Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Visitation of the BVM (Tuesday)

  • Task planning at home
  • Morning Prayer in the car (memorized "short form").
  • First day in office since the 19th. Debriefed with the Archdeacon and Diocesan Administrator over sundry items that surfaced during the time I was away.
  • Processed the pile of paper that had accumulated on my desk. This is a normal Tuesday chore, but, due to recent travel, it's been a couple of weeks, so it took longer.
  • Worked on some birthday and annivesary cards to clergy and spouses.
  • Since this is a major holy day, I attended the 12:15pm Mass in the cathedral chapel. 
  • Drive-through lunch, then a haircut and a couple of errands.
  • Along with the Archdeacon and the Treasurer, met with a CPA whom we will be engaging to perform a financial audit of one of our congregations. 
  • Took a reference-check phone call regarding one of our priests who is being considered for a position in another diocese.
  • Worked on more "milestone event" cards. 
  • Evening Prayer in the office. Home around 6:15.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday

  • Checked out of our hotel in Oconomowoc and headed back to the Nashotah campus for the regular semi-annual meeting of the board of trustees. (Brenda chilled out on the grounds, bookstore, library, and refectory while I was in the meeting.) The report from the ad hoc committee that I convened was received by the board and the Dean was tasked with creatively and charitably implementing its recommendations. Dean Munday, however, had already announced his resignation effective June 30 (he'll be joining the faculty), so it will be Bishop Salmon, board chairman and (interim) Dean-elect to whom this work will fall.
  • To my surprise and delight, the board's work was finished around 12:30, so after a refectory lunch and additional conversation, we headed toward Chicago, running a couple of errands and dealing with holiday traffic. We arrived at our daughter and son-in-law's Logan Square condo in time to order out for dinner and spend the evening visiting. (Summer is about ready to present us with our second grandchild, any day now ... really ... any day now.)
  • Owing to a series of interlocking events, I have no parish visitation this weekend, so we're going to take some time off and hang north in the Chicago area until Sunday afternoon. Like I said ... any day now.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sermon for Easter V

                                                                                                      John 14:1-14
                                                                                                     I Peter 2:1-10

 (Holy Trinity, Danville) 
Next year, 2012, is a major election year in our country. The cycle has already begun; there have already been televised presidential debates! We’ll be electing, or re-electing, as the case may be, a President of the United States. There will be a hard-fought battle for control of the U.S. Congress. The politicians who are running for office will be making promises and giving assurances and embracing commitments and predictions, both positive and negative. We expect as much. Campaign promises are a vital element in the way the game of politics is played in America.

Even so, most Americans realize that campaign promises, by their very nature, are broken or modified more often than they’re kept. Most of the time, we just make allowances for the hyperbole of campaign rhetoric even as we’re still listening to it. Most of us don’t really expect politicians to keep all their promises, so we’re not all that disappointed when they don’t. 

When Jesus was on the verge of taking leave of his disciples near the end of his earthly ministry, he made a rather long speech to them that is recorded in chapters thirteen through seventeen of St John’s gospel. In this speech, Jesus makes a number of promises—campaign promises? One of these promises is, “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Greater works than these?  Really? Just what “works” was Jesus famous for? Turning water into wine at a wedding reception. Turning a child’s snack lunch into a banquet for five thousand. Making a blind man see. Calling a man who had been dead and buried for four days back to life. 

Greater works...than these? These are attention-grabbing, distinctly out-of-the ordinary works!  Our own lives, on the other hand, are, if nothing else, abundantly ordinary. We’re born, we grow, we laugh and cry, we love and are loved, we work and play, we get sick—sometimes we get well, and sometimes we don’t—and then we die.  The experience of our lives, including our lives of faith—our experience of Christ, and of Christian community in the Church—is moment to moment, day to day, ordinary. And now Jesus has the nerve to tell us that those who believe in him are going to do “greater works than these”!?  Greater works than restoring sight to the blind and life to the dead? 

Something’s wrong with this picture!

You know, maybe Jesus was just making a campaign promise.  And we all know about campaign promises, so let’s not get too worked up about it. 

But in those moments of silent stillness when we ponder the deep realities of human life—of our human life—we are worked up about it. We’re worked up about it because it looks like somebody screwed up, somebody let the side down, somebody dropped the ball.  I mean, a promise is a promise, isn’t it? If you believe in me, you will do greater works than these. The humble and the timid among us think, “I must not be worthy, I must not really believe strongly enough. Otherwise, I would be experiencing miracles every day.” The arrogant and the courageous among us think, “God must not really be all-powerful, he must not really be God. Or maybe he’s just a liar!”

Either way, what we’ve got on our hands is a crisis of faith. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We find ourselves, in one chilling moment of private honesty, not really believing very much very strongly.  It’s not that we become atheists or turn our hearts against God. We just keep Christian faith and practice on the margins of our lives.   Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. We kind of hope it is, because religion makes us feel kind of warm and fuzzy. But we’re not going to bet the farm on it. We’re not going to risk being looked on as a religious fanatic for the sake of someone whose promises are no more reliable than a politician’s, even if it’s a politician we like. 

Thirty-nine years ago this month,  Brenda and I became engaged to be married.  Very shortly after that happy occasion, we hopped into her 1967 Volkswagen bug, drove down the hill from our college campus in Santa Barbara, got on the U.S. 101 freeway, and made our way to the La Cumbre plaza, a shopping mall, where we visited jewelry stores.  Before we got back into the VW, we’d both made purchases. I bought Brenda an engagement ring with a small diamond, and a gold wedding band. She bought me this wedding band with inlaid gold nuggets. These rings were, and continue to be, important signs of our relationship.  About 25 years ago, I “temporarily misplaced” my wedding ring for a few weeks.  I entered into some serious grieving, because I really thought I’d lost it. When it unexpectedly turned up in a very odd place one day, I was ecstatic. Just looking at this ring triggers a mental and emotional response of an almost forty year relationship, all Brenda and I have been through together, flashing before my consciousness. 

But, you know, as symbolically important as these rings are, they are not themselves our relationship.  For one thing, that trip to La Cumbre plaza in 1972 was the last time Brenda or I have bought one another gold jewelry. Gold jewelry, I assure you, is not even a prominent feature, much less the norm, of our married life! (I’ve recently acquired a little bit of extra bling on the other hand, but that’s for another purpose!) But more importantly, as attractive and as valuable as these rings may be, the relationship Brenda and I share—the ordinarily imperfect love we bear for one another in the ordinary day-to-day-ness of our ordinary lives—that relationship is much richer, much more complex, much greater, than the ounce or two of gold that is its outward sign. 

Greater works than these.

St John is quite fond of referring to the works that Jesus did as “signs.” From his first miracle at the wedding reception in Cana, to his calling Lazarus forth from the tomb on the eve of his final entry into Jerusalem, the wonderful, attention-getting, and extraordinary works that Jesus did were not valuable only in and of themselves, but were valuable as signs of something greater which was to come. And that something greater, my friends, is the life we live, moment to moment and day to day, in the shadow of Jesus’ cross and resurrection! The attention-getting works of Jesus are like wedding rings: beautiful, deserving of being honored and treasured for all that they symbolize, but not to be confused with the actual relationship itself. It is the ordinary life of Christians in the community of the church that reveals and embodies the “greater works” which Jesus spoke of. 

Our ordinary worship—whether it’s “high and crazy” (like at Holy Trinity!), “low and lazy”, or “broad and hazy”; our ordinary prayer—whether its boring or exciting, and whatever language it’s in, known or unknown; our ordinary relationships—whether we love each other well or love each other poorly; our ordinary ministry—whether it’s to someone we live with or someone halfway around the world whom we’ve never met —  any or all of these ordinary experiences of the Christian pilgrimage, are “greater works” than the extraordinary works of Jesus which are their outward sign. They are “greater works” because, in them, grace is received, guilt is pardoned, the image is Christ is formed—in short, salvation happens, multiplied millions of times over across the church scattered throughout the world. 

God is not de-throned, nor is he a liar. And, although we are unworthy of any of God’s promises, save his promise of judgement, that’s beside the point, because worthiness isn’t the issue here. Jesus’ promise that we will do “greater works” if we believe in him is not merely the rhetoric of the campaign trail, to be dismissed the day after inauguration, but is being fulfilled in our midst before our very eyes. The fact that we are all here at this moment, doing what we’re doing, is itself evidence of fulfillment. With eyes wide open to the “greater works” being performed all around us, we can lift our song of thanksgiving back to God, rejoicing in the exalted language of St Peter’s epistle, when he tells us that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, called out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once [we] were no people, but now [we] are God’s people.”  What a great work!  

Praise be to our Risen Lord! Amen.

Thursday (St Augustine of Canterbury)

Well ... I have a picture to upload, but the speed and/or bandwidth of my hotel WiFi connection doesn't seem to be up to the task. Nashotah House, my seminary alma mater, held its 2011 commencement ceremonies this morning, and was kind enough to present to the Bishop of Springfield, a 1989 son of the House, the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa. They dressed me up in a hat and gown that made me look exceedingly academic and important, and that's the picture I was going to upload. Maybe some other time.

After the graduation Mass, the usual lunch under a tent on the refectory lawn was moved indoors due to unseasonably chilly weather. Then it was off to the business of being a trustee for the rest of the afternoon. After Evensong, there was a hospitality hour and dinner for trustees and spouses. Then the spousal unit and I headed to LeDuc's, the frozen custard establishment in nearby Wales, bringing back a raft of memories from seminary days in the mid-to-late 80s.

The emails are beginning to pile up again faster than I can process them. If yours is one of them, please be patient.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday (St Bede)

  • Morning: Another "critical incident report" group.
  • Afternoon: Seminar on leadership with a VTS professor. Very stimulating and valuable material.
  • Late afternoon/evening: Lake Logan to Asheville airport, then to Altanta, then to Milwaukee, where Brenda met me with my vehicle (having barely outrun a band of violent storms travelling up I-55). Alas, Delta sent my luggage to Lexington, KY. This is not my year for smooth air travel. The good news is that the essential stuff I need for tomorrow was in the car, not my suitcase. But it's still a pain. And the weather here is March-ish, not May-ish. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday (Jackson Kemper)

Still at Lake Logan, an Episcopal conference center in the mountains of western North Carolina. It's a quite lovely place. The program for new bishops is called Living Our Vows and lasts for three years, so we have three "classes" of bishops here. We do some things together and some things by class. Today we spent the morning sharing "critical incident reports" in small groups and the afternoon with the Presiding Bishop's chancellor discussing a whole range of issues regarding the nature and exercise of a Bishop's authority. The evening was devoted to a plenary discussion of general mission strategy in a post-Christisn world. Of course, there's also a great deal of informal interaction at mealtimes, etc. It's been very stimulating.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday

Traveled to Bloomington (65 miles) for a 6:30am departure to Asheville, NC via Detroit. All went well. Now at Lake Logan Episcopal Center with all new bishops elected in 2008, 2009, and 2010. It's good to be developing these relationships with colleagues.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Easter V

Luminous visit to Holy Trinity, Danville. One baptism, one confirmation, three receptions. All adults. But there were plenty of kids in church--more than the usual proportion these days, I woud say--including two who served as lectors, and did an outstanding job. The worship was robust and vital, and the organ playing magnificent. In case you're not familiar with the diocese, this is not a large place--smallish pastoral size. But it's a true gem in its community.

Upon getting home around 2:30, the priorities were a nap, a long hard walk, and then getting ready for my next trip. Departure time from the house is 4:15am.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday

Writing from a hotel room in Champaign after unexpectedly having to drive nine hours from Marquette, MI--to Chicago (Midway airport) in a rental, then the rest of the way in my own (diocesan) vehicle. Apparently there was an epic power failure at the Minneapolis/St Paul airport, which is where our plane was both coming from and going to. Could not bear the thought of missing my visit to Holy Trinity, Danville tomorrow, so I toughed it out, and am grateful it all worked out.

The consecration of Rayford Ray in Northern Michigan was ... very Northern Michigan-ish. It's always fun to catch up with colleagues and other friends at events like this.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday

Spent the day en route to Marquette, MI, with an enjoyable hiatus in Chicago for lunch with son and daughter-in-law. Serendipitous conversation about spiritual things with young woman next me on plane. Tomorrow I participate in the consecration of Rayford Ray as Bishop of Northern Michigan.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thursday (St Dunstan)

  • Usual morning routine; MP in the cathedral, minor administrative tasks in the office.
  • Responded in a fair amount of detail to a multi-point email inquiry from one of the clergy of the diocese.
  • Met with a potential ordinand to the priesthood and his rector. Ended up discussing some rather exciting strategic ideas for mission in the diocese.
  • Revised and finalized my report to the Nashotah House Board of Trustees on the special project I have been working on. Arranged for an advance copy to be sent to each of them. I will present it in person a week from now.
  • Lunch at home. Then took a couple of shirts to an alterations place to get the sleeves shortened.
  • Wrote an article for the Salem (IL) newspaper explaining what Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church are. This will run in close temporal proximity to Jeff Kozuszek's ordination to the priesthood there next month. 
  • Sent Jeff a slightly annotated document template for his ordination liturgy.
  • Wrote another ad clerum ("to the clergy") letter, which Sue will send out tomorrow.
  • Conceived and began to gestate my homily for Pentecost (June 12, at Emmanuel, Champaign).
  • Loaded up the car with vestments and ecclesiastical hardware that I will need over the coming weekend.
  • EP in the cathedral.
  • At home after dinner, packed for my early-starting travel day tomorrow. Heading for Marquette, Michigan for Saturday's consecration of the 11th Bishop of Northern Michigan.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday

  • Task planning over tea and muffin at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Usual Tuesday chore: clearing desk of paper accumulated over the past week, usually by scanning it, properly cataloging and tagging the electronic file, and trashing the hard copy.
  • Usual Tuesday mutual debrief with the Archdeacon over various items on our respective plates. (A pattern seems to be developing. Patterns are good things.)
  • Met with staff to discuss some emerging building and grounds maintenance issues.
  • Lunch at home. (An atypically large backlog of leftovers in the refrigerator needs to be addressed. Just doing my part.)
  • Took an incoming call from Fr Swan regarding both the ministry he is soon to leave and the ministry he is soon to take up.
  • Refined my homily for this coming Sunday (at Holy Trinity, Danville).
  • Spoke by phone with a candidate to perform a needed financial audit in one of our parishes.
  • Prepared instructions regarding liturgies at which deacons preside (Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion from the Reserved Sacrament, aka "Deacon's Mass"). This practice is an anomaly, and can easily become theologically (to be more precise, semiotically) incoherent. Yet, various exigencies combine to make it pastorally prudent. So, if it's going to be done, it needs to be done properly and well. (This document should go out by email tomorrow to all deacons and and priests in charge of congregations in the diocese.)
  • Pulled together a draft of the report I will need to give to the Nashotah House Board of Trustees next week regarding the special project with which I was tasked by said board this past February. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
(BTW, I'm taking tomorrow as a day off, so the next post here will be Thursday evening.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday

The College for Bishops assigns a "peer coach" to every newly-consecrated bishop. This relationship is pretty well explained by its name, and lasts for three years. My peer coach is the Bishop of Albany, Bill Love. (As it turns out, we knew each other two decades ago at Nashotah House, where he was in the class two years behind mine.) Every peer coach is encouraged to make an on-site visit to the assigned new bishop, and today was Bishop Love's day to do just that. He flew in to Springfield late last night and will be flying home (if the travel gods smile on him) early tomorrow morning. Today I picked him up at his downtown hotel around 9am, and drove him down to the cathedral-diocesan office complex. We prayed the morning office together in the cathedral, and I showed him around both there and the "round house."

We then headed out on a tour, stopping first at Christ Church, where we had a brief chat with Fr Greg Tournoux, then on to St Luke's, where we looked around the exterior of the property. Next we headed west to historic Jacksonville, and a tour of the church and parish hall at Trinity Church, generously offered by Fr Kip Ashmore. After lunch in Jacksonville, we headed northwest to the Illinois River community of Beardstown. (The last time I saw Beardstown, it was from the river, about 44 years ago, when I was on a boat trip from Starved Rock to St Louis.) We do not have a congregation in this county seat town of 5,500 (not sure if we ever had), which now has the largest concentration of Latinos anywhere within the bounds of the Diocese of Springfield. Seeing it gave Bishop Love and me plenty of fodder for discussing mission and ministry in rural areas.

Opting for the direct route back to Springfield, we headed southeast on IL 125. I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to tackle an item that has long been on my to-do list, but which I don find a pleasant task ... shopping. All along, my office has needed a couch and a side chair for the kind of meetings for which sitting at a conference table does not seem appropriate. So we stopped by a retailer that had been recommended to me and I actually ended up purchasing ... a couch and a side chair. After they're delivered, I can then start to hang pictures and certificates, and the place will begin to looked settled.

After some time at our home sitting in the living room with Brenda over some refreshements, the three of us headed out to a nice dinner.

The hours Bill and I spent driving around afforded us the opportunity to process the experience of my first three months in the diocese. It's always helpful to have the ear of someone outside the system in which one operates, and I look forward to the three years of his being available for counsel and advice.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Homily for Easter IV

John 10:1-10
(St George’s, Bellville)

When I was growing up, I used to enjoy occasionally watching a TV show called Wild Kingdom. Many of you remember it, no doubt. It was a nature show. It let us take a peek at animals as they actually behave in the wild. Of course, nowadays, you can get that sort of thing 24 hours a day on several different cable or satellite networks, to say nothing of the live web cams on birds’ nests that are all the rage now. Each of these programs is a little different, but the one thing they have in common is that they show the life-or-death contest between predators and their prey. If lions don’t catch wildebeests on the Serengeti, the lions will starve to death. So, virtually their entire attention during their waking hours is devoted to catching and killing and eating wildebeests. It’s their most basic instinct; their survival depends on it, so it’s job number one. If they weren’t consistently successful at that job, there would be no lions for us to watch on television.

However, the wildebeests have a different point of view. They don’t just go quietly into that good night for the sake of the lions. Their senses are fine-tuned to the presence of lions, and they have sophisticated means of detecting and communicating and evading an attack. Their survival depends on it; it’s a matter of life or death. And if most wildebeests were not successful most of the time in evading predatory lions, there would be no wildebeests for us to watch on television.

Neither lions nor wildebeests have what you or I would recognize as much of a sense of unique personal identity. They don’t even remember yesterday, let alone the history of their species. They can’t even conceive of tomorrow, let alone the larger questions of the meaning of life. Life is nothing to them except the moment, right now. Yet, every individual lion and every individual wildebeest will scratch and claw and fight to their last breath if that life is threatened. They probably don’t even know what they’re doing; they just do it.

And if this is all true for lions and wildebeests, it is all the more true for human beings. We can remember the past—both our individual past, and the history of humankind before we were born. We can contemplate the future—both the next few minutes and hours and days and years, and the eternal future that lies beyond this mortal life. But what distinguishes us from the animals even more profoundly is that, not only do we want life—our own life, particularly—we want a certain quality of life. When our essential needs are met—oxygen, safety, water, food, warmth, and shelter—pretty much in that order—we then become concerned about relationships with family and friends, we become interested in recreation and culture—gardening, decorating, art, music, literature. As these needs are met, many people turn their attention beyond themselves, and become involved in service to the community and the world. We wonder what kind of legacy we will leave to those who come after us. How will we be remembered?

Sooner or later, however, we learn that life is fragile and life is elusive—both literal life itself, and quality of life. The search for deep meaning and deep purpose in life leaves most people disappointed, because there is no quick and easy answer. A purpose-filled life, an abundant life, is the fruit of discipline and effort, not to mention struggle and suffering. Some years ago. I developed a pinched nerve in my neck. It not only caused pain in my upper spine, but caused me to lose sensation in the tips of three of my fingers on my right hand. I went to a doctor, who talked about potential surgery, which may or may not be successful, but who then gave me a referral to physical therapy. The physical therapist manipulated the area, and it certainly felt good while she was working on me, but I was disappointed that there was nothing she could do to me that would fix my spinal problem. All she could do was show me what I could do for myself, by way of stretching and exercising. It worked—my symptoms eventually went away. But it took discipline and effort on my part. There was no quick fix, no easy answer.  Well, if this is true for a pinched nerve, how much more must it be true for living the abundant life?

So when we look for abundant life in a convenient and inexpensive one-shot package, we fail to find it. Where we do find abundant life … is in Jesus. That’s why he came to us—in his own words: “I came that [my sheep] may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus uses the agrarian imagery of the relationship between sheep and their shepherd to illustrate to us how we find that life that we’re looking for. In those days, raising sheep was generally a small-time operation. The sheepfold was attached to the shepherd’s house—one exterior wall of the house formed one of the four sides of the sheepfold. On one of the other three sides, there was a gate. This gate was the only authorized way in or out of the fold. Anyone or anything that tried to get in some other way was an intruder, with no authorized access.

In developing this metaphor, Jesus first likens himself to that single gate in the sheepfold. The fold itself represents the abundant and eternal life which we seek: “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” It is through Jesus that we have authorized access to the fold. To try and get in some other way would be like me trying to fix my pinched nerve without doing the exercises prescribed by my physical therapist. It would be like trying to crash a party. It would be like going to a marriage counseling session with no intention of listening to what either the counselor or your spouse has to say. Jesus is the gateway to abundant and eternal life. He has the access code—or, to put it more accurately, he is the access code. And that code is available to anyone who asks for it. There’s always room for more sheep in the fold.

Jesus further develops this pastoral metaphor by changing it, and putting himself in the place of the shepherd, the one who watches over the sheep and leads them out to pasture. After providing us with access to the abundant and eternal life which he offers, Jesus nourishes and sustains that life. Once again—to put it more accurately—his is that life. This is a theme which we will be encountering in the liturgy over the next two Sundays as well. The abundant and eternal life that Jesus gives us is none other than his own life. But that life is available for him to give us only because it was first sacrificed, offered, laid down. The Good Shepherd is the one who lays down his life for the sheep. The supreme sign of Jesus “sacrificing” his life, of course, is the cross. But it’s broader than that. It embraces the way he lived his life as well—as a model, and as an example, for us. And it also includes, of course, the reality of his resurrection. In his resurrection, Jesus defeats the enemy of all life, abundant or otherwise. He defeats the power that makes it necessary for lions to hunt wildebeests. He defeats the power that frustrates us in our desire to have life, and have it abundantly.

We celebrate this gift of life in many ways. We certainly celebrate it in this Eucharist, and every other time we come together to take and bless and break and give the gifts of God for the people of God. Celebration and thanksgiving for the gift of abundant and eternal life is at the heart of the eucharistic mystery. So when we leave the altar, we will have been given the grace we need to sustain that life—Christ’s own life—within us, until we return on the next Sunday or holy day. One of the ways that grace will operate in our hearts will be to lead us into a lifestyle, an ingrained habit, of offering our own life as a gift for the extension of the life of Christ into the world which he is redeeming. In John, chapter six, Jesus says that he is the true bread come down from heaven, for the life of the world. We who have been given that gift of life, we in whom that gift is renewed today through the sacrament of Holy Communion, are able to most completely enjoy abundant life precisely by letting ourselves become channels of it. We respond to the gift of life most appropriately by making ourselves available, by sacrificing ourselves “for the life of the world.” We respond to the gift of life by appropriating the gifts of the Spirit and cultivating the fruits of the Spirit, making of ourselves a gift, an oblation, an offering on the altar of the ministry to which God has called each of us. Alleluia and Amen.


Easter IV (Good Shepherd Sunday)

  • The day began in a hotel room on the edge of St Louis suburbia on the Illinois side.
  • Arrived at St George's, Belleville in time to get ready for their 8am Eucharist, at which I presided and preached. Over 50 in attendance, which one does not often see at an early service. I knew that they share facilities with a Lutheran congregation, but was nonetheless startled to see a crowd gathering and hovering in the narthex as we were only beginning to distribute Holy Communion. I was afraid I had "gone a little long." But I hadn't. It's just the way things happen there. I was told the Lutherans got going only about seven minutes late.
  • I had no prepared remarks, but was in the spotlight for a very well-attended Adult Forum, just handling things spontaneously as they came up. We dealt with some substantive stuff (appropriate age for confirmation, appropriate age for first communion, the relationship between mission and structure at both the parish and diocesan levels), but this was mostly, I think about a new bishop and a congregation continuing to get to know one another.
  • Very lively sung celebration at 10:30, with excellent music and one reception of an adult into the "the fellowship of this communion." Wonderful coffee hour/lunch, from which we whisked ourselves away at about 12:45. St George's is a "happenin' place."
  • Home in time to relax for a brief while (Brenda, who caught some zzzzs on the way home, worked on getting ready for the post-enthronement reception at the cathedral). I headed down to St Paul's about 4:15.
  • The Welcoming & Seating liturgy was splendid, and I found it personally quite moving, particularly the scripted dialog near the beginning between the Dean and the Bishop, redolent with evocative language and imagery about the ministry of a bishop in a diocese, and the significance of the cathedral church. The date was chosen pretty much for the convenience of some of the musicians involved, but I could not be happier that it took place on Good Shepherd Sunday. Both my calling and, I trust, my sacramentally-obtained charism, is, both in my doing and (more importantly) in my being, to serve as an icon in this diocese of Christ the Good Shepherd. What serendipitous grace the timing was. How I am growing in my love for these people, this flock, whom the Good Shepherd has entrusted to my care. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saturday

  • Up and at things at a usual weekday hour. Morning Prayer at home, then in the office just before 9. People were already gathering for the quarterly Diocesan Council meeting. Although I was not part of the altar party, I did make sure all was prepared for the 10am Eucharist. 
  • Managed to sneak in just a dollop of work toward a new customary for Sunday worship at which deacons preside. It should hit the presses sometime in the coming week.
  • Wonderful Mass, with Fr Brian Kellington as celebrant and Fr Dale Coleman as preacher, assisted by Deacon Tom Langford and Kevin Babb.
  • Presided over my first Council meeting as Bishop. I acknowledged to the group the irony that I spent most of my nearly 22 years in parish ministry assiduously avoiding anything that would require me to attend Diocesan Council meetings. But for about a year, in the Diocese of Louisiana, I was successful.
  • After the Council meeting, I met with four representatives (all with seats on Council) of the Concerned Laity of the Springfield Diocese (CLSD). I am encouraged by their enthusiasm about contributing positively to the life of the diocese.
  • Then I met with Ruth Wene, the Rector's Warden of the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign. They will shortly be going into search mode, so there was some important spade work to be done.
  • Then I joined the meeting of the Commission on Ministry, already in progress. Afterward I touched base with the Archdeacon on various matters for a few minutes and then loaded some vestments into my car. Drove through Taco Gringo for a couple of enchiladas. By the time I got home it was a little past 2:30.
  • After a respite to eat my lunch (such things invariably in front of a TV; thank God for on-demand programming), it was time to assemble what needed to be assembled for our overnight trip to the Belleville area, to which we headed, slightly later than we'd intended, around 3:45.
  • Delightful dinner with Fr Dale and Deacon Jody Coleman at a Mexican restaurant in Fairview Heights. Then on to our hotel.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday the 13th

  • This was a day that started out well--i.e. in the usual manner--but had trouble picking up traction. Or so it felt. I processed several emails, and wrote a few others. Got some appointments on my calendar that needed to be gotten there and touched base with some people that needed to be touched base with. 
  • Precisely the sort of administrative minutia that quite rapidly causes my eyes to glaze over concerns insurance and related matters. Fortunately, I've got staff who are really good at that sort of thing, but, because of my position in the system, I can't insulate myself from it completely. My involvement today concerned the request from the Church Pension Group to help them develop an initial database of congregations and other institutions of the diocese that are "under the authority of the church," the reason being that, as of 2013, all such entities will be required to participate in the Denominational Health Plan, in a way that ensures "parity" between ordained and lay employees, and also enroll lay employees who work half-time or more in CPG's 401(k) program, with an exposure of an amount equal to 9% of said lay payroll. So this could potentially have a significant impact on some places. I understand and support the laudable motives behind these impending new requirements. My fear is that they will trigger the Law of Unintended Consequences. Big time. And that the people they are intended to help will end up the losers.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thursday

  • Newspaper and task planning over tea at and muffin at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Responded to a semi-urgent email from a cleric in charge of one of our churches concerning an unexpected opportunity to acquire some adjacent property. (Discussed the matter with the Archdeacon, of course.)
  • Debriefed Archdeacon Denney on his trip to Paris ... Paris, Illinois, that is ... yesterday. St Andrew's is another congregation at a challenging point in its life cycle.
  • Conceived and laid down the broad strikes of a sermon for Easter VII--June 5, at St John's, Centralia.
  • Worked with the Diocesan Administrator to enable her to see my Google calendars, and edit them when appropriate.
  • Lunch at home
  • Took a call from the the Executive Director of a quasi-independent but Episcopal Church-related publishing company inviting me to accept a three-year term on their board. Who can resist an opportunity to go to Cincinatti twice a year, eh?
  • Resumed my conversation with Fr Denney regarding St Andrew's, Paris. Took steps toward developing an action plan. (Really. I'm not just saying that.)
  • Spent some time perusing the big binder that contains all the information that host parishes need when they are preparing to host the annual Synod of the diocese. In time, it may deserve some tweaking. But not just yet.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on the list of names we are sending to the search committee of Trinity, Lincoln. 
  • Off to Pekin around 3:30, where I met with Fr Brian and Deacon Laurie Kellington, had supper with some folks from St Paul's, and a few from All Saints in Morton, and then spoke to them on "Praying With Integrity: Integrating Private Prayer and Public Worship." Since it's hard for a bishop to have a regular teaching gig, I appreciate invitations to do this sort of thing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wednesday

  • Usual morning routine (email, tasks); Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Based on my conversation with Fr Kellington yesterday, I cobbled together the talk that I will give at St Paul's in Pekin tomorrow evening.
  • Worked on hand-written thank-you notes to family and friends who made monetary contributions toward the acquisition of all the "stuff" I need to operate liturgically, ceremonially, and symbolically as a bishop. (This is distinguished from those who contributed in response to the Standing Committee's appeal toward the same end.)
  • Met with Fr Tom Davis, a recently retired priest of the diocese, a sort of getting-to-know-you encounter that I very much appreciated him initiating.
  • Lunch at home (leftover chicken fajita tacos from last night--yum!)
  • Swung by the framing shop to pick up my consecration certificate. Beautifully done.
  • Met with some key players in Sunday afternoon's "enthronement" liturgy to walk everything through and get our logistics down. Time well spent.
  • Finished the thank-you notes I started earlier.
  • Finished pulling together a draft for my sermon on Easter V (May 22) at Holy Trinity, Danville. (Did this in the central "rotunda" of the office building, as the A/C in my own office appeared to have some issues, which were successfully addressed while I waited.)
  • Finished refining a document (a "customary") that will serve as a reference for congregations as they prepare for the Bishop's regular annual visit. After all, something's got to tell them I'm not much of a salad eater!
  • Took care of some minor administrative chores to the loud accompaniment of a Country & Western band entertaining a developing party in the parking lot of the B&B next door.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral (also to the accompaniment of the band next door).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday

  • Usual morning routine; MP in cathedral.
  • Usual Tuesday catch-up conversation with the Archdeacon, the need for which was heightened by his absence from the office last week at a conference.
  • Another Tuesday chore: clearing my desk of accumulated items that need processing or scanning or (on the rarest of occasions) filing.
  • Spoke on the phone with the Rector of Holy Trinity, Danville, which is the venue of my visit the Sunday after next.
  • Worked on music for Sunday's enthronement liturgy (hopefully for the final time), consulted with several interested parties on the details.
  • Spoke on the phone with the Rector of St Paul's, Pekin, where I am speaking tomorrow evening.
  • Lunch at home
  • Corresponded by email with my "official" portrait photographer (who also happens to be my brother) regarding some of the mechanics of making the fruit of our mutual labor available to churches for the customary parish office photo of the bish.
  • Corresponded by email with the chair of the Department of General Mission Strategy regarding the possibility of an overnight working retreat for said group sometime in the next few months. Talked with the diocesan staff (who all happened to be congregating in Sue's office at the time!) about some possible times and places.
  • Registered for June's short meeting (in Chicago) of the Province V bishops.
  • Got a few ducks in a row for this Saturday's Diocesan Council meeting. Observed to anyone within earshot that we have an administrative and executive infrastructure appropriate for a diocese eight or ten times our size.
  • Worked some more on my Nashotah House special project. Glad that this one is coming to a head.
  • Massaged my sermon for this Sunday (St George's, Belleville) into pretty much its final shape.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Easter III

  • The morning broke bright and fair, continuing yesterday's almost magical ambience. As the liturgy was not until 10, and only a few yards from where we were staying, it was a welcome gentle start to the day. Brenda and I managed to get a brief walk in, drinking in the Mayberry-esque atmosphere. It was already in the mid-70s by 9:30am.
  • In all, there were a dozen people in church, and I have to say, the service had more life to it than many much-better attended celebrations I have been present for. I was especially impressed by the singing. St James' was consecrated in 1882 by my predecessor ten times removed, Bishop George Seymour. It is one of the architectural treasures of the diocese. 
  • My homily was unscripted, so I have nothing to post. There was plenty of rich material in today's readings that can connect to St James' in its present state. Their buildings and grounds are simultaneously a gift and an albatross. Yet, as St Peter told both the listening crowd in Jerusalem and the newly-baptized readers of his first epistle, their baptismal identity assures them of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the altar at which they are fed is where they know the risen Christ present in the breaking of the bread, their hearts having first burned within them through the proclamation of the Word of God.
  • A brunch back in the Parish House capped off our visit, accompanied by some candid discussion. This is a rather agonizing moment in the life cycle of the congregation, and I hope I left them with the sense that they are not alone in their agony, that their Chief Pastor, and--manifest in him--the Good Shepherd himself, stands in that difficult place with them. These are precious people, and I was deeply moved by what I witnessed in McLeansboro.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Saturday

  • Leisurely morning at home. Good brisk walk.
  • On the road around 1:30 to McLeansboro, a three-hour trip. The day and the town were both idyllic; I expected Norman Rockwell to come walking around the corner at any moment. Very nice dinner (steaks and Mahi Mahi grilled by Fr Dick Swan) with the leadership of the congregation (which, in the case of St James', is essentially the entire congregation) and two the clergy of the Hale Deanery cluster, in the historic (1882) parish house, which has a very commodious guest room and bath upstairs, which is where Brenda and I are staying. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday

  • Usual morning routine; MP in cathedral.
  • Finished preparing this Sunday's sermon.
  • Reviewed a draft Letter of Agreement between a parish and an incoming priest, tweaked it slightly, and sent it on to the interested parties.
  • Took some time to weigh in at an online discussion thread on the subject of the relation between Baptism and Confirmation. This was in the category of an in-the-moment decision, and such things do divert me from my task list, which I find bothersome. But part of my job description as a bishop is to be a teacher, and teaching opportunities do not always arise at convenient times. Besides, the thought involved in making the response I did will likely bear fruit in other venues of my ministry.
  • Finished composing a congregational antiphon for the Magnificat to be used when I am "welcomed and seated" in the cathedral on May 15.
  • Quick fast-food lunch, eaten at the conference table in my office.
  • Further developed my homily for Easter IV (St George's, Belleville) and did the initial spade work on Easter V (Holy Trinity, Danville).
  • Met with a member of a congregation currently without regular pastoral leadership regarding some issues of vocational discernment.
  • Spent some time in personal prayer (yes, this was on my task list!)--an adaptation of Ignatian Meditation--which yielded a brief blog post.
  • Worked on more musical details for the May 15 event.
  • Left the office at 3:45 in order to go home and collect Brenda and then head up to Bloomington for dinner at the home of Fr Dave and Amy Halt, before attending, as their guests, a performance of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. A delightful evening. Home just before midnight.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

  • Task planning and email processing at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Worked on refining my sermon plan for this Sunday (St James, McLeansboro).
  • Attended to some relatively minor administrative tasks and decisions.
  • Met with Bob and Judy Ellison from St John's, Decatur, regarding some concerns pertinent to the life of that parish.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Began the process of designing my homily for Easter IV (May 15), at St George's, Belleville.
  • Took a few minutes to assemble a blog post using already-written material, stimulated by a request from a former-parishioner college student.
  • Noticed that my sense of balance was suddenly compromised whenever I tried to walk, this following sinus pressure (with stopped-up ears) for the last 24 hours. Made a visit to an urgent care clinic at got myself diagnosed with "eustachion tube dysfunction." Now the proud owner of a nasal steroid spray. (This was time out of my afternoon I could not really afford to lose, but it seemed prudent to seek medical attention.)
  • Returned to the office in time to work for a while on a short musical composition for my "seating" liturgy a week from Sunday. (If you must know, it's a congregational antiphon for the Magnificat, which will be chanted by a cantor.)
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Off to Decatur yet again, this time for a congregational meeting at St John's, wherein I tried to get everybody on to the same level of knowledge with respect to the events leading up to the departure of Fr Reischman, and announcing the appointment of Fr Dick Sawn as priest-in-charge. Took about an hour and change to say what I needed to say and respond to questions. St John's has been one of the anchor parishes of the diocese, and can be that again. 
  • Home around 8:15, with chicken and fixin's from Popeye's in hand. After consuming the meal, back to my compositional efforts. Mission now accomplished (that particular one, at any rate).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wednesday (St Monnica)

  • Usual early morning chores. MP in cathedral.
  • Spoke on the phone with Fr Keith Roderick, Rector of St Andrew's, Carbondale, about various aspects of our ministry in that part of the diocese.
  • Processed the accumulated detritus that had arrived on my desk since last week at this time. Mostly, this means scanning and round-filing. I'm aiming for as paper-free an environment as possible.
  • Followed up on several details (involving emails and phone calls) related to my Nashotah House special project. This took me all the way until noon.
  • After lunch, I responded to several more accumulated emails, some of which have been waiting a few days, in various degrees of detail. 
  • Took a chatty incoming call from an old friend and colleague from my Louisiana years.
  • Began to look into travel plans to attend the conscration of the next bishop of Northern Michigan on May 20 before being interrupted by another long phone call regarding--you guessed it--the Nashotah House special project. Thankfully, there is a time-certain conclusion to this: the trustees meeting on May 26. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • After dinner at home, back to the task of getting to Marquette, MI and back expeditiously. The mission was finally accomplished, but I am gobsmacked by how much time gets sucked up making online travel arrangements.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ss Philip & James (transferred)

Home safe after a remarkably intense day of meetings in Wisconsin, capped off by a five hour drive. Time will tell whether the meetings can be considered successful.

Monday, May 2, 2011

St Mark's Day (transferred)

  • Writing from a hotel room in the Milwaukee area. Drove up here in advance of two meetings tomorrow, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, in connection with the Nashotah House "special project" I have been working on and vaguely referring to. If I have any skill in diplomacy and group process facilitation, it will be put to the test tomorrow. If I don't, that lack will be revealed! Spare me a prayer.
  • In the meantime, took care of some business with a vestment supplier in Chicago, and had a yummy dinner with my daughter, her husband, and their daughter at a great new BBQ joint. (Ask me what "burnt ends" might mean.)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sermon for Easter II

John 20:19-31
(Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign)                                         

It has become an automatic ritual for me, over a period of decades. I crawl into bed at night, trace the sign of the cross with my thumb on my forehead, and repeat the final prayer from the service of Compline: “The Almighty and merciful Lord—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—bless us and keep us.” Sometimes I’m already half asleep—or still wound up from the anxieties of the day—and barely aware of what I’m doing. Sometimes I’m very aware of what I’m doing, and it’s a source of great comfort, a sort of “divine tuck-in.” There are times, however, when I’m very aware of what I’m doing, and what I’m doing seems—ridiculous. It feels as though I may as well be whistling in the dark, or throwing salt over my shoulder, or something else equally superstitious. I wonder whether everything on which I’ve based my life is simply an illusion.

One of the joys of my early ministry as a priest was the opportunity to help form Christian faith in the lives of children as a chaplain in a parochial day school. Probably the most frequent question that students asked me concerned the origin of God—how did God get started? It was difficult for them to conceive of a Being who has no beginning and no ending. (Actually, it’s difficult for me to conceive of, too, but I’ve had more practice.) But the second most frequent question that I got was, how do we know that it’s all true? How do we really know that there is a God who loves us, who became one of us and died and rose again, and wants to unite us to himself? My standard response was that real people saw Jesus die, and the same real people saw him risen from the dead, and they told other people, and they told others, and they told others, and so forth, and now I’m telling you. I give this answer because it’s the one which, in a more sophisticated form, I give myself  when I ask the same question. There’s simply no other credible explanation for the willingness of the first generation of Christians to sacrifice their homes and livelihoods and, in many cases, to die the painful death of a martyr.

But in the dark of the night, sometimes even this answer falls short—it doesn’t do the trick. And unless I’m badly mistaken, I’m not the only one with late-at night doubts. I’ll bet that most of you have them too. That’s why when we run across a person who appears to have great faith, boundless and enthusiastic confidence, we often find that person and his or her faith irresistibly attractive. Of course, many times we may find it obnoxious, but even in those instances, it’s still vaguely unsettling.  In a way, we’re envious. We devour books and articles and podcasts, we tune in to radio and TV shows and scour the internet, we seek out pastors and spiritual directors, hoping that the strength of someone else’s faith will make ours stronger.

Why do we do these things? We do them because our own faith experience seems second hand, derivative, reflected.  Most of us, I believe, have an inferiority complex about our own faith. For whatever reason, we have been led to think that it is not strong enough, not deep enough, not wide enough, not something enough. We suffer from the same condition that is displayed today by blessed St Thomas—doubting Thomas. Thomas had an inferiority complex about his faith, because he happened to have been out buying groceries or getting his shoes shined or having the oil changed in his car … or whatever he was doing the first time the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room. He lacked a first-hand experience of Christ risen from the dead. He had to take somebody else’s word for it. “Thomas, we’ve seen the Lord!—and and you haven’t!”  “You know, God doesn’t want you to be sick, and he’d deliver you from this illness, if only your faith were strong enough.” Or, if you hang out in the right places, you’re likely to hear, “God doesn’t want you to be poor. God wants you to drive a BMW. If you’re poor, you need to get right with God!”

But when we look honestly at our own faith, we so often feel as though it isn’t strong enough. It isn’t deep enough. It isn’t wide enough. Our faith is...inferior. We haven’t had a first-hand, tangible, objectively unmistakable experience of God’s existance, and of his love and concern for us. And this is quite a sorry state to be in. It leads eventually to a sort of spiritual anorexia, where we starve ourselves to death right in the midst of an abundant supply of nourishment. Having faith that we perceive as inferior, we are paralyzed, and unable to partake of the sustenance that is offered us.

Thomas may have felt that same sort of paralysis coming on when he realized that his experience lacked an essential ingredient, that of being an eye-witness to the Lord’s resurrection. But, you know, to Thomas’s great credit, in the end, he didn’t allow his faith-inferiority complex to paralyze him. Perhaps the most significant part of this rich gospel narrative is that when the discpiples gathered once again in that upper room one week after the day of the resurrection, Thomas was still with them! He’d had a whole week in which to allow the inferiority of his faith to undo him, to say to the other apostles, “Guys, it’s been fun, but it’s over, and I’m just gonna ... go fishing.”

But that isn’t what happened. When they got together again, Thomas was there. And it was his inferior faith that enabled him, on that occasion, to have the first-hand experience that he sought. The risen Christ entered the room, showed himself to them all, but especially, and lovingly, to Thomas. And all Thomas could do was bend the knee of his heart and exclaim, “My Lord and my God.” This first-hand experiece confirmed Thomas’s faith, and deepened Thomas’s faith, but it did not create Thomas’s faith. If Thomas had not already had faith, inferior though it might have been, he still would not have believed what he saw. Even touching the resurrected Jesus would not have created faith where none existed already. Thomas’s inferior faith was a pre-condition for his experience of the Risen Christ.

So what I’m saying is that, perhaps “inferior faith” isn’t so inferior after all. If the faith that enabled Thomas to be present in the upper room on that first “Low Sunday” is inferior, then may the Lord grant us an abundant measure of inferior faith! Thomas thought that he needed to see in order to believe, when in truth, it was his belief that enabled him to see. He could have been somewhere else that Sunday, but we wasn’t. There are eight people about to publicly reaffirm the vows and promises of their baptism. All eight could have chosen to be somewhere else this morning, but they’re not; they’re here. I don’t know whether their faith is superior or inferior, but all can take heard from the risen Lord’s commendation of Thomas not for his seeing but for his believing.  Jesus blessed Thomas’s prior state of “inferior” faith when he said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have yet believed.”
 
We may have to wait until the other side of the grave before we have that first-hand experience that Thomas had eight days after the resurrection, the experience which confirms and deepens our original “inferior” faith. For some of us, it may come sooner. But all of us can catch a glimpse, even with our inferior faith, of this great reality in the sacrament of the Eucharist. We come believing, in order that we might see, and we are given something tangible, something we can touch and taste and see, which, in turn, enables us to believe more, which will enable us to see more, which will enable us to believe more  .... and so on, world without end. It is this endless cycle of belief confirmed by experience, and experience leading to stronger belief, that eventually snuffs out those late-at-night doubts and fears, and makes the question—how do we know it’s all true?—seem unimportant.

My friends, seeing may or may not be believing, but believing is most assuredly seeing. Christ is risen. Amen.

Easter II

  • On the road with Brenda by 7:45am, en route to the Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign.
  • The liturgy there was splendid, with outstanding music of the sort that feeds the depths of my soul. Confirmed five, received two, with one reaffirmation. All were men, and all were no older than early middle age. In a church in which men seem to be gradually disappearing, this is encouraging. 
  • The occasion of the Bishop's visit was shared with a sort of homecoming for alums of the campus ministry at the University of Illinois, part of a series of events marking the retirement of Fr Tim Hallet after 35 years as chaplain and rector. It was moving to hear the testimony of those whose lives he and Mary have touched over the years. 
  • After some rather brief down time at home, we headed back out to the concert of the Springfield Choral Society in Chatham (a Springfield suburb). Several members of this fine ensemble, including its director, are key parts of the music program at St Paul's Cathedral.
  • Back at home, more work in preparation for this Tuesday's meeting of those involved in the special project I am involved with on behalf of the Nashotah House board of trustees. There's not much I can say about it just yet, other than that it's difficult and sensitive.