Saturday, January 31, 2015


The microbes that lie in wait this time of year, seeking someone to devour, have had their patience rewarded, and I am theirs. Trying to forestall the devouring part. I had intended to join the Commission on Ministry for their pretty much all day meeting, but it seemed good to us (and, presumably, to the Holy Spirit) that I should deliver myself of some essential information that they needed to do their work well, and then be on my way. So I did, and then I was. Mild fever, hacking cough, modest sinus pressure. Not the worst I've ever been, for sure, but I look forward to putting it behind me. Aside from doing my thrice-weekly four loads of laundry, I have endeavored to take it very easy. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday (Charles Stuart, King & Martyr)

  • Usual AM routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared for, and then attended, a meeting in my office with Nichole Del Giorno, the new cathedral organist. Our purpose was to plan the music for Palm Sunday, the Triduum, and Easter Day, and we succeeded in about 90 minutes. She is a joy to work with.
  • Spoke by phone at some length with the Dean-elect (for two more days) of Nashotah House over two matters--one having to do with troubled waters, and one merely practical. Plus a couple of other smaller things. 
  • Disassembled some old sermon material for Epiphany V and began the process of reworking it for use at St Paul's, Pekin on February 8.
  • Attended the midday Mass in the cathedral chapel, celebrated by the Archdeacon, in commemoration of his favorite saints, the blessed martyr Charles Stuart, King.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took care of a bit of administrivia pertaining to the March meeting of the House of Bishops. 
  • Laid out the broad strokes of an article for the Covenant blog that is due in a couple of weeks. I'm raising the question of what the Church can learn from sabremetrics.
  • Took a brisk walk down to South Grand and back.
  • Defined tasks, and assigned dates to them, of the process for reconfiguring the financial administration of the diocese in anticipation of the impending retirement of our treasurer.
  • Dealt with sundry small administrative concerns in consultation with the Archdeacon.
  • Friday prayer: the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, each decade offered in front of its corresponding window along the "liturgical north" side of the cathedral nave.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took a first prayerful and meditative pass on the readings for Palm Sunday, particularly Psalm 22, in preparation for preaching on that occasion.
  • Made some small preparations for my role in tomorrow's major meeting of the Commission on Ministry. Left the office right around 6.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


  • Felt "something coming on" last night, and woke up definitely not at 100%, so I dispensed myself from my customary Thursday workout. 
  • Task organization at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to celebrate and preach the noon liturgy (a votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist).
  • Spoke by phone at considerable length with the Secretary of the Nashotah House Board of Trustees over an emergent issue. More drama than either of us would have liked (not in our conversation, but in the situation!).
  • Met with Fr Halt and Fr Francis about a more coordinated approach to mission in McLean County. Excited to see people taking our strategic vision and running with it.
  • Noticed that my crozier had been returned by Almy during my meeting, so I took the time to unpack and inspect it. Looks good.
  • Reported for duty at the cathedral chapel, but discovered Fr Stormer already vested and ready to go. Obviously some wires crossed somewhere. So I just made myself part of the congregation for the Mass.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Finished up (I hope) with liturgical preparations for the clergy retreat week after next, and sent the fruit of my labor on to Fr Hankinson, who is coordinating things in situ.
  • Refined and printed my homily for this Sunday (Christ Church, Springfield).
  • Dealt with a couple of administrative issues pertaining to the cathedral.
  • Plotted the individual tasks associated with the fact that I will flying solo as the only cleric at the cathedral liturgies for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter.
  • Worked on my homily for Lent II (St Bartholomew's, Granite City). Arrived at my message, expressed in a simple declarative sentence in the indicative mood with no subordinate clauses. I will expand on this, of course, but this is an essential step in the process.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • At home, after dinner, I composed and sent a lengthy email to the Nashotah House board.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday (Ss Timothy & Titus)

Just finishing a couple of days of quasi-personal time. Brenda and I rode the train to Chicago yesterday morning and back this afternoon. The primary purpose was to attend a performance of Tosca by the Chicago Lyric Opera last night (it was splendid). But since the northbound train had wifi, I worked most of the way up, processing several emails, taking a phone call, and checking a couple of administrative items off the to-do list. In the afternoon, I had some business to take care of with a vestment supplier, which, to my surprise, concluded quite happily. This morning we spent some quality time at the Art Institute, which is always a boon to the soul. Exposing ourselves to live art--both musical and visual--takes some intentional proactivity, but is invariably worth the effort and time. No wifi on the way home today, which allowed me to continue my way through St Gregory the Great's classic tome Pastoral Care. I am finding it a treasure trove of sound reflection and advice.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Up and out in time to retrieve Bishop Godfrey from his hotel right at 6:30am and then head north to Lincoln. I presided at the 7:30 Eucharist and he preached. Between services, he showed some slides to a group of interested parishioners about the ministry of the Diocese of Peru. Takeaway line: "We don't just serve the poor; we are the poor." Indeed the growing Anglican presence in Peru is happening among those whom the more "native" Roman Catholic Church seems to be ignoring or overlooking or taking for granted. There's one community of 80,000 people--the highest city in the world, at an altitude of 18,500 feet--where the diocese of planting what will be the first church in town, of any brand or stripe. At the later liturgy, Bishop Godfrey again preached, while I presided and confirmed two adults. After a repast in the parish hall, we returned to Springfield for some down time before gathering again for dinner in our home, along with Archdeacon Shawn and Mary Ann Denney. Before winding up the day's activities, we had to assist the Bishop with rerouting his travel plans, as a winter storm in the northeast has rendered his scheduled visit to the Diocese of Albany impossible. So he's staying on in Springfield on Monday and heading to Jacksonville, FL, his next port of call, early Tuesday morning.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Retrieved Bishop Godfrey from his hotel and brought him to our home for a leisurely breakfast. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about his ministry in the Diocese of Peru, which has burgeoned under the last 17 years of his leadership and is now on the brink of qualifying to become an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. Eventually we headed to the cathedral-office complex, where I showed him around and was able to explain our mown mission strategy. Then it was off to the Lincoln Museum, an obligatory element in the welcome Springfield residents give to out-of-town guests. It was my third time there, and I've never failed to be profoundly moved by the experience. After some down time in the late afternoon, we gathered back downtown with Fr Mark Evans and Sandy Moore, who represented the diocese on a visit to Peru in April 2013. We had a lovely dinner, and look forward to seeing them again tomorrow morning at Trinity, Lincoln.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday (Phillips Brooks)

  • Usual AM routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Attended to some detritus from last night's cathedral Chapter meeting; trying hard to call their next Provost.
  • Met with the new cathedral music director, Nicole DelGiorno. I think they'll be in good hands, and I look forward to working with her.
  • Continued to attend to details of the upcoming Nashotah House trustees meeting.
  • Made some incremental progress in the task of rearticulating the nature of the ministry of deacons in the Diocese of Springfield, and launching an intentional effort to recruit more diaconal vocations.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Hand wrote my notes to clergy and spouses with nodal events in February.
  • Scanned, catalogued, and otherwise dealt with the small mountain of hard copy items that had accumulated in my physical inbox.
  • Purged my credenza of anything that didn't really need to be kept around.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on tomorrow Daily Office OT passage from Isaiah 45.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • At 7pm, drove to SPI with Brenda to meet Bishop Bill Godfrey of our companion diocese of Peru, who is in for the weekend. We got him checked in at the Abraham Lincoln (now a Doubletree) downtown and then took him out to dinner.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thursday (St Vincent of Saragossa)

  • Customary Thursday morning weights and treadmill.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Arranged a meeting with the new cathedral organist, who starts this Sunday. As St Paul's faces a pastoral hiatus, and I will myself be doing the liturgical heavy lifting for Holy Week, she and I will be working closely together.
  • Attended, mostly via email, to some emerging Nashotah House issues as we face into a special winter trustees meeting week after next.
  • Attended via email to a clergy deployment issue, and then a pastoral/administrative issue.
  • Cobbled together a rough draft of a homily for Ash Wednesday, using some pre-existing material, which I will delivered at the community Eucharist at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA.
  • Walked two blocks to Julia's Southern Kitchen for lunch with John Roth, my ELCA opposite number. Bishop Roth and I have a lot in common, and it was a good time of sharing. Being able to talk to someone who is, at least roughly, a peer is invaluable.
  • Edited and posted "alternative" lectionary-based Prayers of the People forms for the Sundays of Lent and Easter (Year B).
  • Took care of some more Nashotah detritus.
  • Brought my homily for Epiphany IV from rough notes to rough draft condition. (February 1 at Christ Church, Springfield).
  • Hard walk east on Lawrence to 5th, down to Scarritt, over to 2nd, and back up.
  • Finished and printed the last of my three meditations for the clergy pre-Lenten retreat.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Home for dinner, then back to meet at 7 with the cathedral chapter. We're making progress on their next pastoral transition.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wednesday (St Agnes)

  • Usual AM routine: task planning at home; MP in cathedral.
  • Prepared for the midday Mass.
  • Took care of a bit of financial administration via email.
  • Spent some quality time with commentaries on the Gospel according to Mark in preparation to preach on the Second Sunday in Lent, at St Bartholomew's, Granite City. This is not always necessarily an extraordinarily rich experience, but it was today. Wish I had more time for personal scripture study just for its own sake, but I'm glad having to preach forces me to do it. (Early start on this one because of insane travel schedule in February.)
  • Took a vigorous walk (the only kind possible in cold weather) up around the capitol (opposite direction as yesterday).
  • Celebrated and preached the midday Mass, keeping the lesser feast of St Agnes, a twelve-year old martyr in Rome in the last general wave of persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.
  • :Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Took a phone call from a priest who was responding to an email I had sent yesterday.
  • Tied up some administrative loose ends related to a visit to a DEPO parish (one of two I look after) next month.
  • Reached out by email to a potential videographer for the Lenten teaching series I'm giving at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
  • Drilled down on the second of two addresses I will deliver at Trinity School for Ministry at their Ash Wednesday quiet day next month. It is at the brink of completion.
  • Took another brisk walk, this time down to South Grand Avenue and back.
  • Worked some more on the liturgies for the clergy retreat.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday (St Fabian)

  • Substantial weekly task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon over an emerging matter of interest.
  • Three email responses: one to a search committee chair, one to a priest outside the diocese (permission to reprint something I wrote), one to the Dean-elect of Nashotah House.
  • Took a brisk walk down Second to South Grand, then back up on Spring.
  • Prepared and sent an email to the Nashotah House trustees with several issues concerning next months' special winter board meeting in Sarasota.
  • Lunch at home (leftovers).
  • Wrote an email message to one of our priests asking for a phone conversation.
  • Met with Fr Mark Evans, first to discuss my visit to his parish this Sunday, and secondly to discuss progress in his work as Finance Department Chair as we take steps to process Jim Donkins' impending retirement as Treasurer and financial officer.
  • Another hard walk: this one north on Second to the other end of the Capitol Building, then over to Spring and back down.
  • Slogged through some mundane but necessary details related to corporate worship at next month's clergy retreat.
  • Roughed out the last of the three addresses I will deliver at said retreat.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Epiphany II

Out the door (solo; Brenda had an another organ gig at the cathedral) at 7:15 in time to join the good people of Christ the King, Normal in their parish hall for breakfast. After a good and leisurely time visiting with them, I presided and preached at the regular 10:15 celebration of the Eucharist. I then stayed for their annual parish meeting. This is a Eucharistic Community that faces some daunting challenges, but they do so with an exemplary level of spiritual maturity and mission-focused commitment. Home around 2:30.

Sermon for Epiphany II

Christ the King, Normal--John 1:43-51, I Samuel 3:1-10

One of the forms of play that we all engaged in as children, is a guessing game. Something is a secret—usually the location of a hidden object or person. One or more of the players knows the answer to the secret and      one or more of the players try to guess the answer. Those who know the secret are allowed to assist those who don't by saying "You're getting warmer" if they're moving closer to the goal and "You're getting colder" if they're straying further away. With the help of these clues, the riddle is eventually solved, and the next round begins.

As I reflect on my day-to-day experience as an adult, I'm aware that I am profoundly influenced by variations on this essential children's guessing game. The clues—"you're getting warmer / you're getting colder"—are more subtle for adults. They make use of various code words and symbols. But the basic rules of the game are the same. Secrets, riddles, puzzles, cryptic clues, symbolic codes—these are all common tools that grownups use in relating to one another in the everyday world. The game is so ubiquitous that we're usually not even conscious of it; it's just the air we breathe.

So it really should not come as a surprise that we expect God to play by the same rules. We assume that he has scattered clues about himself throughout the universe that we inhabit—in the operation of nature, in the breathtaking order of mathematical principles, in the human capacity for love and sacrifice and honor and the appreciation of beauty, and in a host of other places. Our job is to be observant, to read these clues, and by dedicated effort to peel back the layers of the mystery of God's being. Once in a while, we may get an extraordinary report card from God evaluating our progress: "You're getting warmer—you're getting colder."

I realize, of course—at least I hope—that, in our minds, we know that this is a false conception of the way God relates to us. Unfortunately, though, it's often all too accurate a picture of the way we relate to God. And it's an attitude that can get us into a good deal of trouble. Some of you who are really veteran Episcopalians may remember a fellow named James Pike. James Pike was a successful young lawyer in Manhattan, a nominal Roman Catholic who experienced a spiritual awakening through the ministry of the Episcopal Church. He soon felt himself called to leave his career, go to seminary, and become a priest, which he did. James Pike rose through the ranks, as it were, very quickly. He was a bright, articulate, and personable evangelist, in the best and broadest sense of that term, for Christian faith and practice. In the late 1950s he was elected and consecrated Bishop of California. But Bishop Pike, it appears now, still saw himself as on a search, trying to solve a riddle. He was unable to rest in the fact that his search was over, that the God he was looking for had already found him. A few short years later, after scandalizing the church by very publicly denying just about every belief we hold, James Pike perished in the Judean wilderness as he searched for a way to contact the ghost of his dead son. Playing guessing games with God can have serious consequences indeed. We can end up losing forever the very thing we had been searching for.

I guess it's obvious by now that my point this morning is that it doesn't have to be this way! There is an alternative to going through life waiting for God to tell us, "You're getting warmer—you're getting colder." The wonderful Old Testament story of the call of the boy Samuel gets us back on the track, and Jesus's exchange with Nathanael brings us to our destination. Samuel's parents had apprenticed him to Eli, a priest at a local Israelite shrine, shortly after his birth. Samuel grew up, then, almost literally in the shadow of the altar, in the almost tangible presence of God. He knew nothing of searching for God. Quite the opposite: one night as he lay in bed trying to get to sleep, he experienced God searching for him. "Samuel . . . Samuel ...", the voice called to him. Only after Samuel ran to Eli three times did the old priest realize who it was that was calling the boy, and he told him to answer, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Samuel did not seek and find God; God sought and found Samuel.

And isn't it, when we stop and think about it, better that way? Isn't it much more fun to be recruited, to be wooed and courted, than to answer a want ad and fill out an application? I've done both, and it's no mystery to me which one is preferable! And for the most part, that's the way God prefers to treat us. He took the initiative in creating us. He took the initiative in loving and redeeming us. And he takes the initiative in pursuing a relationship with each one of us. And the basis for all that initiative-taking is God's intimate knowledge of us. The One who seeks us out and finds us is the one to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid. When it comes to the basis of our relationship with him, God doesn't play guessing games, either as the secret keeper or the puzzle-solver. The basis for our knowledge of God is God's knowledge of us.

This is made clear for us in St John's account of Jesus's encounter with a fellow named Nathanael. First Jesus calls Philip to follow him, and Philip does so. Then Philip goes and finds Nathanael—a friend of his, presumably—and says, "We've found the Messiah, his name is Jesus, come and meet him!" So Nathanael tags along, somewhat skeptically, until he actually meets Jesus. Jesus greets him in a casual, almost playful, manner that would suggest he already knew him. Nathanael is mildly perplexed and says, in effect, "Excuse me, have we met?" Then Jesus drops the bomb. "Well, Nathanael, yes and no: I saw you when you were underneath the fig tree." Now the fig tree in question was not one that was in the vicinity as they had this conversation. But it was one, apparently, under which Nathanael had had some significant spiritual experience. We have no clue what it was, but it was deeply important to him. And this man Jesus, whom he had never met before, knew all about it. Don't we melt like putty in warm hands when someone gently and sincerely shows even an interest in, much less knowledge of, our most profound joys and sorrows? Nathanael had one very private tender spot in his heart, and Jesus knew right where it was an touched it. He touched it mercifully and lovingly, and Nathanael knew immediately that Philip had indeed found the Messiah. When we experience that touch, when we know that we are known at the deepest level of our being, we receive the confidence and the trust to respond as a disciple, to become a follower of the One who knows us so well. For Samuel the response was, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." For Nathanael, the response of discipleship was, "Rabbi, you are the son of God, you are the king of Israel!"  

My friends, Jesus sees us under our "fig trees." He sees us in the special places, those special people, those events both joyful and sorrowful, in the books and the songs—wherever it is that we bare our souls and lay ourselves open without reservation, wherever it is that we simply quit playing guessing games. If we stop our desperate search for clues that we're getting warmer or getting colder, we can enjoy the knowledge that the God who made us and loves us is always getting "warmer", and if we just sit still long enough, he'll find us!


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday (St Antony)

I've been off the grid for the last couple of days because of travel. I flew down to Texas to pick the brains of two individuals--Canon Victoria Heard, who oversees church planting for the Diocese of Dallas, and Carrie Boren Headington, who is their Evangelism Officer. I've been wanting to do this for quite some time, and was actually scheduled to do so in the spring of 2013 when a whole bunch of travel plants were cast aside in favor of having heart surgery. It was an immensely worthwhile endeavor. I shared the grand schema was have developed for our mission strategy in Springfield and received their candid feedback, which is mostly supportive. I learned a whole bunch more about church planting than I previously new and came away with several concrete tools for helping our Eucharistic Communities strategize for mission in their geographic parishes. I met with two of the successful church planters in the Diocese of Dallas, as well as spending some time with their cathedral dean, who is a widely-renowned coach and consultant around issues of parish ministry and congregational dynamics. This was a thoroughly invigorating and inspiring trip

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesday (St Kentigern, aka Mungo)

  • Took are of some routine monthly calendar tasks, and began preparing for the noon Mass (had to bone up on St Kentigern, founder of Glasgow) while still at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Continued and completed Mass preparations.
  • Prayed over and took an initial pass at the readings for Lent II, which I will have to preach on St Paul's, Pekin. (Yes, when I do a from-scratch sermon, there's a long gestation period.)
  • Attended to some chores that will eventually collude to make corporate worship happen at the pre-Lenten clergy retreat next month. One of them involved dusting off my familiarity with a music publishing app called Finale, which sucked up a disproportionate amount of time.
  • Presided and preached at the midday liturgy.
  • Lunch from La Bamba ("burritos as big as your head," but I had a smaller one), eaten at home.
  • Responded to a few fresh emails before re-engaging preparation for delivering three addresses at the clergy retreat.
  • Met for an hour or so with a priest who is in the diocese as a finalist for one of our parishes in transition.
  • Returned to retreat preparation, and completed the second of my three addresses.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday (St Hilary)

  • Since last night ended with Brenda's car stranded halfway down our driveway because of its inability to climb past the sheet of ice the pavement had become, I got up, back the vehicle onto the street, and headed to Ace in the (AWD) YFNBmobile to procure some sand and salt. After treating the driveway with said products, I headed into the office, offering the short form of Morning Prayer on my drive.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a slowly emerging but substantive administrative and pastoral concern.
  • Attempted to speak by phone with a new member of the Nashotah House board (the rector of a very prominent parish), but had to settle for his Executive Assistant and an email.
  • Via email and phone, took care of some of the logistical details pertaining to a short-notice visit to the diocese from the Bishop of Peru (one of our companion dioceses). I think we're in good shape to welcome him.
  • Via Google+ video hangout, received tutorial instruction in some of the finer points of working with our website from Lisa Cerezo, who, along with her husband Jason, takes care of the website and edits the Current.
  • Attended to some document issues related to a planned trip in April--continuing education for the Class of 2011 bishops, in Cuba. Going to Cuba is possible for Americans under certain well-defined circumstances, but you have to jump through a few hoops. The meeting is in Cuba because the bishop of the Episcopal Church in Cuba shared with us in our "baby bishops' school" residency program one week each summer during the first three years of our ministries.
  • Lunch from ChiTown's Finest (Italian beef), eaten at home.
  • Returned to working on the Cuba trip documents. This took longer than it should have, partly because I was fending off a flurry of emails and phone calls.
  • Fleshed out, refined, and printed a working text of my homily for this Sunday, to be delivered at Christ the King, Normal.
  • Took care of a small but important administrative issue by email.
  • Made air travel and car rental arrangements to attend a meeting of the Communion Partner bishops, along with our Canadian counterparts, in Florida next month.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • After dinner at home, I roughed out the broad strokes for this year's Lenten teaching series, at St Michael's in O'Fallon. I also worked some on my clergy retreat addresses.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

First Sunday after the Epiphany (Baptism of Christ)

As this was a rare open day on my visitation calendar, the cathedral is always my default. I preached at the 8am celebration and preached and presided at 10:30. Fr Tucker was most gracious to allow me to simply “drop in” (though I did give him about three weeks notice!). 

Sermon: Epiphany I (Baptism of Christ)

Springfield Cathedral--Mark 1:7-11, Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-38

“Diversity” is a politically loaded word these days. But behind all the turmoil is the simple reality that people are different. Among those who gather for worship at St Paul’s today, there is diversity. We come from different ethnic and family backgrounds. We are of different ages and have had different life experiences. Some have multiple college degrees; others haven’t even started school yet. Some live on the edge of, or in, poverty; others are financially quite well-off. Some are sick and dying; others are in the peak of health. Some tend to vote Democratic, some tend to vote Republican; others don’t know or don’t care. Some are very secure in their commitment to Jesus Christ and his Church; others are spiritually uncertain, and in a searching and inquiring frame of mind.

But in spite of all this diversity, there is one experience that binds the great majority of us together. Most of us have been baptized. Not all—it can’t be presumed the way it used to be—but most. Baptism is one’s essential Christian “ID” card. But it can be a confusing form of identification, and, the same way it is with our driver’s licenses, we’re not sure we like the way our picture looks on it. Many, if not most, of us, were baptized in infancy, and we have no memory of the event, and so it’s difficult to feel it as very much of a defining moment in our lives. I was baptized when I was ten, and while I do remember it, it didn’t make a huge impression on me at the time, and my recollection of it is pretty dim.

Then there’s the fact that the timing and atmosphere of baptisms, at least in the Episcopal Church, has changed considerably in the last forty or so years. Baptism—whether of an infant or the occasional older child or adult— used to be an intimate and genteel family affair on a Saturday afternoon. Now it’s normally quite public and with all the solemnity of the main liturgy on Sunday morning or the mysterious grandeur of the Easter Vigil. Some parishes, including the one where two of my three children were baptized, and the one where I served before coming here to Springfield, have installed fonts in which an adult can be fully immersed. Plus, we talk about baptism a lot more now, but seem to understand it less. It doesn’t have quite as clear and simple a meaning as it once seemed to have. All this contributes to a certain level of confusion and uneasiness about the subject. Sometimes it seems like just too much effort, so we’d rather talk about something else that makes more sense.

And this confusion and uneasiness about baptism in general is certainly not helped by the New Testament accounts of one baptism in particular—namely, the baptism of our Lord Jesus, an event which we observe every year as a feast day on the First Sunday after the Epiphany. If Christian baptism is about new birth into the life and Body of Christ, then what is the point in the Christ himself being baptized? If baptism is about being united with Jesus in his death and resurrection, then, again, what’s the point in Jesus being baptized? If the baptizing ministry of John the Baptizer was about repentance and the forgiveness of sins, then why did the Sinless One, who, of all people, had no need to repent of anything, submit to that baptism?

Confusion compounds confusion. Until, that is, we reframe the question from, Why did Jesus need to be baptized? to, What did Jesus accomplish in his baptism? When we see Jesus’s baptism as laying a foundation, establishing a pattern, offering a template—by which we can interpret the meaning of our own baptism, it all begins to make sense. Jesus did not need to be baptized; he chose to be baptized, and his baptism gives meaning to our baptism.

Look at Jesus before his baptism. He was an obscure carpenter from an obscure small town. He had no public reputation whatsoever, no distinctive direction for his life. After his baptism, Jesus’s life is focused and public, with a definite sense of direction. As St Peter tells us in a speech reported by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus, from that point, “went about doing good,” healing the sick, raising the dead, and proclaiming the Good News that God reigns and that His kingdom of love and righteousness and justice is signified by Jesus’s very presence in the world. After his baptism, Jesus pursued an effective and highly faithful public ministry. In the Christian tradition, this ministry is seen as the fulfillment of that which was foreshadowed in the Servant Song of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:
I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations. ... a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench ... He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice on the earth...
Jesus’s baptism was the inauguration of his ministry.

And so it is with ours. Whether we were ten days old or ten months old or ten years old or a fully grown adult, whether it was done quietly on a Sunday afternoon or with processions and incense on a major feast day, our baptism was the inauguration of our ministry. When Jesus rose from the water, as St Mark tells the story, he saw the sky open and a dove descend toward him. This was a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, that God the Father was indeed blessing the occasion, that it was truly a commencement of something new and different for Jesus and for all who would come in contact with him.

It has been my joy to preside at several baptisms here in this cathedral church. I have never seen a flying dove on any of those occasions, but I’m entirely convinced that the Holy Spirit was just as present as he was at Jesus’ baptism. While anointing a newly-baptized Christian with holy oil, the celebrant says, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Then we say a prayer in which we thank God for working through the Holy Spirit to bestow new life and forgiveness of sins, and we offer the petition, “Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit...” The assumption throughout the baptismal service is that the Holy Spirit is present and active, coming to take up residence in the hearts of the ones being baptized, and bestowing various gifts for ministry, gifts which are meant to be employed to build up the church and to strengthen the mission of the church. Each of us who has been baptized with water, in the Name of the Trinity, and with the intention that it be Christian baptism, has received the Holy Spirit. We have been baptized with water and the Holy Spirit. We need only to claim that gift, to allow ourselves to be filled and driven by that same Spirit, the way the sails of great ships were once opened to and filled by the wind and propelled thereby to the four corners of the earth. We have the resources; they just need to be tapped.

In the parish in California that I served for 13 years, I once asked the Junior Warden to have certain signs made that could be placed on the various doors of our church facility. The intent of this request was very practical and pastoral—that is, so that visitors and newcomers would be able to find their way around with a minimum of difficulty. As far as I know, they served this purpose well. But one of them soon took on another layer of meaning in my        imagination—another layer of meaning, one might suggest, that testifies to the work of the Holy Spirit. It was placed on the outside rear door of the church, the one that led right into the acolyte vesting area, but it was the door people used for daily Morning and Evening Prayer, and for weekday and Saturday night Masses. It read simply, Enter Here for Service. The original intent, of course, was to signify that this is the entrance to use to attend scheduled liturgies, worship services. But one day it struck me differently. I read it as meaning, “Enter here in order to serve,” or, more to the point, “Servants’ Entrance.”

Every member of the church—that is, every baptized person—is a servant. We are not passengers on the cruise ship called the Holy Catholic Church; we are crew members! We don’t own the house; we’re staff! No baptized person is a mere client; we are all “providers.” Our clients, our passengers, the ones whom we serve—these are the unchurched, the ones who have not yet been brought into a saving relationship of faith with the One who voluntarily submitted to the baptism of John in order to inaugurate his career as a “minister,” and ours. One of the most significant changes in the vocabulary of the Episcopal Church in the last revision of the Prayer Book is that the title “minister” is no longer used only, or even principally, of the ordained. I am no more a “minister” than any of you. Baptism inaugurates ministry. All baptized persons are ministers. Some are less effective ministers than others, some are better than others at discerning and following the specific nature of their call to ministry, but if you’re baptized, you’re a minister.

When Jesus stepped out of the water and saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descending on him bodily in the form of a dove, he also heard a voice. It was the voice of his Father, saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Greek that is normally translated as “pleased” can also imply being “chosen.” God was saying to Jesus, as he said to the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, “I have chosen you. I have raised you up to be a blessing to others. You are my minister.” God says the same thing to each one of us in and through our baptism. God has chosen us and raised us up for ministry. There could be no greater honor a human being could wish for! My prayer, as we renew the vows of our baptism on this feast day, is that we all have the courage and the faith to exercise the ministry to which we have been called.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday (William Laud)

Today's agenda was simple but substantive: Drive to Champaign to attend a special workshop for clergy and wardens. The presenter was Fr Jay Sidebotham, representing Renewal Works, a spiritual revitalization ministry under the aegis of Forward Movement. My hope is that several parishes of the diocese will go through the survey and workshop phases of this process this fall. Back to Springfield around 4:00. Stopped by the cathedral to render some technical assistance to Brenda, who is filling in there tomorrow and next Sunday as organist. Oddly, she's a way better musician than I am, but I know more about organs, generically.

Friday, January 9, 2015


  • Morning Prayer in my office. (Cathedral being prepped for a funeral.)
  • Roughed in some substantive revisions to a "previously owned" sermon text, rehabbed for use on January 18 at Christ the King, Normal. 
  • Spoke at some length by phone with a priest of the diocese over an emerging pastoral/human relations concern.
  • Spoke at some length by phone with another priest of the diocese who has been geographically non-resident for five years but for whom I am still canonically responsible.
  • Read and responded to a couple of Ember Day letters from postulants.
  • Worked with Western Union online to transmit a small discretionary fund donation to a priest in a dangerous-for-Christians part of the world to help him with a particular project. Actually impressed with what Western Union has made possible.
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
  • Plotted all my sermon prep tasks from the beginning of Lent through Trinity Sunday. This involves looking at each date and determining whether there's some old material that can be repurposed or that I have to start a new homily from scratch, then assigning start/due dates to each of the individual actions that are associated. This happens about four times a year, but it consumes a lot of time.
  • Scanned and otherwise processed the ever-growing pile of hard copy in my physical inbox.
  • Left the office just before four o'clock to run a quick personal errant, then headed home.
  • Took some major steps in preparing for Daily Office and Mass at the annual clergy pre-Lenten retreat next month.
  • Friday prayer: Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading (Mark's account of the healing of the man at the pool of Bethzatha).
  • Evening Prayer at home.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Very enjoyable three days and four nights in the Orlando, Florida area with Brenda and some members of my extended family (including some Brazilians). It was warm there. It's cold here. Back to reality.
  • Customary Thursday AM weights and treadmill workout.
  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • Culled hard copy items that arrived in my absence. Signed forms transferring clergy to/from canonical residence in the diocese--one inbound, one outbound. 
  • Spoke by phone at some length with a priest of the diocese over an emerging pastoral/missional issue.
  • Spoke by phone with the Secretary of the Nashotah House trustees over an administrative and human relations issue.
  • Spoke by phone with another priest of the diocese over an administrative and human relations issue.
  • Made the necessary preparations to preside and preach at the midday cathedral Eucharist.
  • Spoke by phone with a lay leader in one of our parishes over an issue of continuing concern.
  • Spoke by phone with yet another priest over yet another issue of continuing concern. 
  • Presided and preached at the Mass. Wonderful confluence with Mark's version of the feeding miracle and a passage from I John 4 on God's love for us and our love for one another and how it's all made manifest ... in the Eucharist, I would suggest.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Fleshed out, refined, and printed a working text for this Sunday's homily--once again at St Paul's Cathedral.
  • Responded substantively to an email from a search committee chair from one of our parishes.
  • Responded somewhat less substantively to two somewhat less substantive emails.
  • In the midst of everything else throughout the day, had conversations with the Administrator and the Archdeacon over various concerns that arose.
  • Evening Prayer in the (cold) cathedral.

Friday, January 2, 2015


Still taking things at a dialed-back holiday pace ... stopped by the cathedral-office complex to retrieve some vestments, say some prayers, interact briefly with three people, listen to some voicemail and respond by email ... visited Fr Gus Franklin in St John's Hospital, where he's recovering well from major surgery earlier in the week ... a few personal errands ... by mid-afternoon, it was time to pack the YFNBmobile with appropriate paraphernalia and point it east in the direction of Champaign. After depositing our son and his wife at the Amtrak station for their trip back home to Chicago, all the action was at Emmanuel, where it was great fun to ordain Cameron Nations to the transitional diaconate. We were back home at 10:45, a decent hour.

Tomorrow, the National Weather Service and the FAA permitting, our plan is to fly to the Orlando area for some extended family time until the middle of next week. We'll see you again in this venue on Thursday the 8th.

Sermon for the Ordination of Cameron Nations

Emmanuel, Champaign--John 1:19-28

It’s a true joy, as always, to be at Emmanuel, and especially at this time of year, when everything is done up so beautifully. But it is particularly energizing to be present at an event like an ordination—a liminal time, a pivotal moment, a chronological hinge in the life of Cameron Nations, and also, although perhaps not quite so visibly, a real moment of transition in the life of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church scattered throughout the world. So it’s a time of excitement and joy and, I would imagine, some measure of relief—though I would be remiss to completely omit any mention of the specter of the General Ordination Exams that lurks outside in the parking lot somewhere, not quite welcome here in the church!

But it would also be remiss of me to completely omit any mention of the fact that there’s a certain, shall we say, structural ambiguity about exactly what we’re doing tonight. The program says that we’re ordaining a deacon, and we are, in fact, using the liturgy prescribed by the Episcopal Church for the ordination of deacons. And, precisely because that’s what we’re doing, we are, at one level, about to make a liar out of Cameron, because we’re going to ask him if he believes himself called to the life and work of a deacon, and he’s going to going to try not to cross his fingers as he responds that he indeed does believe himself to be so called. And there will be something incoherent about that because, in about six months, the plan is that we’ll make him a priest. Now, I’m not going to get into the whole arcane theological debate about whether deacons who become priests are still deacons, because, however you settle that argument, the “life and work of a deacon” is pretty distinct from the “life and work of a priest,” and Cameron has spent that last two-and-half-years being formed for the latter, not the former.

Now, I should probably add at this point that I am not among those in our church who advocate simply eliminating the so-called transitional diaconate and just ordaining those who are discerned to be called to the priesthood directly to the priesthood. The practice of making such individuals deacons first is way too ancient and way too universal for a relatively obscure body like General Convention to take upon itself making a change. Sometimes “because we’ve always done it that way” is, in fact, the correct answer. No, I would suggest that we are called to something rather more challenging, rather messier, than merely plastering over incoherence with what appears to be rationality and consistency. It’s better that we embrace the incoherence, make friends with the ambiguity, and find out what it might teach us.

The fact is, much about our lives is incoherent. The wealth that we enjoy in the developed world does not cohere with the poverty so widely suffered everywhere else. It is wildly incoherent that those whom we treat the worst are often the ones whom we love the most. We constantly do things we know we shouldn’t do and wish we wouldn’t do; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, and the burden of them truly intolerable. We live in a society that is not only politically divided but dangerously polarized to the point where terminal dysfunction sometimes seems like a plausible threat.

Much about our faith that we profess and try to practice is incoherent as well. God is transcendent, we say, and utterly beyond our comprehension. Yet, we also affirm that God is immanent, and gloriously infuses every blade of grass and every subatomic particle. Every time we recite the Nicene Creed, we affirm that Jesus is truly divine, “of one being with [God the] Father, and then, about four seconds later, something quite the opposite, that Jesus is completely human. We routinely confess that God is simultaneously one and three, something that mathematicians would tell you is impossible. We believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, something that biologists would tell you is impossible. We announce to the world, following the command of our Lord, that the Kingdom of God is among us, and yet have to deal with the ongoing reality of plague, pestilence, famine, genocide, street crime, bad hair days, and all sorts of things that are incompatible with the Kingdom being truly among us. We admit that we are sinners, yet also take assurance in our scriptures and in our liturgies that we are forgiven, reconciled, and justified in God’s sight. The list could go on, but I think I’ve covered the highlights.

Into this scene of incoherence trending toward chaos steps John the Baptist. John, of course, is not a likely candidate for imposing order, as he was certainly outside the ordered boundaries of the society with which he interacted—I can’t really say “the society of which he was a member” because, from what we know, he was never actually a participating member of it. But John certainly did channel the prophet Isaiah, who did call for order: “Make straight the way of the Lord.” John’s job, and Isaiah’s, was to announce what God is up to, and what God is up to is to bring healing and redeeming order out of crippling and debilitating chaos, and to do so by means of union with his incarnate, crucified, and risen Son Jesus, the Christ, and so at or near the top of John’s agenda is inviting people to get themselves into a receptive position relative to God’s action.

The mission of the Church, the mission of the community of the baptized people of God, the disciples of Jesus, is to, among other things, continue John’s ministry, a ministry later taken over by Jesus, a ministry of annunciation—a ministry of tirelessly saying to any who will listen, “See what God is doing!” So, the Church’s job is to make this announcement, and then model in her own interior life what that will all look like when it is brought to fruition, as if to say to the world, “If you want to see the Kingdom of God, look at us.”

For such a mission, I suspect we need to be organized, and, to be organized, what we need, of course, is order. We need a framework of boundaries, an infrastructure of actions and words that are capable of bearing profound meaning and great expectations. So what we’re doing tonight is renewing our participation in the order that enables us to accomplish our mission. The ordination certificate that presently sits in the sacristy and which Cameron will take with him later tonight speaks in rather florid language of Daniel, who is by Divine Providence, no less, Bishop of Springfield, and in Emmanuel Church in Champaign for the express purpose of “conferring holy orders.” Let us not fail to see what we’re doing here tonight in the larger grand context of God’s project of redeeming creation from the thrall of sin and death, a project of which the Church is a harbinger and exemplar.

So, yes, we’re making Cameron a deacon, but perhaps more importantly, we are configuring his life now permanently into that sacred framework of holy order. That’s what we mean by ordaining. Cameron’s reception of holy order identifies and authorizes him as a leader among the community of those who announce and model the coming Kingdom of God.

Cameron, from now on, certainly in his doing, but especially in his being, is, for us, a living sacrament of order—of God’s ordered kingdom seen in the Church amidst a chaotic culture, of God’s clarity glimpsed amid the incoherence of a world still under the spell of the powers of sin and death. Cameron will never in this life have all the answers to all his own questions, let alone all of ours, but he will in his person be a sign that the are answers, that it all means something, that God is both sovereign and providential.

Now, when I began to prepare this sermon, I did not realize that Bishop Alexander, the dean of the seminary where Cameron has been being formed, would be here tonight. Most of you will not be aware that there is such a thing as the College for Bishops, which is sort of a finishing school for newly elected and consecrated bishops, and that Bishop Alexander is on the faculty of that school, and that his area of expertise covers all things liturgical … and that he emphatically counsels new bishops not to give a “charge” at the conclusion of an ordination sermon. So I just want everyone, but particularly Bishop Alexander, to know that when I ask Cameron to stand presently and receive a charge, I’m not acting out of mere ignorance, but with willful and culpable intent!

Cameron, my brother—on your feet. One of the things it will be your joyful privilege to do as one who bears the mark of holy order—though more so beginning about six months from now than between now and then—will be to baptize. I hope you will find, as I have found, that it is one of the most gratifying duties of ordained ministry. In fact, there is a real sense in which the activity of baptizing can be said to encapsulate the entirety of your ministry. As you baptize, be the one who always points to Jesus. Point the people entrusted to your care to the one who “comes after” you. Lead them in announcing the coming Kingdom of God, and lead them in modeling that Kingdom in their communal life. But most of all, point away from yourself and toward Jesus in all you say and do. That way, you and they together will be a sacrament of holy order in a broken and disordered world.