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April 1, 2019, 10:26 AM

Sabbatical? No. And yes.


I had a grand vision for sabbatical, but that sabbatical as envisioned is not to be. That is not to say that I have no vision for sabbatical, it’s just plan B - which is actually quite alright with me.

 

Sabbatical is not extended vacation (like heading off with the family to Disney or a national park or something). Rather, it is a period of intentional (if not intense) work of renewal - physically, mentally, spiritually. In one sense, I wish we would not even use the word “sabbatical” because it has a strong connotation from academia of professors taking a period of time away to write a book. That is not at all what a clergy sabbatical is for. Actually, I wish academia would not use the word “sabbatical” because that word has its etymological grounding is the biblical (especially Genesis and the resulting Judaic tradition) concept of “sabbath” during which God rested from and took delight in the work of creation, from whence comes the idea, not only of rest and delight, but renewal - being re-created and more capable for the ongoing work of ministry. Episcopal clergy typically are eligible for a three- to four-month sabbatical every five to seven years (five in this diocese, as stated in my Letter of Agreement with St. Paul’s). I have been here over twelve years now (twenty-one years overall as priest) and never been in a position before now to take sabbatical.

 

My sabbatical committee and I have been working to submit a grant proposal to the Lilly Foundation, which provides up to $50,000 for clergy renewal sabbaticals. For a grant of that magnitude, the criteria and process of producing a proposal is intense and detailed, typically taking a year or more to fully develop. When I earned my black belt in Taekwondo in mid-October last year, it occurred to me that I could possibly parlay my interest in the spiritual dimensions of martial arts into a sabbatical grant proposal which entailed, among other things, going to the seats of the cultures that developed the martial arts I’ve been involved in through the course of my life: Judo/Japan, Tai Chi/China, Taekwondo/Korea. The difficulty with that in relation to the time required to develop a Lilly proposal is that formulating an idea such as this well enough for it to be articulated takes time. Mid-October is right on the heals of getting into all the preparations for the holy seasons of Advent and Christmas, so it was mostly just an idea during that time. We did not sit down to try to flesh out the idea into a proposal until mid-January. The deadline for the proposal is mid-April - a mere three months, not a year or more. The sabbatical committee and I realized in March that we simply could not produce a quality proposal that had any chance of being accepted in that amount of time, not least because a Lilly-funded sabbatical is every bit as much about congregational renewal as it is clergy renewal and a presentation at the annual meeting, a survey, and a couple of other references here and there simply do not inform and engage the congregation in a way that a Lilly grant proposal requires. (And we were not convinced that a proposal focusing on martial arts, even the spiritual dimensions of it, would resonate enough with the congregation to encourage congregational participation in related renewal activities.)

 

We discussed this fully at the March Vestry meeting, considering different options, including taking another year to develop the proposal and submitting it next year. The difficulty with that is I have already been here twelve years, having been eligible for sabbatical seven years ago. Assuming the proposal would be accepted - which is not a safe assumption: the Lilly folks approve 20-25 proposals out of more than 100 submitted each year - it would be thirteen years before I would go. And if we put it off for another year, it would be fourteen years before I would go, and that is making the assumption of acceptance of the proposal. If it didn’t get accepted, it would stretch into fifteen years before we could make arrangements for me to be away for the sabbatical time frame. In the end, we all agreed that it would be best for me to go to plan B and take my sabbatical this year, and Vestry approved funding for clergy supply coverage. Therefore, I will be away on sabbatical from Monday, April 22 (the day after Easter) through Sunday, July 28, returning to normal parish activities on Monday, July 29.

 

During sabbatical, I am not supposed to have much if any contact with the congregation. I suspect that, especially with technology, there won’t be no contact, though it should be minimal. The Rev. Todd Kissam, who supplied for me earlier this year, will be covering all Sunday liturgical responsibilities (except for one Sunday when he will be away with his family) and Wendy will manage pastoral emergencies and (hopefully not) any deaths that may occur. Our staff is terrific, so between Eli and Kathi, Mike, Patrick, and Rich (who is also on Vestry and has much church administration experience), and others, the day-to-day functioning of the church should be seamless.

 

I am deeply appreciative, not only that our faith tradition sets the expectation of taking sabbatical, but for the support the Vestry and church have provided for this time. During my time away, I will still be pursuing much of what I would have with a Lilly-funded sabbatical - the spiritual dimensions of martial arts, forest immersion, etc. - just not with the global travel. For the most part it will be relatively local and thus more affordable since the only source of funding is my own. Even though we do not have a detailed plan for congregational renewal activities that a Lilly proposal requires, I strongly encourage each one of us who form the body of Christ in this parish to consider well and with decided intentionality what you, both individually and as a church family, might do to also rest, delight in, and thus be re-created/renewed when sabbatical ends and we again walk together to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.

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March 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

Enculturating Invite, Welcome, Connect


As Charles Darwin said, it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

 

Most of what passes for “evangelism” is not, in fact, evangelism. It is Christian malpractice. Evangelism is about reducing fear, not stoking it. Evangelism is about building relationships rather than making judgments. (The Rev. Whitney Rice, Evangelism With Integrity)

 

With John the Baptizer as our role model, it is not just the ordained, not kings and governors and rulers, but all who hear the word of God are called to proclaim the good news of God in Christ.

 

Invite = evangelism

  • Look for opportunities to make someone aware of some church-sponsored event.

  • initially, probably best not a Sunday worship service, but a special service (e.g. All Saints, 1 Advent evening) or fellowship event (e.g. firepit)

 

Look for opportunities to invite someone to experience all the good that we do in this parish. If you think all our wonderful worship and formation and outreach and pastoral care and all the rest is good news, do not keep it a secret! Proclaim it by word and example! Do you think people might like to know that we feed the hungry, visit the sick and shut-in, that we respond when there is need or crisis? Then share this information; invite someone who might need to know.

 

Welcome = safe space

  • Be present to hear their story rather than forcing them to hear y/our story.

 

Welcome someone by offering a safe place for their story to be heard. We have a story that is good news, but not everyone has experienced the Church that way. I had a conversation just last week with a young lady who worked in a downtown bistro. She saw my collar and it provided the opportunity for her to tell me how disillusioned she was by the pastor of her (now former) church whose MO was to exerted a great deal of control and who also had an unrepentant affair, which decimated the church and now she is yet one more who is “spiritual but not religious.” She had never before heard what I have said my entire career: the gospel literally means “good news,” so if you are hearing control and hypocrisy, that is not good news and it is not faithful ministry; it is insurmountable mountains and crooked paths. I ended up spending more time in that conversation than I did eating my lunch because I offered a safe, a welcoming, space, not for her to hear my story, but for me to hear hers.

 

Connect = relationships

  • find shared experiences

 

Find a way to connect by nurturing relationships built upon shared experiences - where the Spirit moved in some difficulty in your life that might be of help to someone now in a similar circumstance, a common interest in work or fun. If this really is about greeting with joy the coming of our redeemer, Jesus Christ, then like with any gift, the greatest joy we can receive is to give - of ourselves, of the good news of our redeemer, Jesus Christ.

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February 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

Today, say yest to God


As we come into the new year and continue to assess who and where we are as a church, we might want to renew our resolve in navigating the uncharted waters of being the church the twenty-first century, particularly as God has called us in the tradition of the Episcopal Church. Due mostly to moves and death (and a couple of folks who submitted their membership information, but never became active), but with almost no new members to offset the losses, the parish membership roll dropped by 10 to a total membership of 156 people (73 households). The average Sunday attendance (ASA) stayed basically the same as last year at 66 (up from 64).

 

The past couple of years, we ended up somewhat better than we had expected. In 2016, we ended in the black; in 2017, we received enough pledges to present a balanced budget. Not so on either count for 2018, which does not bode well for 2019 (or thereafter, for that matter). Our financial concerns are not what the mission of the Church is about, but they are an indicator of the congregation’s commitment to the ministry of the Church and our ability to be effective in our mission. That is why it is increasingly vital to understand how imperative it is that we redouble our efforts of proclaiming the good news of God in Christ - evangelism by any other word. But not evangelism as it is currently understood with all its negative connotations, which is, in actuality, not evangelism, but “spiritual malpractice,” as my colleague Whitney Rice has termed it. Rather, it is evangelism as it is meant to be; not even redefining evangelism, but reclaiming its original intent: good news.

 

Do not get me wrong, there are many doing excellent work of ministry, but when it comes to evangelism as an expressed aspect of mission, not only is there apathy, a lack of will, there is often antipathy, an aversion, to doing what is becoming our only option if we are going to keep the covenant promises of our baptism. I cannot just snap my fingers and make droves of people walk through our doors and I cannot be evangelistic by myself. It takes the Church - and by “the Church” I mean every person baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ - to stem the tide; to, as I have said through 2018, enculturate a process of inviting, welcoming, and connecting into the way each one of us thinks, into the way we, as a community of faith, live.

 

I noted in a sermon a few weeks ago that God did not have to breathe into existence what we call creation; did not have to speak humanity into existence or choose to be in relationship with that creation, but God said yes. Abraham could have said no when God told him to sacrifice his only son Isaac, but love prevailed even in the midst of shock and sorrow because Abraham said yes to God. Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah: though the prophets protested mightily at their calling, there was no turning back and God’s word was revealed to the Hebrew people (later Israel) because they said yes to God. Zechariah initially said no to God and was struck mute, until he said yes to God and the baptizer, John, soon began his life’s journey preparing the way for the Lamb of God. Like Sarai before her, who laughed when told that she, in her old age, would bear a child, Elizabeth was incredulous that she, who was said to be barren, would bear the prophet who would go before the Lord to prepare his way. Mary, too, could scarcely comprehend what the angel was saying: how could she, who was a virgin, be with child? But again, Mary’s response - “Let it be with me according to your word,” her yes to God - opened the way of love for us all. And it was not rulers or scriptural scholars or religious authorities who followed the light of that way, but outcasts and foreigners - the shepherds and wise men - who saw the glory of the highest heaven at Jesus’ birth because they said yes to God. Even Jesus, as he sweat like great drops of blood in Gethsemane, said yes to God; the yes that the disciples, in their often muddled confusion, said to God. Paul breathed murderous no until he said yes to God and his eyes beheld the glory of the highest heaven.

 

As our membership and pledge numbers strongly indicate, if we continue to say no to what is becoming our only option if we are going to keep our Baptismal Covenant promise to proclaim the good news of God in Christ, we are potentially heading into a critical time in the life of this parish. In 2019, glorify and praise God for the yes that God said to us; the yes that our patriarchs and prophets, Elizabeth and Mary, the outcast shepherds and foreigners in their wisdom said to God; the yes that Jesus and the disciples and Paul said to God. This year, today, say yes to God.

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January 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

Be the Light You Want to See


Epiphany, which we celebrate on January 6, marking the beginning of the Epiphany season (until Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday in March), is a day and season in which we emphasize light, or more specifically, Jesus, the light of the world. As the beginning of John’s gospel tells us: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. In him was life and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.

 

A few favored quotes might shed a little light on the subject:


Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

~Chinese Proverb


Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space. It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe. It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.

~Michael Strassfeld

 

The hero is the one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light.

~Felix Adler


An age is called "dark," not because the light fails to shine but because people refuse to see it.

~James Michener

 

Not only do you become what you think about, but the world also becomes what you think about. Those who think that the world is a dark place are blind to the light that might illuminate their lives. Those who see the light of the world view the dark spots as merely potential light.

~Wayne W. Dyer

 

Ring the bells that can still ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

~Leonard Cohen

 

Part of my daily prayer is to “be the light you want to see”. Like the prayer attributed to St. Frances (see BCP p. 833), …where there is darkness, let us sow light, where do you see darkness and where light - in the world, in yourself? In reflecting the light of Jesus, in being the light you want to see, where someone is dehumanized, treat them as if they, just like you, are made in the image and likeness of God; treat them as if they are Christ, himself. Where there is the darkness of contempt, be the light of compassion. Where there is the darkness of isolation, be the light of companionship and community. Where there is the darkness of hate and cruelty, be the light of the love of Christ. On the day and in the season in which we emphasize Jesus, the light of the world, be the light you want to see: the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness will not overcome.

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December 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

Be incarnational in our work for God’s kingdom.


This month, we once again prepare ourselves for the incarnation of our Lord at his most blessed birth in Bethlehem on that holy night. It is a story of intense mystery, challenge to social mores, unfathomable trust, an arduous journey, rejection, and ultimately a revelation in a most unexpected way. Mary scarcely was able to comprehend what the angel had foretold her; a young and pregnant unmarried girl in her culture was cause for ostracization; Joseph planned on ending the betrothal, but responded beyond what most would do to divine directive to persevere; the trip to Bethlehem was not especially easy, made all the more difficult for one in Mary’s condition, only to find no decent place to stay. And then, it happened…the most monumental event in human history…the incarnation, God born in human flesh, revealed not to the rich and powerful, but to foreigners and reviled outcasts (the wise men and shepherds).

 

Through the retelling of the story, we celebrate the incarnation each year, but the best way to tell the story is with our very lives, to be incarnational in our ministry. By that I mean that our faith needs expression if it is to have as much meaning as this Christmas story begs - in mystery and trust, in journey and revelation. As a high school friend encourages her clients in her life-coaching business, we need to “make the connection between your intentions and your actions which will then allow you to find the freedom and space to do the things that really matter.” A story of intense mystery, challenge to social mores, unfathomable trust, an arduous journey, rejection, and ultimately a revelation in a most unexpected way, we need not to just come and receive the sacrament whenever we come for worship, but to actually be sacramental - the outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. This month, as we once again prepare ourselves for the incarnation of our Lord at his most blessed birth in Bethlehem on that holy night, now more than ever, this ol’ world needs us to be incarnational in our work for God’s kingdom this side of heaven.


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