Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday

Woke up to a crisp 27°F, though it was not that cold in our unheated hotel room in Juliaca. We were picked up by our usual driver, Fr Victor, at 8am. The first stop was the parish of St Mary Magdalene, where we had visited briefly last night. This time, Fr Luis, the rector, was with us. We read Morning Prayer together, then learned more about the details of the parish's ministries and their plans for expansion onto property they already own in order to accommodate the demand for a primary school. There are also two missions in Juliaca, both of which are also taken care of by the same clergy team of Fr Luis and Deacon Justo. Both of the buildings are owned by private parties who are happy to make them available to the diocese as long as they continue to hold services. Both are located in growing neighborhoods, where the Roman Church has no presence. There is great potential in both places. Together, the three churches involve over 300 people on a regular basis. 

It was around 11:30 when we got back into our familiar van and headed south for the six hour drive to Arequipa. Much of this was through a desert plain--known as the Altiplano--that sits around 12,000 feet in elevation. I'm not happy about the fact that I don't do well at such an altitude, and the last two nights have been largely sleepless because of the need to take a particularly deep breath about every minute or two, which requires being awake. Arequipa sits at about 7,500 feet, and my lungs are grateful for the respite. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday

My excuse for missing a day this time? Not socializing in an exotic bar, but technological failure. I wrote a post last night using Blogger's iPhone app, but it wouldn't upload, due to what I assumed was a too-weak cell signal (no wifi where I was). But when I connected to wifi twice today, the app was just frozen in "publishing" mode, and when it then crashed, my work was gone. So ... a bit of a marathon here.

Yesterday we travelled--with Bishop Alejandro, his English-speaking grown son, and Fr Victor as our most excellent driver--from Arequipa to Cabanaconde, more than six hours in a modestly comfortable but smallish Chevy van. This entailed views of wild vicuña herds, desert landscapes resembling parts of Utah and Nevada, herds of alpaca and sheep under professional oversight, crossing the crest of the Andes as 15,000 feet, stopping for some coca leaf tea (it alleviates the symptoms of altitude sickness), spying a settlement far, far below the mountain road we were traversing and being told it was our lunch destination (and then waiting nearly an hour for us to actually arrive there), ordering (and enjoying) grilled alpaca for lunch (no, it doesn't taste like chicken), driving along the world famous Colca Canyon, and generally taking in some of the most spectacular scenery on which I have ever set my eyes. 

Upon arrival at the mission in Cabanaconde (which Bishop Alejandro himself founded some 15 years ago), we had a serious discussion of his missionary vision for the region-cum-diocese of Arequipa. My observation is that he is really hitting the ground running, and was effectively already the bishop of this area some good while before he was consecrated last Saturday. Our quarters for the night were right there on the grounds, where volunteers over the years have build a small guest house that is not fancy, but gets the job done. The main challenge was dealing with the nighttime and morning chill, as temps dropped into the 30s, and nothing there (or in the whole rest of the country, so far as I can tell) is heated.

Before hitting the road this morning (at about 10), we celebrated the Eucharist together, with Bishop Alejandro presiding and preaching, using the Peruvian liturgy that has been expertly crafted by Bishop Bill Godfrey. Then we were taken to an overlook area where we could get a panoramic view of some of the most rugged and gorgeous territory I have ever seen, and could scarcely begin to imagine, let alone describe. It amazes me that human beings have actually lived here for hundreds of years. Then it was back in the van and a reverse of most of yesterday's route, stopping again for lunch in Chivay, and again enjoying alpaca, this time in sandwich form. It was just past sunset when we pulled into the city of Juliaca, which, like much of Peru, is a dynamic stew of "first world" and "third world" elements. We stopped by the parish of Sancta Maria Magdalena, met the local deacon, and again had a deep discussion about mission strategy. Then, after checking in at our hotel, we (the seven of us, now including Deacon Justo) drove a short while through traffic congested by an armada of three-wheeled taxis to a mall food court, where we were able to choose from an array for our dinner. Three days ago, I hadn't even heard of Juliaca, Peru. Tonight, I found myself eating mediocre fast Chinese food in an ambience that, at first glance, could be mistaken for any number of American settings in the recent era before malls were eclipsed by strip malls. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday

We checked out of the Villa Molina, our Lima digs, in time to meet our ride to the airport at 7:30. Peru is beginning to celebrate what is effectively a week of Independence Day festivities (the actual day is tomorrow), so auto traffic was lighter than usual. But, for the same reason, "people" traffic at the airport was heavy. All went smoothly, with only minor hiccups, and we touched down in Arequipa, about 450 miles southeast of Lima, at 12:30. The first thing we noticed, and immediately welcomed, was the brilliant sunshine. It virtually never rains in Lima, but, during the winter, it's perpetually drizzly and 60-something degrees. Arequipa is true desert--warmer than Lima by day and cooler by night. We were met by Bishop Alejandro and one of his priests, Fr Ricardo. They took us to the guest house where we are spending the night, where we dropped off our luggage and immediately went back out for lunch at a nearby restaurant. After the meal, Fr Ricardo was our host for the afternoon. He took us to a shopping mall, where Brenda and I purchased supplementary apparel, given that nighttime lows where we are headed tomorrow will hover around the freezing mark. With that chore accomplished, we picked up his lovely wife Karen, and we were off on an excellent tour of Arequipa, focusing on church buildings from the Spanish colonial period, of which there is an abundance. After helping us acquire a supply of bottled water (dangerous for gringos to drink tap water here), we were dropped off back at our lodging. The three of us then found a nearby restaurant for a relaxing dinner.

I was dog-tired, and here's why: My Spanish is not that good, but none of our Arequipa hosts have as much English as I have Spanish. And not only do I have to speak Spanish and listen to Spanish, I have to serve as interpreter for Brenda and Fr Mark. I'm quite out of my depth, but I'm afraid that's the way it's going to be for the rest of our time in Peru. The bright side of this is that my Spanish is going to get a lot better. It already has, thanks to Fr Ricardo's willingness to speak slowly and use simple words. But it wears me out, nonetheless.

Tomorrow we head out again by van, driving further in-country through and to some very isolated territory, including a pass over the crest of the Andes at 15,000 feet. I don't know what the wifi situation will be where we bed down tomorrow night. There may not be any. If I go silent, assume that's the reason.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Lord's Day (IX Pentecost)

It was my joy to preach twice today at both of the English language services at the Cathedral of the Good Shephard in Lima. (Attendees were mostly American, Canadian, and British ex-pats, with a smattering of Peruvians who are, for whatever reason, attracted to worship in English; there is also a Spanish service at 11:30.) After the usual coffee hour in the parish hall, we were treated to a delicious curry lunch in the deanery, occupied by Fr Allen and Deacon Rachel Hill and their two boys; Allen takes care of the English-speaking cathedral parishioners. Arriving back at the hotel sometime after 2:00, we seized the opportunity for some rest, though I used it to proces a stack of emails. Dinner in the evening for Brenda and me was with Bishop Godfrey and Judith at an Argentinian steakhouse on a high bluff overlooking the ocean. We leave Lima tomorrow morning by air for Arequipa. More from there.

Sermon for Proper 12

Lima (Peru) Cathedral--John 6:1-21

It’s indeed a great joy to be with you this morning, and I bring you greetings in Christ Jesus from your brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Springfield, which encompasses about two-thirds of the state of Illinois. We have been in a companion relationship with the Diocese of Peru for nearly three years now, and as the Diocese of Peru moves toward the creation of four new dioceses from the current one, and taking its place as the 39th autonomous province of the worldwide Anglican Communion of churches, we share your excitement, and look forward to a continuing partnership with the region of Arequipa—soon, God willing, to become the Diocese of Arequipa, under the leadership of Bishop Alejandro, whom we consecrated yesterday. In April of 2013 I had already made travel arrangements to come down here for a visit then, but I discovered that I needed to have a valve in my heart replaced, so Father Mark Evans, who is with me on this trap as well, along with his wife Sandy, represented me on that occasion. And I should also not fail to mention my wife and intrepid traveling companion of the last 43 years, Brenda, who is with us here this morning. Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned, it’s exciting to be in Peru when there are new horizons opening up for the growing community of Anglican Christians in this country, in this diocese on the way to becoming four dioceses. It’s exciting to be here when serious risks are being taken for the sake of the gospel, when there’s an openness to failure, but a firm commitment at the same time to fail, if necessary, as a result of doing something rather than failing as a result of doing nothing. The mission we have been given, the Lord whom we serve, demands no less of us as disciples. In the Diocese of Springfield, we face challenges that are at the same time astonishingly different from the challenges that you face, and also amazingly similar. Most of our diocese is quite flat, and sits around 600 feet above sea level. We have some decent hills in the extreme southern part of Illinois, but a Peruvian would find it laughable if we called them mountains! In all the churches of our diocese, English is the only language that is spoken, which means that we are presently doing nothing by way of mission or ministry among the growing population of Spanish speakers in various corners of the diocese. Our economy is based on agriculture, and education, and health care. In those respects, our environment is very different from yours (and by “yours,” I mean the whole territory of Peru, not just Lima).

But, among the things that we have in common is this: We are starved for resources. Opportunities abound, but we lack both the human resources and the financial resources to take advantage of the opportunities for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom. This weighs on me, as I know it weighs on you. I know it weighs on you all because I know it weighs on your bishop! I admire Bishop Godfrey’s tenacity in picking up the phone and banging every drum and looking under every rock in order to find resources to support the work of this diocese. So, despite the mountains of differences between our contexts, we are both communities of Christians, parts of the one holy Catholic and apostolic church of the creeds, communities who are constantly wondering how we’re going to get the means to accomplish what we believe God has called us to accomplish.

In that, we can empathize with what Jesus and his close disciples might have felt when they got out of their boat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and saw a different kind of sea—a sea of humanity, gathered there in eager expectation of hearing the words of Jesus’ teaching and feeling the touch of Jesus’ healing. It was a large crowd, in a deserted area—not an actual desert or wilderness, but, we might say, rural; there were no fast food franchises nearby. And the people were bound to get quite hungry quite soon. There was a great opportunity for mission and ministry right there in front of them. But they apparently lacked the resources to take advantage of the opportunity. One of the disciples, Andrew, said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Bishop Godfrey and I, and others, might look at the tithes and offerings that come in from our people to the parishes, and from the parishes to the level of the diocese, and compare it to the work that needs to be done, and be tempted to say very much the same thing: “That’s nice, but what good is it? It doesn’t even come close to meeting our need.”

And here, precisely here, is where it become relevant that Jesus is Lord, and I’m not! Here is where it becomes relevant that Jesus is Lord and Bill Godfrey is not! Because Jesus, in that moment, never wavered in his confidence that God will never leave his own work unresourced. God will always provide what is necessary for the disciples of his Son to fulfill the mission that has been assigned to them.

Of course, when all we see are five barley loves and two fish, it’s a challenge to maintain an attitude of optimistic faith. But the lesson here is that God does not always or necessarily resource his mission in the precise way we would expect or desire. A year ago at this time, I was busy trying to drum up enthusiasm and support in the diocese for creating a new staff position—a Canon for Mission Development, somebody who would get down in the trenches with our parishes and work out mission strategies for reaching the people in their neighborhoods with the good news of Jesus. I thought it was the right thing to do, and even had somebody in mind to potentially fill the position. And when our annual synod met in October, they officially endorsed the idea. But it required all the parishes to increase their giving to the diocese by an average of 12%. And when the pledges from the parishes actually arrived in January, it was painfully clear that our income was not only not going to go up by 12%, but was actually going to decrease a small amount. I had 5,000 people to feed—which, ironically, is roughly the number of people we have on the rolls of our churches in the diocese—I had 5,000 people to feed, and still saw only five loaves and two fish available to me.

But I still believe the Lord is going to provide for us, to enable us to engage the mission of the gospel in central and southern Illinois. It’s just not going to take the form of a new staff member! Instead, there are smaller initiatives and programs that are cropping up organically in various parts of the diocese—a parish in a desperately poor community that is showing great signs of new life, a vigorous youth ministry venture that has gotten off to a great start, gifted lay people moving into the diocese and taking up important work—I could name others. I am more optimistic now about our work in the Diocese of Springfield than I’ve been since the day I was elected bishop. It’s not always happening according to my plan and my timetable, but it’s happening. God never leaves his own work unresourced. I would wager that if Bishop Godfrey were given the opportunity to corroborate what I’m saying about the work of the Diocese of Peru, he would do so.

When the people on that isolated grassy hillside had eaten their fill of barley bread and tilapia, Jesus commanded his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” And they proceeded to gather up twelve baskets of leftovers. This is a sign that not only does God provide, but he provides in abundance. God is not stingy. Sometimes we only see the abundance retrospectively, but it’s there. So this is why I am so thrilled to be here, in Peru, right at a moment of transition when something quite new and quite exciting—quite historic, potentially—is happening: the birth, or at least the conception, of a new Anglican province. I shall hold you in my prayers, and hold you in my memory, as we give thanks to God for the vocation we have to be heralds of good news and harbingers of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Praised be Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

St James

Blogging for yesterday fell victim to a time of socializing with old and new friends at the most spectacular bar/restaurant setting I have ever seen--a place designed with a stunning pre-Incan burial mound, lit up at night, as a backdrop. So I will try to cover two days in this post.

We were picked up by another of the senior priests of the diocese, along with a driver, in yet another very used 12-passenger van. In addition to Brenda and me and Fr Evans, the group consisted of Bishop and Mrs Hind once again, the new General Secretary of the Anglican Communion (Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon), the special assistant to the Archbishop of Canterbury for Anglican Communion Affairs (Canon Precious Omuku), Bishop Dorsey Henderson (retired of Upper South Carolina and now assisting in Florida, which also has a companion relationship with Peru), the Bishop of Paraguay (Peter Bartlett), and a lay woman from Dallas who handles finances for the Friends of Peru. 

This time our destination was the southern environs of Lima. (Lima is home to more than 10 million people, and is geographically immense. Traffic is consistently thick, and it would take about three hours to drive across town from north to south.) We visited two churches and a school attached to a third church. In the first case, we heard the moving testimony of three women whose lives had been positively affected by the ministries of the parish. In the second, we heard from a priest with an exuberant outsize personality as he described his 13 years in that work. At the third, we encountered school children in the midst of a pageant recounting the narrative of Peruvian independence from Spain, the annual national celebration of which is next week. All three are in locations and physical plants that would be considered impoverished or sub-par by U.S. standards, but are several rungs up the ladder from what we saw in north Lima the day before. 

It was nearly 2:00 by the time we were dropped off back at our hotel. The three of us were all hungry for seafood, and with some asking around, located a very nice fish restaurant nearby. After eating, we took the opportunity for some down time back at the hotel.

Not too long thereafter, we reported to the cathedral, just three short blocks away, where we ("we" being an even larger group now) boarded a full size (and, again, very "tired") bus for a 45 minute ride through monumentally congested traffic to the offices of the Diocese of Peru, where there was a reception for the three new bishops-to-be and their families, and all the guests--from other parts of South America, the U.S., and England. It was a very happy occasion.

We were dropped off back at the cathedral around 9:00, after which came the visit to the exotic bar mentioned above.

This morning Fr Mark and Brenda and I hunted for breakfast. We weren't too choosy, so we settled for a Chili's franchise, which sort of thing is always "kind of" like its American counterpart, but also kind of not. But, in any case, we ate. Which was a good thing, because it would be several hours before we would have another opportunity. I grabbed my vestment bag from the hotel room closet and hiked back to the cathedral, where the vesting area for visiting dignitaries was the home of the Dean and his family. The consecration liturgy was scheduled to begin at 10:00. I didn't notice what time it was when we processed into the church, but it was around 1:30 when we got out. The service was quite glorious. The cathedral was packed. (It's about the size of St Paul's in Springfield.) The ordinands were radiant. The Primate of the Province of South America preached. It was obvious that three quite extraordinary men had been chosen by a diocese that holds them in high esteem. Everything was in Spanish, of course, save for a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury that was read at the end. I find that when native speakers speak Spanish, I pick up about 10%. But when a non-native speaker talks (like Bishop Godfrey), that figure rises to more like 90%.

There was, of course, a reception with light refreshments in the cathedral parish hall. Then, the VIPs (for lack of a better term) got back on last night's bus to be driven about 30 minutes to a restaurant for a pre-arranged lunch (if a meal that concludes at 5:00 can be called such!). Once again, it was a great time for visiting and cultivating relationships. 

At that point, dinner plans didn't seem to make sense, so it was a quiet evening at the hotel.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thursday

Wednesday was a very long day of travel, made longer by a mechanical issue (malfunctioning weather radar) forcing our plane from Altanta to Lima to turn back to Atlanta an hour after being airborne. Then we had to circle Atlanta to burn off fuel and wait out a thunderstorm. The eventual delay amounted to five hours. So we didn't get to our hotel until this morning at nearly sunup. We took the morning to get some sleep and settle in. At 2pm we were picked up by one of the senior clergy of the diocese in a spacious but "veteran" van owned by the diocese. We were accompanied by Fr John Park, formerly a missionary here in Peru and now retired back in the U.S. Fr Park served as our interpreter. We were also joined by Bishop John Hind, sometime Bishop of Gibralter and retired from Chichester, and his wife Janet. They took us to visit two churches in the northern part of the Lima area. Even though it was "in town'" getting there involved over 90 minutes of thick, urban driving. Both churches are planted in "improvised" communities. In Brazil, they would be called favelas. These are very poor people, and the Diocese of Peru has, literally, "moved into the neighborhood" in ways that no other church will commit to. I was deeply moved, and spent most of our dinner conversation later, at an Italian-Peruvian "fusion" restaurant, talking with Fr Evans and Brenda about how we might "translate" what we saw into our context in central and southern Illinois.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday

With a number of chores to be completed ahead of tomorrow's departure from Peru, I did not go in to the office today, but there was no shortage of productivity via email. Brenda and I, along with Fr Mark Evans, depart for St Louis tomorrow morning ahead of a 1pm flight to Atlanta and a connection to Lima that will get us there about 30 minutes before midnight. I don't know precisely what our wifi access will be like there--it will probably vary in different places--but I will endeavor to stay as connected as I can, both with words and images. We will be in Lima until Monday, and, while there, I will assist with the consecration of three new bishops on Saturday and preach at the English service at the cathedral on Sunday. On Monday we fly to the proto-diocese of Arequipa, which, when erected, will be Springfield's companion going forward. While based in Arequipa, the plan is for us to make one or two long drives--long, as involving overnight stays--to outlying missions. Details when they become available.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Lord's Day (VIII Pentecost)

One of the characteristics of a small church in a small town is usually that the congregation consists of only a handful of extended families. This is certainly the case at St Mark's, West Frankfort, and it's a joy to see those families manifest themselves across generations. I definitely didn't lower the average age today. Plus, there was a baptism, which is always a source of joy.
peekingpouring

Sermon for Proper 11

St Mark's, West Frankfort--Mark 6:30-34, 50-56; Jeremiah 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:11-22, Psalm 23

I probably don’t say it often enough, but I have great fun being the Bishop of Springfield, and Sunday mornings are always the highlight of my week. There’s no greater joy than breaking open the Word of God and then breaking open the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation for God’s people in this diocese. It’s certainly the best job I’ve ever had and may actually be the best job anywhere! But it’s also a demanding job, as you might imagine. It is certainly the most demanding job I have ever had. But it’s not like there are just a couple or three huge parts of my ministry that are particularly challenging. Rather, it’s the sheer massive number of little things that sometimes get me down—things that might take only five or ten minutes of my time, but are really important to somebody, and then multiply that by a factor of dozens on any given day. Hardly anybody wants a real big piece of me, but a whole lot of people want a very small one! Together, all those little things add up to a fairly substantial burden. But then, just when I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself, I’m in front of a group of youth, or parishioners gathered for a Lenten meal, or, especially, a congregation on a Sunday morning, and I’m reminded why I do what I do, and know it as one of the deepest joys of my life, and I get a fresh burst of energy.

As we read the gospels, we see over and over again that Jesus and the apostles had a quite similar experience. Mark tells us in this morning’s reading that they had “no leisure even to eat.” As Mother Sherry will testify, most everyone who was at General Convention a couple of weeks ago can identify with that! Jesus tries to take them on a long weekend away, but to no avail. The demands are inescapable. The crowds—hordes, actually—the hordes just follow them wherever they go. If they get in a boat and row across the lake, the people scurry on foot to meet them on the other shore. We could perhaps be sympathetic if Jesus were to express some irritation about this. But he never does. Rather, Mark tells us, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus may have felt put upon, but if he did so much as sigh or roll his eyes, Mark doesn’t tell us about it. So we don’t know the details of what Jesus thought or felt, beyond the mention of compassion, but we do know what he did: He taught the people. Most likely, he taught them what they already knew. He probably broke open for them the Hebrew scriptures that they were already familiar with. And he wasn’t being a slacker in doing this, because we all need to be told what we already know, quite frequently, in most cases.

That’s the purpose and benefit of liturgical prayer, of knowing the shape and the content of our prayers even before we start praying. For instance, I recommend that every Anglican Christian, every Episcopalian, pray some version of the Daily Office on a regular basis … in fact, daily! The facts of your life may not permit you to use the full-blown forms for Morning and Evening Prayer right out of the Prayer Book, but there are plenty of ways to adapt what’s there to your particular circumstances. Why do I recommend this? Because praying the Daily Office teaches us the grammar and vocabulary of our faith. It tells us what we already know and then it tells us again, making its mark on our souls over years and decades of repetition. The same goes for Sunday Mass: The prayers we offer here today are in a book—only a tiny bit might be spontaneous at the Prayers of the People. And most of these prayers we hear week after week, over and over again. We know them, and yet we come to church, we need to come to church, and learn once again what we already know. Human beings can be pretty thick-headed, and liturgical prayer bangs away at our thick skulls until what we need to know and remember—what will get us to heaven and enable us to look God in the eye—until that all gets into us and stays there.

In the liturgy of the Eucharist, Jesus feeds us, first by teaching us, just as he did in the wilderness for those sheep without a shepherd. That’s what the readings and the sermon at the Eucharist are about (and, if liturgy is well-planned and we pay attention, the hymns as well).

Now, I’m sure the shepherdless sheep were grateful for the teaching that Jesus game them, but I’m also pretty sure they wanted more. They were sick and in pain and deformed and they wanted health and wholeness. Many of them were poor; life was a daily grind for them, and they wanted to thrive and flourish. Isn’t that actually what we all want? So, in addition to teaching, Jesus healed; he interacted with them in ways that touched not just their minds and their hearts, but their bodies as well, the incarnate, enfleshed reality of their lives.

Jesus does the same for us as we continue with the Eucharist, even this morning. In a few minutes, we will take some bread and some wine, along with our monetary gifts, and place them here on the altar. That act of gathering and taking, which we call the Offertory, is profoundly symbolic. When we do this, we’re not just putting bread and wine and money on the altar; we are putting ourselves on the altar. That’s the reason we don’t just use stalks of wheat and clusters of grapes for communion (aside from the fact that stalks of wheat are inedible!). Those are the gifts that God gives us in nature. Bread represents what human hands and human skill have done with the gift of wheat. Wine represents what human hands and human skill have done with the gift of grapes. The checks and cash in the offering plates represent our lives, our selves, our souls and bodies. So we place ourselves on the altar, where Jesus, through the words and actions of the celebrant, blesses us, and gives us back the selves we have offered him, now changed into his own Body and Blood, the very deathless and divine life of the Holy Trinity. Holy Communion will not fix a broken ankle or make lung cancer go into spontaneous remission. But it will put us squarely in the path of God’s grace-filled action on our behalf. It will put us in the way of God’s mercy, of God's relentless intention and desire to redeem the world. And it also, even if for a few moments, lifts us out of the realm in which broken ankles and cancerous lungs even concern us. We are lifted out of time and space and brought into the courts of the Living God, into heaven itself.

In the Eucharist, Jesus feeds his people. He feeds us in Word and he feeds us in Sacrament. He is our shepherd, as we prayed in the 23rd Psalm, even as he was in the Galilean wilderness, echoing and embodying the shepherding ministry that we find in various parts of the Old Testament, including this morning’s passage from Jeremiah. And the liturgy itself—the routine and repetitive words we say and things we do—the liturgy itself a sort of compressed ZIP file that you download from the internet and then have to click on and open before you can see all the various files it contains. The liturgy is a data-compressed symbol for the pastoral care of the bishop for the diocese, the pastoral care of the local priest for Christ’s people, and the pastoral care of Christ’s people for a broken world. As the Lord is our shepherd, we, together, demonstrate that shepherding ministry by being agents of reconciliation, as St Paul wrote to the Ephesians in what we heard a little bit ago. Through us, God engages his ongoing mission of reconciling all people to himself and to one another in Jesus his Son. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday

Pretty much a carbon copy of last weekend: Lazy morning, long walk, some attention to email, then packing up and heading south, this time to West Frankfort, where we were feted to a delicious dinner in the parish hall of St Mark's featuring freshly-caught local fish. Looking forward to sharing in Word and Sacrament tomorrow.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday (William White)

  • Out of the house on the early side (leaving tile grouters and tree surgeons already at work), because I at an appointment right at 9:00.
  • Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Met wit Br Kirt Gerber and his (both biological and religious) Brother Ned Gerber, members of an Anglican Benedictine community with houses in both the U.S. and Australia on a couple of specific concerns of theirs. 
  • At 9:30, I had to take a hiatus from the meeting in order to make a scheduled phone call to Carrie Headington, evangelism officer for the Diocese of Dallas, and presenter at a parish mission workshop we're having here in Springfield in September--styled "Moving Into the Neighborhood."
  • Being an introvert, I am vulnerable to intense meetings and phone conversations. They wear me out. So, since I'm already in I-need-a-vacation mode, I had to blow off some time doing something mentally unchallenging--in this case, reading social media comments on my pastoral letter on marriage. I have a thick skin.
  • Attended to a couple of smallish (but, as always, important) Nashotah-related tasks.
  • Got to work on a third one--not small--namely, writing a routine article for the Michaelmas issue of Nashotah's beautiful magazine, The Missioner
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Finished my Missioner article.
  • Realized that I'm mentally and emotionally running on close to empty. It was not a particularly efficient afternoon. Easily distractible. 
  • Did some planning of details pertaining to the November clergy conference.
  • Performed a routine periodic audit of the general implementation of our diocesan mission strategy. Things are happening slowly, but they are happening well. I'm excited about the September workshop, the November clergy conference, and the parishes undertaking Renewal Works this fall.
  • Prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary in the cathedral, followed by Evening Prayer.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thursday (Our Lady of Mt Carmel)

  • Customary Thursday morning treadmill workout.
  • Task planning at home over breakfast.
  • Morning Prayer in the office (cathedral was already abuzz for a funeral).
  • Arranged for some modest assistance to a clergy family in extraordinary need.
  • Took care of some business related to one of my DEPO parishes.
  • Arranged for publicity for an important parish mission strategy workshop in September.
  • Attended to a sensitive pastoral issue with a public relations aspect.
  • Attended to a small but important piece of Nashotah House business.
  • Followed through on a detail pertaining to a parish search process.
  • Lunch from ChiTown's Finest (Italian beef), eaten at home.
  • Monitored some of the internet traffic following the pastoral statement on marriage that I issued yesterday. Much of it was positive and grateful. Much of it was quite ugly. I'm not surprised; I knew this would happen. But it's still hard to see.
  • Worked on my homily for Proper 19 (September 13 at St John's, Decatur), taking it from "developed notes" to "rough draft."
  • Worked on sorting out some issues pertaining to one of our potential ordinands.
  • Posted Propers 15 through 28 on the website page for "alternative" Prayers of the People.
  • Scanned the pile of hard copy that had accumulated in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wednesday

  • Usual AM routine: task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to preside at preach at the regular cathedral midday liturgy.
  • Returned a couple of phone calls.
  • Arranged for an ad to be placed in the next issue of The Living Church in an attempt to scare up some candidates for one of our clergy vacancies.
  • Got to work on my homily for Proper 17 (August 29 at St Mary's, Robinson), takeing developed notes to a rough draft. This took the rest of the morning, and part of the afternoon.
  • Celebrated and preached the midday Mass--ferial Wednesday.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Wrapped up work on the Proper 17 homily.
  • Attended to a brief Nashotah-related chore.
  • Ordered some starched cotton collars from Wippel.
  • Spent the rest of the afternoon drafting this pastoral message on General Convention and marriage.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • After supper and a walk at home: Drafted an Ad Clerum letter to the clergy, for distribution tomorrow; attended to a small chore on behalf of our companion diocese of Tabora, devoted some mental energy, culminating in some task planning and an email, regarding someone in the ordination process; did some broad stroke planning for the Eucharist at Synod in October.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tuesday


  • Minor email processing and major task planning at home. 47 tasks in the queue for this week, 14 chosen for today. (They all got done, but it required the evening hours as well.) 
  • Morning Prayer (short form) in the car on the way in (got delayed at home, late start). 
  • Sent two emails with important questions, trying to arrange phone appointments. 
  • Phoned the office of a neighboring diocese to inquire about a priest whom we may try to tap for occasional supply work. 
  • Refined and printed the text of my homily for this Sunday at St Mark's, West Frankfort. 
  • Met with one of our our clergy over a personal and pastoral matter. 
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten at home, after which I made a detour to the restaurant Brenda and I ate in last night to retrieve the credit card I had left there. 
  • Attended in some detail to plans for an event I have been invited to participate in in the Diocese of Mississippi in September. It's geared to uncovering some of the theological assumptions that underlie our contentious divisions over sexuality. This generated two substantive emails. 
  • Refined and printed the text of the homily I have been invited to deliver Sunday after next in the cathedral in Lima, Diocese of Peru. 
  • Took care of a brief bit of Nashotah House business. 
  • Penned a hand-written reply to a substantive letter from a layperson in the diocese who had written to me at some length by hand. 
  • Spent some quality time with the canons in an effort to lay out the individual steps in the process of receiving a former Roman Catholic priest as an Episcopal priest. The canon on this is amazingly complex. 
  • Evening Prayer in the car en route home (it was well past 6:00). 
  • After supper: Peru-trip chores--registering our trip with the State Department, and arranging to be able to use our phone while there.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Lord's Day (VII Pentecost)

We had a relatively leisurely wakeup experience in our Marion hotel room, as the liturgy at St Stephen's, Harrisburg was not until 10. It's always a joyful privilege to break open the Word of God for the people of God, and to share the mysteries of the Eucharist with them, on the Lord's Day. Sometimes I can't believe I actually get paid for doing this. The post-liturgical repast was--as it always is at St Stephen's--exemplary. The occasion was made sweeter by the opportunity to gather around Fr Tim Goodman for the sacrament of Holy Unction in anticipation of major heart surgery scheduled for just that day after tomorrow. We were on the road right at 12:30 and home around 4:20. Traffic was inexplicably thick on all three interstates that we traversed--57, 64, and 55.

Sermon for Proper 10

St Stephen’s, Harrisburg--Amos 7:7-15

Well, as you probably know, it’s been barely more than a week now that I’ve been back in Illinois after the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. If you’ve managed to look at either or both of the blogs I keep, or followed me on Facebook, you know some of my opinions about what happened in Salt Lake City, perhaps in more detail than anyone was really interested in! There is, of course, a great deal about General Convention that I find annoying, not the least of which is the way it dealt with the major issues, about which I’ve already said a lot, and will probably say more. But there are lesser annoyances as well, and among these lesser annoyances is the habit of considering and passing resolutions that presume to advise the federal government—and even, at times, foreign governments—on matters of public policy, including specific pieces of legislation. Now, in the case of many of these public policy resolutions, I find myself not agreeing with the substance of what they’re trying to say. But I’ll tell you something—I automatically vote ’No’ on all of them, whether I agree with the substance or not, and here’s why: As a matter of principle, I don’t think the Episcopal Church, or any church, should take an official position on any issue about which Christians might legitimately disagree. Of course, when I say this, I’m talking about Christians who are operating in good faith, who have a certain level of spiritual maturity, and who have taken the trouble to fully inform themselves on the issue at hand. And that covers nearly every public policy resolution that I’ve seen General Convention take up. On those rare occasions when they consider something that I think represents the only possible position that any Christian could have in good conscience, then I would vote for it. In fact, I did vote for one this year, because I thought it was undeniably an issue of justice and basic human rights; it had to do with the treatment of ethnic Haitians by the government of the Dominican Republic.  But that sort of thing is notable because of its rarity. Way more often, it’s something that Christians could legitimately disagree on. And so, when we pass one of those resolutions, it creates winners and losers—unnecessarily and inappropriately so, in my opinion. It creates a class of Episcopalians who are marginalized within their own church, merely on the basis of a conscientiously held view that is not incompatible with Christian teaching. So, like I said, with a rare exception, I just vote ‘No.’

I have, on occasion, voiced this little personal policy of mine to others, and here’s one of the rejoinders that people often come up with: If the church does not take positions on concrete moral issues in the public square, in the theater of political power, how can it exercise its prophetic ministry? Jesus spoke the truth to power, and it was usually an uncomfortable truth for “power” to hear. The prophets of the Old Testament constantly spoke the truth to power. They fearlessly stood before kings and emperors and even the rulers of the religious establishment and boldly proclaimed, “Thus says the Lord!” If the church cannot take stands on political issues, how else can we speak the truth to power today? How else can we say “Thus says the Lord!”?

This is actually a good question. One of the images of Christ that emerges from the pages of the New Testament is his threefold ministry as Prophet, Priest, and King. The church is the Body of Christ, so it is part of our ministry as the church to enflesh all three of those aspects of Christ’s ministry. The church is to be prophetic. A prophet, contrary to popular belief, is not one who foretells the future, but one who “forth-tells” the present, often in the light of the future. A prophet says, particularly to those in positions of power, “Thus says the Lord!” If the General Convention doesn’t pass public policy resolutions, are we not casting off the prophetic mantle that has fallen upon us? Are we not shirking a God-given responsibility?

That depends. It depends on what we embrace as an alternative to public policy resolutions. The experience of the Old Testament prophet Amos gives us a helpful negative example. The Lord calls Amos to the work of a prophet, to speak truth to power, in this case, King Jeroboam II of Israel in the eighth century B.C. And the particular truth that Amos is called to speak to Jeroboam is not something the king is going to welcome. Amos is commissioned to announce God’s judgment on Jeroboam and on the nation of Israel. But a fellow named Amaziah—a priest, no less; one might think of him as a sort of royal chaplain to the court of Jeroboam—Amaziah tells the king, in effect, “Don’t pay any attention to Amos. He’s eaten some bad pizza, and it made him cranky.” And then he tells Amos, “What could you be thinking, you idiot, upsetting the king like that? Now get out of town! If you want to talk trash on Israel, you can do it from some place else!” What Amaziah wanted was for Amos to be a “good prophet,” to be a team player, to say some nice prayers, to be a chaplain to power, rather than a truth-teller to power. He wanted Amos to speak comfortable words to the king, and make everyone feel good.

Some of those who are “in power” in our society would love for the church to do the same thing—to be a chaplain to society, to speak soothing words, to be a cheerleader for those in power, and never to confront or challenge; in other words, to never be prophetic. This alternative, I have to say, is just as unacceptable as General Convention passing public policy resolutions. The question would remain: How else can we speak truth to power in our society? How else can we say, “Thus says the Lord!”

I want to raise with you the possibility that the Church’s prophetic ministry is most effectively expressed, not by public policy resolutions that will be universally ignored, and do not represent a consensus within the church anyway, and therefore have no meaning; and not by serving as a cheer-leading chaplain to our society and those who hold positions of power within that society, but, rather, by the authenticity of the Church’s own life. In other words, the Church’s prophetic witness is most likely to be noticed by society when it is expressed primarily in deeds, accompanied by a few words, rather than primarily in words, accompanied by meaningless deeds. When she is true to her own identity, the Church is her own most potent witness. I’m not talking about doing special things—projects, programs, missionary initiatives, and the like. I’m talking about normal things, usual things, everyday things.

Let me just name three specific areas in which I believe the Church can be faithful to her prophetic ministry in the world without resorting either to meaningless resolutions or toothless cheerleading:

The first of these is financial stewardship. Borrowing a phrase from a popular movie of several years ago, we live in a “show me the money” society.  We are consumers, and we notice how those around us consume. I read once that the amount Americans spend per year on luxury upgrades to their bathrooms is greater than the entire Gross Domestic Product of Kenya.  The way we spend our money is what gets people’s attention. So, if Christians were to consistently spend their money in a very different way than their non-Christian neighbors, think of the message that would send. All that would need to happen is for enough of us to follow the teaching of scripture and tithe—give 10% of our income—and you can calculate it after taxes if that helps—to the local congregation at whose altar we are fed. We could also do things like live more simply in an intentional way, but tithing alone would make an incredibly powerful prophetic statement about the priorities of those who know that this world is not their true home, and that they are citizens of the Kingdom of God, that all things come from God and we cannot give God anything that is not God’s already. It would offer a compelling prophetic word that there’s another way to live, another way to measure the worth of one’s life than by incessant conspicuous consumption. This would be a word of life to those who would be thereby freed to give, and a word of liberation to those whose lives would benefit from such giving.

In a related vein, another prophetic witness the church could make involves the stewardship of our time. We live in an insanely busy society. Americans, with the Puritan work ethic still in our DNA, and in contrast to our European cousins, leave an amazing amount of vacation time unused each year. It just disappears into oblivion. And so Sunday morning is “sacred” in our culture, but as a time for a latté and the New York Times crossword puzzle rather than the corporate worship of the Living God. So when the world sees Christians devoting precious time to worship, organizing our lives around it, planning our vacations around the liturgical calendar—yes, did you know that’s actually a thing?—it receives a powerful prophetic message, once again, about the priorities of people who know they exist in time and space only for a brief instant, but will dwell in Eternity forever. Our security rests not in what others think of our accomplishments, but in what God thinks of us.

Finally, we can offer a prophetic ministry to the world by our commitment to the community of the Church. We live in a highly individualistic society, where all associations are seen as voluntary, clubs that we can join when we want to and resign from when they no longer meet our needs. What if the members of the church were to understand themselves as forming a “tribe,” a people, an ethnicity? What if our society saw our commitment to one another as something that transcends all differences of race, all differences of culture, all differences of income, education, and social status? That would send an inescapable prophetic message of radical reconciliation and mutual self-giving that can literally be the foundation of world peace.

Tithing our financial resources, organizing our time around the life of the Church, and making a constant commitment to the community of the Church, all take the ministry of prophecy to a whole new level. When we as the Church pay attention to these and other aspects of the quality of our own life together, we are emulating Amos rather than Amaziah. When we decline to serve as a chaplain to society, we “speak the truth to power” many times more effectively than any number of General Convention resolutions.  Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday (St Benedict)

Unless I have a meeting scheduled, I usually let myself sleep in on Saturday mornings. Even so, I was startled to find it 8:45 when I woke up. Yesterday was a demanding day, and I came home tired. The main work of the day was to make sure I took a good, long walk, which was duly accomplished between rainstorms. We packed up and hit the road at 3:30 in order to have dinner at the home of some parishioners from St Stephen's, Harrisburg, which will be the site of my Sunday visitation in the morning. It was delightful. After twelve days of eating (mostly high end, because that's what was there) restaurant food in Salt Lake City, I can't say that I had a better meal there than I did in a home in humble Harrisburg, Illinois.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Got to work putting meat on the bones of a sermon outline for Proper 11 (the 19th at St Mark's, West Frankfort).
  • Took a returned phone call from one of our rectors to discuss a potential ministry initiative,
  • Kept a scheduled phone date with the Archbishop of Calgary, and old friend and seminary classmate, who was one of my co-consecrators. 
  • Put the finishing touches on the aforementioned sermon draft in time to keep a lunch date with the cathedral Provost, Fr Hook, along with Brenda and Bishop Mike and Kathy Milliken of Western Kansas. Bishop Milliken is in town to preach this evening at the Celebration of a New Ministry for Fr Hook.
  • Visited a bit with the Millikens in my office. He and are are "classmates," in that we were both elected in 2010, and have formed pretty tight bonds with our ten colleagiues and their spouses.
  • Got to work playing with hot wax for Fr Hook's certificate on induction. An annoying (because mostly unavoidable) accident led to me placing my open hand on a hot stove burner. I had it under a stream of cold water before it even began to hurt, but it was not an inconsequential burn. After getting the certificate sealed, I drove home to retrieve some medication. Kept applying ice, which removed the pain as long as the ice was applied.
  • Took two sermon message statements--Proper 17 (St Mary's, Robinson) and Proper 19 (St John's, Decatur) to the stage of developed outline.
  • Prepared for and ran the rehearsal for tonight's institution liturgy.
  • Presided at said liturgy. Went to a pre-arranged dinner to celebrate the occasion afterward. Everyone seems happy.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thursday

  • Back into a "normal" routine, started the day with 45 minutes on a treadmill.
  • Task planning and a bit of email processing at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepped for a Nashotah House Executive Committee conference call by looking at several documents emailed yesterday by the Dean.
  • Hosted and participated in said conference call.
  • Attended to a small pastoral-administrative chore on behalf of one of our postulants for ordained ministry.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Got down to work on the homily I have been invited to give at the English service in Lima Cathedral during our Peru visit later this month. Took a one-line motif and developed it into a rough draft of a sermon. But it consumed most of my afternoon.
  • Took a phone call from an old friend, a priest, with whom I commiserate from time to time over the bumptious state of our church. We are therapy for one another.
  • Took care of another small administrative task, this one related to a marital judgment I had already issued.
  • Drafted and sent out to stakeholders a tentative itinerary for the visit to our diocese in October of the Bishop of Tabora and his wife. We're going to show them a good chunk of the diocese.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Wednesday

  • Task planning and some email processing at home. Then I got distracted by this article and the following comments, in which YFNB figures with some prominence. The times call for thickness of skin, do they not? Comments at the Facebook version of the same site are even more uplifting. So I didn't make it in to the office until around 9:30.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Appointment with a retired priest of the diocese who wanted to discuss some plans and concerns.
  • Began work on refining the draft of my homily for this Sunday (St Stephen's, Harrisburg).
  • Attended and participated in (by giving the homily) the noon funeral for a prominent member of the cathedral congregation.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Finished the work on this Sunday's sermon. Because of the particular physical layout of St Stephen's, I can't conveniently use a pulpit or lectern, so I had to condense my script down to a fold half-sheet of letter size paper. This is actually more work than the usual routine.
  • Examined my fall calendar and blocked out some dates for a personal retreat in November.
  • Wired (via Western Union, right from my laptop) some funds to the Bishop of Tabora that will be put toward the expenses of his visit to us here in the diocese in October.
  • Reviewed and culled a large collection of photos taken by a cathedral parishioner at the Chrism Mass and Easter morning. Some of them are quite nice.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tuesday

Back in the diffuse insanity of the real world, which is preferable to the concentrated insanity of General Convention. 

  • Usual AM routine; task planning at home. 
  • Cleared the small pile on my desk blotter, which involved signing a couple of routine documents. 
  • Morning Prayer in the office (there were meetings going on in the cathedral). 
  • Reviewed, made some notes on, and electronically returned the rough draft of the liturgy for Friday's institution of the Provost of St Paul's Cathedral. 
  • Attended and participated in a meeting of the Finance Department, at which we tweaked the rough draft 2016 operating budget that had been prepared by the Treasurer. 
  •  Tomorrow is the funeral of a prominent member of the cathedral parish, and it has fallen to me to preach. So I got busy preparing to do so. Since funeral homilies are rarely anticipated, my habit is just to say an earnest prayer, take a deep breath, and start writing what is given to me in the moment. It's a process that usually turns out to be filled with grace. 
  • Lunch from Pizza Hut (yes, I was rather bad), eaten at home. (Sudden late-morning craving combined with the knowledge of how easy it is to place an online order and just walk into the place and pick it up.) 
  • Continued working on the funeral homily, placing the printed script in the cathedral pulpit around 3:30. 
  • Took a several-block walk west and north, and back. 
  • Revised and updated some "vintage" material that will be repurposed for a sermon this Sunday at St Stephen's, Harrisburg. 
  • Took care of a small Nashotah-related administrative chore, and a small Tabora-related administrative chore. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Lord's Day (VI Pentecost)

Not much to report. Still decompressing from General Convention, which is a physically and mentally exhausting experience. Having wisely rescheduled my planned parish visitation for today, Brenda and I enjoyed the rare experience of sitting together as part of the congregation at St Paul's Cathedral. I did scratch a final convention-related blog post in the evening, Looking forward to a normal day off tomorrow, and then a quite full week in the office beginning on Tuesday.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday

I allowed myself to sleep in again today, but caught most of the Presiding Bishop-elect's sermon at the Eucharist via the GC livestream. It's easy to tell how his reputation as a preacher precedes him into this office.

The details (more than you might want) of the HOB, from my personal perspective, are available here. Here's s shot with my Table 7 friends. We get shuffled and redealt after this meeting, and will have new table mates when the HOB reconvenes in March 2016.
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When all was said and done, Brenda and I enjoyed dinner with a quorum of our HOB Class of 2011 colleagues and spouses. We have formed a wonderful community over the last four+ years. 

Thursday

I slept in until an embarrassing hour ... but wasn't really embarrassed! After the intensity and long hours of the last ten days, I am surely sleep-deprived. This morning was just a down payment on the deficit.

The two legislative sessions were long, and occasionally grueling. It was a grind, but we were reasonably productive. See the details here. Tomorrow may be the longest day yet, but when it's over, it's over. 

Fun Italian dinner with the Springfield deputation tonight--sans one, who wasn't feeling well. (Late report is he's OK.) 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wedneday

Coming down to the wire. The marriage stuff is behind us (in a tragic way, but behind us as far as this convention is concerned). Now the structure resolutions are on center stage. See here for my take on some of the legislative action.

Lunch break was spent working, as I hosted eight Communion Partner bishops in my suite. We have crafted a minority report on the marriage resolutions which we hope to present to the House of Bishops in open session sometime tomorrow. I know many are looking to us for leadership. I hope and expect that we will provide just that. But it's rough, and we are not omniscient.

The debate over structure is interesting and important, but I'm afraid I've already expended my reserve of passion for this convention. I will take my share in the conversation, as I am vowed to do. But I leave the intense feelings to others.

Tuesday

Usual weekday General Convention routine: 7:30-9:00 committee meeting, break for 9:30-10:30 Eucharist (or, in my case, down time), 11:15-1:00 legislative session, 1hr 15min break for lunch, then a marathon afternoon legislative session. Get the substantive details of those events here.

I'm pretty much turning into a zombie at this point in convention. At times, I've almost fallen asleep waiting for an elevator. Only three more days.

This was the evening traditionally devoted to seminary dinners, so I joyfully and dutifully reported to the Nashotah House event at a restaurant very near the hotel. What a privilege to be able to serve my alma mater.