Monday, November 30, 2009

Ice Pilots NWT

My new favourite show is "Ice Pilots: NWT" on the history channel. It's a reality TV show about a small airline (Buffalo Air) in the Canadian North that keeps some very remote villages and towns supplied. These are the sorts of places that are only reachable by road three months of the year! One of the things that makes Buffalo Air unique is that they rely mostly on piston-powered airplanes, many of WWII vintage. We're talking PBY's, C-46's, DC-3/C-47's, C-54's. The extreme cold, poor weather, rough runways, and short hauls make these tough, un-pressurized propeller aircraft ideal.

Good times for you aviation buffs out there!


Sunday, November 29, 2009

DJ Spooky: Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica

DJ Spooky is an amazing musician and composer with a very sensitive ear. He wrote a piece called Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica after visiting Antarctica. I heard an interview with him on NPR in which he impressed me with his depth of craft and engagement. You might get a sense of what I mean from this clip from Sinfonia Antarctica....



A complex and challenging day at church today. It was the Daycare's 30th Anniversary, so we celebrated by inviting all the parents and having special refreshments. We were supposed to have a bouncy castle, as well, but they never showed. I know that both the Daycare Manager and the President of the Daycare Board spoke to the bouncy-castle company, so I'm at a loss to explain the no-show. Ah well, I still called up the Daycare Staff and blessed them and thanked them for their work.

Another complicating factor today was a new liturgical arrangement. The chairs we arranged in a kind of U configuration. The bottom of the "U" included the Presider's Chair. Just in font on that (heading "liturgically East") was the Ambo (lectern). In font of that was a small Credence Table. In the centre of the assembly stood a square altar with a minimum of hardware. At the top of the U stood another square table with the tabernacle, icon, and menorah. The purpose of the Menorah is to make a nod towards the Jewish heritage that we share with our Abrahamic brethren.

We also changed the music all around, substituting a modern translation of the Advent Prose for the Gloria and changing the Lord's Prayer and the Sanctus and other bits and pieces.

All in all, it went quite well. I just wish I could have spent some more time exploring the reasoning and implications of this set-up with the congregation. Alas, there was way too much going on today to do much of that. Just as well, liturgy should really be able to stand on its own without a frame.

There were a dozen or more visitors, which was great to see, plus the usual Messiah crowd. So attendance was up today. I really try not to let the attendance matter too much, as it is one of the surest ways to make yourself insane as a pastor, but it's hard not to notice.

Short meeting with two of the Wardens after church (the other is out of town) to discuss various matters, some of which weigh heavily on my mind when I allow them. Right now, heading into Christmas, is one of the most stressful times of the year for most priests and ministers I know. This is a tough job, and I'm uncertain that most people understand why. Any one piece of it--the pastoral care, preaching and liturgy, administration, strategic planning/ops, dilegent study of "such matters as promote the spreading of the Gospel"--could easily be a full-time responsibility. It's the breadth of the responsibilities which is the hardest part to deal with!

Anyway, 'nough complaining. I've got some important recreation to do now! If I don't get some serious football time in, I'll be useless on Tuesday.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Fragments

This morning I said Mass at Trinity Chapel, which is always a little liturgical treat. It's a pretty straight-forward BAS Modern-Rite Holy Eucharist. Interestingly, they have an organist so we can sing a hymn and some of the service music. This would be a great place to do some paperless singing sometime.

After that I've been running from one thing to the next. Not crushingly hectic, but busy. I assembled the second Ikea table that we'll be using for the Advent Liturgy configuration. I also showed some architecture students around the place (every year or so a group of students are tasked with writing a paper about the place for an Architecture course at George Brown). Meanwhile, our cleaners are stripping and waxing the Nave floor. The Yoga folks have been complaining about how dirty the floor has been lately, and this is apparently due to the need for a stripping and rewaxing of the floor--precisely the kind of detail one learns about in the exciting field of Parish Administration!

It's been a season for minor repairs and upgrades to the building. Yesterday Bell fixed a phone line and the roofers took a look at their project. The organ tuners also did their work. Next week the electrician will come by to install another exterior light for the playground. Soon the security camera people will come and install some interior cameras. And we have an appointment with the church handyman to install a new doorbell! Amazing how quickly these kinds of projects accumulate!

Yesterday we had an excellent meeting of the Christ-Centred Character Group. Our Resource Centre continues to take shape. Recently we've made the decision to change the name to "Centre for Excellence in Christian Education." Concerns were expressed about using "Anglican Resource Centre," you see. Right now we are still waiting on some grant requests we've submitted, but I remain optimistic that we'll get some money and be able to roll it out this winter. We've already been able to lend out a few materials here and there.
Behold: Turducken!

For Thanksgiving this year we'll going out with some friends to a restaurant that specializes in southern cuisine. I'm anxious to try Turducken for the first time. Imagine a Turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken! Some people even add a quail inside the chicken and possibly a hardboiled egg in the centre. They also advertised a gravy made with bourbon and Grand Marnier. Yumm!

This year I'm thankful most of all for Betsy and our soon-to-come son. Bringing new life into the world turns out to be fulfilling to the extreme. It's neat to see how it has shifted Betsy and my relationship in positive ways and how I'm already beginning to think differently about many things. I think I'm becoming a father....


Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Michael Hudson took this picture of me (and Claire Goodrich Dyer) voting at Synod last weekend. The Synod was fairly short (just the morning), but important. There were several key votes, all of which passed nearly unanimously with only small amendments. One of the things we did was vote through some important changes to the Canons designed to give more flexibility to the Diocese. We also cleaned up some canons to modernize the language a bit. We also approved plans and priorities documents that will be implemented in policies.

Today they (Diocesan Staff) will be counting the votes from the election. My name was on the ballot to be a rep to national synod, but there were a LOT of names of that ballot. I would be proud to have most of them represent me, so if I don't get elected I'll be content. We'll see!

For me the best part of synods (including this one) is seeing lots of my colleagues and talking shop. It's a place to touch base and share ideas and hatch hair-brained schemes!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Music That Makes Community: Khudaya rahem kar (Kyrie)

Scott Weidler taught the Music That Makes Community: Atlanta group this haunting Kyrie in Urdu. I find the melody wonderfully haunting--the sort of thing that can be hard to get out of your head once you start singing it.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Google Streetview of COTM

Google's "StreetView" of Toronto is now working. You can actually zoom into a pedestrian-eye view of Toronto streets. For example, this is what my church looks like from the Avenue Road side. Remarkable, isn't it? Notice that most of the people as well as license plate numbers have been smudged out for privacy reasons...

View Larger Map

I can tell by various cues that these pictures were taken this summer. Around 12:40 PM according to the bell tower clock! I notice, also, that our Daycare Manager's car is in the parking lot.


Music that Makes Community: Rejoice and sing with me

Marilyn leading Michael Hahn's "Rejoice and sing with me."


Music That Makes Community: Pugila - halleluia

This piece of paperless music is great for getting a congregation on their feet and moving. Scott Weidler and Emily Scott show how to teach the music as well as the movements. Note how Emily then adds another layer by introducing intercessions between refrains.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Holy Spirit in Worship...

Emily Scott, one of my liturgist friends, wrote an interesting piece for Episcopal Cafe Blog back in December:
Holy Chaos, or: What Episcopalians can learn from Baptists
Urban Holmes wrote that good liturgy leads regularly to the edge of chaos, a regular flirt with doom (Theology and Religious Renewal). These past weeks in worship, I’ve felt myself clearly standing dangerously on the edge of a precipice – nothing below me but God.

How often do we trick ourselves into believing that if we do everything right – if we use the right words and process the right way and bow at the right moments, God will be present in our worship? How often do we deceive ourselves into, as Aidan Kavanaugh so incisively wrote, “tam[ing] the Lion of Judah and [putting] him into a suburban zoo to entertain children (On Liturgical Theology)?

And how often to we believe, as we stand in the Narthex among the acolytes and choir members, that the cataclysmic Spirit of God just might thunder into our sanctuary, cracking open our familiar and comforting practices, and change the very lives of the people to whom we minister? How often do we trust that someone might be healed, that someone might be saved? How often do we trust our own ability to be the lighting rod to God’s presence and touch? .... (source)

This rings true for me. So much of the liturgy we do in the Church seems designed to leave as little room for the Holy Spirit as possible. When the Holy Spirit does show up, everyone seems surprised (no one more so, perhaps, than the priest). How remarkable that the best worship services I see happening outside of my own parish are often on the fringes of other communities: house eucharists sponsored by one congregation, the "early service" on a Sunday morning at another, the sort of worship we do at Synods and camp. The edge is where it's at.

That's why I think it's important to push the envelope a bit at regular Sunday services. I don't think you want to push people over the edge, but you got to make a gesture worthy of the boldness of the Gospel, ya know?

Sure, it's possible to find that edge in even the most ritual-notes-following, high-church, incense-burning, BCP-loving homage to Victorian Spirituality. I remember finding that edge at SMM a few times at the 11 AM Solemn Mass. But I think that we as clergy (and laity) need to do a better job of pushing ourselves to the fullest expression of prayer we are able to offer.

To do the opposite is to fall into a kind of apathetic, too-comfortable repetition that I see disturbingly often.

It's nice to be in a parish that appreciates us looking for that edge of faithful prayer together. I'm really excited about our plans for Advent!


Building Communities of Hope and Compassion

This video was produced by the Diocese of Toronto for the May 2009 Synod. Pretty good. Clearly following the "Fresh Expressions" Videos from the UK--but that's a great place to start. The Diocese asked me to upload it to YouTube for them...


Mass... The Video Game

I can't figure out if this is real or not. There is a website for the "game." And it does seem plausible... I like the game where the kids are swinging in the thurible!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sermon - Pentecost 24 2009

Here is the sermon that Doug Clark, our Theological Intern, preached last Sunday. He did a great job. Meanwhile, I was upstairs doing "Children's Church" with the kids.

Here's the audio...

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...



Check out this series of art installations intended to explore the sacrament of Communion. I love it when Emerging Church does these sort of explorations of aspects of Christianity that perhaps need a little bit of deconstruction! Mad props to Joe Manafo.


A Busy Beaver

The fact that I'm not blogging everyday is a good indicator of just how NUTS it's been in my life, lately. Basically there are three intersecting categories in this order of priority: 1) Home-Life, Baby-Prep, Being-Married, 2) Parish-Running, Preaching, Loving-My-Peeps, 3) Diocesan-Committee-Attending, Writing, Blogging. As you can see, I'm afraid blogging comes pretty much last. Sigh.

But the lack of blogging is symptomatic of another problem: that I'm not doing as much reading/researching/thinking as I normally do. You see, back when I was blogging once or twice a day, I would have time to read various blogs and articles that I find inspiring and thought provoking. I'd share stuff that I thought a wider audience than the voices in my head would appreciate. But these days, there just has been as much time for that time spent reading and thinking and surfing. That's just the reality at the moment.

But on the plus side, lots of very exciting stuff has been happening. Betsy's pregnancy continues to go well. Our little guy is developing a reputation for athletic excellence worthy of the son of a Ninja Priest. Too bad Betsy's internal organs are the only thing handy to use a punching/kicking bag!

Cravings? Yes--ice cream!

Due date? Still December 14th. And yes, I've been planning for various people to take services around that time. Even when I do think I'll be okay to come to church and say Mass, I've still scheduled people to preach in my stead! So I should be okay during that time for coverage.

Is the house ready? Mostly. We have a bassinet in our bedroom for the first few weeks. We still need to set up the changing stations (one upstairs, one downstairs) and assemble the crib. Nor have I abandoned my ambition to theme-out the nursery with aviation kitsch. The main thing there is actually painting that room and applying airplane decals.

Betsy did a great job sewing a skirt and bedding for the bassinet from fabric she bought. Her next project is some roman-style shades.

I managed to completely re-arrange "man town" (that the room with my TV and PS3). That project included adding wall mounted shelves. My next task there is to build a custom desk to fit into a nook I have my eye on.

At work I'm very excited about our plans for Advent. The liturgical space is going to be very different, and I believe it will create an excellent vibe for where we want people to go spiritually. Kerrie's Bible Study is humming along, and she and Doug (our Theological Intern) are developing plans for an adult formation program to run in Advent.

Meanwhile, we are putting in security cameras at the church (a special request of the day care) and repairing the roof where it leaked last Christmas.

On the Diocesan Level, the planning for the Vital Church Planting Conference is going well. I'm in charge of workshops as well as liturgy. I've already got help with those. The Fresh Expressions Working Group (aka The Church Planting Committee) is interesting and I'm starting to get a sense of how they work and how I might contribute. This Saturday is a Synod Meeting at which I might be elected to be a Diocesan Rep at the National Church level. Though, honestly, I doubt I'll win the election as there are a tonne of great candidates on the nomination list already. The Anglican Resource Centre--being rebranded as the Centre for Excellence in Christian Education--has been resting for a few months, but is about to get busy again.

Lots of other stuff going on, but I don't have time at the moment to get into it. Suffice it to say, I've been a busy beaver!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Veterans Day

We observed Remembrance Day at Church this morning. We transfered it from last Sunday for various reasons. But last Sunday since I had a service at Belmont House (a local retirement home) I went ahead and observed Remembrance day with them, too. I found myself getting more emotional than I expected as I preached to a room-full of old ladies. Among other things, I noted that they had much more to say about war and sacrifice than I did.

Anyway, I saw this remarkable photo and thought I would post it. When's the last time you saw a U.S. President allow himself to be photographed with the remains of a fallen soldier? These repatriation ceremonies are really difficult for everyone involved, as I heard first hand from a Canadian Chaplain a few weeks ago. They have to rotate the responsibility among the participants because it's so emotionally difficult.

"From left, U.S. President Barack Obama, Assistant Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Daniel V. Wright and Brig. Gen. Michael S. Repass, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, render honors as a team of Soldiers carry the remains of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin during a dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware on October 29, 2009. Griffin, who was assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, was killed in action on October 27, 2009, by a roadside bomb in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. UPI/Jason Minto/U.S. Air Force" (source)


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Music That Makes Community: To the Bath and the Table

This is a really nice piece of Paperless Music. The Cantor's part has a bunch of really neat verses, of which Emily sings only the first in this example.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Awesomest Staff Meeting Ever

Spent the morning getting my blood drawn for tests as part of my yearly physical, then went to another clinic to get my H1N1 Vaccine. It turned out to be pretty anti-climatic. I haven't noticed any change.

Back at church--AWESOME staff meeting. First we spent 45 minutes or so arranging chairs and liturgical furniture in the space to explore possible Advent configurations. The last few times I've done this it's been basically a lone-wolf exercise in liturgical planning. This time, I had THREE different staff members with me chipping in with excellent ideas and refinements. Between the four of us we came up with an arrangement that is better than what any of us had in mind individually. It will require acquiring a few small pieces that we don't have already (such as a brass menorah), but we have time to get them before the season begins.

After that we spent some time reflecting on the last two Sundays and incorporating the results into some changes to be implemented next Sunday. Some of the things we noticed won't be incorporated until next year.

Then we hunkered down and did some exciting planning for Advent and Epiphany. There are lots of projects and possibilities emerging, and the neat thing is that many/most of them are coming from the staff or the congregation! Wow! Really great to watch stuff start to spring up from fertile ground. Extremely rewarding for me to see and hear how well our group is working together for the building up of this community. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

At the end of the staff meeting we prayed for the church and for various pastoral and personal concerns, then we sang the Lord's Prayer together. We each walked away with a list of "to-dos" and much excitement.

Have I said lately how much I love being a priest at the Church of The Messiah? This is such a great job!


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Music that Makes Community: Come light of lights

Emily Scott leading "Come Light of Lights" on Friday at the "Music that Makes Community" conference that Eric and I attended. Note how little direction she uses--real economy of communication greatly facilitates leading this kind of music.


Tell It Like It Is

One of the books we had to read in advance for the Preacher's College last week was Tell It Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony by Lillian Daniel (our guest presenter at the College). This book is based on her D.Min. dissertation and focuses on reclaiming the tradition of Testimony for "mainline" churches (think Congregationalist, Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, even Catholic). She developed a practice at her church in New Haven (and brought it with her to Chicago) of inviting lay members of the congregation to give testimony from the heart (usually only for about 7-8 minutes) about their life with God. The only real rule (besides the time limit and the fact that these folk were specifically invited by the pastor) was that Testimonies could not be "godless." What she didn't want to hear was, "What I learned about myself in psychotherapy," nor, "What civic minded people can accomplish when they work together." The point is to talk about how God is active in your life.

The practice was very successful and brought people closer together in the congregation. It also helped to spread out leadership and foster both discipleship and (yes) stewardship.

So she wanted to talk to us about how this practice can be helpful to congregations as well as how the use of personal testimony in preaching can be a powerful tool. To this end she had us read a book she co-wrote with Martin Copenhaven, This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers. This book reads as a series of essays reflecting on different aspects of the pastoral vocation. Many of them are amusing, thoughtful, and certainly familiar to those of us "in the cloth." It would be a great book for anyone considering ordained ministry, and was written to be a counterpoint to such books as Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor (which focused on the problems of life in pastoral leadership) and the You-Can-Make-Your-Mega-Church-Grow-with-Jesus'-Help kind of books. It provides some good examples of how personal narrative can be used to make theological arguments in a far more compelling way than the products of "illustration factories." You know, those cutesy generic sermon illustrations you can find on various sermon-writing websites.

The "College of Preachers" is run by St. Clement's Church here in Toronto but is really meant to be a National programme. They have a sermon number of slots for Toronto priests and then the other half are taken by priests from around the Anglican Church of Canada. You have to be nominated by your bishop to attend. The College happens every two-years.

About a week before the event I was told I would be preaching at Morning Prayer on the first day of the conference. I had no idea what the readings would be, so I prepared a sermon that made good use of personal narrative and was pleased that it did, in fact, go with the readings. Mine was the first sermon heard this year, so I was naturally more nervous than usual. But it went well.

As our days together went one we heard talks by Lillian and then broke up into groups hear each other preach and critique. We also had times of prayer and recreation.

It was wonderful to be with other clergy and talk about preaching, though not without some interesting disagreements on things like the usefulness of the lectionary. There was also a fruitful discussion about one should preach at wedding and funerals (seems like a great evangelism opportunity to me, but some pastors disagree). Lots of discussion of clergy role, boundaries, etc.

David Montgomery (one of the priest's at St. Clement's) did an excellent job with the Offices. He even did some "Paperless Music" using the Music by Heart Hymnal. He's the first person I've seen use it (besides Eric and I) in Toronto, so I was very excited to see how easily he was able to do it. Naturally I told him that I would meeting with the All Saint's Company folks that wrote that hymnal in a few days!

There is an interesting quality to praying together at these sorts of retreats. Something about having a roomful of clergy praying together makes for a very special atmosphere. Something about the shared ministry and collegiality makes for really rich prayer time together. Nor is it necessarily limited to ordained clergy, I experienced the same thing with the mostly lay-group in Atlanta.

I had to leave the College after the last full-day. I missed the banquet dinner and the last Plenary talk and Lillian's sermon, alas. But I had to catch my flight to Atlanta, which I will blog about soon....


Saturday, November 7, 2009


What a week. I was at the College of Preachers Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Then Wednesday night I flew to Atlanta. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I was at the Music that Makes Community Conference with my Minister of Music. It was an exhilarating, but exhausting. I flew back this evening and have church in the morning. Sunday afternoon and Monday I expect to be nearly useless.

Did I learn much? Of course! Spending three days working of preaching was very worthwhile. Really it was a "Master Class" in preaching. It was also neat to reconnect with Lillian Daniel, whom I met at Yale when I was there. She would come in and give guest lectures on preaching. The topic for the three days was the use of personal narrative in preaching. Of course, I already do a fair amount of this, but it was still worth working on with the group.

It Atlanta we studied "Paperless Music"--which is the recovery and use of methods to get congregations and groups singing without relying on the congregation having music-in-hand. In other words, using techniques like call-and-response, echo (lining hymns), and so forth. There are many advantages to using this kind of music in worship, which you'll hear about later!

So it was three days of working on how to lead (and compose) this kind of music. It was a lot of fun. Great to catch up with some friends from All Saint's Company like Donald, Rick, Marilyn, Emily, and Scott. I knew Emily at Yale, so that's other Yale Divinity School connection this week. We sang and sang and sang. Worthwhile, and I have more to say about it later.

Right now, time to go to bed!


Monday, November 2, 2009

Holocaust Education Week Photo

Here's a nice picture of me with Jenny Eisenstein and her sister by our church sign. What a great event that was!


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Holocaust Education Week

We had a really great All Saints Service at Messiah this morning. Besides being the feast of All Saints, it is also Holocaust Education Week. I had been approached several months ago about having Church of The Messiah be one of the sites participating in HEW. As plans evolved, it was decided that Jenny Eisenstein, an Awschwitz survivor, would present a tribute to the Jewish spirit. She gave a 15-20 minute presentation of music accompanied by Anna Vanesyan on piano and Omer Strumpf (a 12-year-old Cello prodigy).

As it turned out, attendance was fantastic: 105. About a third of our congregation was Jewish! Now, Eric and I had spent some time thinking and planning the liturgy and it really showed. We did a Litany of the Saints, for example, that was very cool. I'll see if I can find a link to it. For the Psalm Eric had Marili Moore (our Honorary Assistant Priest and un-official Resident Hebrew Scholar) and Laura Roth (Cantor) sing the verses in Hebrew while the congregation sang the refrain in English. Not only that, but he found and adapted a traditional Hebrew chant melody (based on the Djerba chant, I believe). It was gorgeous, and I was incredibly impressed with Marili and Laura's performance.

After the Gospel I welcomed our guests and said a few words to help make them feel more at ease. Jenny's presentation was intense and beautiful and evocative. She started off with a piece she learned as a child in the concentration camp because people would singing it together on their way to the gas chamber. Some of the songs were in Yiddish. She sang some in English and other in Hebrew. I'll see how the recording turned out.

During Communion the choir sang a really nice anthem--"Justorum animae" by Orlando di Lasso. Again, I looked over and thought about how utterly impressed I am with our church's music programme. We really have an excellent group of musicians.

The organizers for the event were extremely impressed with our ability to make the Christian liturgy hospitable to our Abrahamic brothers and sisters. That was, of course, intentional. We didn't water it down, by any means, but we did make intelligent choices. Replacing the Creed with the Shema/Summary of the Law, for example. Also, I changed the wording of the "Prayer over the Gifts" that precedes the Sursum Corda by swapping "...the triumph of Christ..." for "...the triumph of God..." The theology of that particular prayer works equally well.

This is one of my favourite liturgies I've done at COTM. Certainly in my top five. It was the best and fullest and most unapologetic expression of our Christian faith I can imagine--yet it was perfectly able to accommodate some 45 Jewish guests! Everyone walked away feeling really good about the whole thing and deeply moved by the reality of the Holocaust and stories of Jenny's survival.