A New Tabernacle: A Home for Homeless and the Host

This morning, we announced a new partnership to provide housing for those who are most vulnerable in our community.  At our parish conversation about the partnership I talked about the way we welcome the homeless in our midst as being directly tied to the way we worship.

The Cathedral is committing to the work of a new Tabernacle – we will create a place of safety for the Body of Christ.  It is imperative that we who seek Christ’s Presence see him revealed in those too easily ignored.

adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposedEvery celebration of the mass is an act of faith in which our eyes see with the soul’s longing for God.  The way we encounter those in need is as much an act of faith.  Christ is revealed to faithful eyes.  It is easy to scoff at the Body of Christ veiled beneath the form of simple bread.  It is just as tempting to scoff at the Presence of Christ in someone who is too easy to dismiss because of poverty.

Yet, beneath the surface, waiting for faithful eyes to see, is new life – is the source of our salvation.  In the Eucharist we receive Grace upon Grace.  In serving those most in need we receive grace as well – we find that the space of relationship becomes hallowed ground where new life is born.  In those relationships we find ourselves broken open and reformed with the gold of sympathy and genuine love filling in the cracks.

Whether we see or not, that grace, that genuine Presence is there – God’s promise is alive.  Yet it is in receiving that Communion fires in us new hope.  It is in reaching out our hand in love to one whom others avoid that hope breaks us open for grace to find a home.  Beneath lowly forms God makes Himself known.

Each Sunday, as Communions are administered, I kneel in my stall.  This morning I was powerfully struck that I was kneeling before the Christ at the Altar and I was also kneeling before the Body of the Faithful who came by one by one.    The Christ before whom we kneel would, I think, welcome us kneeling before one another on occasion as we see within each other grace swelling and shining forth.

In our parish conversation, one of our most dedicated volunteers, related that hers is a ministry of small things.  She provides newspapers to the women who stay with us on Monday nights.  She hands out aspirin, makes coffee, folds pillowcases, and more.  She also mentioned one powerful act of love (which she would not claim as such).

She talked of rubbing lotion onto the feet of the women – many of whom are on their feet all day long.  I couldn’t help but be transported back to the moments when costly oil was being rubbed on the feet of Jesus.  I could not help but think of the complaints of the money about to be spent on “expensive” housing for the homeless – a waste surely?

So often, the eyes of faith see a chance for love where others only see a need to be met and in those moments, adoration begets adoration, and love begets love.

As Saint John’s embarks on this partnership, we are announcing to the congregation, the city, and the diocese that we place our ministry with those most in need at the very heart of our congregation’s life and witness.  It is at much at the center of our life as the Tabernacle.  This project will announce that something crucial and life-changing is happening here at Saint John’s.  Something glorious is happening in the heart of the city and in our hearts.

Saint John’s Cathedral is physically a large building.  By its presence, it symbolizes both the glory of God and of the Church. The money and talents expended on the building are a tangible manifestation of our longing to honor God and to meet God in the beauty of holiness.  By consecrating part of our property for ministry with the homeless we are meeting Christ in another way –in a way that is as beautiful as our worship.

Nothing will give me greater joy in ministry here than elevating the Host at Mass and looking just past it and seeing, through the Cathedral’s open doors, a project rise that will mirror the action at the Altar.  The Body will be held with love and will be Present among us in the way it always is – changing and challenging those who see with faithful eyes.

Robert

Must All Episcopal Bishops be Elected? A Modest Proposal

For one reason or another, bishop elections have been on my mind lately.  With the news out of Maryland, the coming election of a new Presiding Bishop, and the Dean of the Cathedral here in Denver being a finalist in Southeast Florida’s election I find myself wondering about the efficacy of all episcopal seats being elected ones.

As I look at the needs of the Church in the near future, it seems that a certain flexibility may be required in how we call bishops in the Episcopal Church.  I wonder if every bishop need be an elected one and if every bishop’s office need be full-time.

My thought is this.  If we were to retain elections for all diocesan bishops but allow the naming of suffragan and local bishops by diocesan bishops we could create a certain flexibility that does not now exist in our current process.  More than flexibility we could also allow for more direct engagement with bishops and have the kinds of bishops named who might not otherwise be elected.

As we prepare to enter an election cycle in our nation, the issue of primaries and general elections comes to mind.  There are candidates who would be excellent presidents who simply are not the kind of people we elect in our processes.  Take, for example, the excellent Indiana Senator Richard Lugar.  He is a brilliant diplomatic mind and good senator who represented a kind of politics that is lost in our electoral life (he was dislodged from office by a much lesser candidate in a primary).  Senator Lugar ran for president ever so briefly but never got the kind of necessary name-recognition or generated the steam to be elected.

A comparison to national politics is imperfect but illustrative.  Senator Lugar would, without a doubt, have had all of the skills and the temperament to be an excellent president – but he was ill-suited to be a candidate.

bishop-miterIf we were to retain elections at the diocesan level, those bishops could be free to name a less “flashy” or conventionally “attractive” candidate to a local area or to a suffragan position where they could prove their talent and skill and be a more complete candidate later for a diocesan position.  We could call pastors, theologians, organizers, and more who are doing innovative and spiritually rich work and give them a chance to grow and serve not because their work is the most “attractive” or because they lead “significant” parishes but because it is essential to sharing the Gospel in a changing world.

The kinds of candidates who could be named could be the kinds of candidates who do not, currently, represent the “norm” in our elections.  Whether because they are younger, minority candidates, women, are in relatively unknown ministries, or simply aren’t that “charming” – there are a number of reasons that they might not be “electable” but would still be excellent bishops.  In this way, we could take a chance on a different type of leadership and lay the foundation for those candidates to emerge later at the diocesan level.

This would have the benefit not only of raising up different kinds of candidates but do so in a much more cost-effective and responsive way.  In a diocese as large as ours, in Colorado, one could easily see the value of appointing a local bishop for areas simply too far away to be regularly seen by our bishop (who works mightily to do this work).  It would also allow for those local bishops to be not full-time bishops but perhaps be serving local rectors.  In this way we could recognize the local needs of an area and find those with specialized gifts to pastor those areas.

This could happen in a number of ways.  The simplest may be for the diocesan bishop to have the wherewithal to appoint a new bishop subject to the approval of the standing committee and, of course, consents from the House of Bishops.  There are other, perhaps more convoluted ways to do such a thing, but if part of the goal is flexibility then creating many more hoops to jump through would not be all that helpful.

With this plan, a diocesan bishop could also appoint missionary bishops to work in underserved areas to look for ways to creatively plant and grow churches.

Of course the flexibility that this would create in the episcopacy would transfer to the flexibility we could use at the local level.  As we look for ways to spur creative engagement with our communities it would be enormously helpful to have bishops who know their locales in a more intimate way and who can offer guidance and support that is informed by closer relationships and partnerships at the local level.  Moreover, they will be formed in, perhaps, a more recent church climate and may better understand the realities of the current day.

There are a host of questions that such a shift would certainly raise but it seems worth the conversation.

At the end of the day though, a bishop is called not because we want management but because our local parishes are extensions of a bishop’s ministry and each Altar is an extension of the bishop’s.  However we choose bishops in the future, my hope is that we can view the relationship as a Sacramental one first and a managerial one far below that primary unity.

Robert

Liturgy: It’s not the Work of the People

One of the more persistent phrases one hears in Episcopal Church circles is that the liturgy is “the work of the people” based on a translation of the Greek word Leitourgia.  This translation of the word often is then used as a way to say that the liturgy should be more “participatory” or involve more lay people in planning or more responsive to the desires of laity.  I would actually agree with all of these though I might quibble with what any of them actually means.

For example, if we say the liturgy should be more “participatory” this is often interpreted as meaning lay people say more or do more.  Yet in a culture in which we are constantly pressured to do and say the actually challenging act of participation may be to simply adore – to learn to be present with our hearts opened to God’s.

Liturgy+Sermon+Series+SlideYet, my real frustration lies with the fact that this way of understanding the Greek simply is faulty.  The word Leitourgia might much more accurately be described as “work for the people.” The word describes building projects critical to a community’s ongoing life.  It might refer to a temple or bridge or the like.  The work was done by members of the community but might be sponsored by a wealthy patron.

The work for the people was the work that was done in response to a critical need in the life of the community.  These works knit communities together and provided something crucial for them to grow and flourish.  It was not about shared ownership but about shared benefit.  All liturgy in the Church is a work of shared benefit – but it is not the benefit of grace for which we labor.  We labor because it glorifies God.  That glorification of God is a work of the people not in that it is a shared production but that it is a crucial piece of our shared infrastructure of faith.

Often we’ll see a parish decide that they will give lay people an “expanded” role in the liturgy.  Perhaps they’ll read the Gospel or perhaps they’ll say the Words of Institution with the priest.  Sadly, this does little to actually make it the work of the people – it simply confuses the roles of lay and ordained and blurs the very distinct ministries with which we are all charged.  The work of all Christians is the listen and obey God.

The work of the priest is to hear the voice of God and to be faithful in administering the Sacraments.  The work of the deacon is to hear the voice of God and to be a living bridge between Gospel proclamation in the liturgy and Gospel proclamation in the world.  The work of a lay person is to hear the voice of God and to offer their whole heart and mind and body in worship and adoration – within the liturgy and in their daily lives.  The liturgy is a place of consummate cooperation not because we all must grab our part but because we all are charged with reverent presence and adoration as its patterns of grace shape and mold us.

It is the infrastructure – the critical place of encounter with one another and with God – that allows us to claim to be a community of faith.

This is not, please be clear, an admonition that lay people should do less in liturgical worship.  I am a huge proponent of lay sub-deacons at the Altar, of full processions, and of rich liturgical expressions that require many hands.  It is, however, a reflection that we in the Church too often define “work” by how much it reflects busyness.  When we say “work of the people” it implies not only entitlement but also degrades, in its own way, the role of the person who simply needs to dwell in the beauty of holiness.

I read not long ago a piece decrying the traditional role of the Rector of a parish determining its worship life as “unjust” and “unfair.” Yet, our clergy are raised up by local congregations and called to serve by the lay people of their respective parishes.  They are trained so that they might know the mind of the Prayer Book and formed in the movement of the Spirit that has guided the evolution of the Church’s worship for millennia.  It is a “work of  the people” for them to plan and say the mass with dignity and a sense of holy purpose.

I hope and pray that those charged with being custodians of the Church’s worship will do so in a way that honors the gifts and talents of their congregations.  It is even more critical, however, that we do so in a way that leaves them formed in the ordered patterns of centuries rather than simply given one more place to be busy for the sake of not wanting to leave anyone out.

Robert

An Alcohol Free Lent: A Season of Repentance and Reflection

To this point I have refrained from public comment on the tragic death of a cyclist who died because of the brokenness of an Episcopal bishop in Maryland. There has been much comment on the culpability of the bishop, the diocese, and the discernment committee who put her name forward despite previous troubles with alcohol.

bible There has also been much written on the need for both justice and mercy in cases such as this. There has also been a good deal of emotion in debates about what it means for us to welcome into leadership those who continue to struggle with issues of addiction.

On Facebook today, a friend sent along an idea that I thought both sensible and spiritually valuable. He wrote the following:

“Like everyone in the Episcopal Church, I’ve been torn, dumbfounded, and mortified by the events of Maryland: what it says about the episcopacy and church structures, what it says about laxity where accountability among church leadership is crucial, and what it says (ugh!) about alcohol and the culture of the Episcopal Church.

Whatever Maryland says about all those things, I do not want the Episcopal Church I love to revert into a tee-totaling culture, on the one-hand. On the other hand, the stakes of this crisis could not be more serious or portentous. Here’s my idea: our of respect for the tragedy in Maryland and in penance for a church culture too careless and carefree with the responsibilities surrounding alcohol consumption, the House of Bishops enjoins or at least strongly encourages all bishops, priests, and deacons and earnestly invites all the people of God in ECUSA to observe this coming Lent with an absolute fast from alcohol save for the Sacrament.

This fast would, of course, be attended by encouraging serious reflections in parishes on health, lifestyle, and religious issues that arise from ‘stepping back’ for 40 days. Perhaps that seems ridiculous or unworkable on its face, but it might be a national wake-up call and at least a churchwide response.”

This seems an entirely appropriate and spiritually grounded thing to do. So I will take part in this 40 days of reflection and abstain from alcohol as part of my own Lenten discipline.

As in any tragedy, there are so many ways that we can respond that seem gratifying in their castigation of others’ missteps and tragic errors. My hope is that such a fast could be, for the Episcopal Church, a way for us to engage the deep question of our collective culpability in the wake of such an event. Each of us is part of this system and has a small part to play in our overall inability to face our collective issues regarding addiction and the consequences thereof.

I would encourage clergy, laity, and bishops to share in this fast and to use this time as a way to enter into the deep reflection we desperately need around our own part in this cycle of dependency. The answer is not “just say no.” However, we may just find that in saying no we will be saying yes to a deeper relationship with God and a deeper sense of our own responsibility to manage both our own brokenness and to walk with those for whom our collective culture of alcohol abuse is a painful thing in which to be caught.

Confession, as a search for truth, allows us to participate in small-scale transformations that lead to a fuller and more vibrant understanding of our participation in the Body of Christ and in all of our communities and relationships. The search for God must be deeply rooted in the search for Truth, a part of our core mystery, that is shared with Creation and God. Our Confession as the Church, our willingness to open ourselves fully in humility, enables us to receive wisdom, offer service, and form relationships in Truth. Confession encourages transformation by enabling the recognition of fundamental self and the inviolable other. Our evolution and life in community depends on that awareness of self-motivation, self-deception, and pardon.

Confession and the spirit of Confession is a process of conversion and a reflection of the ongoing transformation of the Incarnation and the cross. Rowan Williams writes, “The Christian is involved in seeking conversion – the bringing to judgment of contemporary struggles, and the appropriation of some new dimension of the transforming summons of Christ in his or her own life.”

It is the encounter with the ongoing Trinity that makes tragedy bearable and recovers our sense of humanity after inhuman capitulations to sin.

May we who struggle to make sense of capitulation to sin use this Lent as an occasion to engage more deeply the reality of our shared brokenness. May we find, through the power of the Cross, the courage to name the demons that dwell in open sight.

Robert

A Sermon for the Feast of All Saints 2014

A sermon preached at the 9:00am and 11:15am masses for the Feast of All Saints at Saint John’s Cathedral, Denver

According to Christian tradition, the apostle Thomas stopped by Baghdad on his way to India and gathered the first Christian congregation there. The ministry of the Revd Canon Andrew White at St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad recalls those apostolic foundations, when the first generations of believers were baptized.

The congregation sings praises to Jesus, calling him Yeshua. The Lord’s Prayer is recited in Aramaic, the language in which Jesus gave it to his disciples. Canon White is called abouna, related to the New Testament word abba, by his parishioners.

Canon White has faced circumstances as the Anglican leader in Iraq that stagger the mind and shock the soul.  With the rise of the ISIS terrorist militia in Syria and Iraq he is witnessing, firsthand, the elimination of worshiping Christian communities that have literally gathered from the earliest days of the Church’s ministry.

What does the Church do in the face of such pressure – surrounded by such menace?

What do we do? We baptize saints.

We baptize the poor and those who mourn.  We baptize the meek and those who hunger after righteousness.  We baptize the merciful and the pure.  We baptize the persecuted and those who will be reviled.  We baptize saints.

All-Saints-4Earlier in October, despite threats, a family of five was baptized.  Canon White said, “I have baptized five people today.  One of the Christian politicians came to me and pleaded with me to Baptize a mother and her four children, I listened to them and it was clear they all loved Jesus. I therefore baptized them all. Despite the tragedy all around us we are so aware of the presence a glory of God, What a joy it was when the 10-year-old came up to me after the Baptism and said ‘I feel all new now, I am all different’ and he was.”

‘I feel all new now I am all different’ and he was.” We baptize saints.

Hearing the Canon White’s story about these five Baptisms reminded me of Peter in Acts 10 when he says, “can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people..?” I think it is telling that the most essential element of human life – water – is that which is needed for Baptism.

The Holy Spirit moves over this most common substance to make of common people something new and holy – something which shines a light in the world that darkness cannot overcome.

It is easy to be either too supernatural about Baptism or to be a little blasé about it – to treat it as we think of any other rite of membership.  Let me be clear though – Christian Baptism is not like getting your membership card at Costco.  It is also though not a magic act that somehow, invisibly, grants perks for the next life alone – it changes this one.

Baptism is the anointing of Christians into Christ’s own ministry.  It is forgiveness, healing, death, and life given in an instant.  We rise from the water dripping with promise – soaked in the life of Christ.  We are changed in ways that defy explanation and escape mere words.

Sometimes, we all struggle with prayers – we wonder what really happens on the other side of them.

I certainly have.  I’ll use the Eucharistic Prayer as an example.  Have you ever wondered why Christ says that bread and wine become his Body and Blood?  I have.  What is happening here?

I remember watching intently as a 10 year old.  I held my breath as the words were said.  “This is my Body…” … and I waited … for something … to happen.  On the surface nothing seemed changed – yet we have Christ’s promise that everything is changed.  Everything is new.  Everything is different.

All of the Sacraments work like this.

When we say, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”

When, in Confession, we say, “I absolve you from all your sins.”

When, in Healing, we say, “I lay my hands upon you that you may know the healing power of his love.”

When we say, in Ordination, “…give your Holy Spirit to your servant; fill him with grace and power, and make him a priest in your Church.”

When we, the Church, say these things we do it with pregnant expectation that something is different on the other side of those words – that change is there, beating around us, on the wings of a dove.

But we do not see it, so how can we be sure?  One proof is the lives of the Saints we commemorate today on All Saints Day.

One proof of the truth of the power of the Spirit is that some people live in such a way that all of the promise of those Sacramental moments, those moments of the Church’s deepest prayers, is revealed in holy living and faithful dying.

In the face of death we baptize into new life.  We baptize saints. In the face of shame and guilt we forgive sins.  In the face of a culture starving for God we consecrate Living Bread.  In the face of mortal illness we anoint with healing oil.

We do all of this because we know, as deeply as it can be known, that Christ is changing us – challenging us – holding us – and watching us.

He’s watching and holding his breath because he knows.  He knows.  A change is happening.  He knows that common people are becoming saints today.

Robert

How an Atheist Became a Priest: The Persuasiveness of Simple Things

I am a fan of Ricky Gervais.  I have loved the BBC version of The Office longer than I have been a practicing Christian.  I followed Ricky on Facebook a number of years ago and his posts generally amuse me.  Yet, occasionally, he posts some fairly vitriolic anti-Christian posts.  He is an avowed atheist who seems to consider religion with about the same level of charity as Hitchens and Dawkins.  Sometimes this frustrates me to no end.  Ricky also often posts about human rights and animal rights and part of me wants to shout to him that some of the most vocal and effective proponents of both are people of faith.

Yet, I can’t always shake my feeling that sometimes, somehow, he has it right.  I don’t mean that he has it right that somehow religion is an awful and fruitless thing.  Or maybe I do mean that, I suppose.

Not that long ago, I considered myself an atheist too.  I had a bumper sticker in Mississippi that read, “The problem with Baptists is that they don’t hold them under the water long enough.” I had another that read, “If you want to live in a religious country, move to Iran.” This was long after I had persuaded myself that I was a firm believer because my politics were so right.

Yet, somewhere, it all went off-track.

I had grown tired of bombastic, abusive forms of Christianity.  I was disgusted by the scandals of the Roman Catholic Church as abuse after abuse was uncovered – abuse by priests I had once defended because I thought, or wanted to think, they could do no wrong.  I was queasy because I had been active in the Christian right as leaders were being caught in financial, moral, and political malfeasance of all sorts.

I had decided that I was an atheist because so many of the followers of Christ seemed to have it so wrong.

Yet, there was still something speaking to me.  Not in doctrine but in decency.  Not through evangelism but evangelically.  Not with words but with patience.  You see, even though I had grown frustrated and disillusioned, my wife had not.  Not only had she not become disillusioned with Christianity – more importantly she had not become so with me.  She waited out my break with God because she saw it for what it was, the coming home of someone who had run away.

I could remember fits of anger as a younger man.  Once, when I was asked to find a shirt of a particular size when working at Brooks Brothers, I had gone to the shirt room to find it.  When I didn’t find it immediately, I began to throw the boxes off the shelves in a fury.  At what, I had no idea.  These kind of bouts, while not regular, were a pattern.

You see, when I was much younger, I had lost my mother and my sister – and I had never forgiven God.  God was still on trial in my heart.  And I felt that somehow I was still on trial in God’s.  So I decided I was an atheist.  Yet, I was not angry at nothing – I was furious with God.  I was hurt, bitter, resentful, and felt as powerless on any given day as an eight year old who can’t figure out what has happened to his mother.

So when I heard others singing the praises of God it only amplified the anger I felt.  When I heard people thank God, I could only say “For what?”

There was war, poverty, and famine.  There were abusive priests and thieving televangelists.  There was murderous homophobia. There was silence in the face of torture. There was wrath, envy, and hatred.  There were bombings and beheadings. “God is Love” was lost behind a seeming sea of “God hates fags!” signs all over the news.

What in the world could make a believer be so idiotic as to believe?

I came back to the Church not because I was persuaded somehow by argument, word, or reason but by love.  I could tell that this was something that was important to a person who meant the world to me so I came along – grudgingly and often looking for an excuse not to.  Yet, when I came, I found something that seemed to be missing.  God was till speaking even when my anger tried to drown out the choir and second-guess the preacher.

I began to look for reasons to go not just for reasons to be angry.  I realized that I was not an atheist.  I didn’t not believe – I truly and deeply believed.  And I was furious with God.

Yet, simple things made me listen again.

trinityexteriorwebA thoughtful, educated, and decent priest.  A warm greeter.  A catechist with doubts.  A man who lost more than me and yet still came back.  One by one, I met people who taught me more of faith than the media could of fear. I met people who were bright, faithful, kind and yet who could admit they didn’t have all of the answers.

Laughter and tears. Bread and Wine.  Hymn and Candlelight.  Simple things ultimately wore my anger down to something manageable – something I could finally metabolize because I was being fed with something else.

I would not be a Christian if not for two things.  The love of someone patient and the beauty of adoration offered lovingly.

If I were asked now for what might bring people back to Church, I would offer those two things – be patient with those you love – the whole community around you if you can. Do what you do with beauty, care, and reverence.  These two things – patient loving-kindness and attentive beauty are scarce in our society and their cultivation says something holy about us as believers and as a community of faith.

God speaks to us in these simple things.  Ultimately, God is patient with us.  God tells us something of himself in beauty.  God is giving us a chance to hold open the door for those who long to come in but can’t dare to dream that the invitation is for them too.

Robert

The Eucharistic Heart of Christian Leaders

In watching a couple of crises unfold around the Church I have been wondering about the nature of Christian leadership.  I wrote a piece not long ago on “prayerfully holding the center” in times of change and crisis.  The image I chose was one of the host being carefully held in a priest’s hands during mass.  I had chosen the image because I said that leadership that emanates from the Altar is different from leadership asserted at a board table.

Now though I am thinking that there was more to the image – to its use in talking of the exercise of Christian leadership.  What is Christian leadership except the giving up of self to become something more?  In order to truly lead a Christian organization one must, necessarily, sublimate the ego-self to the point where your own best gifts are seen in the revealing light of Christ’s own Presence in the community and in the Sacramental life.

There is a Eucharistic Heart to Christian leadership.

It fundamentally and decisively hinges on holding the community and people you serve with the same delicate attentiveness that one holds a consecrated host.  The Body of Christ we serve demands the same reverence, adoration, and thoughtful care that the Sacrament does – for what it makes of us is as precious as what it is.

The Sacrament, and Christian leadership, do not exist for their own ends but for the ends of those who receive them – they do not exist to feed privately holy or powerful individuals but to reveal and focus the Christ-likeness of those journeying in the heart of God.  A Christian leader is one who reveals more of the fundamental best, the essence of the community and the individuals in it. The crucial thing is to hold onto the essential truth that our fundamental best is Christ.

Icon, Adorer of the Euch. Face of XtWhen we consecrate bread we are taking a common thing and naming it holy because that is what Christ commands of us.  We are in mortal danger when we take it without perceiving that deepest alteration of its essence.  It is substantially transformed and by grace we approach it, take it, and let it make of us something new.  We are in equally mortal danger should we not see the Body in the community that trusts us to lead.

We come to it with trembling hands because we have been given an awesome gift.

The exercise of Christian leadership must be undertaken with the same awareness of the precious gift that it is – and with the same care for that which is being handed to us.  Our role is to hold, adore, nurture, and receive the gifts of the Body.  In the same way that we implore the Holy Spirit to make of bread a new thing, the Christian priest begs the Holy Spirit to be in and with the communities we lead and to make of them a new and holy thing – to reveal their essence which has been baptized into new life.

This leadership is only about power in that it is the welcome of the power of the Spirit.

It is only about force when in that we reject the force that raised the cross.

It is only about ego in that it is about laying aside our own.

It is only about abuse in that it frees the community from the fear of it.

It is only about recrimination in that it asks us to interrogate our own motives.

The Eucharistic Heart of leadership rests its hope on the shape of the Eucharistic act.  We gather with our community.  We hear and know the word of God.  We respond to that story of God’s faithfulness with our own pledge to live in holiness.  We confess where we have gone amiss – and when we have wronged the Body.  We are forgiven and restored.  We know peace and come before the throne together.  We gather our shared gifts, small and large, and lay them out for transformation.  We ask the Holy Spirit to come.  We see, know, and understand brokenness – then we see it made whole in perfect love.  We share in that which we know ourselves to be as the Body.  We are blessed and we go forth blessed, fed, forgiven, and made bold in Christ’s own humility.

In all of this it is easy to be distracted by the stuff – in liturgy it is easy to fall prey to the need to be charismatic, charming, or humorous.  It is easy to think, “This is going wrong and it is up to me to fix it.” It is easy to say, “I’m doing a great job!”  It is even easier to say, “I’m failing.”  It is tempting to be anxious, resentful, or fearful.  It is tempting to be prideful, vain, or self-satisfied.  Yet, it is not about us.

When we hear the words of Christ, when we look into the eyes of the gathered community, when we let the generations call us to humility in a Communion shared from before the foundations of the world, when we know ourselves as forgiven and restored – when we do all of this with a generous heart we will have rested in the Eucharistic Heart for we will have let the Body change us.

The Eucharistic Heart of leadership is not really about “leadership” at all – at least not in the classic sense of force of will or charisma.  It is about creating the space for holy and utter transformation to occur – this can never happen in communities that are fearful of our authority.  It can only happen in communities that trust that we too are letting the Spirit make of us a new thing – that we are letting the Body feed us for some new work of holiness.

So we hold it gently.  We hold it fearfully.  We hold it with tenderness.  We hold it knowing that in it the fullness of Christ is prepared to dwell – if only we can have the courage to see it for the revered and precious thing it is for it is nothing less than the Body.

Robert

Appreciating the Faculty of General Seminary

“It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was;  that He speaketh, not spake.  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

This evening, I remembered something from our senior year at General Seminary as I was finishing an earlier piece about GTS.  I was responsible for coordinating the annual Faculty Appreciation Dinner and put together a program for the evening.  The program included appreciations of the faculty written and submitted by students.  These included reflections such as:

David Hurd: “A true genius, it is an honor to learn from David Hurd – CM 1 was as much a class in liturgy as music, and we get brilliant flashes of insight as such during his lectures – in both these lectures and in his work in the chapel and schola, it is abundantly clear how much this man truly loves God, and that his most fervent wish is to communicate as much and in such ways as will spread that love to us as individuals, and will help us to go forth in that very spirit. There are few things in life more sustaining than witnessing David Hurd when the spirit is moving in him.”

Deirdre Good: “It has been an incredible relief to have an intelligent, strong woman as an example. I love that I am not only allowed but expected to think outside the box and I have learned more from her than she will know.”

Mitties DeChamplain: “Mitties is such a powerful proponent of the student’s own abilities… she is one of the most supportive, yet challenging teachers I have had the pleasure to study under. Her ability to manage rhetoric and help us to say what we really mean (or what we need to say in the world) is priceless to this institution!”

The program is attached in its fullness below and has many more reflections offered.  It would be a wonderful thing to see these kind of reflections all over Facebook so we can express our appreciation for the fine, faithful work these men and women have done regardless of how the current dispute unfolds.

Faculty Appreciation Program

Robert

And There Was War: Remembering General Seminary at Michaelmas

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“And there was war in Heaven.” Thus begins the reading from Revelation for the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, also called Michaelmas.

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.  And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

This reading stuck in my head all day as I read and heard of turmoil at The General Theological Seminary.  For those catching up, there is more information to be found here.  In short, a Christian community dedicated to the formation of faithful leaders essentially has fallen prey to the old serpent which deceives.

In terminating the contracts of eight faculty at one time the leadership has hollowed out its core of rising stars and living legends alike.  More than that, it has become the latest victim in the Church to zero-sum brinksmanship and posturing.

It would be cathartic to write a screed against the kind of leadership that leads to such an impasse yet I find myself wondering why I’ve been so impacted by this news.

The simple fact is that I love General Seminary.  I love the idea of General.  I love its traditions.  I love its quirks and faults.  I love its patterns of worship, community, and witness in the heart of the city of New York.

I first visited General on a prospective students’ day.  I had moved across the street from another seminary in another state assuming that was where I would go.  However, I was going to give General a try.  I had lived in New York before and thought it would be nice to be back in the city for a day.  I walked onto the grounds and was entranced.  I met students there and was immediately drawn to their combination of wry wit and faithfulness.  I went to solemn Evensong and the deal was sealed.

I fell in love.

Few General students can forget the matriculation service when, as David Hurd played riffs on Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, we all signed our names to a book that students from generations before had signed.  Mine was particularly amusing to my classmates and myself – I was not yet officially a postulant from the Diocese of Connecticut – so I was announced not as a Master of Divinity student or the like.  I was announced as the sole signatory of a column entitled “Students in Special Circumstances.”

I met friends I will have for life.  We sat on top of the chapel tower drinking cheap beer and smoking middling cigars.  We met on top of Sherrill Hall, the old building on Ninth Avenue that looked like the waiting room of a Stalinist airport, and talked of the world and the Church’s problems as the sun went down and the lights of the city came up.  We had black tie celebrations and back room bets.  We debated the creation of a dueling society to settle theological disputes.  I spent many a night in our homeless shelter housed just across the street and talked of the Rolling Stones, pepper mills, the army, hummus, and powerful addictions with our guests.

I remember a lunchroom like Hogwart’s.  I remember drunken ladies and gentlemen on 10th Avenue breaking up and getting back together in the course of a loud stumbling stroll from one end of the block to the other.   I remember a southern-accented Latin graduation ceremony  and the steady drumbeat of geo-thermal drilling our whole first year.

In our sophomore year, we were in charge of the Map-Quiz liturgy.  A storied tradition in which the sophomore class welcomes the first-year students with a mock liturgy, procession, or the like during their first exam (the map quiz in Old Testament).  Ours was a rollicking solemn mass of a liturgy that had too much smoke, too many copes, and just the right amount of laughter.  It was so over the top that we may have been the last class to do one.

We elected a chief sacristan, the person in charge of our liturgical life, with a process that culminated with white smoke coming from The Chapel of the Good Shepherd.  We had follies shows and dances and took the work we did seriously even if we took ourselves less so.

All of this and so much more was punctuated, marked, governed, and shaped by a commitment to prayer as a community.  We were shaped in that holy space as we sat literally surrounded by the words of the ordination liturgy etched into the walls all around us.  No day was without prayer and we learned that our lives, our time, was not our own – it was God’s.

I came to General to learn about being an Episcopalian – I had grown up Roman Catholic.  I left not just learning about being an Anglican but loving being an Anglican.  I learned to be a Catholic in the fullest sense of that word.

General has that effect.

I remember Fr Wright’s priesthood class in which we sat in a small group in his apartment and talked over the pain and joy of pastoral ministry.

I remember Dick Corney’s Old Testament class in which he asked a question on an exam about history and memory – I wrote a long dissertation on Dracula and Romanian dictatorship.  He loved it.

I remember Deirdre Good’s class and learning of mountains, and haste, and the sea, and more – we learned of metaphor and richness in the New Testament.

I remember David Hurd trying gamely to help me sing the mass to little real effect despite his pounding on the keys of the piano to help me find a pitch I never heard.

I remember Drew Kadel revealing with glee the latest Oxford Movement tomes he had tracked down and knowing I would share his joy.

I remember the unwavering kindness of Mitties DeChamplain, the courtly gentlemanliness of Bob Owens, and the laugh of Ellen Sloan.

I remember Titus Presler abashed at ribald humor.  I remember a toast to the Queen of Heaven at a dinner at which we all pretended, just for a night, that goodbyes weren’t coming.

I remember tests and stress.  I remember rest and long commutes.  I remember how we prayed.

Prayer centered the life of academic inquiry at General so that we were not a place concerned just with learning about God but a place in which we could deepen our relationship with God.

God spoke to us, changed us, and challenged us in class, in chapel, and in community.

Yet, there is always the danger of war – the danger that sides become so polarized that the only acceptable action is the utter defeat of the foe.  There was war even in Heaven and yet, ultimately, we know that a victory was won.  My hope is that we can remember that victory has been won for us and that our attempts to control, manipulate, and dominate are so often the throes of the dragon who still refuses to believe himself well and truly thrown down.

Robert

Prayerfully Holding the Center: Leadership in a Changing Church

So, in a sign of perhaps something but probably little, there is no option for clergy/religious in the list of occupations when one registers for Foreign Policy magazine.  This is also the case when one subscribes online to The Economist.

It was a puzzling time figuring out where one properly falls when your “industry” is not recognized.  I have written on the “productivity” of clergy before but this was a different experience.

I was struck not by the fact that religious leadership was not one recognized alongside these other fields but by how much of each of these other fields a clergy person must know something of to get by in their work.

Here is a list of those fields offered by Foreign Policy in which a clergy person must be at least somewhat conversant in order to get his or her work done:

  • Accounting/Banking/Finance
  • Advertising/Marketing/PR
  • Consulting
  • Education
  • Data Processing
  • Architecture
  • Health Care
  • Insurance/Property Management
  • Internet/Online Services
  • Legal Services
  • Media/Publishing/Entertainment
  • Non-Profit/Trade Association
  • Travel/Tourism/Hospitality
  • Logistics

This also struck me as the background noise of my social media experience right now is the unsettling news coming out of General Seminary.  A solid portion of the faculty there have chosen, after many attempts to use other means, to essentially go on strike until they are able to meet with the Board of the Seminary to discuss grievances.  Their action has been dismissed by some as evidence of their inability to deal with change.

From my personal experience of the faculty there, I can only say that I have often found them to be more than eager to engage the changing realities of the Church.

Yet, my thoughts are not about the situation in particular but in the difficulty of forming leaders for the Church in general.  A friend of mine commenting on Facebook about the Task Force for Re-Imagining the Church (TREC) wrote, “I remain convinced that the big answer is painfully simple: real leaders in every parish.”

It is painfully simple yet a profound challenge to recruit, train, deploy, sustain, and retain these kinds of real leaders.  When you look at the list above it is no wonder that so many clergy experience burnout, depression, and more.

How can we be leaders who do not model the great American addictions – doing more, looking busier, and being highly stressed – but a kind of centered, authentic leadership that rests not on our capacity to masterfully handle everything but to prayerfully hold the center.  This is less about equipping or training than it is about nurturing and feeding.

A leadership whose place is found not at the head of a board table but at an Altar is a fundamentally different thing than leadership in any other field.

A recent discussion about a parish’s dynamics had one of my very capable and thoughtful conversation partners talking about “bottom-up” leadership – leadership that resulted from knowing and heeding the will of those being led.

My response was simply that I thought the Church might benefit from center-out leadership models in which we know and remain centered on what is at the heart of our Christian ministry – a relationship with the Trinity whose essence is relationship.  This can only happen when we remain fixed, as the Prayer Book says, on the one place “where true joys are to be found.”

There is lots of discussion about a failing church institution yet I think we are just about to run the course on that conversation.  When I look around the Church and hear the incredible work being done by faithful congregations and leaders, I am immensely hope-filled.  Sure, there are challenges, but there always have been.

One of those challenges is to be leaders who model Christ-centeredness in our being.

communion-55Do our actions and way of leading reflect our words, bearing, and focus at the Altar and in the Pulpit?  Can our congregations see in us an authentic proclamation by word and example that we have faith that this is God’s Church and not ours alone to carry?  Are we welcoming others to the table and giving them a chance to lead with the same generosity that we welcome people to the Altar and Font?

Do we trust them to be the Body of Christ?  Can we, as leaders, celebrate and share in true Communion with Christ?

As my friend says, real leaders in every parish is a painfully simple answer – yet it is a true one.  We need real leaders who are willing to give away a large amount of their “authority” for the sake of the Gospel.  We need real leaders who are content to know that they do not know everything but are faithful in their pursuit of the one thing we must pursue – a deep and abiding trust in the presence and power of God all around us.

This is a leadership all about trust.  Trust in God.  Trust in our parishioners.  Trust in our colleagues.  Trust in ourselves.  Trust that the Church, fumbling as it so often is, moves on through and despite us.

Robert

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