Category Archives: Everyday Ministry

Sermon: The Transfiguration of our Lord

Below is a copy and recording of my sermon from The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (August 6, 2017), preached at St. Luke’s East Greenwich.  You can find the lessons here. As always your comments and reflections are welcome. 

Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration,
one of my favorite feasts in the life of the Church.

This feast we celebrate today is so important to me because it is all about two things that are the core of my faith and my personhood – identity and integrity.

On this the feast of the Transfiguration something is revealed to us about the identity and integrity of Jesus, and of ourselves. And I truly believe that if we open ourselves fully to what is celebrated on this day,
we might just find not only God,
but ourselves transfigured.

transfigiconToday’s Gospel passage finds us on the mountain.
Just as in real estate, location is everything in Scripture.
Mountaintops are known, and symbolic of, places where God is revealed.

So when we hear: “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray,” that is a clue to us that something incredibly important is about to happen.
God is about to reveal God’s self in some miraculous way.

In this Gospel passage, in this mountaintop moment, God is making sure that the core of the disciples – Peter and John and James – have no doubt about the fullness of Jesus’ identity. In the verses leading up to todays’ passage from Luke, there are a series of stories and events that attempt to communicate to the disciples the divine nature of Jesus. Time and time again the disciples just do not get it. They keep trying to force Jesus into their idea of who the messiah should be and how the messiah should act.

As an aside, it needs to be noted that throughout Luke’s Gospel, the female disciples absolutely get it, but the gender division of Luke’s narrative is another sermon for another time.

As we approach this mountain top encounter there are three key elements that speak to the identity and integrity of Jesus.

First, Jesus takes these three disciples up the mountain to pray.

Now this might be an obvious statement,
but I am going to go ahead and say it anyway;
for Jesus prayer is incredibly important.

Repeatedly throughout Luke’s narrative we witness how Jesus is empowered by prayer.
Through prayer Jesus opens himself to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Through prayer Jesus chooses the apostles.
Through prayer Jesus is able to maintain his integrity through abuse.
Through prayer Jesus is strengthened to confront the oppressive structures of the empire.
And it is through prayer
that the disciples would be able to do all these things and more, if they could simply get out of their own way and truly accept the presence of God in their lives.

At this point in the Gospel, the disciples do not have this prayer thing down. It will be another two chapters until they ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

Even though they still have not received their formal training in prayer, God still uses the empowering nature of prayer to be a time when the disciples – and all of us – are able to come into proximity with the Divine.

It is in the setting of prayer that the true identity of Jesus is revealed.

 The second key element of this transfiguration event is the appearance of two prophets.

In this prayerful moment, when Jesus is transformed and his clothes become dazzling white he does not appear alone. The appearance of Moses and Elijah is an indicator that the mission of God, in the person of Jesus, is a continuation of the work that God had already begun in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

This makes clear that the Jewish identity of the disciples, and what later generations will call Christian identity, do connect. This is a sign that for us as Christians, that the words spoken through the prophets have been realized in the person of Jesus.   That is why of all the prophets, it is Moses and Elijah who appear.

Moses is the reminder of the past.
Moses was the person empowered by God, to lead God’s chosen people out of bondage and slavery into freedom.
Elijah, in Jewish thought, in connected to the end times.
Elijah is the one who will one day turn people’s hearts back to the covenant.
Jesus’ transfiguration is placed between those who represent the beginning and the end. The conversation the three of them have makes clear the fullness of Jesus’ mission: that Jesus is ended to Jerusalem to accomplish his mission.

Just a few verses beyond today’s Gospel passage, Luke will tell the reader that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus will begin that long journey to the cross.

Thus by standing next to Moses it is made clear to us that that just as Moses was the one who led the people Israel out of bondage and slavery in Egypt, Jesus will be the one to lead all of humanity out of the bondage and slavery of sin.

And by standing next to Elijah, the one who will bring people back to the covenant that God made with the ancestors, Jesus will be the one to usher us back to the very presences of God in the end of time.

Now if all that was not enough for this revelation of the glory of God, there is one final moment that makes Jesus’ divine nature explicitly clear:

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

For the second time we read God claiming Jesus as God’s Son.

Several chapters earlier, at Jesus’ Baptism, we read that God speaks from heaven and says to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

But now
here
during the Transfiguration of our Lord,
God once again speaks, and this time, tells us that Jesus is God’s Beloved.
And God does not just speak to the disciples confirming Jesus’ identity,
God commands the disciples – and each one of us – to Listen to Jesus!

No longer can there be any doubt.
This teacher, this rabbi they have been following is the divine Son of God.
This teacher will not only lead us out of temporal slavery,
but he will break down the door of hell
redeem every soul for all of eternity
and usher us into that heavenly city – the New Jerusalem.

In this moment, we receive a vision to carry with us down the mountain.

In the Transfiguration, we get a glimpse of the unimaginable reality of God’s grace, glory, and love for all of humanity.

But what happens when the appearance and revelation of God – ends?
What happens when we come off the mountain?

When Jesus, Peter, John, and James come down the mountain they met a man whose only son was possessed by a demon.
The man says to Jesus, “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”
Jesus chastises those around him,
rebukes the demon,
and the boy is healed.
As soon as Peter, John, and James come off the mountain they find transfiguration in every day life.

That healing encounter is where identity and integrity meet in the realities of the Transfiguration.

On the mountaintop Jesus’ identity is revealed. Once they are down in the valley the disciples witness the fullness of Jesus’ integrity. They see the honest and true reality that the mission of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is to restore all of the created order to the way God intended creation to be from the very beginning:
Good
In the imagine of God
Whole
Redeemed

By witnessing the intersection of Jesus’ identity and integrity we are forced to see Jesus differently – to understand Jesus differently.

This teacher the disciples have been following around is not going to be some great and powerful military leader –
releasing the people of God from oppression through violence and destruction.

This transfigured Christ is going to humbly heal humanity and redeem us all
through suffering
anguish
and humiliation.

While we glimpse the glory of God in the transfiguration moment on the mountaintop, we will not fully see the glory of God until we stand at the foot of the Cross.

And if we are going to understand Jesus in this new way, we must also understand our relationship with Jesus and our call as disciples in new ways.

We are called to remove from ourselves all the darkness the world has placed upon us, so that our light might shine forth. We are no longer are to understand our ministries and callings through our own desires, but instead take on the meekness and humility of Christ.

We must, through prayer, open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit that we may be empowered to truly and completely listen to the commands of Jesus.

Now there is one more piece about coming down from the mountain that allows us to fully take on this new reality of our discipleship.

Think back for a moment to our Old Testament lesson from Exodus.

After coming down from Mount Sinaimoses
After having an incredibly intimate encounter with God,
that according to other parts of scripture should have killed Moses
Moses’s face was shining.
After encountering the holy, Moses was visibly changed.

Now I could preach two more sermons just on this passage from Exodus, I’m not going to, but I could.

However there is one thing I do not want to miss today.

This transformation was so startling that Moses started wearing a veil to not scare those in his community. But every time Moses went and spoke to God, Moses would remove his veil.

That for us is the final key to understanding our identity and integrity as followers of Jesus.

We may from time to time, find ourselves placing veils over our faces to not scare those around us, to not cause trouble, or for any other reason.

But when we come to this place,
When we come to hear the word of God
When we come to see God face to face
When we come to hold God in the palms of our hands in the Sacrament of the Eucharist
We no longer have any reason to fear or hide our faces.
We can remove every mask,
every veil,
We can remove absolutely everything that we put up to hide the light that shines from our faces.

If we are to truly be disciples then we must live into the fullness of our identity with all integrity in front of God, and one another.

On this feast of the Transfiguration may we give thanks for the divine revelation of God on all the mountaintops past, present, and yet to come.
May we come to know something more of the identity and integrity of God.
But most importantly may God reveal to us something of our own identity and integrity that we too might be transfigured.

AMEN.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Everyday Ministry, Life in a parish

Getting My Prayer Book Dirty

IMG_1275One of the joys of being a newly ordained curate, is that everything is new.  Today was one of those days I got to do something really new; not just something new at St. Luke’s.

For the first time I led a committal service at a cemetery.  I had never met the family before.  They are not parishioners of my parish.  This was one of those times that the local funeral home called looking for help, and I was tagged to jump in.

The night before the committal I was feeling pretty laid back about it.  I even scoffed when a friend, and clergy colleague, referred to my big day, thinking it was really no big deal: “It’s a page and a half, how big a deal could it be.” I’m glad he warned me otherwise.  I’m thankful I was wrong.

I took my friend’s words to heart, and spent a period of time prior to the committal in prayer at home – the benefit of the cemetery being down the hill from my house.  I felt calm, relaxed, and ready for whatever I was about to walk into.  I arrived at the cemetery, and was greeted but the funeral director.  An amazing and delightful woman whom I had met very briefly just a few days before.  Her calming and warm presence, with just the right amount of humor, was exactly what I needed to calm the butterflies in my stomach.

As I got in her car to drive to through the cemetery to the place of burial our conversation came to an end, and I began to pray.  I could see the cremains and American flag resting on the backseat of her car.  We arrived.  She insisted on helping me out of the car, which I was thankful for as cassock, surplice, and tippet were a lot to manage. How embarrassing it would have been if I tripped on my vestments getting out of the car – I mean, no one wants to be that curate.

We walked up the little hill to the family plot.  For the first time I was able to see the whole family gathered.  His daughter and his step-children.  His grandchildren.  His brother.  His name was already on the tombstone, shared with his wife who died five years ago.  As the service men their to conduct military honors (without the guns) marched into place, I could feel the Spirit swirling amongst us.  We were indeed standing on holy ground.

Trying not to be drowned out by the noise of the highway, or the birds singing away, I began the anthem, “Everyone the Father gives to me will come to me; I will never turn away anyone who believes in me . . .”  My focus was at an all time high.  I was struck by the power of those words.  I mustered the pastoral strength and authority bestowed upon me in an attempt to not let my voice shake: To be calm and steady in my words.

I reach out and grabbed a handful of earth.  I poured it, in the shape of a cross, on the cremains.  “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother Stewart . . .”  I was holding holy ground, I was pouring holy ground, my hand was covered in holy ground.

As I turned the page in my prayer book I watched as the earth fall from my hands onto the page and roll into the center of the book.  It was the first time I’ve gotten my prayer book dirty.

After we finished the prayers for the committal, taps was played, the flag was presented, I spent time with the family.  First the step-son, then the daughter, then the brother.  People always say you remember your first.  I will never forgot Stewart’s brother.  He came up to me, “Thank you so much Father for being here.  I am his brother,” and with tears in his eyes and a cracking voice he continued, “I am going to be okay.”  Before I could say a word he walked away.

After sometime standing in the family plot, Stewart’s family made their way to the cars.  The funeral director and I stayed behind.

When everything was finished my new friend, the funeral director, drove me back to the car handed me a couple of envelopes and drove away.  I took off my vestments, got into the car, and noticed that there was still earth on my hands.  I opened my prayer book to page 501 and took a moment to take it all in.  To gaze upon the earth on my hand and in my prayer book.  I began to wonder about how many more times I will get my prayer book dirty in cemeteries like this.  I began to wonder about all the names I will place into the prayers.  I began to wonder about all the holy ground I will stand upon.

As I drove away I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  Gratitude for the opportunity to be in that place with those people on this day filled with joy and sadness – as the step-son described it.  Gratitude for the vocation God has laid upon me that allows me to serve the world in this particular way.

I am sure I will having plenty of opportunities to get my prayer book dirty over these next fifty year (God willing), but I will always remember – and give thanks for – this first time I got my prayer book dirty.

Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord; And let light perpetual shine upon him. 
May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Everyday Ministry, Life in a parish

Let Us Dance

This morning I was awoken by the sound of something beeping and buzzing on my bedside table. Being on call for my CPE unit I assumed it was my pager. As a stumbled to find my pager, I discovered it was not the hospital paging me, but rather an alert from the New York Times.   “Deadly Shooting” “Gay Club,” and “Orlando” were the only words my eyes could recognize.

I wish it had been my pager that woke me up.

As the morning progressed my phone kept buzzing with updates, the death toll rising, individuals and politicians making bigoted comments using this tragedy to bolster the base, to get more votes, to profit from death. The level of despair – beyond any other emotion – continued to grow in my body. As I watched the reports come in, I became physically ill. I felt unsafe.

Over and over again the words “it could have been me” came, and continue to come, to mind. The never-ending loop won’t stop no matter how hard I try to drown it out. I can’t help but think, how many times I’ve just wanted to dance, to be in a place of safety, to suspend the anxiety of daily life and just be true to myself for a few hours. Through much of college the gay clubs in Providence were the only places I felt safe – there were the places I had community to support me and carry me through days of darkness. How many times I was like those 300 people at Pulse. How easily that could have been any number of clubs I’ve been to. How many times my friends and I ran to our cars for safety because of drunken threats made to us as we strolled to the cars exhausted from a night of partying together. As the reality sinks in, I cannot help but think about RI pride a mere six days away.

The shock is completely and totally devastating.

But for me, there is something even more devastating about this tragedy – because it is our sins that have caused and allowed for this to happen. It is our sins of bigotry and hatred, our sins of violence, our obsession with guns, our greed that has allowed this to happen: that has allowed the DEADLIEST MASS SHOOTING in American history to take place this morning – to take place in the early hours of this Sabbath day.  There is violence and evil and extremism in the world that exists separate from our cultural norms and expressions.  But these things – evil and violence – are perpetuated by what we will tolerate and promote as a culture.  It is our justification and acceptance of violence, hatred, and greed that makes us culpable.

The pain and tragedy of this day did not end at 5am this morning when the rampage stopped. It continues, while radical conservative Christians say that God strikes down LGBT people, while politicians congratulate themselves on being “right” about terrorist, while gay men stand by and watch their friends and lovers die because an antiquated law bans them from donating blood. Imagine standing by watching your family, your own, your blood die because a 30 year-old laws labels you unclean.

So today I turn to the only thing I know I can trust – my faith. I turn and grasp for whatever morsel of solace my relationship with God through the Anglican tradition can bring me. The words of this morning’s Gospel passage play in my ears. If this pericope teaches us anything, it is that the mercy and love of God has the power to change the world. The reconciling love of God has the power to transform us into a new creation. We must repent of our sinful behavior. We must repent of our greed that allows the NRA to manipulate the legislature, we must repent of our bigotry and hatred that allows some lives to be expendable, we must repent of our glorification of violence that does nothing more then beget more violence. When we will turn our swords into plowshares (Micah 4:3)?

I also know that the tender and merciful embrace of God reaches out to all those who suffer and mourn this day. I know that God holds out God’s wide and loving arms for all those in the LGBT community who no longer feel safe. I know that God strengthens those called to action. I know that God is empowering us to say enough is enough.

There is a great Anglican phrase that I believe so strongly that it is tattooed on my body – “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.” As we pray, so we believe. (I’ve added the third clause lex vivendi, making the whole phrase as we pray, so we believe, so we live). As a nation it is easy for us to lift up prayers. Just how many #prayfor___ have we seen in recent months and years. But we cannot let our prayer be the last word. We must allow our prayer to transform our lives so that as we pray, we will also believe. Let us pray for peace amongst all God’s children so that we might believe that our Gay neighbor, our Muslim neighbor, our black neighbor are every bit as loved by God as we are. Let us pray for peace in the world, and believe that we can actually do something about it. If we truly believe what we pray, we will no longer be able to go on living the way we have always lived. If we allow the blinding light that beams forth from Christ’s broken body on the Cross to illumine our lives we will no longer stand by as our brothers and sisters are massacred before our very eyes.

I weep for my brothers and sisters who were murdered today. Today I fear that I might be next. Today I pray that one day I might feel safe and free to be authentically me. Today I beg God that my prayers might transform my life so that I do something about this tragedy – that I may no longer feel helpless and hopeless and trust that change can happen. As my Bishop wrote in response to this tragedy, “Today we pray. Tomorrow we move.”

Today, I know that my words cannot stand-alone. As I struggle to find the world to convey the depth of darkness that plagues my heart today I turn to the words of friends.

My friend and classmate Samuel D. J. Ernest wrote:

Gay clubs – beyond places to dance, drink, and meet someone – have been for decades spaces where queer people have felt safe (literally bodily safe) expressing themselves, a haven from a homophobic and transphobic society. While attacks at gay clubs are definitely not unheard of, this one is particularly painful due to the volume and terror of it and due to it being Pride month. And as a number of people on Twitter are pointing out, the gay friends of the dead and wounded are legally restrained from donating blood to help save their friends’ lives. I have more thoughts but I really need to go to church right now, a parish I am grateful for that has been giving a shit about gay folk and the mass death of gay people for decades now.

However the best words I have seen by far come from my friend Meg McCarty. It is Meg’s words that I lift up in prayer this day:

Let us dance (Orlando)
Let us learn (Sandy Hook)
Let us pray (Charleston)

While this shooting was at a gay club, it speaks to the enormity of the intersectionality of violence. The levels of gun violence in this country are beyond my comprehension. My head and heart refuse to accept that this is the way things have to be. No one is safe from this violence until all are safe. As President Obama said earlier this afternoon, “This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us.” Until we repent and change our ways as a nation, there will be more Orlandos, more Sandy Hooks, more Charlestons.

In the words of Mother Jones, it is time to “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” It is possible for us to live in a world where God’s peace prevails. But we sure have a lot of work to do to get there. In the days ahead pray and act. Take the time to listen to the voice of the LGBT community in the wake of this tragedy. Let our voices be heard and not silenced by heteronormative patriarchal garbage. It is important for allies to ask what they can do, and not usurp this tragedy for their own progressive agenda – however well intentioned that may be.

I’m rambling now. But I do not know what else to do. So I leave you dear reader with this.  Today we pray for the victims, for the dead, for those who mourn, for those who no longer feel safe. Today as a Christian I am also called to pray for the shooter (and I hope you will join me in that). Today we lift our hearts to God so that tomorrow we may dance.

Leave a comment

Filed under Everyday Ministry

Proud to be a Mountie

This is a picture of a stained glass window in our Chapel Hall depicting St. Margaret Mary Alacoque who was responsible for spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the late 1600s.

This is a picture of a stained glass window in our Chapel Hall depicting St. Margaret Mary Alacoque who was responsible for spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the late 1600s.

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a moveable feast, like many others in the life of the Church. It falls at the end of the octave for Corpus Christi – which falls the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. This means that the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus falls 19 days after Pentecost. Glad it is a day that is easy to figure out when it is.

This day, while not on the calendar in The Episcopal Church is a day that is very near to my heart.   After all, I did graduate from a Junior/Senior high school run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. While I am always thankful and proud to be a Mountie, today I give particular thanks for that community, the faculty, and the Brothers. The people without whom, I would not be the person I am today.

Lately there has been a lot going on at the Mount. Enrollment is down, and that is causing serious financial difficulty for the school. This difficultly has lead to cut backs of staff. I was recently struck by the outpouring of love and support for our former choir teacher who was let go due to, as far as I understand, the current financial reality. It was heartbreaking to see that future generations of Mounties will not get to have this amazing man in class, but also inspiring the way former students and colleagues rallied on Facebook to offer prayers, support, and leads on new opportunities of employment.

In the midst of all of this several Alumni have posted reflections on their experience so I on this the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I thought I would do the same.

I am incredibly blessed, that my parents were able to afford a private school education for 7th-12th grade. TheMSC foundation I received at Mount changed my life. I was given an amazing and solid academic formation that went above and beyond the basics of college preparation. I was cared for and tutored by faculty who care more for their students that any other educators I have ever met. The faculty, lay and religious, embody what it means to live out ones vocation. I cannot even begin to count the number of times my teachers stayed after school or arrived early to give me the extra help I need in my studies or to be a kind and loving support in navigating difficult teenage years. If it were not for the education I received at Mount, I would not be preparing to head off to Yale to begin a Masters program – that’s how good these people are. (Note: I received an amazing education from Rhode Island College from outstanding professors for whom I also owe a great deal of gratitude. But that story is one for another blog post).

More importantly than my academic education, I learned how to be a better person and a better Christian.

The very first vows we take in life, at least for Christians, are in our Baptism. In The Episcopal Church these vows are lived out and expressed in the Baptismal Covenant. My six years at Mount St. Charles taught me more about living into this covenanted relationship with God than any Sunday School, Confirmation class, or Baptism workshop I have ever attended.

The Baptismal Covenant begins by asking the people about basics of their life of faith, “Do you believe in God the Father? . . . Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? . . . Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?” Six years at Mount means six years of religion classes, six years of all school Masses, six years of retreat days – six years of exploring what it means to believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. While I did not always agree with what was taught – and wasn’t always the most gracious about it, but seriously what high school student is always gracious and kind – my time at Mount gave me a focused to explore what it is that I believe. Looking back it was a great gift that I did not agree with everything I was taught, because I had to learn to express why I did not agree and support my own beliefs. I remember lengthy conversations with in the Campus Ministry office and with various religion teachers about the nature of faith, about differences in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, about vocation and what it means to listen to God working in my life. I was cared for enough in this place to be able to ask questions and explore my faith and vocation. I was encouraged to figure out what exactly it is that I believe. I was never forced to accept something as truth that I did not believe, with a few minor exceptions; I was always respected and honored for my beliefs even when they did not match the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.

As the Baptismal Covenant continues the celebrant asks the people a series of questions. “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” Continuing in the apostles’ teaching goes along with the experiences outline above. In addition to all school Masses, and class communion breakfasts, Mass was celebrated every Friday morning in Sacred Heart Chapel. While I could not receive Communion, I was always welcomed to join in that liturgy and begin my day with prayer and thanksgiving. Each and everyday at Mount began with prayer – the first this that would happen during morning announcements. Many teachers also began their classes with prayer. Thanks to Brother Cliff, I can say the Gloria Patri in Spanish. In all that we did, community was kept at the center. There were numerous occasions through out the year where we would gather for fellowship and break bread together. On a few occasions, I remember be invited into the Brother’s residence to share a meal with the Brothers and other students. The Mount continues in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayer.

“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” I will never forget standing outside of Chapel Hall my Senior year while leading a retreat day for some underclassman before their class community breakfast. There was Mr. Edwin Burke, then Vice Principal and current Principal, saying, “It smells like burning sins.” Everyone of these retreat days ended with confession. Brother Nelson, then Chaplain, and other local clergy would invite students to think about their sin and the ways they have fallen short. One by one we would go up to one of the clergy share with them our thoughts, they would offer council, support, and prayer. At the end of the time with each student the clergyman would take the paper burn it and put it into a designated container. There was a very distinct smell that filled Chapel Hall, anyone walking by knew what was going on. In the words of Mr. Burke, we were burning sins. We were taking stock of the ways we had sinned and fallen short and finding way to heal from those situations and be sent forth to try again. The Mount perseveres in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.

“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” Each and every faculty and staff member at Mount lived – and continues to live – this out. In particular they proclaimed by their example what it means to be a follower of Jesus. They cared for students, the shared in the pray life of the academy, they went out of their way to model for us the values of faithful people. Many, at least with me, were not afraid to talk about their faith, to share what it means for them to be a follower of Jesus. They used their gifts and talents – beyond academics – to support their students. I still have the cross that Mr. Marc Blanchette made for me as encouragement for my vocation to the priesthood and support for a really challenging situations I was going through.

One of my favorite classes that I took at Mount was the Liturgy class – an option for junior and senior year religion requirement. In this two-year program, Brother Nelson and Mr. Greg Cooney helped us think about what it means to bring our lives to the liturgy and the liturgy to our lives. To come before the presence of the Holy, to receive the Word and Sacrament, to be strengthened, healed, and renewed by God’s grace. In return we were to take ourselves, our souls, our bodies and go out and change the world. We were to take our gifts and talents and use them to strengthen, heal, and renew the broken and hurting world around us. As part of my application for Postulancy I had to write a series of essays, I wrote one of them on the importance for this experience in my life. The experiences in the liturgy program have forever changed and shaped my ministry. In all that I do, I am reminded that I bring my life to the liturgy, and the liturgy to my life. Without this class, and the faculty at large, my ministry would not be what it is today. It was at Mount that I developed the very foundation of which my incredible ministry stands upon today.   The Mount proclaims by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” At Mount I learned about abundant generosity in caring for those in need. Every year at Christmas (actually during Advent) we would adopt a couple hundred families from a local social service organization and provide food and gifts for the family. It was an unbelievable and amazing undertaking. This ministry is what I have modeled the St. Nicholas Drive at St. Peter’s on. TCs (Mount’s version of Homeroom) would adopt a few families each and put together gift baskets and get today for the kids. It was truly a holy moment to see Chapel Hall filled with these gifts and baskets, to see the impact we were able to make on our community. Delivering the gifts was a breath taking experience.

TC 210 with Mrs. Smith and her blue hair.

TC 210 with Mrs. Smith and her blue hair.

Every Lent we would have a Lenten Mission Drive. During my time at Mount this was to raise funds to send to Africa to help the Brothers build a school for orphaned children. We would have competitions to help us meet our goals, to see which TC could reach their goal, which TC raised the most. Mount teachers have a great way of giving of themselves to motivate and encourage students, while having a good time. My senior year TC – Mrs. Carol Smith – was a bit competitive. She wanted to be sure that her TC raised fund above and beyond our goal. So she made a bet with us. She would dye her hair blue if we raised more money than any other TC, or a certain percent over 100% of our goal, or something like that. You have to understand, dear reader, that Mrs. Smith is a bit of a fashionista – so for her to dye her hair blue was a big deal. Long story short we made the goal and she dyed her hair blue. At Mount I learned that sacrificial generosity is important, that it is our Christian duty. I also learned that there can be, and should be, great joy in making sacrifices for others.

I also learned the importance of hands on service. During my junior and senior years I went to St. Anne’s Mission (run by the Brothers of the Sacred Hear) in Klagetoh, Arizona for February vacation. These two weeks were amazing, experiences I think I am still processing. Students who never hung out at school traveled together to share in intense service work, exploring God’s creation, and spend time in community and fellowship with the Navajo people who are part of the mission and local community. I built a wheelchair ramp, made and delivered meals for meals on wheels, went and taught a pre-school class, unloaded and stored 300 barrels of hay, and put on family nights for the community. One year, we got to share in leading the Ash Wednesday liturgy. It was a beautiful combination of Navajo tradition and Roman Catholic practice. I got to experience what so many experience when they go on these types of trips – I thought I was going to help them, but really they were the ones to help me. Mount seeks and serves Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Throughout my time at Mount I was taught to use my voice to stand up for those who have no voice. Now, I know some of what I advocate for goes against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but I still had my first experiences of using my prophetic voice at Mount. We were constantly reminded that we have been abundantly blessed and it is our responsibility to care for the voiceless and use our blessings in service of others. In liturgy class, during our senior year, we went to the nursing home behind the school to hold a monthly mass for the residents. Some of these people were left alone and forgotten, but they all needed someone to value them, to listen to their stories, and honor their personhood. Mount actually had an excellent relationship with the nursing home, and students in the liturgy class, in the CAP (Christian Action Program) class, and in the community service club went next door to be present with these individuals at the end of their lives. I learned more about respecting human dignity in those encounters than any other experience I have had sense. Mount strives for justice and peace among all people, and respects the dignity of every human being.

Today I give great thanks for being a Mountie. It is because of this experience that I plan on getting a school chaplaincy certificate as part of my Master of Divinity training at Yale. For better or worse, Mount Saint Charles Academy gave me the foundations to be the person I am today. Were it not for them I do not know where I would be, but I am fairly certain that I would not be a postulant for Holy Orders and be about to head to Yale Divinity School. From the very core of my being I offer my thanks to the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and each and every faculty and staff member at Mount. I’m not even going to try to name everyone hear, because I do not want to miss anyone.

Brothers of the Sacred Heart at Mount's 90th anniversary liturgy held on June 14, 2014.

Brothers of the Sacred Heart at Mount’s 90th anniversary liturgy held on June 14, 2014.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Everyday Ministry

Who? What? Why? How? Where?

We have just concluded one of my favorite weeks in the life of the Church.  Over these last several days, I’ve been struck yet again by the depth and continuity of the words and examples we hear in the Scripture lessons appointed for the day.  These days since January 18 are filled with examples of holiness, call, and discipleship.  (Not bad things to be considering at anytime, but there is something particularly fitting during this annual meeting season.)  These days are filled with questions, deep and profound questions.

questionsOn January 18 the Church celebrates the Confession of St. Peter.  On this day we hear of an encounter with Jesus and the twelve: an encounter where Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”  In that moment Peter has the most amazing confession – the most amazing proclamation – of faith.  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  In the seeming simplicity of this statement is the most profound moment of faith.  Peter does not wax on with a lengthy dissertation on the nature of Jesus using complex theological terminology.  Peter utters ten words.  You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  What Peter does in this is give an unquestionable witness to his faith.  Peter in a sense of quiet, strong, confidence indentifies Jesus for who He is: The Messiah.  This example Peter sets provides an image, an example, of something we too must consider.  When we hear this Gospel it is not just the disciples being asked this question, but it is we ourselves being asked, “Who do you say that I am?”  It is a basic question of identity: Who are you?  Who is Jesus? But if we take a moment we will discover that this is a question that can – and should – serve as the foundation of our lives of faith.  So I ask you dear reader, who do you say that Jesus is?

How the calendar falls, the next day brings us to the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.  In the Gospel appoint for this year – year A – we hear John proclaim Jesus as the one he is sent to prepare the way for.  As the lesson progresses we learn that two of John’s followers turn and begin to follow Jesus.  On noticing this, Jesus turns to them and asks, “What are you looking for?”  They ask Jesus where he is staying and he responds, “Come and see.”  Jesus not only asks them what they are searching for, but he also offers an invitation.  Like these two disciples of John, we to must consider what is it that we are looking for.  Are we looking for a social club, community service organization, or a philosophy of life? Or are we looking for a connection with the Holy and to participate in the life of faith handed down to us by our ancestors?  When we begin our search, when we inquire where Jesus is going – how Jesus is working on our midst – we are not given an answer but an invitation: Come and see.  This invitation from Jesus to come and see stands before us all.  It is up to us whether or not we accept that invitation.  I wonder, what are you looking for?

A week after the Church remembers the Confession of St. Peter, the calendar keeps us mindful of the Conversion of St. Paul.  In the lesson appointed from the Acts of the Apostles, we meet Paul – then known as Saul – traveling on the road to Damascus.  On his travels he is knocked off his horse by a blinding light.  The resurrected Lord appears to him and says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  In that moment leads to a drastic change in Saul’s life.  He looses his sight, is sent off, and in the midst off all that he is transformed.  When he regains his sight we hear that scales fall from his eyes, he sees the world in a new and different way.  No longer is he set on persecuting the Church, but instead he becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles.  As is common in Biblical stories, with his transformation comes a new name – a way of signifying that he is a new person.  No longer is he Saul, but now he is Paul.  Whether we like it or not, we do not always live our lives the way we are called to.  We deny ourselves; one another; and even Jesus himself.  It is in our very nature that we will fall short of the glory of God.  While we may not be like Paul and set out to persecute followers of Jesus, we turn our backs and deny God’s presence in our lives.  I wonder what our response to Jesus would be if he came to us and asked, “Why do you turn away from me?”

If we stop Paul’s conversion story there, there is a temptation to feel guilty or ashamed.  But, that is not the point.  The point of this story is conversion and transformation.  When we fall short of the glory of God we have the opportunity to do something about it: to have a change of heart; to turn around; think of the Greek word metanoia.  Like Paul we can repent and change our ways.  We can allow the scales to fall from our eyes, to see the world in new and different ways: to take our place in the transformation and conversion of the world.  Will you allow the scales to fall from your eyes, and take your place in the transformation of the world?

All of this brings us to today – the third Sunday after the Epiphany.  The Gospel for this morning is all about call.  We hear James and John, the sons of Zebedee, leave all they know behind to follow the call they receive from Jesus.  What of our own call?   How is God working in our lives?  How are we called to respond?  What are we being called to leave behind as that we may accept the invitation of God to follow him?

In these last eight days, through Holy Scripture, we are asked the: who, what, why, and how of our life of faith.  Questions that on the surface seem to be simple and harmless questions.  But, we if go deeper – if we allow ourselves to pause and wonder in these questions – we find that they are not so simple.  Rather, these questions are life changing.  Questions, it seems to me, we must consider if we are to allow our lives to be transformed: if we are to live as mature Christians in the world.  In looking at these eight days, these four questions, it seems one question is left to consider.  Where do we do all this?  Where do we live this out?

We are called to ask and live into these questions in our own time and place: In school and work; at home and at Church; with friends and with strangers.  If we take serious our call we will find that our lives of faith are indeed surrounded by these questions.  I wonder where you are in your search – in the who, what, why, how, and where of your faith.

Who do you say that Jesus is?

What are you looking for?

Why do you turn your away from Jesus?

How is God calling you?

I pray you will join me in pondering these questions.  I hope you will join me in accepting the invitation to come and see.

1 Comment

Filed under Everyday Ministry, Life in a parish

I love to read Prayer Books: So What?

“Get a hobby,” “Church nerd,” “liturgy geek,” “you need to get a life” the list goes on.  I’ve heard these and so many other things from peers, classmates; colleagues both clergy and lay, but I still do not understand why they make such a big deal of my love for liturgy.  You see, I do not think it is a problem.  It is a life.  It is a hobby.  For me, it is vocation.

photo-45I have a deep and abiding love for the liturgical life of The Episcopal Church.  The beautiful music, poetic language, the engagement of all five senses, the interaction with the Sacraments: but, my love goes beyond the here and now.  I have a quest and deep desire to understand the meaning, history, and development of our worship.  I want to know where this stuff comes from and how it got to us today.  I want to know where we are going next.

My senior year of college, I had some extra time on my hands: I already had enough credit hours to graduate, and only a few required courses left.  Not wanting to waste an opportunity, I elected to write a thesis in the History department (it might be helpful to know that I was a Political Science major).   I could write on anything I wanted to. I had no restrictions, no limitations, and no requirements.  I wanted to know that I could write a major academic work; I wanted to push myself.  More importantly, I wanted to take the opportunity to know more intimately that which I loved so deeply.  I wrote on the Prayer Book.  What else would I write on?

I approached my History of the Reformations professor and she agreed to be my advisor and we spent both semesters of my senior year reading and studying together.  I read more in that first semester than the entirety of my collegiate career.  I could not get enough.  It was a level of academic energy and drive I had never experienced before.  One day I was studying in the student café and another professor walked in.  He could tell that I was animated about what I was talking about, so he came up to ask what we were talking about.  “The Black Rubric.” I said in a duh-of-course-this-is-exciting tone of voice.  After noticing the confusion on his face I told him more.  At the end of my explanation he smiled, “Clearly you’re headed into the right line of work.”

Recently I put to use some Amazon gifts cards that I had gotten for Christmas.  Of the several books I got, the two I was most excited about were The Prayer Book Parallels.  I remember when they came in the mail.  “You got a heavy box from Amazon,” my wife said.  I took one look at the box and new what it was.  “MY PRAYER BOOK PARALLELS!”  I think I scared her a little bit, but ultimately she was not surprised; she knew whom she married.  I opened the box, cracked open the books, and began thumbing through the pages.  The rest of the room disappeared: it was just me and my books.  I began to feel this overwhelming excitement as I noticed similarities and differences between the Prayer Books from the 1662 English Prayer Book to the most recent American Prayer Book – the 1979 edition.  I was up far later than I should have been, but it was worth it.  If there was ever any doubt left of my love for liturgy, this made it disappear.  Studying the history of liturgy in The Episcopal Church is not a chore, for me, it is life giving.  My experience in studying liturgy is like developing a relationship with a new partner and rediscovering an old friend all at the same time.

Keeping the Sacramental life of the Church in the forefront of my mind has changed the shape and focus of my own ministry.  This life is what makes the Church different than local social service organizations and non-profits.  There are organizations that feed, clothe, nourish, and teach people far better than we ever can.  But, there is something far more powerful that we can offer.  We have the opportunity to take those acts of mission and outreach and turn them into Sacramental moments.  To take these ministries and allow them to transform our communities, ourselves, and all those we come into contact with.  This transformation and motivation are our greatest gifts to the world around us.

What happens if we allow our Sacramental life to penetrate our very beings?  The phrase Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi comes to mind.

This is the only way I know how to live into my vocation and ministry.  It is why I seek ordination in The Episcopal Church and am not off working for a non-profit or in law school.  The liturgy of the Church and my study of said liturgy have transformed my life more than I could ask for or imagine.  I wonder what the Church would look like if we all took are acts of worship a bit more seriously?

Leave a comment

Filed under Everyday Ministry

Ministry of the Coffee Shop

Ministry of the Coffee Shop: Why it is a good thing I spend so much time at Seven Stars. 

photo-44

One of my favorite things to do is to spend time doing work at a local coffee shop.  Seven Stars is my absolute favorite place to do this.  It is a local place with a few locations in RI with good coffee and great pastries.  It is one of my favorite places to write sermons, prep for EfM, or do any other thing that I can on my computer.  This morning hanging out at Seven Stars, I was truly struck by how powerful it is to hang out in the coffee shop.

It is often busy at Seven Stars, particularly in the morning, but I can’t remember a time when It was like today.  Tons of people waiting for tables, and a few getting rather angry if they perceived someone to be “jumping the line” for a table.  To women were sitting at a rather large table, having noticed I was waiting, they invited me to join them.  I took out my book – A Short Introduction to the Old Testament – and starting ready.

I was very much struck by the conversation these two women were having.  they spoke of ministry, of experiences at Harvard Divinity School, the work of Henri Nouwen, and so much more.  After sometime sitting with them, I noticed another table opening.  I began to gather my things, and thank them for sharing their table with me.  That’s when something happened.  One of the women inquired about what I was reading and my associates cross.  What followed was a brilliant and grace filled conversation.

They asked about my cross, what I was reading, what I do for a living, and what drives my passion.  One woman shared stories of her grandfather – an Episcopal priest in the 1880s.  She offered to meet me again for coffee and share stories from his journal as a missionary from Brooklyn, NY to mining communities out west.  The other talked about grace and being present in ministry.  Of places of calm she found at EDS in some of the most challenging moments of her life.  She spoke of the beauty and emotion  – the getting out of the cerebral world – of experiences worshipping with a friend at GTS.  It was an amazing moment.  I had never met, nor had I ever seen, these women.  But we spoke of experiences, of theological perspectives, of hopes for the world and the Church Universal as if we’d been friends for years.  It was a remarkable thing.

After they left, I moved to a smaller table.  The hustle and bustle of the morning had worn away.  The usual late morning hum resumed.  As I sat drinking coffee, I could not help but think of all the grace filled conversations I’ve had with perfect strangers here at Seven Stars.  Talking homiletics and trying out sermon ideas with an older couple; looking at the similarities between Christian and Jewish worship with a Rabbi; talking about service and faith with a member of the local Unitarian congregation.  On top of all this there are the conversations with clergy colleagues and former parishioners with whom paths cross.

Seven Stars has become more than just a place to grab a coffee and ginger star (seriously one of the best cookies ever).  It has become a holy and grace filled place.  A place where encounters with the holy happen over pastries, where deep joy and pain are shared, where knowing that even when  you cannot find a table there is still a place for you.

It is amazing to think about what the simple act of wanting a cup of coffee can do.  I wonder what would happen, if people felt as safe in Church as it is clear people do at Seven Stars?

2 Comments

Filed under Everyday Ministry