Friday, March 31, 2017

choosing Jesus

Earlier in this week I met with a gentleman who, in his lifetime, has enjoyed the breadth and depth of affiliating with three different religious traditions.  He came to talk with me about the Episcopal Church. He wanted to express his interest in our denomination’s history, and its sacramental and community life.  And I wanted to hear about his walk with the other traditions that he had mentioned- in which he had been raised and schooled : how had he decided to step from one to another…  and then to another?  What were the stepping off places, the moments of decision, the shift in understanding that led to the shedding of one religious skin for another? We talked for a long time playing with the tension of his wanting to know about our Church and me wanting to know about him and his journey.  I think we both left wanting more. I look forward to meeting with him again.

Last Sunday, I had the honor of confirming and receiving and hearing the re-affirmation of several teens and adults.  It was great.  I also had the distinct honor of presiding over an adult baptism.  The conviction of the adult who decided at this moment in her life to profess Jesus as Lord and to take on the mantle- and responsibility- of the Christian Way unglued me.  I looked into her eyes as she stood, dead center of the transept crossing in front of a church full of people and professed her faith during the “examination” portion of the baptismal rite.  Did she renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces that rebel against God? (Yes, she did.  She renounced them.)  Did she renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? (Yes, she did.  She renounced them.)  Did she renounce all of the sinful desires that drew her from the love of God? (Yes, she did.  She renounced them.)  And then- did she turn to Jesus?  Did she put her whole trust in his grace and love?  And would she promise to obey him as her Lord? Yes, she would. And Yes, she did. Yes. Yes. Yes. It was a powerful moment to hear her strong voice asserting to follow this Way, carved out for her in the past two millennia.

I am a cradle Episcopalian.  Truth be told, I was baptized in my father’s Presbyterian church(as was expected for the daughter of a Scotsman) but whisked away to the Episcopal Church, my mother’s church, that very day for a homecoming celebration of sorts and  I never left.  I attended Episcopal Sunday Schools, sang in Episcopal choirs, took my catechetical training for confirmation at the Episcopal Church, was best friends with our Episcopal Rector’s daughter, and only dabbled with ecumenism when our high school youth group combined with the UCC youth group in some wild, bell-bottomed experiment in the 1970s. (It was fine with all of us since many of my friends were UCC and they had the groovy youth minister at their church.)

I’ve been teaching a class during Lent about “Knowing our Stories and Proclaiming them Boldly.” It’s what we’ve been about this year, here in Central Pennsylvania and… much of sharing our stories has to do with claiming our identity as followers of Jesus.  As disciples.  I realized this week that Discipleship has never really been put before me before as a question… or an option.  I’ve always known Jesus, always belonged to the Church, always walked in the Christian Way.  Having to reflect on my life of discipleship has been kind of like asking a fish to reflect on the quality of the water.  What water?!?

Ian Paul, a theologian, writes that the three markers of discipleship include 1) Making a Change, 2) Going on a Journey 3) Enlarging one’s sense of Community.  And so, I’ve been reflecting this week on discipleship and these three markers. I’ve been asking how, in the deepening of my life as a disciple, have I been asked to change, move and accommodate companions?  It’s been a good exercise.

I’ve made many changes in the past 2 years and have, clearly gone on a journey.  My identity and shift in role from one ordained role to another has been of great significance for me as I’ve taken on the responsibility for the stewardship of an entire diocese of loving, generous and gracious people.  We’re beginning, now, to look at difficult questions of sustainability and at exciting opportunities for collaboration and mission and these leadership questions yoked with a physical change in venue and culture have been significant.  My community has expanded, indeed- both in the people whom I serve, and in my new community of peers- the House of Bishops.  This has been not just an act of discipleship- continuing to learn lessons from my teacher, Jesus- but an act of  apostleship, too, as I’ve learned, really, what it is to be “sent.”

My journey may not have been very far, but it has been significant.  And good.

How have you- a disciple of Jesus- experienced
and an Expansive Community?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

home again

Disclaimer- no apology:  I am a child whose formative years were in the late 60s and 70s of the previous century. There are some great things about this-  an ability to claim the ground-breaking cultural revolution that brought peace, love, feminism and racial justice to the foreground and the concomitant 1960s music scene ... and there are some not-so-great things about this- like the Vietnam War, Kent State, Watergate and, on a smaller scale,  the decline of rock and roll into the disco movement.

Once I made my daughter promise that she would play "Mud Slide Slim" at my funeral. It's one of my favorite songs.  Now, I'm thinking that maybe it should be reserved for the calling hours or the party at home, afterwards.

Nonetheless, whatever era you were raised in, my guess is that there is a sound track to go along with it.

This week, as I landed home after many days away at The House of Bishops, the Ordination of Gretchen Rehberg in Spokane, and the Bishop's Executive Secretaries Together (BEST) conference in Philly,  I was led to this one-minute classic (also off of the Mud Slide Slim album)

Isn't it nice to be home again.


Perhaps that's enough.

But for those of you who want a little more info, read on.  One of the goals of this blog (besides giving me something to do on Thursday nights while hubby is at choir practice) is to communicate to my constituency about what I do with my time in order to answer that age old question, "Yes, but what do bishops actually do?"

The House of Bishops meets twice annually.  The fall meeting is in a different diocese each time and the spring meeting alternates between Camp Allen in TX and Kanuga in NC.  At least this has been the pattern and, these days, it seems that some of the old patterns may be shifting or, at least, there is conversation about what works and is best for us and a sensible desire to do things for a reason, not just because we've "always done them that way."  It is important, I think, for the leaders of the church to model some of their own good ideas, like embracing change.

And so, this spring we met at Kanuga where we did some of what we always do:  worship, gather in fellowship and prayer, talk, eat, walk the grounds and catch up, and to try on some new patterns of being together.  Those of us in the first three years of our episcopacy (called with some affection "Baby Bishops" but really called the "Classes enrolled in the 'College for Bishops'"), we met a day early to receive some additional training and spend some time with our peer coaches.  It was time well spent.

The thing that we dared to do differently this year was to bring a consulting/training group along with us, called Visions Inc. (see last week's blog entry "Operating Systems" for a more complete description of the work).  The work was met with some affirmation- and some resistance- (some of the valued retreat and networking time was lost) and, still, there was a sense that as a Body we had put some energy into lifting up an item of crucial relevance and need:  Multi-cultural and Diversity training.  Sure, there were - and remain- other things- essential things- to talk about:  the wild political climate and the challenges in ministering in these times... the immigration ban and our work with refugees... how to respond to epidemic drug use and unrelenting poverty and gun violence.  And those things got talked about in the margins.  As recently as today,  I was talking with some of our bishops in Province III about how it is that we can make time for these other essential conversations, in our collegial gatherings, as well.  We haven't figured out the perfect balance, yet, but we are working at it, shifting, trying, meeting, shifting and trying again.

And then, it was out to Spokane.  The honor of serving as a co-consecrator is hard to describe. (Again, see last week's entry for some background on why I traveled to Spokane).  The thrill of sitting at the transept crossing in that giant Gothic cathedral (word has it that Spokane's cathedral is the 4th largest Episcopal cathedral in the US) and participating as a leader in the liturgy was just awesome, really.  Seated next to ++Michael Curry.  With ++Katharine Jeffers Schori in the pulpit.  It was Episcopal liturgy writ large.  Timpani.  Brass. Kids with banners.  And I was glad for the way that we do things, in this historic, graceful and dignified way.  (Now, if you know me, you know that there is no greater delight for me than sitting on the floor of a parish hall with an apple-crate altar and a bunch of kids sprawled out, celebrating Holy Communion in the most inclusive and informal way ever) and... the breadth of our tradition that can include both forms of liturgy and celebrate Christ's  presence and the holiness of the moment in both services... that's my- extraordinary- church. So-  Spokane.  I also wandered around the downtown, ate some fabulous artisan vegan pizza, took lots of photos and met some interesting folks on the street.

And then, yesterday and today-  Philly.  This annual conference for Executive Secretaries of Bishops and Bishops' Assistants is a traveling event.  This year it landed in our Province and so our Province III Executive Secretaries (Carolyn among them) were in charge of the planning.  It is the custom for the bishops resident in the host province to come for part of the conference and so this morning we had a couple of hours where the bishops rotated through different tables engaging small groups in Q&A (I learned a lot!) and yesterday we spent a short amount of time touring Christ Church Cathedral and enjoying a service of Holy Communion with Bishop Curry.  I came away with a sense of deep appreciation for these hard working servants of God and so grateful that they have a solid peer group of their own who support each other in their difficult work.  (Lord knows, bishops are not the easiest people to work for...)

And now, a bowl of lentils, rice and fried onions (Mujadara) wait for me on the stove. It's comfort food for one who is thinking "Isn't it nice to be home again."  Indeed.

Friday, March 17, 2017

operating systems

Greetings from Spokane, Washington!

I am here to participate as a co-consecrator at the ordination of The Rev. Canon Dr. Gretchen Rehberg as the 9th diocesan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane.  Our Episcopal polity tells us that it takes “three bishops to make a bishop” and so I will join, proudly, with our Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry and others on Saturday morning to consecrate our sister Gretchen to the order of bishop.  Gretchen and I are new acquaintances; she invited me to participate in the role as one of her co-consecrators since she was first called to ordained ministry in our Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.  Gretchen worked as a professor of organic chemistry at Bucknell University.  She was raised from St. Andrew’s, Lewisburg and later served in our diocese at St. John, York, working as a curate with The Rev. Canon David Lovelace, Rector.

This is my first trip to the Northwest.  I arrived on Wednesday night at midnight following a week-long meeting with the House of Bishops at Kanuga Retreat Center in North Carolina.  While we had some snow of our own at Kanuga, it was with some surprise that I looked at pictures from home of 18-inches of fresh snow on the back porch.  I am grieving my poor tulips and hoping, as I write this, that all have made it through the storm without incident. (I did hear the story of a certain house-cat-who-shall-not-be-named who was forgotten and left out all night to weather the storm under the front porch… Word has it that she came inside, ate an entire bowl of cat food and slept for 12 hours on her favorite down comforter.)

The work that we do at the House of Bishops is important.  We gather twice a year to engage in study, worship, fellowship, business and prayer.  It is the custom of the House to spend the fall meeting in a different diocese each year, and for the spring meeting to alternate between Camp Allen in Texas and Kanuga in North Carolina.  Some have called the spring meeting a “retreat,” but based on the schedule of the past seven days in which we had one three-hour block of free time, I’d argue that it is anything but retreat-like.

I want to write, today, about the work of the House that we did last week in the “study” portion of the week.

We were given instruction in multi-cultural organizational development by a consulting and teaching group called Visions, Inc.    I first worked with Visions, Inc. in the Diocese of Connecticut where we received multiple trainings in acquiring new world-views and methods of communication that celebrate difference and work to eradicate oppression, the abuse of power, racism and other forms of “isms” (ie: age-ism, sex-ism) and invite us to view our participation in our world on four different levels: personal, inter-personal, cultural and institutional.   Like other multi-cultural training programs, Visions, Inc. works to explore our current understanding of the world and to offer possibilities for enhanced communication and behavior that respects all of God’s children as equal and valuable and loveable.

The work of Visions, Inc. and other groups like them offer, I think, a new “operating system” for those of us who may have been raised with a limited or narrow world view.  (I know that I was.)

The work is important and hard and deep. It does not shame or blame others for their world-view-of-origin, but offers an entry point for thinking and doing things differently.  We engaged in this work as bishops of the Church who care deeply about racial reconciliation as one of the three “parts” of the Jesus Movement:  Racial Reconciliation, Evangelism and Creation Care.

The House of Bishops worked hard in its intensive training program.  There were some comments and no small amount of anxiety about the need for conversation about our ministry in a time of deep political division in our country. There was a call to examine more closely the identity of the House and how we can best support and equip each other for our work in our individual dioceses, and there was the opening of conversation about how we can better address the widespread decline of the mainstream church in our country and our role as Anglican leaders in the ecumenical, inter-faith and secular communities in which we live.    It was not an easy time, but it was good. These are important questions.

Years ago, when I first joined a gym, a trainer explained to me that the soreness that one feels after a workout is the result of micro-tears and stress to the muscles that, after the “work,” re-cover and are re-built to form stronger and bigger muscles, as a result.   Some of what we did at the House of Bishops felt like an intense muscular workout for our bishop-body, as we pushed and pulled and strained a bit in our time away.  The balm of worship, prayer, singing in the choir and good meals wove in and around the work and… a few days out, I think that we have emerged a little bit stronger and better for it.

And so, how is it with you?  Do you have the opportunity in your work and rhythm of your daily life to step away and do some work on a meta-level that offers skill building and examination of the status quo?  What operating system is running your life and when did you last explore it?  Tweak it?  Work through the possibilities for new ways of being?  I am grateful for my time away and look forward to returning, yes, even to the snow, with gladness.

Friday, March 10, 2017


I am away at a House of Bishops meeting this week at Kanuga, an Episcopal retreat and conference center in NC.

The schedule for our program runs from sunup to sundown so I am not confident that I will have a chance to post anything until an airport layover at the end of next week.

Pray for our bishops and for the work of the Church, as we pray for you.

Our theme for this gathering is "Reconciling Leaders: Bishops in the Jesus Movement."

Thursday, March 2, 2017

40 days. Go.


Oh, Lent.

Every year when it arrives, I am so ready for it.
Sick of winter (though we barely had one this year),
Looking to reengage my soul as the Epiphany light begins to wane,
Ready to draw inside in quiet contemplation and to look with a new vantage at this great big world.

Feeling, this year, worn down by discord, hatred and fear meted out in bomb threats (two this week),vitriol on social media and heartbreaking stories of severed, longtime relationships over political divide.

Needing Lent.
Needing Lent this year.
I am ready.

At Wednesday’s service at the Cathedral, Dean Pinder talked about opening our hearts and letting ego spill out in Lent.
 He made his hands like a giant clam shell, pried them open and then dumped ego out on to the floor.
He showed us how to make the sign (language) for “wretched” (make your hands in to two gnarled fists framing the ugliest face you can make) and then we sang, softly, “Amazing Grace” as we prayed for God’s healing of our hearts.

We remembered that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

And then I came home to this gem, copied below:

It shall be a Holy Lent, indeed.

Rend Your Heart: A Blessing for Ash Wednesday
-Jan Richardson

To receive this blessing,
all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go.

Your entire life
is here, inscribed whole
upon your heart’s walls:
every path taken
or left behind,
every face you turned toward
or turned away,
every word spoken in love
or in rage,
every line of your life
you would prefer to leave
in shadow,
every story that shimmers
with treasures known
and those you have yet
to find.

It could take you days
to wander these rooms.
Forty, at least.
And so let this be
a season for wandering
for trusting the breaking
for tracing the tear
that will return you
to the One who waits
who watches
who works within
the rending
to make your heart