Friday, September 25, 2015


We have a lot of bridges here in Harrisburg.  Anyone who’s been here for a while can list their names quite easily:  the George Wade Memorial Bridge, the Harvey Taylor Bridge (also known as the Forster St. Bridge), the Market Street Bridge (once known as the Camelback Bridge during the Civil War era) and the Walnut Street  Bridge (also known as the People’s Bridge) …  I’m just getting to the point of attaching names to these impressive structures.  As my husband and I have made our way around, trying to “learn” the city (by walking and biking, mostly) we’ve developed favorites- mine is the footbridge across to City Island, and his is the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Bridge further south.

We’ve heard, several times, the story of the Walnut Street Bridge that washed away in the 1996 winter storm. Imagine how odd that must have looked, the entire center section of the bridge being lifted off of its footings and washed downstream. You can see it for yourself, here, in this YouTube video:

I spent last weekend with our diocesan deacons on retreat at the Kenwood Camp and Retreat Center in Lebanon.  It was a wonderful way to begin my episcopacy;  the retreat took place just five days after my ordination and it was just what I needed-  a chance to rest a bit in the beauty of the wooded hillside, to be fed good food thrice daily, to sleep a generous amount of hours in a room with the window wide open, and to immerse myself in learning about the life, work and ministry of this faithful group of leaders.    Deacons are often said to be “bridges” between the world and the Church.  One of the primary tasks of the deacon is to bring the concerns of the world to the Church and to find ways to empower the people of the Church to use their gifts for the healing of the world, joining the work of God’s mission of reconciliation and restoration.  Empowering, inviting, organizing and inspiring.  That’s the job description, if you will, of a deacon.

We are all called, by virtue of our baptisms, of course, to do God’s work… and the deacon’s role is to serve as part of the infrastructure of the Church:  the “bridge.”

I have a friend who lives and works in Texas.  She is a Christian educator and formation specialist.  Amazingly creative, Emily has developed a curriculum and written a book using Legos  as a tool for Christian formation, specifically as a method for learning bible stories. It’s called Building Faith Brick by Brick.  You can find it here:   

Last week I looked with interest at some pictures that Emily had posted from an event at her church in which the students were building the walls of Jericho.  Not with bricks or Legos, even, but with Rice Krispie Treats.  Yup.  It seem that they cooked up a bunch of those delicious, sticky treats and cut them into tiny rectangles to resemble bricks.  Then they built the walls of Jericho.   If you know the story from Joshua 6: 1-27, you know what happened next:  The walls came a tumblin’ down.

Now, in the story of Joshua, these tumbling walls represented the  conquest of the Canaanite city of Jericho by the army of the people Israel as they claimed the city for their own.  It’s a story of conquest and triumph that, in this war-torn and violent world, I find a little tough to swallow.  But …when we consider Infrastructure, the Work of Deacons, the Mission of God and our Call as God’s missioners… then… I like tumbling walls.

If you’ve heard me speak at all in the past couple of months, you know that one of my favorite topics is to talk about how we are called to dissolve boundaries (tumbling walls), do away with the us/them dichotomy, recognize all people as the People of God and see that in serving God, we receive as much as we give.   When we assist someone in filling up a grocery bag at a food pantry, the relieved look on the recipient's face is a gift to us, in return.  When we spend an hour in a nursing home, holding the fragile, tissue-skinned hand of one of our elders and praying the Lord’s Prayer, we are blessed.  A backpack filled with back-to-school supplies for a child in need fills our hearts to overflowing. These are classic and good ways that we can serve… and they give us gifts in return.

But there’s more.  When we tear down the walls between Church and Community, when we find the bridge to be a smooth crossing and not something to be navigated out of a sense of duty, we enter a new dimension of “Church.”  Church beyond bricks and mortar, Church beyond service, Church as an embodied spirit within us that carries Jesus into the neighborhood with our words, our actions, even in the way we hold our bodies.  Church (classically) is the gathered Body of Christ, but I like to think of Church also as a moral code that we followers of Jesus bring to the world through our thoughts, attitudes and actions.  Smiling at the grumpy woman in line behind us at the post office.  Believing in hope as a resurrection force that can transform the depressed, the grieving and the destitute. Knowing that boldness, direct-ness and speaking the truth in love can be life-giving, and trusting in God to hold us in those difficult confrontational moments. That’s “Church,” for me, in action and attitude.  “Church” is also the place where we go to worship in community and receive the sacraments…  so that we are strengthened to be “Church” in the world. It’s a joyful movement of giving, receiving, giving, growing, transforming, and making the world whole.

When we all become “Church” in this way, then we won’t need bridges… because the chasm will be gone.

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Friday, September 18, 2015


(Note:  this blog entry includes graphic descriptions of violence against human beings as described in a refugee’s account of civiI war)

 I was sitting in a circle of 12 or so people at the (then) Trinity Conference Center in Cornwall, CT.  We had just finished a sumptuous dinner that included roast pork with a cherry demi glaze, curried couscous and slender spears of steamed asparagus.  There was a salad bar with field greens and lightly fried quail eggs.  Chocolate torte with fresh raspberries for dessert.  No kidding.  Sumptuous.

I was there for the opening retreat of my doctoral program at Hartford Seminary.  After dinner we gathered in the big living room in front of a massive stone fireplace and began our introductions.  I remember being excited and feeling pretty good- of the dozen or so who were gathered, I was good friends with at least half of the participants including two women with whom I had been ordained, years before. It was an especially “Episco-centric” class that fall for Hartford Seminary.

We sat in a big circle and began an ice-breaker led by one of the seminary faculty. We were asked to answer the following question: “If ‘they’ were making a movie about you- the story of your life- what scene would you insist on being included in the movie?  A scene that, at all costs, should not hit the cutting room floor?  A scene that is significant to who you have become?”   We pondered for a moment and then someone spoke.  Now, this was a pretty impressive group of individuals who probably had some interesting things to say.  But I can’t remember any of them- because of the man sitting to my right. He was one of the folks in the room that I did not know.  We went ‘round the circle sharing our significant moments.  The stories were coming in a clockwise fashion. I had my story all tucked up in my head, ready to launch when the man to my right, the one to go just before me, spoke:  He began in a low, deep voice that seemed to come up from his shoes. It was slow and gentle. He spoke deliberately, in a measured voice, as he told us about his rescue by US Marines while under fire in his village in Liberia during the (second) civil war.  He told us about hiding his pregnant wife in a closet with their toddler while waiting for the rescue forces to arrive.  He told us about running to the helicopter in the center of the village square, dragging his wife to safety with his little boy tucked under his arm.  He told us about his parishioners who cried out to him to take them, too, and his anguish at leaving them, ‘een with knowledge of more rescue forces on the way.


We sat in stony silence. 

Something about the feast that we had just enjoyed- that precious little dinner- rose up in my gullet, as it dawned on us all what a chasm there was between field greens with quail eggs…. and the good fortune of just being alive.  Alive to tell the story.

It has been estimated that between 150,000-300,000 people died in the 4 year Second Civil War of Liberia, 1999-2003. (
Another 200,000 died in the first civil war (1989-1996) and both of these wars resulted in literally millions of refugees seeking sanctuary across the globe.

J. Kpanneh Doe, leader of the Coalition of Professional Liberians for Grassroot Democracy wrote this frightening and graphic description of the refugee experience in his article, “Liberian Refugees: A Nation in Exile” (

Refugees have common experiences … which are deepened and striking. Their tales of horror are similar, and the stories of carnage beyond imagination. All have experienced some of the most unspeakable violence and crimes against humanity ­ extermination, murder, torture, rape, ethnic cleansing, and other inhumane acts.

There are no shortage of stories of some of the most despicable horror refugees have experienced. For example, there is the commonly told story of families being separated ­ the men taken apart from the women ­ whole villages being razed and burned to ashes, mass killing and extinction, people being doused with gasoline and set on fire. Then there is the raping and slashing of pregnant women stomach and their newborn taken away and dumped into the river. Needless to mention, the chopping-off of hands with an axe, the smashing of kneecaps with a hammer and cutting of throats with knives. These stories are graphic as they are shocking.

But there is one touching story which seems to crown it all: This has to do with a five-year-old girl whose fingers were chopped off. She asked innocently, "when will my fingers grow again?" … this (also) typifies a pattern of gross human rights abuse throughout the continent.

Sadly, this experience, as Kpanneh Doe describes it, is not unique to those forced to flee their homeland of Liberia. There are refugees born of many different civil conflicts around our world, and their experiences are devastating.

I write about the Liberian crisis, this morning, because it is the one with which I have had any tiny bit of understanding- thanks to the man who sat next to me that night in the circle. 

When I was a teenager, our parish church assisted in the re-settlement of some “boat people” from Bosnia. We found them a run-down but clean apartment in the city and gathered together home goods from parishioners:  beds, sheets, pots and pans. We loaded all of this stuff into  the apartment and watched, in wide-eyed wonder, as these grateful and terrified people came through the door- deposited in a strange country with a foreign language, strange food, no jobs and no transportation. 

Perhaps you have your own refugee resettlement story.  I pray that you do.
Because it is when we make a personal connection that the distant, intellectually processed story moves from vague detachment… to… unfathomable… to the slightest shade of understanding.  And it is in the understanding that we are pulled to action.

Currently, there is a refugee crisis in the Middle East that has captured the daily attention of our newspapers and relief agencies. The Syrian refugee crisis is not new- the current civil unrest has been active since 2012- and there are now more than 4 million refugees seeking safety. (

Our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori has directed our attention to the work of our Episcopal Migration Ministries and issued a call for us to respond to this crisis of epic proportions.  Here is a link to the Presiding Bishop’s message of earlier this week:

Last week I contacted Charlotte Fry, the State Refugee Coordinator of the Department of Human Services here in Harrisburg, to open a conversation about what is happening here, in our region, and the possibilities for our involvement.  Not coincidentally, a deacon, moved by the Holy Spirit, also approached me this week to inquire about our participation. The website shows statistics of 710 refugees being resettled in our region of Central PA in the past year, 13 of them, Syrian.

This is work that takes place resettling one family at a time. It is rescue work. It does not wipe away the significant need that we have, domestically, in our own cities and towns, but it is a response to a special call to reach out to the alien, who is without home.  The book of Leviticus directs us, as Judeo-Christians :  “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

While we save these fragile lives one at a time, we are called to work together, as the Body of Christ.

Please contact me if you are interested in pursuing opportunities for our Episcopal engagement of the refugee crisis here in Central Pennsylvania. Perhaps you are already involved and are looking for partners in your work. I look forward to learning more about how we are addressing this need and how we might work together.

Friday, September 11, 2015


The usual Friday morning blog is on hiatus until next week as I continue to prepare for my consecration and ordination tomorrow.

Please join me in the prayer that has become my daily meditation in these past weeks and months:

A Prayer of Self-Dedication
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, September 4, 2015

body, mind, spirit

                                                Shema Yisreal  multi-media art by Laddie John Dill  

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

This is (part 1 of 3 parts) of the Shema.  It is the first piece of the Torah that a child learns in the Jewish tradition, and it is one of two prayers that is specifically commanded to be recited each day, in the morning and the evening.

It is a prayer- part of our Holy Scriptures- that I have loved for a long, long time.

The Shema calls us to community and makes us accountable as bearers of tradition: When I was a young adult, I began a career in Christian Formation, and this prayer was my credo.  The Shema directs us to teach our children about God in every instance in which God’s glory is revealed…. to keep the mystery and grace of God before us at all times.

And the Shema is a deeply personal prayer.  It invites us to love God with all that we have- our heart, our souls, our bodies, our minds. 

The evangelists knew the Shema and, in the Christian tradition, it remained as the core of The Way:

Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”
Mark 12:30-31  The Message (MSG)

Eugene Peterson’s take on the Shema in his paraphrase of the Bible (The Message) offers a different way to understand our total commitment to loving God.  I like his words, “passion, prayer, intelligence and energy.” That’s how I want to live with and love God- with everything I’ve got.

I’ve been moved this week by two specific initiatives that invite our passion, prayer, intelligence and energy.  These are invitations that ask us to focus on two specific issues that are vital in building God’s Kingdom of justice, mercy and peace.  I commend them to you for prayer and engagement.


Following is a letter from The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Gay Jennings inviting us, in the Episcopal Church to dedicate our prayer and worship on Sunday September 6, 2015 to ending racism.  Our own UBE chapter in The Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania will be hosting a service at St. Paul’s (Harrisburg) on Sunday that will include the commemoration of the life and legacy of our notable saint, the Reverend Alexander Crummell.  Canon Annette L. Buchanan, National President of UBE and Bishop Baxter will be preaching and celebrating. 

Other congregations in our diocese are asked to participate in End Racism Sunday and to lift this essential justice issue up in prayer.

The text of the letter from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies follows:

                        September 1, 2015

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

On June 17, nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were murdered by a white racist during their weekly bible study. Just a few days later at General Convention in Salt Lake City, we committed ourselves to stand in solidarity with the AME Church as they respond with acts of forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice (Resolution A032).

Now our sisters and brothers in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church have asked us to make that solidarity visible by participating in "Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday" on Sunday, September 6. We ask all Episcopal congregations to join this ecumenical effort with prayer and action.

"Racism will not end with the passage of legislation alone; it will also require a change of heart and thinking," writes AME Bishop Reginald T. Jackson. "This is an effort which the faith community must lead, and be the conscience of the nation. We will call upon every church, temple, mosque and faith communion to make their worship service on this Sunday a time to confess and repent for the sin and evil of racism, this includes ignoring, tolerating and accepting racism, and to make a commitment to end racism by the example of our lives and actions."

The Episcopal Church, along with many ecumenical partners, will stand in solidarity with the AME Church this week in Washington D.C. at the "Liberty and Justice for All" event, which includes worship at Wesley AME Zion Church and various advocacy events.

Racial reconciliation through prayer, teaching, engagement and action is a top priority of the Episcopal Church in the upcoming triennium. Participating in "Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday" on September 6 is just one way that we Episcopalians can undertake this essential work. Our history as a church includes atrocities for which we must repent, saints who show us the way toward the realm of God, and structures that bear witness to unjust centuries of the evils of white privilege, systemic racism, and oppression that are not yet consigned to history. We are grateful for the companionship of the AME Church and other partners as we wrestle with our need to repent and be reconciled to one another and to the communities we serve.

"The Church understands and affirms that the call to pray and act for racial reconciliation is integral to our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to our living into the demands of our Baptismal Covenant," reads Resolution C019 of the 78th General Convention. May God bless us and forgive us as we pray and act with our partners this week and in the years to come. In the words of the prophet Isaiah appointed for Sunday, may we see the day when "waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water."


The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President, House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church


A second invitation came to me this week in the form of an on-line mini-course being offered on Church Next.  This internet resource will feature 4 short lectures by Episcopal bishops Eugene Sutton (MD) and Ian Douglas (CT) and will offer opportunities for cyber-dialogue and reflection.  Bishops Sutton and Douglas are leaders in the Bishops Against Gun Violence ( and their talks are titled  
The Unholy Trinity (Sutton), Violence and the Bible (Sutton), A Theology for Challenging Gun Violence (Douglas) and Christian Responsibility (Douglas).

In publicity materials for this free course, Bishop Sutton says,

“This course is not about repealing the Second Amendment. It’s about examining the roots, causes, reality, and our response to our increasingly violent and tragic age, and offering ways for Christians to take action.”

I know that in my Christian walk, I have been searching for a way to respond beyond my own prayers to this epidemic of violence and the tragedy of senseless deaths that increase week by week- sometimes day by day- in our country.  While I was in Salt Lake City at our General Convention I was proud to march with many of our own deputies and thousands of others against gun violence and I intend to join the Bishops Against Gun Violence once I am consecrated.  I hope that this invitation to enroll in the Church Next lecture series will serve to engage others- in body, mind and spirit- in this important social justice issue.

To find out how to register for the class, use this link:

I thank God every day for the gift of a strong body, an active mind and a passion that could only be the Holy Spirit inside of me, drawing me to action.

I pray that we might, together, use our bodies, minds and spirits to praise God, as the Shema calls us, and to be agents of God’s transforming love.

Love in Christ,


P.S. Here are some additional resources for Ending Racism:

Liturgical Resources

The AME Church has developed prayers for use on Sunday, September 6
(ECCT editor's note: the litany by Bishop Adam J. Richardson, referenced in the linked document, may be found here)

The ELCA has developed liturgical resources for "End Racism Sunday." (click on the Liturgy tab).

These collects from the Book of Common Prayer may also be appropriate for use:

Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.