Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Friday
Jun152018

Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again

Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again   Evelyn Underhill

 

There is a wonderful efficiency in the Christian way of forgiveness and reconciliation. The scriptures want us to get on with things.

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26)

 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. (Matthew 18:15)

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13)

In Benedict's Rule the Divine Office is arranged so that the community twice a day is invited to forgive - "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." 

Last August, Michelle Heyne, OA and I spent a good bit of time attending the Eucharist and saying the Office at All Saints Margaret Street. There can't be too many parishes in the Anglican Communion in which there are three masses most days along with Morning and Evening Prayer. The other practice Monday through Saturday is that for a half hour each day there is a priest available to hear confessions. Not only does the parish outdo Benedict by saying the Lord's Prayer five times/day but it offers God's healing, mercy and grace in sacramental efficiency. 

Hear Martin Thornton on that:

Perhaps the best of all reasons in favour of sacramental Confession is simply "why not?" Is it not just a little silly, and flagrantly inefficient, to cut the lawn with nail scissors when God has take the trouble to supply a very workmanlike power mower?

My own inclination when serving as a parish priest was to offer the rite during Advent and Lent. People could also make appointments at other times (though of course they tended not to do that.) I find myself thinking that a better approach would be to offer it at least once a month. Enough to keep the opportunity in the minds of the congregation.

Underhill wrote:

Refuse to pander to a morbid interest in your own misdeeds

She wasn't suggesting avoidance or denial. She wanted us to get on with things. 

Parishes are too often weighed down by a litany of old grudges and resentment. Our disobedience to the church's norms and the Gospel's call create a cancer within the Eucharistic community. Sometimes obvious but more commonly hidden deep within, unacknowledged but slowly eating away.

In my experience the chronic grumbling that feeds the spirit of grievance and animus will continue on until someone names the demon and offers the alternative of Christian practice.

Every minute you are thinking of evil, you might have been thinking of good instead. Refuse to pander to a morbid interest in your own misdeeds. Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again.    Evelyn Underhill

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On the Feast of Blessed Evelyn Underhill, 2018 

The Invitation 2018: Take Counsel - Stop Grumbling - a spiritual life resource for individuals and parishes 

About the icon: It's part of my icon series "The Anglo Catholics." The writer was Mary Ellen Watson

Thursday
Jun142018

We stand on the shoulders of others #2

You stand out in the crowd only because you have these many, many carrying you on their shoulders. Desmond Tutu

My first full time parish position was as vicar of Saint Elisabeth’s. I wanted to be part of the inner-city church movement of those days. I had read Paul Moore and Kilmer Myers. I had worked at the Advocate where Paul Washington was the rector.

I think it took about 18 months before I began to see. It was 18 months of hard work, developing friendships, learning the neighborhood, and praying the Office in the chapel.

I began to see the shoulders I was standing on.

In 1888 Henry P. Percival was the rector of the Church of the Evangelist in South Philadelphia. He raised the funds and provided the energy for a new parish. It was to be a place of holiness and beauty.

 

 

 

William Walter Webb was Percival’s assistant. Fr. Webb became the first rector of Saint Elisabeth’s. He grounded the parish in the Anglo Catholic tradition. Later he became Professor of Dogmatic Theology of Nashotah House in 1892; and then Bishop of Milwaukee. One review of his life said, “He was a man of marked administrative abilities, and was also a strong and eloquent preacher. His own life was of deepest spiritual tone.”  That tone marked the parish.

 

William McGarvey was rector in the later part of one century and the beginning of the next. The rectory was laid out in monastic fashion with cells for the community of priests living there – the Companions of the Holy Saviour (CSSS). He and most of the parish clergy left for Rome in 1908. I struggled with my feelings about what they had done. And I also knew the depth of spirituality and sacrifice that marked the parish because they had been there. 

 

Tomaso Edmondo of Cioppa (Rev. T. E. Della Cioppa) was rector of the Church of L’Emmanuello, an Italian Mission. That congregation was at St. Elisabeth’s from 1929 – 1940. It served the Italian community with social services, music, and social societies. I was thrilled to find a stash of 1928 Prayer Books in Italian. And found myself deeply grateful for the wise presence of Rose when I arrived, “It’s okay Father, we’ll get to know you.”

Father Edward McCoy was the rector during the 50’s and 60’s. He established a relationship with naval personal and a ministry at the Naval Hospital. It was McCoy they told stories about when I arrived. About dedication and persistence. Funny stories about his ways. And especially the story of how he integrated the parish. Margie and her son Robert were the first black parishioners. They were there when I arrived – faithful, quiet people with a sense of humor.

During my first years in the parish Father Harris, CSSS, celebrated the Wednesday mass. He was long retired from serving as rector of an African American parish. He was totally reliable. I would have been happy for him to be with us forever. But when he realized I was going to allow women priests to celebrate at the altar – that was too much. With no fuss and a much graciousness, he decided to leave us.

I came to see that I rested upon all their shoulders.

It’s one of the wrongs of parish histories that these stories get so focused on the clergy. Members didn’t tell stories from decades earlier about the laity whose shoulders we also rested upon. Or at least I failed to ask.

I did come to know the stories of the people I relied on during those seven years. Don, Robert, Mary, Wilma, Ed, Rose, John and Bess, Rachele and Frank, Kay and Joan. It was their prayers, friendships, and work that shaped a wonderful and holy Eucharistic community.

You can understand a lot about a rector’s humility and courage by seeing how they relate to other clergy in the parish. There is something more solid and mature when they are generous and thankful for the presence of other priests in the parish; especially priests they don’t pay and supervise – the retired and unpaid associates. It’s also there in whether they easily tell stories of earlier parish priests in sermons and social gatherings. You can see it immediately in places where the Rector is comfortable with the previous rector attending worship and functioning in the parish. 

I heard one priest say that the priest associates in the parish needed it to be harmless. It was a sad, fearful statement. The freeing and graceful spirit of the Gospel is seen in parishes that know how to make good use of the retired and adjunct clergy among them, how to acknowledge and respect the clergy that came before them -- you either give thanks for them or you will resent and try to contain them.

 

In another city parish, years later, the vestry and I had invited a consultant to guide us through a learning process. She had us create a history line that told the story of the parish’s faith and prayer, service and fellowship. When she asked about a period 30 years earlier the room feel silent. The older members were clearly distressed and unsettled. They told their story of how they felt they had mistreated the rector as his son was dying of cancer. They were contrite and embarrassed. In the telling of the story that day they recovered something of themselves. They reclaimed that priest and his son. A weight upon their shoulders had changed from pain to freedom. There was in the room a sense of redemption. A redeeming not only of the “now” but of the past.

 

Whose shoulders are you standing upon?  Do you acknowledge it or hide it?

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Wednesday
Jun132018

We stand on the shoulders of others

You stand out in the crowd only because you have these many, many carrying you on their shoulders. Desmond Tutu 

 

I met Bishop Tutu once. I was asked to drive him from General Seminary to our diocesan convention in Connecticut. He had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. In interviews he spoke about standing on the shoulders of others. Two things took place on that drive that had never happened to me before. The bishop said Evening Prayer in the back seat as I drove and Linda navigated; then he slept on my grandmother's quilted pillow. And when we arrived at the hotel the police looked under my car for bombs. Standing on the shoulders of others might best be done with humility and prayer. And it can come with some risk.

 

Michelle Heyne, OA, and I had a rich, fascinating time on Monday working with a team from the Diocese of New Jersey. The diocese sent the congregational development staff person, parish rectors and a couple of standing committee members. Truth be told, we were a bit intimidated. What did they think we could offer that made a trip to Seattle worth such an investment?

 

It was a wonderful day. 

 

In the course of the work Michelle and I drew upon the wisdom of Martin Thornton (ascetical theology and practice), Edgar Schein (organizational culture and process consultation), Chris Argyris (intervention theory), and Loren Mead (parish development). We even called upon Pope Francis.

 

We spoke of the history of organization development and how the early adapters were the military, teacher unions, Esso, and the Episcopal Church. We related Argyris' work on successful interventions (internal commitment grounded in valid and useful information and free choice) to Bob Gallagher's "Congregational Options" model. We explored the relationship between commitment and competence. On and on.

 

After the team headed home I found myself reflecting on all the ways in which my life and work have rested on the life and work of others. How I have stood upon the shoulders of others. It's true for all of us. Accepting it is directly related to our spiritual health -- to our gratitude and humility, to our dreams and longings, to our capacity for persistence and courage.

 

I thought about programs such as the Church Development Institute, the College for Congregational Development and Shaping the Parish. Whose shoulders do they rest upon? I can personally trace it back as far as the 1970's work of Loren Mead and Project Test Pattern and the Organization Development training program of MATC. And of course, Loren Mead and MATC rested upon the shoulders of others.

 

I will take some time in the coming weeks to meditate further on all that. Maybe write something.

 

Whose shoulders are you standing upon?  Do you acknowledge it or hide it?

 

Whose shoulders does your parish rest upon? Do you acknowledge it or hide it?

 

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Friday
Jun082018

Q & A: Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling

Q – What can I do with myself? At times I feel as though I’m choking on old resentments. Things that happened years ago and I’m still dwelling in them. It’s like living in a house that filled up with old newspapers and has cobwebs and spiders in all the corners.

Fifteen years ago, George was parish treasurer. He stole some money from the offering and was caught. The parish didn’t press criminal charges and George apologized and fessed up to having done it before. He repaid the money he had taken. George was allowed to stay in the parish. I’ve never been okay with that. But now he’s been elected to the vestry. There’s a group of us that have been talking about this at coffee hour. I’m having a resentment flare-up.

A – First you might notice how split you are within yourself. You’re disturbed by the resentment you’re carrying and at the same time nurturing that resentment with the old story. Second, you’re grumbling – in your heart and at coffee hour.

Let me focus on your soul. My opinion of George staying in the parish and now getting elected to the vestry has no value.

Four actions you might consider:

Spend some time reflecting on the wisdom of Holy Scripture

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5: 23 -24)

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26)

Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Get out your Prayer Book and turn to page 447. You need to make your confession. Just remember that you are confessing your sin not George’s.

Stop participating in the grumbling corner at coffee hour. You are feeding the worst part of yourself. You are also helping to create a parish climate of resentment, holding grudges, and self-righteousness.

Make use of “The Invitation 2018: Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling.” Consider reading a section each day. Allow yourself to be healed. You might begin with “Everyone has a need to be forgiven.”   

There’s much more of course but those four acts might be a good beginning.

 

Q – Parish life seems rushed and busy. Even Sunday morning is crowded with activities. The Eucharist has to be done in no more than one hour. People have little chance to catch up with one another because there’s an adult forum in place of the coffee hour. Frequently there are committee meetings after that. What can I do?

A – Saint Benedict begins his Rule for living in community with “Listen carefully …with the ear of your heart.” Our ability to be obedient to God and live in mutual obedience in community is directly related to our willingness to listen and competence in listening.

It sounds as though your parish has shaped its life in a way that makes listening difficult even if you are willing and able to listen.

Let’s focus on your soul.

Things you might consider doing:

Speak with the rector about what you are experiencing. Don’t be argumentative. Just share the effect it’s having on you. That’s being a responsible participant in the Body of Christ. Once you’ve done that – let it go.

Reflect on Bishop Scott Benhase’s comments on “Holy Obedience.” 

The threefold process of holy obedience – is listening to God in the Scriptures, and the prayers of the church, and in the voices of those around us.

 

You may not be able to slow down the pace of Sunday morning but you can slow down your pace and take time to listen in those three ways.

Do you know how to use the Lectio Divina method of praying the scriptures? Try to learn it and then arrive a few minutes early on Sunday and look at the readings for that day. Here’s the lectionary.

You can expand your listening to God in the prayers of the church by saying the Daily office each day. Some on-line ways of saying it

Mission Saint Clare   

There's a Virtual Morning Prayer in the Diocese of Georgia. Mondays through Fridays, 9 am Georgia time,  you can turn on your computer or smart phone, log onto Facebook and join a live Morning Prayer service. It's easy to join the group, just click on this link Morning Prayer in GA and ask to join. 

From the Gregorians   

 

Take someone to breakfast or lunch on Sunday before or after the Eucharist. Talk, listen.

 

 You may want to participate in The Invitation 2018: Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling.

If you’re one of the baptized seeking to deepen your spiritual life – use the web page for your reflections for a month.  If you’re a priest or lay leader – you may find help on the web page to improve the climate of the parish.

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Tuesday
May292018

Religious Communities in the Parish

In the e-newsletter of Saint Mary the Virgin, Times Square on April 29 were these announcements.

Let me begin with the very happy news that on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, Sister Monica Clare, C.S.J.B., was elected by her community to make her vow of final profession as a sister of the Community of St. John Baptist. Her commitment to the religious life is a witness of God's continuing work through the church. ... Now, some sad news: Sister Eleanor Francis, C.S.J.B, superior of the Community of St. John Baptist, has decided to close the community's branch house here at Saint Mary's. Sometime this summer, Sister Laura Katharine, C.S.J.B., and Sister Monica Clare, C.S.J.B., will return to the convent in Mendham. It is, of course, Sister Eleanor Francis's duty to think about the community as a whole and to assign sisters where they are most needed for the community's ministry, and that is what she is doing. I speak on behalf of all of our clergy, the parish's trustees, and many others that we are unanimous in our regret, indeed our sadness, that this decision has had to be made. The sisters have become an important part of our common life, and it will take time for us to come to terms with their departure.

Since the restoration of the religious life in Anglicanism in the nineteenth century these communities have often found a special place in the heart of our parish churches. They have served as teachers, community workers, sacristans, and officiants at the Daily Office. They have visited to lead retreats and quiet days and offer spiritual guidance. Possibly most importantly they have stood and knelt with all the faithful in the Holy Eucharist.

Over the decades they have been received in many types of parishes outside the Anglo Catholic tradition from which they emerged.

There are also parishes that have had a special relationship with religious communities. Sometimes formal arrangements, often by coincidence.

The parish I attend, Saint Paul's, Seattle has among us four Professed Members, a couple in process toward Profession, two superiors of Orders, and two who have founded Orders. They are all part of disbursed communities that have become more visible in the church over the past 50 years.  Mostly Benedictine in flavor with one Franciscan.

I’m not sure what to make of the coincidence. Except that I doubt it’s a coincidence.

C.S. Lewis wrote this about friendships; I think it applies to much of our life.

“But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ “ There are no coincidences

Of course, some people still make the mistake of assuming there is a special holiness among religious. So, if you’re going to teach on the religious life this quote from Evelyn Underhill might be useful.

But after all a Religious Order isn’t (yet) a community of saints. It’s a collection of people who have been given the grace to offer their lives to God – but alongside that grace, nature persists and his apt to show itself in all sorts of shabby disconcerting little ways. Still, it’s part of the mystery of religion isn’t it that God does work in the world through imperfect instruments. The apostles themselves were in many ways a second-rate lot in yet they were the founders of the Church.

If you see the potential value in lifting up the life of Anglican religious communities in your parish you might want to look for ways to express that. Consider doing a few small things to make the connection. For example,

  1. Make available information on becoming an associate of a religious community

 Here are a few examples.

 Order of the AscensionOrder of the Holy CrossOrder of Julian of NorwichCompanions of Saint LukeSociety of Saint John the EvangelistCommunity of Saint John BaptistSociety of St MargaretSaint Gregory's Abbey

 2. Participate in “Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling”

 It’s a spiritual dynamic in all parishes and the Benedictine tradition may be a help in our way to holiness.

3. For a month each year use your e-newsletter to highlight the life of a few of the church’s religious communities and/or sisters and brothers from our history.

June 15 is the Feast of Evelyn Underhill. I hope you’ll observe the feast in some fashion. For me I’ll say the Office as usual, with Brother Basil and others in the evening. It falls on a Friday this year and my Friday “special devotion” includes reading a bit of Blessed Evelyn.

According to A.M. Allchin, Underhill saw the restoration of the religious life as a sign of the church’s “spiritual vitality and authenticity.” She wrote that, ”the religious life sums up, and expresses in a living symbolism, the ideal consummation of all worship; the total oblation of the creature to the purposes of God.”

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The icon is from my collection - "The Anglo Catholics." This one was written by Christine Simoneau Hales 

It's called "The Restoration of the Religious Life.' The images are of Mother Harriet Monsell, CSJB, Richard Meux Benson, SSJE,  James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC, and Priscilla Lydia Sellon.