Friday, August 5, 2016

The Dairy King of Kindness

Soon, we will be returning to the place that fills the hole in my soul-   Mid-coast Maine.

Every year, we make our pilgrimage Down East; for me, it is more than eating my fill of lobsters  (I’m more of a steamed-clams-kind-of-girl, anyway), it is more than hiking on soft blankets of pine needles, and it’s even more than the stinging but strangely refreshing blue-black, icy water into which we jump (that’s the only way to “get in,” by the way,  there’s no wading slowly into Maine water.)   Going to Maine, for me, is about going home.

Now, you know that I come from CT.  Some of you may even know that I was born in New York, but that moving to CT when I was four and living my whole recollectable life there, I consider CT to be my real home.

But Maine is my soul home.

My ancestors lived in Maine.  Great Aunt Emma whom, legend has it, threw hogs over her shoulder and moved them around the Bowdoinham barnyard; Francis, the stern Baptist preacher in our family tree, whose tiny vest-pocket-bibles I now possess; and Doris, the small-town Brunswick socialite who lived in a three-story brick house right in the middle of the action on the corner of Lincoln and Maine streets. Edna St. Vincent Millay, one of our family's more famous relatives, wrote many of her poems in and about her native home of Maine.

When my mother and step-father retired to Maine, my mother wept; she discovered with a map in one hand and the family genealogy in another, that the house that they had bought on Great Island was a dozen yards from the homestead of James Millay, our Irish ancestor who first settled in Maine, generations and generations before.

When we go to Maine, it is either to the island of Monhegan, where my mother spent many summers growing up, or to visit family-  my sister and her brood in Brunswick, or our son in Portland. One of my best friends from CT moved to Eliot, Maine some years ago, so we add a stop there, too, connecting the dots of decades of friendship and family ties in our Maine Coast visits like pearls on a string.

Today’s story is about some thing that happened in Maine- 52 years ago:

My mom, aunt and grandmother had taken us for our annual sojourn north, and we were staying, together, in a cottage in the Thorburn Colony on Harpswell.  My mom and grandmother were widowed; my aunt’s husband was in Boston studying in graduate school that summer, and I remember that he had a part-time job delivering phone books.   This favorite uncle of ours, Uncle Pete, made his trips to see us in  Maine on the weekends in a VW camper, loaded to the gill with the afore-mentioned phone books.  We kids were delighted to see him and, suddenly, the tone of the whole house changed when Uncle Pete arrived.  Bedtimes went out the window, the water play down at the beach shifted from building sand castles to wild, splashing adventures in the water and on the slippery, treacherous seaweed-covered rocks; and we kids, (my cousins, brothers and I) lay in bed at night and could hear the grown ups in spasms of laughter as they sat at the dining room table late into the night playing bridge and drinking wine.  My Uncle Pete had a special gift for reading the wine labels out loud in a variety of hilarious accents that put  my mother, aunt and grandmother into hysterics.  They were happy days.

One evening, we went out to the Dairy Queen for ice cream. This was an unusual treat for us.  Even at the early age of five I was beginning to fill out my one-piece swim suit in ways that leaned more towards chubby than svelte, and so ice cream was not usually on the meal plan for me.  I approached this cone with no small amount of excitement, delight and a little bit of shame.  (I know…at 5 years old.)     We waited in line at the window.  My three cousins, my two brothers and me.  I remember being last in line.  I got a twist cone (chocolate and vanilla) with a chocolate dip that hardened like a thin shell on the soft serve peak of ice cream.   My brothers and cousins were already all across the parking lot at the picnic table when I got my cone.  My mom was fussing with her wallet, preparing to pay for the ice cream; my aunt was with the kids; my uncle leaned against our Ford Falcon smoking a cigar. The ice cream attendant handed me my cone.

I took one lick.
I nibbled at the edge of the chocolate shell.
I turned, pivoting on the toe of my blue, round toed Keds and… I dropped the cone.

The cone landed right on the hot, sandy blacktop.

I don’t think anyone noticed.  Except for me… and my uncle.

I remember standing in the parking lot, looking down at the cone and realizing that I’d lost my chance for this special treat.

My uncle quietly walked across the lot, passed right by me, went up to the window and, in a matter of moments, replaced my cone.

Today, 52 years later, this story sounds silly.  Sure: Kid gets cone.  Kid drops cone.  Uncle buys a new one.  Great story.

            But, like all stories that hang around in the folds of our memories for more than five decades, it’s much more than that.  It is about caring, inclusion, generosity, quiet noticing, compassion, feelings of worthiness, shame, family, and love.

And, it’s about ice cream.

We’ll be passing by that same Dairy Queen when we go on vacation this summer.
Since that trip in 1964, my mother, grandmother, aunt and two of my cousins have all joined the saints in light.  Of  my  family's senior relatives, in fact, my uncle is the last one standing.

Maybe I’d better stop and have a cone, in thanks for him.

Note:  this blog will be on hiatus until after Labor Day as I enjoy some vacation- and ice cream. See you in September.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Major Ideas inspired by the B Minor Mass

I was listening to the B Minor Mass (JS Bach) yesterday morning in the car on my way to work.  I just couldn’t take one more report from the Democratic National Convention (or any convention, for that matter) and the relentless traffic-weather-traffic-weather-traffic-weather reports were irritating and, not especially helpful.  The traffic was heavy and the weather was hot.  There.

So I turned to Bach to soothe my savage beast.

Bach, of course, is The Master.  And, in his masterpiece of choral works, there are a few themes that repeat over and over again.  Magen Solomon, Director of the San Francisco Bach Choir has done an amazing job describing the tight structure of Bach’s master work and how its intricate parts relate to each other in interlocked sections built on harmonic signatures, multiples of 3 and themes developed in other parts of the composer’s works through the years.  Fascinating.  Read it here:
It’s more than one can digest in one reading but my point is this:  Bach’s many  moving pieces had some pretty major brush strokes.

Now, I’m no baroque master composer.
And I’m still learning how to be a bishop.

But I’ve got some major themes and brushstrokes.  And today, in a conversation with some people who are very close to me and my work, it occurred to me that one cannot lay it out enough: the Big Picture.  The Major Movements.  The people in my meeting today seemed to appreciate my simple reiteration of what I think we’re aiming for.
And so, at the risk of some clicking away for the sake of redundancy and some eye-rolls, here it is-  this month’s dose of what I think we’re doing:

1.    We are working to fulfill the Mission of God.
2.    We are moving forward in a Three Year On-Ramp Plan, about to begin Year Two
3.    We are Seeing Some Immediate Priorities Emerge for our Common Life in Christ

Here’s some short annotation.

1.    We are working to fulfill the Mission of God.

I am convinced that God is calling us to follow where God is leading us to a time and place that is brand new. We are living in a Post-Christian Era, but that does not mean that God’s mission is complete or less important than it ever has been.  It means that we need to pay closer attention to where God is leading and to use new, bold and creative measures to follow God’s call to be healers and lovers and good neighbors.  That’s the first order of business:  to follow the Way of Jesus to fulfill God’s Mission.  Presiding Bishop Curry calls this the Jesus Movement. It is exciting and central and vital.

2.     We are moving forward in a Three Year On-Ramp Plan, about to begin Year Two. 

Year One was all about getting to know my new diocesan home and all of you. This work of making your acquaintance, laying the groundwork for long and lasting anam cara- soul friend- relationships is not over, but just starting.  The Listening Year has been great… and the practice of spending time and learning about who you- we- are, will continue.
Year Two will be about coming to name and claim and articulate our own stories as disciples of Jesus.  We will be telling stories all year that point to how we are living as Christ’s hands and hearts in this world.  How have we been transformed by Jesus?  How have we experienced healing?  Exile and Return? Belonging? New Life and resurrection?  It’s all part of understanding how Jesus is moving in us today- by sharing the stories that have formed… and continue to form us.  Stories.  Discipleship.  Year Two.

Year Three will be about using our understanding of who we are and shaping a Collective Vision for our Future Together.  This process will be interactive and engaging and allow us each to weigh in on the work that is ahead of us in our diocese in the years ahead.

3.    We are Seeing Some Priorities Emerge for our Common Life in Christ

In the next year, some administrative shaping will help us live a more focused life in our diocese as we stress Communication, Formation, New Engagement and Continued Clarity.

Communication is essential for our common life.  We will be introducing a new website with enhanced tools and capacity to keep us all aware of our common life together.

Formation is a key focus as we grow from the foundation of the decades-old, successful School of Christian Studies into the fully developed Stevenson School for Ministry with its lifelong formation emphasis and deepened commitment for  training ordained ministers (deacons and priests) locally.

New Engagement will be the work of the Canon for Congregational Life and Mission as we seek to explore ways to strengthen our congregations, find new ways to connect in our local contexts and be bold about dissolving boundaries between Church and Community.

Continued Clarity speaks to an ongoing emphasis on refining reporting and accounting structures and being the best stewards of our common resources.  We’ve made some great headway in this area in the recent past, and a new administrative structure will allow for continued success.

It takes a minimum of 7 exposures to new material to begin to absorb and retain new learning.
For most of you faithful readers, this is not your first exposure to these ideas. And, I can promise you, it won’t be your last.

Weigh in.
Offer some feedback.
Let’s hear what you think.

Until next time…

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Harrisburg Convocation Immersion Excursion: Day 2

Wow.  Who cares that is was nearly 100 degrees today?  We had a blast!

Our morning began at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Shippensburg where we gathered to set out on a gleaning adventure.  We were led by the energetic Deacon Wanda Kloza who organizes the Feed My Sheep Ministry in our diocese, supporting, connecting and encouraging food ministries in Central PA.    Wanda explained what we would be doing, introduced us to our new Gleaning Captains, Jay and Renee of  The Gleaning Project of South Central PA, and after a time of prayer and the anointing of our hands, we were off in a caravan to the Gro-Mor Farm in Shippensburg to “pull” (not “pick,” we learned,) corn.

What is gleaning?

In biblical terms, Gleaning is a practice that is part of Levitical law, instructing land owners and farmers to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that the poor can have food.  Leviticus 23:22 says, "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.’"

In the book of Ruth, Chapter 2, we know that Ruth gleaned in the field of Boaz. (Ruth 2: 2)

And today, we gleaned in the field of Gro-Mor Farm.  The 51 dozen ears of corn that we picked, (450 lbs!) will be sent to the Shippensurg Produce delivery site-  a food bank that distributes fresh fruit and vegetables to those in need.  Deacon Wanda was an originator of the SPO.  Jay, one of our gleaning leaders from the Gleaning Project told us that in one year, they gather 100,000 lbs. of produce to give away.  He also told us that in Franklin County, PA’s 2nd largest source of fresh produce, only 6% of the residents eat three or more servings of vegetables per day.  

We pulled corn for about an hour, and over some refreshing watermelon, learned more about this awesome mission.  It was a  joy and an honor to be part of this project today.

Anointing hands for service

Smiling in spite of the heat!
On our way to the gleaning site

Happy gleaners:  Wanda, Carenda, Barbara

Our farmer demonstrating how to pull corn
a LONG row to glean

Double fisted gleaner

Plenty of corn!
Rebecca, happy at the end of her row

episcopal art shot..
Watermelon never tasted so good!
Alexander, Andrew and Lisa!

Bishop living into her farm fantasy
What a crew!

After our gleaning adventure, we headed East, through the Cumberland Valley, up and over Doubling Gap, through Colonel Denning State Park and into the village of Newport, where we met a gathered group of about 12 folks for lunch.  The gathering included parishioners of Nativity, Newport; St. Luke’s, Mechanicsburg, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  We ate at a restaurant called “Esspresso Yourself.”  It is a restaurant that features fresh, locally sourced, farm-to-table food and is especially conscientious about being good members of the local community.  They participate in some community work programs and have a large garden where they grow much of their produce.  The owner sat with us for a while and talked about her desire to offer fresh, wholesome food and the importance of connection with community.  Lunch was delicious. (I had a fresh cabbage salad with sesame and rice wine vinegar dressing and some grilled chicken on top.  A tall glass of minty iced green tea, too.)

Our chef at "Espresso Yourself" telling us about her philosophy about food


We had a few minutes to wander some around the local shoppes, and I found it hard to resist a cast iron cow piggy bank at the antique store and some raw cacao, date and sunflower bites at the health food store.

Back in the car... and off to Carlisle!

We met Bill Lord at the gate to the US Army War College.  Bill serves as one of the Wardens at St. John’s, Carlisle and is a Faculty Instructor in Management and Leadership at the US Army War College.  He is also the editor of a book called, How The Army Runs.  Bill spent about an hour with us, driving us around the impressive (and large) campus of the War College, (in his air-conditioned van) and telling us about the work that goes on behind the gates.  It is impressive. The Carlisle barracks were established in 1757 and the site of the War College served many uses through the years:  it was a Calvary School, an Indian Industrial School ( with Jim Thorpe as a student!), A Medical Field Service School, an Army Information School, Military Police School and since 1951, the US Army War College.

Currently, there are about 400 students who attend a year-long program and study in the area of Strategic Landpower.  Class work includes Theory of War and Strategy, Strategic Leadership, National Security Policy and Strategy, Theatre Strategy and Campaigning, Defense Management, and Global Security. The students in the 2015 class came from the Army (217), Air Force (32), Marines (17), Navy (12) Coast Guard (1), Civilian (29 ) and Internatinoal students (79).  It’s not especially easy to get in:  Bill told us that the acceptance rate is about 7-10 %.

In addition to the year-long Strategic Landpower Program, the War College also hosts the US Army Heritage and Education Center, the US Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operation s Institute, the Senior Leader Development & Resiliency Program, and the  Strategic Studies Institute.

For a layperson like me when it comes to all-things-military, it was all new.  

I missed taking any pictures-  we were moving pretty fast through the campus and I was working to catch all that Bill shared with us.  

It is clear that this is an important part of life in the Cumberland Valley- and I was grateful for a look behind the gates.

Tomorrow, the 3-Day Immersion Excursion finishes up with a visit at my “home base,” St. Stephen’s Cathedral at 8:00 and 10:15 AM.  I’ve been heartened to hear from many people in the Convocation who will be coming to join in a special anthem and to enjoy a gathering for worship with Convocation Partners.  Time to polish the sermon.

With prayers for the hungry tonight, for those who labor in fields, and for those who give of their intellect to serve our country.

Harrisburg Convocation Immersion Excursion: Day One

Here’s one thing that became very evident to me today as I began my tour of the Harrisburg Convocation:  This is a Convocation with a lot of social and cultural “texture.”

The Harrisburg Convocation extends from Hershey to Chambersburg, Newport to Harrisburg with Carlisle, Shippensburg, Camp Hill and Mechanicsburg in-between.  There are cities, farms, cornfields, apartment sky rises and barns.  There are extremely wealthy people and extremely poor people.  The Convocation includes three major hospitals, the State Capitol, an amusement park, several colleges and universities and the Farm Show arena.  There is no way to lump all of these townships/cities together with any kind of unifying factor except, maybe, to say that they are in the “Capitol Region.”  Even that characteristic fails when we go “over the mountain” to Newport... or drive more than an hour to the far edges of the Cumberland Valley to reach Chambersburg

Today’s activities were varied, showing me some of the high points of some of our region:

We started with a lovely lunch at a Hershey restaurant set in the old Hershey Press Building, and then  we wandered across the way to the Hershey Chocolate Museum.  We learned  the amazing Milton Hershey story which included, really, the shaping of an entire industrial town.  In 1894, Hershey moved his caramel factory from Lancaster, built a chocolate factory and called it "Hershey.” This enterprise included a whole industrial village, a park, a company store, churches (Hershey granted $20,000 to each of the 5 churches in town), and... a school.  The school, which still operates today and has 1, 800 students, began as a boarding school for orphan boys. Hershey dedicated his fortune to the success of the school when he died in 1945.  Today, the school is co-ed, provides a top notch education and is... tuition free.    We learned a lot in our tour of the museum about the town, about how to make chocolate, the marvels of packaging and marketing, and the generosity of the Hershey family.

One of our hosts for the day was The Rev. Susan Claytor who is just back in town  after an extensive medical leave.  It was so good to see her - and she was full of energy and joy.  We praise God for her recovery and were glad, too, to see her husband Parr looking so well.  Here’s our group in front of the museum mural that shows Milton Hershey sitting on the steps in front of his school with some of his students through the years.
Hershey Chocolate Museum mural-  and our group

This machine rolls over the chocolate again and again and again to make it creamy and smooth

We had a quick stop at the luxurious Hershey hotel.
Here are some of us in the “fountain lobby.”
What a beautiful place!

The Fountain Lobby

Somehow we managed to get  out of Hershey without ever tasting even one chocolate kiss.  (How did that happen?)

My tour guide, The Rev. Rebecca Myers, drove us to Harrisburg and we stopped at the YWCA (a.k.a. “The YW”)  to learn about all of the different programs there and how this organization serves the community.  The YW actually extends their work into Dauphin, Perry and Cumberland Counties and their healing reach is felt all over our region. The YW has a new Director and CEO Mary Quinn who manages this multivalent organization.  The Harrisburg YW serves more than 33,000 clients each year through a variety of programs that include offering shelter, child care, rape and crisis counseling, veteran’s services, job readiness, and legal services.  There is a clothing closet that offers gently used clothes to the residents and a food pantry, too.  The residents are responsible for preparing their own meals in the common area of the residential floors.  The housing part of the building looks like a nice, clean college dorm with individual rooms, shared baths and common areas with kitchen facilities.  The YW is housed in an old mansion (the Sylvan Heights Mansion) in South Allison Hill on Market Street.  The sprawling building was once a bishop’s mansion (Roman Catholic), a convent,  a seminary, an orphanage and now, home to the YW.  

With a 6 million dollar operation budget, the YW has a full time staff of 90 employees, 100 children in their daycare program, and can serve 109 in-house residents.

As we toured the building, I was impressed with how clean and quiet it was and how there was a true sense of sanctuary and healing there.

The Rev. Fred Miller arranged our tour for us.  Fred has been an active volunteer at the YW for more than a year, working in the Veterans Services department.  I was really glad to see, first hand, the wonderful resources and programs that the YW has to offer in our region.

the impressive facade of the Harrisburg YWCA, once the Sylvan Heights Mansion

One of the few empty rooms in the SRO (Single Room Occupancy) portion of the YW

The Rev. Fred Miller in the Food Pantry of the YW

The Very Rev. Churchill Pinder checks out the daycare center at the YW

The final stop of our day was back on the river in Harrisburg for a “pop-up Eucharist” and potluck dinner sponsored by St. Stephen’s cathedral and the Sycamore House Episcopal Service Corps.

Months ago, I had mused via text with the corps members at Sycamore House about what fun it would be to just show up somewhere with a service of Holy Eucharist and invite people to worship with us.  This musing turned into a real life pop-up Eucharist last night on the shores of the river, on Front St. in Harrisburg.  We had about 50 folks gathered to sing, pray and share communion.  There was a warm breeze coming off of the river.  The Revs. Kate Harrigan, Churchill Pinder and Loretta Collins, Deacon, prepared the order of service for us which focused on praying for peace and God’s justice to reign.  Instead of a sermon, we were encouraged to stand in silence and listen to the sounds of the city around us... and to listen for God in the midst of it all.  I heard boats and cars and a noisy car radio, people chatting as they walked by on the river walk, dogs barking, an impatient driver leaning on his or her horn, and the sound of the wind blowing through the trees.  The Susquehanna Pride riverboat blew a loud “Amen” to our mediation with her long, horn-like whistle, announcing that she was setting sail down the river.   Our service included some beautiful Taize music as led by Bea Troxel on guitar, and we sang- of course-  “I went down to the river to pray...”    It was good to be outside, worshipping in the middle of the city.  It was good to see and be seen.  A couple of interested folks slowed down to see what we were on about.  We received the gift of one guest who stayed for the service and joined us for dinner.

Churchill closed our service with a post-commnion prayer called a “Shouting Prayer.”  In a call and response fashion, we shouted (literally) these prayers at the top of our lungs for all of Harrisburg to hear: "God loves you.  I love you.  I love me.  I love God.  I love the World.  The world loves me.  Love God. “  (that’s not verbatim, but you get the idea.)  It was wildly freeing, a little crazy, and filled with joy.  And what a prophetic statement.  Thank you, Churchill.

gathered at the river to pray

sharing God’s Peace

The Great Thanksgiving

Gathered in Prayer

photo by Loretta Collins

After a potluck in the (air-conditioned) Uppercroft- (chicken, salad, fruit, pizza, pie!) and some good fellowship, we headed home.  Tomorrow will be another day of exploring the Harrisburg Convocation.  There’s Gleaning, a tour of Newport and the War College on tap.
lovely Cumberland Valley sunset on the way home