A Weekly Commentary by the Rev. Poulson Reed
Rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church & Day School
A Weekly Commentary by the Rev. Poulson Reed
Rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church & Day School
August 1, 2019 Thanking the Reverend Joie Baker
As you will see from her message, the Reverend Joie Baker, our Associate for Children and Family Ministries, has been called as the new Chaplain at Saint Margaret’s Episcopal School in Tappahannock, Virginia. Saint Margaret’s is a boarding school for girls in grades 8-12 with an excellent, national reputation.
It is with truly mixed emotions that we say farewell to Joie. She has been on our staff at the church and school for more than three years, and is known for her warmth and sense of humor. She has guided our ministries with families with grace, preached eloquently, and become a valued member of the day school faculty. We are sad to see her, and her daughter Emily, go. At the same time, we are gratified that Joie has remained open to the Holy Spirit, and has discerned that full-time school ministry is where she is called to be. Ironically, the Chaplain position that Joie is taking was held previously by the new member of our Bishop’s staff, Canon to the Ordinary Anita Braden. The Spirit moves in mysterious ways.
As I speak with my friends who are also rectors of large Episcopal parishes, they share a similar observation that associate clergy are averaging about 2-3 years in churches, before moving on to other opportunities. The nature of associate clergy positions is that they are somewhat transitional, often part of a discernment towards somewhere else in a way that rector positions are not (or are to a lesser degree). All Saints’ can be proud that our associate clergy have been recruited over the years to prominent positions as rectors, chaplains, and diocesan and cathedral staff. The search begins immediately to find a new associate priest to join our clergy team. Let me know if you have any thoughts about qualities you’d like to see in our next priest. In the meanwhile, please be patient with me and with Pastor Emilie Finn, as we will be handling extra responsibilities for a while.
Because of the start of her new school year at Saint Margaret’s in mid-August, our farewell to Joie must, by necessity, come quickly. Her last Sunday will be August 11th. Please join us that weekend as we thank her collectively for her faithful service and wish her every blessing (she will be at all three services), and find time on your own to reach out to her with individual words of thanks. Thank you, Joie, for your more than three years of ministry among us.
• Speaking of staff transitions, we have been overjoyed this past week to welcome to All Saints’ new Associate Director of Choristers, Joe Setzer. Joe will will be playing the organ, doing administration, singing in the choir, and working with our many choirs, especially our choristers (day school and community). As our chorister program continues to grow, Joe (who comes from a nationally renowned chorister program in South Carolina) will work closely with Director of Music Joseph Ripka to support the training of our young musicians. With Joseph, Joe, and Trevor Carolan (our part-time Associate Director of Music), we are blessed with a phenomenal music staff, and look forward to their ministry together.
• Would you do us a favor by helping spread the word about our after school chorister program? We are now accepting new choristers from age 5 through high school. It is great training in music, and a lot of fun (and is very affordable). Send interested families to Joseph Ripka by email for more information.
July 18, 2019 Slow Faith
For more than 30 years, the slow food movement has been teaching the nutritional, cultural, and environmental value of taking our time growing, preparing, and eating food. Founded by Italian Carlo Petrini and now worldwide (there’s a group in Phoenix), “slow food” has come to mean locally sourced, environmentally sustainable, and traditionally prepared meals, enjoyed with others, savored at table over conversation. In other words, slow food is the complete opposite of “fast food.” Now, I’m no anti-fast food snob (a special shout out to my favorite, Taco Bell!). Fast food is popular for good reasons: it’s convenient, inexpensive, and pretty tasty. As we shuttle our boys around to their various activities, often fast food is what makes the most sense at a particular moment in the car. Fast food has its place. But, when possible, slow food is better.
The “slow” concept has spread into many different areas of life, including the Church. There is a book (with corresponding materials) called “Slow Church,” that encourages a non-consumer, non-rushed, non-packaged approach to faith and life, with ample time for sabbath renewal and rest. Especially in larger churches like ours, there is a temptation to offer too many programs (like Burger King: “have it your way!”), rather than doing the most important things with excellence, preparation, and reverence. Church, at its best, ought almost never to feel rushed and over programmed, like the outside world.
There are some interesting intersections between these “slow” movements and “mindfulness,” which seeks to cultivate present-ness, taking our time to be fully focused in the moment, rather than distracted. All of it is pushing back against our fast paced, multitasked, and overstimulated approach to much of 21st century life. Not that it is possible for most of us to abandon such a life, but a better balance between fast and slow, activity and being centered, would help.
In our liturgical calendar, we are now in the long, green season after Pentecost, sometimes called “ordinary time.” It extends all summer and fall, until Advent begins on December 1st. I love all the special seasons of the other half of the year, but there is something restorative about this season after Pentecost. Other than a few major feast days here and there that fall on Sundays, we spend our time immersed in the teachings of Jesus (especially from Luke in this lectionary year C). Like his first disciples, we sit at Jesus' feet and listen to him. I like to think of this time as a “slow season,” not in a negative sense of not much going on (for there is always plenty going on at All Saints’), but in a positive sense of patiently growing in faith in the loving presence of our Savior.
Faith, like a good meal, is best prepared and appreciated patiently and with care. It takes a lot of healthy ingredients (pray, learn, serve, and connect perhaps?), and often needs some rest if the flavors are to mature. And it’s most fully enjoyed with others.
• For those interested in the slow food movement in Phoenix, check out their website: slowfoodphoenix.org.
• Speaking of sabbath rest, I hope those of us who are able to, are finding time for some rest and refreshment (either away or in town). It is good for Christians to remember that taking a break at least one day a week, and more extended time periodically, is not optional, but is actually part of our faith tradition, going back to the Book of Genesis. Americans are among the world’s worst at taking vacation (often seeing our over work as a source of pride). The Bible teaches otherwise. And if you think of it, if you are on vacation out of town, I love to have bulletins from the churches where you worship (whatever the denomination).
• Modern technology is wonderfully convenient for communication, and unfortunately, also convenient for scammers who try to trick and steal from us. Robocalls are a menace, and so are fake emails. Every couple of months, we have another wave of fake emails claiming to be from the clergy. Some of these are quite convincing. This is happening at churches all across the country. If you get a suspicious email that seems to be from the clergy, look carefully at the address (these scammers are experts at using addresses that are similar to our real ones). And know that we would never ask you for gift cards for ourselves or others. If you get a suspicious email, just delete it. And if you’re not sure if it’s fake, you can always check with us via our real email addresses.
July 11, 2019 A School for the Lord’s Service
This Sunday, our guest preacher will be Perry Pauley. Perry is a lay person, sponsored by All Saints’ for the ordination process for priesthood. As part of his seminary studies, he is asked to preach for his “home” congregation, and we are delighted to hear from him. He is thoughtful, learned, and has fascinating life experiences from which to draw. Perry, his wife Michelle, and their children are all dedicated members of All Saints’ (especially with our choirs) and Perry has been particularly valuable working with our youth. He will make an excellent priest one day, and we can be proud that some of his formation has taken place at All Saints’.
There are many metaphors for the Church: a body, a boat, a bride (lots of “b’s”!), a hospital or supply cabin. One of my favorite metaphors for the Church is a school, with Jesus as our teacher. Saint Benedict described his monastic community as a “school for the Lord’s service.” In many ways, that is part of the mission of a congregation, as well. One of our core Christian practices at All Saints’ is “Learn,” which reminds us that learning the faith is not only for children and youth, but is a lifelong process, ideally, for all of us. We are never finished exploring the mysteries of God through the Holy Scriptures, or how to live our faith more fully in everyday life.
I’ve written before that I see myself, more and more, as a coach: not dispensing cerebral information, but training the practices of the Christian faith. But it is Christ who is the coach of us all. The summer is a good time to try a new spiritual practice (like a Wednesday Eucharist, Evening Prayer, Centering Prayer, the Rosary, or Sunday Bible study). Who knows - it may become a new opportunity for learning from Jesus himself.
July 3, 2019 Good Transitions
What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States? Not the election of the first president, but the election of its second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world. (George Washington)
As we come to Independence Day and the weekend after, part of what we celebrate is the extraordinary resilience of American democracy, beginning with our independence and then establishment as a nation governed by and for the people. For all of the ways our country has failed to live up to our values from time to time, for all of the pressures on our system of governance by moral corrosion on the inside and external threats, our civic institutions have been remarkably durable. Thanks to our Founders and those who came after, these institutions, though not perfect and regularly in need of reform, have been forces for justice and for the common good, reigning in humanity’s desire for accumulated power, and steering us haltingly towards progress.
One of the hallmarks of our democracy has been, as George Washington said, our orderly transition among leaders, nearly unique in all the world. For centuries, we have successfully and peacefully transferred power, often from one political party to another quite different one. Good transitions are important, and they gauge the health of any institution. A seemingly strong organization can suddenly spring leaks when a leader exits, and a new one begins. Notice how much attention Jesus pays to his disciples, especially in John’s gospel, when he is preparing them for his departure, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. The Apostolic succession of ordained leadership through bishops, priests, and deacons (thankfully now more diverse in The Episcopal Church), for all the flaws of its human occupants, has remained largely unchanged for the past two millennia. This or that congregation or diocese may have choppy waters with transitions of pastoral leadership, but the boat of the Church that Christ founded has not, and will not ever sink.
One reason why I was thinking about transitions this week is because July 1 was the first official day for our new Head of School, Dr. Emma Whitman, after a decade of fruitful leadership by Leo Dressel. I have so enjoyed getting to know Dr. Whitman during the search and transition process, and am thrilled to have her and her family at both our school and church. The handoff from Leo to Emma has been smooth and gracious (a tribute to them both), and that good transition is a sign of the strong health of our day school. May God bless our governmental and civic institutions, and may God bless All Saints’ Episcopal Church and Day School, and make them ever stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate in the years to come.
• We are excited to welcome to All Saints’ this Sunday one of the choirs from Saint Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, as they prepare for a choral residency in England. All Saints’ and Saint Philip’s have many things in common. We are two of the largest Episcopal churches in our diocese, with two of the finest music programs. And the Rector of Saint Philip’s, the Reverend Robert Hendrickson, and I were both formed in some of the same places, especially Christ Church, New Haven, and Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver.
• I hope to see a good number of us at the next Living Room Conversation on July 11, as we have a non-partisan conversation about climate change, one of the critical issues of our time.
June 27, 2019 Are You Suffering For Your Faith?
This weekend, we commemorate the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Both Peter and Paul have their own individual feast days (January 18 and 25, the beginning and end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity). But on June 29 these two greatest leaders of the early Christian Church are remembered together as martyrs (legend says they both died in the 60’s A.D. in the brutal persecution by Nero in Rome). Two very different people: Peter, the unsophisticated fisherman from Galilee, and Paul, the highly educated Jew and Roman citizen, both willingly died for their faith, following the example of Jesus. They were witnesses, proclaiming their faith publicly to the end, knowing that would get them killed (the word martyr comes from a Latin word martur which means “witness”).
On Sunday mornings during our Adult Christian Education time this June, we’ve been studying 1 Peter. In that Biblical letter, Peter encourages five early Christian communities in the midst of their sufferings. As we’ve been discussing, systemic persecutions and widespread executions of Christians by the Romans in the decades after the miracle at Pentecost were relatively infrequent. But localized harassment, discrimination, and vilification were common. Christians were considered by Romans to be unpatriotic, odd, and suspicious, because they wouldn’t worship Roman gods, included slaves and women equally in their communities, and followed seemingly strange teachings and rituals. Christian martyrs were fairly rare, but Christian suffering was not. It hurts to be reviled and looked down upon. In his letter, Peter encourages them by writing, “if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name” (1 Peter 4:16).
Today, it is common among some American Christian groups to speak of being persecuted for their faith. We ought to be careful about how we differentiate among various kinds of suffering. Globally, there are many Christians suffering greatly right now for their religion (on average, about a dozen Christians die every day because of their faith, with North Korea being the most dangerous place to be Christian). In the United States, though, Christians still exercise remarkable freedom to believe in and practice our faith, compared to many other countries. What is changing is our privilege in our own culture: no longer is Christianity the assumed cultural norm in most areas of our country. For the most part, Christians remain free to be Christians, but our power to impose our beliefs on others has been diminished. One reason why is that Christians ourselves are not of one mind on many of the controversial issues of our day, like abortion, marriage, immigration, and climate change.
What will Christianity in America look like in 25 years? My guess is that the wave of secularization will continue. Today, some places, like the Pacific Northwest and parts of New England, are as secular as much of western Europe, while others (like parts of the American South) are still deeply Christian not only in numbers but in their cultural soil. As fewer people attend worship and pass the faith down to their children, and as laws, and civic and business practices change to reflect more diverse perspectives, our culture may well start to look more like the Roman culture in 1 Peter: usually neutral, sometimes disdainful, and occasionally hostile to some Christian beliefs. That’s not easy or comfortable, but is a far cry from systemic persecution, let alone martyrdom.
What are we Christians to do about that massive cultural change happening all around us? The New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson has a wonderful quote about 1 Peter: “Peter does not attack the outsiders [the Roman culture]. Instead he calls his readers to a renewed sense of their own identity.” That’s our task, I believe, as Christians: not to waste energy attacking the secular culture growing around us, nor to be dragged into partisan blood baths, but to respect the dignity of every human being, and to renew our own sense of identity as Episcopalian Christians in the Anglican tradition, creating thick communities in and outside the church building in which we support one another in living the Christian life in these uncertain times. If we don’t, each of us, strive diligently to learn our faith and practice it daily, if we don’t pass it down to our children not only in Church but in the home, then our denomination will be a house built on sand, washed away by the tides that are creeping higher. And we will deserve it.
Let us ask ourselves: how does faith affect our daily lives and how we consider current events? Is it the main lens through which we see the world? What optional things do we choose to prioritize over the the Christian practices of praying, learning, serving, and connecting? For example, how many hours of non-work screen time do we choose, compared to living out our faith each week? Gym time? Other things? Our calendar shows us what we worship. Jesus never promised ease, accolades, and prosperity, or a part-time faith. Jesus promised that if we followed him, we would be carrying a cross. Loving God and our neighbor more than we love ourselves (and what the wider culture idolizes) is difficult and sometimes unpopular. Faith gives us joy and comfort and deep satisfaction; it also takes sacrifice, like anything worthwhile. If we’re not suffering for our faith from time to time, we’re probably not doing it right.
June 20, 2019 What is a Roof For?
This week, skilled workers have been replacing our church roof, a roughly ten day project. This is the culmination of a great deal of effort by a lot of people: those who generously donated money for the project, the careful evaluation of bids by Andy Andersen (Director of Plant and Property) and the Buildings and Grounds Committee, work on the contract by our Chancellor, due diligence and approval by the Vestry, and of course the labor itself. After years of leaks every time we had a major rain, our new roof should keep the church dry for at least 15 years. I remember vividly one August night in my first or second year here, with no one else around, when the leaks were so bad during a pummeling rain that I was deploying every trash can in the building as a bucket! Our goal was to finish the project before this year’s monsoon season of late summer, and we have done that.
I was thinking about Bible stories that include roofs. In the ancient world, a rooftop was a popular place to go to cool off, have some privacy, or pray. A roof was also a metaphor for the whole household, as when the centurion says to Jesus: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8). Perhaps the most famous Bible story about a roof is in Mark 2, when four people carry a paralyzed man to Jesus. The crowd is so large that they cannot get to Jesus, so they haul their friend up on the roof of the building where Jesus is, make a hole in it, and lower him down on a mat. Jesus heals the man and forgives his sins, not only because of his faith, but because of the faith and compassion of his friends.
A good roof is important. When we built a school building with our partners in Haiti to replace the piecemeal covering they had, it made a huge difference in the safety of the students and their ability to have class in all kinds of weather. Our new roof at All Saints’ will help protect our organ, and the beautiful sacred space we cherish. But it is a means to an end. The Church is the holy people of God, not a building. And our purpose, like the paralyzed man and his friends, is to draw close to Jesus. May All Saints’ always be a place where people are drawn and brought by others to Jesus. And may we be worthy, by God’s grace alone, to have our Lord come under our roof, which is not our roof at all, but God’s: a house of prayer and spiritual shelter for all who enter it.
June 13, 2019 Trinity Sunday and Father’s Day
This Sunday in the liturgical calendar is Trinity Sunday, when we explore the mystery that God is one, and God is three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). And it also happens to be Father’s Day, which is not a liturgical day in our Prayer Book, but is an important day nonetheless in our culture, and in many of our families.
As we try to wrap our minds around the mystery of the Trinity (something we can never fully do), inevitably we fall back on metaphors, like Saint Patrick with his shamrock. Just as inevitably, all the metaphors for the Trinity come up short. But for me, the metaphor of the family comes closest to describing the Trinity, because it is animated by love. The Holy Trinity is a model of perfect, balanced relationship: difference and sameness, diversity and unity, giftedness and common purpose, gathered in love.
In a loving and healthy family, there is, most of the time, a wonderful mutuality: we care about the other as much as we care about ourselves, and they do the same. We show our love through acts of kindness: sometimes large sacrifices, but often those little gestures and thoughtful words that build a strong family, like a solid house built brick by brick. The love of family isn’t just based on shared interests or similar personalities, in a narrow sense. Often we are bound to family members that we wouldn’t necessarily choose as friends! But that bond, that deep kinship is there, nonetheless. It opens our hearts and minds. And, like baptism, family is a bond that can never be broken.
One reason why it is good to celebrate fathers in church is that, in terms of children maturing into a strong adult faith, the role of fathers is massive. One statistic indicates that, in a household with a father and mother, if the father does not attend church regularly, only one child in fifty will grow up to be a dedicated worshipper (no matter how devoted the mother). But if both parents attend regularly, the number jumps up to about thirty out of fifty. The most significant factor in a child growing up to have a committed faith as an adult, by far, is the faith practice of his or her parents. To the moms and dads who prioritize weekly worship with your children: thank you!
Fatherhood (like motherhood) can be complicated. Not everyone has or has had a positive relationship with their father. In some cases, the relationship has been cruel or even abusive. Some among us have lost a father. Some would like to be a father, but have not yet had the opportunity. For some, hearing God described as father can be uncomfortable, even painful. And yet, when Jesus speaks about God, the Creator, the word he most often uses is “father” or the more affectionate “abba,” which is more like “papa.” And, though the word “Trinity” never appears in the Bible, Jesus speaks of baptizing new Christians “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
That doesn’t mean the Church can’t explore the Scriptures for additional ways to describe God and God’s qualities, which are as varied as the creation itself. God the Father is not “male” in any human sense. Indeed, our first reading this Sunday, from the Book of Proverbs, describes God’s Wisdom, present from the beginning of creation, in feminine terms. But neither can we ignore the many hundreds of times that the Bible describes God as fatherlike. We can wrestle with that imagery, and expand upon it, but dare not cast it aside.
In his poem, “The Death of the Hired Man," Robert Frost has a character describe home as “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Home is where our family is, even if the physical location changes. And our spiritual home is with God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), who always takes us in, even if we have been far away for a long time.
May 30, 2019 Welcoming Our New Deacon!
I am thrilled that Patrice Al-Shatti is to be ordained a deacon on Saturday, and will serve for the first time as Deacon of the Eucharist on Sunday at All Saints’. This is the joyful culmination of years of discernment and diligent training for Patrice. She should be proud for reaching this achievement, and All Saints’ can be proud for raising up another deacon from our congregation. Patrice and Jim Bade will make a splendid deacon team.
The ministry of deacon is important, and ancient. Acts 6:1-6 describes how, as the early Church grew, the apostles no longer had time to take care of the widows, which caused some grumbling! So they selected seven people of strong faith, who were ordained (through the laying on of hands by the apostles and prayer) and set apart to look after the needy among them, and share the Gospel message in the world. This was not a “safe” ministry. One of the seven, Stephen, was the first Christian martyr.
The ministry of deacon today still bears that ancient imprint. Deacons serve liturgically at the Eucharist by proclaiming the Gospel, bidding the confession, setting the Altar, serving a chalice, and giving the dismissal. And, nourished by worship, deacons still act as a bridge between the Church and the needs (physical and spiritual) of the world. Each deacon, in her or his ministry, has a slightly different way of helping those in need, and communicating those needs to the Church. Deacons are often involved in pastoral care, and in faith in action and justice ministries. Patrice and I have had some exciting conversations about her role at All Saints’, and we are also leaving room for the Holy Spirit to guide how Patrice might best be of use to God’s people.
I have believed for a long time that deacons are essential to the present and future of The Episcopal Church. Although they are unpaid, deacons are invaluable members of the clergy team, reminding us often in word and action of our call to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” I’ve been blessed to teach Theology in the Deacon Formation Academy of our diocese since 2015, and have seen firsthand the talented and committed deacons we are ordaining for the Church. There are now over 50 active deacons (and many more retired) in our diocese, one of the largest groups of deacons in The Episcopal Church.
Congratulations to the Reverend Patrice Al-Shatti, and thanks be to God!
May 23, 2019 Just Faith
On March 13, at the beginning of Lent, we were blessed to host at All Saints’ an evening with Jack Jezreel, the founder of JustFaith Ministries (www.justfaith.org). Faith leaders, lay and clergy, from many different churches and denominations in our area, gathered to hear Jack’s inspiring story of why he started JustFaith, and how it has impacted more than 50,000 people at over 1,500 churches who have participated in its programs.
Jesus teaches us to evaluate things by their fruits, and the good fruits of JustFaith at All Saints’ have been many. The two cohorts that have gone through the program describe it as life changing, but even more so, we have seen the fruits after the courses ended. Our prison ministry, for example, began largely out of church members who were JustFaith graduates, as has our Diversity and Reconciliation Committee. Graduates emerge from JustFaith not only passionate about social justice, but well informed about its Biblical and theological roots.
This Sunday, we are offering an information session on JustFaith at 9am, as we prepare to launch a new cohort in September. For those who are not able to make this Sunday’s session, there will be another informational meeting in early August (with more details in between). As you consider your interest, and help us spread the word, here are some reasons why I am excited about this ministry at All Saints’:
Acts of mercy are essential Christian practices, commanded by Christ himself: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the sick, clothing the naked, and so on. But we are called also to go deeper, seeking out the sinful causes of human suffering, and striving to alleviate them. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, memorably: “there comes a point when we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream, and find out why they’re falling in.”
May 16, 2019 Soul Washing
The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. (Pablo Picasso)
Since the first Christian communities, people of faith have valued art and music as ways to praise and draw closer to God, the source of all beauty. Early Christians, even before they had church buildings exclusively for worship, painted on the walls of the catacombs, and sang hymns together. With a few notable exceptions (such as the iconoclasts of the 700 and 800’s, and some Puritans in the 17th century), most Christians have, throughout history, created and appreciated artistic expression of various kinds in churches.
There are spiritual dangers in artistic excess, as in too much of anything. A church that looks like a museum and sounds like the finest concert hall, but that has no concern for the poor, or for the growth of its members as disciples of Jesus, is a dusty tomb. Excellence by a talented few can be good (honoring God with our best efforts), but needs to be leavened with joyful participation by the many. We are all part of the Body of Christ, each of us with God-given gifts, and roles to play for the common good.
This weekend, we celebrate two different forms of artistic expression that enhance our worship of God at All Saints’. On Saturday night and Sunday morning, we will learn more about the multi-year project by our volunteers to make kneelers for our chapel that imitate our beautiful stained glass windows. Our current chapel kneelers are comfortable and in good shape, and have served us well, but do not have any designs. As we have discovered with our All Saints’ Creative Community, our church is filled with talented artists of various kinds, who love to share their gifts with the congregation.
Second, this Sunday afternoon, our choirs will bless us with their annual concert for the end of the program year, at 3pm. Our adults and young choristers will sing some of their favorites from this amazing year of music, and we will have the opportunity to thank them for their dedication. The concert is just a little over an hour. Bring a friend!
I love Picasso’s expression: art washes the dust of daily life off our souls. That is true for both secular and sacred art and music, in all their forms. But I would say that sacred art and music, when paired with liturgy, are like soap and warm water: they wash our souls particularly well.
May 9, 2019 What Does a Bishop Do?
As we prepare with joyful anticipation for the first visit of the new Bishop of Arizona, the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Reddall, to All Saints’ this Sunday, it is useful to remember what bishops do. (At this point, the chess players among us may chime in: “that’s easy; they move diagonally.”) But seriously, we are, after all, The Episcopal Church (“Episcopal” means pertaining to bishops), so we know that bishops are central to our understanding of God’s mission through the Church, but how?
These days, if the average Episcopalian thinks of bishops, we tend to squeeze them into the mental image of what we see and hear bishops doing: confirming, ordaining, and speaking out. Most Episcopalians see their bishop once a year or every other year at their parish visitation, when she confirms youth and adults. We may see bishops ordaining priests and deacons (our own Patrice Al-Shatti will be ordained a deacon on June 1). And we may be aware that our bishop represents us by being a spokesperson on critical issues through pastoral letters, press releases, media interviews, and appearances (for example, at interfaith gatherings after a tragedy). These are certainly important roles for our bishops, but they do even more.
Bishops serve as pastors to the clergy of their diocese. Just as priests and deacons are pastors to the members of our congregations, bishops offer pastoral support to their priests and deacons in various ways, as needed. But we can dig even deeper. If we look at the rite for the Ordination of a Bishop in our Prayer Book (pp. 512ff), especially in the Examination (p. 517), we read that a bishop is also meant to “guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,” to “celebrate and provide for the sacraments,” and to “share in the leadership of the Church throughout the world.”
But the very first (and to my mind, most essential) part of the “job description” of bishop is this: “to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection and interpreting the Gospel, and to testify to Christ’s sovereignty as Lord of lords and King of kings.” A bishop has an apostolic ministry: being “sent out” (an apostle means one who is sent) into the world as an ambassador for Christ. And what is being proclaimed is an Easter message: Christ’s resurrection, the final validation that Christ is Lord and King of all, with authority even over death. A bishop is, above all, one who exemplifies and proclaims the Good News that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, as the very first apostle, Mary Magdalene, did. All of the other duties and responsibilities of the bishop are grounded in this resurrection life and message.
As Bishop Reddall comes to All Saints’, she will be encouraging us in our part of Jesus’ mission, as disciples. And we can likewise encourage her in her apostolic part. All Saints’ will always be the church in which, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Bishop Reddall was elected. And from that day forward, our prayers have been with her as she fulfills the awesome and ancient ministry to which she has been called.
May 2, 2019 Eastertide: the Season of Connection
As we journey together through the 50 days of Eastertide, one of the characteristics of the season is that our lectionary provides readings from the Acts of the Apostles as the first reading (instead of a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures). This is fitting, for the book of Acts is the story of how the first Christians, energized by Christ’s resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit, joined together and became the Church. No longer merely individuals, they “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
In a sense, there is no such thing as a solitary Christian. Most of the metaphors for the Christian life involve connection with God and one another: the Body of Christ, the Communion of the Saints, and so on. In baptism, we are not only raised with Christ to the new life of grace; we become adopted into the family of God, and grafted into Jesus Christ, the true vine. And so, connection in the Church is automatic in one sense (when we are baptized, we are connected to all our fellow Christians, living and dead, forever). But in another sense, it takes work. To put that mystical connection into practice to its fullest requires more than sacramental participation; it takes actually getting to know one another.
Especially in a large congregation like ours, connecting with each other can be difficult. Those who know right away what ministry they are called to (like a singer who knows they want to join the choir), or those who are extroverts tend to do well. But introverts, especially if they aren’t sure how to get involved, can struggle in an environment with so many options, and lots of folks who have known each other a long time. One of our informal goals for new members at All Saints’ is “two friends and a ministry.” We find that those who make two friends, and find some way to pray, learn, or serve with others, truly feel like All Saints’ is their spiritual home. We do our best to help this process of connection in formal and informal ways.
One of the best ways to connect is to dive right in with something, in addition to Sunday worship. Our Prison Ministry card making is an easy point of entry, or Sunday morning education, Evening Prayer, Centering Prayer or the Rosary.
And this Sunday, May 5th, at 10:10 am in the Library, we are hosting an informal coffee gathering for those who are new to us in the last year, or those who are interested in finding ways to connect. If that describes you, come and join us! And never hesitate to reach out to the clergy and staff if you need help about next steps.
April 25, 2019 Some Holy Week Reflections
One of the many things I love about All Saints’ church is our faithful attention to Holy Week. Not just Palm Sunday and Easter Day, but all the days of Holy Week, especially Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil (the Holy Triduum) are celebrated here with great care and devotion. Every year, people come to me to share that they attended Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or the Easter Vigil for the first time, and were deeply moved. Someone just this week described a particular liturgy as one of the highlights of their life. A priest lives for moments like those! To be done this well, Holy Week takes an enormous amount of planning, execution, and stamina. I often say that for our staff and volunteers, Christmas is a sprint (5 services in under 24 hours), but Holy Week is a marathon. We couldn’t do it without the hundreds of volunteers who, alongside our dedicated staff, make it all happen. I am so grateful that so many gave their valuable time to walk with Jesus by helping or participating.
Some particular highlights for me this year were:
There were so many other meaningful moments last week. And then, Easter Sunday, I returned home weary after a glorious morning of worship, and heard the awful news about the mass murder of Christians in Sri Lanka. At least 321 people were killed and over 500 injured in coordinated bombings at three hotels and three churches. Terrorist groups have claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were in retaliation for the mosque killings in New Zealand on March 15 (which were likewise horrible and barbaric). Holy Week is always an emotional roller coaster. To enter deeply into Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection is exhilarating but exhausting, even though we know how the story ends. And so, to hear this news of innocent worshippers and tourists killed on the holiest day of the Christian year, especially in the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, felt unspeakably awful and almost too much to bear. Why is it that ideologies (religious, political or otherwise) seem to bring out the best and the worst of humanity?
I have never been a big fan of the expression: God never gives you more than you can handle. Sometimes, we do have more than we can handle. But what God does do, is promise to be with us always in the midst of our suffering. God suffers with us in Jesus. And God brings resurrection life in unexpected ways. And so, in the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, I was heartened to hear not only about the outpouring of love and resources for Notre Dame, but also the surge of donations to help rebuild the churches burned by arson in Louisiana. I have yet to hear of blessings coming out of the attacks in Sri Lanka, but we cling to our Easter faith, which proclaims that those Christians who died have not come to their end, but will share with Christ in his resurrection.
As we now enter into the 50 day season of Eastertide, our joy is tempered by these awful events in the news. But joy remains, because Christ is risen from the dead, defeating sin and death forever. Nothing on earth, neither death nor disaster nor act of hatred, can now separate us from God’s abundant and transforming love.
April 11, 2019 Put Cynicism Aside
The last two weeks, I’ve been meticulously avoiding writing anything about my alma mater’s men’s basketball team. You see, last year I wrote a piece about my admiration for the University of Virginia team, whom I have rooted for since my childhood. And then they promptly lost their first round game in historic and humiliating circumstances. Now that they’ve won the national championship this year, I feel safe in writing something! This was a team I could root for without cynicism: they are upstanding young men (as far as I know) who truly play as a team, coached by a man of faith who values their development as human beings as much as the final score. They showed their character in taking last year’s loss, which Coach Bennett called their “painful gift,” and growing from it, maturing as a team and learning life lessons about what matters most. I’m beyond thrilled that they won, but even more so, proud of the way they handled adversity in the process.
It is difficult, in our day and age, to put cynicism aside. I’m not naive; I know that college basketball is, in some respects, a cesspool of cheating and manipulation, a sport of amateurs and student-athletes (on the surface) that is, at times, corrupted by a greedy underworld that seeks to exploit those who actually play. I’m sure not all is perfect even with my favorite team. But I was able to believe in them, and cheer them on, not because they were perfect, but because they were courageous.
Which brings me to Holy Week, which begins this Sunday with Palm Sunday. I was blessed in 2016 to go to the Holy Land and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. It is easy to be cynical as a pilgrim in Israel: holy sites of pilgrimage are surrounded by buses, packed with tourists, and overrun by gift shops and street vendors selling trinkets. And the political situation seems cruel and intractable. And yet, I was able to put cynicism aside and be awestruck by the realization that gospel events happened right there. Jesus was there.
As I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday, Holy Week is an invitation to give to Jesus our most precious resource: our time. I’ve never known anyone who worshipped often in Holy Week, who regretted their decision. The more time we give, this holiest of weeks, the more we enter into the heart of Jesus’ passion. Let us put cynicism and distractions aside, take up our cross, and follow him.
April 4, 2019 Integrity, Hypocrisy, and the Example of Jesus
Last Saturday, our Vestry and staff (including the clergy) gathered for our annual retreat. This retreat is usually an opportunity, towards the end of the program year, to think strategically and “big picture.” Organizations (and, for that matter, individuals and families) need periodic, scheduled time to step back from the “day to day” and consider larger questions of mission and vision, calling and opportunity. Our retreat leader was parishioner, former Vestry member, and organizational consultant Ken Mosesian, who brought to us concepts from his excellent new book “The Power of Promise: How to Win and Keep Customers By Telling the Truth About Your Brand.” I left the retreat feeling immensely grateful: for Ken’s valuable insights, and for the dedication of our Vestry and staff in giving most of a Saturday at a busy time of year for the sake of this church that we love.
Ken’s book and presentation on the promises we make with our brand got me thinking about integrity. The word “integrity” comes from a root word meaning “whole.” To have integrity is to be whole, undivided, with actions that are consistent with what we say and believe. Jesus was the perfect model of integrity: he exemplified what he taught, even to the Cross. And Jesus had particularly harsh criticism for those who said one thing, but did another, those “hypocrites.” The opposite of integrity is “hypocrisy,” and there is very little more damaging to an individual or organization than to proclaim one thing and practice the opposite.
Again and again, one of the most frequent and potent criticisms of Christianity by those who do not believe has been that many Christians are hypocrites, reading and even preaching what Jesus taught, but failing to do it. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I’m somewhat more optimistic: I think many, many Christians do live with integrity, doing their best to practice Christ-like lives, often in confusing and difficult circumstances. But failures of integrity, especially by leaders, get a lot more attention than the quiet, faithful lives that bring God’s light into dark places.
None of us is perfect. Individuals, churches, and other institutions all make mistakes, occasionally doing things that are not consistent with our best selves. But do we have integrity most of the time, and when we do slip up, do we have the humility to admit our fault without self-justification, and try to make the situation right? When I looked around the tables at our retreat, I saw a room full of Vestry and staff with integrity. And that makes it more likely that our church will be the same. But the most important asset a church has in its quest for integrity is our Savior, who throughout his life but especially towards the end, embodied integrity under the most agonizing pressure imaginable, yet did not waver. When we follow Jesus, God gives us grace not only to say that we will carry our own cross, but to do so.
March 28, 2019 Second Wind
This Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent, is called “Laetare Sunday,” from the words of the traditional introit of the day, “Laetare Jerusalem." “Laetare” means “rejoice,” and in some churches the penitential character of worship is lessened a bit this Sunday, for example with Rose instead of Purple vestments, and the adding in of organ or other joyful music that may have been removed for Lent. In some places it is called “Rose Sunday” or “Refreshment Sunday."
I like to think of it as “second wind Sunday.” Athletes speak of the second wind, the burst of energy that sometimes comes after an initial period of exhaustion in a race or game. At this point in our Lenten journey, we rejoice, and feel energized, knowing that Palm Sunday is just two weeks away, and Easter Day just three. Lent is not yet over, but the finish line is in sight. We begin to pivot our attention, like Jesus, towards Jerusalem and the holiest week of the year.
It is also a good time to look candidly at our Lenten practices. It’s probably too late to start over if we’ve given up, but if we have been keeping a challenging practice, we may feel encouraged knowing that its culmination is coming. And if we have fallen away from our plans recently, there is still time to modify them to something more possible for the weeks that remain, reassured by the promise of God’s love and mercy. Our gospel reading this weekend is one of the most profound and hopeful stories in the Bible, and a preacher’s favorite, the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). It reminds us that, whatever our shortcomings or mistakes, God will always run out to embrace us when we come to Him.
March 21, 2019 Centering Prayer: Judge It By Its Fruits
Don’t judge centering prayer on the basis of how many thoughts come or how much peace you enjoy. The only way to judge this prayer is by its long-range fruits: whether in daily life you enjoy greater peace, humility and charity. Having come to deep interior silence, you begin to relate to others beyond the superficial aspects of social status, race, nationality, religion, and personal characteristics. (Father Thomas Keating)
When I was serving at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver as a young priest, I used to go on retreat to Saint Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. It was there I discovered the Trappist monk Thomas Keating, and the form of prayer that was his life’s passion: Centering Prayer. Keating died this past October, but the Centering Prayer movement that he helped start (drawn significantly from the Catholic contemplative tradition going back to St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and others) has grown strong and broadly ecumenical, with followers in almost every denomination.
Centering Prayer is not without its critics. Like the labyrinth, the enneagram, yoga, and other spiritual practices that find intersection with non-Christian faith traditions, Centering Prayer is seen by some as a pagan activity dressed up in Christian trappings. Of course, if we eliminated everything that has pre-Christian origins from our Christian faith practices, we would have to dispose of some fairly popular things, like Christmas. Many of our Christian traditions were once Jewish or even pagan, before Christians adopted and reinterpreted them. After all, our two most important sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist, both predated Christianity. But they took on quite different meanings when interpreted by Jesus. Jesus transformed everything, and he continues to transform everything. Nothing and no one can encounter Christ and emerge the same.
For me, I find two principles to be useful in evaluating whether Centering Prayer, or any form of prayer, is right for me or for someone else.
First, not all prayer is equal in our tradition. Our Book of Common Prayer prioritizes weekly Eucharist and the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer as the bedrocks of our Anglican spirituality. Beyond that, we have flexibility to add other forms of prayer as may be helpful to us. Think of the old food pyramid: the Eucharist and Daily Office are our essential spiritual nutrients in our Episcopal tradition, our fruits and vegetables at the bottom of the pyramid. We can benefit from adding other nutrients, like Centering Prayer, the Rosary, icon prayer, Cursillo, journaling, lectio divina, walking prayer and so on. But they are not the most important. And so we need to keep our forms of prayer in balance. If I practice Centering Prayer or icon prayer every week, but don’t attend the Eucharist, our tradition would say I am missing out on essential nutrients. I would certainly survive spiritually, in the same way that the man who ate nothing but potatoes for a year survived, but it would not be a well-balanced prayer diet!
Second, as Keating says in the opening quote, pay attention to the fruits of prayer in your life. I appreciate Centering Prayer (even though I am not very good at it - my mind wanders a lot) and when I practice it, I notice a difference: the silence gives me a greater sense of peace within and compassion for others. But, as the saying goes, your mileage may vary. Try it over several weeks and see if it affects you, and your relationship with God and neighbor. Experimentation with evaluation, reflection, and re-experimentation: a useful process in almost anything, including prayer.
Curious about how to do Centering Prayer? Our Centering Prayer group meets every Saturday at 8:30am in the chapel. And this Sunday at 7:30pm, before Compline, we are offering a brief instruction on Centering Prayer, with a practice session (the total time of our Centering Prayer and Compline will be about an hour). You can also read a description of how to do Centering Prayer here: https://www.contemplative.org/contemplative-practice/centering-prayer/
March 14, 2019 Reflections on the Consecration of our New Bishop
March 9th was the ordination and consecration of the new Bishop of Arizona, the Right Reverend Jennifer Reddall, at Church for the Nations across the street (because no Episcopal church in the diocese had the capacity for the roughly 2,000 people attending). It was a grand and moving event, with participants and elements that represented the rich diversity of our diocese, from traditional Episcopal hymns to Sudanese singing and dancing to Native American rituals. At the ceremony, I found myself filled to overflowing with gratitude, for a number of reasons:
Now, we look forward to welcoming Bishop Reddall to All Saints’ for her first official visitation on Sunday, May 12th at the 9 and 11am services. Mark your calendars!
March 7, 2019 Saint John’s Bible Sunday
Ever since All Saints’ was able to acquire, thanks to generous donors, a 7 volume set of the illuminated Saint John’s Bible, we have tried to make these beautiful, museum quality volumes as accessible as we reasonably can. In order to ignite the spiritual imagination, they need to be seen. And so, we use the Gospels/Acts volume on Sundays, and we keep a different volume on display in our church library, turning the pages regularly. We use digital images from the books on our bulletins on special occasions. And we have also started a tradition of bringing out all 7 volumes one Sunday a year, the second Sunday of March, which we call Saint John’s Bible Sunday. We chose a second Sunday of the month to include Evensong.
This Saint John’s Bible Sunday, we offer guest speakers on the topic in the morning at 10:10am (Susan Rose and Marge Woods from the Franciscan Renewal Center). And after the 9am, 11am and 4pm Evensong services, all are invited to come up in front of the altar, and see the books, with their stunning calligraphy and illuminations, up close. It is always a particular highlight when children see these books for the first time. Bring a friend to this rare, once a year event.
As it turns out, this year’s Saint John’s Bible Sunday also happens to be the first Sunday in Lent. The two are a better match thematically than we might think. In the Invitation to a Holy Lent on Ash Wednesday, our Prayer Book says: I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. Lingering with our minds on the sacred words and images of the Saint John’s Bible is a compelling way to read and meditate on God’s holy Word as we begin our Lenten pilgrimage together.
February 28, 2019 This Lent, Do Small Things
We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love. (Mother Teresa)
After a long season after Epiphany, Lent is at last upon us, beginning with Ash Wednesday on March 6. At All Saints’, we’ve been doing what we can to help our members prepare for this holy season. In our adult Christian education, we had three classes on the ancient spiritual practice of fasting. This Sunday, I am offering a class on “Keeping a Prayer Book Lent,” in other words, sharing what our Book of Common Prayer has to say about keeping Lent in our tradition. As usual, we have a wide range of Lenten programs in the weeks to come, including our traditional evenings with potluck supper (this year’s speaker is our own Reverend Emilie Finn teaching on Paul).
If I have one piece of advice for us as we think about what we are going to give up or take on this Lent, it is this: do something small, and keep at it. Like New Year’s resolutions, the most common mistake in Lenten practices is to try to do too much. Pick something small, and do it every day (if you like, you can take off Sundays) or every week. And following the advice of Mother Teresa, try to do that small thing not with selfish pride, vanity, or grumbling, but with love for God and/or your neighbor.
Looking for some ideas for small things to do in Lent? Here are a few:
• commit to attend worship every weekend, and add one weekday service or prayer practice per week (ie a Wednesday Eucharist, Evening Prayer, Centering Prayer, or Rosary Prayer)
• commit to one act of kindness per day
• come to our four Lenten evenings
• join The Path of Discipleship (our Adult Confirmation class, which is open to all, even those already confirmed)
• take on some kind of fast, with a partner (i.e. avoiding meat on Fridays or another day, limiting social media or other screen time, or fast from gossiping or negative comments)
• write a note each week to someone who has been important to you
• fill a bag each week with clutter and give it to ICM
• pray some or all of the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer using the Forward Movement website or app
• read the Gospel of Mark (it’s the shortest!)
• add 10 minutes of silence to your day. Close your eyes and just breathe, or concentrate on a sacred word, like “Jesus” or “peace."
• take a daily walk with a friend
• make a private confession with one of our priests
You get the idea. Do something small, with love, and stick to it. May this Lent make ready our hearts for the amazing and unexpected joys of Easter.
February 21, 2019 The Greatest Generation (and the Church)
Recently I was driving back from a pastoral visit to one of our longtime members who is nearing death, and I was thinking about how many faithful seniors we have said farewell to over the past year or so. Every lost life is precious and evokes grief, as well as, for Christians, the “sure and certain hope” of resurrection. But we have undoubtedly lost to death this year a remarkably large number of dedicated members of this congregation, who have been pillars of this faith community for a long time.
I have said and heard others say that it feels as if All Saints’ is going through a generational change. Some of that feeling comes from the reality that ours is still a relatively young church, historically speaking. All Saints’ first service was March 4, 1951, almost 68 years ago exactly, and so many of those members in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s have been at our church since its early days. We are burying not just our beloved friends, but our founders.
Tom Brokaw coined a term, “The Greatest Generation,” for those Americans who grew up in the Depression, defeated tyranny in World War Two, then returned home to build a prosperous, safe, and strong country. They weren’t perfect: Brokaw notes that the Greatest Generation, like all generations, had its blind spots, especially to racism and sexism. But they were, for all their flaws, truly great: frugal, hardworking, humble, and idealistic, laying a foundation of which our nation, our institutions, and our families are justifiably proud. Many of that Greatest Generation, our first Rector Father Urbano among them, built All Saints’, both church and school, from the ground up, and we owe them our sincere, grateful thanks.
Every generation has its gifts, weaknesses, variety and diversity, and we ought to use caution in overgeneralizing any group of people. If we believe what we read, the Millennial Generation, those born from 1981-1996, has killed nearly everything, including home ownership, marriage, breakfast cereal, cash, and mayonnaise! My own generation, Generation X (born between the mid-1960’s and 1980), often feels forgotten entirely amidst the massive (in numbers and influence) Baby Boomers and Millennials on either side. Conversations about generations often devolve into unhelpful finger pointing and self-justification.
Maybe the calling of those of us who are here, who are being entrusted with these wonderful institutions like the Church, whether we are Boomers, Gen X-ers, Millennials, or the latest generations, is not to try to replicate the remarkable success of the Greatest Generation, the full churches and offering plates, unsullied idealism and institutions at the giddy heights of their worldly powers. That time, for better or worse, has passed. It was lightning in a bottle.
Maybe our calling is to look back even further, to the early Christians in the time of Jesus and the Book of Acts. Their world was a lot like ours: indifferent or even hostile to their faith, diverse, confusing, with some people prospering and many others barely scraping by, with selfish individualism and tribal hatred on the rise and communities fragmenting. A small group of people had a vision, a radical one taught to them by Jesus, of what he called the Kingdom of God: life on earth as it is in heaven. Love of God and love of neighbor over love of self, holiness and compassion, support for the vulnerable and reconciling with our enemies. It worked then, began a movement, and it has worked at various times in the past, when Christianity kept our eyes on Jesus and didn’t get distracted by power and prestige. And it can work again.
February 14, 2019 Because We’ve Always Done It That Way
Is there a less satisfying answer to the question “why do we do that?” than “because we’ve always done it that way”? I doubt it. Whether in our families, or workplaces, or churches, this is the answer that is meant to shut down further conversation. On the other hand, as Simon Sinek and others have reminded us, there is something powerful in embracing the “why” of a situation (see Sinek’s excellent TED talk called “Start with Why”). If we understand not only what something is, and how to do it, but also why, we are likely to be much more engaged. This is true of children with their chores, employees working on a project, and Christians living out our faith. Recall that Jesus said to his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer, for the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my father” (John 15:15).
Certainly grasping the “why" is important when it comes to participating in our rather complex liturgy. And we are, all of us, participants (if we think of it as a performance, each of us has a role - none of us is in the audience). I’ve heard some suggest that the old Roman Mass in Latin was mystically inspiring and otherworldly, to some degree, because very few people understood it. Maybe. But for the most part, I think we are more spiritually engaged when we understand at least something of what is happening in our worship, even as we believe that there is a massive part of it that is unseen and largely unseeable this side of heaven (the communion of saints, angels and archangels who worship God with us, for example). What we see in worship, and in this earthly life generally, are but the tip of the iceberg, but we can explore our own little patch of it, and in that exploration, learn something of the whole.
There is some danger in overthinking things when we worship God, drowning out our peaceful contemplation with the whirling din of an overactive mind, but there is also danger in going on uninformed “autopilot” because “we’ve always done it that way.” For this reason, every few years, when the season after Epiphany is longer than usual, we have been in the habit of offering “instructed Eucharists.” Over two consecutive weekends, beginning this weekend, the clergy will at all services reflect on what we are doing when we celebrate the Eucharist, and especially why. We focus in week one on the first half of the service, the Liturgy of the Word, and the next week on the second half, the Liturgy of the Table. Hopefully, these reflections will deepen our experience of this ancient practice that Jesus himself asked us to do to remember him. We plan to gather these reflections together and put them on our website, as a tool for members and guests who wish to understand more fully why we do what we do.
This is also a good time to mention that I am taking reservations for this year’s Path of Discipleship group, to begin in March. Teaching this class, alongside parishioner Mike King, is one of the things I most look forward to each year. The 8 sessions serve as the preparation for those adults who wish to be baptized, confirmed, or received (for those confirmed in another tradition such as the Roman Catholic church). But it is also for those already confirmed Episcopalians who seek a deeper knowledge of the “why” of our Episcopal tradition, in the context of a supportive and curious small group. Using the Prayer Book, and the excellent new book “Walk in Love,” we will grow not only our faith, but our friendships with one another. I’ve got 9 registered so far, with room for no more than 15. Our group experience will culminate in the first visit to All Saints' of our new bishop, Jennifer Reddall, on May 12.
• We are blessed to have Andy Andersen and his team always hard at work maintaining our buildings and grounds. We are deciding among several bids to replace our roof, once the money has been raised. And have you noticed Paul Montanari’s efforts on the tile around the altar? He is removing decades’ worth of dirt and wax, and the floor is shining like it hasn’t in a long time.
• We had a good group of almost 20 for our Living Room Conversation on prison and recidivism last week. Over the coming months, we will turn our collective attention to Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, but look for Living Room Conversations to return this summer.
February 7, 2019 Our Haiti Partnership: 10 Years in the Making
There was sad news this week related to our partnership with Saint Paul’s church and school in Gascogne, Haiti. This year’s trip by students, parents, and faculty from our church and day school to Haiti had to be cancelled. The statement from our school can be found by clicking here.
This was a painful, but wise decision.
The last few months in Haiti have been volatile. Anti-corruption protests have been frequent, and sometimes violent. And there is a severe fuel shortage, making it difficult to guarantee transportation around the country. Out of an abundance of caution, after extensive communication with our sources “on the ground,” it made sense not to bring our young people into such an unpredictable situation. We look forward to sending a group next year, and in the meanwhile, we will continue funding and raising money for teacher salaries, student supplies, a generator, clean water and school lunch efforts that have been strategic priorities most recently in our decade-long relationship.
Haiti faces many daunting challenges. It is the poorest country in Latin America, with at least 60% of the population living under the poverty line of $2.41 per day. It is prone to natural disasters. It experiences earthquakes, the most major of which was in 2010, killing an estimated 250,000 people and displacing 5 million from their homes. A magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck in October. Hurricanes are common, including powerful Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Deadly diseases like cholera have hit (sometimes, tragically, brought by UN peacekeepers and others there to help).
The government and private sector in Haiti have a history of ineffectiveness and corruption. Tens of billions of dollars of aid sent to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake went missing or was misused. The current protests are the result of accusations of the theft of funds related to a Venezuelan oil program (Haiti imports all of its oil). Some 2 billion dollars may have been stolen by corrupt business and government leaders. With high unemployment, inadequate infrastructure and supplies, and few opportunities for self-improvement, many Haitians are desperate to escape their homeland; about a week ago, 28 Haitian migrants drowned off the coast of the Bahamas, seeking refuge.
Usually, the Episcopal Church in Haiti has been a source of comfort and hope. Churches are community hubs, helping those in need, and Episcopal schools provide some of the best education in the country, including in rural areas that would otherwise have no educational opportunities (like our partner community, Gascogne, in the rural central plateau). But this has been a turbulent time for the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, as well. There were allegations of foul play and intimidation surrounding the election on June 2nd of the new bishop of Haiti, the Very Reverend Joseph Delicat. So serious were these allegations, that the majority of bishops and Standing Committees in the wider Episcopal Church failed to ratify his election, leaving the leadership of the Diocese of Haiti in limbo.
With all of these challenges, it is easy to become discouraged. But there are several hopeful things to keep in mind. Our own partnership with Saint Paul’s has been enormously effective over these past 10 years, led with passion at All Saints’ by faculty member and parishioner Dr. Beth Carson and in Haiti by Pere Jeannot and now Pere Alphonse. Because we are working with a specific community and area, we have been able to consult regularly with our Haitian partners there, prioritizing the projects they most need. On our annual trips, we have been tracking the progress of and spending on these projects, in addition to receiving regular email updates.
Together, with buy-in, project management, and labor from our Haitian friends, we have built latrines, and a large school building, funded teachers and students, and most recently worked on clean water, power, and school lunch programs, among other things. This is real progress, with positive economic “ripples” throughout the area. And the experience of traveling to Haiti has been a wonderful blessing to us. Our friend and friend to Haiti, the Rev. Roger Bowen, calls trips to Haiti “soul scrubbing.” I have found that to be abundantly true the two times I have been, and many of our students have had their lives transformed by the friendships they have made and experiences they have had in Haiti. For all of the difficulties there, the Haitian people themselves are faithful, resourceful, eager to connect, and unfailingly generous with what little they have.
It is also easy to project blame onto Haiti. To be sure, a prosperous future for Haiti depends, in large part, on the Haitian people: on their business and church leaders, and on their government finding the will to forge a stronger, more sustainable, and more just society. But it is difficult to stand on your own when a rock is on your back. There is a long history of foreign powers (at times including the United States) intervening with their own, not Haiti's best interests in mind, making it harder for the Haitians to attain self-sufficiency.
We can’t do much about the past, other than learn about it and from it, at times with humility and repentance, but we can surely be faithful friends in the present, helping the people we know best, the church and school of Saint Paul’s, Gascogne, in their efforts to make a better life for themselves and their children, and their children’s children. We will stand with them. We will continue to pray for them, every weekend and during the week at all our school chapels and at Evening Prayer. And as our friendships deepen even further, we will encounter the presence of Christ in the faces we see and the voices we hear. And they will, too.
January 31, 2019 Candlemas, Groundhogs, Gluttony, and Fasting
This weekend, we get to celebrate the feast day called Candlemas, which falls every year on February 2nd. Candlemas is called in our Prayer Book the feast of the Presentation of our Lord, or in some Christian churches the feast of the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin. Whatever the title used, it represents the story in Luke 2:22-40 in which, forty days after his birth at Christmas, the baby Jesus was brought to the temple in Jerusalem to be dedicated to God, according to the Jewish custom. There, the holy family encountered Anna, and Simeon, who had been promised by God that he would not see death until he saw the Messiah. The poignant Song of Simeon (BCP p. 120) is one of our best-loved canticles, said or sung at Evening Prayer, Evensong, and Compline.
There are many traditions associated with Candlemas, including in some places the blessing of candles to be used in church (hence the name Candlemas or “Candle Mass”). In Germany, there was a weather-related custom, summed up in this proverb: “the badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemas Day, and, if he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining, he draws back into his hole.” When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, there weren’t many badgers, but there were plenty of groundhogs. And so was born, in the 1840’s, Groundhog Day (like Candlemas, on February 2nd), when the groundhog sees his shadow or doesn't, predicting a long or short remainder of winter. It is ironic, though not surprising, that Groundhog Day has become so well known, while Candlemas, the far more ancient holiday from whence it came, is largely forgotten. I’m glad we get to remember it this weekend.
Candlemas is also a time in the season after Epiphany when the Church begins to think about Lent. Some years, Lent comes right on the heels of Candlemas, but this year is rather late (March 6th). As one way of preparing for Lent, I am offering three classes on the ancient practice of fasting. Fasting is a traditional Lenten discipline, but is rather poorly understood. I will explore over three Sundays the history of fasting in Christianity and several other religions, its spiritual and physical benefits, and the difference between fasting and dieting. I’m taking as my title a wonderful phrase that Saint Augustine uses in a sermon about fasting: “to enter again into yourself.” As we participate in one of the most gluttonous days of the American year (Super Bowl Sunday), perhaps we could use some conversation about how fasting, again in the words of Augustine, “cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the Spirit [and] renders the heart contrite and humble”!
• If you have not had the chance yet, do read the Annual Report online. My annual State of the Parish address from last Sunday is also on the website. Short version: the State of the Parish is very good!
• The February 10 Evensong is going to be a special one. It honors the Legacy Circle but is open to everyone, and will feature world-renowned organist and ASU professor Kimberly Marshall, and guest conductor John Abdenour, who directs one of the finest choral programs in New England at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fairfield, CT.
• Speaking of music, I am so grateful to Lori Simmons and Trevor Carolan for stepping up on an interim basis to help fill the void with the recent departure of Ilona Kubiaczyk-Adler for another position. Lori and Trevor are wonderful people and excellent musicians, and will do a great job under Joseph Ripka’s leadership until we are able to hire a permanent music associate sometime later this year.
January 24, 2019 Patience is the Secret
I suspect most of us have seen the large, outdoor sculpture in Civic Space Park, across from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism on the downtown ASU campus. Installed in March of 2009, and designed by artist Janet Echelman, its title is “Her Secret is Patience,” which comes from a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” This work of art was rather controversial in the beginning, not least because of its expense, but I find it beautiful and inspiring. Part of my fondness for it, admittedly, is sentimental; my family and I arrived in Phoenix just a few months after the sculpture made its debut, and so, like it, we are approaching our 10th anniversary here. How the time flies!
Patience is a virtue, the saying goes; it is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-3). And as the Emerson quote reminds us, patience is not passive but powerful. We modern humans get obsessed with big and rapid changes, but incremental change, implemented with patience, is one of the most effective forces there is (think of the incremental change that carved out the Grand Canyon). As your Rector, I take pride in our collective accomplishments over the past year for the sake of the Gospel described in this year’s Annual Report, but also in both the large and more gradual areas of progress over the past almost 10 years. This is the work of many dedicated staff and volunteers, but even more so, the work of the Holy Spirit through us.
Ten years ago, much was healthy and strong about All Saints’ church. But there were challenges, among them: a pattern of large operating deficits, no real endowment, a sometimes strained relationship of church and school, a weak online presence, and what some perceived to be an unwelcoming atmosphere. We have our challenges now, too, but have made a lot of progress on these and many other areas. But the most important change is something we cannot measure, or even know for certain, but that we pray and hope for: to be formed, more and more, into the likeness of Jesus Christ by God’s grace, gradually growing in love for God and our neighbors. That must always be our ultimate goal, individually and collectively. It takes intention, resources, and yes, patience.
January 17, 2019 Dr. King on Forgiveness: A Healing Message in Troubled Times
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)
One of the many reasons why I am grateful, every year, for the celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is that he has left us a banquet of challenging, inspiring, and comforting writings from which to choose. So much of what he wrote continues to nourish us. This week, I’ve been thinking about his profound quote above on forgiveness.
Of all of the remarkable qualities of Jesus, one of the most so was his extraordinary capacity for forgiveness. Jesus taught often on the power of forgiveness. Recall that he said we ought to forgive our enemies 70 times 7 times, and turn the other cheek to those who attack us. He forgave from the Cross those who unjustly killed him. Many of the saints, particularly the holy martyrs such as Dr. King, like Jesus likewise forgave those who hated and killed them.
Forgiveness is very, very difficult. We humans struggle to forgive others, and even ourselves. He hold onto bitter grudges for so long that they poison us from the inside. Part of why I was thinking of Dr. King’s writing on forgiveness was that I also read this past week David Brooks’ insightful column in the New York Times entitled “The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture.” Brooks asserts that, especially because of our online world, the speed and pervasiveness of information flow, and because of what he names the “Call-Out Culture,” when someone makes certain kinds of mistakes, their reputation can be destroyed immediately and irreparably with little opportunity for reconciliation, forgiveness, or growth. Brooks says, “even the quest for justice can turn into barbarism if it is not infused with a quality of mercy, an awareness of human frailty and a path to redemption.”
Each of us will, over the course of our imperfect lives, misspeak, saying wrong or even mean or cruel things many times. We will have blind spots and areas of ignorance, based on our upbringing, experiences, and prejudices. We will do wrong. The Christian gospel teaches us that God forgives us if we truly repent, and that we ought to forgive one another. That leaves room to grow beyond some of our limitations, some of the evil within us, and become more like Jesus. Our prison ministry is a striking example of putting Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness into practice. Following Jesus command, Christians have always visited those in prison, not least because we believe in divine grace that has power to transcend our mistakes, and transform the most selfish and wounded heart from sinful ways to concern and even love for others.
Ours is a God of second chances, and we are called to offer the same. As Dr. King says, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive, in ourselves, in our communities, in our culture, and in our nation. For if we cannot forgive, we cannot truly love.
January 10, 2019 Thanking Ilona and Next Steps with Our Music Ministries
Like so many of us, I was surprised and saddened to hear that Ilona Kubiaczyk-Adler will be leaving us after a year as our Associate Director of Music. She is a musician of remarkable talent and training, and also a wonderfully warm and delightful person. Ilona has blessed us with her organ playing, choral and bell choir conducting, singing, and training of our young choristers (as a chorister parent, I’ve seen her gift with children up close). And at the same time, I understand her need to have a part-time position that gives her more flexibility with her family schedule and her concertizing. Ilona will remain a good friend of All Saints’, and we will doubtless hear her play our organ as a guest in the future.
Our Director of Music, Joseph Ripka, in consultation with me, is putting together some interim solutions to get us past Easter, while covering as many of Ilona’s responsibilities as possible. This will give us time thoughtfully to consider what we need in terms of staffing to support our music ministry, including our growing chorister and music school efforts, and then to fill that position well. I must say, I have enjoyed not having to fill any staff positions for more than a year, but it is the reality of workplaces that some turnover is inevitable, and that when it happens, we have the opportunity both to celebrate our successes and to consider strategically what staffing will help us best to fulfill God’s mission for All Saints’ as we interpret it.
This program year has seen dynamic evolution with our music ministry, following the arrival of Joseph Ripka in the late fall of 2017. The offerings of our adult choirs have expanded, with additions like Handel’s Messiah this past Advent to a full house, and monthly chanted Compline, to go along with our substantial Sunday morning music and monthly choral Evensong. Our RSCM chorister program with community children has become established, with these young musicians diligently rehearsing three times a week and singing every other Sunday at the 9am service. Their Christmas Lessons and Carols with the adult Schola was magnificent. Meanwhile, our Day School choristers had some 40 students singing beautifully at Christmas Eve this year. Clearly our music programs for children and youth are meeting a need in the Phoenix area, and will continue to be an important mission focus for All Saints’, both church and school, going forward. There is no other program for adults, children, and youth like this in the Phoenix area.
Ilona’s last Sunday with us is January 20th. Please join us as we thank her then for her many contributions over the past year, and wish her well in her new position.
January 3, 2019 Did the Babylonians Keep Their New Year’s Resolutions?
History tells us that making New Year’s resolutions goes back at least to the Babylonians, about 4,000 years ago. There is something deeply human about self-improvement, wanting to leave behind those things that hold us back or make us unhappy or unhealthy, and make a fresh start.
The problem is, humans aren’t very good at change. Scientists tell us that the rate of success for New Year’s resolutions hovers around 10%. Breaking a habit, especially one that gives us pleasure, and replacing it with something better for us but more difficult is, let’s face it, really hard. Vegetables instead of chocolate? Getting up an hour earlier to exercise? Reading the Bible instead of Facebook?
Sure, the experts have devised useful techniques for being more effective at keeping our resolutions, things like: set gradual goals and measure them, don’t try to do more than one or two things, enlist a friend to help and tell people about your goals, don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail but try again, and so on. All good advice. But we’re working against millions of years of evolution with most of our resolutions, and our genes usually win.
I’m not particularly good at keeping resolutions, when I make them (and I usually don’t, saving my energy for Lenten practices), but when I have had success, the most helpful advice I’ve heard is: never rely on willpower. Our willpower is limited. Better to set up our environment so we are less likely to need willpower. No cookies in the house? Then we’re less likely to eat them. The time in my life when I was most physically fit, I was in graduate school, and a group of four of us got up every weekday morning to exercise. We gave each other permission to call, bang on the door — whatever it took to get each other out of bed each morning and to the gym. It wasn’t willpower that got us exercising; it was peer pressure!
Sometimes I wonder if New Year’s resolutions are Christian. If they are connected to vanity, probably not. If they are genuinely about being better stewards of our God-given bodies and minds, perhaps so. But rooted in Christian theology is the idea that we lack the ability to help ourselves; that’s why we need a savior. It is only by God’s grace, given to us in Jesus Christ, that we are able to do those good things that God asks of us. And so, if your resolution is something that you think God wants you to do (pray, read the Bible, be kind to others, be more attentive to family, undo dangerous or gluttonous habits etc.) then ask continually, through prayer, for God’s help. And if your resolution is something that you don’t think God cares about, or worse yet, is something God opposes in your life, why do it?