Church on the path to irrelevance

by George Packard

After the dustup with Trinity Church over Duarte Park in Manhattan and my arrest I thought it was a good idea to put the past aside and gather some Episcopalians for coffee one block north of Zuccotti Park. Before arriving I spent a half hour staring at that infamous space with its barricades set aside and chained together, made irrelevant by the court order favoring Occupy Wall Street. Still, there was an ominous and newly-erected watch tower glowering down on the far corner. It bristled with TV cameras. The tower, a collapsible assembly hoisted up and down for better police vantage, was tactically sensible, but given the strident tone of police behavior it gave the look of Damascus. As our meeting awaited, I shuddered, thinking, “Would the Church cope or collude with this kind of future?”

Seven of us assembled at a corner table in the restaurant. As an after-thought, I invited the bishop-elect of the Diocese of New York, Andy Dietsche. We probably should have had two separate meetings. Andy, bright and earnest, had a lot to say. Since half of the clergy were from New York there was an understandable deference given to him. He told us that the Diocesan Convention had passed by a large majority a resolution supporting OWS and civil disobedience yet he was sure that diocesan clergy were unanimously opposed to the Duarte action and the subsequent arrests. Considering four arrestees were present around the table I wondered what the effect of that news was supposed to have. So I asked him. He said that he wanted to state that so we could move on.

It's where we “moved on” to that troubled me. The Church always seems to stumble here--it occurred in the Trinity negotiations for Duarte and now again over coffee with this new bishop-elect eager to declare a fresh direction. It seems, as blogger and Lutheran pastor Keith Anderson writes, to be the disposition of the Church to ask small questions instead of big ones, even though in Baptism we begin this Christian life asking and answering the biggest of all: “Whose will you be?” Challenging questions diminish from here.

Bishop-elect Dietsche said an e-letter would be going out the next day enlisting chaplain/counselors for Charlotte's Place. During the nicer stages of negotiation with Trinity the rector and his staff took me on a tour of that outreach center and they were rightfully proud of it. The parish coffee house/drop-in center had been established in memory of a parishioner. Its opening pre-dated OWS yet it was ready-made for such with refreshment and bathroom facilities, counseling on request, albeit only if those needs occurred during the hours of 12-6 PM, Monday-Friday. During my tour I asked about extending the hours since extraordinary times seemed to require a more intense response. I was told--and it was repeated often-that Trinity had taken the "day shift" support of OWS. Still, “If this was such an embattled population in need of chaplain/counselor support wouldn't it make sense to review those hours of availability?”

Andy said that many of the OWS protesters were from out of town, and, in addition to being homeless, probably had emotional problems. Providing counselors seemed to be the decent thing to do. We thought this was a good step--quibbled awhile about how many protesters were in this state—but supported it nonetheless. No one wanted to make tending this needful population into a tug-of-war. It was a small question, asked and answered. Yet, we urged that the letter include information about why protesters had come to the metro area in the first place...the larger question and essential to them. Indeed, this was not a suffering band drifting to and fro. Theirs is a message we needed to hear.

Frankly, OWS had been waiting for this Wall Street parish to make an attempt at rectitude after the debacle of Duarte. The cynical among OWS said the parish would revert to type and promote its charitable work. The sort of thing a corporate mind would come up with, they said. And here it was: the Diocese of New York had formed an alliance to push the most vulnerable of the OWS population to the front of the stage, changing the focus. I thought that conclusion was ungenerous; it was more related to the Church’s love affair with small questions. Moreover, when I asked Dietsche if he had reached out to OWS about this population, attended any of the open forums, working groups, or General Assemblies all of which happened nightly in public and private spaces only blocks away he said, "No."

This penchant to shy away from complication and adhere to reduction brings us back to the Church's proclivity to settle for charity at the expense of advocacy. Rev. Peter van Eys wrote, “Churches need (afflicted) people around in order to be involved in charity rather than justice.” Such acts salve consciences, momentarily answering the smaller questions, but they do nothing to address the larger ones. For Martin Luther King, society is not educated by the Samaritan story (charity) but by the larger question of why injustice plagues the entire Jericho Road (justice).

We urged, we pleaded, that the e-letter include a reference to the motive of protesters. It was part of their story. My family and I had first-hand experience with this mistake and its correction. Over Christmas we were delighted to host an OWS hunger striker. It felt good to ply this person--now eating again--with food and a warm hearthside. While we enjoyed the cozy feeling of doing good, our guest rose every day, read the paper thoroughly, and gently educated us on why there was disenfranchisement. We saw only the smaller question, but our traveler brought the revelation of the larger one to us.

I am beginning to think the Church’s salvation may lie in support to Emergent Churches, ones whose street sense and relevance keeps discernment clearer and truer. If the Emergent Churches are not encumbered, they could restore a priority to questions posed for us. The path we’re on now is one to irrelevance…if we’re not there already.

The Rt. Rev. George E. Packard retired as the Bishop Suffragan of the Armed Services and Federal Ministries in 2010. He writes a blog called, "Occupied Bishop." He and his wife Brook are active supporters of the Occupy Movement and live in Rye, NY.

Contrition: Paterno

by Maria L. Evans

O God, the creator and preserver of all mankind, we humbly
 beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou 
wouldest be pleased to make they ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for
 thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and 
governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call 
themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and
 hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in 
righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly 
goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed,

in mind, body, or estate; [especially those for whom our prayers 
are desired]; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve 
them according to their several necessities, giving them patience 
under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

--Prayer for All Sorts of Conditions of Men, Book of Common Prayer, pp. 814-815

Truthfully, I've tried to emotionally distance myself from the whole "Penn State thing" as much as possible. Everyone who knows me, knows I am a huge sports fan, especially when it comes to my St. Louis Cardinals and my Mizzou Tigers. But mostly, I suspect the world of Division I college sports is a lot like politics, the institutional church, and sausage--one shouldn't really watch any of them being made if one wants to enjoy them. But the recent illness and death of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno in the past few weeks reminded me of how convoluted and sticky the business of contrition can be.

"Contrition" is one of those words I tend to lump in with words I think of as "Roman Catholic" words. My best friends growing up, who attended Catholic parochial schools, used the word far more than I did. It's a word that isn't so out in the forefront of our Anglican sensibilities, although it's certainly in the Book of Common Prayer, particularly referring to the Reconciliation of a Penitent.

I've really stayed away from having opinions about the Sandusky story at Penn State, and have been content to let the legalities of this story play out, and to simply pray for "healing of all involved." The above prayer, despite its non-gender inclusive old school Prayer Book language, is very rich in that regard--when I know wrongs have been committed, evil has been done, and I can't even begin to imagine what was going on in the minds of everyone involved. It is hard for me to think beyond the pain of victims, and this prayer snaps me back to a fuller understanding of the things that happen in the world that are just plain wicked.

My confession is it was easy for me to throw a rock at Paterno when this broke--so I stayed as emotionally far from it as I could. After all, I usually view legendary powerhouse teams with a certain amount of disdain. To me, the latter part of Paterno's career was more about Paterno the Legend than it was about anything human about him. I probably thought of him more or less as an "auto-icon" of himself, in the vein of Jeremy Bentham--really dead, mounted and stuffed like Trigger, in the museum of Happy Valley. I am normally not a judgmental person--in some ways astoundingly non-judgmental considering I make a living judging things to be "benign" or "malignant"--but I knew to enter too far into this story created emotions in me I did not want to approach.

So I was surprised at how I felt the pathos and the discomfort of Paterno's final interview with the Washington Post. It was clear that this scandal had an effect on him. It was clear that we were viewing a man who knew his last days on earth were imminent, but it was too easy just to brush this off as a person cutting some deals his his last days. The public nature of this last interview, frankly, made me uncomfortable--probably because I got more glimpse than I needed of someone else's private demons. It felt like an over-share of grand proportions, and I found myself wanting to turn the volume down on the audio and look away from my computer screen. I found myself wondering why he chose this public route to find his private contrition, when I knew it would do nothing to assuage the hurt and anger of many, or even change their minds about the complexity of this one iota.

But as I've contemplated this piece of the story, I've come to realize that it is part of why our Prayer Book has "A Prayer for All Sorts of Conditions of Men," and the various prayers that lead our community to pray for those people and situations and conditions that our raw pain and blind anger sever any means for us to see a picture beyond the auto-icons of our own egos. It's also why we have the Reconciliation of a Penitent--to provide a means to humanize what our nature is to dehumanize, to add a sacramental layer to transform attrition (shame and guilt arising from fear of punishment) to contrition (from the Latin conterere, literally "to grind or to rub.")

In short, contrition is a process of being ground down, and the reason we find ourselves averting our eyes at the sight of the discomfort of others, I believe, is the memory of the times we've been ground down, even if the event in question is nothing we've ever personally experienced. In short, when we pray for all sorts of conditions of humanity, we are praying for ourselves, because we feel the chafe, all the same.


Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

The Blessed Company of All Faithful People, Part II

by Donald Schell

My colleague Rick Fabian took a questioning hymn title, “Who are these like stars appearing?” to lay out the logic of St. Gregory’s messy blurring of the boundary of Christ’s Body and God’s work transforming humankind. And to the same end, I’m continuing a reflection on the startling descriptive phrase from the old Prayer Book and Rite I,

“The mystical Body of Christ, the blessed company of all faithful people”

In Part I of this piece, I spoke of the considerable joy I felt reading C.S. Lewis description of a last judgment scene in his Narnia series where Aslan welcomes Emeth, a vaguely Muslim-seeming “Calormene” into the community of blessing. Through his whole lifelong worship of the “dark” god Tash, Emeth had imagined Aslan was an enemy he feared and loathed. At the end Aslan explains to him, “I take to me the services which thou hast done to Tash... if any man swear by him and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

The passage is dense with contradiction. It’s a fictional moment of grace and reconciliation. It’s also a small piece of a broader picture that prompted fantasy writer Phillip Pullman to call C.S. Lewis, “blatantly racist.” The Calormene enemies of Aslan are darker skinned than the good folk of Narnia. Lewis described their clothing, weapons and architecture apparently drawing images from Turkish Islam. And, except for tiny instances like the one I mentioned, the Calormene are unrepentant in their war on Aslan, the Christ figure and have no place in Aslan’s final reconciliation and redemption.

I felt wonder and joy at Aslan’s welcome of Emeth because I’d grown up with teachers who emphasized that our choice for “personal knowledge of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior” would send us one by one to heaven or hell. Aslan’s acceptance of the Good Faith of Emeth’s flawed practice helped move me to become an Episcopalian. I didn’t want God’s embrace and welcome for me to come at the cost of countless people in distant times and places who “couldn’t know God.”

What moved me was Lewis’s assertion of something like Karl Rahner’s “Anonymous Christianity” which I discovered a decade or more later. In Rahner’s words -

Anonymous Christianity means that a person lives in the grace of God and attains salvation outside of explicitly constituted Christianity — Let us say, a Buddhist monk — who, because he follows his conscience, attains salvation and lives in the grace of God; of him I must say that he is an anonymous Christian; if not, I would have to presuppose that there is a genuine path to salvation that really attains that goal, but that simply has nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

“…a genuine path to salvation that really attains that goal, but that simply has nothing to do with Jesus Christ.”

In a world of hellfire preaching, compassion grasps for any and all hope for the salvation of those who don’t share our faith. I don’t think I knew any Buddhists when I was growing up in suburban California. I certainly didn’t know any Buddhist monks. So, at least in my U.S. West Coast experience, my 1950’s and 1960’s compassion was for people a distance away. At an earlier point it seemed like “everyone” went to church. As I started to notice that I had Jewish friends and I began wondering about their not confessing faith in Jesus. That’s where it came close to home. But I heard furlough talks and slide shows from the missionaries a lot and knew I didn’t want to carry the burden that God’s condemning someone to hell might be an article of “my faith.”

I don’t believe in hell anymore. When a younger evangelical like Rob Bell argues in Love Wins for an empty hell, I appreciate what he’s saying and admire the courage it takes him in his particular Christian context to say it, but my own faith and hope lie in a different direction. I’ve come to hope in a God who suffers with anyone experiencing hell in life, who blesses just and unjust alike, and who dies with the forgotten. Bell’s title, Love Wins, speaks much more immediately to me than his empty hell. I’m less and less interested in second guessing a last judgment and, hoping and trusting that love is indeed stronger than death, I’m still more interested day to day in finding the power and love of God present among us, like the African Gospel song that speaks one hope for present moment and whatever follows it - “God welcomes all, strangers and friends, God’s love is strong and it never ends.”

Just what do Episcopalians mean by “salvation?” A lot of different things, of course. I think salvation has little to do with “where we end up” and everything to do with God’s work reconciling us to each other and to God, moving closer to our embrace of one another in God now and forever.

Bishop Kilmer Myers retired just before I came to the diocese California. I met him a couple of times before I’d come back home and once after, and I know that people who loved him found him an inspiring, holy, and sometimes conflicted figure. I heard stories of storytelling conversations he carried on and sustained with Navajo healers that led them to baptism and of how he’d introduced Brazilian bishop Dom Helder Camara to the people of the diocese challenging rich donors he most counted on and loved. And in this context, I recall the story of a televised dialogue between Bishop Myers and Rinpoche Tartang Tulku, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher who founded Berkeley’s Nyingma Institute, just across San Francisco Bay from Grace Cathedral. They were having a warm, mutually appreciative conversation, until Tartang Tulku, somewhat regretfully, confronted Bishop Myers, “We can speak as friends, but I know that in the end your religion teaches you that it’s your duty to convert me.” Bishop Myers replied, “No. My faith teaches me to look into your eyes and see Christ.”

And that brings me back to Dancing Saints Icon where this pair of essays began.

We didn’t include Rumi, Abraham Heschel, Ella Fitzgerald, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Anne Frank, and the Kangxi Emperor with familiar saints like St. Paul, St. Francis, and St. Mary Magdalene to claim that all these good people were actually believers in Christ, whether they knew it or not. It wasn’t to celebrate them as ‘Anonymous Christians’ whose faith we understood better than they did. Rather we included them with others, some baptized believing Christians, some not, because we saw Christ in them in specific ways we hoped would challenge and inspire us to find him everywhere and in everyone.


The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

The Blessed Company of All Faithful People Part I

by Donald Schell

In May of 2009 Derek Olsen and I had a conversation at Daily Episcopalian at the Café about saints, here, here and here.

I began that conversation writing about the 3000 square foot Dancing Saints icon at St. Gregory’s Church, San Francisco. I want to invite readers back into that conversation now because we’ve just completed and posted a high-resolution photo tour of the icon on-line. Browsing the on-line photos and digging into the reasons we chose to celebrate each saint is the next best thing to visiting the icon.

But Derek and my conversation also got me thinking about what draws me personally to the messiness of universalism. In our conversation Derek made an appealingly clear distinction between moral goodness and sanctity. I see how very messy it is to impute holiness to people who don’t believe their goodness (whatever it might ultimately have to do with God or the Spirit) is inspired by the holiness of Christ. The Catholic priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal offers my favorite evidence of just how messy it becomes to look for God at work in everyone’s life in his meditation “Thirst” where he provocatively claims that anything anyone could possibly do comes from the love of God.

“The Body of Christ, the blessed company of all faithful people.”

The phrase is from Rite I and the old Prayer Book. My longest regular experience presiding at Rite I liturgy was a good while back, in the congregation I served in Idaho from 1976-1980. Since I moved to non-parochial ministry in 2006, I get asked to preside as a guest, filling in Sunday mornings when colleagues are away. And that’s gotten me to take a fresh look at Rite I.

As a young priest who’d seen how renewed liturgy could shape community, I suppose I regretted that the 1976 Proposed Book of Common Prayer had made the compromise of including the old language. But I could remind myself how refreshing and alive the 1928 BCP liturgy had seemed to me when I’d first left evangelicalism to begin attending Episcopal services.

Now I’m noticing how the language of the old liturgy is dense with affection – our trusting, loving appeal to God, and our steady evocation of God’s unfailing tender mercy toward us. Recently I was enjoyed leading a Rite I liturgy and exploring the old language freshly when we came to the post-communion prayer:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom. And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

I relished the quiet confidence of “the blessed company of all faithful people.” After liturgy I went back to re-read the prayer and reflected on my first encounter with Cranmer’s phrase and how excited I was at where he took it, “…that may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” It was among many things that contributed to my becoming an Episcopalian. I was grateful to discover a church blessing on the meaningfulness of ordinary human life and the breadth of human community.

The evangelical church I grew up in was a place where I felt strongly how people enjoyed and cared for one another in community. But I also heard a lot of preaching about ‘salvation’ energized and fired up with warnings of hell. More than one Sunday School teacher told us that the only reason God didn’t “rapture us” the moment we took Christ into our hearts was to keep us on earth to witness to others and save them from hell. And yes, I was one of those kids who had some terrifying moments of not finding people where I expected they’d be and immediately thinking the rapture had come and I’d been “left behind.”

“The blessed company of all faithful people.”

I felt again how that phrase heartened me. “Faithful” is such an ordinary English word, a word we’d readily use to describe someone’s loyalty to a friend. Seeing that a church could acknowledge God blessing all faithful people and claiming them as Christ’s Body astonished me. I was coming from Sunday School and youth group teaching that insisted that “liberals” who didn’t share our interpretations of Christian doctrine weren’t actually Christian, and that God despised good works done by those who “didn’t know Christ.”

That we might look forward to walking in ordinary “good works” that God had prepared for us was really good news. From my first encounter with the Episcopal Church, I felt exhilarated to hear a quiet version of Gospel that might actually include loving family, learning, music, and theater, or admiring the courage of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. and wanting to learn to live such faithful lives as they did in a well-lived Christian life.

“the Body of Christ which is the blessed company of all faithful people.”

I was already feeling the draw of the Episcopal Church when I read C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce. I welcomed how Lewis seemed to blur the border of heaven and hell, essentially giving the residents of hell an eternal opt-in for heaven if they were willing to face it. In college, after I’d started attending an Episcopal Church, I read Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and was elated that in the series’ eschatological Last Battle, Aslan, the lion figure of Christ, welcomes Emeth, a Calormene worshipper of the dark god Tash in a concluding last judgment scene saying, “I take to me the services which thou hast done to Tash... if any man swear by him and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

Elsewhere Lewis said, “I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ.”

At the time, I didn’t stumble over his Lewis’s condescension to “the inferior teachers they follow.” Now it troubles me enough to prompt a Part II follow-up to this piece.

Through college and seminary, I collected and cherished hints of God’s blurring boundaries and universalism’s embrace of humanity as I found them in Dostoyevsky, Irenaeus, and Julian of Norwich, and in Origen and Gregory of Nyssa.

Someone may object - if universalism claims God’s embrace of all is as certain as more generally acknowledged certainties like death and taxes, how can it be Good News?

This year I’ll be celebrating a 40th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, and among the practices and experience that have sustained and immeasurably enriched those forty years has been a pretty undifferentiated mix of

- lifelong study of music (piano and singing)
- a dozen years of fiction writing and earning an MFA in writing with a dozen mostly secular classmates,
- forty years of imperfect but ongoing practice of the Jesus Prayer,
- thirty years of Monday through Friday daily Aikido practice with secularists, Buddhists, Jews, a Muslim or two, and perhaps even some Christians,
- thirty-five years experience as a spiritual director including directing a handful of non-Christians,
- thirty-seven years of marriage (after a six year marriage that ended in divorce)
- and forty-one years of parenting that now includes building relationships with in-laws outside of church or Christian practice.

It has been spiritual practice in all those settings that has sustained me as a Christian and as a priest. Many who have traveled and practiced with me have been Christians, but many not, which brings me back to the icon and the joy of dancing with the St. Gregory’s congregation in the presence of this token of God’s holy ones whom Gregory of Nyssa first envisioned for us in his commentary on the psalms –

“Once there was a time when the whole rational creation formed a single dancing chorus looking upward to the one leader of this dance. And the harmony of motion that they learned from his law found its way into their dancing.”


The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

"Re-calc-u-lating"

By Maria Evans

"Silence has become God’s final defense against our idolatry. By limiting our speech, God gets some relief from our descriptive assaults. By hiding inside a veil of glory, God deflects our attempts at control by withdrawing into silence, knowing that nothing gets to us like the failure of our speech. When we run out of words, then and perhaps only then can God be God. When we have eaten our own words until we are sick of them, when nothing we can tell ourselves makes a dent in our hunger, when we are prepared to surrender the very Word that brought us into being in hopes of hearing it spoken again--then, at last, we are ready to worship God."

~Barbara Brown Taylor, from "When God is Silent"

One of the most basic, crucial parts of my job, in terms of what matters to the patient, are the words I speak into our dictating system that create the written record of the surgical pathology report. Until the moment my thoughts and impressions leave me and become words that can be shared, they are useless to the patient. Once spoken, dictated and signed, the patient and I have entered into a covenant. The patient has offered up a bit of flesh and I honor that by creating words that name it.

So you can imagine the office-wide consternation a little while back when my transcriptionist met me at the door with what I call the "Now, don't blow a gasket," look.

She took a deep breath and blurted out, "All your 'grosses' from yesterday are gone. They can't find them in the dictating system anywhere!" She was referring to what's known as the "gross dictation"--where I actually open the various biopsy and specimen containers, describe what's in them, state what is submitted for processing, to be turned into paraffin-embedded tissue blocks and, subsequently, slides for microscopic examination. We had been suffering massive computer woes in the office and the files of what I had dictated had disappeared from the server, beyond retrieval.

Needless to say, it was incredibly frustrating that words I've come to depend on, were suddenly absent.

One of the things we discover after we've grown in our Christian faith for some time, is that there will suddenly be a time that the words we've come to depend upon in the Bible, from the pulpit, and from each other in the gathered community, are also suddenly absent. Perhaps we've encountered a tragedy that has shaken our faith. Perhaps it is the departure of a rector whose homiletic skills hooked us in an authentic way to God. Perhaps our best friend in the parish died or moved away. Perhaps it's simply that little edgy gnawing that our prayers seem to be going nowhere and God is silent. We look up and realize the screen on our spiritual GPS is blank, and the little voice in it is going, "Recalculating...recalculating."

For most of us, our first reaction is panic, and all the subsequent actions that go with it--fight, fright, or flight. "Sit still and work with this" is generally NOT the action we take.

I know what I would probably be doing if that were my GPS. I'd be yelling at the little voice, for one thing. I would project that it was displeased or irritated with me. I would be calling it some rather foul names (I've been known to do that with my GPS)--and I'm pretty sure when it got absolutely intolerable, I'd grab it from its cradle and bang it up and down on the dash. But I also know I'd never have stopped the truck--I'd have kept on going in whatever direction I was headed and possibly be endangering other people with my multitasking. Not exactly the brightest move in the world, is it?

I would have been carrying on at how IT is not talking to ME, yet not hearing what it WAS saying to me..."Re-calculating," as it dug into its memory and got instructions from the satellites.

On the day I lost all my gross dictations, I had to re-create my "grosses," relying on my memory, coupled with what I could perceive from what I had available. Now, with the larger specimens, that's fairly easy--I could always go back to what's left of the actual specimen and do things like re-weigh, re-measure, and re-look. But with the smaller specimens--the small biopsies that were entirely submitted for processing--I could only look at the slides we made, and estimate the number of pieces and the size of them, which isn't entirely accurate. Tissue shrinks about 10-15% during processing. They are no longer the color they were at the time I saw them. I am trying to recall them in three dimensions based on a rather two-dimensional slide. I could only make my best guesses based on that and my memory, and the factual truth is that these re-created dictations are not as accurate, but luckily that level of accuracy is not all that germane to the diagnosis.

In short, once I signed the report, the "truth" about those gross descriptions was no longer their actual physical measurements and appearance of the tissue; it was the memory of them that went into the signed record and became the legal and medical truth.

Recalled truth--a truth forged from memory--has transformational power. In fact, we engage in such an exercise each time we celebrate the Eucharist. We hear in the Words of Institution, "Do this for the remembrance of me." The times we are spiritually dry or blank invite us to enter into an ever-growing collective memory that stems from the memory of the Last Supper and continues to expand each time the Eucharist is celebrated. We are not required to remember anything on our own--only to trust its own power to transform--and accept the revelations that emanate from it. Are we brave enough to sit still and let it re-calculate for us?


Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

The Spirit Journey Youth

by Kaze Gadway

“They’ll never bring money into the Church.” In the past eleven years, this is the main complaint about having a Native American youth program. Oh, and “They don’t know what to do in Church services. They whisper during the service.”

No matter. There are more Native youth in Episcopal Church services in Northern Arizona than I can transport. It is heartbreaking to tell a youth he or she can’t go to Church today because there is no room in the van.

This is not a youth group where parents go to church and someone takes care of the kids. We plan events and meet in houses or parks or a fast food place to gather as the People of God. The youth are from twelve years to twenty-four. All are from homes of poverty, violence, addiction and some level of abuse. Most have been incarcerated or are on probation. They live in the border towns of Holbrook, Winslow, Joseph City, and Sun Valley in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. We have created a short slang version of the Daily Office. We travel far to receive the Eucharist.

Several key events have shifted my understanding of being a lay youth minister with these promising youth who have made a place for themselves in the Church.

Once the youth are making Christmas decor for families when two of the Middle School youth begin arguing underneath the table. “I’m going to hell,” says one youth defiantly. “Everyone says so. I lie and talk back to my parents.”

“My mom says that I’m so bad that even hell won’t accept me,” replies the other youth.

I sit down on the floor near them and ask, “Why do you think you are going to hell?”

“God hates people like us,” is the simple response.

Until then I had not realized that the most common image of God is a god of harsh judgment and condemnation. Or that being a Christian meant having behaviors that let you fit into the dominant race.

We started visiting different Episcopal Churches that would not fling racial insults at them. It took a while before I realized that the youth evaluated each church not on the sermon, or the music or the liturgy but on the welcome they received.

“That was a good church,” says one of the youth.

“What makes it good?” I ask.

The answers they give have remained consistent over the years. “They really enjoyed passing the peace to us. No one turned away.” “They talked to me at the coffee hour like I was just a regular person and not a Native.” “They invited us back like they really wanted us there.”

Finding churches where the laity respond lovingly to youth who are a different culture is rare. It is more common for people to ask me why the youth fidget or sit off by themselves or don’t wear clean clothes to church. (They don’t realize the youth don’t have money for good clothes.)

My second learning is I was taught in my weekly visit to Juvenile Detention. I visit one of the youth in lock down. Guards had cut him down when he used his towel to hang himself. He almost died.

“What’s keeping you alive now?” I ask.

“Well, you know how you always begin prayers with me saying ‘God, this is your beloved son. He needs your help.’ I don’t know why, but I have started praying every night and morning by identifying myself the same way. It seems to help me not be so alone. And when you give me the consecrated bread, you always say that God is in this place and lives within me. I think that I am beginning to believe it. I thought that messing up would keep God away.”

My third learning when we began giving food and clothes to the homeless on a regular basis. One of the youth admitted that he finally understood what his grandmother taught him about respect. “She always said that as Natives, we respect everyone from the youngest to the eldest but I had a hard time looking at the homeless with respect. Everyone in town compares us to the homeless who beg for money, who don’t do anything and who don’t seem to like themselves. I think when you asked them to pray for us, I began to realize that they are my relatives. I feel like I am doing God’s work and honoring my ancestors at the same time.”

My fourth learning is on change. Some youth are still into drugs and violence. Some are in college or have a steady job. What has made the difference? I ask some of the young adults how they changed.

One young man told me this story. “I remember when I thought that God wasn’t for me. Then on our mission trip we were playing in the ocean. We were all laughing so hard about being knocked down by the waves and getting up with salt in our eyes and mouths. I stood up and it was like all the joy in the world came flooding into me. I felt whole. You tell us that forgiveness is a done deal when we turn to God. And that where God is found, there is holy ground. Standing in the ocean, I started shouting ‘Thank you God. The other kids starting yelling with me. People looked at us like we were crazy. But it was real.”

That’s it. That’s how you get youth on a spirit journey. Transformation is the name of the game. The laity they encounter in and out of church are the key. The journey begins by their being welcomed and cherished for who they are. They learn that God is just a prayer away. They can be God’s hands and feet and find wholeness. They can recognize the holy in their lives.

One more thing. I watch these young men and women be acolytes, respond to those who are hurt, comfort the bruised in spirit, and stay up all night with those who want to die. Being blessed they share blessings with others. They are already emerging leaders of the Episcopal Church. Now they need to be recognized.

It will require imagination to keep up with what God is doing in the lives of these young people. That is the holy work required of us.

Kaze Gadway has worked with the emerging leaders of the Episcopal Church within the Native American community of Northern Arizona as a volunteer for eleven years. They are youth of promise from ages twelve to twenty-four. The Spirit Journey Youth is an outreach program of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona with forty young people. She is on Facebook and blogs at infaith's posterous

(ed. note: A poem by Jeremy Blackwater of Spirit Journey Youth was featured on the Art Blog)

Episcopal Church 101: how do we tell our story?

by Bill Carroll

Note: The following is a brief attempt to tell the history of the Episcopal Church in a relatively non-partisan way (but with a distinct perspective that I don’t presume is shared by all). We include this in our welcome packet at the parish I serve. I’m offering it for the sake of starting a discussion about how we tell our story. What would you change if you had to tell our story in a brief way? What would you add or subtract? I should note that this is part of a bigger packet. There is, for example, another pamphlet that talks about “full and equal welcome.”

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
--Book of Common Prayer, p. 125

In many ways, the Episcopal Church can be viewed as the heir to the English Reformation in the United States and several other countries of the Western Hemisphere. Among churches emerging out of the sixteenth-century reformations, the Church of England was distinctive in several respects. Unlike Protestant churches on the continent, the English Reformation resulted in a fundamentally political (rather than doctrinal) separation from Rome and its bishop, the pope. More than most other churches, it retained the sacraments, traditions, and governance of the medieval Church, and it saw itself as both Catholic and Reformed.

Some chose to emphasize one aspect of this heritage over the other, but tensions between different factions in the Church were resolved by royal supremacy. In the so called Elizabethan settlement, it was also agreed that different points of view would co-exist within a single church with agreement about the historic Creeds and a common liturgy, embodied in the Book of Common Prayer. One great apologist for this way of being Christian, John Jewel, argued that the Church of England intended to preserve the faith and practice of the undivided Church. Another, Richard Hooker, argued against the Puritan party that the Church of England would be governed by Scripture, tradition, and reason rather than by Scripture alone.

After the American Revolution of 1776, the Episcopal Church became self-governing, no longer subject to the Crown. With help from the Scottish nonjurors (bishops so called because they had refused an oath of allegiance to the monarch) and eventually the Archbishop of Canterbury, bishops were ordained for service in the new world. The Church was also organized with a Constitution that provided for substantial roles for lay people and clergy other than bishops in the governance of the Church. Every three years, the General Convention meets to set policy for the Church. It is a bicameral legislature, with a house of clerical and lay deputies and a house of bishops. Similarly, each diocese is governed by a diocesan convention, which passes canons (church laws) and resolutions (statements of policy) and elects officers to assist the bishop in the governance of the local church. Unlike some Protestant denominations, in the Episcopal Church, the diocese is the fundamental unit of organization, and the bishop is the chief pastor for all Episcopalians in that diocese. We believe that bishops are successors to the apostles, charged with overseeing the whole Church, coordinating its mission, and preserving the eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our diocese, Southern Ohio, includes 82 congregations and about 25,000 people. At the local level, laypeople also participate in Church governance through the vestry, or governing board, and through the annual parish meeting, which elects vestry members and some of the officers of the congregation.

The Church of England did missionary work throughout the British Empire. Beginning in the nineteenth century, bishops from churches established by the British, some of them in former colonies and others still part of the Empire, began to meet to discuss matters of mutual concern. Today, the churches that meet together in this way comprise the Anglican Communion, the third largest Christian body in the world, with roughly 80 million members. Churches in the Anglican Communion are autonomous, fully self-governing, but they do cooperate in mission and seek to come to a common mind on questions of Christian teaching. In recent years, tensions have arisen in the Anglican Communion over different attitudes toward the role of women in the Church and society, and the attitudes of the Church toward LGBT persons. It remains an open question how these tensions will be resolved in a postcolonial age.

From our Anglican heritage, the Episcopal Church has received a habit of encouraging conscientious disagreement within a culture of civility and a framework of Common Prayer. We do not always agree about everything, but we come to the Lord’s Table together. The Episcopal Church is incredibly diverse. It includes all political parties, most theological persuasions, and just about every point of view. We do take stands on matters of public policy and have a strong tradition of advocacy for social justice, but we also try to provide room for those who disagree.

Our fundamental traditions are a generous orthodoxy, rooted in the Holy Scriptures and the historic, ecumenical creeds, and a Christian humanism that is open to all truth, wherever it may be found. We encourage respectful criticism and a variety of interpretations of the traditions we cherish and love. Our Church has proven remarkably open to such developments as the theory of evolution and historical criticism of the Bible. Still, we try to preserve a faithful witness to Jesus Christ, which is both open to mystery and responsible to the testimony of our brothers and sisters in other times and places.

Our hope is summarized in the words of a prayer we offer together at Daily Evening Prayer, that “in companionship with one another, [God’s] abounding grace may increase among us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. His parish blog is at here

Anemia

by Maria L. Evans

My heart is pounding, my strength has failed me,
And the brightness of my eyes is gone from me. ~Psalm 38:10 (BCP)

Psalm 38 seems to be one I hear in my parish's Morning Prayer service each Wednesday more than most. For some reason, as the Daily Office works its way through the Psalter, Psalm 38 often falls on a Wednesday. The main reason I notice is because I'm always on the lookout for verse 6--"I am utterly bowed down and prostrate..."--if I'm the least bit sleepy or distracted, I slip and say prostate instead of prostrate...and when I hear verse 10, I almost invariably think, "Hmmm. Sounds like anemia to me."

One of the constant medical truisms I try to pound into medical student, intern, and resident heads is that even though anemia has a diagnosis code in coding and billing systems, anemia is not a "diagnosis" in the true sense of the word. Anemia is a symptom. When we encounter anemia in patient, it's important to remember that it's a symptom of something else gone wrong, and try to figure out its underlying cause. Is someone anemic from iron, Vitamin B12, or folate deficiency? Is there a gastrointestinal bleed? Is the patient elderly and chronically ill, with an ever-dwindling functional bone marrow, simply because our functional bone marrow is replaced by fat as we age?

The other thing about anemia--particularly the more chronic, insidious forms of it--is when someone is chronically anemic, their body adjusts to some degree to the decreased oxygen-carrying capacity of the red blood cells. Chronically anemic people "get along just fine" if they live a sedentary life, at hemoglobin levels that would leave most of us dead dog tired and feeling terribly run-down. They don't even notice they are becoming more anemic until it is so severe they are short of breath and their heart rate is increased--and then they often think something more terrible is wrong.

I know there are two particular times in the liturgical year where I am prone to being spiritually anemic. One is in Time After Epiphany, and the other is in that draggy time of what I call "The long green season"--the tail end of Time After Pentecost.

For me, the first one is more of an acute anemia--like that caused by blood loss--where I think all the waiting of Advent, followed by hubbub and hoopla of Christmas and Epiphany, pitches me into a place where I know I'm tired, and need a nap, and I spiritually crash and snooze. A lot of times, I'll drop or get lazy about a spiritual practice. This scared me at first. I was afraid I'd drop a practice and then just push it aside. But over time, and with the work of a good spiritual director, I had this put in perspective. Just as I used to crash and sleep for hours post-call in the days of my clinical training, I have come to realize that's just a "post season" thing. It's a fact humans eat when they're hungry and sleep when they're tired, and relieve themselves when their bladders and colons are full. We probably do these things in our relationship with God, too. Lent becomes a time I "get back in spiritual shape."

The second one--that tail end of the "long green season"--for me is more of a chronic anemia. I have slowly "adjusted" into minimally unhealthy thoughts and occasionally find myself "zoning" through my prayer time and Scripture reading. I don't mean "zoning" like when I am in the deep prayer place--it's more like "I'm sleeping standing up." That is a type of anemia where it's dangerous for me to just think I'll nap and get over it on my own. I have come to learn that is the time I most need the interactions with my faith community, and need others to inspire and buoy me (and occasionally kick me in the shin and yell, "WAKE UP!")

The fact is, every person of faith goes through anemic times. Perhaps they cycle with the church year, as mine seem to do, or they are more insidious dry or plateau-type segments in our lives. It's important to understand that this is part of the cyclic nature of life, and not a failing or a pathology on our part. Anemia is not always a sign of loss or "drainage," or "deficiency." After all, people get anemic when they're pregnant, too.

It's more important to see anemia as an invitation to spiritual self-awareness, and to consider what we need to do (or not do!) when it comes upon us. It also begs the reverse question--when we are feeling spiritually robust, how are we available when someone else feels spiritually anemic? Are you called to be the transfusion someone else needs?


Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Non-negotiable

by Derek Olsen

As part of his year-end round-up, our beloved editor Jim Naughton threw down a gauntlet concerning the types of stories and discussions that he’d like to see around the Café in the coming year:

My sense, increasingly, is that these type of stories need to take a backseat to stories that point a way forward. The popularity (#10) of that small item about the decline in membership in our church, and the interest sparked by Bishop Budde's willingness to look mainline decline in the eye and talk about how the church should respond, give me some hope that the attention of our church is shifting, and that perhaps, however gradually given that we are an all volunteer operation that depends heavily on aggregated items, the attention of the Cafe can shift a bit as well. The greatest danger facing our church has less to do with its stand on LGBT issues than with its quickly diminishing capacity to witness effectively on behalf of the Gospel.

I am hoping we can pay some attention to the simple issue of survival in the year ahead.


In response, then, I’d like to offer my first of probably several reflections by way of picking up that gauntlet. This response is further informed by a later discussion that was entitled “In renewing the Episcopal Church , what exactly is up for grabs?” I’m going to focus on what is not up for grabs, from my perspective, and why it’s not up for grabs.

To begin properly, we must acknowledge the kinds of problems that face us. Our membership is declining. What remains of our membership tends to be aging. Our children leave the church when they head off to college (or before) and, at the traditional time for coming back—when they start a family and have kids—they’re not coming back. (I’ve heard the birth-rate arguments and I don’t buy them; it doesn’t matter how many children we have if they don’t attend our churches…)

Membership issues are exacerbating budget issues. Giving is down. When members of younger generations do join and do give, it’s often substantially less both dollar-wise and percentage-wise from what the previous generations gave. As a result, the parishes that have endowments are drawing from the principal not the interest and the bequeathed funds are being drained dry. In dioceses like mine where we have historic buildings, the buildings require more and more money to repair. If repairs are put off—guess what?—the maintenance problems get worse and more expensive.

Churches aren’t the only ones having budget issues—so are clergy. As church budgets get squeezed, so too do clergy salaries. Most churches have gotten rid of their rectories, and for the ones that have retained clergy housing, the housing itself further complicates the maintenance expenditure picture. This means that housing costs must be paid to the clergy too, further stretching budgets. But most people graduating from seminary are saddled with increasing amounts of debt. They’ve got to be able to eat, feed and clothe their families—and pay back student debt. And, no, expecting the clergy spouse to bear the full burden (or slashing the clergy health benefits because the spouse has some [that they usually have to pay for]) doesn’t cut it either and only fuels the already high rate of clergy divorce. Increasingly, I hear two answers floated to ease the burden: part-time clergy and bi-vocational clergy. Both of these may be options for some congregations. Heck, it works for a lot of Methodist and Baptist parishes I know—but those churches are also used to this kind of arrangement; the parish doesn’t already have a set of expectations geared towards full-time clergy—as most of our parishes do.

So—what do we do? What sort of tentative half-measures do we take, or, alternatively, what sort of wacky out-of-the-box solutions do we throw ourselves towards? What should we do? Or, what shouldn’t we do?

For me, from my perspective, there’s one thing that’s completely off the table. If we want to renew and strengthen the Episcopal Church in light of these very real challenges that are facing us, then the one thing that we dare not mess with is our commitment to the contents and spirit of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

I know, I can hear some of you already: just another attempt to put our heads in the sand and “worship the worship.” That would indeed be a worthy charge—if we were a set of local social services agencies, or a set of local political action committees. Those groups have no need of worship; it’s not their key function. But we’re a church. Care and attention to how, when, and why we worship isn’t just “worshiping the worship”, it’s connecting with our primary function from which all of our other functions flow. That having been said, I want to attend to three areas in particular.

First, many of our people know the Book of Common Prayer as the book that our Sunday services come from. I’ll challenge this mindset in a moment, but this much at least ought to be the case. The Sunday services that Episcopalians experience should be common because they should proceed in common from the Book of Common Prayer. Whether it ought to be or not, Sunday morning is our main scheduled moment in the cultural eye. Deciding to monkey with the services in order to appear relevant doesn’t look relevant, it looks desperate. While I realize that the reverend clergyperson might have had a flash of insight on Thursday night that involves changing everything around to make some point about something going on in the news or culture, consider that not everyone else might share or appreciate that insight. Consider that the couple on the brink of divorce or the mother who just heard of the death of a neighbor’s son, might not be feeling your whimsy at the moment. We have enough things in our life and daily surroundings that change on a constant basis. Click over to the CNN website and the stories will be different from what was there just 5 minutes ago.

We need some constants too.

One of the most consistent and enduring images of God in the Psalms is the rock. What if our church could witness to that aspect of who God is by at least providing the stability of common prayer?

I’m not saying the book is perfect. There are certainly some things that I’d change if I had the chance. But recognize this: 1) it is an authentic expression of the historic Western liturgy that has nourished literally millions who have come before us. 2) It is an authentic expression of the English devotional experience. (The importance of this is not that it’s English, of course, but that it is a rooted, embodied, inherited tradition that has been embraced and passed on by a diverse group over a period of centuries—not just dreamed up by a few people last week.) 3) It is an authentic expression of historic Anglican liturgy that balances reform of Western norms with Scripture and the theological and spiritual practices of the Early Church. That’s actually quite a lot of things going for it—and it’s more things than would be going for most services either you or I would dream up.

Most people I know don’t go to church on Sunday morning to experience the rector’s latest exciting innovation; they go to church because they hope to experience God and to get a concrete sense of what it means to live out love of God and love of neighbor. Using the book doesn’t guarantee any of this, but it is a big step in the right direction.

Frankly, I don’t care if you’re “into” Quaker spirituality and so want to cut out some of the prescribed prayers and have us sit in silence then; I’m “into” Anglican spirituality, and I’d appreciate it if you did what the book says to do. Perhaps I’m a little touchy on this topic, but I’ve seen too many places where Sunday morning deviations from the book are about the rector inflicting the twists and turns of their own spiritual journey on the congregation. If we want to get serious about being the Episcopal Church then I suggest we would do well to get serious about our core messages and principles and—by canon as well as plain ol’ good sense—these are in the book. As a layperson, I see the book as a contract. It may not be exactly what I want, but it’s an agreed-upon corpus of embodied theology that we have all given assent to. I promise to use the book, and I expect that the clergy will do the same. This is a benefit that we offer those who come seeking—a place of stability in a culture that desperately needs it.

Second, (this is perhaps my most important point) the Book of Common Prayer isn’t just the book for Sunday services. Instead, the Book of Common Prayer offers a full integrated spiritual system that is intended as much for the laity as the clergy and which is founded in a lay spirituality that arose in the medieval period. If you look at the book as a whole, it offers a program for Christian growth built around liturgical spirituality. The best shorthand I have for this is the liturgical round. It’s made up of three components: the liturgical calendar where we reflect upon our central mysteries through the various lenses of the seasons of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and in his continuing witness in the lives of the saints, the Daily Office where we yearly immerse ourselves in the Scriptures and Psalms, and the Holy Eucharist where we gather on Holy Days to most perfectly embody the Body of Christ and receive the graces that the sacraments afford.

So—here’s why this is important and the meat of how it relates to the issue at hand. The purpose of any spiritual system is to bring the practitioner and their community into a deeper relationship with God—to create a family of mature Christians. Through their increasing awareness of who God is, how much God loves them and all of creation, they translate that love they have been shown into concrete acts of love and mercy in the world around them. There are several different strategies that different spiritual systems use to accomplish this. One of the classic ones—referred to in St Paul’s direction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17)—is the recollection of God. The idea here is that if we can continually keep in mind the goodness of God, the constant presence of God, and an awareness of the mighty works of God on behalf of us and others, that we will more naturally and more completely act in accordance with God’s will and ways. Continual recollection is nearly impossible, but there are methods to help us in this habit.

A primary goal of liturgical spirituality is to create a disciplined recollection of God. Thus, if we specifically pause at central points of time—morning and evening; noon and night; Sundays and other Holy Days—to reorient ourselves towards God and the mighty acts of God, whether recalled to us through the Scriptures or experienced by us through direct encounters with the sacraments, then this discipline will lead us towards a habitual recollection of God.

In the liturgical round, the Book of Common Prayer gives us specific moments to stop and orient our time and ourselves around the recollection of God. As a result, one of the most important parts of the book is the Daily Office section that provides forms for prayer at morning, noon, evening and night. These prayer offices are our fundamental tool for disciplined recollection; they provide the foundation for our spiritual practice. This foundation, then, is punctuated by the Eucharist on Holy Days (at the least). And, conceptually, this is how we should view Sundays—not the day of the week on which we go to church—but as a Holy Day which recurs on a weekly basis.

While this sounds all awfully churchy it’s actually not. Indeed, this liturgical structure was mediated into the prayer-book tradition by a spiritual devotion for the laity. The idea of the Daily Office was originally a regular communal practice. By the end of the 4th century, it was transitioning into a monastic practice and began to be less of a feature in lay life. By the medieval period, it was expected that the laity would be at Matins and Vespers—as well as Mass—on Holy Days. With the rise of lay literacy in the High Medieval period though, came the Books of Hours. These were the central devotional books used by laypeople (men and women alike) and they contained a cycle of offices that followed the basic structure of the monastic and priestly breviaries but with reduced psalmody and no seasonal variations. On the eve of and during the English Reformation, the Latin Books of Hours and the English-language prymers held an important place in the devotional lives of upper- and middle-class lay Christians who prayed these several Offices on a daily basis. The Daily Offices that appeared in the initial 1549 Book of Common Prayer—and in every book subsequent—are equally derived from these lay prymers as well as the Sarum breviaries.

Just as the prymers informed the faith of the laity before the Reformation, so the Offices inform the faith of the laity (and clergy) now. Much of the talk I’ve heard about how effective or energetic a parish is seems oddly institutional. That is, the discussions seem to focus on what sort of programs are run out of the building, what sort of activities the institution supports. But that’s only part of the story. The other part that is harder to quantify yet no less important is how the faith is filtering into the everyday lives of the people in the parish. When the strengthening effects of the sacraments, when daily recollections of God impel a person to stand up against questionable business practices in the office or against a bully in the schoolyard, the Gospel is being lived entirely apart from what programs are housed in the church edifice.

What’s more, recollection is more accessible than just marking whether you showed up to church or not, prayed the Office or not. Our parishes have an important role here. What if someone has a real job and can’t make it to church when a service is being had? The fact that the parish is having a service, that members of the congregation are gathering in prayer or for the sacraments, is itself a recollective witness. If the people prevented—by whatever cause—from coming can but remember that a service is occurring, that prayer and praise are taking part, that they are connected to the act through the spiritual community that binds the parish together, then recollection has occurred; the parish is doing its work. And it doesn’t just serve for congregants either. A church with open doors and posted services serves as a recollective witness to anyone passing by, whether it’s their spiritual home or not. They are reminded—wherever they happen to be on their spiritual journey—that here are people who are remembering God and his redeeming love in the world. Who knows what the impact of that may be? Who knows when they might not walk past and instead walk in.

For me, this is where the church lives or dies. Are we forming communities that embody the love of God and neighbor in concrete actions? Not just in what programs the institution is supporting, but are we feeding regular lives with a spirituality that not only sustains them but leads them into God’s work in a thousand different contexts in no way related to a church structure? Are our parishes witnessing to their members and to the wider community in their acts of corporate prayer for the whole even when the whole cannot be physically there? Therefore this is why, when we worry about the fate of the church, my answer will be a call for more liturgy. Not because I like to worship the worship, but because of the well-worn path to discipleship found in the disciplined recollection of God that the liturgy offers.

My firm belief is that if membership is a problem, our best move is to head for spiritual revitalization. People who are being spiritually fed, challenged, and affirmed by their church will be more likely to show it, to talk about it, and to invite their friends and neighbors to come and see it for themselves. This won’t—it can’t—fix all situations, but even if it doesn’t, spiritual revitalization is what the Church is called to be about.

Third, the Book of Common Prayer sketches the fundamental roles of the four orders of ministry. The laity form the great body of the church, and are called to witness to our faith and practice in the various spaces and places where they find themselves. Bishops are set as overseers to guard the faith of the church and to care for the clergy entrusted to them. The priests are set apart to preach and to administer the sacraments and to give the spiritual and emotional care to communities that are part and parcel of the preaching and sacramental experiences. Deacons are called to serve the bishops and to spearhead the church’s works of mercy.

These roles—identified in Scripture, coded in our tradition, ratified in our prayer book—are not negotiable.

What is negotiable is how we train them and support them.

Will part-time and bi-vocational clergy be the future of our church? I don’t know. But I certainly suspect they will. That means change—and a lot of it. Episcopal congregations have expectations of their clergy; expectations that need to be severely checked if this does turn out to be the new normal. Plenty of churches have gone down this road before. In many of the Methodist and Baptist churches of my acquaintance these realities are the norm, not the exception. But the congregations also have a different expectation of what their clergy will do for them and how they will be present for them.

We don’t need to clergy to lead the Offices for us. We laity can do that ourselves whether corporately or alone. But we do need priests for the Eucharist. We do need bishops for Confirmations and Ordinations. Must these be paid full-time positions? Well—that’s part of the negotiation that needs to happen. The roles themselves, however, are not negotiable.

So, that’s how I see it. As we consider the future of the Episcopal Church, we must do so with a sense of where we’ve come from, where we wish to go and how to keep our experience of and witness to the Triune God at front and center of our efforts. For my part, I find that in the spiritual system of our Book of Common Prayer, in the common prayers agreed upon there, and in the structure of the church that we have received. Let’s think things over, let’s shake things up, but let’s make sure that what’s left at the end of the day never loses sight of the spiritual priorities that drive everything else that we do.

Dr. Derek Olsen has a Ph.D. in New Testament and Homiletics at Emory University. Currently serving as Theologian-in-Residence at the Church of the Advent, Baltimore, he leads quiet days and is a speaker to clergy groups. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics. A layman working in the IT field, Derek created and maintains the online Daily Office site The St. Bede's Breviary. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Amanuensis and community

by Maria L. Evans

“There were times when I was amazed by my own boldness in expressing my views about the novel, and still more amazed by the indulgence with which a brilliant writer used to listen to these almost childish remarks and opinions.”
--Anna Grigorievna, transcriptionist for Dostoevsky's book The Gambler, from her Reminiscences

Not long ago, I began to realize in a new way that "Dictation and transcription" is fast becoming a lost art.

I'm pretty spoiled in my little office. I have a transcriptionist who has been translating spoken ruminations from behind microscopes into surgical pathology reports for over 40 years. Really, she knows what I say, and how I say it on the most common types of specimens, that on occasion she will stick her head in my office and go, "You said such-and-such on that skin lesion you dictated but when I heard the description, didn't you mean this-and-that?" and most often she is right. She and I also both have the skill of starting to read through an old report and, before we get to the signature line, know which pathologist signed out the case--even when it's an old case done by my former associates. We have both worked so long paying attention to what folks say and how they say it, we know things between the lines. I can go back through one of my present associate's reports and tell if she is feeling hesitant or edgy about a diagnosis. She can tell the same with me. There's an odd little intimacy in how we speak words for the world that betray bits and pieces of ourselves.

Modern voice recognition software, and transcriptionist work outsourced to transcription pools in India, is changing this into a less intimate production in some ways. Yet I can see a trend moving back to a few old things in communications in general--the business of speaking our words rather than keying or writing them.

Many of the memoirs penned until the invention of the typewriter were not penned at all--they were spoken to scribes. I even discovered a great term from antiquity for this function--amanuensis--from the Latin servus a manu, literally, "Slave at hand." The slave was literally supposed to write exactly what was said. I suppose, ideally, the slave was supposed to do this with no input, but my guess is it was more what Grigorievna described--or what my own transcriptionist does--stop and go, "Say WHAT?" I am sure a good amanuensis created a layer of community and accountability to the speaker. It might also surprise us that many cultures at the time of the Bible used female slaves as scribes. We tend to think of women of that time as largely unable to read and write, but for slave women, this was a pretty good job, I imagine, and it brings an interesting possibility to light--that some slave women became more educated via osmosis of their job description than the more privileged or "free" ones. The relationship they had with the person doing the dictating would possibly have been a position of influence.

Now, our modern permutation of this, via things like Dragon Dictation for the iPhone, doesn't do this (well, it does excise the curse words...) but it does bring back an old, almost lost distinction in communication--the notion that what communication that springs from our mouths is different than what comes from our hands.

What the modern permutation lacks, however, is what I'm going to call "the amanuensic process." Things like Dragon Dictation only have a twice-removed human layer in which the programmer worked on certain assumptions that may not be true in an individual case.

It dawned on me that when we read or study the Bible, we don't really consider the amanuensic process of how it came to be, very much. We also tend to forget that these stories were told to each other multiple times before anyone bothered to write them down. I think many of us have this notion that these words shot out of God's mouth into the author's ears and they were transcribed verbatim (in King James English, of course.) Even if we don't really believe that, it's a pervasive mindset that these were a series of solitary inspirations.

Thinking about the amanuensic process of how the Bible came to be, really opens up an interesting door in how we understand it. It means that from its very beginnings, this set of books that we come to regard as the heart, soul, and backbone of our faith, were forged in relationship with each other, even if these relationships carried a power differential. It also raises the reality that these relationships weren't perfect--I am almost certain there are probably spots in the Bible that are the equivalent of Celie spitting in Old Mister's lemonade from The Color Purple. But I'm just as certain that there are places where the "good scribe" looked up and said, "Are you SURE you want to say it like THAT?" and a discussion ensued, that made those words more understandable.

Could it be that, as we begin to return to the idea of speaking our words to the electronic scribes in our smartphones, that we are going to become more attuned to the relationships that created the words of the Bible? Could it be that this notion was the part of the Bible we were supposed to understand more fully rather than quibble about the words themselves? It's an interesting proposition, isn't it?


Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Treasures in earthen vessels

by George Clifford

Paul wrote in II Corinthians, “… we have this treasure in clay jars.” The context supports the common interpretation that clay jars connotes the human body. However, the context, written in the plural first person, also permits understanding clay jars as a metaphor for the Church, the body of Christ.

What treasure do the Episcopal Church’s clay jars contain? And what are the Episcopal Church’s clay jars?

Unlike some doomsayers who predict inevitable demise, I remain convinced that the Episcopal Church has treasure that the much of the rest of the world needs and wants.

The Book of Common Prayer is obviously not our treasure. We have revised the Prayer Book several times during the last two centuries and will surely do so again. Nor is our treasure the Bible, not even the King James Version, now badly dated. And our treasure is certainly not our polity, with its complicated governance structures and bureaucratic procedures filled with checks and balances.

Our treasure is relational and experiential, relationships with God, God's people, and creation experienced in the light of God's grace and love. We proclaim a message of radical hospitality that welcomes everybody; following Jesus, we seek to incarnate sacrificial love and work to bring life to a dying world (food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, healing to the sick, etc.). We also place distinctive emphases on pastoral care, diversity, and ambiguity.

Everything else, no matter how cherished, is a clay jar, useful only as an earthen vessel for a heavenly treasure. Unlike many treasures, the more we share this treasure, the more it increases (remember Jesus’ parables about yeast, mustard seeds, and faithful stewards).

The lack of comment in response to my last two posts at the Daily Episcopalian (Rethinking Episcopal Church Structure Part 1 and Part 2) disappointed but did not surprise me. Two of the three comments concurred that building relationships was more important than any business transacted at General Convention (one deputy wanted to maintain the status quo to preserve the opportunity to cultivate those relationships). The third comment was from an appointed missionary, who defended the importance of international missionaries representing the national church (even if a congregation, diocese, or province provided the funding, the national church could still appoint all international missionaries).

The proposals I offered (transacting national church business electronically, devolving many national programs to provinces, dioceses, or congregations, and creating a regular, church-wide mega-gathering of 50,000 or more Episcopalians) are not ukases. My proposals may even be completely unhelpful. However, merely updating structure (e.g., Bishop Sauls’ proposals), even if it achieves a major reduction in the percentage of income spent on governance and administrative costs (e.g., from 50% to 20%), will not revitalize the Church and reverse its numerical decline. His proposals, which are gathering some support (e.g., from the dioceses of Iowa and Oregon), at best, will retard the rate of decline. This may delay the inevitable or, God willing, allow the Church to replace its timeworn clay jars with new ones better suited to the twenty-first century.

The Episcopal Church needs a structure that is inexpensive to maintain/operate, engages a substantial portion of the Church (not just a couple of dozen people per diocese), and, most importantly, flexibly focuses on ministry and mission rather than institutional maintenance. My goal in proposing a radically revised Church structure was to ignite a conversation within the Church that would lead to genuine reform, breaking old clay jars and replacing them with new ones, jars better suited to our flattened and electronically connected world.

Too often, individuals and organizations prefer focusing on smaller, tactical questions (e.g., who appoints missionaries) than addressing broad, strategic questions. The Episcopal Church is plainly in numerical decline. Even as our physical bodies wear out, so do the clay jars of Church structure. If continuing business as usual – preserving the clay jars of our polity – could reverse the decline, the decline would have ended before now. Assuredly, we, individually and collectively, are not committed to ecclesial decline. Therefore, the difficult conversation about how we replace our clay jars to make our treasure more accessible to more people is our most urgent imperative – if the Episcopal Church is ever again to be a vital, vibrant, and growing part of the body of Christ.


George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

Behold, I stand at the door and knock

Tricia Gates Brown

Celebrants press wall-to-wall into houses where we gather, forty to sixty people, grandparents to infants, night after night reciting the prayers and singing the songs of Las Posadas. Steamy windows emanate light into winter’s deepest dark. Posadas (translated literally as “lodgings”) take place for nine nights, from December 16 through Christmas Eve, and reenact Mary and Joseph’s attempt to find lodging in Bethlehem. The tradition, over four hundred years old, originated in Spain and was carried to Mexico. The uniquely Mexican version seems to have started in 1538, when Spanish friars intent on assimilating the faith with Aztec rites, combined posadas with the nine-night winter ritual of imploring the sun god’s return. Mexicans still celebrate posadas, enlivening them with balloons and papel picado, and the shrieking of children as candy erupts from handmade piñatas.

On foggy and chilled Oregon coast nights, in the homes of immigrants who work mainly for dairies among the cows and hay of our nativities, who struggle to find open doors at banks, at college departments of financial aid and dental offices, at the Department of Motor Vehicles, we await the advent of Jesus, the one with no place to call home. I stand shoulder to shoulder with my Mexican friends in their rented houses that have seen better days, that sleep several children to a bedroom and boast a shrine of mother Mary displayed in her Guadalupe form, surrounded by frolics of icons, plastic decorations, Christmas tree and lights. I step outside and sing along with the “posada song”, pretending to be Mary and Joseph at the door of the inn (or on other nights, the innkeeper, roused from his sleep and ill-tempered). And as each night passes, I begin to understand a part of the Christian story I have previously not understood. Mary and Joseph were like these Mexican immigrants, and I, standing there in my invisible cloak of white privilege, will find it harder to know them.

Mary and Joseph were Galilean. And the people from Galilee were belittled in Bethlehem and throughout Judea. In a reversal of geography, they were the disregarded neighbors from the backwater north, the presumed uncouth and superstitious and freeloading and rebellious and lazy. Down in Judea where they went to pay taxes, they were often shut out as a matter of course. Galileans were stereotyped by Judeans as lawbreakers because of their reputation for bucking the status quo. Galilee was a renegade land that tended to spawn messianic figures who gathered peasants into movements awaiting the coming of the Lord, a new day of fairness. These movements, started by leaders like “the Egyptian,” or “Judas the Galilean,” were historically successful. That is, until the Romans got miffed and sent riot police to disband or kill them or paramilitary troops to intimidate them, or turned on them their own client kings like Herod Antipas, who lived luxuriously by wiling away the wealth of his subjects, sending them to border towns to pay their dues.

In some ways the term “Galilean” was used in Jesus’ day to simply mean an outsider, especially of the political sort. Galilee was a center of economic protest, where the Messiah named Jesus would wax prophetically on wealth and the sharing of it, on how the rich couldn’t make it into heaven any more than they could make it through the eye of a needle, or the Rio Grande, or a few days in the Arizona desert. In his last years, Jesus’ friends and audience were Galilean fisher-folk, and in the Roman Empire, dwelt at the bottom of the labor pool. In the words of Cicero, quoting the well-bred Terence: “The most shameful occupations are those which cater to our sensual pleasures: ‘fish-sellers, butchers, cooks, poultry-raisers, and fishermen’” (Cicero, On Duties 1.42). In our day, Cicero might have added hotel cleaners, line cooks, gardeners, vineyard or dairy laborers, makers of Versace denim jeans.

At posadas, we are reminded by word and ritual that God chose an indigent, young Galilean girl, “Alegría, alegría!” We pray for the immigrants facing deportation, for the women with back pain and diabetes, who need strength to rise each day and make two dozen beds. We pray for the children, for the church and its message of good news. We pray for the high school students fighting for a chance at a dream. We pray to live lives that are generous and just.

The litany, prayers and songs culminate in a meal, a feast of hospitality that night by night includes carnitas, tacos, Mexican barbequed chicken, tamales, saucy burritos, pozole, or taquitos, always accompanied by rice and beans and a prismatic display of salsas. After dinner, children swing at brilliant piñatas.

For reasons unknown, the children flock to me and my husband, throwing hugs around us like coats on a rack. They glow with beauty and unyielding hope, and in America they are not unlike Jesus and his friends running about Jerusalem at Passover, yet unaware of how they are seen, or who they will become, only that they love the songs, the traditions of Christmas, the smell of the Passover tamales, and the community of Galilean pilgrims who love them. These children know only that Jesus and his parents were poor and had to stand at a door and knock only to be ignored, and then finally let into our broken and peregrine hearts as the queen and kings of heaven.


Tricia Gates Brown is a writer and garden designer residing on the Oregon Coast. More of her writing can be found here. She is the author of Jesus Loves Women: A Memoir of Body and Spirit, released in 2011.

Advertising Space