Friday, June 30, 2017

busman’s holiday

The first recorded use of the phrase, “Busman’s holiday” was in 1893 in the UK when it was used to communicate the idea is that a busman, going off on a holiday, would most likely take an excursion by bus, thereby engaging in a similar activity to his work.

Today, we use the idiom in a consistent way, referring to our leisure-time enjoyment of an activity that we generally do as a vocation “in real life.”

 In his blog “Clergy Confidential,” the Rev. Tim Schenck, Rector of St. John’s Church in Hingham, MA, wrote this week about the difficult time that he has visiting congregations during his summer vacation and how he is distracted in worship by the technical aspects of the service.  He can’t help but conduct a mental review of  what’s going on around him.    I know just how he feels.  And I don’t think it is necessarily bad.  To read Tim’s blog, here’s a link:

I hope that when you go on vacation,  that you go to a new church with your eyes wide open.  Not to offer a blow-by-blow critique with a report to your rector upon arriving home (or, if you are the rector, to engage in this with pen and pad in hand, taking copious notes for your next vestry meeting,) but to notice with the gift of fresh eyes, several important aspects of life together as worshipping folk.  I invite you to notice how you are greeted and welcomed; what the church looks, feels, smells and sounds like as the people gather for worship; how easily you are able to find the parking lot, bathroom, coffee hour, nursery; how you can see and hear during the service; if the instructions about how to receive communion are clear to you; where to gather for coffee or lemonade after church; and how you are/or are not greeted by the clergy or ushers on the way out, after the service.   There is a lot that we can learn from each other.

And, share a good word.   If the signage is exceptional…. if the premiere spaces in the parking lot saved for visitors delights you…. if the congregational singing is joyful and the children’s corner in the side aisle inviting… if the celebrant’s chanting is soulful and the sermon challenging… if the breathing space in the liturgy is generous and centering… if the free trade coffee afterwards is delicious… SAY SOMETHING.    While we worship to the Glory of God- to and for God-  to be told by a newcomer that something was received well, in the spirit of hospitality and with grace, is a joy.

Liturgy is not a performance, but an act of worship.   Those of us in the Anglican tradition place a premium on the beauty, dignity and structure of our liturgy which offers grace and one way to encounter the Living God.  To do liturgy “well” is not to be hung up on getting all of the details right, but to provide an atmosphere in which the distractions are kept to a minimum so that the experience can be transcendent.  It is hard to ascend to communion with God if we are distracted by crooked altar hangings or a cipher in the organ.  And, liturgy at its best offers a certain “flow” that brings us to the peak moment when we receive God in the hollow of our extended hands at the altar rail; joyful singing, focused praying, articulate preaching, and a dignified pace carries us to that point.  Liturgy that flows is neither fussy nor lazy, and the celebrant and altar party play an important role as hosts of this sacred event. 

The rest?  The well- paved parking lot, fresh coffee afterwards, an easy-to-read bulletin and good signage?  It’s not gravy.  It is essential.  The hospitality received in all of these things says that the community cares about its members and its visitors.


Now- what about those of us who go on holiday and stay away from church?  God bless you in your rest-taking, adventure-seeking, Sunday-morning-lingering-in-the-garden-with-another-cup-of-coffee … for we all need that, too.  There are gifts to be received in worshipping with our Episcopal neighbors in new places, and benefits to stepping way from our routine, as well.  Heck, some of us might even decide to take the “ecumenical or interfaith option” and see how our brothers and sisters of different faith traditions gather on their holy day.

In the end, we seek to glorify God.  That can be done at any time and in any place. But what joy to “come before his presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.” (Psalm 95:2)    Enjoy your summer adventures, my friends.

Friday, June 23, 2017

mash up no volume

Image result for tv news

On mornings when I make it to the gym, I spend time on the treadmill.  Sometimes I spend my whole gym-time on the treadmill, and other times I just do a 10-minute walking warm-up before moving on to other exercises.
No matter how long I am there, I always turn on the personal tv attached to my treadmill and watch the news- on mute.  I listen to music on my headphones, but I watch the morning news with the sound turned off.

What I get, as a result, is a mash up of the world’s events, with no explanation.

I see images of burning buildings, police barricades at protests, reporters chasing down people on courthouse steps, mugshots, accident scenes, state leaders- both domestic and international- making statements to press corps, tapes of alleged wrong-doers in handcuffs being loaded into the back seat of police cruisers, stock market graphs, dogs and children looking for adoptive homes, and tear-stained victims giving their witness of one atrocity or another to a reporter who sometimes seems to be crossing the line of ethical decency in capturing raw emotion for public broadcast at moments of great personal vulnerability.

It’s a wonder that I watch it at all.

It is a collage of loss-fear-violence-power-grief-raw-despair.

I wonder if the details- the stories, the words-  would allow this mash-up-with-no-volume to make sense?  Or would it only exacerbate my own despair?

Later, at home, I do listen to the words.
I teeter between emotional overwhelm and compassion fatigue.
I think that I cannot watch one more moment…. and, then, I find myself sipping coffee, ironing my skirt and making the bed while I watch the aftermath of the latest terrorist attack on the tv in the corner.

And I wonder this:

How do we keep the faith, hold onto hope, and act like the resurrection people we claim to be, in the midst of all of this? How do we access compassion and use it as fuel for healing the world without feeling burned out or overwhelmed?

For me, the answer lies in the gift of Holy Scripture.

Each morning, I light a small candle and I pray.
I pray the office.  I read the psalms and I read in Holy Scripture the stories of struggle, heartache, and despair from the lives of our spiritual forebears.  Through the years, the stories in scriptures and the people about whose lives we read -these companions on the Way-  have shown me that God does triumph, and that Love does win.  In the stories of struggle, heartache and despair, at the end, there is often deliverance, salvation, and delight. 
Not always, but enough of the time to give me hope. 

The readings on Sundays in these recent weeks have outlined a difficult path for Jesus’ disciples on the Way. The future for Jesus’ followers does not promise a path lined with flower petals, lavender scented air and trees laden with ripe fruit.  The harvest might be plentiful, but the work of the laborers is tough.  And, yet, we lean on faith and step out into the field.

My prayer is that in this time that can sometimes feel like chaos, and in which the madness of this sorry world can feel overwhelming, that we hold onto that which we know to be true:  the love and power of God as shown to us in the stories of our tradition.  Lean on the stories of Abraham and Sarah led away from all that they knew to be safe; walk with Moses in the desert; imagine yourself with the boy Samuel left in the temple to serve the Lord;  lean on the delight of David, dancing before the ark; lean on the widow giving her last mite; or the pearl in the shop window or the mustard seed grown to the sky.  Learn  from the beloved disciple John, faithful to the end; and from Thomas who said, “My Lord and my God.”    Gaze like Mary at her beloved teacher.  Have faith like the stewards at the wedding when the wine ran dry, and step out of the boat, like Peter, when beckoned by God.  Be extravagant in your worship, spilling open the best jar of ointment that you have. Climb up into the tree to get a closer look at your savior, and come to the table, for supper is served and the Master is waiting.

Do not let the stories of Scripture mash-up, but treat each one tenderly, and like a jewel with a lesson to teach you.

 This Scripture- it is good balm for the soul.  It is God’s loving presence in the Word, and in it, we can find hope.  Try it, if you’ve been away for awhile.

Here is an easy way to get started on the Daily Office:


Friday, June 16, 2017

bishop making


have been away at the “Living Our Vows” conference this week, a part of the College for Bishops, known sometimes as “baby bishops’ school.”  It is part of the formation programs for bishops in our church and we attend one week each year for the first three years of our episcopate. The Living our Vows Conference is held at the Roslyn Retreat Center in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

So what exactly do we do at this school?

There are classes and workshops on a variety of subjects punctuated by worship and meals and time for fellowship.  The class topics include theoretical work in systems theory and organization development; training for working with the media; a deep dive into canon law, especially regarding property issues and ecclesiastical discipline; mutual ministry reviews and goal setting; conflict resolution; liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer; and Adaptive and Complexity Leadership.   We also prepare case studies to present in small groups and receive coaching and feedback from our peers and senior bishops.

It is a lot to swallow in five days.

During the in-between time, we gather in the beautiful chapel here at Roslyn for prayers and bible study.   We eat wonderful meals prepared with a southern flair (grits, fried chicken, okra, catfish, smoked pork loin, key lime pie)  and gather around large round tables for fellowship with our colleagues.

Ah, there’s the thick of it:  the colleagues.

Each class of bishops (those ordained in the same year) develop a closeness that helps to sustain us in our work-  work that is fairly isolating.  While our jobs take us into relationship with hundreds, yea, thousands of people, at the end of the day, for most of us there is just one bishop per diocese, just one person in each ecclesiastical geographical unit, who is doing the work of the episcopate.  And so, it is a joy to come together to share our experiences, our dreams, our plans and, in many cases, our failures.  Some of the best learning comes when we can share, “oh, man, I really messed up when…” and then there are nods of recognition, a few laughs and sincere support and reflection on what we learned and how to avoid a similar situation in the future…  My colleague group includes bishops from all over our church:  Florida, Alabama, Texas, Oregon, the Dominican Republic and Quebec.  Quebec?  Yes.  We are blessed in the Living Our Vows program to have teamed up with the Anglican Church in Canada and so we have our Canadian brothers and sisters among us-  between our three classes, there are about 6 Canadians, 30 from TEC (The Episcopal Church) and a faculty of five or six resident bishops and another five or so professionals (bishops and others) who come in for a day or two to teach in their content area.

 The Rosyln Center is set on several acres of rolling green hills in Richmond, surrounded by tree-lined streets with gracious homes.  The neighborhood is wonderful for early morning walks and jogs as the world wakes up and the day gets started.  That’s where I’m headed, now.

Home to you all on Friday.
(this was written on Wednesday morning)