Friday, September 23, 2016

a week in Detroit

The Wedding Dance  Pieter Breugel the Elder circa 1566 Detroit Institute of the Arts

One week.
Seven days.
One hundred sixty-eight hours.

When we are on vacation- sipping cold drinks under a beach umbrella; sleeping under the stars; exploring new cities, museums, restaurants; hiking new trails- the time seems to fly. It is over as soon as it has begun.

When we are away- engaged in the work that we have gathered to do, but missing the work that and people that we left at home- it can seem like a long, long time.

I do admit to being somewhat of a homebody.  I like to sleep in my own bed, am fairly picky about the quality of my morning coffee, and figuring out what clothes to take on a trip is an exhausting enterprise that makes me want to stay home in my gym shorts.   I love the rhythm of my work, as fast-paced as it can be, and the connections that I make week-in-and-week-out with lay leaders, clergy, civic leaders, ecumenical partners, and parishes is fulfilling and exciting.

So it is hard to leave.  If just for a week.

But so good.

In this past week, about 125 bishops of the Episcopal Church  (representing 109 dioceses -99 dioceses in the US and 10 in other countries) gathered in Detroit for the fall meeting of the House of Bishops.  The House of Bishops meets twice a year. In the fall, the meeting is located in one of our dioceses that has been selected with some intentionality; the impulse to gather in Detroit this fall had to do with the re-birth of that city and the recent water crisis in nearby Flint.  I like that the site for this meeting was chosen with an eye to how we, as a Church, might lend support and join in celebrating the good things that are happening in and around Detroit.  The spring meeting is usually held at Camp Allen (TX) or Kanuga (NC).

The agenda this time was a mix of business, public witness and education, worship, committee reports, challenging discussions about culture and change, the election of a Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries (a process completed, canonically, by the House of Bishops), and updates from associated Episcopal agencies, like the Pension Group.  We had opportunities to engage in learning events discovering the city of Detroit and, besides the scheduled trips to Flint, the newly re-configured waterfront, four different churches on Sunday morning and the Charles Wright Museum of African-American history, some of us made pilgrimages to see the Detroit Lions at play and to the Detroit Institute of the Arts, a fantastic museum that is home to Diego Rivera’s amazing room-sized murals depicting the industry of “Motor City” and a cultural commentary, painted in the early 1930s. (I was one who made a side-trip to the museum).

About day 3, the “grippe” hit the House, sweeping rapidly through our ranks and causing the hotel kitchen and gift shop to sell out of ginger ale, soup, saltines and Gatorade.  It was estimated that around 80 of us were affected by this illness.

But our spirits ran high and it was heartening to receive inquiries about each other’s health and to see the Body, taking care of each other.

In fact.  In fact, while the business was good, the education enlightening, the witness inspiring and the worship reviving, it was just being with each other, sharing the stories of our work and life, that was the best.

And that’s no surprise-  we are a faith that values the Incarnation and that places a premium on relationship, each-to-each.  Our stories (the “delivery system” for our personal experience) is material that we use to build the relationships and, it is these relationships that strengthen us for the work ahead.

We spent a lot of time talking about the Jesus Movement.  The Jesus Movement has 3 new adjectives attached to it, by our Presiding Bishop: “loving, liberating and life-giving.”  We worked in our table groups to further define the movement and to indicate concrete action steps to further the movement and enhance our communication of the movement.  It was an exercise that gave us the freedom to talk more deeply and personally about the Jesus Movement but, in my mind, it was a little ironic:  If the Jesus Movement is a movement, then it is up to the people living it to identify it, not up to us, the hierarchical leaders of the Church to direct it.  That is not a criticism of our efforts to find facility for the elected leaders of the Church to talk about our work, but a reminder to myself that, really, it is the work of the shepherd to gently guide the sheep, not to pick them up and carry them to place that the shepherd wants them to go.

And so- the Jesus Movement.  What I’d like to support in our effort to engage the movement is not to institutionalize it, or to narrowly define it, but to find ways that we can all be engaged in living it and then pointing to it when we see it at work.  How is the life that you live loving and liberating?  How, as a Christian, do you express love for your neighbor?  How do you help to bring others to places of freedom- freedom from self-doubt, shame, despair, addictive and unhealthy behaviors- how do you work as Christ’s liberating hands in the world?  That’s part of our call.  How do you find new places to shine the light of God’s love, helping others to see that there is new life possible, in Christ.  That might not mean “bringing someone to Christ” (Lord knows, we have work to do amongst ourselves learning the skills of classic evangelism) but how can you be a life-giving agent for another?  I see this all the time:  in people who tutor children, feed the hungry, give a home to a refugee, clothe the naked, stand up for the oppressed and offer hope to the downtrodden.  We’re doing it.  That’s the Jesus Movement.  And, by our work, I am encouraged -in the strength of our people and God, moving in us…. in you.

I am sitting on the tarmac in Detroit. 
There’s so much to do when I get home:   a Convention gathering in a couple of weeks, new committees to build, a School to support, programs and retreats to plan, sermons to write, clergy transitions to effect, agendas to create and documents to sign.  None of it is more important than meeting with and caring for all of you.  Most of it has to do with meeting and caring for you.  All of it has to do with celebrating and sharing Jesus’ love.

It’s a direct, 84-minute flight.
It will be good to be home.

(this entry was written on Wednesday, 21 September, 2016 for posting on Friday, 23 September, 2016 in anticipation of  a very busy re-entry in Central PA) 

Friday, September 16, 2016

from the back of the room

Table 17.

We’re the last table on the left in the back of the giant “Venetian” ballroom in the Detroit Westin Cadillac Book hotel where the fall meeting of the House of Bishops is gathering.

No, it’s not ‘cause I’m new ( and, really, there are 4 bishops here younger than I am in “bishop-years” this time), and Lord knows, it’s not ‘cause my eyesight is so keen that I can see the screen from so far away... No, it’s just the luck of the draw.  Table 17 is in the back.

Our tables at the House of Bishops are assigned to us and the folks who plan our meetings do a wonderful job of mixing up the table populations among seniority, geography, gender and ethnicity.  I really love my table. I sit with Mark Bourlakas (SW VA), Andy Dietsche (NY), Barry Beisner (N CA), Oge Beauvoir (Haiti), George Counsell (NJ) and Michael Smith (ND).  For all of our differences, we do well navigating the work of the House.

This is my second HOB meeting.  The agenda at this meeting is a mix of receiving reports (Human Synergistics, a consulting firm from IL has issued a word on their study of the culture of the Episcopal Church Offices (815) in NYC and the PB has offered his plan in response to the report, striving to shift the culture  in the workplace to one that  is productive, dignified and puts Jesus at the center. )  We’re learning more about how to give the Jesus Movement some legs ( what does it really mean when we talk about this “movement?”) and later today we will hear from Senator John Danforth (also an Episcopal Priest) on “Our Ministry to America.”  Sen. Danforth’s  remarks will be followed by a panel discussion including Bishop Budde of Washington, DC.  So-  we’re not at a loss for things to talk about.

There are a few side trips planned- (I’m hoping to get to the Detriot Institute of Arts on the recommendation of several folks ‘back home) and we are making our way around the city enjoying the different restaurants that Detriot, in the middle of a renaissance, has to offer.  I also intend on making my way to the River Walk to see how it stacks up against our lovely Susquehanna...

The work here is important.  It draws us out of our parochial settings, increases our fellowship and collaboration among members in the House, raises up new ideas and hope and strengthens the work of the Episcopal Church as we build God’s Kingdom.

The Jesus Movement has a new tag line:  “loving, liberating, life-giving.”

I’ll be working at that for a few more days and bring it back to Central PA for us to work on together.

From Table 17-  where the air is clear and the people on the dais are tiny-


PS A thrill for me will be to act as celebrant at tomorrow’s Community Eucharist.  I was invited some weeks ago to preside among my brothers and sisters.  I am honored.

Friday, September 9, 2016

new oatmeal

My younger brother Courtney loves to cook as much as I do.
Raising three school-aged boys, his weekly shopping list looks a little bit different than mine -he buys gallons of milk and multiple loaves of bread every week, I buy a token quart of milk every other week just to have it on hand and our bread is best kept in the freezer because with just two of us it is a race against staleness when it comes to consuming a whole loaf-  but beyond the basics, my brother and I share a love of finding new recipes, trying new cooking techniques and introducing new things into our diet.

Last week, in the “back-to-school” and “hearty breakfast” category, Courtney told me about an new oatmeal recipe that he was going to try:  Mix up rolled oats, Greek yogurt, almond milk, a sliced banana, vanilla and some honey. Put it in a mason jar and refrigerate overnight. 

I sent him a text  in return and said, “Cool… I’m sure it tastes great the next day when you warm it up in the microwave.”

He replied, “It’s eaten cold.  Like a pudding.”


Cold oatmeal.

Never done that.

The next morning my brother sent me a text with a photo of the oatmeal and this message: “Definitely a stick-to-the-ribs-affair.  And 1 quart of oatmeal is a lot of oatmeal.”

His lukewarm review only egged me on to try this for myself.

And so last night, when I got home from The Rev.Canon Nelson Baliira’s Celebration of New Ministry, I got out the oatmeal. 

I didn’t have all of the same ingredients that my brother listed and so I substituted coconut sugar for the honey and regular milk (see? That  handy quart, waiting) for almond milk … stirred it all up and put it in the fridge.  It’s in there, now, waiting for me to try it out in a couple of hours when breakfast time rolls around.

Cold oatmeal.  It’s a little bit of a mind-bender for those of us who grew up with steaming bowls set before us, just waiting to be topped with a pat of butter, some brown sugar and a small pool of milk, maybe some raisins if we were lucky.

 Cold oatmeal.  It’s not what you’d expect.

Cold oatmeal.  My brother described it as “pudding.”
Who doesn’t like pudding?

At this year’s Convocation meetings, the Staff, Treasurer, Finance Committee and I have been touring around our diocese talking about some changes, some new initiatives and some new ideas that we will be introducing at our fall Convention.  Much of the program that we propose looks like business as usual:   continuing committees, the same rhythm to our diocesan calendar and year, opportunites for leadership in familiar capacities like Standing Committee, Disciplinary Board, the Council of Trustees.  But there are changes. And some new ideas.  New initiatives:

  • There is an increased focus on developing the Stevenson School for Ministry as a resource in our diocese, expanding opportunities for lay Christian formation as well as ordained ministry-

  • There is an initiative to offer more support and programming for Children, Youth and Young Adults-

  • There is an  invitation to increase the Council of Trustees in number in order to better support and develop ministries that people in our parishes are passionate about –

  • And there is a shift in the way that we understand the role of diocesan leadership- from being, formerly, the initiators of program and locus of information- to supporting, encouraging, and empowering the 13,000 Episcopalians in Central Pennsylvania to do God’s work.

This year our Convention will include legislative action to enact these changes (in the form of resolutions during our business session), some new activities to encourage trying-on something new (the Convention center includes a sports venue to encourage family participation; come climb the rock wall with the Bishop on Friday afternoon) and a mix of traditional worship services (Saturday’s Holy Eucharist) with some fresh ideas in liturgy (Friday night’s Compline service featuring our Youth and a story-telling circle.)

Some of it will be as comfortable as a bowl of warm oatmeal.
And some of it will encourage us to try-on some new ideas.  Like chilled oatmeal pudding.

I invite you, in these intervening weeks, as we prepare to gather, to pray about the things that you hold dear about our Church  and to give thanks to God.  And I also encourage you to wonder and pray about the places where you might imagine trying something new- for the sake of growth and health- with an enlivening spirit.

I’m looking forward to seeing you all in October in Lancaster.
And I’m looking forward to breakfast, just a short hour from now.


Monday, September 5, 2016

vacation: sum of sorts

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

I wonder, has anyone actually ever written one of these essays? Or assigned them?  I feel like “What I Did on my Summer Vacation” is the quintessential “first day of school” writing assignment, but I don’t remember actually ever putting pen to paper on this particular topic and I can’t help but wonder if it is more mythological than not.

 But there’s a first time for everything. And, urban/suburban legend or not, I’ll take a stab at it.

Preface:  Who Cares?

This writing exercise could be the biggest literary-selfie ever, but I feel a small amount of obligation to report on the month of my absence and, in some small detail, to let my constituency know how it is that I have used the generosity of time afforded a bishop on vacation.  The last time that I had this much consecutive time off was 24 years ago when I was plunged from the 3rd grade classroom into full time motherhood (for the happy third time).  I was lucky to be a “stay-at-home-mom” and spent some good months sunning in the backyard with kids playing in the inflatable kiddie pool, taking long walks in our neighborhood with a stroller or wagon in tow, and having the luxury of time to do things like bake bread and make stock. It is not a privilege that goes unnoticed or unappreciated, so let me begin there.  Thank you.  And so, for those who are interested, read on.  For others, we’ll be back to ecclesiastical-related blogging in a week’s time.

Terrain:  Overview

I did not cover as impressive a geographical footprint as I had imagined on this vacation (see section on  “why I didn’t go to California”) but I did manage to travel the length of New England in my car and the ridgeline of a few PA mountains on foot.   I spent time on a tiny island in Maine (a scant mile in square mileage), walking the coastline of mid-coast Maine, visiting childhood clam-shack-haunts, making  a detour to the RI coast,  a couple of stop overs in CT and more than a few days in my hiking boots learning what it means when the Appalachian Trail hikers talk about “Rocksylvania.” My elevation went from 0 (that island!) to 1,543 ft. above sea level (ridge of Blue Mountain) which is not particularly impressive  when you consider that Mt Katadhin in Maine steps up at 5,269 ft. above sea level and  Clingman’s Dome, in the Great Smoky Mountains of TN is the highest point on the AT  measuring 6,625 ft. in the sky.  No records were achieved on this vacation for sure, but hiking in 90+ degree heat was just fine. No records needed.


Icy blue green water and black rocks.
The echoey screeching of gulls and slamming surf
Thick maple syrup over blueberry pancakes the size of dinner plates
Soft pine needle carpets and dappled sunlight in cool, deep forests
Clear, clean air
Bayberry warmed by the sun
The tangle of pricker bushes pulling at delicate shins; tiny spots of red, red blood
A late summer field filled with milkweed and monarchs
Rows and rows and rows of corn (as high as a elephant’s eye)
Hawks playing on drafts of air in lazy circles
The tug of a fish on the line
The crack of a baseball bat hitting a double

Wildfires kept me from going to the Writer’s Conference that I had hoped to attend in Carmel by the Sea.  The Soberanes fire was within 10 miles of the conference center and we were warned that there could be a possible evacuation.  It wasn’t worth the risk to spend the money to go. It wasn’t worth the risk to be trapped with wildfires on one side and the cliffs of the Pacific on the other.  I stayed home and wrote on my porch.

Idle Time
How well do you do at filling idle time?  It is an art, I think, for those of us who live connected to our i-phones and calendars and agendas to feel at ease with a certain amount of leisure time.  It is a trick to go from 100 mph to 0 mph without some sort of psychic collision.  I found myself returning to old practices and patterns of things that have fed me, spiritually, in the past:  Cooking.  Playing my ‘cello.  Reading. 

The escape into a novel is luxury. I had forgotten.  I love when a good books turns a day into minutes.  When one moves from sofa to chair to chaise with book until the last page is turned.

The study of one page of music over and over and over again until some small amount of mastery is achieved is, in some ways, crazy-making ( who spends hours on one page of music?) and, in the end,  if you can let go of total sum gains, entirely satisfying. (I’m not sure that JS Bach would give me a pass on his Allemande in GM, but I’m taking it.)

The joy of creativity in the kitchen. Roasted beets with cantaloupe, chunked garden tomatoes, feta and a honey dijon dressing.  Pesto.  Corn chowder. Carnitas. Tamales. Sesame Noodles. Chimichurri. Key Lime pie. Dal.  Peaches over yogurt with homemade granola.  A delight to cook in bare feet at the counter watching the birds at the feeder while the radio sings Dvorak. 

And Prayer.
Prayer is layered in all of this.  In the glory of God’s creation leaning into the wind on a mountain cliff, in the sunrise that emerges incrementally from the ocean in hints of pink, orange and scarlet; in the sharing of table and time with family, children, dear friends, college classmates; in rejoicing in good health; in grieving those lost; holding in the heart those who are ill or lonely, lost, searching, struggling.  Prayer is never far. Never far. And God is as close as one’s own heartbeat and tender as the grass and as powerful as the tectonic forces that pushed mountains into the sky. Worship and Intercession do not go on vacation. But they take a different form.

Now What?

There’s a snap in the air today, praise God.  It is the snap that I’ve been waiting for and it arrives just as my Vacation slides into Home Plate. 
The snap of chilliness on my legs as I pad down to the kitchen to press the “on” button on the coffee machine tells me that it is time to put on long pants, lace up shoes and go back to work.
It is time to go back to the gym.
It is time to plan menus again a week at a time with my calendar in one hand.
It is time to think: Power Point. Convention. Confirmation. Clergy. Budget and Finance.
It is time to re-engage the rhythm of study-prayer-writing-preaching
Meetings. Which mean Relationships. Which are good.
Meetings. Which means Information. That leads to Mission. That is Good.
Leadership and Liturgy and the Work of Building the Kingdom.
Now. Now. Now.