Thursday, September 14, 2017

from sea to shining sea

In the past month, I have had the pleasure of spending time with my toes in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans and have reaped the salty benefits of both.

My visit to the Atlantic was part of my annual pilgrimage “Down East” to places around Casco Bay that I have been visiting since my earliest days. My sister and her family still live in Midcoast Maine which makes my traveling there all the easier and, as you can imagine, there are all sorts of things that we “must do” when I come to town:  visits to favorite restaurants, wandering around from point to point and cove to cove, spending some time sailing, walking, at the farmer’s market and in the wonderful independent bookstore in town.  There are significant amounts of clams, haddock, and a few lobster that are given over to this visit, and some lazy, candlelit nights spent outside on the deck of my sister’s house listening to crickets and watching the fireflies.  

Bowdoinham is the location of our annual family “picnic” which I usually miss ( it usually occurs after I have left Maine)  but this year I made a point to be there as the group has grown smaller and it is time for some of us young ‘uns (I’m nearly 60!) to take the torch.  Another one of my cousins made a similar effort this year and I think that we may have volunteered to host next year’s event and will encourage our same-age and younger relatives to join in the fun.

Maine is my ancestral family place.  James Millay, our ancestor, came from Ireland and landed off of Great Island near Harpswell, building his salt mine.  My parents retired there many, many, many years later.  Maine is the place where I feel “complete,” and it’s hard to put words to it, other than that: “complete.”   My sister knows this and after I insist that we stop at the beach about a quarter of a mile from where I took my first steps, she waits on the stone staircase while I kick off my sandals and walk in the tidal pools searching for sea glass, hermit crabs and razor clams.  The sun is hot, the black sand is soft, and the snail shells crunch underfoot.  The water laps at my ankles and for a moment I consider lying down in the 3-inch, sun-warmed salt bath.  I resist, because I know that it would not feel good later, in the car, sitting in wet shorts. And I don’t think my sister would like her car getting sopping wet.    We stop at the gift shop-  the same gift shop that we visit every year and we buy the same things:  balsam-stuffed tiny pillows, a new tea towel for the kitchen, a 5” “Old Salt” figurine of a fisherman in a yellow slicker for my brother.  My brother has the misfortune of an August birthday that falls during my visit each year; he has received several “Old Salt” carved figurines through the years from me.    There is a lovely repetition of places, activities and menus that makes this a comfortable holiday.  Reading back over this, it sounds so dull…. but it is lovely.  Sunny, salty, warm-tomato-in-the-sun, lovely.   (There are new adventures each year lest you find this all too pedantic:  this year we went to the Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay for the first time and we loved it!  Another thing to add to the “must-do-every-year” list.)

The Pacific coast brought the new adventure of a wedding for our family.  Our eldest, Emma, was married to Nic.  Theirs was the first wedding event for our immediate family and only the second one among Emma’s cousins.  It was held right at the ocean’s edge on the cliffs in Mendocino at a small sea-side inn.  The setting was fantastic, the weather perfect, the dress beautiful, and the vows meaningful, but it was the gathering together of our dearest friends and family that made it spectacular.  College friends, cousins, childhood friends, friends with whom we had raised our children, even children of old friends who traveled to be with us.  The volume and power of love in those few days among our family and friends was as strong as the sea itself; I was overwhelmed by the gift of presence and the beauty of love.  It was a holy time and a sacred space, consecrated by all those dear ones.

I read four books on vacation.
I watched a few forgettable movies on Netflix.
I didn’t have much time for gardening or cooking-  my usual spiritual practices-

I just wallowed.  In the water, in the ocean, in the love of it all.

There were some rainy days, some cross words, and  some bad moments.  Aren’t there always? That’s the way of the world. 

But I’ll take the memory of a briny, sundrenched day on the boat eating ham sandwiches and listening to my cousin explain the innumerable benefits of a good spinnaker over the memory of a sour word, anyday.

I hope that you had a chance to get away, go home, find yourself “complete,” or bowled over by love this summer.  It is the hand of God at work in those moments. Of this I am sure.

I am off to a meeting of the House of Bishops next week in Fairbanks, Alaska and will miss writing next Friday’s blog.  Stay tuned for stories from Alaska in the week following!

Friday, August 11, 2017

vacation looms

                               Image result for tractor stopped in field

Dear friends,

There’s so much that I am learning about living faithfully by being here in Central Pennsylvania and paying attention to all of the work around me, especially the work of those who labor in the fields and depend on rain and sun and a good growing season for their sustainability.

Those of you who know me well know that I’ve always had a “farming fantasy,” imagining that someday I might be able to work my own few acres and live close to the earth, that way.  I have no illusions about farming being an easy life or idyllic-  just a few hours out in my own backyard cutting and hauling brush tells me that manual labor is far from romantic or easy-   but there is a call there, and for now, it is expressed in my deepening appreciation for my farmer neighbors.

This spring, as tilling and planting was taking place, something caught my eye on the farm next door to us and in the three or four other farms that I pass on a daily basis:  at the end of the day, the farmers leave their tractors in the field.  Right where they have finished plowing or tilling or mowing or cultivating or whatever they are doing.  They do not run their tractor back to the shed or the barn for the night, but stop right there, in the place where the cutting or tilling or cultivating had ceased, and get off and go home.

Something about that was curious to me.

You see, I grew up in a house where we were told to put away our things when we were finished with them, to wash the dishes after a meal and to make the bed when we got up.  It felt right, to put that hard stop at the end of whatever we were doing.  As a parent, I remember many nights helping my children pick up a living room full of toys before dinner was put on the table.

But farmers leave their tractors right there.  Right where they finish for the day.  Because, I suspect, they know very well that they will be coming back in the morning to continue the planting, tilling or cultivating from that same spot.

I am preparing for vacation.  In two days I will be signing off for four weeks. I want to finish everything on my to-do list before I go.  I want to leave things tidy and not unresolved.  I want to put the tractor in the barn.  And, I’m trying hard to take a note from my farmer neighbors and just stop.  Turn off the machine and go home for supper.  Ministry is a bit like farming:  the work never really ends, it is dependent on the Creator to nourish us and assist us in our growth, and those of us who think that we can control it by our sheer will or hard work are badly mistaken.  And so, I’m going to continue working right up ‘till Sunday night, and then… I’m stepping away.

I’ll find you all again in September.  Cheers.

(look for the blog to resume on September 15, 2017)

Friday, August 4, 2017

what do you do all day?

As I sat at a traffic light this morning, I looked across the road at the corn field, admired the neat rows of growing plants and hummed that famous line from “Oklahoma!:”  “The corn is as high as a elephant’s eye.”

It was a long wait at the light, and so I got to musing.  Musing about corn, farms, farmers and work.

What do farmers do all day?

There are several farms in our neighborhood that grow corn, soybeans, and wheat.  I see the farmers out on their equipment in the fields, but I got to wondering what, exactly, they are up to when it’s mid-summer and the crops all seem to be doing what crops do-  growing towards maturity and harvest .

I know that a farmer’s life is full of hard work.  I am not suggesting that while the corn is busy dividing cells and stretching towards the sky that the farmer is lying with a bowl of popcorn on a chaise lounge watching Oprah reruns.  But I couldn’t help but muse, what exactly, are they up to?

I turned to the internet.  (I probably should have turned to an actual farmer, but, for reasons that will become obvious in a few paragraphs, the internet was more convenient.)

I found the blog of a farmer named Brian from Indiana.  It is called, appropriately, “The Farmer’s Life.”  Here’s a link:     Brian seems to enjoy writing for all sorts of audiences, including people like me who are curious about farming but have little understanding of it.  One of his blog entries that I especially appreciated was titled “Planting is Over: Now What do Farmers Do?” 

  You can read the entry on your own, but here’s the long and the short of it, in his words-

Farmers spend their time:

Feeding Crops
Managing Weeds
Mowing Roadsides
Hauling Grain from the Previous Season
Maintaining Equipment 
and in
Family time and Fun

It was helpful to read Brian’s description of each of these tasks and to hear about the importance of keeping pace with the demanding work of farming.  I was especially sensitive to the idea of “making hay while the sun shines” and how the farming life is utterly dependent on things over which they have no control:  rain, sunshine, temperature.


My husband is a pharmaceutical underwriter for a major insurance company.  Saying that makes me sound like I have an idea of what that actually means.  And, in all honesty, my understanding of the job’s intricacies is... vague. Now, while I’m not well versed in all of the details of my husband’s job, I do know some of the components and functions of the job:  mathematical computation, mathematical analysis, and conferring with colleagues about negotiations between vendors and the insurance company. The currency of the job itself includes spreadsheets, conference calls, painstaking and time consuming computation, report and proposal production, conference calls, and emails.    Because he works from home, there is also a fair amount of walking up and down the stairs to get more coffee or seltzer, switching the laundry, assisting the cat in her desire to go out or come in or go out again, and some periodic visits to the refrigerator.   It’s embarrassing to write this paragraph seeing as my husband has spent his entire adult life working in this industry and I can’t even construct a meaningful paragraph about what he does.

But that’s the point.

 And don’t you wonder: Who knows what you actually do? The details, I mean.


To wit, what follows is a short exposé on what I actually do.  Because, if you are reading this, you probably have some investment in that- as an Episcopalian in Central Pennsylvania, as a friend or neighbor, or as my husband, who sees me head out each morning in my purple shirt and black suit with my briefcase, camouflage lunch box and jug of water.

If you don’t care, then that’s cool.  I’d recommend that you stop here, but  I’d also encourage you to check out Brian’s blog on farming, because it’s pretty great.

 Bishoping- First Things:

If I’ve learned anything in the last 2 years, it is that no bishop does his or her job in the same way as another bishop.  It is a job that is highly personal, left to the “self-starting” instincts of the individual, and varies widely with the strengths, personality and stamina of the individual and the gifts, needs and personality of the diocese in which they serve. The particular tasks of a bishop also shift, I think, over time.  My focus these days is really “internal;” working with our laity and clergy to form systems and structures to best serve God’s mission in our diocese and to build a sense of identity and cohesion.  In future years, I expect to be reaching out more into the civic and interfaith arenas.

 Being a bishop is not like making widgets.  It is never “done,” its success is hard to measure, and it includes a lot of time that might (for the A types in the room) look unproductive:  musing, praying, waiting, listening, looking, praying, sitting, praying.

Rather than try to outline my job, here’s a sample of what I am on about during the course of an average week in terms of activities:

·      Praying

·      Writing

·      Driving


            Responding to Emails about...

o   Convention planning
o   Sunday visitations
o   Clergy matters- personal and parish related
o   Legal matters
o   Liturgy matters
o   Transition letters of agreement
o   Financial issues of parish and diocese
o   Clergy disciplinary matters
o   Staff management and portfolios
o   Diocesan history
o   Staff development
o   Parish construction grant requests
o   Those in discernment
o   Organizational management
o   Refugee support
o   Reference checks
o   The Episcopal Home
o   Mission project in the north (all items above taken as a sample from my current inbox)

·     I also spend time... 

        Meeting with staff to assist, collaborate, learn about their           work/participate in supervision

·      Meeting with various committees- Standing Committee, Commission on Ministry, Finance Committee, etc.

·      Meeting with people discerning a call to ordination/seminary/lay ministry

·      Keeping up with correspondence/meetings/calls with seminarians

·      Meeting with new clergy/established clergy/deacons/clergy council

·      Participating in a youth/parish/special interest group events

·      Corresponding with parishes/clergy/laypeople in snail mail (yes, we still do that)

·      Talking with other bishops about clergy interested in coming here or going there

·      Attending board meetings of the Episcopal Home, Episcopal Square, Widow’s Corp

·      Attending retirement/birthday/etc. celebrations and liturgies and ceremonies

·      Meeting with professionals from outside the church representing social causes

·      Gathering with ecumenical bishops for study, prayer and conversation

·      Meeting with my spiritual director

·      Offering pastoral care of clergy- phone calls, visits

·      Writing sermons and this blog

(this list is derived from a calendar sample of my last few weeks.)

I don’t offer this as a way to underscore how busy I am (it’s a busy job and I love it that way)  but to unveil some of the mystery behind the purple shirt and the black Subaru.

I love what I do.  I love helping to guide and steer and shape a body of people who love God and want to praise God and serve God as they are best able.  I want us to be joyful in the work and joyful in each other.

I wonder if it would be fun to choose someone whom you know and spend some time asking them about what they do?  Many of us take pride in our work and love our vocations; sharing the details is a privilege when someone invites us to open up and tell about how we spend our minutes, our hours, our days.  Invite someone to share with you and listen carefully.  Perhaps someone will ask you to share in return, and it will be a learning for you both.

Now that I’ve got corn and fertilizer and weed control in my ken at the 101 level, I might need to move onto unpacking pharmaceutical underwriting, next.