Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Today's Prayers

The first trial of the Contemplative Eucharist went very well. I only had one person there ("and all the angels" as we used to say at St. Mary Magdalene's)--but that's fine. I might start advertising it at some point, but I'm content for the moment. My experience with meditation groups is that they are best developed organically over time.

And "time" is the other issue. We say this Mass at 8:30 A.M. on Wednesdays. It's possible I might get better attendance at the lunch hour or even in the afternoon. Something to think about.

I decided to follow Bishop Yu's suggestion and use the more conventional form of the Sursum Corda. It has the advantage of being memorized by most church-goers. The ventilated Eucharistic Prayer worked MUCH better for this liturgy than any of the prayers in the BAS, but it definitely requires a lot of spiritual discipline on the part of the Presider. This is not the sort of liturgy where you can cruise through on auto-pilot, that's for sure. I think I'll get better at it with familiarity.

Here's how I set up. We sit on cushions on the floor in a circle around an altar made from a ceramic tile with a corporal over it. The patten and chalice set were a gift from my mother--she picked them up in France. Note the Tibetan bell for marking the end of silences. On the little shelf structure is a diptych of Mary with Child on one pannel and Christ on the other. A single candle burns in front of it. To it's side is a small incense pot with a hot coal. Under it is a bowl with Holy Cross Incense, of course.

After Communion I did some e-mail, had some coffee, and then said Morning Prayer. Now that I'm by myself I can really cater the Office to my needs. I usually sing most of it (it's good practice and it just feels better to chant it). And today I incorporated the Holy Spirit Litany from St. Augustine's Prayerbook. This little book of devotions, BTW, is a great place to find little devotions and prayers to say when you want to spend quality time with God. Anyway, since I had the time I also read, as part of the Office, both the long and short versions of Marie de l'Incarnation biography found in Fr. Reynold's helpful book--For All the Saints. Today is Marie's day on the Calendar, so this was a right and proper thing to do for her. Sometimes I just really love praying, I must say. I guess I chose the right profession.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Excellence" in Ministry

Tuesdays are always a bit hectic for me. Since it is the first day since the Thursday previous that we are all in the office at one time, there is much to coordinate and talk about. Today's staff meeting was two productive hours of going over various projects in various stages. We made a bunch of decisions and plans, however, and that feels satisfying. But now I have a half-page to-do list! Ahhgg!

At this point I feel like I'm just about getting done all the things that I need to get done in a day to maintain a pretty high-level of functioning in the priestly role. If I had some more help--a couple of students, perhaps--I could do some more really excellent stuff. For example, I haven't had time to do a lot of video editing, yet. I have the tools and the footage, but I just haven't had the time to sit down and edit some stuff together. Essential stuff is, well, essential! And I find that I can fill my days quite easily with the stuff that really "needs" to get done.

This goes to the difference between being "good" and being "excellent" in the craft of ministry. I know, some people are allergic to that kind of language when applied to ministry, but I find it reflects my experience, at least. There are times when you are doing what's necessary or what's good to do, but then there are times when you are doing that extra bit that is special.

Another example of where I could have more "excellence" in my priestly work is study. I don't spend enough time in study these days. I do manage to get some time studying scripture in preparation for the Sunday Sermon, but there is more for me to study than that. I have whole books on church architecture, for instance, that could come in very handy as we do this renovation work. There also books on Mission that I want to plow through. I can rattle of a dozen other subjects that I need to get smart about.

Yet I also refuse to allow the quest to do "excellent" ministry cause me to get out of balance. At SMM I used to pull late nights to do particularly challenging projects (at least a few a month)--but here at COTM I know when to quit. That means that lots of times I leave things on my desk undone, but it's a hell of a lot more healthy than the works-righteousness approach of most workaholics. The weird thing is, I feel a lot more productive with my time now. The work gets done! And yet part of me still yearns to achieve the "excellence" that would come from reading a dozen books on liturgical architecture or New Testament or hymnody.

Being at peace with the work that can be done, rather than fretting about what could be done, is a real spiritual grace. Benedictines are good at that, or, at least they try to be! Work as spiritual discipline--it's a fascinating and under-explored subject. Hmmm. I should preach about that sometime soon.


Sermon - Easter 6 2008

This Sermon that I gave on Easter 6 (April 27) 2008 was mostly given to the kids. Once a month they stay with their parents in church as we do an interactive children's sermon of some kind. Mostly I was preaching about the "Advocate"--the Holy Spirit--that Jesus promises to send in John 12:15-21.

Here's the MP3 file...


Contemplative Eucharist Approved for Trial...

As regular readers know, since coming to COTM I've been developing a "Contemplative Eucharist" for use with a very small congregation that gathers on Wednesday mornings. That group expressed interest in meditation and contemplative practice, so it was natural to find ways to adapt the Holy Eucharist to this style. Initially, that meant stripping down the BAS Eucharistic Rite to it's bare essentials, but I've been wanting to take it further.

A while back I posted a request for advice on the APLM Listserve. What came from that was some very encouraging and helpful suggestions. I also read a few articles and talked to few other experts. Finally, I asked for permission from the Bishop and he gave me permission to try the rite until All Saints, at which point he wants a report on how it went.

In many ways I've got the example of the so-called "Rite III" Liturgy in the American BCP ('79) in mind: it provides an outline for the Mass with the barest essentials. The rubrics specifically say that this Rite is not for use at the principal Sunday service and that it requires careful preparation. So it is with the Rite I've been developing. Here's what it looks like so far (and special thanks to Fr. Juan Oliver and the other participants in this discussion).

Please note: this is NOT a generally "authorized" Rite of the Anglican Church of Canada. I've got special permission for trial use. I do not want the Bishop to call me into his office for encouraging people to flout the rules, ¿entiendes lo que quiero decir?

(Extemporaneous, short bidding prayer invoking God's presence.)
(Silence ended with bell.)

(Gospel reading from the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary)
(Silence ended with bell)
(Bidding to pray for the church, the world, and ourselves)
(Silence ended with bell)
(The Peace is exchanged in the usual fashion)
(Bread and Wine are placed on the corporal after a silent thanksgiving prayer by the Presider)

P: God is with you
A: And with you
(brief silence)
P: Hearts above
A: They are with God
(brief silence)
P: Give Thanks
A: Right and Just
(brief silence)

P: Praise the Source of Life and the Word eternal, and the Spirit renewing the earth.
P: God Creates. God heals, God makes holy.

P: We specially thank and praise God today for ____ (extemporaneous praise relating to the day, season or readings)

(The vessels are at least touched at the corresponding parts of the narrative)
P: On the night of his arrest, Jesus took bread, broke it and shared it as he said, “Take, eat: this is my Body. Do this to remember me.”
(brief silence)
also the cup, sharing it saying “Drink this, for this is my blood spilled for all. Do this to remember me.”
(brief silence)

P: We Remember the arrest, the torture, the cross; we remember the tomb, the glorification, the Spirit, birthing a People.

P: Source of Life, send your Word and Spirit on these offerings and on us, to be the Body and Blood of Christ.

P We join the whole Universe in praise and thanks to the Source, the Word, the Spirit.

(Fraction in silence)
(Communion in silence)

(Silence ended with bell)
(Presider prays extemporaneous post-communion prayer)

P: Let us Bless the Lord.
A: Thanks be to God.

How's that? What do you all think? I think it's a great start. Interestingly, one of the versions of a "Contemplative Eucharist" that I found (written by Aloysius Pieris, SJ) was even less wordy. Yet I'm not sure I can go quite that far in a parish setting (versus, say, a retreat group or a monastic group).


Monday, April 28, 2008

The Anglican Article

The article I wrote for the Diocesan Newspaper (The Anglican) about the conference I attended in San Francisco just got published. Here's a readable JPG.

The PDF of the whole newspaper can be found here. I was very pleased that they asked me to write this piece. Ultimately, I decided only a very personal and anecdotal style would do the experience justice--so I'm pleased with how it turned out.

The picture doesn't really match the story, though. I could have given them something from the actual conference--but they never asked! Next time I'll send along some photos with the article. Luckily, they had some pictures from Palm Sunday to use.

Perhaps they will ask me to write about my experience meeting the Anglican Community in Istanbul this summer? I'm certain to have some good pictures and stories from that experience!


Hospital Visits

Flashbacks to chaplaincy.

A friend of ours was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks ago. A few days ago she went in for he first of several surgeries/procedures. Betsy and I went with some other common friends to visit the hospital on Saturday. Then I went back on Sunday to bring communion. I think she was happy that I did that. It's amazing how powerful the sacrament can be.

Once I read an essay about how the experience of illness can be compared to travel to distant lands. Once a person is diagnosed with an illness they must travel to the "Land of the Sick." Once there, they must learn the language, culture, customs of this land. The essay went on to analyze the attendant feelings of being lost and "other" in this place. It's a useful metaphor. That feeling of being "lost" or dislocated is part of the spiritual zeitgeist of this age, IMHO.

George Packard, the ECUSA Suffragan Bishop for Chaplaincies once told a meeting I attended that he sees a population of people who are increasingly isolated from "mainstream" society and yet have disproportionately large amounts of interaction with military, healthcare, and law enforcement institutions. Thus chaplaincy has a crucial role ministering to this population that is only getting more important.

Here's a picture of the ECUSA's Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, wearing a bad-ass "Chaplain" hat with the Episcopal Church's Seal on it. I have one of these hats. They were given to priests that requested them as part of the lessons-learned from 9/11. It also came with a DVD training video for crisis stress response. Anyway, seeing her wear the hat makes me proud.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Prayer of the Week - Easter 6

Beloved Parishioners,

In the Gospel reading for this upcoming Sunday, Jesus promises to send "The Advocate" to us: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him" (John 14:16-17). This Spirit who is to succeed Jesus on earth is described with the Greek word "Paraclete," which was a word used most commonly in the Greek world for lawyers ("Advocates").

Lawyers are very useful people to know. My family has been involved in law since my grandfather's generation. When he first became a lawyer in New Jersey during the Great Depression, few of his clients could pay him. He accepted chickens and other goods in barter, but often people didn't even have that much. He told me how they would come into his office and say, "Mr. Johnson, I can't pay you anything, but I sure do have a problem..." As he was a young lawyer just getting started, this experience was probably as valuable to him as it was to his clients, but he never forgot his obligation to help people if he could. His passed his practice and values on to his son (my uncle) who has since taken on his son (my cousin) as his partner.

Of course, whenever anyone in my family has had a legal matter that needed some advice, the temptation to simply pickup the phone and call "Johnson & Johnson" has been reassuring. When you get to the point where you need a lawyer, you know you want someone you can trust to represent your interests.

This makes Jesus' description of the Holy Spirit as a kind of divine family lawyer even more poignant. This is someone who will represent our interests through the trials of life. Furthermore, he promises to do it with with a word of Truth that will abide in us, unknowable by the world. It's a beautiful promise that should give us much courage as we face our trials.

Holy God, source of all knowledge and truth, your being surpasses all human knowledge. Send your Holy Advocate to abide in us as a word of Truth. Enlighten and change us with your indwelling spirit. Comfort us with the presence of Truth now and until the end of the ages. We ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Friday, April 25, 2008


Today we had another regular meeting of the group putting together the CCCC (Christ-Centered Character Curriculum). We are making good progress and even managed to outline what kind of content we want in the finished product. Lots of work to do, of course, but it's satisfying to have a group of diverse ideas begin to coalesce into a unified whole. Catherine Keating even managed to find a priest down in the states doing her D.Min. on the subject of Character-based Christian Education. I'm eager the read the draft of her thesis.

Lots of busy-ness around the church right now. Tonight we are having a big annual COTM party called "Caribbean Night." As the name suggests, the members of our congregation from that part of the world pull out the stops to make a great party. I'll try to get some pics and video of the action. (For once, I'm not the star. I'm looking forward to letting someone else lead the festivities.)

BTW, interesting experience to catalog in the bin for "weird experiences in a collar." A few weeks ago I was at a meeting of faith leaders from various religions and denominations. I was wearing my collar. A Jewish man asked me, seriously, whether I was Roman Catholic. That's understandable, but when I told him I was Anglican he was incredulous. He said he was positive only Roman Catholic clergy wear collars. When I explained that many Christian traditions follow this custom, he was surprised. It just goes to show that our symbols that we wear to identify ourselves don't necessarily convey what we think they do. That's why I stopped wearing my collar when I worked in the Hospital--I simply found that it did more harm to my ministry as a Chaplain than good. Not everyone feels that way in chaplaincy, of course, and your mileage may vary. But the times are changing for what we can assume about how the signs and symbols of our faith will be understood.


Thursday, April 24, 2008


This afternoon I went to an event at the National Club to promote Alpha, the Christian Evangelism program of note. The guest speaker was one of the founders of Alpha, Bishop Sandy Millar (Honorary Assistant Bishop of London). I ended up sitting next to Bishop Millar and we chatted pleasantly about parish ministry and such-like.

Three things really struck me at this gathering. First, I was conspicuously the only one wearing a clerical collar. Neither the Bishop nor the Principal of Wycliffe were wearing their collars. I guess I didn't get the memo that clergy involved with Alpha aren't supposed to look like clergy. Normally I don't, but it was a church meeting at The National Club, after all. Then there were the people (including Bishop Millar) who asked me if my church was Anglican. Clearly, Alpha is post-denominational. To be fair to the Bishop, Anglicans aren't the only ones who wear collars in Canada... but still, I thought I was wearing my identity on my sleeve pretty clearly for those who can read the code.

Second, two people tried to feel me out about where I stood on the question of homosexuality in the church. I know that Bishop Millar is outspokenly conservative on the issue (going so far as to call decisions he disagrees with in the American Episcopal Church "manifestations of evil"), but it was two of the leaders of Alpha Canada who probed me about this. In one case I simply told the person that I was much more concerned with what was happening in the lives of my parishioners and the building of my congregation than the global Anglican debates on the issue of sexual ethics. I thought we were there to talk about Evangelism, why did people want to know what I felt about gay people?

The third thing that really struck me at this Alpha gathering was that the language and methods of Alpha are inherently of a different Christian culture than Anglicanism as I know it. Now, there nothing wrong with different Christian cultures being under the same roof--but I kept wondering to myself "what's Anglican about this?" That's not a problem when you're doing a church plant somewhere, but I have a duty to honor a certain inherited culture of church.
Most telling of this was when Bishop Millar said that it's a great thing as a clergyman when you don't have to come up with a talk about how, say, salvation works. You simply pop in the DVD and push "play." He thinks this is wonderful. All the answers to life's questions are in the little Alpha Curriculum book. Me, I find it appalling. Part of my job is to model for the congregation how to struggle with questions of faith. I do that by struggling with those same questions myself, publically. As a result, my answers are inherently a local manifestation of the Holy Spirit appropriate to the circumstances and needs of my people.
It's this reliance Alpha has on canned answers and formulaic solutions to life's problems that I find most problematic. I don't think I'm here to give people answers or helpful tips on living life. I think I'm here to show them how to engage in an ongoing relationship with God who is most known in mystery and the revelation of God's love for us (Jesus Christ).

Now, post gathering, I'm also struck by Sandy Millar's involvement with the "Toronto Blessing." That's the big mega church near the airport that has been the center of controversial claims of manifestations of the Holy Spirit. There is definitely a charismatic quality to the language and methods of Alpha Canada as I saw it today. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it does show how the culture of Alpha Canada is different from the mainline Anglican churches. I'm all for speaking in tongues and all that, but only when it's done in an orderly way with interpretation and discernment (as St. Paul suggests). Such charismatic showings are good, but not necessary, and can become a source of distraction if we are not vigilant.

Also, Alpha seems to make the claim that their answers are THE ANSWERS. And it is true that their catechism falls, so far as I can tell, within the spectrum of orthodoxy. But that means that there is lots of room for different interpretations of God's revelation. This kind of room for diversity of opinion (comprehensiveness, it's sometimes called) is part of the historic nature of Anglicanism. It is problematic and perhaps intellectually dishonest to deny our people room for variance.

Anyway, those are my impressions after getting the Alpha sales pitch. My apologies if I hurt anyone's feelings. If Alpha brought you to faith then that's great. My question is not whether God is working through this movement, but whether this movement is the way God would work best through my congregation.

BTW, one may ask why I didn't challenge Bishop Millar with some of my questions and critiques as I was sitting next to him. Two reasons: 1) it was not the sort of atmosphere where real questions and analysis were being offered--this whole thing was a sale's pitch complete with personal testimonies--and 2) I didn't want to be the rude American challenging our guest with uncomfortable questions. I'm sure he could have handled it, but it just didn't feel right to be so contrarian in a room full of true-believers.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Praying with Priests

We had the monthly Deanery meeting at COTM today. It was nice to show off the place a bit to my colleagues and talk about some of our plans and initiatives. Everybody needs approval! But that also meant that I was asked to say the grace over the meal.

Now, honestly, I think most priests like to avoid having to say grace at a table full of colleagues. I remember in seminary we had a rule that the last person to put their thumb on the table got the sacred duty. So when I was asked to say the grace I was also politely informed that I should make sure to cover certain pastoral needs of the group. I had to jot down some notes so that I could remember the three or four names.

So I'm trucking along in the usual fashion for extemporaneous prayers when I come to a person who recently injured his head. I said, "...please heal ___ who recently hurt his head..." Something about the way I said this just cracked up the whole table of priests. Maybe it was just a little two blunt for the Anglicans of Eglinton Deanery. It totally wrecked the moment and was somewhat embarrassing to be the rookie. As I waited for them to recover from laughing at me I said under my breath "bastards," which just made the two guys next to me laugh all the more. I guess some days you have it; some days you don't!

If you don't a sense of humor in this ministry you are totally screwed.


Bike Theft

Someone stole my bike from my back yard. They had to go though the gate to get to it and normally the gate is padlocked from the inside since the thefts we experienced a few months ago. But I forgot to put the pad lock back in place after using the gate to do some yard work. Normally I lock my bike up, but there was no place to conveniently lock it without pulling it up onto the deck. Sigh.

Interestingly, the guy also took the padlock itself, which was sitting on a ledge next to the gate with the key still in it. Sigh.

So now I need to report this to the police. Not that there is much hope that they will find it. It wasn't a super expensive bike (I got it on-sale almost three years ago), but it was mine and I liked it. I had just taken it out from under it's winter tarp and put air in the tires. Sigh.

This incident also just reminds me that we really need to be vigilant about the security of our home. If I owned the place, I'm sure I would put in some alarms and maybe even cameras.

I'm not sure if I'm going to get another bike anytime soon. It might be nice, but finances are a little tight as we look towards possible Summer travel.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sermon - Easter 5

Here's my sermon from Sunday. Themes of hospitality and evangelism....

A direct link to the MP3 File.



Blue Sky Plans for COTM

Quite a while ago I wrote on this blog about the "Blue Sky" project. Since even before I came there has been talk about some renewal of the physical church plant. Some of the ideas proposed are relatively minor cosmetic improvements (replacing the chairs and repainting the sanctuary, for example). But I was encouraged to look a bit beyond that to see if there are other architectural things we might to do to make our place more inviting, missional, and theologically expressive of the Gospel.

So down the road we went. Now we have a bunch of different related projects that form a kind of wish list. I doubt we'll do all of them, but it is worthwhile talking about things that seem out of reach, too. So... Here's what we've come up with so far...
  1. New Chairs
  2. Repaint the Sanctuary
  3. Replace the Carpets in the Chancel, Lounge, and Sunday School Rooms
  4. Update Exterior Signage and Landscaping
  5. Paint the Murals in the Sunday School Room
  6. Renovate the Chancel
  7. Enhance the Entrance to the Church
  8. Add A Baptismal and Memorial Garden on the South Side of the Church

As I said, we know it's unlikely that we'll suddenly come upon the cash to do all of these projects, but it's worth exploring what is possible in a clear blue sky of potentials!

New Chairs
Melana has sourced several possible chairs to replace the 1977 Steelcase chairs we currently have. One option is the relatively conventional church chairs now is use at places like SSJD, St. Augustine of Canterbury, etc. They look kind of like this...

Currently, the most important features that people identify are that the chairs should be stackable, have some place to put hymnals, have some way of hooking together, and should be tough enough to take many years' abuse. Sauder has lot of possibilities for this kind of chair.

Melana showed us some other possibilities as well, such as another chair from Steelcase that is a bit updated from what we have now. She is also fond of the Moller Church Chair.

Repainting the Sanctuary
A fairly obvious face-lift thing to do: repainting the interior. Right now it's gray with a whitish accent color. Melana suggests a simplified pallet in which white would dominate. Not just any white, but a specific white that would work just right.

Replace the Carpets in the Chancel, Lounge, and Sunday School Rooms
Melana showed us some samples from Interface, which is a Canadian firm that has led the way in both Green Manufacturing and in using carpet squares laid down much like tile. One of the several advantages of the carpet squares is that if one gets badly stained you can simply pull it up and replace the the one tile. She has ideas about a more fun design for the Sunday School Room and then something more subdued for the lounge and worship spaces.

Update Exterior Signage and Landscaping
Here's where things start to get really interesting. Everybody agrees that we need better signage. The reason that people notice the Hare Krishna Temple across the street and not us is that they have better signage! So check this conceptual drawing out:

A nice big banner to take advantage of the already-existing horizontal pole sticking out from the bell tower. At one time, a giant rainbow flag hung from there--but as we all know the meaning of symbols change over time!

In this one you can see Melana's concept of having some kind of horizontal sign to complement the vertical banner. It would have some kind of permanent element (our name, perhaps) and then some kind of LED element that would replace the function of our current acrylic letters. The cross would remain, and the three elements would be designed to work together like this...

In terms of landscaping, here is a version of the site-plan with Melana's idea drawn over it. The original design is "ghosted" underneath.

In this drawing, Avenue Road runs along the left edge and Dupont is along the bottom edge. The original plans from the 1976 Renovation indicate that much of the steps on the left side of this drawing (the east end of the church) were supposed to be removed, but that was never done. Melana proposes taking out some of those steps and basically cleaning up the lines of the planter beds. This plan would also replace the rotting railroad ties with more attractive stone (probably matching or complimenting the church). Plants going into the bed would be low-maintenance varieties.

Paint the Murals in the Sunday School Room
I've been wanting to spruce up the "Godly Play Room" since I came. Susan Bleasby has developed a marvelous concept for two huge murals on either end of the room. Here they are again...

It's the Kingdom of Heaven on one end and God's Kingdom on Earth on the other end. We would also, of course, replace the florescent tubes in the ceiling with more attractive hanging lights of some kind and replace the carpet.

Renovate the Chancel
Chancel renovation is a bit trickier. From this drawing you can see where Melana and I have gotten so far in our discussions...

So here the the current raised portion of the chancel has been removed and replaced with an oval-shaped platform on which the altar sits. This platform would have a rail for people to kneel for communion. It would be movable (perhaps on locking casters of some kind). So it could be brought out of the corner and into the center of the church, for instance, or simply centered under the stained glass window.

In the drawing Melana also proposed a second platform for the ministers to sit and to hold the Ambo. This is still a work in progress, but it shows how we are trying to make the space more flexible and resolve some of the issues of the current chancel (which is too far into the corner and too angular--the priest ends up facing an unpopulated corner of the room rather than the congregation).

Another important element Melana is thinking about has to do with the two curving walls in the corner behind the altar. She thinks we should creat a subtle light effect by painting the back side of one of the pannels. Light coming in from an existing window would then bounce off the paint and create a color wash on the front side of the other curved wall. (Those who know our church well will understand what I mean). It's a great idea.

Removing the two curved walls would mean abandoning the radial orientation of the church to that corner entirely, which would require redoing the ceiling and a host of other problems. But this chancel idea is definitely worth working on some more...

Enhance the Entrance to the Church

In this plan you see the main entry to the church as it is now, with Melana's proposal superimposed. People enter through the bottom doors, dog leg to the left, then swing around a 90 degree corner to the left and then again to the right (where it gets really narrow). Chief among the problems in that the proper entrance to the church is not clear from the outside of the building. Melana thinks that a nice canopy of some kind would make the entrance unambiguous. (Cf. Rosedale United Church's new glass canopy designed--I believe--by Ian McGillivray). The pink block shows where the canopy could go.

Melana also aligned the two doors and enlarged the area where you make the left into the church. On this drawing the green shows the amount of space currently there for making the turn left, while the aquamarine color shows how her proposed changes would enlarge the space and make for a more proper vestibule.

Add A Baptismal and Memorial Garden on the South Side of the Church
As Melana dreamed about possibilities, she noted an unused portion of land on the south side of the church. She then remembered how I felt a strong need to do something to architecturally emphasize baptism more than the current font allows. What she came up with was a garden in that space with a baptismal pool large and deep enough for adult full-immersion baptism and also a memorial wall with niches for the interment of ashes. Thus baptism and burial are linked (as they properly ought to be) and also baptism is located at the intersection of the church and the world (as it ought to be). The Garden would be screened off from the street, but large enough to have a serene outdoor kind of feeling.

The challenge was then connecting that garden to the church interior. There needs to be sufficient continuity to link the baptismal pool outside with the font inside. There also needs to be a sense that the sanctuary space continues into the outdoor space. So she proposes a set of three door under the already existing three windows on the south side of the church. They would be glass--acoustically and thermally opaque yet visually transparent. She imagines them pivoting on a point a few inches from the inside edge.

This is brilliant. I don't know if we can do it, but my God would it be beautiful! Imagine the feeling of sitting in this little urban oasis with the pool and the burial niches and the gorgeous stone of the church. Imagine doing baptisms out there! I love it.

Now for the practical stuff. We need to introduce these ideas to the congregation. We need to hear people's ideas and develop the the plans further in response. We need to think about costs and scope. Not to mention what kind of permits are required for what kind of change. It's daunting, but exhilarating. Apparently mine is a kind of "go big or go home" kind of ministry moment. I suppose this is what "entrepreneurial ministry" looks like in established Anglican churches. Cool. I can do that.

What I have to be careful about is that this doesn't replace the other kinds of evangelism and mission we are about. I'm very keen to develop some other initiatives. This may cover the "Attractional Evangelism" piece, but I also want to develop program that will help people grow in Discipleship ("Process Evangelism") and found new groups that incarnate God's love in this neighborhood ("Relational Evangelism"). So much to do. I'm praying god will send me more people to help. It's really amazing. Praise be to God. Time for supper...


Monday, April 21, 2008


I just got back from a fantastic Parish Council meeting. What made it so great? Since it was the first Parish Council meeting of the the year we had to elect a Chair and do a few other housekeeping items, but the biggest thing was meeting the Parish Architect--Melana Janzen--and hearing her presentation about some of the ideas we've been developing. I'll do another post to lay them all out, but they are fantastic. It's a wish list that includes things like better signage, a cleaned up entryway, and then some really fun projects like creating a baptismal/memorial garden and redoing the chancel. As I said, I'll post some of the sketches when I have a chance tomorrow.

It's really neat to be engaging in a process that creates so much energy and sense of renewal. I'm very happy to see how people get so engaged with these ideas. I'm pleased.

So... More tomorrow....

(Also today--Betsy and I filled 21 large lawn waste bags with stuff we raked up. The lawn looks much better, but it was a lot of work.)


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Easter 4

A good Sunday. Nice turn-out. Solid sermon. Going to Holy Cross makes preaching easy, I must say. Hard not to come away from that place with at least one or two sermon fermenting in the back of the ol' noggin.

I got a lot of positive comments about my recent Prayer of the Week. I think part of where I went right with it was engaging the scripture. Perhaps in the future I should continue to integrate my sermon prep with writing the P.O.W.

Now I'm tired. Home soon. Post sermon tomorrow or Tuesday. Maybe even video...


Back From HCM

Ok, I'm back. Funny how even just three days can really rejuvenate the spirit. I came back to Toronto Saturday evening and had enough energy to even sow some grass seed in the yard and BBQ dinner. The weather has been incredible both in Toronto and West Park.

One of the things I did on this trip was take Bede out for a delicious birthday supper (his, not mine). We ended up going to a restaurant in the Catskills named Peekamoose. We each had an incredible Charred tomato bisque, followed by sauteed Hudson Valley shad roe. Then Bede had another fish (was it salmon? I can't remember) while I had a very nice oven-roasted rabbit. For dessert: flourless chocolate cake for me and some kind of cheese confection for Bede (again, I can't remember the name). All matched with a nice wine, of course. As is our custom, we spent the first hour sipping single malts and talking before we even opened the menus.

One of the interesting things about Peekamoose is that despite the very sophisticated food, the place is no trace of pretension. The owner's kids were trailing around after her, and that just completed the affect of an excellent but-low key affair. Yum.

And yes, there was time for profound moments at the monastery, too. I particularly felt the tug of the eternal while watching the river flow.

You know, I have been coming to Holy Cross Monastery for over ten years! Amazing. And always the place has new mysteries to reveal. This weekend I was noticing how much I loved the silences. I've been living long enough in a city that the silence of a monastery in the country is shocking.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Back at HCM

It's 10:20 and the everybody is in bed at the monastery. By most standards the monks at Holy Cross are early to bed and early to rise. But it's also true, in my experience, that people sleep better here than other places. Once you get established in the rhythm of Offices you want to go to bed at 10 p.m. The quiet and the general balance of life also conspire to make bedtimes earlier.

Alas, not so for me. These days I have trouble getting to bed before 2 a.m. It's a problem I've lived with for a long time. For some reason, my mind/body/soul just has a hard time sleeping at night. The more stressed I am, the more this problem manifests. The only times when I've really been able to consistently go to bed early have been when I'm here.

(Incidentally, the writing of this blog just got interrupted by a monk who wanted to use this computer--so my generalization about the monks going to bed earlier is shot. That's the problem with generalizations--they are always being disrupted by evidence.)

Ok, I'm back. In the interim I did something I always do when I come here--check in with my favorite spots. I almost always visit the Founder's crypt first to say a prayer for the Order and light a candle. Then there's the corner in the Pilgrim Hall I like to read in, the Lesser Cloister, and of course the monastery church itself. I discerned my call to the priesthood there. I said my first Mass there. I got married there (all on the same spot on the rug, even) so of course I have a strong connection to that place. This evening I simply lay down on the rug and stared up at the ceiling. The place feels slightly different this time, as it does every time. It's not elaborate and ornate--but something of the prayers said five times a day sinks into it and makes it feel different. A lot of people have connections to one holy place or another--but this is mine. I didn't choose it--it chose me.

This evening--affectionate thoughts about COTM. I'm thinking and praying particularly for a few individuals on my mind. Funny how when you're the Pastor suddenly you really do feel connected to people you didn't even know six months ago. I worry for them. I fuss in my mind for them. But I don't want to interfere or seem overbearing. Any gesture becomes magnified by the role into something grand, so I have to be very careful and deliberate. I'm still learning about how to express myself in this role. Being an "Associate Priest," by the way, was terrible preparation. Being the Rector and being an Associate are two completely different animals.

Today I'm just Tay, AHC. That's spiritual practice enough to keep me busy for a lifetime. At one point today I was staring at the Hudson River and listening to bagpipes thinking, "I could be here for fifty years and still be overwhelmed by what the River has to teach me." Yes, bagpipes. Good bagpipes echoing through the valley. And the River. The eternal ebb and flow. "And always we begin again."

One of the neat/weird things that happens here is that I can find myself staring at a spot on a wall or a strange shadow cast by the big oak in the courtyard for minutes at a time. When I realize that I'm doing it I don't feel self-conscious or rushed in the least. There is an rare accommodation to internal process made here. it's part of the DNA of the monastic movement, I think, that people can spend their best energies on spiritual development without apology.

Anyway, now I do feel like lying in bed for a while. Cheers all.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Liturgy and Architecture

I had lunch today with a person very involved at the national level of Anglican Church of Canada liturgy. It was great fun to talk about what's being done in various places and what projects are currently in development and so forth. I'm always up for talking about liturgy! She was particularly interested to hear about the Contemplative Eucharist I've been developing here. But we had our two-hour lunch on the patio at the Pour House and I ended up with a sunburn! Ah, well.

Another highlight of the day was meeting with our architect to talk about what we are going to present to the Parish Council on Monday. The ideas are stellar and all very exciting. It will be interesting to see what others respond to. After that meeting I'll be able to be a bit more open in this blog about what some of these ideas actually are. At the moment it's a bit of a laundry list, but the common theme is renewal and rejuvenation.

Tomorrow morning I'm off to Holy Cross for a check-in with my Spiritual Director. It's a brief trip (I'll be back Saturday), but I find that I can settle into the rhythms of the place almost instantly. So that will be good!

I've been here since 8 AM and won't be finished with my work day until about 9.30pm. I've got a meeting tonight of a local interfaith group.


Prayer of The Week - Easter 5

Beloved Parishioners,

One of the most useful passages in scripture when it comes to funerals has to be John 14:1-3:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also."

Whenever I've been asked to bury someone whose relationship to goodness was, well, "complicated," this passage has come to mind. God's abundance is such that He can accommodate anyone who seeks Him through His Son. I firmly believe that God is great enough to overcome whatever ways we might be insufficient so long as we seek Him.

The other nice thing about this passage is that it seems to imply that the life after death has some variety to it. Rather than sitting around on clouds all eating Philadelphia Cream Cheese, we may imagine that some of us will get to hang out in the Sushi-buffet room, or perhaps the Ice Cream Parlor. I prefer to think that there is no end to the variety of the heavenly palace.

But what really gets me is how Jesus promises to tenderly "prepare a place" for us and then take us to himself. There is a gesture of hospitality and affection here reminiscent of the Prodigal Son: God embraces us and pulls us to our eternal home where our welcome home feast is waiting. Considering how hard many of us work, the notion that God is going to do the work of preparing the place and pulling us in has appeal!

I remember several years ago when I was going through an especially stressful time. I managed to sneak away from my job for a short time to visit Holy Cross, an Anglican Monastery in the Hudson Valley of New York State. A dozen monks and a few "Residents" preside over a majestic set of buildings overlooking the Hudson River. I know the monks well, and I was looking forward to a week of prayerful rest. I arrived while the monks were still in their daily period of silence, but as I walked down a corridor the Superior of the Order swerved to intercept me. He gave me a heart felt hug and whispered, "Welcome home." That simple act of affection and hospitality after so much stress and worry opened something up in me. I felt weepy for the rest of the day and realized that I was falling into something much bigger than myself--a community with strength enough to catch me.

One of my hopes for COTM is that we can be a place where people can feel caught in that way. I want our members and visitors to have a palpable sensation of embrace and affection. "Don't worry, at COTM there are many rooms...." Hospitality is only possible when there is accommodation--and I believe that we do a particularly good job of that around here. I pray that we may continue!

Heavenly Father, you created the vast order of the heavens and the earth to accommodate the life you create; open us, we pray, to embrace the friend and stranger with the love you showed us in your Son. Fill us with the courage to continue to be a hospitable place for those who seek You. We ask this through you Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In Christ,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Busy Beehive of the Mind

Today was filled with various projects. One of the more significant things I did was finally post the job description for the Director of Children's and Youth Ministry. We are hoping to hire someone part-time. They would partly pick-up where Megan left-off, and partly take things in a slightly different direction in accord with the emerging vision of Children's and Youth ministry here. That means, for example, developing a youth program that will suit our kids growing into their teen years.

I posted the job description in various places, including the COTM website and the Diocesan website. I've also listed with an on-line job database (Christian Careers Canada). Trinity and Wycliffe have agreed to post and distribute the posting, as well. So we'll see what kind of response that gets!

Although originally I was supposed to have gotten this posted months ago, I'm glad I waited. I'm in a MUCH better position now to understand where our program is and where I want it go than I was even a month or two ago. I really feel like I'm ready to make that hire, now. Stay tuned for developments.

Lots of e-mails back and forth today. For one thing, I've been corresponding with the priest of the Anglican Church in Istanbul seeking advice about finding reasonably priced accommodation, etc. Fr. Ian Sherwood has a fascinating ministry. He has done a ton (or as he would say, "tonne") to develop the Anglican ministry in his city. He restored their historic church (apparently even sleeping in it for a while to protest a planned sale of the property), built up a thriving ministry to immigrants, and generally has done the Lord's work in a land where even possessing Christian literature in Turkish can get you in serious trouble. I'm looking forward to meeting him.

Also on my mind--the possibility of starting a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) program here at COTM. It's basically an opportunity for mothers in the community to gather, share fellowship, enjoy peer-support, and receive mentoring. What I've found so far tells me that it requires little parish resources, and it seems to fit our demographics well. In fact, several members of the congregation recall a similar group that met here years ago. Stay tuned...

Oh, and I monkeyed around with Adobe Premiere Pro. Editing Video these days is all about knowing your formats. I miss the good-old days of the VHS editing suite in the basement of Hampden-Sydney College. (Actually, I don't mean that. Premiere Pro works like a champ on ORAC and I'm having a ball learning how to do this stuff.) Here's a first attempt on my new rig. Of course, I need to put together some Title Cards and all that good stuff--but it's a proof of concept and good experiment in work-flow.

Oh yes, something else on my mind, I think I need to do some teaching around the use of female images of God in liturgy. I'm not sure what shape that will take, but the congregation seems curious about it. (Partly because we use hymns from time-to-time that refer to God with feminine pronouns.) I keep thinking of some of the things Siobhán Garrigan (one of Betsy and my Professors back at YDS) had to say about shifting congregations to more inclusive language--mainly that it requires a long time and much education and patience. Yet the results seem worth it to me--nothing less than a more correct and Biblical (yes, Biblical!) expression of the Truth. Yes, I know many of you read this could give me a good argument about that, and that's all good. I think that theology (that is, how we speak of God) ought to be something that stirs up passions.


Tay and Betsy in Istanbul?

Betsy is thinking of traveling to Istanbul this summer for research. It may be possible for her take her favorite sherpa, Father Tay. Since most of Betsy's research is going to take her to more obscure parts of Turkey, Greece, and possibly Georgia, this is probably my only opportunity to visit Istanbul for several years, at least, so it's hard to turn down.

So I've been learning about Istanbul. It's Europe's most populous city: a place where East and West meet geographically and culturally. The city seems to be jam packed with interesting cultural and religious sites to see.

I've also made contact with the Anglican Church in Istanbul: Christ Church. This seems like a thriving parish with a strong ministry to refugees.

Stay tuned for more developments....


Monday, April 14, 2008

Hank Hill Moments

Betsy and I went shopping today. First stop was a Sears parts and service location where after about 45 minutes of wrangling we managed to get (for free) the parts our new cooktop has been missing since it arrived. (This after phone calls to Sears Service, and making a trip to this location before, etc.) This was much more of a hassle than it should have been, in my humble opinion, but as usual when you get the right people on the phone problems seem to resolve themselves! In this case, the key was getting the original salesman who sold the cooktop to our landlord's representative. But we found ourselves asking, "Why are we doing this?" Answer, because we wanted it done ASAP! And considering how long it took just to get this cooktop, we simply didn't trust the landlord's agent to get the job done expediently.

Since it was next door, we decided to see what the Sears Outlet store had to offer. I never dreamed we get so much for $150: I got a bunch of jeans and khaki's, a robe, and then Betsy got several skirts and tops. Score.

Next was Home Depot--and that's where I had the Hank Hill moment. Actually, several of them. Nothing will make you feel more like a middle-aged white guy than comparing the labels of various brands of grass seed, fertilizer, patching mix, etc. We even spent several minutes comparing shovels before picking the best one for our purposes. We also got a rake, a hoe, a seed and fertilizer spreader, lots of flower seeds, and even a wheelbarrow! Cue Hank Hill impersonation now: "I don't care for those fancy carbon-fiber shovel handles, I-tell-you-what."

By the time we got home it was too late to do any more yard work, but at least we're well prepared for next weekend.


Red Bull Air Racing

Check this out... a form of air racing in which pilots navigate their high-performance, single-engine planes through crazy obstacle courses at high speed. Imagine going through these "gates" or around the slalom at 200-350 KPH only 30-60 feet off the ground. Often they pulling in excess of 9 G's in the turns. It's pretty wild stuff.

Also check out the airplanes they use. The Zivko Edge 540 it's capable of a 420 degree per second roll rate and a 3,700 foot per minute climb rate. It only ways about 1000 lbs. dry and is fitted with a 340HP engine. It's rated to 10 G's and can perform maneuvers beyond what a human pilot could endure. Pretty cool, heh?


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Meade Offers "Graduate-School Ruled" Paper

Mead Releases New Grad-School-Ruled Notebook

The Onion

Mead Releases New Grad-School-Ruled Notebook

RICHMOND, VA—Company officials say the new notebooks feature lines 3.55 millimeters apart, making them "infinitely more practical" for postgraduate work than the 7.1 millimeter college-ruled notebooks.


2nd Visioning Meeting

Sorry no post yesterday--I wasn't feeling 100%, to be honest, but today I'm somewhat better.

Today went pretty well. We had the second visioning workshop, led by a Diocesan Consultant, to talk about our neighborhood and set mission priorities for the upcoming couple of years. Much of it was looking at demographic data from various sources and gleaning what that might mean for us. Some of the results were surprising, for example, the largest age group by five-year increments is the 25-30's. Some of that might be the large number of University Students in the area, but it also reflects the wave of young professionals moving into the area, as well.

So we talked about the values these folks have--many of them are hard-working types that have little free time and little willingness to participate in groups that they don't find immediately rewarding. There are various other needs and properties we identified, but as usual I'm too tired at this point to type a long post (I've been up since 5:30 AM).


Friday, April 11, 2008

Prayer of the Week - Easter 4

Beloved Parishioners,

On Sunday afternoon we are gathering as a congregation to talk about the needs we perceive in our neighborhood and city. All Mission begins with such a perception. We have to ask ourselves "where are we?" before we can ask, "where should we go?" This is a deep practice in discipleship, to listen deeply to what this place is telling us.

I'm reminded of the occasions on which the patriarchs found themselves encountering God in the wilderness. They are going along their merry way when BANG--God comes to them in a dream or a burning bush or some other special way. And after the revelation there is the moment of clarity in which they recognize, for the first time, that the place where they are standing is Holy Ground. To return home, again, and see with new eyes the holiness of the place, is the task God gives us. Every generation must find renewal in this way.

So I pray that you would gather with me and your church on Sunday to see our place, as though for the first time!

Heavenly Father, it your will that we should always return to our home in you. Help us to see our city and neighborhood with new eyes full of Gospel hope. Inspire us with a vision of people as you see them. Guide us to understand how we can serve them better. Bless us with the presence of your Holy Spirit as we gather this weekend in the Name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


2nd Meeting with the Architect

Yesterday I had a second meeting with the Architect we are engaging to help us renew the church. I love these kinds of conversations. Nothing like wandering around a space day dreaming about what could be done. Certainly we will replace the chairs and paint the walls--but there are other possibilities like replacing the dated exterior signage, making those cool murals in the Sunday School Room, and doing something with the chancel. She (I don't want to use her name yet until I introduce her to the Parish Council later in the month) has some really great ideas and is going to be fun to work with.

Of course, we don't have enough money to make significant structural changes of the sort that require a structural engineer and lots of plaster-dust--but there are a number of things that are within our reach, and I can't wait to see how people react to the changes. Our time frame is to do most or all of the work this summer... so the clock is ticking...


The Way It Really Works

From Dave Walker's Blog. (used with permission.)


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Missing 1662 BCP Liturgy Found...

Padre Mickey's Dance Party (another priest with a blog) discovered this text while researching the BCP. It was supposed to make it into the final draft of the 1662 Prayerbook, but was omitted due to a printing error. Check it out:
Order for a Service of Holy Ghost Revival

So many as intend to be participants in the Service of Holy Ghost Revival shall signify their names to the Curate at least some time the day before.

If a Minister be persuaded that any person who presents himself to be a participant in the Service of Holy Ghost Revival ought not to be admitted thereunto by reason of malicious and open contention with his neighbours, or of an outrageous fear of snakes, or of a tendency to "really go over the top" in his enthusiasm, he shall give an account to the Ordinary of the place, and therein obey his order and directions, but so as not to refuse participation of any person until in accordance with such order and direction he shall have called him and advertised him that in any wise he presume not to attend the Holy Ghost Revival.

The day before said service of Holy Ghost Revival, the Deacon shall go into the countryside and collect serpents and vipers of a poisonous nature. Said serpents and vipers are to be kept in a cage in the sacristy until the service of the Holy Ghost Revival. The Acolyte shall prevent young boys from prodding said reptiles with a stick or teasing them with gifts of field mice and small toads.

The drapes of the church shall be of a strength which shall be able to hold the weight of two grown men of great stature. A carpet shall be placed in the aisle of the church to prevent harm from those who are led to roll down the aisle.
The table and all candles shall be moved to A Safe Place, where they shant be knocked over or rendered askew.

The priest shall say:
How many people heah loves the Lord? Can I hear an Amen?!!
People AMEN!!!
Celebrant How many here tonight knows de Holy Ghost gonna come with a FIYAH?!!!
Celebrant How many folks heah knows the Holy Ghost wan' dem to JUMP?!!
The congregation will now dance, scream, roll down the aisles, swing from the drapes, and speak in unknown tongues, until the grains in the hour glass reach the three-quarters mark
Celebrant Who is ready to show their faith? Who is ready to show their trust in tha LAHD??!!??
The Deacon shall bring out the snakes
Celebrant Moses lifted a snake in the wilderness and peoples was healed!!The Lord promised us that if we gots faith the snake bite and the scorpion can not harm us!!! Who heah tanite gots dat faith????
Celebrant Deacon, bring out the snakes!!! The Spirit is here!! THE SPIRIT IS HERE!!! WHO HAS FAITH??? IT'S THE BREAKER! IT'S THE
BREAKER ANOINTING!!!! WE GONNA BE RICH!!!! WE GONNA BE RICH!!!!!! Thurifer, keep that thing outta here; it scares the snakes!!! No bells, either. NO BELLS, EITHER!!!! And wipe that spittle off your face!!
The Fragment endeth here (source)

I always knew Anglicanism was missing out on something...


Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I made a bunch more revisions to the COTM website. I notice that we are now on the second page of Google results for Church of The Messiah Toronto. Given how common a name "Church of The Messiah" is, I'm pleased that we rank that high! Hopefully when we get some links to us that will go higher.

Still a lot more to add. In terms of content, at this point I'm mostly waiting for things being written by others. In terms of coding, I would like to get a search box configured and running. And there is the video work to do!

But right now I have to run off to see a carpenter who is making our tabernacle...

My Niece and Nephew

Here a picture of my Niece and Nephew all dressed up for Easter!


A Joke

My mother sent me this joke by e-mail. It was given to her by a fiend from church:
A new pastor was visiting in the homes of his parishioners. At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door. Therefore, he took out his business card and wrote "Revelation 3:20" on the back of it and stuck it in the door. When the offering was processed the following Sunday, he found that his card had been returned. Added to it was this cryptic message, "Genesis 3:10." Reaching for his Bible to check out the citation, he broke up in gales of laughter. Revelation 3:20 begins "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." Genesis 3:10 reads, "I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid for I was naked."



One of the shows I enjoy very much is Mythbusters. The premise of this Discover Channel series is that a group of special-effects experts attempts to test various urban legends. For example, is it true that a water heater can shoot upwards like a rocket through your house? To test that, they first had to disable all the safety systems of a domestic water-heater (something unlikely to happen by accident), and then they started it heating up. Check out the results...

Good stuff.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Easter 3 Sermon

Here's my sermon from Sunday...


My Day

Today began with a meeting a copy-machine salesman. The photocopier is the most complex piece of equipment most churches own, and it is also one of the most useful. We are coming to end of our current lease in the next few months so our Sales Rep wants to see if we want to make changes, get a different machine, etc. So we talked through various options of what is available. He was surprised that I knew as much as I did about photocopiers, so I explained how I did some research on the subject back when I was at SMM. The kinds of things these machines can do now is really amazing: color, folding, book-fold stapling, scanning, faxing, etc. Of course, not all of these will be cost-efficient for us. So he's going to develop a couple of different quotes and then I can sit down with Corporation to discern which way to go!

I was on the phone today talking with a psychiatrist who is treating someone that I see on a pastoral basis. The medical team wanted to know if there was a way the church could support this person. we talked about it, and it seems that there are some small ways the church might be able to help this person more. To be honest, though, it's challenging for congregations to accommodate severely mentally ill folks. We will continue to do what we can to offer this person love, companionship, and a sense of belonging, but even doing just that requires a significant amount of resources. It's a remarkable challenge to the self-understanding of congregation to encounter a challenge such as this. It puts the whole notion of Christian community to the test!

Next I've got a staff meeting to attend and then Mass at Trinity Chapel. That's always a treat!


Monday, April 7, 2008

The Yard

Today I supervised the installation of the new cooktop to replace the one that broke several weeks ago. About time! It's been incredibly inconvenient to be without a stove top for more than a month! Of course, the guy who came to do the installation was only prepared for the simplest contingencies. But this situation was a bit more complicated, but my Dremel tool made short work out of the problem (some plywood blocking a bolt). There were other minor issues, as well, but nothing is easy, heh? At least two out of the four burners work, the other two need a missing parts.

The search for those two parts led me from Canadian Tire to Home Depot to Sears to a special Sears parts department in the middle of no-where. Along the way I picked up a patio umbrella, an outdoor storage box, and a few other odds and ends. Of course, Sears doesn't have the parts I need for another week. Sigh. I can't say I'm very impressed with Sears at the moment.

Once home, I spent a few hours doing yard work with Betsy. We made some good progress on raking up leaves and other yard waste (five bags worth). I also set up the furniture on the patio, etc. We rewarded ourselves with some scalloped potatoes, coleslaw, and a steak. Of course I barbecue old school, with charcoal. Delicious. Sitting on the deck with the barbecue going and a four-olive Martini in my hand after some hard work with my hands--bliss...


Sunday, April 6, 2008


Sunday worship went well today. Higher than normal numbers and lots of energy. I felt that my sermon was pretty strong, too. But after celebrating the liturgy I was exhausted. I had time enough to wolf down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before rushing of the the next thing--the baptism of a friend's baby.

Beautiful weather--the first day that really feels like spring.

I'm too tired to write much more. I'm satisfied, that's all.


Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston, famous as both an Actor and an Advocate for American gun rights, died yesterday. No matter what you think of his politics, you have to admire the guy's charisma. I don't think I'll ever be able to think of Moses without having images of Heston in my head. Then there was "Ben Hur" and "Planet of the Apes"--classics.

He was the embodiment of "pioneer values — pride, independence and valor" (source). I totally understand that--those are the values I received from my father and my grandfather.

So RIP, Charlton Heston.


Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Ninth Gate

Right now I'm watching "The Ninth Gate." Call it a guilty pleasure--it's essentially a mystery/thriller/horror movie about devil worshippers. It's not profound, but sometimes it's nice to check your brain at the door and just watch a movie!

I suppose watching Johnny Depp traipse around Europe looking for rare books about devil worship is strange sermon prep for tomorrow. Sigh. The more I preach the more inscrutable it becomes. But I'm more deeply and painfully aware of my own shortcomings as a preacher as I go along. Along with that comes greater capacity for self-forgiveness in that capacity. This all reminds me of one of the insights of psychoanalytic literary criticism: that the act of creating anything is preceded by a moment (psychologically) of repression of the precedent. In other words, the only way a writer can write is if they forget everything that's already been written.

Writers themselves often speak of the paralysis that comes with an awareness of the precedent. The same is true with preaching--if you think about it too much, you become painfully aware of just how huge the responsibility is. I mean, you're tasked with interpreting the Word of God to your people. How crazy is that? And going to school for years etc. doesn't make it any easier. In the end, you simply have to let go of ever achieving a sense of doing it well. I mean, sometimes you feel good about sermons and other times you don't. Sometimes people like them and sometimes they don't. And the good feelings engendered by self-reflection or the acclaim of others is important because it gives you enough hope to keep preaching. But ultimately you have to cultivate a certain detachment from the results. At least, this is what I've found.

So watching creepy movies on Saturday night is definitely in the sphere of things a preacher might do!


Friday, April 4, 2008

Wikipedia Page for Messiah

I created a short Wikipedia page for Church of The Messiah.
Check it out here.

Wikipedia is a beautiful thing. I use it all the time and assume others do the same! Those of you who know the church, feel free to edit the page if you want.


Momentum Retreat at SSJD

I was gone the last two days on a retreat with the Momentum group at the SSJD Convent. Momentum is a three-year program for new clergy in the Diocese that has a meeting together once a month for years one and two, and then every other month for the last year. Because we see each other so much and have so much in common, the bonds have become intense and the trust is very high. We share with each other in a way that is virtually impossible to find elsewhere. It's a precious thing.

The program also gives us a certain amount of information content to absorb and learn, yet much of that is review for most of us. For example, at the this last session my year learned about pastoral services like baptism, confirmation, marriage, and funerals. The basics of these was review (we've all done plenty of these already) but the learning came when we talked about more unusual or difficult scenarios. Some experienced priests joined us to share war stories and reflections about excellent practice in ministry.

The Convent is a great backdrop. Worshiping with a Monastic community is always a treat, and the sisters have a beautiful new chapel. I'm particularly fond of their organ, the layout of the space, and their collection of icons.

I noticed something interesting at Mass both days. After giving Communion to everyone present, the Celebrant and the Minister of Communion (with the chalice) formed up behind a sister with a small candle and a bell. She led them out of the chapel and down the hall, ringing the bell the whole way. The purpose of the bell and candle is to alert people to the fact that the Holy Sacrament was in their midst (so that they could make the proper signs of devotion). They gave communion to at least one Sister unable to attend chapel and then returned in the same fashion. It was a simple yet profound action.

The convent has many fine features, but I must admit that the food in previous retreats has left a little to be desired. This time, however, the food was better, and I was pleased about that. They take all their meals in silence, so it's hard not to notice!

Coming back on Thursday night I barely had enough energy to get through dinner and check some e-mail and watch a documentary with Betsy about Roman technology before going to bed. Slept well. Woke up early this morning to prepare for a Corporation meeting that just wrapped up.

Corporation is the governing council of the parish. We meet monthly to discuss various issues and make plans and approve expenses. It felt like a productive meeting. I'm very happy with the group of people I have to work with at COTM.

Now I have just a few minutes before another meeting. This afternoon I need to visit someone in the hospital and then I have a singing lesson in the afternoon. I'm hoping to be able to take it easy tomorrow, but we'll have to see!


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Few Pictures

Here's a couple of images from Palm Sunday. All were shot by Michael Hudson (and used with permission).

Of course, he gave us 294 pictures, so it's going to take me some time to mine that collection for all the gems it's got in it! I posted a few of them to the website. BTW, Photoshop FLIES on my new computer. I mean, wicked fast! No more waiting around for batch processes to run, I tell you what! Dreamweaver runs like a champ, too.


Prayer of the Week - Easter 3

Beloved Parishioners,

One of the things on my mind this week is the way in which we are rarely prepared for the ministries God asks us to accomplish. Certainly this was true of Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she was confronted by an angel who told her that she would not only become pregnant out of wedlock, but that the baby would be The Son of God! Understandably, her first reaction was confusion, nor is it clear from the Gospels that she ever fully understood her Son's role until after His Resurrection. It seems that ours in a God that believes in on-the-job training; none of us are "qualified" for the work we are asked to do.

This is probably true of most vocations. What class can truly prepare someone to be a parent? What degree can you get in being-a-good-spouse? Even highly-technical careers like law and medicine require long periods of internship because so much of the work can only be learned from experience. The same is true for ministry, which is why the Lord always seems to be encouraging us in scripture to be bold and to rely on holy providence. If we wait for God to teach us how to be "good" disciples, than we are likely to be waiting for a long time!

Rather than ask "what can we do," a better place to begin seems to be, "what is needed?" This is precisely the question we will be asking when we meet after church on April 13th to collective explore the needs of our neighborhood. I'm sure that together we'll discover that the the harvest is plentiful and that God is eager to send us with empty sacks into the fields. We have a unique opportunity at COTM at this moment to set a new, bold mission that responds with love to a world hungry for the Gospel of Christ!

Holy God, life-giver, purpose-maker, your providential plan for us includes every good thing. Place in us, we pray, a disposition to receive your Holy Spirit. Guide us into the truth of your mission on earth. Give us courage to heal those you put in our paths with the message of love and reconciliation you have made know in Jesus Christ. We ask this in the Name of the Risen One, the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.

In Christ,

P.S. Be sure to check out our new website: !


I'm really feeling pretty awful in my gut these days. I have been since Holy Week. Something's gnawing at me. Alas, it's not the sort of thing I can really discuss on my blog accept to say that it is spiritually fruitful to explore the origins of unpleasant feelings. These days thoughts keep coming into my head about how terribly inadequate I am in my vocation and as a person, generally. What comes into my mind are specific memories, some of events that happened decades ago, in which I felt horribly embarrassed, inadequate, or otherwise bad. Usually when these kinds of thoughts come up I can push them aside without difficulty, but the last two weeks have been different.

Bede would say that part of me is trying to push itself to the surface. He would counsel me to be hospitable, in some way, to whatever shadow stuff was trying to emerge. Easier said than done. Even if I were brave enough to "go there" with these feelings, there is the fear that this kind of shadow work would paralyze my ability to "get things done" in my pastoral role. I don't think my congregation would appreciate it much if I emotionally and physically withdrew from them for a week or even a few days. Yes, I'm sure there are many members who would be okay with that, but there are others who would either resent it or at least be confused by it. The unfortunate fact is that much of what goes on here revolves around me and my decisions, and that's part of the very definition of a "pastoral sized church."

I remember in the monastery people would often find themselves in these kinds of spaces. It was understood as something that happens in the engaged spiritual life from time to time, and so we knew how to give people room at such times. I have many fine stories of people I know and respect needing to be grumpy and withdrawn for a few days or weeks and everyone around them simply accepting that as something he or she needed to do. But I have not inherited a model of parish life that gives that kind of room to the chief.

It's also hard not to feel a bit selfish allowing the ebbs and flows of my spiritual life overflow onto the congregation--yet if people want transparency and authenticity from their spiritual leaders, then they ought to expect some of this from time to time.

Lucky for me, tomorrow and Thursday I'm on an over-night retreat with the Momentum Program at SSJD. It's what you might call a high-trust group, and there is very little that I would not share with my colleagues there. So I'm sure that will help. Yet at the end of the day this is my work to do: notice-engage-integrate. I know people that have been cycling through these kinds of states for their entire lives. Sigh.

One manifestation of the shadows poking through is "Acedia"--an old word sometimes translated as "sloth" or even "depression." Kathleen Norris gave a particular meaning to that word in her writings. Acedia, for her, is the "noon-day demon" that the Desert Fathers talked about: a feeling of spiritual paralysis difficult to overcome. The Desert Fathers (quoted in Norris) have the following to say:
Amma Syncletica said: There is a grief that is useful, and there is a grief that is destructive. The first sort consists in weeping over one's own faults and weeping over the weakness of one's neighbors, in order not to lose one's purpose, and attach oneself to the perfect good. But there is also a grief that comes from the enemy, full of mockery, which some call accidie. This spirit must be cast out, mainly by prayer and psalmody.

Yes, that's precisely what I'm talking about--a mocking grief that is not helpful. In a chapter she wrote called simply "Acedia," Kathleen Norris reflected on the way that simply showing up to church helped. Yes, yes. That seems to be one of the keys to this... simply showing up despite the noonday demon.

Anyway, I should get over this pretty soon. It's just the pastoral blues...