Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Beware of the Liturgical Police

A friend (The Rev'd Michelle Childs) found this very amusing blog about religion, sex, humor, etc. There is a great satire on the creation of the "Liturgy Police" to catch (RC) priests doing "suspicious" things with the liturgy. They suggest posting this sign where visiting priests can see it...

So much for liturgical dancing.


The Mural Project

As I suspected, I had a great conversation with Susy Bleasby, the mural painter. I took her upstairs to the Sunday Sunday room (AKA "The Godly Play Room") and she was blown away with how big the walls are and how much they lend themselves to this kind of art. Here are pictures of the two walls I have in mind...

Those were taken with a wide-angle lens, so the actual walls look even bigger in person. My initial idea is to have a kingdom of heaven scene on one end (where the doors are) and the kingdom of God on earth on the other wall (where the window is). Susy and then spent time looking at various pieces of visual Christian art that have inspired me through the years. I showed her the vestments that my mother commissioned for my ordinations. I also showed her my copy of the St. John's Bible Gospels. I showed her pictures of the interior of St. Greg's. We talked about the Sistine Chapel and all kinds of cool stuff. She is excited by the possibility of doing something absolutely thrilling....

The price? Depends--she has come up some estimates that will vary according to the complexity of the design (i.e. how long it takes her and her partner to complete). But is probably around $5,000 per wall--so $10k for the whole project. That's actually pretty reasonably IMHO--it's still less than half the price of the piano we are about to buy. I'm also aware of some grants that I can write for that may help.



Here's an image called "Synchronicity" from the ECVA (Episcopal Church and the Visual Arts) website.

Today is a day for planning and development. It started off with a very pleasant and meaningful contemplative Eucharist. Then I met with Megan to plan our preaching for the last three Sundays before Advent. We are going to take those three Sundays to preach towards the new arrangement of the space I have planned for Advent. Beyond just shifting chairs around, I'm also looking to dress the church in a meaningful way. There was a tradition of decorating the church for Christmas in the middle of December in a very particular way--I'm looking to revolutionize how that process works. Basically, I'm going to make it more liturgical and less decorative.

In a little while I'm having a meeting with an artist named Susy Bleasby that specializes in murals for children. She has done a ton of work at Sick Kids Hospital here in Toronto. She's also a good Anglican and I'm looking forward to showing her our Sunday School room and to hear if this an opportunity that interests her. I absolutely love talking to artists and craftspersons about potential church commissions--it really gets my creative juices flowing--hence my wandering around the ECVA website.

I also put up a big white board in my office. I'm a visual guy and I like being able to sketch out ideas. New bookcases are arriving tomorrow--then I can finally unpack the rest of my books and settle my office. It's going to look great!


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Children's Offertory

Here's a video of the "Children's Offertory" that is a well-known hallmark of Church of the Messiah. It was developed by Megan Jull and Doug Cowling. I'm not entirely sure who shot the video (not me). We've done it two or three times since I came, and we'll be doing it again in Advent. We've also had interest from other churches about doing it there. Enjoy...


Chairs vs. Pews

Doug C. draws my attention to a project at St. Paul's Chapel (Manhattan). They took out the pews and put in chairs. There's a great slide show discussing the project here. Looks like we are not the only ones looking for a more dynamic and liturgically rich layout. It's important that we get back to that liturgical edge...


Monday, October 29, 2007

Several Billion Times

Bede, my spiritual director, has a great blog entry this week about the sort of thing driving me crazy right now. Here's a quote:
My whole life is, in fact, part of the search for God, if I will let it be. To find God, I have to find the present moment: God is here, now, not in my fantasies of the future or my ruminations of the past. If I'm going to meet God in my life I have to BE in my life, and that requires practice - constant, gentle, repeated, continuous practice. Come back to this moment where God waits. Come back several billion times. Investigate just why you failed to stay in this present moment, and do it with penetrating honesty and also with gentle humor. Resist the urge to beat up on yourself. Do that several billion times. ...


Getting Stuff Done

Today is a day for crossing off items on the to-do list. Most of these are domestic things like hooking the dryer up to the dryer vent (overlooked by the house owners for some reason) and raking the leaves on the lawn, but there also some church things to do--I have an appointment this afternoon at the church and have been here for the last few hours doing random things like answering e-mails and reading an interesting article about the current state of the Evangelical movement. I'm actually glad to hear that the movement's political interests are evolving into something that reflects more of a social Gospel (HIV/AIDS, Health Care, and so forth).

Last night Betsy woke me up because I was moving around too much as I slept. I told her that I was dreaming about some event at church and that Della and I were putting out tables. I remember actually being annoyed that I would have a dream about something as mundane as setting up tables for a church event! Alas, I have these kind of dull dreams all the time. I'm sure I've probably even dreamed of sitting at my computer writing e-mails!

I'm still thinking about the sermon I gave on Dedication a week ago. It was nice to get that preaching sweet spot with the congregation, and I really hope that I can do it again this Sunday. Doing so requires getting into the right head/soul/body place, and that means manipulating interior states. In a lot of religious traditions adepts spend a great amount of time learning to master themselves in this way, but mainline Christians have ignored the need to do so, I'm afraid.

I'm in a bad mood. I made a rookie-pastor mistake and agreed to take a meeting on my day off.... at 4.30 no less! And when I should have tried to reschedule I instead thought, "it won't be so bad." So this is something like my 14th straight day of coming to church (last Monday I spent five hours or so on that wedding). And so by the time Sunday rolls around I will have done 20 straight days of coming into work. Granted, not all of those were full days, but still, the number is depressing. No wonder I'm grumpy today. Like I said, rookie mistake. This upcoming Monday is going to be bulletproof. I'm also going to try to get this Saturday off....


Sunday, October 28, 2007

New Stuff

Today we introduced a bunch of stuff to the COTM congregation...
  • A New Piano
  • Fair Trade Coffee
  • Demo Sanctuary Chairs
  • A Newly Cleaned Carpet in the Lounge
  • A New Setting of the Gloria
  • A New Setting of the Polychronia
It all went over extremely well and the service was nice and lively and upbeat. People were pleased with it all. The neat thing, from my perspective, is that there is lots more cool stuff coming in the future!

But now I'm pretty tired and looking forward to watching the Giants demolish the Dolphins.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Rectory update

I realize that I haven't mentioned that we found a tenant for the Rectory that the church owns. This is extremely good news, as the lack of a tenant caused the church much financial stress. Praise be to God!


Prep for Tomorrow

Today I picked up some sample chairs from St. Augustine's. I'll give an announcement at the beginning of church time, tomorrow, to describe their purpose. I'm curious to see people's reactions to them, though they seem pretty uncontroversial to me. Our old chairs (from 1977) are falling apart. These new chairs are very nice and within our budget...

Jeremy Eliot, from Paul Hahn Pianos, came by with a baby grand on loan. They have a couple of nice pianos currently under restoration that we may like--but in the mean time we'll happily store this one for them. I'll post some pictures when I get a chance. I can already tell that it is much mellower and richer than Yamaha we borrowed before.

Right now I want to practice my singing for tomorrow (with the new piano) but there is a dance class using the church right now. So I think I'll go home and have supper with Betsy, instead.


"Take this Bread"

Here's a profile shown on PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. You can click on the video to watch the 8 minute segment about Sara Miles. She is the person behind St. Gregory's foodbank. They give away about 9 TONS of food every week. She herself has an interesting story of conversion to tell--about being an atheist and coming to God once she discovered that being a person of faith means to be a person who is simply hungry for God.

Friday, October 26, 2007

"Low-Hanging Fruit"

The other day I ran into Dave Robinson, the lead Diocesan consultant for congregations. He had a great phrase when he said that I should "pick some low-hanging fruit," but not get side tracked from strategic initiatives that develop congregational vision and identity. In other words, while the early successes of new pianos, chairs, and paint jobs are important to build momentum and energy, it's really things like a parish-wide workshop on our history that are going to be transformative in the long run. So I'm looking to do something like in November, stay tuned.

I went to the Principal's Dinner at Wycliffe last night. Wycliffe College is one of the two Anglican seminaries at the University of Toronto. We had a little Church of the Messiah table going with two of my Wardens (Virginia and Brendan) plus Megan and her husband Chris and Betsy and myself. It was a valuable chance for me to make contacts with some valuable players in the Toronto church scene, including the Principal, George Sumner. I'm hoping to re-establish the close connection that once existed between Wycliffe and COTM, and that means having good relationships with the current leaders and players.

I'm still processing some of the great conversations from Momentum. At one point I found myself talking about the need to find a well of spiritual good stuff closer to where I live and work than where I have gone in the past (I'm speaking of both geographic and other kinds of distances). Sister Anitra suggested that I come to the convent for worship, but I noted that finding the water there, even if it's close to the surface, will still require a certain amount of digging. That is, establishing relationships and a pattern of attendance and so forth. She looked at me in that Jedi-Christian way of spiritual directors and waved her hand as she said, "Come expecting nothing." And I knew that she was right. The Force is strong in that one.

Speaking of St. John's Convent, here's a picture of their chapel for those that have never been...

Note the progression from Font to Ambo to Altar. Also note the chairs facing each other across that axis. It's simply the best arrangement for a worshiping community of that size that I've seen around: which is why all the cool kids are doing it.

I came across this interesting blog by Edward Murray today. He's a church musician in Los Angeles. Any blog that quotes Mary Oliver, Rumi, and the like deserves some attention, IMHO!


Thursday, October 25, 2007


I'm just getting back this afternoon from a two-day "Momentum" retreat. It's a great chance to spend time with colleagues talking about ministry and life and sharing ideas and stories. Because we all have so much in common, the connections form quickly. Because we've share a lot over the last two years, the bond is extremely strong. It's what you might call a "high trust" environment.

This particular Momentum event was held at a beautiful Jesuit retreat center outside of town. One of their brothers had died a few days earlier, so his body laid in state in the chapel while we met next door. I must say that the presence of death in the midst of our retreat was not unpleasant, several of us were quite moved by the situation. He was of ripe years--in his 90's I'm told--and none of the mourners seemed particularly distressed that God had chosen this moment to take him home.

Sister Anitra from SSJD (an Anglican Order of nuns with a convent here in Toronto) joined the third-year Momentum folks to help us debrief our last positions. Most of us are just starting our new ministries after having been Curates. My situation as an Associate was a bit different, and yet so much the same that the differences haven't been very important. I liked Anitra. She's got that monastic spiritual sensibility that is both completely down to earth and yet also deeply, deeply wise.

Now I'm back and doing a bunch of church stuff before a dinner tonight at on the the seminaries. Got to run.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Gone to Momentum

I'm gone to Momentum this morning. It's a Diocesan program for relatively newly ordained folks. This is my third and last year of doing it. Back tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

St. Gregory of Nyssa Movie

I'm very interested in the style of worship developed at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. For those of you completely unfamiliar with it, here's a 4 minute video of their Easter Vigil service:

Of course, I've got some criticisms of this model of doing church, but identifying those points of disagreement can be just as fruitful as adapting some of the very cool stuff that they do. What I love most about St. Greg's is the shear enthusiasm and vibrancy of their worship. They love color and drama and aren't afraid to use a bold palette.

But then, how far can we push the liturgy before it becomes un-Anglican? The funny thing is that St. Gregory's Liturgy strikes me as very "Episcopalian" for reasons I can't identify. I'm confident that I could pick it out of a lineup of liturgies as the Episcopal one. Hmmm.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Wedding Photographers

We just had a wedding at COTM--not a couple I knew, though the groom was actually baptized here many years ago. He has since moved to Vancouver, where he lives with his (now) wife. A minister they know through the family did most of the service, and my role was mostly just to say a few prayers and work behind the scenes to help things flow smoothly. In that regard we were mostly successful except for two things.

The organist for the service (someone I had never heard of before, btw) arrived just in time for the service. And then half way through the service the Groom's mother snuck up to me to tell me that we would have to do the big solo early because the organist had to leave for another engagement! So I waited for an opportune time to interrupt the other minister and give the soloist a chance to do her thing. When she was finished, the organist took off to make the opera performance he was involved with. I must say that it was pretty unprofessional of this guy to double-book himself.

The other thing was that at the rehearsal the wedding photographers had been instructed not to use flash during the actual ceremony itself. One of them followed these directions and shot using a telephoto lens and no flash. He was able to do this perfectly fine (partly because he was using a very nice camera). But then the other photographer decided to use flash for some of his shots (and not for others). After the ceremony I asked him why he had violated his word, and at first he said he had never agreed to not use flash. Then he tried to tell me that you must use a flash in these light conditions, which I knew to be untrue given his camera (Canon D30), lens (L-series), and the both my experience of photographing in the church and, of course, the fact that he hadn't been using the flash for all of his shots, only some of them. He eventually apologized--and no doubt next time he will follow directions. But this is precisely the reason that wedding photographers have a poor reputation among the clergy!

My reaction to this was very strong. I was pissed off, and I'm aware that I was probably over-reacting. I was starting to feel very protective of my little church and the rites and rituals performed in it. I had been a perfectly accommodating host up to that point, but man it pissed me off when that guy willfully broke the only rule we had given him.

Sigh. Now I'm just doing a little work left over from St. Mary Magdalene's (their capital campaign flier, of course). Then I can go home and rake the leaves and make supper for Betsy and Anna. Then I'm looking forward to watching the Colts annihilate the Jaguars on Monday Night Football.

Tuesday will be busy. Staff meeting (we are moving them to Tuesdays) and then a Diocesan meeting in the evening. Lots of ongoing projects to address.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Preaching with Fire

A good day at church. I'm increasingly finding my stride as a preacher at COTM, and as a result I did much better this morning than the previous few times. I found a nice Holy Spirit groove and just worked that solidly. At peak intensity I was running about an 8 on the TMPIS (Tay Moss Preaching Intensity Scale). I connected the ideas around fire and being on fire with divine love with the history of the congregation (quite appropriate given this congregation's interest in the fire of June, 1976). One sweet lady told me that it was the best Dedication-day sermon she's heard in some thirty years of coming to Messiah. And she wasn't just saying that to flatter me. It's important as a preacher to let real compliments like that settle in to a mental file of such encouraging words--God knows most sermons go by without much meaningful feedback.

I'm also finding more confidence with the shape of the liturgy and changes I want to make. Advent seems like a great time to introduce some of those.

I have a wedding rehearsal this afternoon. Then I can go home and watch some football, I hope. But Betsy and some friends are going to the Pax Christi Concert this afternoon. I would go, of course, but can't because of this rehearsal.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Disonance and Consonance

On my mind: fitting in and not fitting in. Consider this example....

Have you seen this article in the New York Times? Seems the culture of fear that has been seeping into North American culture has been cropping up in Japan, as well, and that has produced a uniquely Japanese response: urban camouflage. It's a clever bit of consonance, even if it doesn't work. It might be fun to get one of these outfits and wear it around Toronto just to see what kind of reactions it gets. But I'll start by getting hands on a Utilikilt. That would clash with the culture of Toronto a bit, but not if I wore it back in Seattle. I wouldn't mind getting a formal kilt too, sometime. But first I have to figure out what my family tartan would be. Again that would be playing with the boundaries of fitting in or not.

I've been thinking a lot about how much leakage to allow of Christmas into Advent. Advent is really a penitential period of preparation for the feast of Christ's incarnation (Christmas). The "Christmas Season" is really the 12 Days of Christmas, not the period of feverish shopping just before! I suppose in this sense the evangelicals' uneasiness with the commercialization of Christmas has some purchase.

I'm told in my books that historically the Christian effort to make Advent into such a period of penitence in preparation for Christmas was not entirely successful. It was introduced by the Council of Tours in 567. It was originally longer, beginning on November 11th, but was shortened in the ninth century. It was sometimes called "Winter Lent." No marriages were allowed, nor organ until Advent III. But people's enjoyment of the winter solstice could not be entirely repressed.

But "tradition" alone is not a sufficient argument to keep Christmas carols at bay. We have to consider the underlying liturgical principles. I firmly believe that the liturgical calendar is a useful and worthy Christian discipline that has more than history to commend it. It creates a structure for "the work of the people" (i.e. literally "liturgy") and structure is necessary! Indeed, every time we utter a word of the Gospel or make any religious gesture whatsoever, we have introduced structure. It's form into formlessness (to use Buddhist terms) or creation into Chaos (a nod to Genesis).
En arche en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton theon, kai theos en ho logos.
In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God" (John 1:1)).
(That mantra gives me the chills.)

Anyway, the point is that increased differentiation and intention of things like liturgical seasons results in a more articulate expression of the Gospel. The very fact that not doing Christmas Carols causes a feeling of privation in some is evidence that the boundaries created by the liturgical seasons have relevance and ritual power. It's a meaningful dissonance with the prevailing culture.

So this all seems like a good argument for preserving the distinctiveness of Advent. Yet here is where things can get hard for me. The question arises, "Am I being too hard on people?" It's the Matthew 23:4 dilemma--no one wants to be the priest who ties up heavy burdens too hard to bear. My instinct is to be agreeable and to make people happy by giving them the things they want. But maybe I should be going for the option that promises the most potential for spiritual growth? And yet maybe I'm just being overly strict, rule-bound and parsimonious?

I know, it seems like I'm thinking too much about this. But believe you me, there are people that care a lot about the results of my discernment about this. More prayer is needed.

Oh, of course this doesn't mean much for tomorrow's sermon. I should think some about that, now!


Friday, October 19, 2007

The March of Progress

We had a "Corporation" meeting this morning to handle church business. We got through a bunch of different agenda items--mostly relating to the ongoing renewal of the church and a bunch of over-due renovations to the old rectory. Stuff continues to roll along and develop very nicely. We are even making tentative plans for a day long visioning event to help solidify our vision of ministry for the next year or two. Stay tuned!

They also approved going forward on the piano project. We are giving Paul Hahn and Company a deposit towards purchasing a piano. We don't know precisely which piano we are going to buy from them--though they have a couple of candidates currently being refurbished. In the meantime, they will provide us with a suitable piano on loan. So hopefully we'll have an instrument in next week that will remain until we choose a permanent instrument sometime in near future.

There are bunches of other projects underway. It's a busy time at COTM! Today I have a voice lesson and then a pastoral visit to make.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Another Thursday

This morning I met with a couple getting married here at the church on Monday. I'm assisting at the service, though their minister from home (Vancouver, in this case) will be doing most of the liturgy. It's a pretty straight forward wedding as these things go.

Our monthly Workplace Bible Study went well. It's always nice to get out of the office and get free sandwiches. I like sandwiches.

Today we got another generous gift towards the piano fund. We about 3/4 of the way to the full cost of a baby grand. Not bad considering we hardly did much fund raising! Amazing how people will give when they know where it's going. One of our next priorities will be the chairs. Our current chairs are in bad shape and tend to attack the people sitting in them. Here's a candidate for their replacement...

Comfy looking, heh? These are at The Church of St. Augustine of Canterbury up on Bayview and Eglinton. They were custom made, but still quite reasonably priced. St. Augustine's is quite progressive liturgically, and I can't wait to try some of the things that they have been doing for some time.

These days I still feel like I'm focusing way too much on putting out fires and keeping up with all the stuff that needs to be done rather than thinking strategically. When I came here I had grand ideas about doing leadership retreats and such. In reality it's hard enough just to get a group together for lunch! As it was, I did manage to get the Ministry Team together for a snacks at the Pour House for today's staff meeting. We did manage to plan ahead through Christmas on some matters.

Which brings up an interesting dilemma... Should we decorate the church for Christmas on Advent IV (Dec 23) between the Sunday morning service and the evening Lessons and Carols? Or the 24th (Christmas Eve) before the Pageant?
or the 22nd (Saturday before Advent IV)? Liturgically, the answer is obvious. but I'm told there have been HUGE fights in the parish in the past over this very question. So I'm deliberating on it. Probably going to be the 22nd or the 23rd. I just hate the idea of having Christmas Decorations up during the penitential and preparatory season of Advent! Sigh.

The new rug is gorgeous. We already have all kinds of ideas for how it can be used. but for the time being we are also very protective!


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pictures from Vermont

I took a bunch of pictures in Vermont. Here are some favorites...

Here is a link to some of the other pictures I took...

"Hello Pastor"

Ship of Fools had this priceless (and apparently real) voice mail that some poor pastor found on his voice mail. Make sure you listen the end part for the "remix."

"Hello Pastor..."


Tuesday, October 16, 2007


"TradCom" (Traditional Communion) service this morning. Got even closer to the BCP rubrics than last time. Everyone seemed to like it just fine, though it was hard to sing well with only 10 people. Interesting to note today how totally different I feel presiding at this liturgy than the modern ones--stiffer and more formal for sure, but also quieter in body. That is, less squirmy. Less water more earth. More blue and less red.

I'm totally psyched about doing the contemplative eucharist tomorrow morning. I have my rug, so we can sit of the floor and do it up right. I'm planning to use incense (Holy Cross brand, of course), and my bell. For an altar I'll use a large tile I bought at Home Depot. It's going to be great.

Some people thought that just because I wasn't at an Anglo Catholic parish I wouldn't have weekday services to do. Yeah.... right....

Got to go home, now. Almost time for dinner....


Baby's Got Book

Megan pointed this out to me--I first saw it a year or so ago. Very funny...

"..and if you're Catholic there's even more..." Lol.


Monday, October 15, 2007


I'm back. The funerals went well. Very Episcopalian in style: elegant but simple--in very good taste. Lots of people there to remember my Aunt. Good things were said, and I could observe a noticeable shift in the feeling before and after the services that indicated, to me, that they did their jobs.

Drove back after the reception. It took about eight and a half hours. It seemed even shorter than the drive down, probably because I was by myself and could get lost in my own thoughts. Long drives like this are great for the imagination. Arrived home around 12:45 AM Sunday morning.

Slept restlessly. Church was fine. Attendance a bit low because many downtown streets were blocked for the marathon. lots of projects waiting for my attention. After the service we went to a nearby parish, St. Augustine's, to look at their chairs and the arrangement of the sanctuary furniture. the chairs are very nice. Exactly what we are looking for. More on that later.

Came home, met up with Betsy. Ate a snack, then hung out with one of our Yale friends in town for the Byzantine Studies Conference. Went to bed early.

This morning woke up and started watching DVR'd football, etc. Reheated thanksgiving leftovers and made gravy from scratch (using chicken stock) and steamed veggies for Betsy and Anna. Hard to go wrong with gravy.

Traditional Communion tomorrow. Lots of other things to tend to....


Friday, October 12, 2007


I used to come to Vermont once or twice a year. My Aunt and Uncle loved nothing more that to host us in their gorgeous home. But since I went to seminary and moved to Block Island and later New Haven the trips became less frequent. In fact, the last time I was in Stowe was about 5 years ago (for my cousin Pete's wedding). And now I've returned on the unhappy ocassion of my Aunt's death.

It's fall here--just past the peak days for seeing the leaves change colour. Most of them are falling to ground laid heavy by the cold, misty rain we've been having since before I arrived on Thursday. There are still a few trees left with pretty red and yellow canopies.

The house is as I remember it. Since I was last here my Aunt got a new, very fancy stove installed in the kitchen (she did love cooking). By the phone my mother found a file folder with her name on it. Inside were momentos and correspondence including the programs and invitations from my wedding and ordinations, along with the wedding stuff from my sisters. It shows you how she liked to keep track of stuff like that.

My Uncle is doing as well as could be expected. He misses her dearly already. His instinct is to do stuff that needs doing, so we spent some time today doing necessary errands in town. Still, the spirit in the Johnson house is subdued and overcast (like the weather). My Aunt's remains are resting in her greenhouse with a good view of the yard. We'll give her a good send-off tomorrow at the churches.

I'm traveling back to Toronto after the community service in the afternoon. It's about an eight hour drive back to the GTA--I'm looking forward to having some time alone with my thoughts.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Thanksgiving and Aftermath

(Canadian) Thanksgiving went well. We had some friends over and enjoyed the usual poultry and fixings. After everyone left I recovered by watching an incredible game of Monday Night Football. Took the trash out and went to bed.

A crazy busy day today. Can't talk about part of it for confidentiality reasons, but suffice it to say that I came away from the morning feeling thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit to inspire ministry. It's nice to know we've got a friend in the Paraclete.

We had a good meeting with Jeremy Elliot at Paul Hahn Pianos. He showed Bryan, Matthew, and I around the shop. Matthew played a few of the pianos and we had a discussion about what we want and don't want for the church piano. Jeremy had some insights to offer about what they will be able to provide for us, and the whole experience was positive. He's going to write up a proposal and we'll see where we go from there. This whole process reminds me a lot of match making.

I got back to the church just in time to answer a few e-mails and then go online for a teleconference demonstrating some church management software. This is essentially an integrated database package that can track contact information, contributions, and facilitate communications in a big way. For instance, at the end of the year you can ask the program to print tax receipts for all the givers automatically. Currently COTM does that task by hand. It also makes managing mailing lists (both e-mail and snail mail) very efficiently. There are lots of other fun and useful features as well--all part of the modern pastor's tool bag.

That reminds me... I need to get a white board for my office. I'm way too visual a problem solver not to have one.


Picture of Aunt Dee

I found this picture of my Aunt on the web. That's her on the left. What I like about this picture is the sense of activity that it evokes. She did a lot of things for a lot of people, and was instrumental in the creation of the new church building for her parish in Stowe (St. John's In the Mountains).

Mother Mary, the Rector, has asked me to participate in the service--which will be an honor.

So far I haven't had any luck finding a priest to cover at COTM on Sunday, so that means I'll probably have to leave after the funeral in Stowe to come right back. It will be a little hairy, but I used to do those kinds of cross-country drives all the time....


Sunday, October 7, 2007

RIP Aunt Dee

We heard last night that my Aunt-Dee Johnson--passed away surrounded by her family. She had been diagnosed with cancer 7 weeks before and declined rapidly. It's disturbing how fast things can change. Life is uncertain.

I'm probably going to drive to Stowe, Vermont, for two of the funerals. She was well loved in the church and community, so we are having three worship services: two in Stowe and one in Madison, NJ, where she and my Uncle lived for many years.

My mom is with us this weekend and was planning to fly back on Tuesday, but now she may just ride with me to Stowe and get a ride from there back to NJ (where she lives). We are still figuring out the details, obviously.

Since the Stowe funeral is on Saturday, I may have to find a priest to cover for me this Sunday. I'm planning to ask Merv (the interim at COTM before I arrived). He may have another commitment, however. So I'll see what happens.

I'm sad about Aunt Dee--someone said, "She was everyone's mother." Indeed, she did overflow motherly care. She loved to cook and take care of people. I'll miss her.


Sunday Morning Calm

I usually like to arrive pretty early to church on Sunday mornings. That gives me a chance to walk around the building looking for trash, get my notes together for the announcements and the sermon, warm up my singing voice, and basically do anything else that helps me prepare of the service. This morning that included doing a short meditation--I used the Jesus Prayer. This makes a lot of sense considering that I'm preaching about faith this morning to the kids. I even have a bowl of mustard seeds to use an example. Interestingly, Jesus was being clever when he used the mustard plant as an example for the kingdom of heaven. These were a weed in his day (and often in ours) and so he was suggesting that the Kingdom of Heaven is ubiquitous, spontaneous, and rather weed like. Compare this to the "Cedar of Lebanon" with its towering height and noble branches.
Cedar of Lebanon

Mustard Plant

Did you know that Canada produces 90% of the international mustard market? Impressive. Not sure it's terribly relevant for my preaching this morning, but I may fit that nugget in somewhere if it feels right.

Actually, the meat of my sermon is going to be about how faith, like seeds, needs to be nourished in order to grow. Also, I'll probably do something with the invisibility of the nascent seeds under the soil--except for the faithful wood above that points to the reality beneath the surface. I hope that's not to abstract for the kids...


Friday, October 5, 2007

Urban Ministry

Here's a picture that helps remind me that I really am doing urban ministry....
The door to the alley behind the church
It says "Jesus Freak."

It's easy to forget that we are near the heart of a huge metropolis--much of Toronto feels less "cityish" than many of the other places I've lived (like Los Angeles or even New Haven). I've heard some other people living in Toronto say the same thing--something about how spread out things seem to be.

Today I had a conversation with someone who decided to convert to the Roman Catholic church from the Anglicans. She said that the Anglicans are not "clear" enough about what we believe. She said that we tend to try to make room for everyone, and that she wants her child to grow up with a laid out and defined set of beliefs. I suppose if that's what she wants than she is not far off the mark, we Anglicans are notoriously slippery on doctrinal matters. It's one of our great strengths, actually. The focus of defining churches according to doctrinal stands is really, in my opinion, a product of the reformation. It leads to a very head-oriented kind of Christianity. Yet Jesus was no systematic theologian. His ecclesiology had more in common with the Emerging Church Movement than the mainline traditions (IMHO). Anyway, I'm a big-tent kind of Anglican--but just how big should the tent be? Whom to do we exclude? There was a famous ethicist who searched for something that everyone could agree was wrong. What he came up with was "killing babies for no reason." Indeed, I think we can all agree that's outside the Anglican tent. But what about people that don't believe that Jesus was Divine? Or that Mary was a Virgin? Etc., etc. There is no answer to this--just the observation...

I'm seriously interested in adopting a new cat--but Betsy quite reasonably thinks we should wait until after the BSC. Sometimes the best part of a project like this is the expectation....

Had a good lesson with Halley today. she's pleased with my progress. Right now I'm comfortable between A below middle C and middle C. Beyond that I tire out very quickly. So Halley worked with me on focusing on relaxing all my muscles except the ones actually involved in singing. It's hard not to scrunch up your eyebrows or frown your lips when reaching for that high note. Relaxing into it requires a lot of concentration. Reminded me of meditation.

Mom comes tomorrow. That should be a good time!


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fresh Start

I spent today at a monthly meeting of Fresh Start, which is a Diocesan program for priests starting new positions. It meets monthly to discuss church transition theory, learn skills, and share stories. Much of the value comes from being able to hash through actual cases in a high-trust, collegial environment. It involves several people that I know, including Lisa Newland (St. Matthew's, Oshawa), John Stephenson (St. Timothy's, Agincourt), and Drew MacDonald (St. John's, York Mills). Thoughtful group--exactly the kind of people to do some serious pastoral problem solving.

The "old" Rectory is still causing me heartburn. I'm meeting with someone tomorrow about it and hopefully we can come up with a plan. Stay tuned.

My mom is coming this weekend for Canadian Thanksgiving--should be lots of fun to see her. This will be the first time she has seen the new house. We are planning to do the whole turkey thing. It's not thanksgiving without Tryptophan.

Tryptophan is the chemical in Turkey that makes you sleepy and promotes feelings of well-being. Here's a snippet from Wikipedia:
For some time, tryptophan was available in health food stores as a dietary supplement. Many people found tryptophan to be a safe and reasonably effective sleep aid, probably due to its ability to increase brain levels of serotonin (a calming neurotransmitter when present in moderate levels) and/or melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone secreted by the pineal gland in response to darkness or low light levels).

Clinical research tended to confirm tryptophan's effectiveness as a sleep aid and for a growing variety of other conditions typically associated with low serotonin levels or activity in the brain such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder and seasonal affective disorder. In particular, tryptophan showed considerable promise as an antidepressant alone, and as an "augmenter" of antidepressant drugs.

Tryptophan is also available as a prescription ("Tryptan") and is mostly used by psychiatrists to augment other anti-depression drugs. So eat your turkey!

I'm thinking hard about adopting another cat. Denise is absolutely thriving in our house and I think she'd love to have a companion to be with while we are away. There are many cute kittens available and it's hard not to be seduced.

That reminds me, I need to get some fish and some plants for my office. If you want growth you need to orient yourself to living creatures.

It's a slightly odd Gospel lesson this Sunday. And I'm supposed to do something with the kids. It's the parable of the mustard seed, so that has potential, I suppose, but what to do with the rest of the passage? Hmm.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Clergy Appreciation Month

In case you live under a heathen rock and don't know the ways of the Lord, I'll inform you that October is Clergy Appreciation Month. Because G-D knows we don't get enough time in the spot light as it is. So when I found out that it's "CAM" (as some people in the "biz" call it) I Googled the concept. Among other things I found a very amusing (in the Christian Kitsch kind of way) Clergy Appreciation Month Planning Guide created by the folks at Focus on the Family. Here's one of my favorite suggestions for perking up your pastor:
Hold a people-pleasin’ pizza party. Plan an informal time of sharing and caring around lots and lots of pizza and pop. If your pastoral families love pizza, give them certificates to a local pizza parlor to last throughout the year.

Here's another...
Make banners of appreciation and display them throughout the church property. Distribute appreciation ribbons, buttons, stickers or T-shirts to every member of the congregation and wear them proudly throughout the month.

I think that if I showed up to COTM and everyone was wearing T-shirts with my face on them I would seriously freak out.

These are great. Here's another:
Present each of your pastors with a packet of personal service coupons. Have members of the congregation pledge to provide services for your pastoral families, such as lawn service, child care, car repairs or catered dinners.

I can just imagine calling my horrendously busy parishioners and asking them to mow my lawn for me....
Prepare a “Sunshine Jar” for each pastoral family. Fill a large decorative jar with notes containing favorite Scripture verses and/or encouragement to be read anytime a boost is needed.

Be careful not to put the "Sunshine Jar" next to the "Suicide Basket"--it'd be a horrible shame to reach into the wrong container in a moment of need...


Contemplative Eucharist

The Wednesday Morning Informal Eucharist is morphing into a Contemplative Eucharist--which really seems to suit the spiritual needs of the four of us regulars, anyway. This morning as I did it, I had a nice sustained awareness of my body as I celebrated. I noticed how my heart beat went up as a I spoke. I noticed the tightness in my shoulders and a dull ache in the left part of my chest, etc. During the intercessions (which I led in a free-form way with my eyes closed) there were rapid changes--lots of comings and goings. At one point I had the sensation of colours--especially purple for some reason. Having the liturgy to hold to, though, kept my intentionality centered. This is spiritually the good stuff--nice dark soil. Stay tuned to see where this goes. This morning we speculated about adding another Contemplative Eucharist during the Holy Seasons (Advent and Lent) on Saturdays or some other convenient time.

A thought that occurred to me during all this was about when you find a sense of being rooted or grounded you simply see everything quite differently. It's as though your eyes become wider and you can see more of what you are looking at.

One of the books I really need to read is The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. But I think I pretty much know 90% of what he's going to tell me. As with most things, a recipe is much less important than a cultivated connection between hunger and the desire to cook.

A character on the show Northern Exposure was an obsessive chef. He asked his students feverishly, "WHY DO I COOK?" A brave underling ventures, "Because you're hungry?" "Hungry?" he works himself up even more, "Because I'm hungry? ... YES! I cook because I am HUNRGY." So true.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Productive Day

Well today was certainly productive. Some nice surprises, too. For instance, I had a meeting with someone who felt moved to pray for me when we were finished. I was moved by this--it's not that often that people ask to pray for me when I'm in my priestly mode.

Also, Betsy and I traded in our 2-year old cell phones for new models. Our old ones had just about bitten the dust, and she was concerned about having a working phone for the upcoming BSC Conference (which she is helping to plan and run). Cell phones are a really handy tool when you are on-site trying to coordinate something like that. We ended up choosing two different models--I went with a Razor V3T and she chose a Sony Ericsson W810i. I like mine because it's thin and lightweight. She likes hers because it's got robust MP3 functionality (she's been wanting an MP3 player for a while). Anyway, that's all worked out.

More progress on the piano front. We have an appointment next week to talk to another piano store. Now that we have one donation in hand, we are pretty certain this is going to happen. It may be that we have to solicit another donation to get a piano that suits our needs, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I'm feeling great right now. Things are just peachy. I love that I can really see some nice vistas opening up for the future of COTM and for my role in that future. I can't wait to come back to work tomorrow, right now, however, I need to go meet Betsy...


"The Bishop"

Geoff pointed me to this classic which I hadn't seen before. Simply hilarious. This is shout out to all the Bishops out there who protect us poor priests...


A Clip from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

For your amusement, our good friends at Monty Python's Flying Circus wrote the following scene in The Meaning of Life--passed on courtesy of Amy M.....

The Meaning of Life: Part Two: Growth and Learning.

...And spotteth twice they the camels before the third hour, and so, the Midianites went forth to Ram Gilead in Kadesh Bilgemath, by Shor Ethra Regalion, to the house of Gash-Bil-Bethuel-Bazda, he who brought the butter dish to Balshazar and the tent peg to the house of Rashomon, and there slew they the goats, yea, and placed they the bits in little pots. Here endeth the lesson.

Let us praise God. O Lord,...

CONGREGATION (Boys aged 8-17):
O Lord,...

...ooh, You are so big,...

...ooh, You are so big,...

CHAPLAIN: absolutely huge.

CONGREGATION: absolutely huge.

Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell You.

Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell You.

Forgive us, O Lord, for this, our dreadful toadying, and...

And barefaced flattery.

But You are so strong and, well, just so super.




Now, two boys have been found rubbing linseed oil into the school cormorant. Now, some of you may feel that the cormorant does not play an important part in the life of the school, but I would remind you that it was presented to us by the Corporation of the town of Sudbury to commemorate Empire Day, when we try to remember the names of all those from the Sudbury area who so gallantly gave their lives to keep China British. So, from now on, the cormorant is strictly out - of - bounds! Oh, and Jenkins, apparently your mother died this morning. Chaplain.

[organ music]

O Lord, please don't burn us.
Don't grill or toast Your flock.
Don't put us on the barbecue
Or simmer us in stock.
Don't braise or bake or boil us
Or stir-fry us in a wok.
Oh, please don't lightly poach us
Or baste us with hot fat.
Don't fricassee or roast us
Or boil us in a vat,
And please don't stick Thy servants, Lord,
In a Rotissomat.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Home-Improvement Monday

Spent my day off in the usual domestic frenzy. That included trips to Home Depot, Ikea, and even Costco. These were pretty small trips, but covered a wide number of projects, some personal and some for the church. For instance, at Home Depot I bought a leaf blower (tis the season), some replacement sockets for the recessed halogen lights in our kitchen, and a 12"X12" tile to use as an altar stone at the church (that's a long story that will probably get some coverage on Wednesday's blog).

After I returned home I fixed the two broken sockets, installed a throw bolt in the guest bathroom, an indoor/outdoor thermometer for our dressing room (tis the season), replaced the burned out light in our bathroom, did a load of laundry, and put out the recycling.

While I was at it, I also fixed supper for Betsy and Anna, fed the cat, and visited with Andrew F.--one of the priests at Redeemer (and also a neighbor on Farnham). Andrew was walking by our house just as I arrived home and so I invited him in for a beer. It was nice to spend a little time with him. We need to reconnect with some of our Toronto friends. Now that we have a proper place to entertain we need to start throwing regular parties.

It's going to be a big week at COTM. Hopefully I can make some progress on getting a piano and developing a website, etc., etc. There is so much to do and look at, it's not even funny. where to begin? The liturgy, the children's ministry, the music, the preaching, the administrative structure? Sigh. Talk about balls in the air!