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December 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

Maybe there is nothing new to say about the birth of Christ and maybe there doesn’t need to be.

Most of the time, our Sunday readings only come around every three years (given the lectionary cycle), but there are times when the readings are always the same from one year to the next, such as Ash Wednesday, Easter, and Christmas.  Well, actually we have a couple of options for the readings each Christmas, but it is, of course, always the same story.  For eighteen years, I’ve tried to come up with something different to say about the birth of our Savior each year.  I’ve used Charlie Brown and the Grinch, I’ve used Ebineezer Scrooge, I’ve told the story of Timothy the Hunchback.  I’ve talked about family.  How many different things can you say about the birth of our Christ?  God entered into our world in a miraculous way (the incarnation), came in vulnerability (the same way Jesus went out), revealed not to the powerful, but to the lowly; let Christ be reborn in your heart anew each year, each day.  All of that is true and good theology, can be dealt with very personally in the midst of daily life, but what can be said about the birth of Christ that hasn’t already been said a million times over?

Maybe there is nothing new to say about the birth of Christ and maybe there doesn’t need to be.  That is the value of hearing the stories of our faith over and over and over again, some more often than others.  No matter what is said by some preacher somewhere, we all are different people than we were the last time we heard the story and so often we hear something new in the story, something resonates in a way that it had not before.  So I am not going to try to say anything new about the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, this year.  I am simply going to encourage to you read it and hear it anew, and let the story tell you what you need to hear.

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November 19, 2015, 8:02 AM

Why Be Episcopalian

Here is another of what seems to be an emerging pattern - other peoples’ articles that I found interesting and thought you might too.  This one is another published on Episcopal Café on October 4 by Lisa Fischbeck, the Vicar of The Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a mission of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina in Chapel Hill entitled Why be Episcopalian?  It may help give you food for thought when someone asks you the question (or even if you ask yourself!).


“I don’t have any desire to be an Episcopalian.  I just like the Church of the Advocate,” says the man who has been coming to the Advocate for 5 years.  The Bishop’s visitation is ahead, and I’m trying to identify people who might want to get confirmed.  “But the Advocate is an Episcopal Church!” I say. “Does that mean I have to become an Episcopalian to be a member?” he asks.  “Well, no.” I say.

Denominational identity and loyalty are less important than they used to be. Sure, some people still seek out an Episcopal Church because of childhood affiliation or a good experience in school. But more likely, people are drawn to a particular church community because its location, or what they have read about it in the news. Maybe they are looking for a particular kind of church community, so they Google “Bible study” or “Social Justice”. Some are drawn to the spiritual practices of a particular congregation, to the diversity of the community, or to its homogeneity. They may have a good friend already in the congregation, or they may be drawn to the music, the community engagement, the kids program, the visual aesthetic.

In my 20s, I truly wanted to understand whether denominations were the result of human pride or were instead a faithful response to God. I read and studied, not as much as a PhD certainly, but a lot. And I determined that denominations are both, of course. Each denominational and non-denominational tradition really is part of the whole of Christianity, each has something to offer or provide that is distinct from the others. Each has a way that draws some people to God when other ways would not. Some have an ethnic heritage, others founded on the writing and theology of a particular individual, others still are rooted in the spirit of the American frontier. Some are known for a more literal understanding of the Bible, some for being engaged in social and political issues. All have strengths and weaknesses. It is both helpful and healthful for clergy and people to able to articulate without shame or arrogance, the strengths and liabilities that our denominational identity carries. Like so much of 21st century ministry, it requires conversations.

The Episcopal Church is the American expression of the Anglican Church, a Church with a tradition of rich and thoughtful theology, spirituality and liturgy. At its best, Anglican theology is a theology that welcomes questions, that respects individual conscience, and that looks for truth in the comprehensive, rather than the particular. It is a theology that is nuanced and that thrives in the creative tension between seemingly competitive dualities. Anglican theology holds a particular appreciation of the Incarnation – God becoming a human being. This means that we believe that God comes to us where and how we are, that all of humanity has been lifted up, and therefore the dignity of every human being is to be respected. Anglican theology has a lot to contribute to conversations among Christians, between Christians and those of other faiths, and between the Church and the world.

At its best, Anglican spirituality calls forth a lifetime of conversion and transformation, what former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold described as being “transformed and conformed into the way of Christ.” Anglican Spirituality holds a wealth of pre-existing resources for prayer and formation: the Eucharistic Rites to remind us of the Story again and again, the daily office with its many canticles to inform our conscience, the liturgical calendar and the rhythm of the church year to transform time. This comes as a comfort and relief to those who have not had a one-time, life-changing conversation experience. And it helps to give value to the many and varied transformative events of our lives. It also means we have more transformation ahead.

The Episcopal Church is sacramental, with the Eucharist at the center of our liturgy and worship. We are liturgical in the tradition of the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Lutheran churches. We realize that Christian formation occurs by the study of the Word, but also by life lived in the Body of Christ, the church. We wear vestments, we process, we have prayer books. All of these things are formational to clergy and laity alike. But they are even more formational when explained and understood.

The Episcopal Church has a rich musical tradition, promoting congregational singing, weaving sacred poetry and ancient texts with music that has endured the test of time and thrives still today. Episcopal Church music is also increasingly diverse and global.

As an Episcopal Church, we have a history that associates us with England and with the educated classes and the affluent. Some may choose to associate with an Episcopal Church for the status it carries. Others may stay away, feeling either that they don’t have status enough or that they really don’t want to be in a church that holds such a reputation. This can be a real challenge, an embarrassment, or a source for good humor and fun. Or all of the above. The jokes about silver spoons and two or three Episcopalians always having a fifth are truly wearisome and are, thankfully, growing more and more outdated with each passing decade. Painfully, for Episcopalians in the southeastern United States, there is also a history of slave-holding that needs to be acknowledged. And there is that inevitable moment in the confirmation preparation when we come to “the Queen bit”, describing the Episcopal Church’s connection to the Archbishop of Canterbury who is officially appointed by the Queen of England.

But while some churches give newcomers a loaf of bread or a coffee cup on first visit. The Advocate opts for Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars. And when looking for ways to celebrate and bond with our land before we could worship on it, we introduced the old English parish custom of the Beating of the Bounds, whereby the congregations walks the boundaries of the parish with sticks, beating out the boundaries and noting especially the corners by building rock cairns there. Now plans are in the works to revive the old custom of Clipping the Church (

In the early years of my ministry, I cheered people on to Confirmation, telling them that they were going to be part of a wider Communion, a worldwide Communion of Christians with whom we shared our tradition and our history. The bishop who confirmed me as a young adult in 1979 told me I could walk into any Anglican Church in the world and call it my church.

But the Advocate was launched in 2003, right after the General Convention that supported Gene Robinson’s consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire. That move, within a few decades of the move to ordain women, attracted new people to the Episcopal Church, and certainly to the Advocate. But the reactions within the Anglican Communion in the years that followed have caused some to shy away from an affiliation with the whole. Increasingly, I don’t need or want to convince them.

Increasingly I realize that Baptism is what makes us part of a worldwide communion. I am ready to celebrate the faith we share, ready to be challenged by those Christian theologies that are different from my own (though, if I am honest, I don’t want to be challenged too much….). I want to believe that I can walk into any Christian Church in the world and call it my church (though I know not every church agrees with me).

Still, my love and appreciation of the Anglican Way continues. I am a liturgical sacramental Christian, intentional about liturgy and passionate about the Incarnation. While my own heritage is Polish and German American, I am also an Anglophile, tuning in to Kings College Choir’s Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve. So I confess I struggle with growing ecumenical ministries that seem to set aside denominational traditions and distinctions in order to conserve resources.

I guess I want it both ways. I deeply believe that he Truth is in the whole of Christian belief and expression, and I want to learn from it. But I am keen on the particular belief and expression of those who share my own at The Episcopal Church of the Advocate.

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October 7, 2015, 2:17 PM

It would be distinctly Anglican, doing what we do best.

I keep finding things that I wish I had written, but just settle for crediting the authors and passing it along to you.  In this case, if you are at all interested in what is happening at the Anglican Communion level, you know that Archbishop Welby has called a meeting of Primates of the Communion (no, not the creatures that swing from the trees, but the heads of the thirty-eight Provinces, or global regions, that comprise the Communion) because we have been wrangling with one another mightily over the past couple of decades or so about the vision of the Church.  The article I offer here (published on Episcopal Café on September 20) by The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, PA, is long, but it might give you some idea of what the issues are and what is at stake, or at least might prompt you to look a little deeper.


Archbishop Justin Welby is calling together all the Primates of the 38 Anglican churches around the world (plus one outside the communion) to talk about the future of the Anglican Communion.  According to the headlines, he is saying that the Anglican Communion is a failure that it is falling apart.  So to stop the bleeding, we are told, the future of the Communion is looser ties with one another.  When I first heard this, I had to check my urge to panic.  On the one hand, I do not want a return to the Anglican Wars of the last decade or two.  On the other hand, I don’t want some of the people in other Anglican churches (in and out of the Communion) to beat up the Episcopal Church (and, by extension, me).  And, I am worried that churches that at least periodically prayed and worked together would suddenly start ex-communicating each other.

Well, if it is the end of the Anglican Communion, my first question is “what do you mean by that?”  My hope is that he will try to put an end once and for all to the idea that the Anglican Communion is some kind of Super Church or Super Denomination that spans the globe.  And I hope that we can preserve the idea of the Anglican Communion as an idea, a fellowship, and, perhaps, as an ideal.  I like the idea that 38 different churches from all over the world can be so different and yet somehow still be connected.  The notion that the Anglican Communion is mainly a membership organization with rules, regulations, and membership requirements has not worked very well.  The more formal things got, the screwier they became.  Instead of it being a gathering of roughly national churches who were in full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, it became (or tried to become) an organization whose member churches had to agree on certain litmus test matters.

It used to be that the test was simple.  Does your church believe in the Old and New Testaments as the word of God?  Does you church accept the Apostles and Nicene Creeds as the central statements of the Christian faith?  Does your church accept baptism and Holy Eucharist as the two chief sacraments of the Church instituted by Jesus?  Does your church accept the historic and apostolic ministry of Bishops?  In addition, do you have a direct, historic relationship with the Church of England either through colonization or mission work by that Church?  Do we share a style of worship that is grounded in a Book of Common Prayer?  In those days, the Anglican Communion was an idea, a recognition that these separate churches shared something unique and special, and that for all our differences we express a common witness around the world.  But it was a muddle.  Who was “in” and who was “out?”  Anglican Churches in Portugal, Brazil, the Philippines and Japan were in, but the Lutheran Churches of northern Europe (and who would be in full communion with the Church of England and who met all four of the criteria of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral) were not.  Individual members of the Anglican Communion could enter into full communion relationships with non-Anglican churches but that didn’t make them part of the club.  Generally speaking, there was one member of the Communion per nation, unless you were in Europe where Church of England and American Episcopal congregations live side by side.

The muddle extended to the varieties of liturgical usages and theological preferences.  Some members of the Anglican Communion stuck to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and other member churches never really ever used it (like Scotland and the United States).  Some were founded by Catholic minded Anglicans and others by evangelically oriented missionaries.  The Prayer Books of the various churches can be quite different.  But somehow the idea came into being that we, despite all these differences, could act as One Big Denomination or something like that.  We began to think that member churches could regulate one another and, if they disagreed, toss each other out.  So when Episcopalians in the United States and Anglicans in Canada ordained openly homosexual persons as priests and bishops, others in the communion thought they could (and should) toss us out.  So the Lambeth Conference stopped acting as a conference and more like a synod and the Windsor Report was transformed from a report into a policy statement.

In short, the less we prayed together and the more we tried to regulate one another the less we acted like we were in communion.  The more we tried to define membership in the Anglican Communion according to conformity, the more the Anglican Communion began to fray.  Screaming headlines that “The Anglican Communion is dissolving!” only make sense if you think of the Anglican Communion as anything more than an idea.  If you want the Anglican Communion to be something more than churches of Christian people who share a common heritage and certain general notions about what it means to be church - if you want it to be some kind of global Super-Church - then Welby’s gathering of Primates will be a disappointment.

We still need each other, and we still share much.  It would be a good thing if we would continue to pray together, support each other’s mission work, recognize each other’s orders, and go to each other’s congregations when we are visiting.  It would be good if our several dioceses and parishes would partner to educate, disciple, and do mission.  I think we should let the Anglican Consultative Council be a council of Anglicans who consult, instead of being an ongoing policy body that will need some kind of enforcement mechanism to enforce its will.  Let the Primates meeting be a meeting of Anglican Primates, not some kind of House of Lords.  Let the Lambeth Conference stop being a once-a-decade synod and be what it is, a conference of Bishops from around the globe who get to remind one another of their (and our) common bonds.  Instead of laws and pronouncement, let’s let the Bishops pray, worship, and study together so that the resulting relationships might result in more mission.

Here’s the truth: the idea of the Anglican Communion as a big global denomination with local offices has just never gelled.  Instead, it’s been an occasion for mischief.  With this idea, people in this country who hated the direction the Episcopal Church but who were losing in convention and ballot box were able to pull in people in Africa, Asia, and the Middle-East into controversies not of their making and which were of secondary concern to their ministry.  The idea of enforced unity took the ability of building natural affinities away, and certainly drained the joy out of the partnerships, replacing them with suspicion.

And if we have to, we can let go of the idea of One Anglican Church per Country, even if that means living with an ACNA church down the block that is also in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.  After all, my ELCA and Missouri Synod Lutheran sisters and brothers seem to have figured this out at least on every local level I’ve witnessed…even if they do it by largely ignoring one another!  I hope that the Episcopal Church and ACNA will one day sit down together…or really kneel together…and lay out our differences in humility and prayer.  If we promise not to steal each other’s members and property and stop trash-talking each other, it could work.

We’ve said some mighty hurtful things to each other along the way.  We sued each other over money and property.  Our clerical leaders have dragged congregations into our fights.  We have lots to repent of.  If we can agree to stop calling each other names, it would be a good start.  We used to call Anglicanism the “middle way.”  Maybe the Anglican Communion was “the muddle way.”  If the idea of “looser ties” means returning to the muddle where we consult, meet, pray, and share communion from time to time for the sake of Christ and His mission, then I am all for it.  The cost may be that, at least for a time, certain Bishops and Churches will only gather with their own kind.  And they might give themselves important sounding names, and make important pronouncements.  But, in the end, how different is that?

Muddle is what Anglicans do best.  Whenever we’ve departed from our comprehensive heart, things have not gone well. Queen Elizabeth I - who once famously said that she “would not build windows into men’s souls” - created modern Anglicanism by finding a way to allow Puritans to be pure and Catholics to be catholic under the single monarch and the single prayer book.  Certainly, today we can find a way knit together a global communion while at the same time resisting the need to regulate one another.  And if we do, it will be a muddle.  There will be carping about “fudge.”  Some of the solutions we come up with may seem lame or even silly.  But it would be distinctly Anglican, doing what we do best.  In looking for the unity, in choosing to stay together, in seeking Christ’s face, especially in the people we strongly disagree with, and in daily choosing mercy over regulation in our dealings with one another, we will find uncounted blessings, and we will bring Jesus’ hope, healing, and new life to people all over the globe.

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September 8, 2015, 10:27 AM

Ten Things I Wish Everyone Knew About the Episcopal Church

This is long for a blog, but sometimes (oftentimes!) others say things far better than I can, as in the case here (and from someone from my home Diocese of Lexington, no less!).


Ten Things I Wish Everyone Knew About the Episcopal Church

An Episcopal priest talks liturgy, drinking habits, the bible and more.


The Rev. Laurie Brock serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky.  She blogs at, is the co-author of Where God Hides Holiness (Church Publishing) and contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (Skylight), as well as several devotional books.  We asked her to list 10 things she wishes people knew about the Episcopal Church.

1. We don’t all love Downton Abbey.

Yes, we began in the United States as an outpost of the Church of England. When the American Revolution began, shifting from the Church of England to become the Episcopal Church was no easy choice. Many of the founders and upper crust of our country were Episcopalian, but we are no longer the church of the establishment. We have changed in deeply important ways. While many of us enjoyed watching the royal wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William, recognizing the words of the wedding service as our own, we are also energized by our own Episcopal identity. Our churches include the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and communities that gather to worship in homes and homeless shelters. Our Sunday Eucharist is celebrated in over a dozen languages, including Spanish and several Native American languages, and we strive to become a more diverse church.

2. We are people of the Book.

The Bible is a foundational part of our church. Our outline of faith states, “We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures.” The Bible is the epic, challenging, and life-changing story of God’s relationship with humanity. A typical Sunday service includes four different readings from Holy Scripture following the lectionary, a guide of biblical readings for Sundays and Holy Days. We take very seriously the role of Holy Scripture in our spiritual life and our worship.

3. We are people of the Book of Common Prayer.

The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) contains our prayers and services for our life as a church. We call these our liturgies. Our liturgies for Holy Eucharist, for Baptism, for marriages and burials, for daily prayers, and for prayers and worship over almost any human experience live deep within the words of the BCP. These liturgies span thousands of years of Christian faith and human experiences of celebration, sin, grief, and joy. What ties us together as Episcopalians is not a particular confession, a hierarchy of religious authority, or a particular dogma, but our common prayers. Our prayers shape our beliefs.

4. We understand that visitors and newcomers may be a bit lost during the service.

Don’t worry, you are in good company. Many people sitting in the pews with you did not grow up in the Episcopal Church, but were drawn to the serenity and beauty of the liturgy, the love of tradition balanced with the ability to question and discern, and the inclusive welcome. A worship service is a workout for your body, mind, and spirit. We joke about pew aerobics, because in a typical Episcopal service, you will stand, sit, and kneel - all postures for prayer dating back to the ancient church. Our faith is not a passive one, where you come, sit, and leave at the end. We engage our faith. We sit to listen and learn. We stand to praise and pray. We kneel in solemn confession and silence. We ask questions. And we are okay with not having all the answers.

5. We believe in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

We believe in traditional tenets of the apostolic faith and we value them. We believe there are many ways to understand and experience the mystery of the Holy Trinity. And we believe God continues to dwell in the church, guiding us. We realize some traditions, when placed under the lens of love, need to change. This is our balance of Scripture, tradition, and reason. Faith is living and continuing, shaped by God and God’s community of the Church. Yes, we welcome, baptize, and, if God has called them, ordain the full inclusion of people - not because we’re the liberal church, but because we have heard God’s call to follow where God’s love leads us.

6. We talk about more than sex.

We made national and worldwide headlines a decade ago for consecrating the first openly gay bishop. Yes, we talk about sex and how God is present in sexual relationships. We recognize that sexuality is part of our created humanity. We also spend time in deep prayer and action for peace, for equality for all people, for dignity for those on the margins of society, for welcome to the outcast, and for justice for the poor.  We hear and believe the message that God loves all people. No exceptions. “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” is not just a sentence on our signs. We strive to share that welcome with each other and those we encounter in our lives.

7. We were not formed because Henry VIII wanted a divorce.

While the official Church of England came to fruition in the sixteenth century, Christianity existed in the British Isles since the second century and likely earlier. For more than 500 years, residents of the British Isles practiced a particular expression of Christian worship, broadly called Celtic Christianity (which isn’t an exact term). When the Roman practice of the faith became official in the seventh century, the deep roots of centuries of faith were not abandoned or eradicated. So eventually, when the particular blend of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism became official under Elizabeth I, Anglicanism’s ancient middle way finally had room to bloom and grow.

8. We are working to change the “whiskey-palian” stereotype.

We have often heard the joke about where you find four Episcopalians, you will always find a fifth. While our faith does not prohibit the consumption of alcohol, we do recognize that for some members of our church communities, substance abuse prevents them from fully loving God, their neighbors, and themselves. An Episcopal priest worked with Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson to create the foundations of The Twelve Steps. Episcopal Churches have long been a welcoming space for recovery groups, and our most recent General Convention re-committed our church to end complicity in issues of substance abuse and employ our church as a community of healing for those in recovery.

9. We are part of something bigger.

The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion, a global family of national and regional churches with roots in the Church of England. We have no central authority such as the Pope. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, but each national and regional church is self-governing. Like all communities, we have differences, but we have our liturgy and prayers in common, even when they are in different languages. Attending a member church in Hong Kong, a small village church in England or St. George’s in Jerusalem is a powerful reminder that the Kingdom of God is far, far larger than our neighborhood or country. We as Episcopalians, in our prayers each Sunday for sister churches across the globe, remember the vastness of the Church.

10. We take seriously our relationship with God through community.

We celebrate the Holy Eucharist (also called Holy Communion and Mass) together on Sundays. We come together to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ from a common cup. We do not have private baptisms; we baptize in community. We as a community covenant with God and the newly baptized (if an adult) or on behalf of the newly baptized (if a child).  Faith in community is wonderful and complicated. Our neighbors challenge our individual ideas. We are asked to see different viewpoints, to reach beyond ourselves and to move outside comfort zones. Jesus lived in community with his followers. We follow Jesus’ example, sometimes in messy ways, sometimes in transformative ways and sometimes fearfully as we realize how deeply we need each other. But we always follow the way of Jesus . . . together.

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August 3, 2015, 7:26 AM

We Are Called to be Marked

When I asked the Dean of the cathedral in Kansas City (where I went right after seminary) why he did not wear his collar very often, he said, “I’m tired of being marked.”  I believe now, seventeen years later, every bit as much, if not more so, what I said then: “It’s our job to be marked.”  It has often been said that we (the Episcopal Church) need to move from maintenance to mission, to which I have repeatedly expressed my disagreement.  There are a great many things that mark us as God’s own, things we ought to maintain - worship and ministry grounded in the earliest traditions of the Church, nurturing spiritual depth rather than the superficiality that pervades our culture, and encouraging the resources of time, talent, and treasure that each of us uniquely offers.  However, I would agree that we need to recover a missionary mindset that characterized our tradition at various times over the centuries (which is at least part of the reason why the Anglican Communion is global).  I just do not believe it needs to be one at the expense of the other.  In true Anglican fashion, it is not either/or, but both/and.

One of the resolutions General Convention passed was entitled Develop Awareness of the Five Marks of Mission, encouraging congregations to “adopt the practice of stating how each of their activities relates to the Five Marks.”  Coming out of the Anglican Consultative Council (one of the four so-called “Instruments of Communion” at the Anglican Communion level), they have been around in this form since at least 1990 in an effort to honor and embrace the vast and rich diversity of culture and perspectives that are represented across our Communion and to aid us in our common mission of proclamation, faith, service, and justice.

The five marks of mission as they are formally identified are:

  • to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom;

  • to teach, baptize and nurture new believers;

  • to respond to human need by loving service;

  • to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation;

  • to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

As we continually strive to move forward with God’s vision for St. Paul’s and in our personal spiritual lives, take some time to consider how each of your activities relates to these five marks because, just as Jesus was marked for our sake, it is our job to be marked - for maintenance and mission.

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