Friday, November 30, 2007


My lunch was very enjoyable. I really do like talking to people about God and church and all that stuff, apparently. We tried a restaurant I've never been to; I had a very good seared Tuna Fish Sandwich. When I think of it, I try to eat fish on Fridays in deference to ancient tradition and as a kind of mild fast.

When I got back to COTM I found a note from Susy with a second version of the mural sketch. It looks absolutely fantastic and I'm super excited about the shape it's taking. I would love to post it here, but it's not quite ready for that kind of exposure, yet. The creative process is delicate and can be ruined by too much exposure. So I just have to be patient.

The painter is finishing up the bathrooms today. The art won't be hung up in there for a while longer, but they still look so much better than before. I'm sure people will be pleased on Sunday.

I stopped by Paul Hahn today to look at another piano. They are recommending this as our permanent piano (the one we have in the nave right now is a loaner)--it's a gorgeous Heintzman with a rich walnut case. I'm eager to hear Matthew's opinion. Of course, if he doesn't love it when can be patient and wait for the next one comes along. It's nice to have the luxury of time on something like this.


Friday at COTM

Bishop Yu came to visit this morning--he likes to visit with all of his clergy at least once a year. Normally I would have gone to his office for such a meeting, but he was coming downtown for something, anyway, so we met at COTM. I'm glad we did, because it felt like I was hosting him in my home. I wanted to show the place off and tell him about the exciting things we are doing. We spent time talking about the parish as well as my personal spiritual life. He's a very sharp thinker and has wise things to say about our vocation. I enjoy these meetings very much.

I'm supposed to have lunch with a parishioner today--I'm looking forward to that. It's hard to get to know people when you only see them for short snippets of time.

I'm supposed to go to a singing lesson today--but I'm also feeling a bit under the weather and think it would be wise to not push myself too hard today....


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chicago Pictures...

Betsy and some bald dude in Lincoln Park

The Big Bean

Tay, Betsy, Ally, and Francis close up on the "bean."

The happy couple with Thanksgiving bounty
and, yes, Ally did bake those pies from scratch!

The Christmas Market downtown

It was a great trip; thanksgiving is definitely one of my favorite holidays. Thanks to Francis and Ally for hosting us!

Side Note: that "bean" is the Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor. It cost $23 Million to create and has become one of the city's popular landmarks.

Random Notes from Today

It's only 3:30 and I'm already feeling exhausted. Lots going on today--but it felt productive and that's good. One needs to feel productive in their work, sometimes.

Highlights include arranging the space into it's Advent configuration. I got most of it done by myself in 35 minutes. The final touches (moving the altar off the raised Chancel area) only took another 10 or 15 minutes with the help of another guy. It looks great. Predictably, it gets faster each time I do it.

Susy Bleasby stopped by with the first sketches of our proposed mural project for the kid's room upstairs. It looks very good, and we had one of those fun conversations about what the kingdom of heaven might look like. I'm looking forward to the next round of drawings.

I noticed this article in the New York Times about a movement among Jews in the 20's and 30's. It sounds a lot like the Emerging Church movement in Christian Faith. I think these movements are really critical to understanding the future of religion and spirituality in North America.

The kitten, BTW, is doing brilliantly. It's amazing to actually watch him learn how to do the most basic cat things. He's still missing some jumps, for example, and falling off of stuff when he gets to carried away. And it was wonderful comfort to have them around after some of the bad days we've been having lately.

I had a very intense prayer experience this morning. Sometimes it is really nice to surrender to the liturgy and let it do what it do. zone of the nice things about belonging to a tradition that likes to take prayers from books (BCP/BAS/etc) is that we can surrender the burden of being o-so-clever with God. Why make it up fresh everytime when others have done in better in the past? So even when I'm being liturgically "creative" (as with this Sunday upcoming) I'm still basing everything on ancient and well-used rites. This Sunday we are doing aspergance, the Great Litany, and then a pretty standard modern language Eucharist after that. I'm thrilled.


Ship Sinking

Remember my friend Kim from High School (well, my family will)? Her Uncle was on the MS Explorer, the passenger ship that sank off the coast of Antarctica on Nov. 23rd. No one was hurt and the evacuation to the lifeboats went smoothly. He said that no one panicked and everyone followed crew directions exactly. He reported in an e-mail that Kim sent me that he heard the captain say, "My god; We’re sinking" when he saw the extent of the flooding on the lower decks. They were in the boats for about 6 hours before the first ship to respond arrived. Interesting to see how this stuff still happens on the wide sea...


What the Clergy Do All Week

I can't resist posting another Dave Walker Cartoon....


Where the Vicar Goes

Here's another cartoon from Dave Walker...


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Automatic Confessional

Here is an amusing clip I found on another blog. Makes me miss the days at SMM when I would hear confessions in the church.


Stuart Reid

I came across this artist, Stuart Reid, who worked with St. John's, West Toronto, on their interior repainting. His work is stunning in both the content and the shear breadth of disciplines he has covered.


A Bad Day

Yesterday was a comically bad day. After the whole theft thing and a hard day at work where the pile on my desk got larger rather than smaller, I went home. I helped Betsy make dinner by cutting up some veggies, including a jalapeño pepper. I went downstairs to tend to some laundry, and then came back upstairs to continue cooking. At that point, I stupidly rubbed my left eye. The pain from the Capsaicin was instant and severe--I totally understand why they use this stuff for mace!

I knew that water wouldn't help--Capsaicin doesn't dissolve in water--so the first thing I did was wash my hands with dish soap that was close at hand. I remembered a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a priest whose husband is a cop. She told me that after he was sprayed in the eyes with mace as part of his training, they used baby shampoo to wash off the toxic chemicals. We didn't have any of this at home, so I used the next best thing: cat shampoo. It's also a mild, tear-less soap. I made a lather with my hands and applied it to my eyes and rinsed with warm water. I repeated this procedure a few more times and it worked like gang-busters. I was back to normal in about 1/2 hour!

Undaunted by our bad day, Betsy and I decided to go to the church to use my computer, as we were leaving, my house key broke in the lock. I was able to remove it with a pair of pliers, but we decided this was not a good night to keep tempting fate. So we stayed in and went to bed early.

Slept fitfully. Many dreams about liturgy. At one point I dreamed that I was at the Moody Church in Chicago with a group of church musicians messing around on their organ. One of the organists I know cringed and said that it was obviously out of tune. To me it sounded dull, somehow. I had other dreams about liturgy and planning liturgy.

A busy day ahead--I sure hope it goes better than yesterday!


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Another Theft

A very difficult day means a short post from me as I'm behind the ball on many things and struggling to catch up.

This morning Betsy's laptop and cell-phone were stolen from her office at school. The office was locked while Betsy was away, but the thief managed to force the door open and steal her stuff. It was in the morning with lots of people around, but the corridor leading to her office is out of the way.

The loss of the hardware was not insubstantial, but the worst part is the loss of the data--naturally. Betsy's life and work is in that computer, including her research, our address book, her e-mail, all her photos, etc. She did make a back up some weeks ago, but we don't know much is there, yet.

The police came but didn't find any fingerprints.

I came and gave her some comfort and dropped her off at home. Came back to church and got hard to work with many tasks.

Life is difficult.


Christmas Wish List

My family keep asking me to post my Christmas Wish List, so here goes...
  1. A light-weight robe. (Ideally I'd love a silk dressing gown, but these are very expensive unless you find one in a vintage store. One made from Chambray or cotton would be just fine.) I wear about a 44 jacket
  2. A GPS device for in-car navigation. (Ideally with blue-tooth so I can use it for hands-free cellphone, too)
  3. A Toolbox
  4. A Doctor Who Tardis USB hub
  5. Heated Towel Rack (like this)
  6. Cuff Links
  7. An HD TV (yeah, it's a stretch, but I might as well ask)
  8. One of those cool digital picture frames


Giving Good Announcement...

I forgot to mention on Sunday's recap-post that I "gave good announcement" at the service. That is, my patter where I talk about upcoming events was particularly good on Sunday, which makes up for some of the Sundays that I found disappointing. Giving the announcements is a fine art that requires a very particular mindset. It's part sales-pitch, part sermon, part scout-troop-leader. The idea is to convey what's happening and to put those events into the context of ongoing parish life in a way that conveys enthusiasm and welcome. The idea is to give people the impression that they are missing out on something grand if they don't come to whatever events are happening in the week. I was pleased.

On Monday I did some errands. At Canadian Tire I ran into Theo Ipema, who asked whether this incident would be included in my blog (so of course it had to be after he said that). So it's worth saying something about blogging. I think that people of my generation don't expect privacy, but they do value openness (that's a quote from a CSI episode). I think it's also worth noting that we also want to participate in media as producers and not just consumers. Keeping a blog is a great way for me to work out ongoing thoughts and processes in a way that often provokes discussion and greater communication, rather than less.

Of course, there are a lot of limits about what I can write here. It's the nature of my vocation that I work with people, and most of what comes out of that can't be blogged about. Yet enough happens in the course of my days and weeks that I have plenty to think and write about.

After leaving Theo (and Canadian Tire), I went to William Sonoma to get some replacement dishes for our everyday set. We go through a lot of saucers now that we have two cats. Alas, they don't carry our pattern anymore, but suggested that I could probably find it online. Then I stopped by the car rental place to pick up an item I accidentally left in a rental car back in late August. Sure enough, the book on CD was on the top of the lost and found pile.

After that I went grocery shopping for the next few weeks. While there I ran into someone else I know, a long time parishioner of COTM. I was pleased that on this trip to the store I remembered to bring my reusable bags. These things are not only better for the environment, they are also simply superior bags for hauling groceries!

My last stop on the way home was the pet food store. We had been feeding the cats with Fancy Feast, but there are other cat foods that are supposedly better for the cats and around the same price. I went with the "Wellness" brand and bought a flat. I noted that it said, "human grade ingredients" and decided to try a spoonful of the stuff before giving it to our cats. It didn't taste great, but it didn't taste bad, either. It was actually kind of bland. I have no urge to have anymore, however.

Today will be busy. I have 56 e-mail messages to read. I also have a staff meeting this afternoon and lots of ongoing projects that require my attention.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Church Chairs...

Courtesy of Dave Walker...


The Last Sunday of Pentecost

Church went well today. The service had a nice feel and did what it needed to do, spirit-wise. Megan gave a good sermon about the church calendar that nicely finished off our three-sermon pre-Advent preaching series on liturgy.

All the important players have accepted my Advent solution--so I'm pleased about that. I wonder how much the passage of a week helped lower change-related anxiety? Certainly my anxiety is now back to normal levels.

After coffee hour I had a good meeting with the Chancel Guild. Now I'm feeling like the congregation is well-prepared for Advent. Whew!

Now I'm going home to have some soup and watch some football. It's a beautiful crisp day outside and there are kittens in need of love.


Back from Chicago

We arrived back in Toronto at around 10:30 last night after an uneventful drive from Chicago. The cats were glad to see us. We went to bed early, and I woke up naturally around 6 and tossed in bed until 6:30. I was at the church by 7:45 to start the usual preparations. That includes things like putting out the communion bread to thaw and re-arranging the chairs. The cleaning crew that comes overnight aren't nearly as picky about the arrangement of chairs as I am. In the current Sunday morning configuration, I want 8 rows of 12 chairs facing forward, six chairs on a diagonal facing the altar (4 in one row, 2 in the other), and eight choir chairs arranged as they were after Thursday choir practice! There are usually some other little nit-picky things to take care of, but since I'm not preaching my morning prep isn't too panicky.

Chicago... I should talk about Chicago....

My friends Francis and Ally have a good life together. Their apartment is close to Lincoln Park and various pleasures of city living. They took us to their favorite haunts such as a Tapas Restaurant, a local pub, and the park. We went to the zoo and took a long walk to work off Thanksgiving calories. The thanksgiving meal itself was the traditional affair. The gravy was particular excellent and short-lived.

All together it was too short a trip, but we were happy to been able to spend time with them. Soon they'll be heading to Bentonville, Arkansas, for the next stage of Francis' work training. Who knows where they will be after that, though we all hope to end up in the same city someday.

I only have an hour and a half until the service, so I'll go warm up my voice and prepare...


Thursday, November 22, 2007

In Chicago

We're in Chicago, enjoying a football game and sipping a nice Merlot while the turkey cooks. Francis and Ally have a nice life, here. It's great to see them. The drive was difficult (rainy and dark) but uneventful. Today we went to the Lincoln Park Zoo (a short walk from their place). It was really entertaining to see the lions and monkeys and such.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Off for Thanksgiving

Betsy and I are going to Chicago to spend American Thanksgiving with our friends Francis and Ally. We'll be back Saturday--I'm not sure I'll have time to blog down there or not!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Advent Solution Found!

As many of you who read this probably know, one of the real challenges right now is figuring out what we are going to do with Advent. In the past, it seemed like they were decorating too early for Christmas and too late for Advent (as one person puts it). I believe that we need to respect the constraints of liturgical time, and that means that we don't do Christmas until Christmas. But today in our staff meeting Matthew came up with a really good suggestion--we will decorate the church in the traditional manner, but do so in a series of steps or stages. Certain things will go up for Advent I, and then more for Advent II, etc. One of the great parts of this is that the folks who really like doing the "greening" of the church on Advent III can still do that for Advent III. Then in advance of Advent IV we'll simply add something else (perhaps the creche). Think of it an extension of the Advent Wreath becoming progressively brighter as the season progresses. So now everybody should be happy! I get my liturgically effective sense of progression through seasons and the congregation gets to decorate the place the way they've always done it. I'm greatly relieved to have a solution that ought to be workable.

We got lots of other work done in our staff meeting. I'm pleased. I'm also tired...


Power Point Sermon from Sunday

Here's the powerpoint I used on Sunday for my sermon. Yes, I have the license to use Dave Walker's Cartoons...



I had a meeting a few days back that nearly went off the rails a few times. I was chairing it, and even thought as it was unfolding, "Wow, this is the hardest thing I've done at COTM yet." I knew, going in, that this would likely be the place where I would finally run into a wall in my efforts to grow and renew the parish, and boy was that assessment right. And as things were melting down I reverted to my training. Here are some key points for those of you getting ready to chair a difficult meeting:
  • Suppress your urge to identify emotionally with your own agenda. So when your ideas start to tank, let them.
  • When stuck, just try to reformulate as clearly as possible the last thing said. "X, I hear you saying..."
  • Look for short gains. If all you can manage to do is get people to a better expression of the problems at hand, you've done a lot.

I've seen and heard of priests completely melting down in meetings because they get frustrated that the change they want to implement meets with resistance. But I think that in those situations leaders have to remind themselves that people will walk away from the meeting and meet again at some later date, and people's minds do change in the interim. So the question becomes: what do I want to leave them with?

Anyway, there is a ton to learn from a conflict like this. You really get to see what is that people care about, and it tends to be different from person to person. You also get to see how the dynamics unfold interpersonally.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Greeting

...for reflection, a still from the video installation "The Greeting" by Bill Viola, one of my favorite artists...



I'm so tired at this moment I could cry. I was insane take this day the way I did. And yet everything seemed to go extremely well. Even the things that were difficult or unpleasant went the way they needed go, if that makes sense. People liked my power point sermon--i'll post it here as soon as I can. In the mean time, I need to be kind to myself.


Episcopal Election

This is The Very Rev'd Dr Linda Nicholls, now Bishop-elect. She was chosen to succeed Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones who is set to retire. The Synod was held at St. Paul's and turned out to be a great chance to catch up with old friends. I was pleased with the results and really thrive at these things, but was glad to be leaving when I did.

My Uncle Cliff arrived last night without incident. I put him to work (along with Betsy) to put the church back into its normal configuration, then we went out to dinner at the Pour House. After a pleasant talk over tea in our living room, I got a couple hours of sleep and then came early to church to finish my powerpoint sermon for today. It turned out pretty well, I think, but the proof will be in the pudding.

I'm doing okay right now, but I'm going to be utterly useless tomorrow. I'll be watching DVR'd football and vegging, I think.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Rolling Moss Gathers No Stone

Back when I was studying Karate with great intensity (High School) one of my teachers would say "A Rolling Moss Gathers No Stone." He was encouraging me to move decisively and with speed--I think he would appreciate my current application of that principle. Even if I wanted to linger on the theft I wouldn't have time.

Much of my day today will be consumed by a Synod meeting to take care of some Diocesan business--including the election of a new bishop. Since I've been in this Diocese for a little more than 2 years, I've participated in two of these elections already! Lucky for me, this Synod is taking place at a church within walking distance of COTM. Unlucky for me, my attendance is nearly compulsory and once we enter we are virtually sequestered. That's too bad, as otherwise I would be preparing for tomorrow.

My Uncle Cliff is coming tonight. He'll come to church in the morning and then leaves to continue his trip west to see his kids on Monday. It's a short trip, but a meaningful one.

His coming on a big church day. I'm giving a powerpoint sermon on church architecture and liturgy to introduce the Advent seating arrangement. I spent a few hours on Friday arranging the space and taking some pictures to show the congregation. Here are two of them...

Now this is just going to be an experimental arrangement for Advent and possibly the Christmas season--and for the next two Sundays we will continue with the "normal" arrangement. But I have to say that it is going to break my heart to put things back the way they were this afternoon. I've got lots of good liturgical and historical and theological and even pastoral arguments for the choir-style seating arrangement, however what I find even more compelling the gut feeling this place has when arranged like that. I'm sorely tempted to leave the chairs like this for Sunday, but I realize that I'll be pushing the envelope of how much change I can get away with.

You see, there is a fundamental difference between change that is experienced as continuous vs. discontinuous is huge. In other words, gradual change where one thing flows into another is much easier for a community to handle than radical and surprising shifts. As a leader you often can't determine where a change will fall on that spectrum, but I can in this case, so I should choose to make it a change that has high-continuity with the flow of events. That means introducing it gradually and giving plenty of notice. That's why we are doing three sermons on liturgy and assuring everyone that this will be a temporary and seasonal thing.

Nonetheless, I'm hopeful that people will like it so much they will want to retain it. Several of my predecessors have done similar things with the space here, or wanted to, so I'm in good company. I'm deeply thankful that I have a congregation unafraid to experiment in this way.

Another thing happening on Sunday is a meeting of the Advent Liturgy Committee. This has continuity with the group that used to gather to decorate for Christmas--only this time they are dressing the space for Advent as a separate beat from the Christmas decorating. And that "dressing" of the space will be done with an eye towards liturgy. I expect that many of the traditional elements will be maintained (garlands here, wreaths there) but others will be completely new. My hope is that when we meet after church on Sunday there will be a lot of enthusiasm and energy generating that will propel our efforts forward and even get some new people involved in the project.

Oh, and the Christmas Pageant group is getting together to do more planning. I promised to make more progress on the script! Ahhggg!

So as I get ready to walk down to St. Paul's, Bloor St., for the Synod, I'll be thinking about the feasibility of pulling an all-nighter tonight to get all done. Caffeine is my friend.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Theft at the Rectory

Last night when Betsy and I came home from work we discovered that someone had broken into our house and stolen most of our jewelry. We called the police and began the process of cataloging how it happened and what was taken.

Apparently the perpetrator broke in through the back door. He used some kind of hand tool (probably a screwdriver) and considerable force to defeat the lock there. Although it wasn't a bolt lock, it is interesting to note that it was finally the lock plate in the door frame that broke--metal sheared clean off. The violence of the entry was enough that the door slammed open and the blinds flew off onto some plants sitting on a nearby shelf.

From there the jerk passed by our wedding silver in the dining room and our electronics in the living room and went straight to our bedroom. He went through our night tables but didn't find anything of interest--but in our dressing room he saw what he was after. He emptied a laundry bag onto the floor and filled it up again with jewelry and other valuables he could find in or on our dressers. Among the missing items are Betsy's two Jewelry boxes and their contents, plus all my cuff-links (except the ones I was wearing at the time), some American cash we keep on hand for traveling, the jar of loose coins where I deposit my change. Gone is the antique gold pocket watch dad gave me and silver cuff-links from Lynne. Gone are Betsy's ear rings and her silver charm bracelet.

We did catch one break, however, in that a few of Betsy's most precious items (the cross I gave her when we started dating, the pearl necklace I gave her for our wedding, etc.) were still in a small make-up back she uses for traveling.

Probably the strangest item to go missing was my antiperspirant stick! Perhaps we are dealing with a smelly criminal?

We had insurance, and we can replace everything that was taken. Certainly we should count our blessings as the potential for violence was real, and they didn't take our absolutely most precious stuff (The car, Betsy's laptop, the silver/china, my cameras). Still, it's hard to shake the feeling of violation. Seeing your drawers pulled out and knowing that someone put their hands through your delicates is pretty unpleasant.

Next steps involve the CSI folks trying to lift prints this morning. Then we need to get the landlord to get a locksmith over pronto. And then there is insurance to deal with.

Betsy noted, "At least we know what to ask for Christmas."


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kona Coffee Parade Video

Here's a video of a parade in Kona, Hawai'i, where my dad lives. He grows Kona Coffee and is very involved with some of the local farmers to promote the interests of the best coffee on earth. That's him driving a jeep he restored around the 2:45 mark in this video. The float he is pulling won first prize ($500) in their division.

I have some pretty deep family roots out there. My Great-Grandfather settled there back in the day and raised a family. Hawai'i is a very special and unique place that I'm privileged to be able to visit sometimes. I highly recommend it. If you are looking for a place to stay, consider my dad's guest cottage. Yes, he and his wife have a hard life out there. Sigh.


Do Pets go to Heaven?

Two events bring this question to mind right now. First, I'm working with an artist on creating a huge mural of the Kingdom of Heaven for our primary Sunday School room. Second, a friend's faithful dog is dying and so my buddies asked, joking, whether I would give him last rites.

The idea that the animal kingdom participates in the Divine life of God has never been much of a question. Like us, they are created and have their providential path here on earth. In the Bible you can find bunches of passages that reflect God's care for the animals. The Kingdom of Heaven is described in the Hebrew Bible (aka "the Old Testament") as a kind of perfected, heavenly ecology where wolves and lambs live together (Isaiah 11:6-9).

The New Testament's conception of heaven also includes notions of all created animals participating in the New Order:
"Then I heard every living creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped." (Rev. 5:13-14)

But I think some of the best arguments to be made are inspired by St. Gregory of Nyssa, who believed that heaven was kind of perfected nature in which change (i.e. growth) and even ecology/order are maintained and transformed into their perfected versions in heaven. In other words, yes, there are pets in heaven.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Absinthe Ban Lifted

BTW, Absinthe is now legal in the U.S. and Canada (has been for while, in fact) Here's an interesting article in the NY Times about it. From the article:
But once I sat down with bottles of Kübler, Lucid and some friends, the cause of absinthe’s reputation didn’t matter, nor did the absence, in these brands, of the pearly green color of legend. What I did find, along with flavors of anise, fennel, coriander, mint and other herbs, was something different in the liquid’s effect, a kind of relaxed alertness accompanying the lulling impact of alcohol. (source)

Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? But what about safety? From an online FAQ about the Green Queen:
It depends on who you ask. Certainly, the original Absinthes were brewed with sub-standard safety standards. These days, the thujone content of all commercial Absinthes is low enough to cause no harm to the human body. Homemade Absinthe can be potentially fatal. Be aware that although the thujone content of modern day Absinthe may not be harmful, its high alcoholic content can be.


A Visit to SMM

One of the things that is really good about the Contemplative Eucharist is that it is worship that speaks strongly to the point that we never worship alone, but are always joined "by so great a cloud of witnesses." I remember friends from seminary for whom liturgy was reduced to a moment of lateral communion--the community gathered--and ignored the notion that liturgy is also about participating in something larger than our particular community or gathering. I think another baby sometimes thrown out with the bath water is the notion of the church as iconic of God's continuing presence. I suppose if my first point speaks to the notion of Church-as-temple, my second goes to Church-as-tabernacle--we need both.

An implication of this is that moving to chairs to be collegiate-style is all well and good, but I need to also create a sense of connection to something more transcendant. One of the parishes where I grew up, St. Alban's, Wichita, KS, created a very interesting installation that accomplishes this. I'll have to bring this up at Sunday's Advent decorations planning committee.

After celebrating the Contemplative Eucharist, I went to SMM for Edith Long's Requiem Mass. People were glad to see me and I them, but being there stirred up strong feelings. Some of those feelings are enjoyable and pleasant, but there is some sadness and pain there for me, too. I never managed to accomplish as much as I had hoped, and still feel like I let people down. I'm sure that if I told the SMM congregation that they would counter with the stuff I did which was of value, but I still can't help but think of the many different initiatives and changes that I was unable to get off the ground. Fundamentally, I thought my job was to create the change necessary for growth, but in reality my job was to maintain the status quo. I always felt caught between my call to build the kingdom and my obedience to doing what I was told. In that sense the Story of Fr. Tay at SMM probably says a great deal about this moment in that parish's history: the tension between two worlds.

Interestingly, I think this is why much of the preaching at SMM (mine and Fr. Harold's) often addressed the relationship between the Church/Christians and the world. Today Harold's sermon was tight, economic, and fat-free--six minutes that said exactly what needed to be said. And although the bulk of it was spent talking about Edith and her place in the SMM community, he did not neglect to mention how our view of death and the afterlife conflicts with that of our contemporary society. "Heaven," Harold preached, "is not sitting on a cloud eating Philadelphia Cream Cheese."

He's got a point, but I think the fact that we always seemed to be preaching about our place in post-Christian North American society shows that we never really resolved the fundamental problem that SMM faces--i.e. what do we have to say to downtown Toronto?

There is more I could say on the subject of what Anglo-Catholic evangelism could look like, but I'm afraid those ideas are echoes of a ministry fading into a mere two years of parish history. As much as I would like to offer my insight and help, it's time for me to move on. COTM is such fertile ground that, as ideas go, I could plant a pencil and it would grow. There are incredible resources here for transformative ministry--I just have to keep reminding myself that I've only been here for 2 1/2 months!

Stopped by John Hill's Church (St. Augustine of Canterbury) and dropped off the chairs we borrowed to show the congregation. I also picked up a few books from his (personal) library on church architecture. John is a local expert on liturgy and architecture, and I can foresee having many conversations about these matters soon. I knew a fair amount about this stuff before coming to COTM, but God knows I'm learning a lot more in a hurry! For instance, is the Great Litany a good choice to cover the action of asperging the congregation during the gathering rite? Answer: yes. In fact, the Lutherans suggest doing something quite similar to that in their new prayer book.

BTW, check out this cool font from The Cathedral of Our Saviour (Episcopal) in Philadelphia:

And of course they seat the people collegial style for the Liturgy of the Word.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

James being cute

Our kitten is fond of kitten-sized spaces...


All Saint's, King City

I made a visit to All Saint's, King City, to talk to their incumbent (The Rev'd Nicola Skinner) about their recent painting scheme. They worked with a color expert to repaint the church interiors in very dynamic and interesting way. Here's a picture of the Nave...

One of the interesting and subtle effects was created by using slightly offset colors in adjacent panels--so you'll notice that there are actually two blues and blue greens in the picture here. This is designed to create more sense of movement in the space. This replaced a horrid "dirty cream" color that was originally there. The scheme really compliments the stained glass and has a very warm feeling. The project has been well received by the congregation, and confirms for me that bold schemes are not necessarily controversial. The key is that they function aesthetically. So it makes me all the more eager to bring in a good color expert for our repainting project.

After the tour Nicola and I went out for lunch at the only restaurant in King City, a nice little Greek place with a surprisingly good Souvlaki Sandwich. Turns out that Nicola likes really hot peppers, too, so I'll have to send her a jar of my pickled "peppers of death." These are the hottest peppers I could legally purchase at the St. Laurence Street Farmers Market. I'm still searching for the "The merciless peppers of Quetzlzacatenango...grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum." (After Homer eats these peppers in an episode of The Simpsons he has a vision in which his spirit guide manifests as a coyote with the voice of Johnny Cash.) Anyway, Nicola and I had a good talk about respective churches.

Back at COTM, our weekly Staff meeting sorted out various details. I decided to have the meeting in my office now that's in presentable shape. After that I met with a local nun looking for a place to hold her an Out of the Cold supper for Christmas. She's providing the food, the volunteers, and the guests. All we have to do is unlock and lock the building. Naturally, I'm not going to deny a nun a place to feed the poor!

I'm still not sleeping well. Or, more accurately, I sleep well in the morning, but not at night. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed, I suppose. There's just so much work to be done... and yet I want to have a healthy life and that means going home at a decent hour and praying well and meditating and all that. Then there is a whole 'nother part of me that is screaming for attention. At the planning meeting for the Pageant last Sunday I ended up literally dancing around the nave to demonstrate how I imagined Mary might dance during the Magnificat. I need to get out of my head and into my body. I've got a ton of creative energy to release!

Speaking of the pageant, I need to work on the script, now, so I have it for the planning meeting tomorrow....


Monday, November 12, 2007

The Vestry Book

Every Anglican and Episcopal Church maintains a log of services. It's often called Vestry Book or a Service Register. They are usually found in the Vestry (the room where the clergy put on their Vestments), but in my case the Vestry is my office (at least until I convert the Bell Tower Room sometime in the new year). I've noticed that a lot of priests (myself including) place great importance in this ritual item. We lovingly full in the entry for each service, signing our names with a flourish! I was surprised to learn that Holy Cross doesn't keep a Service Register--unlike parishes monasteries don't send annual statistical returns to the Diocese. Yet neither the canonical requirements for keeping statistics nor the historical value of such records really explains, to me, the satisfaction I have when I sign my name in the little rectangle. I think it may be a vestige of the cultish part of my priestly calling--all this counting and concern with having the rituals obsevered "properly." Yet I'm not entirely convincing that cultishness is all bad. There is something very satisfying about doing the ritual correctly and often. It's like running laps and realizing that you've got half of them done already. There is a certain vastness when you look across a Registry page that makes me feel quite satisfied that what I do has eternal significance. Or maybe I'm just weird.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Scattered Sunday

Sunday liturgy went fine today--though I was a bit bothered by the lack of integration between the various things we were trying to do. We did a piece around Remembrance Day (reading the names of the parish war dead), and we had the normal propers from the RCL, and Megan preached about liturgy as agreed--but where was the unity of these elements? Megan had the same post-service observation.

I was also a little disappointed with my version of announcements. I have a formula for handling announcements that is meant to be energetic and engaging and interesting. But there is a real art to this kind of spiel, and sometime I do a better job of making to all fit together than others. Alas! I think that I probably need to spend more time preparing for these announcements--they really are key for communicating with the congregation about what we are up to.

The best part of today was after the service meeting with the planning group for the Christmas Pageant. The ideas that came out were very creative, and we made excellent progress in our planning efforts. It's going to be a fabulous Pageant.

I think I should do some late nights at work this week. there a several projects that would benefit from some TLC. There is the Pageant script to work on... also a Power Point sermon for Sunday talking about liturgy and our plans for Advent. I also need to fix a loose connection in the sound system (a 5 minute job with a soldering iron). And I haven't done my PC Rebuild Project, either--that's important so that I can start posting video. Oh, and of course there is the COTM website to build. Hmm. No shortage of work in the kingdom building project. The thing is, it's hard to do these kinds of projects when I'm also occupied with all the phone calls and e-mails I deal with.

I'm not complaining; I'm really glad to have things to do. It would be terrible if I didn't know what to do and spent my time in busy work or simply researching what to do. In fact, both the Bishop, the Wardens, and many others told me that they really wanted me to try to build stuff, and not simply talk about it. So all this building feels like the right thing to be doing.

After the planning meeting Megan and I did a service at Belmont House (a local retirement home). That was fine--then it was home for Football and cats.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Light Day

The Corporation Meeting on Friday morning went well. Various initiatives were discussed and shown to be on-track. There is plenty going on, and there are many hands on the plow.

I had a singing lesson with Hallie--that went well. Afterwards I spent some time with a woman I give care to. I would say that she is schizophrenic, though she denies that she is mentally ill. Anyway, I spend time with her every few weeks listening to her. The primary thing I can do with her is simply be someone who pays attention to her. there are precious few that regard her.

Came home and had supper with Betsy. I went to bed, but I'm still not sleeping well. The stress and the cats have something to do with this.

Today we are cleaning the house and having a relatively casual day. Megan is on to preach tomorrow morning, so I don't have too much to do to prepare. I'm glad to have a light day.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

RIP Edith Long

Edith Long, a venerable parishioner at SMM, died this morning. She was one of the faithful "kitchen ladies" who made much of the hospitality ministry at SMM possible. A tireless worker, declining health in recent years has made it more difficult for her to participate as much as she wanted to in the life of that parish. Yet she still managed to come on Sundays and to Wednesday morning Mass and, of course, potlucks. It was at one of these that she fell and hit her head. I went with her to the hospital and waited many hours with her. She hardly ever complained. Recently she broke her hip and I understand that complications from that are what led to her passing this morning. A good and faithful soul. I'm not sure when the funeral is, but I expect to be able to attend.



I'm joining The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission (APLM)--it's an organization that promotes good worship, basically. For them (and me) in the Anglican/Episcopal context that means promoting the role of baptism in defining Christian Mission and Eucharist as the principle act of Christian worship. I know, these ideas are no longer considered as radical as they once were, but there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of their proper application. For instance, the implications for how baptismal preparation should be done are profound. Baptismal prep ought to be more than just an hour on the Saturday before the big day! So the APLM is a way to engage with the community of people who are doing interesting, progressive, and Spirit-led things with liturgy in the church.

We had our staff lunch at the Pour House today. It's a cold and rainy day, so I went with the Steak and Guinness Pie and a pint of Ale. When you're in a pub you should eat pub food, IMHO.

A few weeks ago I dropped off some historic architectural drawings from the construction of the church for framing. I picked them up today from the Tanglewood Gallery and was impressed with the results. I chose to have them "floating" on the matte, so you can see the frayed and burned edges. It really says something about the parish to have these beautiful yet battle-worn drawings properly mounted and displayed. My next parish identity project is going to be to assemble a gallery of the previous Rectors of the parish. No doubt that will take some time, but we'll see how far I get before we do the Parish History-Taking workshop of December 8th. On that day, we'll spend a few hours as a parish talking about the past glories of the place. Sometime in the new year we'll do a similar workshop focusing on our current mission context. Then a few months later we'll come up with plans and priorities for the next few years.

In the mean time, I've got plenty of brands in the fire! I still haven't heard about that grant I wrote a few weeks back, apparently they had more applications than usual and are behind schedule. Sigh.



Here's a profound thought for you:

Kitten farts do, in fact, stink.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Another Day

Denise is slowly warming up to James. She allowed him to sleep in the bed with us last night--Denise was in her usual place between Betsy's ankles, James was just above our heads. Early in the morning Denise sulked downstairs while the kitten licked by nose and generally made himself adorable. Denise thinks kittens are obnoxious. When I came home from work, they were much closer. They even touch noses sometimes, but other times Denise still complains about the kitten. BTW, the kitten is easting at least twice as much Denise.

Contemplative Eucharist went well this morning. Then I've spent 2 1/2 hours returns calls and e-mails. Amazing how much of this job/vocation is spent communicating with people. There is some time spent making decisions, but mostly I just relate to people, share ideas, coordinate activities, etc.

Got a call today, for instance, from someone who wants to make us an Out of the Cold Program location. OOTC provides weekly meals for street people here in the GTA. A variety of churches and locations provide venues for the weekly meals. COTM was once such a place, but stopped because of low turnout and volunteer burnout. Apparently another church is being renovated and so they are looking for another place in our area to host the meals. I feel this may be a stretch for us--our facilities are already being used 6 nights a week! But I agreed to meet with the coordinator to see what's possible.

The other day I saw a ministry (not at COTM) that has been non-functional for at least four years. It started at an outreach ministry, but then the neighborhood changed and it became non-relevant. But the congregation can't let it die completely, so it continues to drain resources from the host church despite the fact that it is no longer serving many people. This is a classic situation in churches. We have a hard time cutting off dead limbs. "Pruning"--they call it in the Diocese. Sometimes I notice a lack in courage on behalf of congregational leaders to call a dead thing "dead." Sometimes we worry that the volunteers will feel bad if we dismantle the programs that they are barely managing to sustain--but my experience is that such volunteers are usually relieved to be relieved of ministries they know have become irrelevant, they just needed permission to let it go. But it takes skillful discernment to determine when people are sustaining ministries because they love them and when they are doing it because they think the priest/church wants it to continue. Luckily, I haven't encountered too much of that at COTM.

Lots of craziness at COTM today. I'm realizing that I need to be more sophisticated about managing my time now. There was a time when it was not very valuable, but now it's valuable not just to me, but to other people, as well. So I've got to manage my calendar with more care. At SMM I always felt that my primary value in ministry was celebrating the mass, and as long as I did that in a certain way, I was interchangeable with any other priest that agreed to conform to particular ritual rules. There was always a tension between the individualism and special skills that that people wanted to see from me and the conformity to a particular model of priesthood that was expected from other quarters. Now, I get to be myself and my own kind of priest, and that is truly mind-blowing. I'm growing more every week as a priest and as a christian now than I was in a year at SMM.

This is not saying anything negative about SMM. There are times and ministries where being faithful means waiting. God answers "Yes," God answers, "No," and sometimes God answers, "Wait." More than once at SMM I quoted the Milton poem that has that line, "They also serve, who only stand and wait." I was preaching not only about my own ministry, but that of the parish that was clearly waiting for it's new mission to emerge. It was beginning to emerge as I left. I saw glimpses of it in the Capital Campaign and other initiatives. But waiting is hard when you are 30!

So now I'm at my own place and the voices are saying, "now, now!" and so I'm starting to run late for things because I have other places to be, other fires to start. This is my ministry now, lighting the fires that I hope will burn bright on the hill.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Here is our new kitten, James. He's adorable. Denise is not completely happy about our adoption, but she's getting used to it. The thing that amazes me about James is that he has only had a body for something like four months, so he's still really awkward about jumping and running and stuff, which is very cute to watch.

Trad-Com (Traditional Communion) service this morning. That went well, though following the BCP to the letter still irks me a little. I'm looking forward to making a few changes in the future that will be a reasonable compromise between the BCP Communion liturgy and the current liturgical theology of the Christian Church. We'll see....

Had lunch at the U of T Faculty Club with George Sumner, Principal of Wycliffe College. Very enjoyable. He did his Ph.D. at Yale and his daughter is an undergrad there, so we swapped a lot of stories about old blue. We ended up sharing quite a bit about our preaching styles, which was interesting. We also discussed the future of Messiah, etc. There is a historic connection between our two institutions, and so perhaps there are possible collaborations in the future, we'll see.

Productive staff meeting this afternoon. Lots of exciting initiatives in the works. I'm aware that in about 6 months from now our staff meetings will be less about the mechanics of what and when and more about the dynamics of who and why. It was interesting that this occurred to me very strongly during the staff meeting. I mean, what we are doing now is the right thing for this moment, but it's how we will do our jobs in the future--nice to realize that.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Day Off

It's my day off, and I almost went in to church. A handy man was doing some work for us and I almost went in to supervise, but then realized it would by my umpeenth Monday going in "for just a few hours." So instead I did a little work on the car (new wipers and headlights) and watched DVR'd football. I saw the New England comeback last night, but the Sunday night game of the Eagles vs. the Cowboys had to wait until today. Both games had the outcome I wanted, so that was pleasing.

I picked up Betsy at the airport Sunday night without incident. She had a good trip seeing her family. I was very happy to see her coming home. While I waited for her to get through customs, I noted the remarkably similar attitude of all the people coming through the International Arrivals checkpoint: a mixture of exhausting and relief. So I picked her up and brought her home. Anna had prepared a nice supper of pork roast and potatoes.

Betsy encountered a surprise when she came into our bedroom--a kitten named James. I adopted James while Betsy was out of town. He's an adorable 4 month-old "Domestic Medium Hair" tabby (white and brown). I'll post a picture in tomorrow's blog. I got him at the Toronto Animal Shelter. It's a much better facility than I expected. The cats their have much better life than I thought thanks to the tons of volunteers that come in shifts to play with and groom the cats. Denise is still getting used to "the intruder," but I think they'll work it out soon. They spent the first 3 1/2 days separated, but I decided to turn them loose on each other today. Denise still hisses when the kitten gets within 5 feet, but neither wants a fight, so I think it will work out okay. But I know that both want to sleep in our bed with us, so that will be an interesting challenge tonight!


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Record Setting Sunday

Today we had 109 souls in church! To find as many on a Sunday previous, I had to go back to Easter Sunday, 2006! Before that it's Easter Sunday 2005, etc. Pretty cool, I must say, though many of those people because of the birthday of a venerable member of our congregation. Of course, it's unfashionable to obsesses over attendance to much--it's not a marker of church health at all, but I still can't help feeling pretty satisfied. It was a really energetic service, too, that included Matthew's Drum Circle kids making their liturgical debut. Meghan Bold also did a dance number with the kids.

Because it was also All Saints (transfered from Thursday) I preached about the kingdom of heaven and worked in the idea of the dancing saints (cf. Gregory of Nyssa--the Saint and the Church). The kingdom of heaven, I argued, is a dynamic and populated place of perfected and harmonious nature dancing in delight (cf. Psalm 149, 150). I went on from there and then invited the kids to dance. At the end of the dance the kids went and pulled adults from the congregation and got them dancing, too. It really got people excited and joyful, which was precisely the point!

After the service a number of people came up to me with ideas and initiatives they want to pursue. One person suggested a mural of dancing saints in the nave. Another wanted to talk about canvassing the neighborhood to attract new members. Another described plans to create a wheelchair ramp up to the coffee hour area. All worthy ideas that will have their day. Of course, it would be impossible to pursue them all myself, so I'm incredibly thankful that these ideas are coming from the congregation. So that's where I'll find the energy and people-power to develop them.

Yes, yes, a good day at church. The funny thing is that last night I was totally in a funk about the whole parish church project. I was moping about how hard parish ministry is, etc., etc. It's a little depression dance that pastors like to do sometimes. But even as I thought these things I realized that I was really just feeling stressed out and spiritually tried, so I put on some intense music (Beta Band, in this case) and got in a better mood. Playing with the kitty helped, too.

Variability in mood is a real problem for people in the helping professions. We tend to identify with our vocations in a strong way that means that we tend to take stuff way too seriously. If things aren't going well for "our people" we get gloomy. If they do well (like today) then we get all giddy. There is wisdom is seeking a more detached way, but who wants a detached priest? I mean, I know priests that try to maintain that kind of level-headedness, but it doesn't seem to be what our age is calling for. No, this is an age for priests made of fire--or at least water....

Betsy's coming home tonight. I'm pleased about that--I have an nice surprise for her when she comes home.

Last night I went to the Brampton Symphony Philharmonic for the world premiere of a piece written by Matthew called "The Refugee Child." It was a lovely piece. Neat to see something a fried wrote performed by a whole orchestra. Apparently, after the show Matthew attended an "Imperial Reception" for a Vietnamese Princess who attended the show. It's not everyday you meet an honest-to-God Princess, alas, I was not invited. But that's okay--I have a Princess at home.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Poverty Decision

No post yesterday as I was driving all around town doing random things. Having a car is a HUGE help to my ministry. Honestly, I think I was foolish to go without a car for my two years at SMM, but financially it would have been a stretch. In retrospect, I should have asked for a car allowance from SMM to handle at least much of the cost, but like most churches they think of themselves as poorer than they are. The most articulate description I've heard of this phenomenon called it "The poverty decision." It was Susan Turpin, Companion of the Order of the Holy Cross, who came up with that phrase. She is a modern contemplative whom I admire greatly. She's also a very skilled accountant who told the Order that many churches and non-profits make poor decisions because they imagine themselves to be poorer than they are. There is a kind of false humility in going for the cheap solution, as though we had solidarity with the poor. But we're not poor--our churches have lots of money and can always fund-raise for more.

The classic example is when it comes to buying a new boiler for a church. Many churches will go for the cheapest model available rather than something which is more expensive, but will cost less in the long run. Most churches these days are smart enough about boilers to avoid that particular mistake, so the flawed thinking manifests in other areas like the copy machine, how much they pay staff, or what kind of coffee they buy.

You see, the quality of the coffee you give to visitors is very important for what is says about what you value. If you value fellowship, you buy and serve the same quality of coffee that you would serve in your own home. When you are talking about tools that support ministry, like copy machines and phone systems and so forth, having a cheap solution will limit the organizational capacity of the church.

I know, this seems very obvious--especially to people from the business world--but non-profits act foolishly in this way all the time. I heard of a church once where a Warden ended up having huge fights with the Incumbent because he didn't think the Rectory cable bill should be included in the utility expenses paid by the church. The Warden argued that the church was running a deficit and that meant they needed to make cuts in spending. The incumbent, I imagine, felt that he had sacrificed quite enough for the church already. Most of us get paid WAY less than we would be making in the private sector. We accept that as part of the call to ordained ministry, but we at least deserve a comfortable home (with cable)!

I know, nobody is going to disagree with me when I put it like this, but you'd be surprised how many churches make the poverty decision when it comes to compensating their clergy or buying coffee or boilers. I'm just very thankful at this moment that I'm at a church that thinks more strategically about these things. I wonder if that fact that my predecessor had been trained in the ways of finance made a difference for inculcating healthy attitudes towards money at COTM?


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Bach'ing It

This morning I took Betsy to the airport. She's going to PA for a few days to see her family. Her sister Molly and company (husband David and baby Wolfie) are in town visiting their parents. Betsy returns Sunday evening. It's only a couple of days, but I'm already missing her.

The Parish Administrator asked what I was doing with my freedom. She suggested that I might go to the pub. Interesting idea. Alas, it's 7:18 and I don't have a lot of energy after having finished the second bookcase. So I'm tempted by the possibility of pizza tonight. Then again, I do have some leftovers I could eat--and lots of DVR'd TV I could watch. I've got plenty of "The Daily Show" and "Colbert" and "Mythbusters" and some shows about famous aircraft disasters. I know, I'm a weird dude.

I love my white board. I found the (current) plans for the church--I'm thinking of getting a nice transparency made of the floor plan that I could then stick to the white board with magnets to plan liturgy with. I love my life.


Fresh Start pt 2

Today I had the second session of "Fresh Start"--a program for clergy transitioning into new incumbencies. The content was a refresher course on Family Systems Theory, which ought to be review for anyone who went to seminary in the last 15 years. It is interesting to note, though, how steep the learning curve is from the basics of the theory to more subtle understandings of its application. Edwin Friedman, who pioneered the use of Family Systems Theory for understanding congregational dynamics, has many fascinating examples of how he was able to totally transform situations through the masterful understanding of these underlying dynamics. So on the surface it's all quite obvious and intuitive, but it's quite complex once you delve into it. Anyway, I was kind of bored by this part of the day.

After lunch we examined a real live case example and did some troubleshooting around it. I found that more helpful as some excellent ideas did emerge from the group that I can apply to COTM in the future.

After Fresh Start let out I went to the church and got to work assembling a bookcase from Ikea for my office. It took me 1 1/4 hours to do one unit, and I still have a second to assemble. Once it's done I can finally unpack my office for good. I think that will make a number of people feel better (including myself).

It reminds me of the Family Systems insight that it doesn't take much change in an environment (like the arrangement of furniture in an office or a worship space) to transform people in powerful ways.