of great courage, vision and, it appears, connected to the deepest roots of the Anglican tradition.

The Rev. Dr. Howard Anderson is Warden and President of the Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral. He was a long time General Convention deputy.


by Ann Fontaine

Is there life after death and if so what will it be? In a Woody Allen movie, a man (played by Allen) converts to Christianity. His mother screams and goes to her room. The father asks why he would want to do that. Allen’s character replies by asking his father, “Aren’t you worried about you know, ... after?" The father says, "No, I don’t worry, I will be dead!"

Philosophers and religions discuss death and afterlife extensively. Some religions do not profess any concept of life after death; others such as Christianity have extensive belief systems and writings on subject. I tend to agree with the father in the movie – “I will be dead.” All I can really do anything about is here and now.

Currently I am intrigued by the concept put forth in the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Note: The daemons in his trilogy are an externalized part of the human's spirit embodied in an animal form. A daemon is capable of shifting species to reflect the emotional state of their human companion until puberty when the daemon's identity become fixed.

Lyra, the heroine of the trilogy says, "When you go out of here, all the particles that make you up will loosen and float apart, just like your daemons did. If you've seen people dying, you know what that looks like. But your daemons aren't just nothing now; they're part of everything. All the atoms that were them, they've gone into the air and the wind and the trees and the earth and all the living things. They'll never vanish. They're just part of everything. And that's exactly what'll happen to you, I swear to you, I promise on my honor. You'll drift apart, it's true, but you'll be out in the open, part of everything alive again." (The Amber Spyglass, page 335)

"Even if it means oblivion... I'll welcome it, because it won't be nothing, we'll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass and a million leaves, we'll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze, we'll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world which is our true home and always was." (The Amber Spyglass, page 336)

"To know that after a spell in the dark we'll come out again to a sweet land like this, to be free of the sky like the birds, well, that's the greatest promise anyone could wish for." (The Amber Spyglass, page 532) 

Many funeral sermons talk of reunion with loved ones or life continuing in some improved version of what we know now. The Scriptures give a mixed message. The letters of Paul give some suggestions. Much of our imagery comes from Revelation with its metaphors of streets of gold and lakes of fire describing what awaits us. Some Christian denominations have a highly developed idea of afterlife and others leave it to the category of mystery. Some branches of Islam tell of living in gardens of pleasure. Most of Judaism does not have an afterlife theology. The most one can read in The Bible is that there will be some sort of ongoing life in God but even that is unclear. As I age and more and more friends die, it is comforting to imagine that I will be in an improved known life but I wonder. I think it more likely to be nothing like anything I know but I trust that it will be in the hands of God if it is anything at all.

What I do care about is life now, making the kingdom of God present in the world. As it says in the Lord’s Prayer, I pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.” I care about leaving the world having contributed to making it a better place for all people. I hope that our children and grandchildren and their children will have a place to live on earth, that they will find meaningful lives, and contribute in their time.

Mary Oliver wrote in “When Death Comes” 

…When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

The people I look to are those who have not just visited with their time here on earth. They have delighted in their time here and brought joy as a primary gift to those around them. They have spent their days making space for others.

In the end I hope that death will be as Pullman describes it, "The first ghost to leave the world of the dead was Roger. He took a step forward, and turned to look back at Lyra, and laughed in surprise as he found himself turning into the night, the starlight, the air... and then he was gone, leaving behind such a vivid little burst of happiness that Will was reminded of the bubbles in a glass of champagne." (The Amber Spyglass, page 382)

Philip Pullman web site -- http://www.randomhouse.com/features/pullman/
Movie website -- http://www.goldencompassmovie.com/ Fall 2007

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

A system that excludes the poor

By George Clifford

I am a fan of democracy. Although every form of democracy has its problems, no other system of government seems better suited to respecting the dignity and rights of all. The other day, I read Cornell West’s Democracy Matters. West notes that democracies have historically had short life spans and then insightfully observes that one can link the end of every democracy to increases in poverty and paranoia. That prompted some reflections about life in America today, the 2008 Presidential campaign, and my Christian faith.

Poverty is on the increase in the U.S. Scholars, politicians, and others point to a variety of causes that include tax policy, business practices, fewer two parent families, etc. Eradicating poverty is a complex challenge without easy answers. As a Christian who prefers to live in a democracy, I must make that challenge a priority. Scripture suggests that God, in the words of the former Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt. Rev. David Sheppard, has a bias toward the poor. Yet I find that even among political candidates who claim to have a strong commitment to ending poverty, other issues generally receive more attention. Anti-poverty messages have little political traction and therefore take a backseat. Nationally, as well as in my home state of North Carolina, anti-poverty programs and initiatives die in legislative committee more often than they come to a vote in the full legislature.

Recently, I also read The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. Obama worked as a community organizer with the poor before attending Harvard Law School and beginning his political career. Not surprisingly, given that background and his strong Christian faith, Obama has tried to maintain an emphasis on helping the least advantaged among us. I do not intend these comments as an endorsement of Obama; voters must measure the merit of his platform and depth of his commitments against that of the other candidates using a Christian scale. Instead, Obama’s background provides the context for what I found very powerful in his book, his description of how an insatiable need for campaign funds drives politicians into close association with moneyed interests. Politicians solicit donations from prospective donors by cultivating relationships through phone calls, meetings, and campaign events. The longer one is a politician, the more time one invariably and necessarily will spend with those moneyed interests. With time, conversations become more extensive and friendships develop; repeated exposure to the thoughts, prejudices, and worldview of the affluent begins to color the politician’s views and priorities. The process excludes the poor, and even most middle-class, because they are not in a financial position to donate $1000 or more to a political campaign.

Obviously, the electoral system’s structure reflects an inherent bias toward the wealthy rather than toward the poor. Perhaps less obvious is the often publicly unappreciated personal integrity that prevents more politicians from succumbing to the temptations of corruption and illegal campaign financing. Maybe least obvious is that those of us who know of God's bias toward the poor must become more involved in the political process. Voting makes a difference. Campaign contributions make a difference. Volunteering makes a difference. Speaking out makes a difference. Only when God's people get involved can we Christian fans of democracy expect for God's bias toward the poor to become more than empty rhetoric.

Paranoia within the United States also seems on the increase. People talk and act as if they are afraid of terrorism, cancer, crime, losing their job to illegal immigrants, losing their house because they can no longer afford the adjustable rate mortgage, losing their children to drugs, etc. Today’s politicians – from all parties – frequently pander to those fears, seeking an easy way to mobilize support and votes. Franklin Roosevelt in his first inaugural address famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That thought is deeply rooted in Scripture; in over thirty places, the Bible exhorts us not to fear because God is with us. Tellingly, the authors of Scripture never suggest that people should live without fear for the authors well know that living means being vulnerable and not in control. Paul Tillich went so far as to argue in The Courage to Be that the basic human condition is anxiety, the fear of the unknown and non-being; the Christ answers by giving us the courage to live.

Fear mongering costs lives and impoverishes the living. Hundreds of thousands have died at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars because the United States impetuously and ill advisedly launched a war on terror instead of deliberately targeting the relative handful of extremists who posed a real threat. Security without human rights – indefinite detention of alleged enemies without trial, intrusive surveillance without court orders, etc. – is security without freedom. Family protection legislation outlawing same-sex marriage or teaching abstinence only does nothing to address the real causes of marital failures, denigrates people with a same sex orientation, and promotes unhealthy behaviors that waste healthcare resources. Initiatives designed to exclude illegal aliens build fences, literally and metaphorically, between people and nations, transform productive workers into fugitives, disrupt families, and deprive the U.S. of its arguably most valuable resource, people willing to pay almost any price in order to create a better life for themselves and their families.

The United States faces a host of real problems: poverty, healthcare, crime, terrorism, and many more. Contrary to some naïve Christians on the far right and far left whose faith seems to have an answer for everything, none of those problems has an easy or inexpensive answer; some of the problems do not even have known answers. If an easy, inexpensive answer existed, then somebody would have already solved the problem. The most important contribution that Christians can make to debates about these issues is to insist that politicians stop promoting, and pandering to, paranoia. Real answers require carefully defining the problem and a commitment to finding viable and moral solutions.

In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, slightly more than 60% of eligible citizens voted, according to the George Mason University United States Election Project. Almost 40% did not vote. U.S. wealth is concentrated in less than 10% of the population. Over 90% of the population is poor or middle-class. People who self-identify as Christian comprise 80% of the U.S. population. Those numbers paint a hopeful future – if Christians will get involved in the political process. Voting, contributing, volunteering, speaking out now is how we can help the poor, fight paranoia, and preserve democracy. Whining in 2009 will achieve nothing.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains, on exchange with the Royal Navy in London, as the senior Protestant chaplain at the Naval Academy, and as the senior chaplain at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Learning to fly

By Kit Carlson

The hawks have been screaming all week in the trees behind my house. The red-tailed fledglings are due to take off and they don't like it at all. They sound like tortured cats, mewing and wailing and shrieking. Their parents have gone off somewhere, leaving the two younguns alone on the nest to make the next and necessary step in their lives ... the step off the side of the nest into the unforgiving air.

The young hawks don't realize that they have all they need to take the leap. They are quite large now, really almost mature. Their wings are broad and beautiful, and they stretch them as they scream, wave them up and down, as if realizing that their wings are there for something ... even if they haven't quite figured out what.

It's not a pretty business, learning to fly. When the hawks get hungry enough and lonely enough and irritated enough, they finally do take a plunge into the air. They don't go far, usually just to a nearby branch, where they bounce and flail with their wings and scream some more. They dig in the bark of the branches for bugs, which might take the edge off their hunger, but really ... it's not enough. They're going to have to get serious pretty soon. They're going to have to start hunting for themselves.

It's not easy to learn to fly, to step off the nest, to risk falling or failing. The project seems to require a lot of screaming. The fledglings make a lot of noise, but it doesn't bring back their parents. The days of mom and dad feeding and tending and guarding are over. The birds are on their own, for good or for ill.

So they hop around some more, from tree to tree, from branch to branch, complaining all the while. After a few days, the two fledglings find themselves separated, their abortive flights taking them farther and farther apart. I can hear the shrieking and mewing, but it's fainter now and farther away. In a few more days, the deed will be done. They'll take off for good, to soar and swirl, to hunt and to feed.

When something new is about to happen, it is natural to want to cling to what was. It is easy to grip the secure sides of the nest and hang on for dear life, screaming your head off how it's not fair, it's not right, things should be the way they used to be, why don't the ones in charge here do something, why are we left alone to figure this out for ourselves, why aren't we being fed like we used to, and what are we supposed to do with ourselves now, now that everything is different, anyway?

Jesus and Paul describe these shifts as birth pangs, as labor, as the struggle for something new to happen. God brings new things into being and we balk. We struggle. We defy the future, as though we could stop its arrival simply by saying "no." We want to be cared for, mothered, fathered, nurtured, protected.

But God has other ideas in mind. God never lets us rest. Something new is about to happen, and even as we scream, we stretch and wave in wonder the broad, beautiful wings that God has given us to carry us forward, out of the nest, into the open sky.

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. In 2003, she played the apostle Paul on the world's first internet reality series, The Ark, a project of the Christian humor website Ship of Fools.

You are the music,
while the music lasts

Continuing our "Episcopalians go to camp" theme begun yesterday...

By Roger Ferlo

Orkney Springs, Virginia is not an easy place to find. The trip south from the District seems designed to test your nerves. You start off on the DC Beltway—trial enough—and then you lurch onto the notoriously congested I-66, which you have to follow all the way to the end (a prospect that must haunt the nightmares of daily commuters), where it turns south on I-81 toward Woodstock. You then find yourself deep in Shenandoah country, passing road signs directing you to the Luray Caverns or the Skyline Drive. But you resist temptation. You make a right turn and then another right and then another right (or was it a left?) through gorgeous rolling hills until you finally stumble your way onto a steep incline of a road called the Orkney Grade, which will funnel you and your motorcar straight into the nineteenth-century—to the old mineral spa known as the Orkney Springs Hotel, owned lock, stock and water barrel by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

It was not always thus. For years Virginia Episcopalians owned the acreage to the west, where they long ago built a retreat center and an outdoor chapel—Shrine Mont, they call it, as close to building a cathedral that this die-hard low-church diocese will ever come. But folks must have had their eye on the hotel down the road for a long time, if only for fear that it would fall in on itself. It wasn’t until 1979 that the Diocese managed to purchase the ramshackle place. And now, completely refurbished in the simple style to which it has always been accustomed, it can sleep as many as 600 church people at a time. It’s a vast white-painted wooden pile five storeys high, each level completely ringed by its own complicated stretches of porch and outdoor stairs—an Escher print in 3-D, Shenandoah style. Virginia parishes vie fiercely for preferred weekend slots, when parishioners recover from the long drive on the interstates by gathering for fellowship in the Ladies Parlour on the second floor, or sharing potpie and cornbread dinners in the vast refectory hall, or submitting themselves to some serious lecturing or other sorts of pious carryings-on in the elegant third-storey ballroom with its floor to ceiling windows and its wide and gracious balconied porch.

Since moving to Virginia from New York City three years ago to teach at the seminary in Alexandria, I’ve been invited to Shrine Mont several times. I’ve preached from the curious stone pulpit in the outdoor chapel (which looks a little like a congealed lava flow), and I’ve lectured on art and the spiritual life to generously attentive crowds in that lovely ballroom. I’ve hiked up North Mountain to the fire tower surmounted by a cross, and eaten my share of canned fruit salad and pulled pork in the dining hall. It’s good to find a church spot where people remember to keep relatively quiet and to behave themselves and to say their prayers and to be nice to one another—behaviors that might seem pretty trite and obvious if they weren’t at such a premium in a church otherwise sorely bedeviled by lawsuits and name-calling and furious divisions. There’s a kind of country ordinariness at Orkney Springs that gives you a sense that church might go on being church even in spite of church.

I am prompted to thoughts like this because I just got back from spending a week in residence at the Orkney Springs Hotel doing something that had absolutely nothing churchy about it. For the past seven years, a remarkable cellist named Dorothy Amarandos, now in her 83rd year, has all but single-handedly organized a week-long music camp at the Orkney Springs Hotel—a summer camp for geeky adults. There were 48 of us this year, most of us middle-aged and older, many of us still relative beginners wrestling with this most recalcitrant and noble of instruments. When you look at the roster, you see that all of us were pretty successful type A personalities in high-powered jobs (there were five MD’s in the room, for starters). And yet there was nothing more humbling than what we had agreed to do last week, as we made ourselves vulnerable to each other and to our teachers in that most exposed of venues—a public recital. Learning to play the cello as an adult can be an isolating and lonely business. It’s seldom about success as we usually have experienced success. Few if any of us will ever get to a place where we would call ourselves cellists rather than cello players. The noise we make can be excruciating—no wonder we tend to keep our doors closed. And yet coming together like this for a week, guided by Dorothy and her immensely gifted colleagues, we all gave ourselves permission to break out of our lonely practice rooms, to play in consort with others—performing in trios, duets, and even in a full-voiced choir of 48 instruments, strains of Beethoven and Vivaldi echoing off the walls of that elegant third-floor ballroom. We were all engaged in kind of a secular ubuntu at Shrine Mont this past week.

As I say, there was nothing churchy about any of this, except, of course, that everything we did with and for each other in that quaint and gracious hotel was, at least for me, anyway, sacramental. In such a setting, prayer takes care of itself. On the last day of the workshop, there was a solemn little ceremony where Dorothy presented each of us with a certificate of congratulations. It was a sweet gesture, and touching to watch each of these highly accomplished people sheepishly come forward to accept our teacher’s simple tribute. The certificate included an epigraph from T.S. Eliot—“you are the music while the music lasts.” That line evokes for me the experience of that week in Orkney Springs, and the gift of quiet and hospitality that the diocese offered us in allowing us to use this gentle space. Sometimes the church does get it right.

For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in time and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. There are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
T.S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages,” from Four Quartets

The Rev. Roger Ferlo is Director of the Center for Lifetime Theological Education at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where he also directs the Evening School of Theology. He was trained as a Shakespeare scholar, and frequently leads audience discussions on religion and drama for the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington, DC.

In praise of camp counselors

By John B. Chilton

In the summers I live in a rural community where there is an Episcopal conference center. If you care to dig deeply enough, you can figure out which one. But what I want to share is my gratitude to the young adults – and not so young adults – who work as cabin counselors on Episcopal camp staffs across the country. What I have the pleasure of witnessing locally happens in many places.

Part of the conference center operation is a collection of camps for children and young people. From mid-June through mid-August there are always four to five camps running with over 200 campers at any point in time. Some camps are for kids with challenges such as the camp for teens and young adults with Down syndrome. Some camps are outdoor-oriented, another is focused on the arts, and another does organized sports. Camp enrollment this year remained at capacity despite the widely publicized (or shall I say, megaphoned) departure of a few churches in my diocese back in December.

All of the camps are coeducational. Limited access to a mirror, a shower, and a laundry for a week or more conveys a lesson in mutuality that, I suspect, is a beneficial life-skill to develop early on. It doesn’t hurt that each camp staff works together and effectively models healthy working relationships between adults.

One camp may focus on outdoor activities and another on music and drama, but every camp is Christ-centered. It’s not just camp with an Episcopal name attached. There is daily worship. There is weekly worship where all the camps gather together (and a bishop is likely to be present). An environment is created where it is safe to express doubt and ask questions. The purpose of the camps is to build up the body of Christ. This is what the campers take away with them when they leave the mountain.

No camp operates without staff such as directors and nurses. But as I have observed these camps over many years, I have developed a special appreciation for the cabin counselors. Living with a cabin of kids 24/7 for several months is not something everyone is called to do. To take one example of many foregone comforts of home, how many of us would be willing to go two months with no more than a suitcase of clothes? I simply cannot comprehend how they maintain their energy, enthusiasm and patience. Counselors are the heart of camps. In virtuous cycle, the camps attract counselors who are committed to working with kids and staying on message – building up the body of Christ.

Over the years many campers have become counselors. Several campers and counselors have entered the priesthood, and the camps have produced a bishop or two. But what I believe is the finest dividend of camps is that so many campers and counselors have become nothing more or less than active members of the ministry of the laity. Praise God.

Camps are risky. You might fall and twist your knee. Your life might be changed. One counselor this year, a bruiser of a football player, said at end of his camp’s session “My life has been changed. I now know my vocation is to work with kids.”

I’d be interested in reading your comments about your experience in church camp as a camper or counselor.

Dr. John B. Chilton is an economist at the American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) specializing in applied game theory. He maintains two personal blogs, The Emirates Economist and New Virginia Church Man.

A bridge collapses. A child asks why.

By Sara McGinley

All I heard was my husband, Aron’s, side of the conversation.

“Yes. Yes. We’re all fine. I’ve been home for an hour. A bridge? Whoa.”


“Sara get over here. Look at this. This is so weird.”

Aron has been known from time to time to scream with urgency that I need to come see something, that I need to drop everything and respond to whatever it is he is doing.

More than once in the first year of our marriage I dropped everything and went running only to find out that Aron was calling me to read an interesting article or hear about a new idea he had.

Certainly these were important things. But did I need to leave the washing machine running with the lid open for that?

So last night, despite the fact that he sounded truly worried and was racing to the television I did one last thing. I put the kid’s milk in the refrigerator. And walked slowly over to the television where he sat with our two kids.

They were talking about the dark cloud that billowed into the sky when the bridge that is just over a mile from our house fell.

The bridge. The bridge we drove over just the day before with both kids strapped in the back seat. The bridge we drive on regularly was sitting in the Mississippi River. And it had just fallen. And it had fallen during rush hour.

I was full of questions.

Did we know anyone on the bridge?

Could anyone live through something like that?

What made this happen?

And why?

And then my three year old started doing what he does best and what he has done more than anything else for the past week.

He asked why.

Why is that bridge broken?

Why is that train squooshed under the bridge?

Why is that truck ripped?

Why is a school bus on that bridge?

Meanwhile I was pushing redial over and over on my cell phone because I couldn’t get through to my sisters.

Sometimes I got a busy signal. Sometimes a message that the network was busy. Sometimes the call didn’t go through at all. Over and over I called. Just wanting to be sure they were okay.

And our son kept asking why.

Had Aron known what we were going to find on TV last night he probably wouldn’t have let the kids see it. It’s a lot for a 3 year old to take in.

Since he did see it we were honest. We answered his questions.

We told him the bridge broke and we didn’t know why. We told him that the cars were on the bridge because they were driving on it when it broke, that people were in the water because they fell off the bridge.

When we finally brought him to bed he said he was nervous about the bridge and he and Aron talked about it for a while. And then our son, Eliot, said he was ready to sleep and he did.

While the kids slept we got a hold of our families who were all fine. We heard from friends across the country via email wanting to know if we were okay.

This morning when our son woke up he wanted to know more about the bridge.

He asked and asked and asked questions.

And Aron and I decided to just let him ask and ask until he was done asking and that we’d just keep answering as honestly and simply as possible.

After he asked more about his beloved cars and buses and trains and construction equipment he asked about the people.

He asked if people were sad when the bridge fell.

We said we thought they were.

And the questions paused for a moment.

He pointed to the bridge on his train set and said that bridge falls down and people don’t cry.

Then he said.

And I’m not making this up.

“Maybe people poop on bridge.”

And he giggled.

And I looked at him and then looked at Aron.

And Aron said, yeah Eliot, some people probably did poop when the bridge fell.

He didn’t ask why about that. He seemed content with the story.

Later we looked at some pictures and I told him a lot of people called and emailed to make sure we were okay.

I told him a lot of people love us and like having us around.

He didn’t ask why about that either.

He seemed content with that story too.

Sara McGinley, priest's wife and mother of two, writes the blog Sara McGinley, where you can find other news on Wednesday's bridge collapse in Minnesota. Episcopal News Service's coverage of the bridge collapse is here.

Faithfulness in Adversity

By Howard Anderson

Being up here in the north woods, on a stunningly beautiful lake, I am remembering the faithful leaders of the Episcopal Church in this area. It was a part of the Diocese of Minnesota for most of the time the Church has been in Minnesota. But for a brief time, it was in the Missionary Diocese of Duluth (which is 200 miles east of Bad Medicine Lake.) The Ojibwe clergy whom I knew growing up said that if they hadn’t been good hunters and skilled fishermen, their families would have suffered hunger. “The stipends were pitiful,” but they remained faithful. To this day, the heroes of the faith, and the churches they established serve the Indian community with heart, hope and energy. In Ojibwe country, The White Earth Reservation has four churches, Red Lake two, Leech Lake three. The Dakota people are served by churches in three reservations and there are two urban, intertribal churches. My own reading of church history detects a subtext in which those churches under oppression or hardship tend to produce faithful and faith-filled Christians.

Most of my “church heroes” are people who were faithful in difficult situations. A Turtle Mountain (North Dakota) Ojibwe leader walked 800 miles round trip to secure a priest for the little congregation which, without prayer books, had read Morning Prayer faithfully for over 40 years. He had used all his worldly wealth to buy the lumber to build a church, and the lumber sat in his house for decades before it was built. Faithfulness in adversity.

I think of the “patron saint” of the Diocese of Minnesota, Enmegahbowh. He spent many years preaching the gospel which seemed to him to fall on deaf ears in the Ojibwe communities of northern Minnesota. Finally, he gave up and boarded a boat at Duluth on Lake Superior to return home to Ontario. The boat set out for Canada, only to be blown back into port by unseasonable winds. Twice more he boarded boats to return to Canada, and was blown back to Duluth. He finally got off the boat for good, perhaps shaking his fist at a God who would get Jonah where God wanted Jonah to be, and Enmegahbowh where God wanted Enmegahbowh to be. His wife and several children died because of the adversity of the place, and yet he stayed. He stayed and became true to his name, “The One Who Stands Before his People,” and for decades was a faithful deacon and priest serving as “archdeacon” of this vast and then trackless wilderness with Episcopal missions scattered over 40,000 square miles. Faithful in adversity.

I think of the women who knew they were called by God to be priests, some for decades, who didn’t give up on the Church. I think of the many gay men and lesbians who suffered horrendous discrimination and yet stayed with the Episcopal Church despite being used as the “poster children” in ideological and theological battles over which they had no control, not even a voice. I think of Bishop Gene Robinson, being treated so abysmally by so many, (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) being pilloried, made fun of, and yet, faithful in all things remains sweet of spirit and thoroughly committed to the Episcopal Church. Faithful in adversity.

The present situation in the Episcopal Church has a eerie and familiar pattern. Look at the Churches which are leaving the Episcopal Church are, largely, affluent and overwhelmingly white. When I have a tooth ache, I go to the dentist. Likewise, most laity who read or hear about some controversy in the church, ask their rector. I find it appalling that some bishops and priests would advocate leaving The Episcopal Church imagining themselves to be protectors of orthodoxy. Most of the lay people who are in the schismatic churches have been victims of the anger and fear of clergy and bishops uncomfortable with change, which is inevitable. The claim of Biblical authority many of them use to justify leaving the Episcopal Church ring false, and I grieve that some really fine theologically conservative lay people have been led by short sighted priests and bishops to take a step not only not necessary, but terribly disruptive and hurtful for all involved. We Anglicans have always been able to live in the tension of theological disagreement, because we agree on the essentials.

I think that the model of the faithful and often overlooked, underfunded and even forgotten Indian Episcopalians in this land of the northern lights could not be a greater contrast than those clergy pulling their affluent, white congregations out of the Episcopal Church. Years ago, at the organizing gathering of the Episcopal Synod of American in Ft. Worth, Texas, I was an observer sent by then Presiding Bishop Ed Browning. Sitting in the visitor’s gallery were about a dozen purple clad men with large pectoral crosses. I asked who they were. I was told that they were previously schismatic Episcopal clergy who broke off from other bodies of schismatic to form their own dioceses. Some had diocese with two or there parishes. Some had only a hundred or so communicants in the diocese over which they presided. How clear it became. It wasn’t about orthodoxy, it wasn’t about women’s ordination or sexual orientation and inclusion- it was about power for those who led their flocks out of the Episcopal Church. I wonder how many of them are still “bishops?” The present scramble by African and South American Primates to “colonize” the affluent conservative American parishes under the leadership of hurt and angry priests is a kind of reverse colonialism. This sort of activity perhaps could be expected in a post colonial, fruit basket upset 21st Century Anglicanism. These “poaching” Primates are being challenged at home by Pentacostalism, Islam and consumerism. They have societal problems that stagger the imagination. One can understand their desire to tap into the wealth of these disgruntled American parishes. But whatever happened to faithfulness?

The Rev. Dr. Howard Anderson is Warden and President of the Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral. He was a long time General Convention deputy and most importantly, is grandfather to a five year old theologian, Will.

Dog slobber: an aid to ministry

By Susan Fawcett

Sometimes I take the dog to church.

This is a big treat for him, obviously, since otherwise he'd be at home staring out the window, waiting for us to come home. But at church, where I work full time, there are constant distractions: phones ringing, folding machines clacking away, people chatting. It's a decent gig for a dog. He gets leashed to a knob on my desk chair so that he can't bowl over any Church Ladies. He observes the comings and goings in the hallway with a great deal of interest. And he gets attention. A lot of it.

Becket (the dog, not the martyred Archbishop. We chose his name partly because we could say, "Will no one rid us of this turbulent dog?," which, I admit, reveals a great deal about how much of a church dork I am) is a seventy-five pound black Labrador retriever. He wears a collar with the Episcopal shield on it. My hope is that this might win him some brownie points with skeptical office volunteers who find him scary.

Part of my argument for bringing him is that the dog himself is an entrée into people's lives. Folks who would otherwise just nod at me through the door on their way elsewhere will stop, do a double take, and come in and chat for a few minutes so that they can pet him. I get to hear about their favorite animals. Because of Becket, I've been invited to parishioners' homes to help commit the ashes of their beloved dogs to the earth.

More importantly, though, a friendly dog brings people's guard down. For example, he comes to youth group events and makes the rounds, meeting all the kids, soaking up the attention. And it's fairly miraculous to watch that very quiet, reserved young person play with a dog-all of a sudden we see another side of that young man. You can't be cool with a Labrador; there's a
little too much slobber and tail involved.

With adults, having a dog in the office breaks down the idea that church is like a corporate office. It is entirely unprofessional, at least in the Washington, D. C. area, to bring a pet to work. And because they spend so much time in a work environment with all those unspoken rules about professionalism, many folks come into our church office expecting, I suppose, a certain amount of decorum and propriety. They expect the priests here to be wearing suits and
clergy collars. They expect this to be a Well-Run Office. And, my friends, that is fairly contrary to what I understand the Church to be. We are not a corporation; I, as a priest, am not a CEO. And the parishioner who visits and gets an unexpected hello from a waggy dog may have to dispense with the pretense of being professional herself. Having Becket around means that I
get to see who people are in the midst of delight, rather than in the midst of Doing Business. It's a gift.

All of this is a long way of saying that I'm deeply uncomfortable with this paradigm the church has inherited of trying to operate like a Corporation. Yes, there are all kinds of professional standards we need to meet. Priests need to conform to a certain amount of vocational and professional principles. Our parishes need to be adequately administrated and our ministries need to be effective. This takes people who are willing to work hard, it takes an organized group of office staff and volunteers, and it takes a great deal of teamwork.

All of that is lost effort, though, if we aren't becoming a community that has some of the best characteristics of healthy families: people who laugh together, take care of each other, challenge each other to grow, and pray for and with each other. Unless I am mistaken, churches are called to be groups of people who are journeying together toward and through the call of Jesus Christ, to be God's hands and feet and heart in the world. None of those things have anything to do with 'being professional.' They have to do with love.

And if a dog in the office helps remind people of that, well, be prepared to be welcomed by a happy, slobbery Labrador when you come in.

The Rev. Susan Fawcett keeps the blog This Passage. She serves a parish the Diocese of Virginia, and supports the work of the General Convention publication The Center Aisle.

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