Friday, July 21, 2017


It’s been more than a week since I returned from the amazing youth event, EYE (Episcopal Youth Event) 2017 held in Oklahoma City.  I am still hearing the songs of the worship band in my head, laughing to myself at some of our “inside” jokes among our delegation (Yee Haw!)  and am just so grateful for the outpouring of love, energy and enthusiasm that filled my heart and the heart of the other 1,200 participants all week long.

But there’s one thing that I just can’t shake.  It’s “stuck in my craw,” as my grandmother used to say.

It is the egregious use of Styrofoam and plastic plates, cups and utensils that we used all… week… long.


Now, this is not all on the EYE staff; we were on a college campus and ate at the college dining room that used a third- party food vendor.  The food was what you would have imagined for this particular audience:  pizza, burgers, tacos, cereal, scrambled eggs.  But it was all served on foam plates with plastic cups and plastic utensils.

1,200 people X 3 meals a day X 4 days = 14,000 meals served on plastic, and eaten with plastic.

That’s a heck of a load to dump into a landfill.

When Presiding Bishop Curry was elected to lead our Church and to cast a vision for our future, he chose the “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement” as the central idea to focus our work, worship and life together.  Not long after that, three priorities of the “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement” were articulated for us.  They are:
Racial Reconciliation, Evangelism and Environmental Stewardship.    Here’s a handy chart to see how it all fits together.

And still, in spite of our focus on caring for creation,  in spite of committing one third of our missional energy towards taking care of our planet, Styrofoam sits at the center of many of our tables. 

Here’s some excellent facts about why using Styrofoam is a bad idea:

"Polystyrene is a type of plastic manufactured from non-renewable fossil fuels (which is where its connection to climate change comes in) and synthetic chemicals. It usually comes in two forms: “Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), which is the stuff that’s made into cups, plates, take-out food containers, and packing materials; and “solid polystyrene,” which gets turned into plastic forks, CD and DVD cases, even smoke detector housings.

‘Styrofoam' is how most of us generically refer to the EPS material, but it’s actually a term trademarked by the Dow Chemical Company for extruded polystyrene that’s used in thermal insulation and craft applications.

Now, here’s why polystyrene is a problem:

  It does not biodegrade. It may break into small pieces, even minuscule pieces. But the smaller EPS gets, the harder it is to clean up.

  It is made of fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals. Those chemicals may leach if they come in contact with hot, greasy or acidic food. Yes, they keep your coffee hot – but they may also add an unwanted dose of toxins to your drink.

  Animals sometimes eat it. Turtles and fish seem to mistake EPS for food, and that can kill them. Not only can they not digest it, but the foam could be full of poisons that it has absorbed from contaminants floating in the water.

  It can’t be recycled. Some commercial mailing houses may accept packing peanuts, but for the most part community recycling centers do not accept throwaway foam food containers.

Some places in our country have taken a stand.

Some cities and town are starting to ban Styrofoam.

Throwaway polystyrene coffee cups, soup bowls, plates, and trays have gotten the boot. So have those foamy clamshell-style cartons fast food comes in. Even packing peanuts are going the way of the dodo.

Here’s a list of cities that have completely or partially banned Styrofoam
  New York City (and several other cities in New York)
  Takoma Park, MD
  Seattle, Washington
  Washington DC
  Miami Beach, FL
  Freeport, Maine
  Portland, Maine
  Nantucket (City & County), Massachusetts
  Minneapolis, Minnesota
  Portland, Oregon (and several other Oregon cities)
  Los Angeles County and San Francisco, California (and many other cities and counties in CA)."

to read the whole article, use this link

In my travels around our amazingly beautiful diocese- a place of fragile, natural beauty- I run into Styrofoam about ½ of the time at coffee hour.

I am also, at non-Styrofoam parishes, frequently gifted with coffee mugs bearing the name of the church I am visiting. These ceramic cups are used on Sundays in lieu of foam or plastic.

It’s not that hard to use ceramic.  Washing them up is a chore, sure, but think of it as a little extra time for fellowship.

Or use alternative cups.  There are biodegradable cups being made from things like bamboo, hemp, mushrooms and sugar cane, now.  My hunch is that they are pretty expensive, though, so why not just buy a bunch of mugs?

I’d love to hear what our congregations are doing in terms of environmental stewardship initiatives.  Please comment! 

It’s the little things.  Really.  When we can commit to the little things, then the bigger things come easier and soon, we are on our way to preserving our planet.

Our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren will thank us.

I have learned from a blog reader that the leadership of the EYE team did question the food service people about the use of foam plates.  They were told that water is a precious commodity in OK and that it was in response to that that occasioned the foam plates.  See the list of comments on my Facebook plate that documents some research I then did on finding biodegradable plates at a reasonable price point.  

Friday, July 14, 2017

the stewardship of souls

I’ve just returned from the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) in Oklahoma City, a triennial gathering of the youth of our Church for worship, fellowship, study and prayer.  This was my first time at this traveling event (last time it was in Philly) and it was an honor and a privilege to accompany our delegation of 12 youth. The youth in attendance from Central Pennsylvania were Emily Sipe, Brittnie and Courtney Betteley, Noah Runkle, Devinee Tucker, Kyler Hammill-Torres (St. Paul's, Columbia), Anna Kwasnica (St. Andrew's State College), Emma DiPace (St. John's Lancaster), Leah Doyle (Christ Church Coudersport), Carter Ishler (St. Edward Lancaster), Slate Johnson (Mt. Calvary Camp Hill), and Molly Souders (St. Thomas Lancaster). Besides our youth, we had three adult chaperones in attendance-  Mary Ellen and Bob Kilp and the Rev. Gina Barrett. 

We stayed on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma.  Following along in the tide of the well-planned and executed events, we moved from meals in the cafeteria to plenary sessions in the field house to smaller workshop events, beginning and ending each day with worship.  When we worshipped together it was 1,200-strong and with an amazing band on stage that kicked it up, and when we worshipped in our small group it was sweet and gentle, as we sat in the dark on sidewalks still warm from the day’s sun and during Compline named out loud the places where we had seen Jesus during the day.

The workshops at EYE invited us to explore a variety of subjects all focused on this year's theme:  "A Path for Peace-"  from the polity of the Episcopal Church to methods of non-violent resistance,  to unpacking the Jesus Movement and learning from people involved in programs that are making a difference:  the Young Adult Service Corps, Episcopal Relief and Development, Refugee and Migration Ministries and Peacemakers in the Middle East.

We learned about out host city, traveling around in 21 coach busses on Wednesday in a 12- hour adventure that took us to art museums, a horse show, a museum of Oklahoma History, on a boat ride, to the downtown botanical gardens, to a suburban church that hosts a program for children with incarcerated parents, and to the cathedral church that reaches into the neighborhood through their “St. George’s Guild,” addressing all sorts of social problems faced by the homeless and the working poor.  The centerpiece of our Oklahoma Day was visiting the Murrah building site and museum which is dedicated to the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building that claimed the lives of 168 people including  19 children.  We were primed for our trip the night before with a visit from 3 people who had been involved in bombing and who courageously shared their stories with us, peeling back the protective skin that they had developed in the past 22 years to share, in all of their vulnerability, their remarkable stories.    We shared a candlelit Compline service under the stars on Wednesday night at the edge of the reflecting pool at the memorial site, looking across the water at the 168 empty chairs that represent the lives of those lost in the tragedy.

Through all of this, I was keenly aware of my role.  Not as “ecclesiastical authority,” but as shepherd and overseer, privileged to watch our 12 young people absorb all that this trip had to offer.  I watched them wrap their arms around each others’ shoulders and sing familiar songs; reach, instinctively, for each others’ hands to clasp each time we prayed the Lord’s Prayer; cover themselves with face paint and rub-on tattoos and balloon animal crowns during the Wednesday night carnival; listen with wide eyes to the docents at the Murrah building museum; overflow with excitement about the possibilities opened to them in the workshops; and patiently wait in long lines for the evening’s dose of tater tots and pizza and hot dogs.  Our kids are remarkable. They really are.  Open and willing and vulnerable and joyful and thoughtful and free.    I felt like it was an enormous responsibility in accompanying them here, and to participate in the stewardship of their souls.

I had to leave before it was over.  Only one day early, but it was hard. It was hard to step out of the circle of these sweet ones.  My prayer for them is that the the Spirit’s work of this week will continue in them and that they will be encouraged by what they learned and experienced.  My prayer for us is that we continue to seek experiences for our children, our youth and for the adult members of our community that we, too, may be continually transformed by the love of Christ.



Friday, July 7, 2017


I spent some time over the holiday weekend watching a show on t.v. that featured a guide at the Gettysburg battlefield giving his talk about the great three-day battle that claimed more than 7,000 lives in the War Between the States.   The t.v. was on in the background as I did some other work, and now and again I’d focus in on some of the guide’s words:   “…sixteen year old soldier,”  “…charging, fearlessly across the field,”    “Cannon fire.”  “Artillery.” “Bodies.”

Upwards of 7,000 lives lost with the total of those killed, wounded or missing more than 50,000.  

It is an awesome experience to tour Gettysburg in person.  I’ve done it three or four times in the past two years.  I will never forget the very first time that I saw the field where Pickett’s Charge took place- it was a warm day in March.  The field was covered with patches of snow, the sky was grey, and fog hung over the ground.  I felt that if I listened hard enough, I would be able to hear the shots and the cries echoing through the years.  It was eerie and sacred.


Last weekend my husband and I attended the funeral of a man whom we never met.

This man died when his car struck a tree in our neighbor’s yard.  It was 3: 08 AM.  He was speeding on his way home from work, lost control of the car and slammed into a peach tree on our neighbor’s lawn.  We were the first to arrive at the scene, having been jolted out of bed by the crash.  The man in the car had died instantly.  Within minutes the street was filled with EMTs, fire trucks and the State Police. We stood for a while in the driveway with a number of other neighbors in our pajamas, slack jawed.  And then we went home.   For a week we tried to understand. And there were no answers.


Today, my husband and I will drive to Hartford, CT to attend the funeral of an old friend.  This friend died at the age of 72.  I understand that it was a heart attack.  He was not a well man; he suffered from a number of ailments.  But was he gifted.  My friend was a musician.  A church organist and ‘cellist.  We worked together for a decade and shared a small office at the church that raised me.  He retired just last year from that church after serving for 30 years.  His death did not come as a shock, but it was a surprise to receive the message from the parish rector on Sunday night.


And so it comes to this.

Death is an equal opportunity experience.  Sixteen-year old soldier taken by musket fire.  Stranger-Neighbor propelled into a tree.  A gentle soul reaching the final bars of his earthly song.   We will all get there.

In some cases, the end makes sense.  It is “natural,” and “timely.”  And, all of us can count the “untimely” deaths that we have known in our circle of friends, classmates, colleagues, and family. 

As Christians, we have a framework for how to understand death.  This framework is given to us in the death of Jesus and, more importantly, in his resurrection.  We claim eternal life for those who believe and have been convicted by the Christian call in their hearts.   It is through this lens that we understand death:  “For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.” (BCP pg. 382)   We rehearse these ideas again and again in the poetry of our burial rite, and at our baptisms when we learn that in the water of baptism we “are buried with Christ in his death… share in his resurrection… (and are) reborn  by the Holy Spirit.” (BCP pg. 306)   As children we learn that he place where we go after death is called Heaven.  And we learn that Jesus, himself, has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. (John 14:2)

And still.

And still.

In spite of the reassurances of our tradition, there is still something at my core that tears at my faithfulness.  Life is so precious.  We get but one chance (I believe) to walk in this place and to live and love and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.  One chance that lasts eighty-some-odd years, if we are lucky, to find meaningful work, create beauty, appreciate the beauty in others, raise children, travel the world, cook and build and paint and sing and dig in the earth to bring forth growing things.  One chance to swim in icy salt water, to lie on sunbaked rocks, to watch sunrises and sunsets, to master a Bach ‘cello suite, to read Moby Dick, and to care for the lost, lonely and those in need.  One chance to make an impression in this world that leaves it a sweeter, more peaceful, stronger, more beautiful place.

That’s so precious to me, that one chance.    And so it is so sore when that chance expires.  For a young soldier, a neighbor, a friend.  Or anyone else, for that matter.

Some of us live inside this one chance with a great, singular sense of purpose.  Others discover many paths to follow in their time.  And some struggle to find meaning, but all of it is precious and dear.

In the end, I believe, we transition into a new reality that is more glorious and brighter and absolutely divine.

But, until then, I intend on making the most of my one, earthly chance. 

Here’s Mary Oliver on the topic:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver