In which she offers a little feedback.

Our current Acts8 Blogforce Challenge asks, “According the Pew Research, adult GenXers and Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers by nearly 2 to 1, but when we look at General Convention the statistics don’t match up.  In what ways can the Church create opportunities to lift up younger leaders, lay and ordained, to serve as Deputies to General Convention?“

My parish is actually doing pretty well at raising up younger leadership. Half our current vestry and wardens are under 45. And there are other GenXers and even a few Millennials in formal and informal leadership roles in the life of our parish.

But many of these folks have young families. And being a General Convention deputy when you have kids – or even being actively involved in diocesan leadership, which involves a lot of evenings and weekends – is a significant sacrifice.

Last summer I was a first-time deputy. My kids at the time were ten and five. My daughter’s face was briefly up on the JumboTron in the House of Deputies because she lost her first tooth while I was away, and my husband sent a photo to me, and I sent the photo, as a thanksgiving, to the House of Deputies chaplain to be included in the day’s prayers.

I didn’t get *very* weepy over missing that milestone. It’s easy enough to miss milestones even when you’re not 1300 miles away. But attending Convention was a significant chunk out of my summer, when my kids are free and I’m able to slow down and we can all connect and do some fun stuff together. And I missed them. I felt that loss. It made our summer significantly shorter, and September doesn’t wait for anybody.

When I was first elected deputy, I had initially thought of bringing the family with me, and trying to make it a shared experience, or at least tacking a shared vacation on to the end of Convention. It would be fun to explore the West together. But when I got serious about looking into that, the costs were really prohibitive. And my spouse and kids would have to drive 20 hours (that’s just the drive time) to meet me in Salt Lake City. It became clear pretty quickly that there was no way that was going to work. I went to Salt Lake City alone.

I know that I was incredibly privileged in that missing my family was the only real issue I had with attending Convention. That’s kind of my point. I had everything going for me as a General Convention deputy. I am a clergyperson. I didn’t have to explain anything to my boss or take vacation time to go; being there was part of my job. My diocese paid my way, including a relatively generous per diem. And I am in the unusual and privileged position of having a stay-at-home co-parent, so I didn’t even need to line up or pay for extra childcare while I was away for nearly two weeks. And of course, even as a first-time deputy, I knew people at Convention – seminary and CREDO colleagues, friends from parishes and dioceses where I’ve served before. That made it fun and inviting to go, in a way it probably wouldn’t be for most first-time lay deputies.

And – with all those factors that made it easy and interesting and fun for me to attend – it still felt like a sacrifice. Enough so that I’m struggling a little with whether to stand for election as a deputy again. I probably will, because I hope our church can do some good work in 2018, and because it really is true that the first time you attend, you’re just trying to keep up and make sense of it all. I know I’ll be a better, wiser, and more effective participant if I attend again.

But. And. It’ll be another summer that starts with a huge bite out of it, nearly two weeks away from my kids right when they’ve been liberated from school and we could all really have some fun together. I will miss them. I will feel that loss. Again.

Or I could bring them with me. But let’s talk dollars on that.

Some friends of mine, parents of a preschool-aged child, decided to try the “let’s all come along and make a vacation of it” approach. We had talked last summer about the costs of the childcare program provided at Convention, so when I knew this BlogForce Challenge was coming up, I asked my friend C for thoughts. She pulled out the invoice from last summer to verify that childcare was $70 a day. C writes, “Child care for someone without a co-parent, for the full length of Convention, would be something like $700 to $840 (since Convention ranges from 10 to 14 days). And child-care is only available from 7:15am to 6:30pm.  So if you have a delegation or committee meeting at 7pm, you’re out of luck.”

C hastens to say that the program was great, and worth the money, in the abstract. “The program is like Vacation Bible School on steroids. It’s well run, the kids are happy and well fed, and my child came back talking about how much she loved Jesus. My complaint was never that I didn’t feel like I wasn’t getting my 70 dollars worth. The staff were amazing and deserve to be well compensated, and I understand that goldfish and glue sticks add up.”  And I join C in being glad and grateful that childcare was offered at all; apparently that in itself is a relatively recent development – which I find a little mind-blowing.

But, while $70 a day isn’t a bad price for good-quality all-day childcare, we’re not talking about selecting childcare on an open market. We’re talking about radical hospitality for people in the years of their lives when many are parenting preschool- and school-aged children. C writes, “Do you seriously mean to tell me there’s no money at 815 to subsidize the cost to the point where it’s actually affordable for an average family? Childcare for the full convention at $70 a day, for just one child, would have cost half of our monthly mortgage payment, and that’s just nuts.”

She concludes, “If The Episcopal Church wonders why more young folks aren’t participating in Church governance at the national level, they need to consider the barriers to entry: the ability to take 10 plus days off (Salt Lake City *was* our vacation that year and for my spouse, who was a deputy, it wasn’t even a vacation), the ability to leave a child at home with a competent adult who can handle that long span of time, or the ability to afford travel for the family and to cover child care for the whole convention, which at 2015’s prices could easily be cost-prohibitive. It seems to me that one of these three barriers could be easily and realistically addressed by the Church, if it were really a priority. What are they waiting for?”

Blog Force Participant

In which she muses on the tensions of Palm and Passion Sunday.

In the Episcopal pattern of liturgy, on the Sunday before Easter, we celebrate and symbolically re-enact Jesus’ triumphal arrival in Jerusalem, then turn to the Gospel of the Passion, reading together one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last evening with his friends, his arrest, trial, and execution. It is, unquestionably, a lot of content and a lot of emotion to pack into an hour and twenty minutes or so. And every year I hear or see a few friends – church folk of various stripes – protesting that it’s too much. That it’s emotionally jarring, too hard to absorb; that the abruptness of the turn towards the Cross gives them liturgical whiplash. They complain that Palm and Passion Sunday is an unholy hybrid created to accommodate the fact that church members were no longer faithfully attending Holy Week services & couldn’t be counted on to hear these parts of the story on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday; they long for the ancient practice of the Church in which Palm Sunday was just Palm Sunday, and the Passion Gospel was spread over the several days approaching Easter.

I hear that. I used to feel the same way. In fact, a lot of what I just said is based on how I used to feel; I’m boldly presuming my friends and acquaintances share my basic objections. I used to feel that way pretty emphatically. I don’t anymore. (Which is not to imply that I think or expect that others’ opinions will move along the same track that mine have – or that I won’t think differently about this yet again in another three years…)

Here’s what I think about Palm and Passion Sunday, this year.

It should be jarring.

It IS jarring in the Scriptures themselves. The Triumphal Entry takes about ten verses to tell. Those ten verses are set in a narrative arc of increasing confrontation and debate between Jesus and the authorities, a spiraling plot to eliminate Jesus, and the tensions of the approach of Passover – huge numbers of people gathered in Jerusalem, excited Jews, edgy Romans. Even allowing for the general terseness of Biblical text, I think there’s intentional irony in the way the Gospel writers present this one joyous celebratory moment in the thick of all the other  dark stuff that was gathering around Jesus at that point in the story. If you long for the Palm Procession to be longer, even to have whole Sunday to itself – if it’s meaningful for you to dwell in that place of welcoming and praising Jesus, waving palms and singing Hosanna! – that’s great! I’m for it. Just know that that’s something you’re asking for from the text and the occasion, not something that the Scripture, and our liturgical enactment of the Scripture, owes you.

At St. Dunstan’s we turn from the Palm Procession to the Passion Gospel by singing the first three verses of “A Stable Lamp is Lighted.” 

Is it jarring for a wrong reason?

I wonder if it would be less jarring in an important way if the matter of the voices was handled differently? Many churches (well beyond the Episcopal Church, I believe) divide up the voices of the Passion Gospel (which is a solid two chapters long), having different people voice the Narrator, Jesus, Peter, etc. It is a widespread practice to give the congregation the voice of the Crowd, so that the congregation’s participation in the story is shouting things like “Crucify him!” “We want Barabbas!” “We have no king but Caesar!” “Crucify him, crucify him!”

This has bothered me for years – kind of a lot, actually. Simply put, that’s not where I believe we stand, in the story. I don’t believe we’re that crowd. I’m not at all convinced that the crowd that met Jesus shouting Hosanna! was the same crowd that gathered at Pilate’s palace to shout for his blood. Yes, people can be that fickle – no denying that. But there’s kind of an assumption here that Jerusalem only had one crowd in it that week, and that’s simply ridiculous. My guess is that the folks who came out to meet Jesus were the curious, the hopeful, the sympathetic – not committed enough to join and follow him, but interested in this Galilean prophet. My guess is that when Jesus was arrested, those folks were all locked up safely at home, reminding their friends and family in hushed voices that they never saw the guy, didn’t know anything about it, were not now and never had been a disciple.

We might be them, the half-assed fair-weather Christians. Or we might be the disciples, who really love the guy, really believe in what he’s saying and doing, but when the going gets rough and risky, run for the hills. I do not find in myself any impulse to murder Jesus. I do, absolutely, regularly, find in myself an impulse to run away because going where Jesus leads seems too hard or too risky. That’s subjective, but I’m a pastor; I talk with a lot of people about their life of faith and their struggles with faithfulness. And I hear a lot that boils down to courage – it’s hard to speak out, it’s hard to stick to your convictions, it’s hard to follow where our faith leads.

So my objection isn’t that having the congregation shout “Crucify him!” is a downer – it’s not that I don’t want anybody to feel bad. It’s that I think casting the congregation as that murderous crowd is accusing ourselves of the wrong sin – of murderous hatred instead of cowardice. I know that for some folks, shouting those words is just an opportunity for a little drama in church. But I also know it’s uncomfortable or painful for some – including, sometimes, myself. And I don’t think it’s the right discomfort. It’s the discomfort of resistance (I didn’t! I wouldn’t!) instead of the discomfort of conviction (when have I…?).

I’ve experimented with giving the Crowd’s harsh lines to a particular group, instead of asking the whole congregation to say them, but it just perplexes people; it’s too ingrained that the congregation says those words. My compromise the past few years has been to give the congregation BOTH the Disciples’ lines AND the Crowd’s. Maybe next year I’ll try something else.

Could it be more jarring for the right reasons?

I wonder if it would be MORE jarring in an important way if we told more of the story. I know, I know: exactly nobody is complaining that Palm and Passion Sunday isn’t long enough. But some years back it was pointed out to me, by various folks from various angles, that telling the story the way we do in Episcopal churches a) really does violence to the story and to Jesus’ witness and b) is arguably intrinsically anti-Semitic.   The RCL Palm & Passion Sunday readings give us two-plus solid chapters of Scripture – but look at what they’re skipping, in the jump from the Triumphal Entry to the Passion narrative. In Mark we jump from 11:11 to 14:1; in Matthew we jump from 21:11 to 26:14; in Luke we jump from 19:40 to 22:14.

What happens in all the chapters we skip? Jesus argues with the religious leaders. Jesus tells sharp stories and makes snarky remarks. Jesus gets mad and throws tables around. Jesus knew his journey to Jerusalem was the end of his story – look at all the times he predicts his death to his clueless disciples. He was bringing his message and his mission to the center of power, fully expecting that power to crush him. If we read those in-between chapters, that’s really really clear. If we don’t – it’s not. Then the story starts to look like the Jewish authorities took against dear kind Jesus, who was so nice to children and lepers, and decided to get him executed by the Romans, out of sheer meanness. The whole complicated set of political/religious/economic/colonial dynamics that frame this drama is lost. That’s where the anti-Semitism comes in, because when you take all that away, then the only reason left for the Jewish authorities to take against Jesus is that he was right and they were wrong.

For several years now we have included the Jerusalem Readings, a series of short excerpts from those in-between chapters that give a sense of what was going on during Jesus’ week in Jerusalem, as part of our Palm and Passion Sunday liturgy. This sample only includes selections from the Gospel of Luke, but it’s not hard at all to pull similar passages from the other Synoptics for whatever Gospel you’re using in a given year; or drop me a line and I can share the ones we’ve used. I’m also thinking of adding the conversation in John 11 when Caiaphas tells the Council that it’s better for one man to die, than to allow him to stir up a revolt that may lead to the destruction of the whole nation. That’s a chilling, challenging, and timeless passage.

All right, enough musing on last Sunday; it’s Good Friday and I have stuff to do. Blessed Triduum, all. And feel free to comment with your thoughts, ideas, practices!

In which she ponders the mystery of holy joy.

A few months ago I read this piece on impostor syndrome and thought, I can really relate to that. Sometimes the stuff people tell me they appreciate or admire about my work, my ministry, whatever, is stuff I really worked hard on; but sometimes, too, it’s stuff that came so easily to me that my reaction is, “what, THAT?”  It’s uncomfortable to be complimented or praised for some of the things I do, because they are just doing what I enjoy doing and didn’t feel that hard. (This happens most with things involving kids, story, arts and crafts, or all of the above.)

Richards writes, “When we have a skill or talent that has come naturally we tend to discount its value. Why is that? Well, we often hesitate to believe that what’s natural, maybe even easy for us, can offer any value to the world.” Whereas in fact, the things that come easily to us – and, perhaps, not so easily to others – may be our particular gift to share with the world. That was a helpful point for me.

And then a couple of weeks ago, as part of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist’s Lenten “Growing a Rule of Life” study and reflection series, I read Brother Jonathan Maury’s reflection on nurturing oneself: “It is often the case when any of us are attempting to form or to grow or to realize anew a Rule of Life that there may be a temptation to think only in ‘spiritual’ terms. And this would be very wrong because the truth of it is that a life in Christ is holistic.” Maury says, the things that give you joy, that make you feel whole and grounded – those are practices that should be part of your Rule of Life, of your care and cultivation of your self.

I say, readily and often, that doing the things you were made to do is part of your spirituality, even a sort of prayer. But I’m struggling a bit with incorporating that myself, feeling it deeply. I love to make things. Spending half and hour or – as I hope to this morning, when I get off the computer – a couple of hours just *making stuff* leaves me feeling relaxed, happy, fulfilled. And yet to tell myself that that is part of my spiritual life, that being in that lovely experimental wordless space of playing and creating is in fact a sort of prayer, feels like cheating. Because it was easy. It was just doing what I enjoy. It didn’t feel hard. (And prayer and spirituality are supposed to be hard, right? Right?)  See where I’m going here? Is there such thing as “impostor spirituality”?

I’m writing this post to work through these thoughts and offer myself the idea of naming that creative space and the feeling it elicits in me as a kind of holy joy. It doesn’t need a pious frame to make it part of my life in God; it already is that, because it’s doing what I was made to do, and it refreshes me and gives me joy.


In which she strives to opine on #Primates2016.

I’m a little reluctant to write this post. I find myself in the paradoxical position of knowing both too much and too little. Too little because I haven’t followed the politics and drama of the Anglican Communion closely since the Windsor Report era. Too much because, nevertheless, when I start talking about the roots of and reasons for said drama, it’s hard to stop. Feeling that I don’t have time to offer a reflection that meets my own standards, it’s tempting to say nothing at all.

But two of my kind and faithful friends have messaged me this afternoon asking me for thoughts. I reckoned the least I could do is to gather in one place the thoughts I’ve already shared in various Facebook threads.

Here was my initial Facebook post as the news of the Primates’ sanctions against TEC was breaking.

“The Primates (heads of churches) of the Anglican Communion, meeting this week in England, have asked the Episcopal Church to step back from involvement with the Anglican Communion for a period of three years – continuing to participate, but not representing the Communion in ecumenical/interfaith bodies or participating in Communion decision-making processes.

“I think this is probably the compromise that Anglican Communion leadership felt they had to make in order to keep the more conservative leaders and their churches at the table, and to try to keep holding together this unwieldy and diverse body – perhaps long enough for us to fumble our way back to some sense of a unity deeper and more robust than the unity of polity, policy, or hermeneutic.

“Is it sad? Sure, a little. Is it unexpected? Not particularly. Will it affect my ministry, my life and work as a priest of God’s church in Madison, WI? Very little.

“I am the mother of a straight white male. One of the most important things we’re trying to teach him, as he becomes a young man, is the value of being an ally. Standing up for your friends who are girls facing sexism; kids of color facing racism; queer kids facing homophobia; differently-abled kids facing all kinds of barriers. Being an ally, we tell him, means there might be times when you get in trouble or have to deal with some crap, because you’re standing with your friends. That’s OK. In fact, it’s better than OK. And we won’t be mad.

“Bishop Curry, General Convention, Church of mine: I’m not mad. <3

“EDIT: Upon reflection I think it’s important to add that I don’t believe this action at the level of the Primates either significantly inhibits our capacity to engage in mutually-supportive, mutually-learning relationships with Anglicans in Africa or elsewhere in the world (any more than all the previous chapters of broken relationships have), NOR does it in any way free us from the responsibility of seeking out and living into such relationships. My personal experience has been that my faith, my worldview, and my love for the Anglican way have all been deepened by the time I have spent with Ugandan and Tanzanian Anglicans. My greatest grief and concern, at every chapter of this long and messy journey, has been the responses on the American Left that boil down to, Well, who cares what those Africans think anyway? Who needs them? That is not OK, and actually does make me mad. :-)”

I shared these thoughts in response to a post quoting  Nigerian Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon’s statement that the West is “imposing the LGBT lifestyle” on Africans:

“That’s been some African church (and political) leaders’ lens on the situation for a long time. My hunch is that it first took shape in the intentional alliance-building work that took place between American conservative Episcopalians and African Anglican leaders in the run-up to Lambeth 1998. Making the case to African bishops that whatever was going amiss in the American church, would soon be exported to their churches, was a big theme at the Anglican Life & Witness conference in Texas in 1997. But I think that perspective, presented by conservative American leaders, made a lot of sense to African and Asian church leaders, given their experiences of colonialism and cultural/economic neocolonialism.

“We have to think about our global partners’ broad experience of Western and specifically American cultural imperialism to understand that statements like this may really feel like a true description of the situation to leaders like Fearon. They perceive tolerance and even romanticization of GLBTQ folks as a value that’s coming into their contexts by way of international media. Saying that homosexuality is being imposed by the West is a sort of shorthand for what they really mean: that they feel that acceptance of homosexuality is part of the Western cultural and political agenda being pressed upon their people and nations. African nations receive TV and movies and magazines and all kinds of cultural material from Europe and America. We could probably point out some elements of the lifestyles and values promoted in our popular media that we’re not so crazy about either – in fact, we probably agree with our African brothers and sisters on some of it…

“TL; DR – Fearon may really see the issue this way, and from a certain lens, he may not be entirely wrong. I say that as an ardent ally of LGBTQ folks and advocate for their full inclusion in the life and sacraments of the church, who also believes that we Americans haven’t always been real great advocates for our convictions in the context of these international relationships…

“It’s really easy for us as Americans to simply not *know* how overwhelmingly our cultural and economic dominance is felt around the world. Refusing to hear how that feels to our global neighbors, even if we object to their language and principals, is one of the ways we make ourselves ugly as Americans.”

My friend Jonathan offered a relevant aphorism from the great state of Texas: “Colonialism is like skunk spray that won’t wash clean.”

Look, I don’t usually do this, but if you’re really interested in understanding the roots, dynamics and discourses of all this, you should probably just read my book.

In concluding these fragmented, unhelpful and doubtless unpopular thoughts, I would like to say that it sure is hard (and has been for the past decade-plus) to hold these both/and spaces…

believing BOTH that my Church’s affirmation of GLBTQ folk as full and equal children of God and members of the Body of Christ has been a movement of the Spirit calling us into a fuller understanding of the loving purposes of the God we know in Christ Jesus, AND that our delight in the grace and freedom we have found through this movement has sometimes tipped over into pride, scorn, and condescension towards those whose convictions are otherwise;

believing BOTH that we are accountable in some profound sense to our Anglican brothers and sisters around the world – I think often of Rowan Williams’ phrase about how we find ourselves in solidarities not of our choosing – AND that that accountability does not take the form of limiting our church’s freedom to discern the Spirit’s work among us in our context;

believing BOTH that our church’s inclusion of GLBTQ people is pretty much our business, AND that African leaders have a true and important word that we need to hear about Western cultural arrogance, imperialism, and ignorance regarding the broader impact of our actions and decisions;

believing that BOTH some African church leaders’ language about GLBTQ people, AND some American Episcopalians’ language about African Christians, are degrading of children of God and demand reflection and repentance;

and, really, in the simplest form of all,

believing that we are and will be most fully the global Body that God calls us to become when BOTH GLBTQ Christians AND those of conservative convictions (Nigerian, American, Ugandan, …) are all somehow, someday, fully heard, known, valued, loved.

This is messy, hard, sad stuff. Joy anyway, in the immortal words of Louie Clay.





In which she actually quite likes Prayer C.

A few days ago, I read a blog post on prayer book revision that referred to Eucharistic Prayer C as the “Star Wars canon,” and implied that it is one of the most infamously dated parts of our current Prayer Book, a product of the 1970s. It reminded me of many similar cracks I’ve heard over the years. A lot of Episcopal clergy don’t care for Prayer C, finding it dated and cheesy. Or so I am given to understand.

Today, we started using Prayer C at my parish, as we do in Advent every year. And as I spoke (and received) its words, I thought, Maybe I should write about why I like Prayer C.

(A quick aside for those wondering what I’m talking about: The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the prayer book of The Episcopal Church, has four different Eucharistic prayers in the Rite II Eucharist section – alternate forms for the prayers in which the priest and people ask God to consecrate the bread and wine of our holy meal, and make them in some real and mysterious sense the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The four different form are identified by letters: A, B, C, and D. You can read Prayer C here – scroll down past Prayer B.)

Yes, Prayer C feels a little dated – though to my ears it’s only a few words. “The vast expanse of interstellar space” has a ring of nostalgia – from back when science was cool and Cosmos was brewing in Carl Sagan’s mind. And likewise, “this fragile earth, our island home” resonates in my GenX mind with the theme song of “Big Blue Marble.”  So, I’m not going to argue that Prayer C doesn’t feel like a product of its time.  But it’s far from the only part of the Book of Common Prayer that feels dated to me.  And, well, isn’t retro part of our shtick, as Anglicans? From where I’m standing, the science-philia and ecological sentiments of the 1970s are among the more agreeable threads from the past that we might weave back into the present. (There’s the list of patriarchs at the end too – but that’s an easy fix if you’re comfortable broadening the text. If the feminist movement had crept even a few inches further into the Episcopal Church by 1976, surely some matriarchs would have made the cut too?)

So what do I like about C? First, I love its dialogic character. Unlike the other three Rite II Eucharistic prayers, unlike the three supplemental prayers in Enriching Our Worship, definitely unlike the two Rite I Eucharistic prayers, in Prayer C the text of the prayer spoken by the priest is punctuated by responses from the congregation. I loved Prayer C as a layperson because it kept me engaged for the whole prayer. In the other prayers, the Eucharistic prayer includes a long chunk of text spoken by the celebrant alone. And while I find that text pretty interesting when I get to say it, as a layperson I often found that my mind would wander. Listening to the same person say the same several paragraphs, week after week, is conducive to wool-gathering, however deep your faith and however profound your sacramental theology. In church this morning, I really noticed people’s hearty and ready responses. They were right there with me, listening for their cues, speaking their part of our shared prayer boldly and clearly –  our kids and youth right along with the adults.  So I suppose I could say that as a priest, I like Prayer C for the same reason I liked it as a layperson.  I can hear the people’s attention and participation.

Second, I think Prayer C makes a terrific Eucharistic prayer for Advent, because it is both penitential – in its emphasis on our turning from God, in the humble prayer for God’s mercy on us as sinners – and cosmic, in the way it sweeps across [interstellar] space and time before zooming in to the particulars of Jewish and Christian salvation history. The resident rocket scientist in my parish (don’t we all have one?) and I have been discussing with shared interest the fact that the Greek word generally translated as “world” in the New Testament is actually kosmos – meaning, the Internet tells me, world, universe, cosmos, system, the whole enchilada. Emphasizing the cosmic character of God’s saving grace seems especially fitting in Advent, when we’re not only anticipating the baby in the manger but also God’s transformation and restoration of the whole created order, when we’re putting on the armor of light and standing tall as the waves roar and the heavens shake.

Finally, I love Prayer C for these words: “Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.”  That prayer is, in many respects, THE prayer, for me – my most heartfelt and fundamental prayer for the Church. May we see and know God at work in the world. May we not come to church simply seeking a break, an escape from the clamor of the world. May we instead seek and find strength and renewal, in our worship and our fellowship, to empower and equip us to serve the world in the name of God.

As much as we’d like it all to be about nice clean tidy matters like doctrine and history (hah), liturgy is also about aesthetics – about taste. As the surprisingly wise Internet judge and comedian John Hodgman says, You like what you like. I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind on Prayer C if it just doesn’t hit you right. But I have often found that hearing why someone else appreciates something helps me see some good in it, even if it doesn’t win me over. In the ongoing and energetic conversations about liturgy in our church, as we begin to talk about prayer book revision, I hope we can do more talking up what we like (what we find meaningful, powerful, beautiful, true, holy) than tearing down what we don’t.






In which she knows what she likes.

The liturgy for the imminent installation of the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church has been posted. I have read it with wonder, hope, and delight. You may peruse it here, for as long as the Cathedral folk keep it up and available.

I posted this on Facebook and commented, “This liturgy feels like the absolute best of our church to me.” I may also have confessed to getting a little verklemmt.

This evening I got thinking about the spectrum of liturgical sensibilities within the Episcopal Church. We Episcopalians have deep and powerful feelings about our ways of worship, and there are wide divergences amongst us in our liturgical tastes and convictions. I’m sure there are people out there who look at this liturgy and feel dismayed, alienated, confused or scornful. So I thought I would hop back onto my neglected blog and try to put a few words to why I find this installation liturgy so powerful and lovely.

I see this as well-designed Episcopal liturgy because is patterned and sacramental. It has the right parts, arranged in a graceful and effective order.

I see this as well-designed Episcopal liturgy because it is both familiar and fresh. Some of the hymns and liturgical texts are deeply familiar. Some are brand new to me. The familiar grounds and connects me, while the fresh stirs me up, opens my eyes and heart and mind to the new things beginning here.

I see this as well-designed Episcopal liturgy because it is eclectic and diverse – the musical styles representing multiple eras and cultures, the many voices and even languages – and yet coherent. It doesn’t feel fragmented to me; it flows smoothly, each piece adding to the whole.

Thinking about all this reminded me of the list of characteristics of Episcopal liturgy that is buried deep in the 2012 Blue Book. I actually think it’s rather a good list; I offer it for your consideration. It is abstracted and lightly adapted from Handout F (page 273) of the study materials that accompanied “I  Will Bless You and You Will Be A Blessing”, the liturgical and theological materials for blessing same-sex unions that were approved at our 2012 General Convention as Resolution A049:

“…. Nearly as important is that the proposed liturgical materials embody a classically Anglican liturgical ethos and style. Recognizing the varying notions of what makes public prayer recognizably Anglican, the task group identified these qualities:

  • It resonates with Scripture and proclaims the gospel.
  • It is rooted in Anglican theological tradition.
  • It has high literary value; it is beautiful according to accepted and respected standards.
  • It uses the recurring structures, linguistic patterns, and metaphors of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
  • It is formal, not casual, conversational, or colloquial.
  • At the same time, [the liturgical text] must resonate as natural speech in contemporary ears. A religious or sacred tone must be achieved without the use of arcane or antiquated words or patterns of speech.
  • It is dense enough to bear the weight of the sacred purpose for which it is intended.
  • It is metaphoric without being obtuse.
  • It is performative: that is, it effects what it says.
  • [The liturgical text] must be what it purports to be—liturgical prayer—and not didactic or polemical statements in the guise of liturgy.”*

By all these standards, from where I am standing, the Installation is finely-crafted Anglican liturgy. May it fill the hearts and exalt the spirits of all those who attend and view from afar.

* That last one, there, is a particular temptation of progressive Episcopalians composing new liturgical texts. It drives me nuts when I see it, and I try very hard not to do it myself. Don’t try to manipulate or shame people with liturgy. Just don’t. 

Some reflections from a rookie deputy…

This is my first time as a deputy to General Convention. So while I’m tracking some of the big issues with interest, my experience of Convention is still very much just finding my footing and making sense of it all. I keep hoping I’ll find the time and the mental space to string a few thoughts together about some of the matters before Convention. But so far, this is what I’ve managed to write: a list of some of the things I’ve learned or discovered in my first five days as a General Convention deputy.

  • I hadn’t realized that the ten days of Convention would start with a heavy schedule of legislative committee hearings and meetings, and a light schedule of legislation, with (many) meetings winding down and the legislative schedule gearing up as the days move along. I knew that proposed legislation would undergo a lot of work at Convention, but hadn’t realized just how intensive and grueling that process could be.
  • Some members of our deputation have served on legislative committees, some (including myself) have not. Not being on a committee is less exhausting and more freeing in one respect; during those busy early days, there were no meetings I HAD to attend. On the other hand, that freedom is exhausting too – because instead of being bound to focus on one cluster of issues, you get to struggle to decide where to show up and speak up, when five or six important things are all being considered at the same time.
  • General Convention is big, but it’s not that big. It’s small enough that one powerfully-stated two-minute statement can (sometimes) have an impact. Which is terrifying, because it leaves me wondering whether, for every initiative or resolution that I like and that seems ill-fated, I could have been that voice, if I’d been in the right place at the right time with the right words. It’s a wee bit crazymaking.
  • I didn’t anticipate all the swag – candy, buttons, water bottles, Silly Putty, tote bags, lip balm, and more candy – that would come our way, not only from booths at the exhibit hall but also handed out by candidates for office or folks advocating for particular causes or organizations, and left on our deputation tables every morning.
  • There is a lot going on – and there is no master calendar. You have to look at least three different places to figure out everything that’s happening in any given hour, and even then, you’ll probably miss some stuff.
  • There is a lot going on – really, a lot. To take this morning as an example: today is Sunday, the day when we are said to have a bit of sabbath, since there were no early morning committee meetings and the morning Eucharist wasn’t until 10am. However, if I had rolled out of bed bright and early this morning, I could have participated in a 5K run for the Episcopal Church Women Triennium; a walk against gun violence; the Episcopal Women’s Caucus breakfast; and a meetup with women bishops to discuss the advancement of women’s ordained ministry in the church. (I did not do any of those things. What I needed most was some time to wander around town and not talk to anybody, so that’s what I did.)
  • Sometimes it’s a huge party, a great reunion with friends from all over the church. Sometimes it’s surprisingly lonely. Sometimes I would be happy not to see or talk to any other Episcopalians for a while.
  • It’s going on all. the. time. And it ALL feels urgent. I keep failing to call my kids. I come back to my room meaning to go to bed early, but I check in on Twitter and get all agitated about cuts to the Formation budget of the national church. The legislative sessions and committee meetings end for the day (eventually), but there’s enough reading, pondering, Tweeting, blogging, arguing, and praying, to keep you busy 24 hours a day.
  • There are lots of great cues for prayer; and I am finding it really hard to pray. That just makes me all the more grateful for all the people I know are praying for me.
  • I learned quickly that it’s a good idea to eat a good meal when I get a chance, even if it’s an odd time. General Convention’s daily schedule doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to my own normal daily rhythms.
  • I’m really glad I brought knitting. It keeps me busy but listening. If I weren’t knitting, I would drift off into other things during the boring bits (there are boring bits…), and then suddenly find myself with no idea what we’re voting on.
  • I have the impression that this is much less true than it used to be, thanks to the Virtual Binders and some simplifications in the Rules of Order; but you still really have to know what’s going on to know what’s going on. That’s true at many levels – understanding our parliamentary process, knowing the personalities of some of the vocal and/or influential players, understanding the backstories and histories on some issues and conversations. I’m learning, and I think I’m able to participate effectively; but I can see the value in attending a second and third and fourth time.
  • It’s surprisingly separated from parish life. When I go to just about any church gathering, I expect to end up with a long list of take-home ideas – follow up on that resource, have that conversation, sing that hymn. I’ve picked up some good odds and ends in the exhibit hall – but other than that, so far there is almost nothing on my General Convention take-home idea list. What we’re doing here is just too removed from my life, work, and ministry as a parish priest. I don’t know that that’s good or bad; it just is.

In which she lays down some rules about vocabulary.

I leave for General Convention tomorrow morning. During the next two weeks, I expect to witness and participate in a great many passionate conversations about how to make space for the Holy Spirit to bring new life to our congregations, and help us grow in faith, proclaim God’s good news, and serve our neighbors, faithfully and joyfully.

I’m down with all that. It’s good stuff. However, I think we’ll do each of those things better if we know which one we’re doing. I’ve noticed in the church that when we’re talking hopefully about the stuff we want to be doing more of – or talking in frustration about the things we are failing to do enough of – we tend to use a vocabulary that is somewhat muddled. This post is my not-so-humble attempt to lay out how I think we should sort out four key words: revitalization, evangelism, recruitment, and mission.

The good folks over at Episcopal Resurrection are bringing a resolution to Convention calling for the Church to organize human resources and funds for the revitalization of Episcopal congregations. That sounds to me like a very good thing, and I am likely to vote for it. But I would prefer to vote for it with a clearer sense of what they mean by “revitalization.”  (Let me say that I’m focusing on this resolution because it’s a particularly public and salient example of what I see as a widespread problem with sloppy vocabulary, and not because it’s egregious or unusual.)

Revitalization could mean a renewed focus on spiritual growth and Christian formation within the church as a whole and the life of each parish and diocese.  That’s important, and I’m for it. I’d like to propose that we call this “revitalization,” because that’s how I’ve heard the word used both in the church over the years; and because that’s essentially what mid-20th century anthropologist of religion Anthony Wallace was talking about in his seminal work on religious revitalization. This is revitalization, in Wallace’s terms: the core narrative/paradigm of the group fails to meet changed or changing circumstances, so the core narrative is revised and renewed, and the group doubles down on living into it fully, resulting in cultural transformation that, we hope, leads to new vitality and better adaptation to new circumstances. (Boy, is that where TEC is right now. I hope.)

Revitalization could mean finding fresh ways to proclaim the good news of God’s love, to be ambassadors of reconciliation and wholeness, in the world around us. I’d like to propose that we call that “evangelism.”* I hope I don’t have to defend or explain that vocabulary choice. I believe there is urgent need for such proclamation in our contemporary world. It’s important and I’m for it. That said, I think we need a great deal more clarity regarding the difference between evangelization and the next term I’m going to offer.

Revitalization could mean reaching out to add new members to our congregations. That can be good and holy work, if undertaken with humility and wisdom; I’m for it. I’d like to propose that we call this “recruitment.” I am 100% indebted to Nadia Bolz-Weber, speaking in Madison earlier this year, for drawing a clear distinction between evangelism and recruitment. She was speaking about her church’s strong public presence in their city, and how important and liberating it was for them to realize that those public events were effective evangelism – witnessing to the Gospel, to the God we love and serve – even when they were not effective recruitment, as they often were not. We’ve got a great example in my own congregation’s recent history: two years ago we invited retired Packer LeRoy Butler to speak about bullying at my parish, after another church retracted their invitation to LeRoy because he expressed support for another athlete who had recently come out of the closet. We went into that endeavor, which was a real stretch for us, hoping it might both be a witness for inclusive Christianity (evangelism) and gain us some new members (recruitment). Ultimately, the project was great evangelism, and lousy recruitment – while it renewed some members’ loyalty to the parish, I don’t believe we got a single new member directly from that very public moment in our life as a parish. And I’m OK with that. Because some of the time, possibly a lot of the time, evangelism and recruitment are not the same thing. And we live in a culture that’s pretty damn sensitive to covert agendas and sales pitches, so I increasingly think we’ll be more effective in evangelism – in simply sharing why faith is a source of joy, of strength, of hope for us – the more we can set aside our hopes for recruitment, and let recruitment be its own, clearly-defined project.

And finally, revitalization could mean getting out beyond our walls to serve our neighbors, and to join in God’s work of healing, reconciliation, justice, mercy, feeding, healing, nurture and advocacy in our communities and cities. This is very good stuff; I’m for it. I would like to propose that we call this “mission,“* following the use of the missional church movement and the key insight of late 20th century missiology: that our call to mission is a call to join in God’s mission (the missio Dei) in the world around us. I think most of our churches and outreach ministries are pretty clear on distinguishing mission and evangelism – our feeding programs and school supply drives are no-strings-attached, not limited to Episcopalians, Christians, or even those willing to accept a tract with good grace.

It’s possible that the Revitalization resolution actually means all these things. There are hints in its wording suggesting that it means most of them. If that’s the case, my hope would be that that would be made clear in the language of the resolution – that the intention is for an overarching and holistic process of renewal, to include revitalization, evangelism, recruitment, and mission. It’s all good stuff and I’m for it all. But I also know from experience, both first- and second-hand, that our agendas get messy and our effectiveness is compromised when we’re not sure which thing we’re doing or which purpose we’re pursuing, with a given ministry, plan or project.

TL;DR version: I’d love for The Episcopal Church, at all her levels, to double-down on revitalization, evangelism, recruitment, and mission; AND on knowing which is which, and which we’re doing/funding/planning/organizing for, in any given moment.

* In perusing the Blue Book, I was pleased to discover that the distinction between mission and evangelism, more or less as I outline it here, is laid out clearly by and used in the work of the Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism:

  • Mission: “The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (Book of Common Prayer, 855). “Mission is our response to God, stretching our personal and community boundaries to participate in God’s purpose to restore and heal all of creation” (2009 Blue Book report).
  • Evangelism: “To share by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (Book of Common Prayer, 306). Evangelism is sharing the love of Christ and the good news of God’s actions in our lives — the good news of the kingdom coming to life among us — in the language of the people, so that people can become disciples of Jesus Christ (2009 Blue Book report).

In which she reflects on a Candidate for Presiding Bishop.

I’d like to share a few words about the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut – or Ian, as I think of him, because he was my professor and my friend before he was a bishop.

I’m not campaigning for +Ian, to be clear. I have the extraordinary blessing of knowing two of the four candidates for Presiding Bishop. I spent a dozen years living in the Diocese of North Carolina, went through the discernment process there, and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Michael Curry. As many others have said, I can easily see him as Presiding Bishop and would rejoice in his election.

I believe, however, that while the gifts +Michael would bring to the role of Presiding Bishop are more obvious and better known, the gifts +Ian would bring are no less substantial and valuable. Had I a vote to cast, I honestly don’t know how I would cast it. I’ve been noticing many comments in various online forums to this effect: “Bishop Curry would make such a great Presiding Bishop!” I have not the slightest desire to argue with that; he would, indeed. However, I’ve seen precious few folks saying, “Bishop Douglas would make such a great Presiding Bishop!” So I’m going to say it, here, and tell you a little bit about why I think so.

I first met Ian while I was working on my dissertation, a study of global alliances within the Anglican Communion that would become my book, Anglican Communion in Crisis. I was a doctoral student in the anthropology department at the University of North Carolina. At the time, Ian was on the faculty of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, and he was generous with his time and warm in his welcome in reviewing my work and offering constructive criticism. His presence at EDS, along with several other outstanding scholars, attracted me to that seminary two years later when I chose the place to earn my M.Div., having completed both my Ph.D. in anthropology and the early stages of my diocesan discernment process.

From Ian I learned an incalculable amount about the delicate and holy dance of being a progressive Christian who also cares passionately about relationship with the Anglicans in the global South, including those of more conservative theology. His compassion and wisdom helped me translate the academic cultural relativism of my anthropology degree into an open-hearted relational humility that always seeks understanding and relationship across difference, without subsuming or sacrificing one’s own convictions and experiences.

Long before he was a bishop (and I would guess very much still as a bishop), Ian was a missiologist – a person whose deep concern and longing for the church is that we live more fully into our sent-ness: sent to witness, serve, heal, reconcile. As a scholar of the Episcopal Church’s mission history, he possesses a keen understanding of the impulses to reach out beyond our stone walls and stained glass windows, and of the institutional and cultural barriers that, again and again, limit our vision and our reach. Ian was one of the faculty at EDS who taught me to think of the Church as a club that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members – and not as a memorial society for a deceased clergyman named Christ.

For those with diversity concerns about our PB slate: Yes, Ian is a straight white middle-class educated male, and he would be the first to admit it. And I know him to be wholeheartedly an ally of those who are “target” (to use the language of EDS’ Foundations of Theological Praxis course) – of women, of GLBTQ Christians, of people of color, of people living poverty in the U.S. and abroad. In my experience of him (not least as one of my  Foundations teachers), he is one of those persons of privilege whose impulse is always to seek ways to use his privilege to break down barriers and elevate others.

Personally, I think of Ian as a person of tremendous heart. He was incredibly supportive of me as a student who brought a young family with me to seminary. Whenever we met crossing the quad at EDS, he would greet my toddler son G heartily: “Hey, G-man!” If you have had the blessing and challenge of worshipping with young children, you know how precious it is to have folks who sit near you who will smile (or make funny faces) at your child – smile at *you* when the child gets noisy – and generally communicate, in gentle ways, that they are glad you’re there and that everything is fine. Ian and his family were that family for us, when we were attending St. James, Porter Square, with our toddler, and that’s not a thing you forget.

In conclusion: I think Bishop Douglas would make such a great Presiding Bishop. Thanks for reading. 🙂

A couple more links about +Ian…

About the Diocese of Connecticut’s moving its diocesan offices from a downtown mansion to a refurbished factory. “‘The mansion is no longer who we are, if it ever was,’ Douglas says.”

Tom Sramek, Jr., writing for The Living Church, does a nice job, I think, of sketching out +Ian’s background and gifts and especially his involvement with the wider Anglican Communion, a notable strength of his resume – his profile is second, following +Michael’s.