Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Friends" IRL vs. Facebook

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Random Post-Worship Thoughts

Last night I dreamt that I was about to preside at a funeral service for my grandmother (who died when I was in College several years ago). It was in unfamiliar but large church with a full congregation. I was supposed to preach, but hadn't prepared much and couldn't even recall what the lessons would be. Anyway, I survived the dream.

I also survived today's services. Each Sunday seems to be smoother and smoother as I fit into the grooves of the place. Megan and I have worked out a good system for doing announcements at the beginning of the service. We've also come to a nice place with regards to our "altar craft" (there is still some room for improvement here). Today I tried using the brass desk rather than the pillow to support the Altar Missal. It was a good idea, the "desk" works much better, though I appreciate what the pillow is trying to accomplish. The Chancel Guild is now putting the corporal in the burse--which is what I prefer.

One of the decisions you have make in liturgical planning is whether you imagine that you are doing a rite in a place that is already pre-sanctified, or whether you are coming into the place as for the first time. The difference is that in the latter model you spend a lot more energy marking off holy space and defining it as such. So the procession follows the cross and you deliberately put down the corporal as a beat of the liturgy, etc. If you imagine the space to be already sacred, you don't have to do as much sanctifying. Both modes are good and suitable to Sunday worship, it just tends to bias things in one direction or another depending on what affect you are trying to achieve. The only problem comes when you confuse the two approaches. Anyway, we are working on it.

As we recessing down the aisle after the service, a woman from Egypt reached out and touched the processional cross and kissed her hand. I recognized the gesture immediately, and I'd love to implement a similar devotional practice around the gospel book or the processional cross more regularly. They do this at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. This Sunday's devotional kiss was not a deliberate reference to St. Greg's but there are number of other practices at COTM that were, indeed, inspired by the liturgically innovative parish in San Fran. I understand that St. Greg's does liturgical workshops regularly--it's tempting to put that on my list of continuing ed events. But I think the conferences at St. Bart's in NY in June and the Leadership Summit at Willow Creek in August of next year are higher priorities at the moment. Hopefully I can get a COTM contingent together for one or both.

Speaking of ministry, we have a gift of $10,000 to spend towards a new piano. That's about a 1/3 of what we ultimately may need, but it is enough that we may be able to get a fantastic "concert grade" instrument if we can find a dealer willing to give us a deep discount. Or we might simply have to raise a bit more money--but having the seed of $10k makes a HUGE difference to the likelihood that we'll get what we're looking for. I'm very excited.

Megan did a good job with today's sermon. A couple visiting from SMM told me that it was the best sermon they had heard on the subject of money. It is a hard thing to preach about and she did an excellent job of teasing out the implications of the Scripture's sayings on the topic.

That reminds me, I need to fix the sound system. Not sure how premium I should go with that. I think I would probably do well with about $3k worth of equipment. It will be much easier to repair and upgrade than the SMM system. Besides swapping out the ancient amplifier and wireless mics and adding an EQ and a mini-mixer, I'm also thinking about getting a TASCAM HD P2. These are really designed for field recording, but the flexibility it offers would be nice for recording any kind of concerts that might happen here. I could simply put it where I need it, attach to microphones and we are good to go!

But even before I get to that point I need to make more progress on reading the parish histories, develop the website, rebuild my computer, edit and post sermon videos, get the Rectory rented, meet with Merv, pray, pray, and pray. sigh.

Right now I'm going to go watch some football.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

If a Tree Falls on the Rectory and No One is There to Hear It....

Betsy and I stopped by the old Rectory today. I thought I had the key on my key ring but had forgotten it, so we got no farther than a walk around the property. Good thing we took that walk, too, since we discovered a downed tree limb in the back yard that is pinning the cable and telephone lines. Not a pretty picture--so I asked the Parish Administrator to call the tree people we use on Monday to see when they can come out and take care of the tree limb. We still have to do another run through of the Rectory to make a list of needed repairs.

Today our friend Anna moved into the house. She has been looking for a place to stay for a few months and we were happy to offer her our spare bedroom. It seems to us that part of the obligation of being blessed with a house like this is using it to offer hospitality, so we are glad to be in a position to help out our friend. She seems to be settling in without difficulty, and we are glad to have the company.

I did manage to get the grant application I've been talking about in on time. I should hear in a few weeks if it passed the first round. If it does, then there is a ton more work to do. The fuller-application will require a substantial amount of work to process, plus a motion of Vestry (i.e. an assembly of the whole parish). But this idea of a Centre for Children's Faith Formation has a lot of potential at a place like COTM. In the back of my mind is the Children’s Mission of St. Paul & St. James Church in New Haven CT. That program was founded by Gretchen Wolff Pritchard, mother of one of my seminary class mates. (She actually has another daughter that I went out with on a memorable date, but that's another story.) The mission there has been incredibly successful, and I think we can do something similar. We'll see!

Tomorrow is a relatively light day for me. Megan is on to preach--I'm just Presiding and doing my priesty thing....


Friday, September 28, 2007


My anxiety level is high today--can't really talk about why, but it is important to note that most clergy act as "anxiety carriers" for the congregation. The only way around this is to give the anxiety, in measured doses, back to the congregation. I.e., give them something to be anxious about. That's a hard thing to do, especially if you try to run a church according to a patronal kind of model, where the priest and maybe a few key leaders are flying the plane and everyone else is supposed to sit back, watch the movie, and eat small bags of peanuts.

But churches aren't like planes, they are more like boats. In a plane the captain accomplishes nothing by announcing, "We are being chased by something, we need to go faster!" In a boat, however, especially one powered by oars, a certain amount of alarm is a great way to get people to row faster! By extension, it's perfectly good for the pastor and wardens to pass on a bit of a reality check from time to time. Otherwise, there will be no change in what the congregation contributes to the cause!

Another thing to notice about clergy anxiety is that is serves some very useful functions. It's a barometer that indicates atmospheric change. It's especially good at picking up changing levels of stress on the organizational structures that sustain function. In other words, when there is stress on any part of the system, it will often create anxiety in the leader, which is helpful to notice.

Even more intriguing is the way in which changes in anxiety levels can forecast spiritual shifts. This is particularly true with sharp changes in anxiety. Whenever that happens you know its touched a nerve with something deep.

Hmm. This moment in my day is a good time to pray, strangely enough. I think I'll go do that...


A Hopkins Kind of Week

AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). Poems. 1918.

Drum Circle

Matthew leading the kids in a drum circle after Worship last Sunday.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stategic vs. Crisis Management

Good staff meeting today. We are definitely making progress in getting away from a crisis-oriented way of running things and towards a strategic model. But, unfortunately, there is much progress to be made in various areas of the organization. The problem with making everything into a crisis that must be solved today is that it biases things towards the quick fix rather than the long term solution. It also tends to push people towards isolated "man-to-man" style defense rather than "zone-coverage." In other words, people tend to focus on problems to be addressed rather than their role in the process. When that happens, people start making decisions individually without seeing the larger picture.

The fact is that the only time you should intentionally lead with a crisis management model is when you have a genuine crisis to address. Alas, many churches (including SMM, for example) create cultures of perpetual crisis. Partly this happens because of a failure of strategic processes; partly it happens because crisis becomes a kind of drug that works as an institutional analgesic. It numbs people so that they don't feel the anxiety, pain, or loss associated with the "bigger picture." For example, churches in decline often get into a crisis-management culture as a way to avoid dealing with the reality that they are in decline. A healthier strategy is to actually address the real issues involved with some plan conceived of in a scale that matches the scale of the problem.

My general strategy at COTM at the moment is to get us out of the crisis-management place by putting in effective infrastructure that is structured around strategic goals. But that's much easier to do on the level of what happens in the building. Much harder when we are talking about coordinating volunteers. No wonder larger churches actually have a "volunteer manager" to help tame the chaos.

Still--we are making progress.

I set myself up on Facebook yesterday. That was very exciting. I've heard that most of the planning for youth events in the Diocese is done entirely in the Facebook universe.

Had a good lunch with a former parishioner at the ROM's new restaurant. The meal was pretty posh--and I do like a posh meal sometimes! I'm convinced that in a former life I was some kind of epicurean mad scientist. How else to explain my interest in fine dining and epistemology?

Speaking of epistemology--I've been doing some thinking and research about the most appropriate tools to do strategic thinking/planning at COTM. Today that meant learning about Ishikawa diagrams. This is a simple way of graphically organizing the root causes of a complex phenomenon. The first level branches could be populated with the 8 characteristics of growing churches according to the Natural Church Development project:
  • Empowering Leadership
  • Gift-based Ministry
  • Passionate Spirituality
  • Effective (Functional) Structures
  • Inspiring Worship Service
  • Holistic Small Groups
  • Need-oriented Evangelism
  • Loving Relationships.
Then you start to look at the ways that these characteristics contributed or harmed the effect we wish to examine (the declining attendance at COTM). The interesting thing about the NCD process, BTW, is that it focuses on core congregational health rather than church growth, per se.

Actually, there are number of tools from the literature on quality control that could be useful to us at COTM. For example, I'd love to do some scatter plots of things like length of time coming to COTM vs. length of Sunday drive, or how about involvement in congregational life vs. length of time coming to COTM, etc. Or even just a simple geographic scatter plot to show where people live. All attempts to get a better picture of the present circumstances....

Betsy made some flashcards to help us memorize the names and important facts about the congregation. I should make a resolution to spend at least an hour a day with them.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

When Clergy Attack

We had our normal monthly meeting of the Eglinton Deanery Association of Pastoral Staff. It's called "Clericus" in other deaneries, but has the EDAPS name here to indicate that Lay Pastoral Staff are included, not not just clergy. At the Parkdale Deanery Clericus we were lucky if two or three of us showed up at once. Here we easily filled the parlor at Grace Church on the Hill with some 20 or 25 Anglican church leader types. Bishop Yu also joined us for today's meeting.

It was a pleasant meeting. Clergy are often professionally isolated from their own kind and therefore get a lot out of these kinds of meetings together. We also tend to be a chatty and very social bunch, too. Yet I often come away from these meetings with real gems to bring back to my own ministries.

The meeting evolved into a fairly free-form question and answer session with the Bishop. I didn't hear anything in all that was said that surprised me much. Nor did I get a helpful response from the group when I asked what was on my mind. Clergy are very good at avoiding unsettling questions like "How do you integrate spiritual and administrative leadership?" Hard to find church people in leadership that really want to engage this question. I've asked many and few have even tried to answer me. This is weird to me since I'm sure everyone in the room has insightful things to say about this dynamic. I think it's a deep vein of spiritual gold to be mined. Have to go at it on my own, I guess.

What really fed me today was saying Mass with my staff (minus Matthew). Sitting in a circle around a table. Very quiet. very meditative. Rang a bell to centre our intentionality. Let the silence be silence. I can see that I can go to some very deep places with this group--which is something I've been longing to do with a prayer group for some years now. You can only do this kind of thing when the group membership is small, stable, and secure enough in their own spirituality to consent to this kind of thing. I think the next step in the evolution may be to remove the chairs entirely and sit on the floor meditation style. I need to find a rug to use first, though, as well some kind of altar. I'm thinking about buying a nice paving stone to use as an altar stone. I could get some nice Dharma cloths in china town, too, to use as an altar cloth. I better stop now before I add incense!

This morning I went to MEC to buy the final pieces of my safety apparatus to climb the bell tower parapet. That included a 50 Meters of climbing rope, two locking carabiners, and a device called a Petzl Shunt. This last one is a way to connect my harness lanyard to a vertical hanging rope. I can slide the clamp up and down the rope easily, but as soon as I apply weight (as by falling) it locks up. I always love looking at climbing equipment. These devices seem too small and lightweight to put the trust of your life into!

I also bought myself a special treat, a Leatherman e303 pocket knife. I've been hankering for a new pocket knife ever since my last one broke. The one I had before that was stolen after I lent it to someone during a barbecue! I find that when I have a pocket knife, I use it. I'm always opening up boxes or reaching for a screwdriver. Now I'm just looking for something to cut...


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Problematics of Programatics

This morning after saying Morning Prayer at my desk I attended to various administrative matters and then had lunch with Doug C.--former Director of Music and Liturgical Arts at COTM. I've always enjoyed talking to him, and over pub fare we ranged over a wide variety of topics (including, of course, COTM and SMM). We are the same page with most of our observations about both places and I think we both learned a few new things as well. He was impressed with Sunday night's Induction Liturgy, which is pleasing. No matter how secure ministers may act, we are all gluttons for approval. Interestingly, though, I find that I need approval less as I mature in the role. I suspect that's partly because I simply became more secure in ministry and partly because a necessary skill for priest-craft at SMM was the development of internal validation. It's not a place that heaps approval and validation on clergy.

Spent part of the afternoon after lunch sorting out some Social Insurance paperwork at a government office. While I waited in chairs I read a snoozer of an article sent to me by the Diocese about how to present Case Studies. This is necessary because I'm scheduled to present a Case Study at the next Momentum gathering. Not sure what I'm going to talk about yet, but I'm old hand at this kind of peer review thanks to four units of CPE (Clinical Chaplaincy training)! I actually fell asleep while reading this article several times. I had flash backs to when we were learning how to be "reflective practitioners" back at Yale Divinity. To tell the truth, those sessions about how to learn ministry by doing ministry were much more useful than I realized at the time.

By the time I got back to the church there was a minor administrative fire burning. In the end we found a sort of solution to the problem and then I only had time to run a quick errand to the bank before Betsy picked me up to go to dinner with Uncle Michael. He's here in town for a conference of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities. We had a nice supper that included pictures of his latest grandkids as well as a chocolate Sundae and a trip back to COTM and our Rectory to show off our new digs. Along the way we had some rewarding conversations about the nature of modern ministry and its associated pitfalls.

Particularly today I found myself sharing my concerns about being overly program focused. It's quite easy to get overly invested in the creation and maintenance of good church programs and initiatives--especially when the goal of "church growth" is on the line. This turns out to be a reincarnation of the demon of materialism. Really I should be much more focused on my relationship with the Big Dude in the Sky. The program aspects of what needs to be done at COTM are becoming more and more obvious, anyway.

Reminds me of sailing again--there are really only a limited number of viable sail configurations given a course, a sea, and a wind. There are even fewer optimal configurations. This becomes clear as soon as you try to achieve such a configuration. Same with church--it will quickly become clear what's going to work or not. It's much more important at this point look across the vast wide sea and feel that thrill of heart that you only get by encountering the infinite horizon of possibility.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday "off"

Although it's Monday, I'm feeling exhausted. Spent the last eight hours doing domestic errands with Betsy. That included yet another run to Home Depot and Ikea. At Home Depot I took an initial scout of their lighting department to see what I might use in the (old) Rectory to help it rent. There is a lot that needs updating there, and light fixtures are an easy target (so are the window treatments). There are some other details that will need to be addressed at the Rectory as well.

To tell the truth, I'm a bit annoyed that no one at the church has a made an effort to put eyes on the problem before this point. It costs us something like $1500 a WEEK when it's not rented, so changing a few sconces and window treatments is trivial. Of course, the place rented so easily last time that no one anticipated it sitting empty so long. I'm going to talk to our property management person tomorrow and see if we can formulate a plan. Organizing some kind of parish work part might be possible, but I suspect that it will take too long. We need to get stuff done ASAP. It will be an interesting exercise to see what's like to get this brick and mortar improvements to the (old) Rectory.

But the main purpose of the Home Depot part of the trip was to get trash barrels and the second part of the safety harness I need to scale the parapet on top of the bell tower. I'll need some other hardware before taking that risk, including a nice long and strong safety rope and the rope or wire I'm going to actually run up the pole.

I swung through the tools department to ogle a table saw. I've been lusting after one of these for a while. I've got several projects in mind for one of these babies. I need a little credence table, for example, that can hold a few prayer books.

Next we went to Ikea. We were quickly feeling overwhelmed, but did manage to buy some odds and ends to help our new home seem homier. Those included a few rugs, a dresser for the guest room, night stands for our bedroom, and other little bits and pieces. I also couldn't resist picking up some Elderberry juice from the Norwegian Food Market part of the store to see if it goes good with Vodka. Yes, indeed it does go well with Vodka. It's also distinctive enough to be a conversation piece when company comes.

Lest you think I've been completely domesticated with my trips to Ikea and signature cocktails, consider the dream I had last night. In it I went to Mountain Equipment Co-Op to buy climbing rope and a good knife. In the dream I spend a long time examining the various folding knives looking for the just the right blade. When you hold this kind of knife, it should beg to snapped open in a flash. It should give you the feeling of confidence, as though you could be that Man Vs. Wild guy. You want to think, yes, I could stake my life on this piece of steal.

Interestingly, I get the same feeling from the BAS I bought for myself at ABC a few weeks back. It's thinner than the pew editions, and has a vinyl cover instead of those crappy cardboard covers. Having that in my hands is real comfort. I feel even more confident with the American BCP, of course. So confident that I didn't even need it most of the time I was doing hospital chaplaincy, I had the relevant material memorized!

Tomorrow will be a big day. It starts with a walk through of the church with a contractor. Soon after that I'm having lunch with Doug C. (former Music Director at COTM). In the evening we are having dinner with (Betsy's) Uncle Michael. He often comes to Toronto on business and we try to get together with him when he does. He is a marvelous spiritual support for Betsy and me. The kind of man that means it when he says, "We are praying for you."

The more I think about it, the prouder I am of Sunday night's service. We really pulled together a marvelous liturgy. Better than I even expected. A lot of that was because Matthew did a fantastic job planning, preparing, and executing his parts. But the rest of us contributed our parts, as well. I'm looking forward to praising the whole team this week.

Right now I'm going to finish watching the Monday Night Football game that I recorded on my PVR while we were out at Ikea. God is really good to me these days.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Quick Sunday Recap

Today is a crazy day--as Sundays often are for me. We just wrapped up this morning's service and it's coffee hour. Now I have to go home to get ready for a party we are having at our house for the medievalists in Betsy's department. Yes, there are people called "medievalists"--which is kind of cool.

The service went well. I preached okay--but not as passionate as I sometimes get. That's probably just a function of settling in and getting to know the place better.

Matthew did a drum circle with the kids during coffee hour--they did an impressive job. This is an incubator project for future things that might happen during the liturgy, of course.

After the party this afternoon we're coming back for my Induction service at COTM with the bishop.

Busy, busy, busy...


Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Centre for Children's Faith Formation at COTM

Megan and I sat down yesterday to make more progress on our concept of developing a "Centre for Children's Faith Formation" here at COTM. In some ways, this is an extension and elaboration of the work she has been doing here for some years, but as she departs at the end of December, we need to have a plan for what will take her place. There is Diocesan grant money available to support new forms of ministry, and this is a perfect opportunity to develop something really special here at COTM.

Part of the idea is to leverage our strengths: the level of integration children already have in our liturgy, our multidisciplinary approach (drama, dance, and music), and our potential for developing a mutually beneficial partnership with our local seminaries.

So we did some brainstorming and I made some notes. Here's a mind map of what I have so far...

Comments, as always, are welcome...


Friday, September 21, 2007


The Paul Hahn and Company have graciously lent us one of their pianos for this weekend's services. Here is a picture of a happy Matthew Tran-Adams on the keys...

Hopefully we'll be able to find the money or a patron so that we can get one these babies permanently. Matthew's training was in piano performance--so we are looking forward to letting him loose with a proper instrument...



There is such a thing as "too much information." I'm not just talking about the "over-sharing" of personal information that makes us cringe with embarrassment--I'm actually thinking more philosophically about what goes into good decision making. You see, the popular but incorrect idea in our culture seems to be that more information means a better decision, but in fact there is very little correlation between having information about a matter and making a good decision regarding it.

The most well known explanation of this phenomenon is Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink. It's a study of how people make decisions and how, almost inexplicably, snap judgments based on limited information are more accurate than more deliberative ones. It seems that what's important is not having lots of data, but rather having only the right data.

Here's a good application of this principle--some priests coming into a parish would seek out their predecessors right away for in-depth heart-to-heart. And although I've had a few conversations with significant figures from Messiah's past and present, I'm not looking for an earful about the place. Or, at least, I didn't want to get all that information up front. Instead I wanted my first impressions and initials decisions to be based on what I found in my encounter with the parish rather than my encounter with well-meaning and informed friends of the parish.

The hard part about this is that it means turning down opportunities to "learn more." It means deliberately deciding not to ask certain questions because I'm not ready for more data--it would just confuse me!

I sometimes run into people that seek a deeper intellectual understanding of their spiritual or psychological problems because they believe (often erroneously) that understanding equals control. It does not. Although a certain amount of insight is helpful, it is not, by itself, transformative. This is one of the reasons why I've gotten increasingly impatient with insight-based preaching. It's intellectually pleasant to be surprised by "ah-ha" moments while listening to a sermon, but it doesn't actually change anything!

So far the only things that I'm really sure consistently transform and grow people are relationships, environment, and intentionality. By "intentionality" I'm really talking about the kind of mental and spiritual attention paid to something or someone. This is way beyond curiosity--it's nearest equivalent would be something like "listening."

For example, I once had a person come to me with depression. They kept wanting to talk about the reasons for their depression. But I quickly realized that this rationalization of his illness was simply a perverted attempted to have a relationship with it. But while he kept trying to talk to his depression demon with thoughts and words, it shouting back with somatic symptoms like weight gain and insomnia. I tried to tell him that he should stop trying to tell his body how it should feel and instead simply feel. If he simply took the time to listen to his own body I'm sure he would have learned something important, but instead he just kept feeding the cycle of his own depression by creating a bigger and bigger rift in his psyche.

Here's another interesting example. Back when I studied Karate I learned that it was a mistake to look at an opponents arms or legs to determine what he was trying to do. It's simply more information than is necessary or tactically useful. All you really have to do is attend to the center of your opponents body--a point just behind the belly button. It's impossible for him to make any move that does not involve some shift in this part of the body. So ever since then I've looked for that point near the center of a thing that will reveal what's going on in the rest of the system. Malcolm Gladwell calls this "thin slicing." If you want a fancier word you would call it an application of the principle of Metonymy--parts represent the whole.

All this theory is very useful when trying to decide what questions I should ask about COTM....


Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Defining Question of Pastoral Ministry

I came in kind of latish this morning--I've been putting in a lot of hours and I'm behind on my sleep. I start to get stupid when I get behind in my sleep, so this was a wise thing to do.

Anyway, came in and did some little odds and ends and then went off for lunch with Simon Bell. He's on the Diocesan staff as a Congregational Development Consultant and is also the Youth Worker at Ascension, Port Perry. I met him through his involvement with some of the Parkdale Ministry stuff and we've kept it touch since. He's a good person to bounce ideas off of, and we have a similar sense of ministry and humor. We went to a Thai place just around the corner that I've been meaning to try. It was descent Thai food, and reasonably priced, too, which is good. No doubt it will become one of my regular haunts.

We talked about Messiah and about Ascension and various practical and theoretical aspects of what we up to. I found it particularly interesting to reflect with him on the problem of maintaining one's spiritual life and yet be effectively engaged with the pastoral work of church. On the face of it, this doesn't seem like much of a problem at all, but practically speaking it's a hard nut to crack.

How do you make room in every day for the sort of spiritual development that we are expected to maintain to lead our Christian communities of faith?

I know some people that simply say the Daily Office everyday as part of their church routine. This has history, tradition, and the rubrics of the Prayer Book to Commend it. In fact, technically clergy are required to say the Daily Office in Canada. I'm also committed to the Daily Office via my Rule of Life that I maintain as an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross. But I'm not sure how to integrate the Office into my COTM routine. There are many possible scenarios I can imagine, and I'm just being patient with myself and the Holy Spirit to see what develops. I do know that I prefer to say the Office with a small group, that I like using the same readings as all the other people saying the Office in the Anglican Church, and that I like using a well-thought out and truly prayerful liturgy.

I was discussing this with one of the Assistant Curates at Redeemer, Andrew F., who suggested that we might get a Daily Office group going down at Redeemer. Right now they all say the Office separately, which is what we are doing at COTM, as well. So perhaps by gathering together we'll have the critical mass to sustain a nice Daily Office group. We'll see.

There is much deeper wisdom to be had in this discussion. It really goes to the heart of the question of how ministry is done. You see, none of the things that fill my day that are not prayer could be called unworthy of my attention. They are ministry tasks, and some of them are even done in a prayerful manner.

Hmmm... my Benedictine training would lead me to believe the answer is to be found in the effort to shape my life according to a balance of Prayer, Work, Study, and Leisure. And yet my formation as a priest and pastor tells me that the flourishing of the ministry of this parish is my highest vocational priority. See the conflict? Do I spend time developing the concept behind the grant proposal due on the 28th or do I meditate? Hard call, actually. Both could be said to advance the ministry of the parish and the building of the kingdom of God. Both seem good and important. Not surprisingly, I'm inclined to work towards the grant proposal. It would mean a very exciting and fruitful new direction for ministry here. And yet I find myself complaining about not being as centered as I should be in my relationship with God.

It's the defining struggle of Pastoral Ministry. Sigh.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Corporation Meeting

Last night we had the Corporation of the Parish (the three Wardens: Trent, Virginia, and Brendan plus the clergy) plus the Parish Administrator over for dinner and a meeting. Betsy prepared a great chicken dish and we toasted the beginning of my incumbency with champaign and many stories. It was a great opportunity for the seven of us to get to know each other better. After supper we cleared the table and got down to business--an hour and a half of hashing through agenda items. I was pleased that we managed to come to resolution on most of them. Considering that it was my first time actually chairing an entire Corporation meeting, I think it went quite well.

But I don't think that getting to resolution on items of business is really the best measure of success for these meetings. I'm more concerned with developing a culture of Christian leadership shared among the members of the corporation. The idea is that this then trickles down into the rest of the church. This is accomplished through "lay leadership development."

LLD is like exercise and healthy eating--everybody knows they are supposed to do it, but few actually do it with any kind of intentionality. I've asked a number of priests in this diocese how they do their spiritual development with their wardens. There are a few different models being used, but what's clear is that something ought to be done along these lines. So at COTM we are going to have to experiment with some possible ways of doing this. Stay tuned.

Today we had a nice intimate Eucharist to start the day. But considering the late night just before, it was no surprise that Megan and I were dragging. The Parish Administator caught a bug and came in around noon not feeling well--again, no surprise, the Ministry Team has been pushing hard.

After the Eucharist I spent time doing research on Sunday's Gospel lesson (also our text for the work-place Bible Study we lead downtown). The Bible Study itself went very well. After that I returned the church briefly and then went out again to visit a parishioner and run some random errands.

Met up with Betsy and we ran some of our own errands late into the evening. Weird how much satisfaction Home Depot and Costco runs can bring. I guess I'm domesticated...


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Willow Creek

Here's an interesting video by the folks at Willow Creek (one of the benchmark mega-churches) that is a 13 minute summary of where the church growth conversation is right now based on research that they have been doing. It mirrors a lot of what has been discovered in the Diocese of Toronto through the NCD (Natural Church Development) system. Bishop Johnson was reflecting just a few days ago that churches our Diocese tends to score very low in the "Passionate Spirituality" section of the NCD survey.

Anyway, here's the link to the 13 minute video...

And here is a shorter (3 minute) teaser version...


Monday, September 17, 2007

"Traditional" Communion

Today is technically my day off, but I did go into the church for an hour or so. Good thing I did, as there were a few things for me to deal with. There are also a number of things happening tomorrow that require some preparation. Among them, my first "pure" Canadian BCP service! Sure, I've done the "1962 Rite" Eucharist more or less as it appears in the BAS literally hundreds of times. But the BAS re-ordered the rite to follow current scholarship about how the different pieces of the Eucharist were sequenced through most of Christian History. The 1962 Canadian BCP, on the other hand, is very much a product of the Reformation. Considering that I grew up with the American 1979 BCP (which also benefited from modern liturgical scholarship), it's understandable that I find the ordering of things in the Canadian BCP Communion downright weird. Putting the Gloria after Communion? Saying the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of the service? How about that Exhortation?

Anyway, I'm aware that most of the churches that claim to be doing a "Traditional BCP Communion" service are actually varying from the BCP rubrics to one degree or another. So I could do the same thing without much difficulty at COTM, but I think I need to let these reforms be driven to the congregation rather than my own prejudices. I suppose that means that I'm approaching this service with a pastoral point of view, rather than an evangelistic or theological point of view. That is, it's clearly about providing a meaningful experience of worship to a small community of faithful people already part of our community rather than witnessing to a larger community outside our doors. Nor is it aligned with contemporary Anglican theological understandings about worship, the human person, or other things. The BAS version of the Rite "fixes" many of these problems, but as I said, this is about the needs of the people who come every month, not about growing the church or being "correct." So I'm happy to give them whatever they want--they deserve to be able to pray the way that makes them happy.

I've got other fish to fry. There is a lot to decide at the Corporation meeting tomorrow night. Can't really say much here about what that list includes, but I can say that they are the sorts of changes that have been waiting for my arrival. It will be interesting to see how much people think I'm responsible for these changes and how much they see that these are really decisions that were made long before my arrival. I'm just the occasion for action to finally be taken.

Mowed the lawn today. Also made a trip to Home Depot. Fixed dinner and did some stuff around the house. Much more to do before tomorrow. Right now I'm watching football.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Holy Cross

On Holy Cross day I went back to SMM for a farewell mass. It was a rainy night, and the sound of the rain on the roof and coming through the open clerestory was quite romantic. I preached a solid sermon that people liked. At the offertory Stephanie Martin premiered a beautiful piece dedicated to me. Matthew (COTM's Director of Music) was impressed and wants to do it here, too. I was quite moved by the music and almost missed the moment when they cense the lady chapel. There were a lot more people than expected--so many that we nearly ran out of bread at the service and definitely ran out of chairs at the potluck! Rob Castle said some nice things about me and presented me a purple stole as a gift from the parish. I also got to say some things.

It was great to see everyone, but I definitely felt as though I had already moved out. No doubt the general busy-ness of COTM has contributed that feeling.

Worship this morning at COTM went well. We are starting to get a bit more dialed-in. The chancel guild even "vested" the chalice in a more traditional manner for me--though the corporal wasn't folded quite correctly, yet. No worries, we have years to get it perfect and there are many other things that are of larger concern. For example we have a big meeting of the "Corporation" (Wardens + Clergy) on Tuesday. Many things to discuss and decide.

Now it's time for some football!


Friday, September 14, 2007

Look at my Ministry and Fear Me

Thanks to all of those concerned about my safety, but today I climbed most of the way to the top without encountering much risk. The first three stages of the ascent look and feel pretty safe. Essentially, the first two-stories are climbed by aluminum ladders which are wedged against the mortar work on platforms that are held in place by thick wood joists that run into the walls of the tower. They are also lashed in place to prevent them from slipping out of place should lateral forces of some kind come into play. The tallest of these (second stage) is about 20 feet. By the third or forth time I was feeling very confident about the security of the ladders. And even if I did fall it would just be to the platform below.

The third stage is a short (~10') wooden ladder made with 3"X5"'s and nailed together. It looks and feels solid, and I was aware that even if it did fail completely I only had a relatively short fall to the platform below. I got to the top of this third stage, but didn't go onto the platform since I couldn't fit through the opening in the platform with by backpack with cameras in it. Next time I'll take a rope with me and pull the bag up once I'm through. I could see, however, that the third stage is as far as it goes for internal ladders. From there a door leads out to the roof of the belltower. I don't know how you get from there to the parapet, perhaps you simply bring a ladder (or hoist one up from the ground along the outside of the tower). Anyway, the flag pole on the parapet is Phase II. Here are the pictures from Phase I....

Bell with the words "Sheldon Was Here 2003" written in black permanent marker.
(Andrew) Sheldon was the last Incumbent before me.

The third-stage wooden ladder with the platform above. The top of this ladder was as far as I cared to go today.

Doesn't that warm your Anglican heart? The flag pole on the very top will be the next to get fixed

Dave B. will be very pleased with this development....


Thursday, September 13, 2007


Matthew was playing the tune for "Finlandia" by Jean Sibelius a second ago. It's a hymn tune that really stirs my soul. We are singing it this Sunday.

This morning Megan and I went Belmont House to do a Eucharist service. We said a short version of the 1962 Mass downstairs in the chapel and then upstairs to a floor with folks with mental impairments to do an even shorter service of worship (complete with Don on peppy keyboard doing "Jesus Love Me" and other hymns familiar to an older generation). It was a really lovely experience. As I was riding down the elevator afterwards with Megan and Don I had to tell them what a luxury it was to have them with me to do this ministry.

Back at COTM we had a flurry of e-mails and phone about administrative matters. There has been a lot of stuff that was put on hold with the mantra "When the New Incumbent Comes" that is suddenly on my shoulders. So now we are moving on all sorts of fronts all at once. It does feel very satisfying, though, to feel like we are making rapid progress on getting stuff under control. We are evening starting to establish important pieces of the leadership infrastructure--not just regular staff meetings and other rituals of connection, but also deeper rhythms of trust and communication. As a result we are already outlining our creative liturgy plans between now and the end of December. It's a beautiful moment!

Speaking of staff meetings, we had a two hour one today--longer than is ideal, but necessary given all the stuff to be discussed and decided.

BTW, have I praised my most excellent ministry team today? They rock. Megan even brought cinnamon buns to the staff meeting!

Doesn't that look inviting? I climbed the first ladder today just to see what was up there--I saw several stages of aluminum ladders. They are all quite dusty, but the actual heights between stages looks entirely doable. I once climbed a truly scary ladder in the Holy Cross bell tower that had me suspended 25 feet or more on nailed-together 2"x4"s that kept springing up and down with every slight movement of my shivering body. Ain't ministry grand?


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Staff Meeting

Megan (Pastoral Associate), the Parish Administrator, Barbara, and I had an informal Eucharist this morning. The intimacy of such a close quarters liturgy was quite nice, actually, and prayerful. This kind of "staff" Eucharist is likely to become a regular thing for us--really continuing a tradition of the parish that I inherited anyway. Also said Morning Prayer with the crew.

These kinds of intimate prayer moments are suddenly coming a lot to me. Last night I was at Bishop Colin's house for a meeting of young clergy and lay leaders. Because it rained, we ended up having much of our conversation in his living room. There weren't enough chairs, so many of us (including the Bishop and me) ended up sitting on the floor. By that time there was significant sharing of experiences going on and it felt wonderful. The bishop was clearly enjoying the moment as well, and ended the night by reading a passage of scripture, reflecting on it with us, leading us in the Lord's Prayer, and then blessing us. I'm sure these kinds of high-energy conversations about active ministry are much more satisfying to him than many of the things that fill his days.

This morning at church I was still feeling the buzz from that pleasant evening with burgers, ice cream, and ministry talk. No doubt it left me in the perfect frame of mind for all the team building that today involved. After Morning Prayer there was some e-mail and phone calls to deal with. Then Matthew (Director of Music) arrived and we went to lunch at the Pour House. That gave us a chance to tell some stories and enjoy each other's company.

After we got back, Megan joined us again and we had a marathon staff meeting. After we did some planning for upcoming events (including Friday morning's meeting of the Corporation) we did some brainstorming about projects and priorities for near and long term. Lots of great ideas made it onto the flip chart I was using. Some are going to have to wait a bit--others can be implemented easily. For example, our Cantor, Laura, is going to teach the kids some Taize music and then they are going to teach it to the congregation. We are also going to change the position of the organ console slightly and fix some light switches and start working two grant proposals and on and on and on.... Pretty soon it was 5.30 and time to wrap it up--but we all felt as though we had accomplished a great deal. I have a fantastic Ministry Team that is showing every sign of coming to a groove!

I still haven't climbed the belltower--but I will soon. First I have to make a trip to the hardware store so that I have some line to run up the flag pole once I do get up there. I'm also thinking that I should think about getting a safety harness so that I can climb the tower with some security. I'm told that the rungs are very far apart toward the top!

BTW, heard today that there is a rumor going around the parish that I'm only going to stick around for two years. It's untrue, of course, and may simply be based on speculation that I'll leave once Betsy's degree is finished. I suppose I wasn't clear enough in my sermon when I said, "This is my dream job." I should have said, "I'm not going to abandon you!" Anyway, I'm going to squash this rumor on Sunday with a friendly announcement about my intention to stick around for good long while.

Made more progress getting my office organized as well as the house (once I got home). Both are looking more and more like we want them. Really starting to feel at home, now...

Time for bed!


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bouncy Castle

Check out our Bouncy Castle. We had it set up after church on Sunday to celebrate the beginning on a new church year (as well my first Sunday). The liturgy and the BBQ and the castle went very well. There was a little craziness around some of the liturgy and and the Sunday school, but I was expecting that.

One of the first things I want to address in the liturgy is the way I felt so totally separated and distant from the congregation. The chancel is relatively small and stuffed up in the corner. I'm considering moving the altar down into the "nave" to be closer.

I also have to figure out what to do about ceremonial around the altar--when to bow, genuflect, cross things, etc. This was all very laid out and consistent at SMM, of course, but now it's a new ball game. I went for a relatively "middle" approach on Sunday. Interestingly, the only time I ended up genuflecting was to the children as I went down on a knee so that I could be at their height to give them communion. At the time I thought this was very incarnational and warm and fuzzy. But we definitely need to ramp up the "holiness" factor a bit. Moving the altar down to the nave actually increases both the feeling of intimacy and, paradoxically, the feeling of transcendent holiness. That's because the closer the altar is to the congregation the more of an impression it makes on the consciousness. It also means we won't be cramped for space as we move around it!

Lot of details to coordinate. There is a staff meeting tomorrow and a Corporation meeting on Friday. In preparation for the meeting with Corporation I have to line up the agenda. This is a group that wants to get through items efficiently, so that means doing lots of homework to anticipate questions and answers.

I videotaped my sermon on Sunday, but I haven't had time to edit and post it. The video camera worked great, however, and presents all kinds of new evangelism possibilities. I need to set up a kind of church A/V club. I need to think of an appropriate Biblical name for such a group....

Incidentally, the sound system is not behaving well (of course). Luckily this place doesn't require anything nearly as complex as SMM did. Probably I just need to replace the mics for the time being. I'll be amused to follow the sound system developments at SMM. My prediction is that now that I'm gone it won't be repaired until after Fr. Harold retires. That's not a snipe at him, just a prediction based on the fact that he's swamped with his own projects and probably won't be able to make any headway with this one unless it absolutely stops working. The Building Committee is also looking for fat to trim from the renovation budget...

Now I have to run to ABC (Anglican Book Centre) to get some church stuff--including collars. Collars are finicky beasts that wear out faster than you would expect. One day I'll get the real cotton kind (rather than the common plastic ones).

BTW, our cable box has one of the PVR deals built in. It's a hard drive that can record shows much live a VCR. I've got it set to record all episodes of "Mythbusters" for example. Very cool. I always love a new toy.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Moving In

There have been so many changes in our lives of late that I've hardly had a chance to even post pictures of them....

Our new car

My Office--half unpacked


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Quick Note

Just a quick note. Big day tomorrow.

Today was Dawn and Gord's wedding at COTM--my first service in the church. Things seemed to go well, and people were especially impressed/pleased with the sermon. I think it's auspicious that my first service at the new church was a wedding. Funny that the more time I spend there the longer the list of things that needs to be addressed becomes. The AC units, for example, were dipping water like crazy onto the wall-mounted speakers and the floors and such. So between the wedding and the reception I climbed a ladder with Dave B.'s help and put a trash bag over the speaker to prevent more damage. Obviously, we'll have to have the AC people in ASAP to fix the problem.

I also managed to spill a little of the communion wine on the corporal and altar cloth. Thankfully, I had my hand on the base of the chalice (thanks to Harold's training) and that prevented a bigger spill. I wonder in general, though, if we should switch to white wine (less wear and tear on the linens to get out). It also tastes like "real" wine rather than this sweet stuff that has become fashionable in Anglican/Episcopal circles.

I'm trying not to make any more changes than I absolutely have to in the normal Sunday routine in the next few weeks, so the wine thing can wait, obviously. But I'm a little more bothered by the fact that they commonly put consecrated elements (bread and wine) in a simple cupboard or out on the credence table overnight or for days at a time. Interesting that it combines two different ideas about the Eucharist. On the one hand this practice seems to say that these elements retain their holiness after the service is over and ought to be put aside, marked, and reused. But they aren't giving the normal reverence given when working under that assumption. So at the very least I'm going to introduce a tabernacle/ambry in the sacristy to reserve the elements in the traditional way. I think the Diocese has a warehouse full of old church furnishings, and I can probably find an appropriate tabernacle for free. Otherwise, I think I could probably buy a suitable box here or there and repurpose it.

Yeah, I know, this sensitivity makes me seem high church--but actually on the spectrum of such things I would say this is more middle of the ground than high, per se. It would be interesting to do a survey of churches in the diocese to see what they do in this regard, but in the Diocese of CT I saw/visited MANY churches and rarely saw one without an ambry of some sort.

Anyway, it's another item on the list.

I'm very excited about tomorrow. I've got lots of ideas for the sermon and will have to pair it down the morning. As I was driving back from Oshawa around sunset I was listening to a particularly beautiful and dreamy piece by Tori Amos and thinking about my sermon and watching the sunset and just thought how clearly everything seems to be aligning in my life at this moment. I imagined myself in front of the congregation preaching passionately about our future together. I saw myself using some of my favorite stories and parables to convey what's important to me and what I have in mind. Perhaps I'll start with a paraphrase of the Flat Land story? It's a great way to talk about the work the Spirit in community.


Friday, September 7, 2007

More Rumi

More Rumi--because, really, can you have enough Rumi?
Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field. I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in the grass, the world is too full to think about. Ideas, language – even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.



More settling in today. I'm getting my official keys to the kingdom of COTM. The Parish Administator has also promised to give me a tour of the building--I've never actually been taken around and shown all the nooks and crannies!

I'm still looking forward to climbing up the bell tower, though Peter (the Property Manager) tells me that I'll probably need a ladder to climb the flag pole and re-thread the lanyard if we want to actually use the flag pole again. I actually heard a story a few weeks back about a CEO who insisted on doing such a job himself of his company's new HQ--there is something wonderfully symbolic about putting the flag up yourself the first time--I never want to ask anyone else to do something I myself am unwilling to attempt.

It's worth noting, btw, that while I think some of the liturgical changes will happen rather slowly, there is a whole level of administrative organization that needs some TLC. I've discovered today, for instance, that the book keeper is not very happy with the software currently used for the financial management but that they didn't want to replace it until the new incumbent came. Now I've come and it's time to fix little things like that. The catchword in all this administrative stuff is "capacity for ministry." We want to create the conditions in which ministry thrives. That goes WAY beyond having fancy databases for tracking giving and doing mailing lists. I need to have things running smoothly enough that I'm not spending all day on Administrative tasks. Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.

The best definition for the spiritual concept of "Leisure" is this: "Having enough time in the day for everything we put in it." Imagine: going to bed with the feeling that we've done everything we needed to do that day! Applied to incumbency, that means having things set up so that I'm able to do what needs to be done to keep the lights on and be able to do my visiting and planning and personal spiritual development. Matter of fact, that last item is probably the most important of all.

Wow, these are heady times!


Thursday, September 6, 2007


I'm here, at Church of the Messiah. Got my computer working and some of my books unpacked. Today was a day for unpacking and for making decisions about things coming up this weekend that simply must be decided. For the moment I'm taking the advice of my wiser friends (such as Mary Gates) and making few changes at COTM. This first Sunday or two is a chance for people to meet me and for me to begin to get to know them. No need to scare them utterly this first few weeks!

My "Induction" Service has been scheduled for Sunday, 23 September, at 7 P.M. This is the occasion for Bishop Patrick Yu to welcome me to the parish and for everyone to celebrate the beginning of a new ministry. It fits alongside my "Welcome Sunday" this weekend and the "Institution" service held in the Diocesan Chapel last week and my farewell service at SMM on the 14th of September. I don't anyone can say there hasn't been sufficient liturgy to mark the beginning of my term here!

So far--so good. The Parish Administrator and Megan and Matthew have all been very gracious to me. It feels great to be here. My wings feel less cramped already!


Holy Cross Pictures...

Some pics from time at OHC....
The Lesser Cloister

The Hudson flowing patiently by the Monastery

The Monastery Church

Another view inside the Monastery Church

This is the Stream that flows by the Little Bear Restaurant in Woodstock, NY

I'm already missing the place again. Thankfully, in my new position I can organize things in a way to make it possible for me to visit more often...


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Poem by Rumi

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive. Jump into experience while you are alive! Think ... and think ... while you are alive.
What you call "salvation" belongs to the time before death.

If you don't break your ropes while you're alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten --
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire.

So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is, Believe in the Great Sound!

Kabir says this: When the Guest is being searched for, it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.

That's a poem by Rumi that Mary Gates read to us during our retreat.


The Monastery Experience

I'm writing this from Holy Cross Monastery. I'm using one of the computers in the library. Yes, they have computers in the monastery. They even have a relatively sophisticated computer network that helps them carry out various functions of their common life (like manage guest house bookings and the ~16,000 volume library and the incense business and on and on). Anyway, so I'm writing this from a computer in the monastery library with a nice view of the Hudson River below. There is a rolling green lawn that slopes down the River. Turkeys graze there tentatively, glancing up at the monastery buildings between bites of insects.

I think the best way to describe life in the monastery is to say that it is simply an effort to organize a community around the intention to know and love God. The brothers do this by organizing their common life and individual practices around ancient means to that end. They attempt to balance the four foundations of Benedictine spirituality: Prayer, Work, Study, and Leisure. More than anywhere I have ever lived, here there is some harmony in daily living. We pray, we eat, we do the little jobs that we are asked to do, and we do this in such a way that we have time for everything in our day. In helps that this happens in the context of extraordinary natural beauty.

I started off my time here on Friday with a meditation retreat. We were practicing the discipline of silence, and it was neat to notice just how simple my life became when I only had to do what I had to do--praying, meditating, eating, resting. But the feeling goes way beyond simple relief from the burden of "normal" life--when you live this way you see things and experience things that change you. They were always there, but it becomes possible in holy living to know them. This is nothing less than the truth of the world offering itself to us at every moment. It's an incredible thing to listen to what the sun rising over Hyde Park has to tell you about time or what your body has to tell you about the evening time.

There will be a lot to do when I get back to Toronto. But really only is one thing necessary--to know and love God. If I can manage that, by shaping my life habits according to my best intentions, everything else will follow--the growth, the kingdom, the happiness, and everything else desireable.

One of my most imporant ordination vows (one that I renewed when the Bishop "Invested" me with the responsibility for COTM in his chapel at the Diocesan Centre last week) is "holiness of life." What else could possibly meant than this, to live in a holy manner? And that's not a vague thing. It's a crystal clear reality that you can feel in your bones if you allow yourself to do so.

I've been coming here to Holy Cross for something like 10 years. I was even married here. And everytime I come it gets a little thinner to me--a little more transparent. And through that thinness I can see deeper into the reality of the holiness I seek behind the monastery, and that's the real treasure of this place to me. The buildings and the chant and the Rule and the way of life point the finger of intention to something grand and powerful and life changing. I'm just going to sit here and let that truth change me....