Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday

Given that nobody else who's usually in the office was going to be in the office, I declared this a work-from-home day. And given that we're closing in on the end of the calendar year, it seemed appropriate to focus on meta-issues of personal organization and planning--the kind of stuff that would ordinarily get swamped by more pressing concerns. By that measure, the day was fruitful. But when something is pressing ... it's pressing. So I did spend some energy on the phone and trading emails over an emergent pastoral issue affecting one of our Eucharistic Communities. By the time I went to bed, the situation was stabilized. Not solved, but stabilized. Of course, emails popped up that needed responding to as well. In the evening, Brenda and I went out and saw The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursday (St Thomas Becket)


  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Drafted the text of my sermon for next week's institution of Fr Mark Evans as rector of Trinity, Lincoln.
  • Received a phone call regarding an acute pastoral emergency and took appropriate followup action.
  • Lunch at home,
  • Finished the sermon draft I had started in the morning.
  • Since this is sort of a "slow" work week, I had the luxury of reorganizing and culling the items in my electronic files (Evernote, if you're techno-savvy). This is never an urgent task, but it is important, as it pays dividends in efficiency down the road. It's also very time-consuming ... and did indeed consume most of my afternoon!
  • Power walk around downtown around 4pm.
  • Reviewed a couple of other non-urgent items that have been in the queue for months. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holy Innocents


  • Usual routine. Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Began the process of concrete preparation for my Lenten teaching series at St Paul's in Alton. The subject is "Patterns of Ministry." Made broad notes on broad categories.
  • Took care of a minor administrative chore.
  • Began composing the draft of a sermon for the eve of Epiphany at St John's, Decatur.
  • Lunch at home
  • Completed the Epiphany sermon draft.
  • Wrote out some "talking points" pertaining to the emerging missional vision of the diocese, to the end of giving the clergy who preside at annual parish meetings a substantive resource.
  • Took a brief power walk of a bout 20 minutes duration.
  • Drafted a sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany (Trinity, Jacksonville).
  • Organized my February calendar (a routine end-of-month chore, looking at the month after next).
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

St John


  • Task planning at home. Said goodbye to Kid #3 and spouse as they continue their holiday sojourn to Tennessee. Deposited Kid #1 at SPI for her return to NYC, hoping United doesn't lose her luggage again. (Kid #2 and family drove back home to Chicago last night, and arrived safely.) Morning Prayer in the car (memorized short form).
  • Handled some minor administrative chores.
  • Processed a batch of emails in my inbox.
  • Wrote a (hard copy) letter to the Bishop's Warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities regarding an administrative matter.
  • Refined my sermon for this Sunday (St Paul's Cathedral).
  • Lunch at home.
  • Hand-wrote greetings to clergy and spouses with birthdays/anniversaries in January and early February.
  • Routine Tuesday hard-copy scanning chores, which prompted an email exchange regarding a tentative date for an ordination in June.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sermon for Christmas (Eve)


St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield

How are you tonight? No…I mean, really. How are you tonight? Are you feeling a little under the weather, perhaps? There are a lot of bad bugs flying around this time of year. Or maybe you’re feeling pretty good, but you know that all is not right with your body, and you’re facing some pretty daunting physical and medical challenges. Perhaps you even know that you’re dying—not just in the abstract, but within a particular time frame. Are you lonely? Maybe you yearn for a certain person to be with you for Christmas, but you’re here, and they’re…wherever they are—not here. Are you afraid? Perhaps you live in dread of an email or a letter or a phone call or a knock on the door that will bring news you very much do not want to hear. Are you wounded in your spirit? Has a loved one let you down, or outright betrayed you? Are there painful memories that seem to just always weigh you down emotionally, and you can’t ever really get past them? Are you angry? Maybe someone treated you unfairly or rudely and it just makes you boil.  Are you upset about the policies of the government, or with those who are upset about the policies of the government? Are you bored? Are you uncomfortable being in church, and are here out of a sense of obligation—either generally or to a particular person? Are you cynical about what’s happening in this place at this hour? Do you wish you were somewhere else?

Well…I don’t mean to depress you. I’m just trying to encourage honesty, and the truth is that, amid the festivity of the season and the joy of this liturgical celebration of Christmas—all of which is completely well and good and meet and right and legitimate—even as we rejoice, we are, each one of us, broken people. We are broken in multiple ways, and when dried up Christmas trees litter the curbs—in a couple of days or a couple of weeks, depending on how one keeps the feast—when life gets back to normal, “normal” will include our brokenness, and we may even be a bit more acutely aware of it, just for having been through this season of mandatory joy.

My wife, as you may know, has a ten year-old border collie, with whom she has formed a mutual admiration society. All things being equal, I would really rather not have a dog, but I have so far avoided giving Brenda an ultimatum—“It’s either the dog or me!—because…well, let’s just say, I’m smarter than that. So I somewhat reluctantly share my living space with a four-legged creature named Lucifer—which, as Brenda reminds me, means “light bearer.” Lucy, as Brenda calls her, is, like most of her kind, quite fond of raw meat. But she has a fear that outweighs even her appetite for a nice, fresh chicken thigh. She suffers from a compelling and overpowering fear of abandonment. Lucy is certain that, if she lets Brenda out of the house, for any reason, there’s a good possibility that she might not ever return. So Lucy can know that there’s fresh meat out on the front porch, but unless Brenda goes out there and stays within sight of Lucy while Lucy eats it, she sometimes won’t even go out the door. The dog has serious abandonment issues, and I suppose may need some expensive therapy before she gets any better. I don’t know.

Well, one feature of our individual and collective brokenness is that we, as a human race, also have serious abandonment issues. We are afraid that, not only are we miserable, but that God has abandoned us in our misery. We are afraid that God has given up on us. We are afraid that sickness and death are all there is, in the end. We are afraid that fear and anger have the final word. We are afraid that loneliness and boredom and cynicism have the last say in the matter.

Christmas is the therapy we need to deal with our abandonment issues. The birth of Christ, the incarnation of the Eternal Word of God in the infant whose parents were instructed to name him Jesus, is a sign of hope that God has not abandoned us in our state of misery. Because a young woman named Mary had the courage to say Yes to a very strange vocation, and give birth in the uncomfortable squalor of a barn, and set the baby down in a feeding trough, because an honorable man named Joseph had the courage to say Yes to the very strange vocation of raising as his own a child whom he did not father—because of all this, you and I have hope that God has not abandoned us in our misery, but is, in fact with us—that he is, in fact, one of us. Because of Christmas, God knows. God knows. Whatever we’re feeling, God knows—not just because He’s good, but because He’s been there.

Are you sick? God knows, and the birth of Christ makes it possible for you to share God’s eternal wellness and wholeness and health.

Are you lonely? God knows, and Jesus’ nativity makes it possible for you to participate in the very life of God, to share in the perfect community of the Holy Trinity,

Are you afraid? God knows, and Christ’s birth makes it possible for you to know the deathless love of God that banishes all fear.

Are you angry? God knows, and the birth of Jesus makes it possible for you to see God’s own vision of a world where justice reigns, where crime doesn’t pay, and all wrongs are put right.

Are you wounded in spirit? God knows, and what we celebrate at Christmas makes it possible for you to receive the consolation and love of one who is known as the Man of Sorrows, and is acquainted with every human grief.

Are you bored, cynical, unbelieving? God knows, and Christmas can be a sign to you of hope that there is an alternative way of looking at your own life and the whole human condition.

Are you dying? God knows, and the birth of Christ is a sign of God’s intent that death not have the last word, but that it be swallowed up in the victory of life.

Christ is born, the Word is made flesh, and God knows. Come, let us adore him. Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday (O Emmanuel)

With two of our three offspring, along with their offspring, having arrived in Springfield for Christmas (and the remaining offspring on the way), there was great motivation for me to hang around the home front today, so I succumbed. I did manage to process a few emails in the midst of everything.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thursday (O Rex Gentium)

  • More Christmas tree moving first thing in the morning. This is getting to be a habit. Hint: They're a lot harder to move once they're in a stand and that fancy netting shrink wrap is removed.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a batch of emails. Began drafting my sermon for the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 1--there is no "First Sunday after Christmas" this year).
  • Met with Dean Brodie to discuss the Christmas Eve liturgies. I'm preaching early and preaching/celebrating late.
  • Lunch at home, after a brief last-minute "focused like a laser" shopping expedition for a gift for one of our daughters.
  • Completed the draft of the aforementioned sermon.
  • Took another power walk around downtown. The colder weather is actually conducive to midday walks.
  • Registered for the March House of Bishops meeting (Camp Allen, Texas).
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the First Sunday after the Epiphany (January 8 at Trinity, Jacksonville).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday (O Oriens)


  • Delayed start getting out of the house, as my brawn was required to bring the Christmas tree we bought Sunday night from the garage into the house and get it set up. We're expecting Christmas house guests to start arriving tomorrow night, so the clock is ticking on getting the house ready.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Substantive phone conversation (by appointment) with Deacon Bruce DeGooyer, whose professional background in organizational development will be an important resource in the execution of our emerging diocesan vision for mission.
  • Conceived, hatched, and rough-plotted a homily for the eve of Epiphany, to be delivered at St John's, Decatur.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Spent a good while updating the customary for visitations of the Bishop to Eucharistic Communities. Having now completed my first circuit of visitations, I've learned a few things, so it was time to stabilize and codify those learnings.
  • Took a mental and physical health break in the form of a brisk walk--first three or four blocks south of the office on Second, then as far east as Seventh and as far north as Adams, before winding my way back. 
  • Wrote a final Ad Clerum letter to the clergy for this calendar year.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday (O Clavis David)

Today was dominated by three long phone conversation and one long in-person appointment. Some of this (most, probably) was high energy and acute, and some of it was low-energy and more routine. Some of it dealt with personal issues, some with parochial issues, and some with diocesan issues, and often all three at the same time. That which was of an urgent character was dealt with--I can say with some degree of confidence--successfully. I decided long ago that, however it might feel in the moment, people are not interruptions to my work; people are my work. This was a people day.

I also managed to finish pulling together my homily for Christmas Eve at the cathedral, and clear my desk of accumulated hard-copy items.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Celebrated the Fourth Sunday of Advent with the people of St Barnabas', Havana. Confirmed two teens and received two adults. Havana is a picturesque and historic county seat town on the left bank of the Illinois River (and, hence, right on our border with the Diocese of Quincy). Nobody seems to know how it got its name, though there used to be a cigar factory there, so maybe that has something to do with it. There is a wonderful core group at St Barnabas', and they are enjoying the fine pastoral care and leadership of Fr "Flip" Boeve.

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:26-38
St Barnabas', Havana

I love Advent. It has a shape that is completely irrational, but, somehow, when it all plays out, it just works beautifully. We began, three weeks ago, you might recall, at the end, with the end of time, the Second Coming of Christ. Then we were shot as though from a sling into a strange dimension of time, where we hung out for two Sundays, with one foot in the wonderful prophecies of Isaiah, which Christians have always interpreted as foretelling the coming of the Messiah, and the other foot in the “rude and crude” figure of John the Baptist, preaching on the eve of the adult Jesus’ arrival on the stage of public life.

This morning, we are finally encountering scripture readings that are recognizably part of the familiar Christmas narrative. We have the Annunciation—an angel named Gabriel shows up at the home of a young woman named Mary and informs her that she’s going to have a baby—only the baby is not going to be conceived in the usual manner and is, in fact, going to be the Son of God and the savior of the world. Kind of a lot for a young woman, probably still a teenager, to take in, right? It would be a lot for any of us to take in. It’s still a lot for us to take in, even now.

The way the incident is presented to us, at least, it’s shockingly brief and to the point. Angels apparently don’t make small talk. Mary was not really set up in any way for the news she was about to receive, and Gabriel didn’t hang around afterward to make sure she was OK and was processing her feelings in an appropriate manner. The Annunciation is presented to us naked and undecorated, simply and starkly for just what it was. That very simplicity and starkness makes it a compelling sign. Signs give directions; they point to something beyond themselves. The Annunciation is a sign that tells us something about the character of God and how God behaves towards us. The Annunciation tells us that it is God who takes the initiative in acting for our redemption. Yes, we talk about God responding to our prayers, answering our petitions and granting our requests, but in the final analysis, what we experience as God responding to our prayers is only the working out of the details and implications of His prior initiative on our behalf. St John tells us that we love God….why?....because He first loved us. St Paul tells us that we know the extent of God’s love precisely because, even in our undeniably sinful state as a human race, Christ died for us. All of this is encapsulated in the Annunciation. God takes the initiative revealing Himself and His love. God takes the initiative in accomplishing our deliverance from the vise grip of sin and death. It is God who is the initiator, and we who are the responders.  

Now, this is hard for us to wrap our minds around because it runs totally contrary to our default assumption. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary—evidence such as is provided by the Annunciation—we think we’re the ones who have to take the initiative in putting ourselves right with God.  We think this individually, especially in America, where we cut our teeth on the ideals of individual freedom and personal responsibility. I am responsible for getting myself right with God. We also think it collectively, as a race of human beings. Some have defined religion itself as the record of our search for God. Christianity says otherwise. Christianity says religion is a matter not of our search for God, but God’s search for us. God is the initiator; humankind is the responder. The Annunciation reminds us of that essential fact.

If we don’t get this right, if we persist in thinking of ourselves, either personally or communally, as the ones who are responsible making the first move, taking the first step, breaking the silence in our conversation with God, we will find ourselves in a most uncomfortable place. We will find ourselves more or less consumed with anxiety, blindly striving after something or someone, but not knowing what or who it is. You may be aware of the terribly ironic environment in which Christian churches and other forms of “organized religion” operate in this culture of ours. Mainstream churches, like the Episcopal Church, are either stagnant or declining, even as the population is steadily increasing. We’re losing what the business world calls “market share.” At the same time, though, Americans are demonstrably hungry spiritually. The word “religion” evokes a response of boredom and irrelevance, but “spirituality” is a hot property these days. Even the venerable Christian practice of spiritual direction has been co-opted by those who have not only no Christian commitment, but not even any formal religious commitment of any sort. In a paradoxical way, perhaps, I believe we can see the evidence of pervasive spiritual hunger—albeit misdirected, as in “looking for food in all the wrong places”—I believe we can see the evidence of pervasive spiritual hunger even in the excessive consumerism that seems so widespread, especially in the area of video games, which have become a shockingly sophisticated form of alternate reality in which millions of people have literally lost themselves. I might also mention the voyeurism that is pandered to by so-called “reality shows” on television. These are all tangible signs of what happens when we fall victim to thinking that finding God—finding purpose, finding meaning, finding ultimate reality—is all on us. These are signs of what happens when we forget the message of the Annunciation—that it is God who takes the initiative in loving us and saving us.

Indeed, the Annunciation points us in quite another direction. It teaches us that God has noticed that we are trapped in a mess of our own making, but trapped nonetheless. We are bound by a force that impels us to do things and say things that we know are not good for us or anyone else, but we do them and say them anyway. We are bound by the awful reality of our own mortality, and the gnawing anxiety that the prospect of our own death haunts us with every day. God sees us in this mess, but He doesn’t leave us in this mess. He takes the first step, makes the first move, primes the pump for our salvation.

God does this first on our behalf collectively, as the human race. This is precisely what we as the Church celebrate in the “incarnational cycle” of the liturgical year—from Advent through Epiphany. Then, within the context of what He does for us collectively, God takes the initiative to act for us individually. He sends us His Holy Spirit to move in our hearts and turn us toward Himself.  All God asks from us is our active cooperation—which is nothing other than what he asked from Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary. What was her response to the angel?  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  Mary provided an environment—her own body, in fact —for the Word of God to be “formed” in her, and then, when the time was right, she gave birth to that Word, an event that we will celebrate a week from now. Our calling is to emulate Mary, to provide an environment in which the Word of God can be “formed” in us, and then to “give birth” to that Word in our lives. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday (O Sapientia)

After a long stretch since the last such occasion, I didn't need to drive somewhere and spend the night in a hotel today. While I do enjoy my work, this was a welcome change of pace. Brenda and I took the opportunity to begin to get organized, and actually make a little progress, toward preparing for a house full of people (children and spouses, granddaughters) next weekend. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday


  • Having fasted all night, this time I was successful in leaving a blood sample at the lab so they can tell me my latest cholesterol numbers. Then back home for breakfast. 
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral, then a bit of email processing. 
  • The Department of General Mission Strategy convened at 10 for a very productive meeting that ended around 12:30. There is a great deal to be done, but I believe we are pointed in the right direction. 
  • Late and long lunch downtown with the Archdeacon and the Rector of Morgan County Parish (part of our DGMS meeting was spent discussing the need to begin using the new terminology). 
  • Made a phone call to one of our retired priests who has been dealing with some very serious health issues of late. 
  • One of my ongoing projects is to learn the names and county seats of all sixty counties in the Diocese of Springfield. To that end, I tested myself today. I'm apparently a little more than a third of the way toward the goal. 
  •  Friday prayer time: Turning out the lights in the office, kicking back in the recliner, and listening to a CD of musical settings of the "Great O Antiphons" of Advent (the time for which begins tomorrow evening). Advent is hugely important to me spiritually, and the Great O's continue to worm their way more deeply into my heart. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • In the evening, Brenda and watched, courtesy of Netflix, the film Of Gods & Men. If you want to know what the nth degree of "concretely incarnate" in our diocesan vision statement means, see this movie.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday


  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a relatively short stack of emails.
  • Took a call from Fr David Boase in Alton as we continued to lay plans for the Lenten teaching series I will be doing at St Paul's.
  • Did some brain work and made a few notes in preparation for tomorrow's meeting of the Department of General Mission Strategy.
  • Lunch at home, then a fruitless shopping quest for a dry erase board for the conference room in the diocesan office. We need one. But it needs to be free-standing, since we don't have a wall to mount one on, and it needs to be bigger than a newsprint tablet.
  • Took a broad look at the propers for the Sundays after Epiphany and made some sketchy notes and plans for sermons on those Sundays.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday (St John of the Cross)


  • Task planning at home, then took the vehicle to the dealer for some warranty work. Brenda met me there and ran me in to the office.
  • Completed a survey (by hand, no less!) from the College of Bishops regarding the impact that their program has had on my ministry.
  • Exchanged substantive emails with a potential candidate for one of our vacant clergy positions.
  • Wrote an email to the members of the diocesan Disciplinary Board prompting them to elect a president.
  • Finished a draft of my homily for Christmas Eve at St Paul's Cathedral.
  • Since my car wasn't finished yet, thus stranding me in downtown Springfield, I "made lemondade" by walking to the heart of downtown for lunch, grabbing a sandwich within sight of the old capitol building, and dodging raindrops on the way back to the office.
  • Wrote a snail mail letter (since I couldn't find an email address for him) to a priest I am hoping to entice into becoming a candidate for the same open position I referenced above.
  • Took care of a couple of items of administrative minutia.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 1), again at the cathedral.
  • Rode with Sue Spring to the Hyundai dealer to retrieve the vehicle.
  • Read and meditated a bit on the lectionary readings for Epiphany. As it happens, I'll be preaching and celebrate at St John's, Decatur on the eve of that feast, and again the next night as we induct Fr Mark Evans as new rector of Trinity, Lincoln. So this was a two-fer.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday


  • Morning Prayer in my parked car outside the dental office where Brenda was scheduled for some oral surgery, from which she would emerge as a bit of a road hazard were she to get behind the wheel of a car. As it turned out, the procedure got delayed, but that's another story.
  • So...in the office just past 10am. Debriefed with the Archdeacon on my weekend visits to Paris, Mattoon, and Champaign.
  • Processed a batch of emails, which took me all the way up to noon.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Usual Tuesday hard-copy scanning chores.
  • Reviewed the items on the "tree" of the diocesan website, in preparation for beginning the transition to a new one. I'm hoping to see a "beta" of the new site before too long.
  • Refined and otherwise polished my homily for this Sunday, at St Barnabas', Havana.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday

I'm truly religious about taking a full day off from my main work each week, sabbath rest being a key spiritual principle and all. But worthy exceptions can sometimes be made, an example being tonight's social gathering for members of the cathedral chapter and their spouses, held at the gracious home of Dean Bob and Linda Brodie. The meal was followed by the regular December chapter meeting (at which the Bishop by statute has seat, voice, and vote).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent III ("Rose Sunday")

  • Woke up in Charleston and actually remembered where I was (not always guaranteed these days!). 
  • Celebrated, preached, and confirmed at Trinity, Mattoon (the confirmand was actually from Holy Trinity, Danville), with surprisingly good attendance, by Mattoon standards (I counted around 70). Discovered actual rose-colored cope and chasuble in the sacristy closet, so I was properly decked out for Gaudete Sunday.
  • The liturgy was followed by a delicious catered repast in the parish hall, which was, in turn, capped off by a vigorous discussion of mission and ministry in a post-Christian culture, and ways that Trinity might be engaged in that work. Good questions and observations from parishioners.
  • Then it was off to Champaign for a 2pm meeting with the vestry of the Chapel of St John the Divine. They are about to give their charge to the search committee, and we had a productive discussion of the parameters of that process. 
  • After availing ourselves of the hospitality of one of the members of that vestry, who offered us her home as a place to just chill out (and actually catch a few winks) for a couple of hours, we headed off to dinner at a restaurant in Urbana with some friends from Holy Trinity, Danville.
  • The evening was capped off by the wonderful annual Festival of Lessons and Carols at the chapel. The music program there is top drawer, in the classic Anglican cathedral tradition. What a joy.
  • Home around 10:45. Tomorrow's rest will be much needed!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday

Quiet easy morning. Good power walk. A couple of household chores. Then pack and hit the road for Paris (yes, Paris, Illinois, the seat of Edgar County). Celebrated and preached at St Andrew's, then went out to dinner with all the active members of the parish. Both of them. Over dinner, it seemed self-evident to everyone that the time has come to pull the plug. So we will close the books on St Andrew's (pending Standing Committee approval, of course) at year's end. This is certainly a sorrowful decision to have to make. But it's the right one.

Our hotel room tonight is in Charleston, in advance of tomorrow's visit to Trinity, Mattoon.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday

  • Usual morning routine. Morning Prayer in the (cold) cathedral.
  • Spent the rest of the morning processing emails. The difficulty of the task was compounded by the fact that they just kept pouring in! Though it was frustrating at moments, a great deal was accomplished.
  • Lunch at home (on the late side).
  • Studied the questions on the congregational profile survey for St John's Chapel in Champaign.
  • Friday prayer: Ignatian-style discursive meditation on the gospel passage in the daily office--Jesus ripping into the Scribes and Pharisees for their self-absorbed and self-serving hypocrisy. It was a bit of a disturbing challenge to "pray through" a passage like that. But prayer should be disturbing and challenging, at least occasionally, I guess.
  • Met with Vice-Chancellor Kevin Babb, only today he was wearing his Department of Campus Ministry hat. Wide-ranging discussion that started with campus ministry but ran to mission strategy in general.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thursday (Immaculate Conception)

A play day for the Bishop and Brenda. Through a fortuitous combination of events, some tickets to the Chicago Lyric Opera came our way, which was too good an offer to pass up. So we hopped a 6:30 Amtrak departure in Springfield, which deposited us at Union Station in Chicago in time to walk the twelve or so blocks (with a Starbuck's stop en route) to the Frontera Grill at Clark and Illinois, where we had 11:30 lunch reservations (and a gift card from a wedding I presided over a year ago!). This is "creative Mexican" (google Chef Rick Bayless) and was phenomenally good. We were joined by our son and daughter-in-law, as well as our son-in-law and older granddaughter. Then we hoofed it back down to the opera house for a fine and enjoyable production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. After grabbing a bite in Union Station, we boarded the 7pm southbound departure and were back in our vehicle in Springfield just after 10:30. A full day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wednesday (St Ambrose of Milan)

  • Usual morning routine.
  • Upon arrival in the office, seized a moment of kairos and wrote a blog post about the season of Advent.
  • Spent forty minutes on the phone with the investment adviser for the Putnam Trust, which provides significant income to two of our congregations, and of which the Bishop of Springfield is one of two trustees (the other being Bank of America). This was a routine year-end review.
  • Publicized the appointment of the Archdeacon as Intake Officer under Title IV canons (clergy discipline). Any incidents of clergy misconduct (perish the thought) should be reported promptly and directly to him to begin the process.
  • Fleshed out a draft of a homily for Advent IV (December 18th at St Barnabas', Havana).
  • Took a phone call from one of our rectors with a liturgical question. I am, after all, a certified liturgy geek.
  • Lunch at the Sangamo Club with Dean Brodie. We discussed an array of topics having to do both with the cathedral and the diocese.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for Christmas Eve at St Paul's Cathedral.
  • Walked downtown to do a couple of personal errands ... and rack up some steps on the pedometer.
  • Emailed the rector of a parish with a visitation later this month.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • After a stop at home for a bite to eat, hit the road to Carlinville for a meeting with the vestry of St Paul's. This was to discuss a role I am inviting them to play in connection with the emerging strategic mission vision of the diocese. Home around 10.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday (St Nicholas)

  • Usual morning routine: task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a longish batch of emails. This required reading several attachments and writing several replies. Consumed most of the morning.
  • Scheduled a lunch appointment with the Dean for tomorrow.
  • Took a phone call from one of our rectors regarding a pastoral matter.
  • Began to process the pile of hard copy items that has been accumulating over the last week or so.
  • Lunch at home (sliced deli turkey with Thai peanut sauce, sprouted grain bread with melted Parmesan cheese).
  • Continued and completed the document processing work.
  • Refined my homily for this weekend (St Andrew's, Paris and Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Prepared a couple of my "official portraits" for mailing to some former parishioners who were extraordinarily kind to me when I left Warsaw, IN last January.
  • Took a phone call from the Rector's Warden of St John's Chapel in Champaign with some questions regarding their search process.
  • Took a mini-power walk: Down First Street to South Grand, then back up Second to the office. Since I've been carrying a pedometer in my pocket, I've been getting a little OCD about racking up steps every day. On balance, this is a good thing.
  • Did a little bit of online Christmas shopping.
  • Wrote an email to a warden in one of our Eucharistic Communities regarding some administrative concerns.
  • Took a phone call from the Bishop's Warden of St Michael's, O'Fallon giving me an update on their search process.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Second Sunday of Advent

  • All my Sunday visits so far have been joyful and uplifting, and today's to St Andrew's, Carbondale was no exception. They are an engaged and positive group of people. 

  • But Carbondale is a long way from Springfield, of course, and there's "no good way to get there." So it was well past 4pm by the time we rolled back into our driveway.

Sermon for Advent II

Mark 1:1-8--Isaiah 40:1-11--II Peter 3:8-15a

St Andrew’s, Carbondale  
Back when the personal computer was a relatively new thing—and, I’m afraid to say, I’m old enough to remember that—we had to learn some new vocabulary; most of the time, familiar words used in an unfamiliar way. One of these words was “peripheral,” used as a noun. A peripheral is something that performs a useful function—a printer, for example—but is more or less useless unless a computer tells it to do whatever it does. A printer, or a speaker, or a set of headphones, are absolutely dependent on being connected somehow to a computer (keeping in mind that a smart phone or an iPod is actually a small computer). That's why they call it "peripheral." 

Practicing Christian faith in this complex world of ours is in some ways like using a computer. There are fundamentals and there are peripherals. Both fundamentals and peripherals are necessary and good, but they are of benefit to us only if we remember which ones are which. As Catholic Christians, we have an overflowing abundance of spiritual “peripherals” to pave the way and illuminate and otherwise assist us on our journey back to God. 

This is especially apparent during this time of year when we prepare for Christmas:
Advent Wreaths in our homes, Advent Calendars to heighten the sense of anticipation in our children,  seasonal music, even the Salvation Army bellringers outside the stores.   During the rest of the year we have retreats and quiet days, spiritual direction, small groups,various classes, icons and other forms of Christian art, birthday blessings, symbolic vestments,  kneeling-standing-sitting and making the sign of the cross, Sunday School classes, books of prayer and books on prayer. The list could go on, virtually without end. We are surrounded by religious peripherals—good and gracious gifts from God which are his instruments in drawing us to himself.

Surrounded to such a degree, in fact, that it becomes a challenge to distinguish the peripherals from the fundamentals. It is alarmingly easy to become so involved in the practice of Christian religion that we lose touch with the practice of Christian faith. Jesus, and the centrality of our relationship to him, can, if we're not attentive, become lost in the shuffle. And it is precisely to this possibility that an unkempt and ill-mannered John the Baptist addresses himself on this the Second Sunday of Advent. 

What a sight he is! Skin tanned into leather by the desert sun, wearing a crudely put-together outfit made of camel hide, chowing down on grasshoppers and honey pilfered directly from the beehive. In an era before theme parks, John the Baptist is a one-man “Six Flags Over the Jordan.” His message is like a slap in the face, like a splash of antiseptic on an open wound. “Snap out of it!  Listen up!  Something very important is about to happen and—trust me on this—if you're not ready for it when it comes, you’ll be sorry.  If you think I'm in your face, wait till you meet who comes next.  I’m nothing compared to him. And the best way to get ready to meet him is to change your ways, to stop what you’re doing and start doing something else. The way to prepare for the one I’m telling you about is to repent.”

The news that commands our attention this morning—it’s good news, actually, though we might not experience it that way yet—the news that commands our attention is that the first thing we've got to do to prepare for the coming of Christ is to repent. Repentance prepares us to joyfully celebrate the feast of Christmas, to welcome into our hearts yet again the Word made Flesh, God incarnate, the one who came in weakness to be our savior. And repentance keeps us prepared to welcome that same Christ when he returns into our world in triumph to be our judge. 

Now please understand that when I talk about repentance I’m not talking about regret,  or feeling sorry for what we’ve done or left undone. Sorrow for our sins is appropriate, but that’s not repentance.  Repentance is what the captain of a large ship does when it’s headed toward the rocks.  First, he’s got to stop the forward momentum in the dangerous direction. When we repent, the first thing we’ve got to do is stop what we’re doing, to get quiet and still. The next thing the ship’s captain has to do is turn the vessel around, to change the direction it’s headed, to point the bow of the ship away from the rocks and out toward the open sea. When we repent, after we stop, we’ve got to turn, to turn toward Christ. We’ve got to face Christ, Christ who is both savior and judge.   Before we can receive his forgiveness, we must receive his judgement.  The third thing the ship’s captain has to do is power up the engines once again and start moving in the new direction. In the movement of repentance, this means focusing intently, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and following him as he leads us out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. 

The whole thing is like a parent dealing with a toddler in the midst of a temper tantrum.  A swat to the backside gets his attention—John the Baptist does the honors in that department. Then the parent grasps the child by the shoulders and turns him around, away from the toy or the book or the person that is the object of the tantrum. Then the parent might even gently hold the child by the jaw and make unambiguous eye contact and say, “Look at me.” God calls us to repentance through such vehicles as John the Baptist. But he knows repentance doesn't come naturally to us, so he’s around to help us out in various ways. 

Repentance is not only unnatural, it can be downright unpleasant. So we do well to bear in mind what’s at stake. What’s at stake is our preparedness. Whether we’re ready or not, Christmas will come. But at least we know when that coming of Christ will occur. 
Other comings of Christ are unannounced. Christ may “come” for any of us, in a special personal way at any time, according to his purposes. If we have not prepared through repentance, he will be like a painter arriving on a job site and finding that the wall has not been scraped or primed, and therefore cannot be painted. And Christ will come for all of us, publicly and permanently, on the last day as he has promised, that great day when, in the words of II Peter, “the heavens and the earth will pass away with a loud noise and the elements will be dissolved with fire.” 

If he comes on that day and we have not prepared for that coming through repentance, he will be like a master chef arriving in the kitchen to find that no one has washed and chopped the vegetables or measured out the spices, or prepared the raw meat.  So there is quite a bit at stake. Repentance may not be as glamorous as some of the “peripherals” of Christian religious practice. But without it, they have no meaning. Repentance leads to forgiveness and reconciliation.  And forgiveness and reconciliation lead to conversion of life. And conversion of life leads to full preparedness for whatever coming of Christ we care to contemplate.  And preparedness means the wall will get painted and the meal will get cooked and all will be well. 

Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday

Leisurely Saturday morning, followed by a good long and hard walk. I've had a bit of something all week and fell off the exercise wagon, so it was good to rack up some steps on the pedometer. Then it was time to pack and hit the road for Marion, where we are staying in advance of our visit to St Andrew's in Carbondale tomorrow (the two towns are about 15 miles apart, and the intervening stretch of Illinois 13 is about fully developed). Fr Roderick, the rector of St Andrew's, picked us up and drove us to the lovely home of a parishioner, who hosted an elegant dinner for vestry and spouses. Stimulating and wide-ranging conversation.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday (Channing Moore Williams)

  • Usual planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • Appointment with my primary care physician. Bronchitis.
  • Drafted a letter formally appointing the Archdeacon to the enviable position of Title IV Intake Officer. This is only one of a series of administrative moves I have to make to ensure that our processes are ready for clergy-behaving-badly (which we hope, of course, never happens).
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, at St Barnabas', Havana. That visit will conclude my first full round. I will have then presided and preached at 38 Eucharistic Communities in the Diocese of Springfield.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Fleshed out a draft of a sermon for Advent III (Saturday night at St Andrew's, Paris and Sunday morning at Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Responded on Facebook to a fairly substantive pastoral care issue.
  • Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary in front of the lovely statue of Our Lady holding the infant Jesus that stands in the rear of the cathedral nave.
  • Created an Excel spreadsheet for use in weighing various options when making travel plans. Living in Springfield, there are a number of options for air travel (none of them particularly good, I might add). I'm hoping this device will enable me to more efficiently make the wisest decisions.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedra.
  • The evening took Brenda and me to a delightful concert by the Illinois Chamber Orchestra. What a gem: Handel's Water Music (or parts thereof); the Et incarnatus est section from Mozart's Mass in C-minor, followed by his Exultate Jubilate, both sung by a very fine soprano; Wagner's Sigfied Idyll; and three Respighi tone poems on paintings by Botticelli. And we only had to drive about ten minutes to the venue. Sweet.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday (Nicholas Ferrar)

  • Usual morning routine at home, then off to a 10am meeting in Chesterfield (an approximately 75 minute drive).
  • Met for over two hours with virtually all the present active members of St Peter's, Chesterfield--about ten people--in search of a sustainable approach to ensuring their future as a Eucharistic Community, the third oldest in the diocese, with their little building dating back to 1848. Lots of good honest dialogue. More is yet needed. 
  • Grabbed lunch on the go at a Dairy Queen in Carlinville.
  • Got back to the office somewhere south of 1:30, and then worked a good while on processing my email inbox only slightly faster than new ones were arriving. 
  • Solidified and refined my homily for this Sunday, to be delivered at St Andrew's, Carbondale. 
  • Took a couple of substantive phone calls regarding a couple of emerging (well, ongoing actually) pastoral/administrative situations in a couple of our congregations.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sermon Notes for Advent III

When preaching in very small congregations, I usually work just from memory or skimpy notes, so this one was not written out. But you can get the gist, I hope.

B: Advent III (2011)
St Andrew’s, Paris / Trinity, Mattoon

John1:6-8, 19-28
Isaiah 64:1-4, 8-11
 Psalm 126
I Thessalonians 5:16-24


MESSAGE: Seeing what God is doing leads inevitably to rejoicing.

• The shape of Advent … Gaudete Sunday
• J the B … “Why are you doing what you’re doing?” … “Because this is BIG, really BIG!!”
• Isaiah: good news to everyone who is disenfranchised, marginalized, and victimized by injustice and exploitation … the good guys win in the end (Jerusalem restored)
• This is God’s “project,” and the coming Christ is a pivotal moment in the execution of that project (hence, John’s enthusiasm)
• Nod toward Ps 126
• So … per Paul: Rejoice! “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St Andrew's Day

  • Task planning at home.
  • Dropped shoes off at repair shop, took car for routine service; Brenda drove me in to the office.
  • Sorted and culled and otherwise processed a stack of snail mail on my desk.
  • Debriefed with the Administrator and the Archdeacon on sundry minutia.
  • Began hand-writing greetings to clergy and spouses with December birthdays and wedding or ordination anniversaries. (December is a big month for ordination anniversaries!) Some of them may even be partially legible. Hoping it's the thought that counts.
  • Sue took me to retrieve my car, then lunch from you-know-where, eaten at home.
  • Finished the milestone greetings begun before lunch.
  • Usual weekly scanning and e-cataloging of hard copy documents.
  • Left at 3:30 with the Archdeacon for Trinity Church, Mount Vernon, arriving just in time for a 6pm liturgy rehearsal for the ordination of David Peters to the transitional diaconate. David is an Army chaplain stationed at Fort Knox. I won't describe here the confluence of circumstances that put him on the ordination track in the Diocese of Springfield, but simply say that it is a privilege to be involved. We may not ever benefit directly from his ministerial gifts, but we have surely given something to the larger church and to the military community.
  • Home just before midnight.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday

  • The November crud was knocking at my door yesterday, and by this morning it was fully arrived. So I opted to not inflict it on those in office, and stayed home to work from my recliner. To be honest, I wouldn't want to make a habit of it, but it's amazing how productive one can be with the right devices and a broadband internet connection. 
  • Spoke by phone with the rector of one of our parishes regarding an upcoming meeting I have with some of his lay leaders to discuss the emerging diocesan vision for mission.
  • Negotiated (by email) a conference call appointment with the lay leaders of two yoked congregations to discuss a particular candidate for becoming their priest.
  • Contacted the Bishop of Kentucky to let him know I'm about to ordain a military chaplain who is physically resident in the territory of his diocese (David Peters, who is stationed at Fort Knox).
  • Exchanged several emails throughout the day with Fr Tucker in Mount Vernon regarding details of tomorrow night's ordination liturgy (see above bullet point).
  • Contacted another bishop with some information he needs about a priest who is canonically resident here but physically resident there. (Isn't this a funny system we have?)
  • Produced an article for the December edition of the Springfield Current.
  • Exchanged emails with the priest-in-charge of a Eucharistic Community I will be visiting in December regarding some of the details of that occasion.
  • Negotiated a telephone appointment with the investment adviser for the Putnam Trust, of which the Bishop of Springfield is one of the two co-trustees, and which benefits St John's Chapel in Champaign and St John the Baptist in Mount Carmel. This is for the purpose of a routine year-end review.
  • Assessed and organized planning for the various acts which I now need to take in order to comply with the canon we amended at last month's synod which brings our procedures into conformity with the national canons on clergy discipline (Title IV). There's a bit of bureaucracy we need to reinvent.
  • Studied a parish-based discipleship formation resource that has been assembled by another diocese, with an eye toward how it, or something like it, might be employed in the execution of our general mission strategy.
  • Planned and organized the actions I need to take in producing Sunday sermons for the rest of this year and most of the next.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Sunday


Woke up in a Champaign hotel room, having returned to the diocese last night after a really quite lovely Thanksgiving weekend with my extended family-of-origin in the Chicago suburbs. There were over 40 people at my sister's for the big dinner, including my mother, all six of my siblings, and 14 of the 19 great-grandchildren/second cousins. 

This morning's visit was to St Christopher's, Rantoul, a Eucharistic Community of great care for one another, under the watchful eyes of Fr Steve Thorp and Deacon Ann Alley. I made friends with a 95-year old Welsh-born parishioner during coffee hour by sitting down at the piano and playing several classic Welsh hymn tunes, from which there are a number of fine ones to choose. 


Sermon for Advent Sunday (Year B)

Mark 13:24-37
                                                                                            Isaiah 64:1-9a
1 Corinthians 1:1-9

(St Christopher’s, Rantoul)
Most of you are, I suspect, at least somewhat familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis’s popular series of children’s books, and particularly the first volume—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which, as of a few years ago, was made into a quite well-done movie. As the story opens, the land of Narnia is in a dreary state, and is there a better description of dreariness than this?: “Always winter… but never Christmas.” Narnia is under the oppressive rule of the wicked white witch. It’s always winter, but never Christmas. But there are rumors in Narnia—rumors whispered from person to person, elf to elf, and—in that magical land—from tree to tree. “Psst, Aslan is on the move.” Aslan was a powerful lion who was thought to be the only hope for Narnia against the power of the White Witch. The rumor that “Aslan is on the move” was a source of great hope, a reason to get excited. Every eye was peeled for any sign of Aslan’s arrival. There was great vigilance, great expectation.

This is Advent Sunday. The season of Advent is about waiting and hoping and keeping vigil and watching out for the arrival of the One of whom the lion Aslan is a symbol. We’re waiting for the coming of Christ. Jesus is coming. He’s coming in power and great glory to judge the living and the dead. That coming could happen, quite literally, at any moment—maybe even before I’ve finished with this sermon! I’m sure we all want to be ready for that event, and to keep an eye out for it. Jesus is also “coming,” so to speak, four weeks from now, as we celebrate Christmas. Advent is a time of preparing our hearts once again to welcome the child Jesus—to become as little children ourselves, in order to properly welcome him as a little child.

This business of keeping watch, then—of getting ready—is very serious. But it’s also very difficult. We get virtually no support in this from the world around us. So we are at serious risk of missing it altogether. “God is on the move.” That’s the Advent announcement. It’s reason to be excited. It’s reason to be hopeful. Instead, too often, we’re just complacent. We get sucked in by the routine demands of life—working and playing and eating and drinking and laughing and crying and loving and learning—mostly good things, in and of themselves, but which can seduce us into a complacency that blinds us to what God is up to. God’s wonderful works are, as it were, “hidden in plain sight.” God is on the move. His movements are available for us to see, but we have to be alert, we have to be looking for them. It requires at least as much intentionality and discipline as bird watching, where if you avert your gaze, even for a moment. away from the trees, you run the risk of missing what you came out to see.

Jesus tells us a parable about vigilance. A household employee is left with some specific responsibilities while his boss is out of town. He may be tempted to slack off and delay getting down to work. There is, after all, no hidden TV camera, or anything of the sort, recording his every move. So why not grab some extra nap time while the boss is away? But the problem is, the boss has not told the employee when he’s coming back. The employee doesn’t know whether it’s going to be a long trip or a short trip. So if he’s smart, he’ll act as though it’s going to be a short trip. He’ll stay awake and attend to business and keep an eye out for the boss. That way, he’ll be ready for the master’s return, no matter when it happens.

The application of this parable is pretty clear, isn’t it? Jesus wants us to be vigilant, to watch out for him, to not let the routine demands of life rock us to sleep.  When we make a new Christian in the sacrament of baptism, we pray for the person, that he or she will always have an “inquiring and discerning heart.” We pray for so many things during the liturgy of baptism that it may be easy to overlook this one. But an inquiring and discerning heart is precisely the quality that we need to do a good job keeping Advent. An inquiring and discerning heart is a heart that is alert and awake and looking for signs of the presence and activity of God. An inquiring and discerning heart can see that God is on the move, that the status quo is temporary, that it will not always be winter, and not only will Christmas come, but spring will come as well. The ice and snow of evil and death will melt away, and the beauty and loveliness that God created for us to enjoy will burst forth in full bloom.

When we are vigilant, we are able to witness what God is doing. As St Paul writes to the Corinthians, we will not be “lacking in any spiritual gift, as [we] wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  When we are vigilant, we are able to participate in the mystic vision of Isaiah: “O that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.” When we are vigilant, we number ourselves—to use the language of Jesus in Mark’s gospel—we number ourselves among the “elect” whom the angels “gather from the four winds.” And the really good news is that those of us who are here at this moment are—at this moment, at least—among the elect. We have been gathered and constituted as the Body of Christ, and as we celebrate this Eucharist together, we are re-constituted as the Body of Christ. We share in the sacrament of the Body of Christ. We are present as the heavens are opened and the Holy and Immortal One draws us up into His presence to be with Him in the most intimate conceivable way. We who are here are “in the know,” we are “on the inside.” We can see that God is on the move, and the sight is marvelous in our eyes.

If we are not vigilant, if we have been asleep at the switch, blind to what God is doing in the world and in our own experience, then the idea of the second coming of Christ is something we look on with fear and dread. This fear and dread may often be disguised as scorn and ridicule, but it is, nonetheless, fear and dread. But the fact is, the message of Advent Sunday is not supposed to be scary; it’s supposed to be comforting. God’s great final saving act—the return of Christ in glory—is the happy ending to beat all happy endings. If we’re awake, we’ve got nothing to worry about. God is on the move. Let’s keep our eyes peeled. 

Amen—Come, Lord Jesus. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday (St Clement of Rome)

  • Task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Reviewed the draft program for a diaconal ordination scheduled for next week.
  • Processed a batch of emails.
  • Revised and refined my homily for this Sunday (at St Christopher's, Rantoul).
  • Lunch at home.
  • Took care of some correspondence on behalf of a priest-friend needing some pastoral care in another part of the country.
  • Usual Tuesday chore: Scanned the accumulated hard copy items in my inbox.
  • Produced a working draft of a homily for Advent II (December 4 at St Andrew's, Carbondale).
  • Conceived and hatch a sermon for Advent III (St Andrew's, Paris and Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Contact the lay leadership of two Eucharistic Communities that share one priest regarding the next priest I'm going to suggest they share.
  • Took a phone call from a priest outside the diocese who is a potential candidate for an upcoming vacancy.
  • Took care of some administrative detritus (appointment scheduling) via email.
  • Evening Prayer managed to get lost in the shuffle tonight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday (C.S. Lewis)

Some days just never seem to get traction. This was one of them. My time in the office was consumed by off-list administrative minutia, phone calls, and just ... whatever, all to the detriment of whatever was on my well-planned to-do list. It was a good reminder that people are not interruptions. People are my job. The busier I get, the more I probably need to spend extra time in prayer.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the King

Rose in time for a 6am departure to Edwardsville for a visit to St Andrew's--two Masses (8 & 10) with an adult forum in between. It turned out we got there with time to spare, but no harm done; it certainly beats being late. Wonderful visit to a lively congregation.

After a much needed nap of nearly an hour, we headed over to Westminster Presbyterian Church for a hymn festival sponsored by the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists. The guest artist was Bruce Neswick, lately of the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City and now on the faculty of Indiana University, and who happens to be an Episcopalian. It was splendid.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday (St Elizabeth)

Quarterly Diocesan Council meeting in the morning. Beyond the routine reports, we considered a request from several other bishops and dioceses to pass a resolution requesting a special General Convention in 2014 for the sole purpose of reforming the structure of the Episcopal Church. Lively discussion but no vote. That may happen at the February meeting.

After a long walk, and some putting and relaxing around the house, Brenda and I attended a concert of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. It was astonishingly good. Worth every penny of the ticket price.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday (St Hilda of Whitby)

The concluding session of the Bishops of Small Dioceses conference was a free-flowing discussion of several topics that we had identified on Wednesday afternoon.  Our one "action item" was to draft a letter to the Medical Trust expressing the hope that we will move toward price parity, with a reasonable phase in period to allow those dioceses that would be adversely affected time to adjust. 

The rest of the day was devoted to travel, which occurred without incident, and to a couple of not overly-long but quite important phone conversations about exigent matters in the diocese.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday (St Hugh of Lincoln)

Still at the conference for bishops of small dioceses in Salt Lake City. The morning was devoted primarily to interacting with representatives of the Episcopal Church Medical Trust. There is a move afoot at a grass-roots level to achieve more pricing parity between the dioceses, which are now divided into ten price bands--rated on demographics (read: age and sex), geography (cost of providers), and prior claims experiences. Springfield is in Band 10, the most expensive. If the pricing were to be distributed evenly across the church, we would see premium reductions of 29%. Of course, dioceses in Band 1 would see increases of a corresponding scale. There was certainly a consensus among the bishops present that, for moral reasons if nothing else, price parity is a wothy goal, but that some reasonable phase in period is probably necessary to cushion the shock for those who will have their rates raised.

The afternoon was given over first to a presentation by Anthony Guillen, the Latino ministry officer at 815. I give him kudos for debunking the notion that Latino ministry means Spanish-speaking ministry. The majority of Latinos in the U.S. (about 75%) either speak only English, primarily English, or some English. So it's not so much a matter of learning a different language as it is learning a different culture. Something I've been saying for at least a decade based on my experience in California. We also heard about an innovate program from the Diocese of Lexington that aims to put very bright new clergy into small rural congregations for three-year internships. It's creative, but it won't work in Springfield, unfortunately.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday (St Margaret)

Up at 4am to catch a 0630 flight from Bloomington to Minneapolis, then on to Salt Lake City. Did some touristy things walking around town in the afternoon (the LDS complex is impressive but the Roman cathedral is spectacular; I'm envious) before settling in for a meeting of about twenty bishops from small dioceses. Utah is a small diocese--about two-thirds the size od Springfield in terms of membership and number of churches--but they have a significant endowment that has allowed for the construction of a beautiful office and conference center complex around their historic cathedral. It's top drawer in every way, and right in the heart of downtown SLC. I'll be here unti Friday afternoon. Might learn something. Might share something. Might do both.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday

  • Usual morning routine. MP in the cathedral.

  • Talked with the Archdeacon at some length about an emerging pastoral situation.

  • Took care of some administrative minutia (Commission on Ministry business and email correspondence regarding my trip to England in January).

  • Spoke on the phone with Betsy Rogers of St George's, Belleville. We both serve on the board of Forward Movement, and that was the primary subject of our conversation.

  • Spoke on the phone with a rector regarding a pastoral situation (not the one mentioned above).

  • Refined my sermon for this Sunday, to be delivered at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.

  • Lunch from you know where, eaten at home.

  • Performed my usual Tuesday hard copy scanning chores.

  • Answered an email regarding the liturgical details of an upcoming visitation.

  • Wrote a note of condolence to a colleague bishop who has suffered a death in his family.

  • Talked with Sue about getting the incoming rector of Trinity, Lincoln up to speed on unique-to-Springfield stuff.

  • Emailed a rector about setting up a meeting with his vestry on a vision-implementation matter.

  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, to be delivered at St Andrew's, Carbondale.

  • Fleshed out the draft of a homily for the First Sunday of Advent--St Christopher's, Rantoul.

  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Sunday, November 13, 2011

    XXII Pentecost

    • Met Fr Tom and Sue Davis for breakfast at the Garden Inn on the main drag in Salem. Fr Tom is the retired Vicar of St Thomas', and was assisting today with a baptism.
    • Celebrated, preached, baptized, and confirmed at St Thomas', to a near-capacity "crowd" (if one can call 65 a crowd). Baptized a 6-week old and confirmed her mother. Doesn't get much more fun than that!
    • Left Salem around 12:30. Crossed two interstate highways on the way home, neither of which was headed a way we wanted to go. Central Illinois is funny that way.
    • Pulled in to the Springfield area about 2:30, just in time to drop Brenda off at home before heading over to the cathedral to preside and preach at the closing Mass for Happening #54. That, too, was great fun.
    • Huddled about twenty minutes in my office with the Archdeacon and one of our Rural Deans while we discussed an administrative/pastoral matter.
    • Home at 5:30, dog tired but grateful for the work I've been given to do.

    Sermon for Proper 28

    Matthew 25:14-15, 19-29                                            St Thomas’, Salem                                                                                         I Thessalonians 5:1-10

    We hear a lot these days about the notion of “accountability.” Everybody from presidential candidates to college football coaches are finding out very painfully what it means to be held accountable.  And we certainly talk about accountability in the church, for both clergy and laity, and in several different dimensions. Yet, the kind of accountability that really nags at us, and may even cause us to lose sleep from time to time, is final accountability, the kind of accountability that St Paul has in mind when he writes to the Thessalonians about the “day of the Lord.”  We’re talking Judgment Day here, Doomsday, the end of the world, the curtain coming down on the stage for the last time, the final exam for which our entire life is a marathon study session.

    We’re now into the tail end of the Christian year—a sort of “pre-Advent” season—in which final accountability looms large as the principal theme that emerges in our worship. In the tradition of Christian art and literature, this theme has inspired more than its share of paintings and poems and plays and operas, to say nothing of untold numbers of “St Peter at Heaven’s Gate” jokes. Unfortunately, because of all this literary and cultural material, we’ve been conditioned to think of the “final accountability” question in terms of in or out, up or down, saved or damned. What we overlook is the equally scriptural notion that even those who are in, those who get the thumbs-up sign, those who are saved, will still have to give an account of the way they have lived their lives. There are no passes, no freebies. We would all do well to contemplate with some sobriety the prospect of standing before the Creator of the universe and hearing, “So…tell me about yourself,” knowing that the One doing the asking has access to a record of everything we’ve ever said, done, or thought. Now that’s accountability!

    What will that accounting consist of?  Will we be asked to demonstrate that we’ve had more good thoughts and said more good things and done more good deeds than we’ve had nasty thoughts and said and done mean things? I don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I don’t think God keeps score in that particular way.  Will we be asked to show that we have faithfully kept any eight out of the Ten Commandments? Well…no. All ten are pretty important; we don’t get a free pass on any two of our choosing, as attractive as that might sound. Perhaps the Lord will have access to our church attendance records, and will be looking to see whether we’ve been in church 52 Sundays a year? Or 40…or 32…or 26…or as the canon says, “unless for good cause prevented.” Now, here, I have to tell you, I’m really tempted to say, “Yeah, this is the one! This is the one we’re going to get judged on.” But, alas, I would be telling a lie, and would therefore have some extra “’splainin’” to do when my own turn comes.

    What I can tell you with some confidence is this: The measure of our reward, one of the things—perhaps even the main thing—that the Judge of all will be looking at on “the day of the Lord” will, in fact, be the quality of our stewardship. Now, you may think it predictable that someone like me would say something like that at a time of year like this! And you would, in some measure, be absolutely right. But I didn’t just pull this out of thin air. I had a big assist from St Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist, and from Jesus, who collaborate today to give us what we know as the Parable of the Talents. A wealthy man is going to do some traveling and will not be able to manage his assets. So he divides them between some members of his staff, and trusts that they will invest them wisely. He makes them stewards. He’s not giving them the funds—one receives the sum of five “talents,” the second two talents, and the third one talent—he’s not giving the funds to them outright; he will hold each of them accountable for their performance as stewards, for their exercise of the trust that has been placed in them. When he returns from his travels some time later, the first two servants have doubled their investment. They have done extraordinarily well.  The third, however, just gives back the original sum, and says, in effect, “I didn’t want to risk losing your capital, boss, because I knew it would make you angry, so I hid it in a mattress. Here it is, just like you originally gave it to me.” This third servant, of course, is severely reprimanded. He has been a poor steward, and he is judged unworthy of trust. He is held accountable by having the single talent that had been entrusted to him taken away.

    This is the quintessential parable of stewardship, and in this season when we emphasize financial stewardship in particular, we do well to take a close look at all the ways the principle of stewardship affects our lives as Christians, and thereby prepare ourselves for being held accountable on Judgment Day. There are three classic categories of stewardship. You know them: “time, talent, and treasure.”

    TIME—Every human being has the same gift of 24 hours in a day. None get any more and none get any less. The difference between us is what we choose to do with that time. How do we use our time to develop our relationship with God in Christ? Do we “make” time for prayer? Do we make time for the study of scripture and other spiritual reading? Do we make time for service to others? How does your use of time help advance the Kingdom of God

    TALENT—The very word comes from today’s parable, where it was a sum of money, and which the English language has co-opted into referring to any innate—that is, presumptively God-given—any inborn abilities that we might have. Do you know what your talents are? If you know what your gifts and talents are, how are you making them available to God and his people for the spread of the Kingdom of God? How are you “investing”—that is, developing, cultivating, and exercising—how are you investing the “capital” that has been entrusted to you? Is God getting a return on his investment in you, or have you buried your “talent” in a field or hidden it in a mattress? Have you listened for God’s call on your life? Have you discerned that call? Have you followed that call?

    TREASURE—You knew I wouldn’t forget this one! “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” A busy father—a member of Congress, in fact—took his young son to McDonald’s for lunch one Saturday in order to spend some quality time. While they were eating and visiting, he casually reached over and took one of his son’s french fries. The boy pitched a fit, so that one would have thought his father was trying to chop off his right arm. His father’s first impulse was to be angry. “Don’t you know I can afford to buy you french fries until they’re coming out of your ears? And you still begrudge me one little french fry, which I paid for in the first place?” Fortunately, he calmed down, and was able to speak to his son about the virtues of sharing. But the incident stuck with him as a wonderful illustration of the principles of financial stewardship. We can understand the father in this story as God, and ourselves as the the little boy, and the french fries in front of us as all our material possessions and our income. It all comes from God. It’s all his. Every last french fry. He paid for all of it. And he’s capable of replacing it many times over, until we have so much we wouldn’t know what to do with it. Knowing that, why would we want to begrudge God the 10% that he asks of us?  Tithing, you know, is a good deal, a great deal! We get to keep 90% of God’s money for our own needs, for our own happiness. Where else can you find a stewardship deal that sweet? I once served under a bishop who put this in very bold terms, only I’m not as bold as he is, so I’ll just quote him rather than actually saying it myself: God lets us keep 90%, but if we dare to keep 91%, we’re robbing God. Robbing God.  And the Day of the Lord, the day of accountability, draws near? Do we want to have to explain to God why we robbed him?

    The sobering news is: We will have to render an account. Judgment Day awaits us. The good news is: We have everything we need—we have the time, we have the talent, and we have the  treasure—to render a faith-ful accounting. Amen.

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Saturday (Charles Simeon)

    Indulged in a somewhat leisurely morning at home, took care of some administrative detritus from my laptop, took another long hard walk, and solved a technological issue on the home computer system. Then it was time to pack and head to Salem, where we checked in to the Super 8 and grabbed a quick dinner at Denny's, after which I met with the Vicar and Bisops' Committee of St Thomas' Church (the venue of tomorrow's visitation).

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Friday (St Martin of Tours)

    Inasmuch as the office was closed for Veteran's Day, and having determined that there was nothing on my task list that couldn't be done from home (God bless the internet), I opted to work once again from my recliner. I read and commented on a couple of chapter from a potential book that priest acquaintance had asked me to look at. Wrote an Ad Clerum--letter to the clergy. Exchanged emails regarding a potential date for the institution of the new rector of Trinity, Lincoln. Took a good hard long walk on a sunny day. Not as productive as I might have wished to be, but ... it was a holiday, right?

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Thursday (St Leo of Rome)

    • Task planning at home. Visited with my sister Janet for a bit, who spent the night en route back to her home in the Chicago 'burbs after spending some time with a college student daughter in St Louis. Feeling better today; I seemed to have dodged whatever bullet was heading my direction.
    • Morning Prayer in the office.
    • Some days just have trouble getting traction. This was one of those days. Lots of distractions (some self-generated), most of which were important, but were nonetheless distractions. Couldn't find my groove.
    • Processed a batch of emails (in which were included some distractions).
    • Took a phone call (she was already on my list, but got to me first) from Ruth Wene, Rector's Warden at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign. We discussed various issues relating to their search process.
    • Searched for, evaluated, and booked lodging in London for a portion of my January continuing ed time.
    • Lunch at home.
    • The monitor on my computer at home died last night, so I shopped after lunch, and purchased a new one.
    • Conceived and hatched a sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, to be delivered at St Christopher's, Rantoul.
    • Penned a condolence note a lay leader in one of our churches who has just lost a spouse.
    • Entered the tasks that will drive my preparation for delivering a Lenten teaching series in Alton Parish.
    • Reviewed my December visitation schedule and made a few logistical notes.
    • Evening Prayer in the office.
    • After dinner, had a substantive phone conversation with one of our rural deans regarding a congregation in his deanery.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Wednesday

    • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the office.
    • Revised, edited, and refined my sermon for this Sunday, to be delivered at St Thomas', Salem.
    • Took an incoming phone call from Fr Dick Swan, wearing his hat as Education for Ministry coordinator for the diocese.
    • Took an incoming phone call from Fr Rob Nichols, the interim rector at St John's Chapel in Champaign, giving me a routine report on the status of things there.
    • Lunch at home.
    • Scanned and otherwise processed a batch of hard copy items in my inbox.
    • Dashed off a thank-you note to the parish where I was a guest preacher for All Saints (Redeemer, Sarasota, FL).
    • (Went home to work from my recliner at about 3pm, as I was beginning to feel "puny" [as they say in the south]. Hoping that some version of flu is not laying siege to me.)
    • Took care of an important chore related to this weekend's Happening (renewal program to high schoolers), to be held at the cathedral and the diocesan office.
    • Wrote a letter formalizing the heretofore informal appointment of Deacon Joan Coleman to serve at St George's, Belleville.
    • Reserved a rental car for use in a trip next week to Salt Lake City (bishops of "small" dioceses).
    • Entered the tasks related to preparing for my next guest preaching gig--at St Paul's, K Street, Washington, DC on Candlemas (the Feast of of Presentation, February 2).
    • Evening Prayer in my recliner.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Tuesday

    • Task planning at home (record number of actions on the docket this week!).
    • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
    • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on sundry administrative matters (lots to discuss after a thirteen day absence from the office).
    • Met with the Board of Trustees for the diocese, the group that oversees the investment of our endowment and reserve funds.
    • Met with chancellor Rick Velde around various (non-emergent) issues.
    • Worked through the pile of snail mail on my desk.
    • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
    • Wrote a note to a colleague bishop whose wife is seriously ill.
    • Checked in by phone with a priest of the diocese who has recently had a serious medical procedure.
    • Spoke by phone with one of our rectors regarding the health of one of our retired priests who is connected to his parish.
    • Took a reference check phone call from a search committee chair outside the diocese; one of our clergy is a finalist in that person's parish search process.
    • Dashed off an article on the Festival of Lessons and Carols requested by the managing editor of The Living Church.
    • Wrote three short but important emails having to do with my January travel plans (going to England for some continuing ed at Canterbury Cathedral--a program for new bishops that is offered there).
    • Spoke with Dean Brodie next door at the cathedral at some length over various matters.
    • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    Sunday after All Saints

    The mini-vacation ended yesterday as we flew home from Florida. The trip itself was blessedly uneventful--Cape Coral to Sarasota by rental car, Sarasota to Atlanta and Atlanta to Bloomington by air, then the 65 miles back to our Springfield home in the familiar Episcopal Chariot, 9.5 hours door-to-door. The fly in the ointment was that I was recovering from being wretchedly seasick during a "rough crossing" by ferry from Key West back to Fort Myers Beach on Friday night. I shan't mention the details, save for the fact that today it hurts to either cough or laugh!

    So we were grateful for the "fall back" time change, compounded by another extra hour delivered by our transit from the eastern to the central time zone. This made for a very pleasant 8:30am arrival in Pekin for a 9am Mass at St Paul's, with one confirmation, followed by a very brief visit to the coffee hour, and then on to an 11am liturgy at All Saints', Morton, where I confirmed identical twin 17-year old young women. Both places are under the very able care of Fr Brian and Deacon Laurie Kellington.

    Sermon for Sunday in the Octave of All Saints

    St Paul's, Pekin & All Saints, Morton

    Those of you who have traveled around the country some bit, or even just around our own diocese, and visited other Episcopal churches, have discovered that there is a tremendous amount of diversity in our services—diversity in liturgical style, diversity in music, diversity in preaching. But you may also have discovered that there is one element of our Episcopalian culture that cuts right across these dividing lines as if they weren’t there. I’m talking about the Coffee Hour—known in some quarters as the “eighth sacrament.” It’s in the parish hall, after church, over coffee and lemonade and cookies or donut holes or whatever, that new relationships are formed, visitors looking for a church community try one out to find out what it’s like, and old relationships are nurtured and sustained, week by week, month by month, year by year.

    Parish social events of various sorts are a vital link in the chain of relationship building and relationship maintenance within the Body of Christ. The same can be said of  “working” groups—ushers, Altar Guild, choir, acolytes, and the like.  And at the watershed moments of our lives—birth, marriage, sickness, and grief—the support of the church community a life-giving source of strength, the medium of God’s peace, which passes human understanding. Certainly, when we come to the altar rail, we experience “holy communion,” not only with the Risen Christ in his glory, but with the person on either side of us, and, if we are spiritually attentive, we also feel a bond of communion with Christian brothers and sisters whom we have never met, especially in Eucharistic Communities that follow the Anglican Cycle of Prayer. 

    But what then? We’ve taken our experience of communion, our sense of kinship and familial bond, and extended it beyond the merely local and made it global. We know that even Christians in South America and Africa and Asia represent people whose “lives are closely linked with ours.” But what then? It sometimes feels as though we hit a spiritual brick wall at that point. What about “holy communion” with those who have “crossed over,” those to whom we no longer have access through the ordinary means of human communication—those whose faces we can no longer see, those whose hands we can no longer touch, those whose voices of wisdom and words of love we can no longer hear. These members of the Body of Christ are no longer likely to show up at Coffee Hour, or a parish supper, or kneel next to us at the altar rail. They seem therefore in a category unto themselves, cut off from the rest of us. This feeling serves to minimize the bond that connects us; it causes us to no longer think of them as among those whose lives are closely linked with ours.

    But listen to the affirmation we make in our opening prayer in the liturgy for the feast of All Saints. We declare to God our belief that “…[He has] knit together [His] elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of [His] Son Christ our Lord…” One communion, we say. Not two communions—one for the living and one for the dead—but one communion and fellowship.  Our fundamental affirmation as Christians—that Jesus is Lord and that he’s risen from the dead—leads us to the understanding that we are alive to God in Christ. Christ has died and Christ has risen. We who have been buried with Christ in the waters of baptism have died with him and been raised with him. Death no longer has dominion over him, and death no longer has dominion over us. At that moment—a moment we all face—when we will seem to have been swallowed up by death, death itself will, instead, choke on the risen Christ, even as it did on that holy night which was transfigured by the light of God’s glory as Jesus burst forth from his tomb. Since, therefore, we are “knit” together, as our collect says, knit together with that same risen Christ, and with one another, in one communion and fellowship, we are alive to one another. That is the astounding affirmation of All Saints Day—we who are “in Christ” are alive to one another, as we are alive to him, no matter on what side of the grave we pitch our tent.

    Most of us are familiar with the popular piety of Roman Catholicism, which pays a great deal of attention to the saints, and even speaks freely of  “praying” to particular saints in view of their reputation for being able to meet specialized needs. When I lived in Louisiana, there was a curious custom of burying a statue of St Joseph upside down in your front yard when you put your house on the market; doing so was thought by some to make your house sell faster. A lot of this popular piety strikes most Anglicans as just a little too intense, at least, and strikes most Protestants as a veritable threat to the uniqueness of Christ. But I would invite you to consider whether, even though we may not care for the piety, the theology behind the piety is something we ought to pay some more direct attention to, that those who “pray” to saints are in fact “on to” something very important, something that springs directly from the creedal affirmation that we are all about to make to the effect that we believe in “the communion of saints,” the fellowship of saints, that we are as intimately connected to St Mary and St John and St Ignatius and St Agnes and St Perpetua and St Augustine and St Teresa and St Thomas Becket and all the saints…as we are to the person we will sip coffee with in the parish hall after church today. I would invite you to consider the fact that the veil that separates us from “all saints” is exquisitely thin, the barrier that seems to divide us from those who have “crossed the Jordan” is wonderfully porous, and that there is traffic across that border, because our God has knit us together with them in one communion and fellowship.

    Scripture assures us that those who have gone before us indeed pray for us. The epistle to the Hebrews speaks of a celestial cheering section consisting of those who have finished the race, and are urging us on as we labor to join them. And there is nothing either in scripture or tradition that would keep us from the notion that we may ask them to do so, that we may invoke the prayers of the saints. How much richer our spiritual imaginations would be if they were “populated” with heroes of the faith—those whom the Christian community knows as saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs. And how much richer our spiritual imaginations would be if they were also populated not only with such “public” heroes, but with our own private heroes—those who have been examples—parents, teachers, other “elders” and mentors whom we have known.

    And, of course, there is also nothing to keep us from praying for them, which we do at every celebration of the Eucharist, no matter how formal or how casual, because the Prayer Book rubrics require us to do so. In our catechism, the question is posed, “Why do we pray for the dead?” and the answer is given, “We pray for them, because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.”  The motto to keep in mind here is, “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.” We are all works in progress. Most of us will still be works in progress when the moment of death arrives. So we need to support one another in prayer—those of us who have been knit together in one communion and fellowship—we need to support one another in prayer no matter what side of the grave we are on, so that we may grow in God’s love until we see Him as He is.

    What an expanded spiritual universe we enjoy when we cultivate an awareness of the communion of saints, when we realize that our lives are “closely linked” not only with the family and friends and neighbors we may have coffee with today and later this week, but with the saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs whose heroic witness for Christ and the gospel we honor on this feast day. All holy men and women of God, pray for us. Amen.