A Note from the Rector – 12/13/2020

Recently an article of mine called “The Spirit-Drenched World and the Renewal of the Episcopal Church” was published by the online publication, Earth & Altar Magazine.  It’s something of a provocation and a little bit provocative.  It’s not necessarily something that I would write for my weekly parish column.  The article is about how the wider church is in need of spiritual renewal.  This wider renewal will of course have ramifications on the parish level.  One implication, I wrote, is that in the parish “We need to teach and preach again about the existence of angels, demons, and miracles.”  I thought maybe I should practice what I preach.  As Christmas nears and we hear and recall stories of angels appearing to Mary and to shepherds and wise men, I thought I would spend some time sharing with you about angels. 

I am not a materialist.  That is, I don’t believe the material world which is experienced by our five senses and explored through the scientific method is all there is to reality.  I believe there is something more.  I would call this additional aspect of reality the spiritual world, or the spiritual dimension of our world, of our universe.  The existence of spirits—beings without physical bodies but with wills, minds, and agency—cannot be ruled out for those who believe in the existence of God.  If you believe in God then, from a logical standpoint, you must at least entertain the possible existence of spirits.  Scripture is full of stories and ideas about spirits.  Among them are angels.  Our word “angel” is taken directly from the Greek word for a divine messenger.  This is also the meaning of the word that gets translated as angel in the Hebrew Scripture, “malak.”  An angel is a messenger from God.  Angels, like everything else, spirited or bodied, is a creation of the one true God.  Angels were created separately from humans.  Humans do not become angels when they die (maybe I’ll write more about this, but one of the Scriptural references that points this out is Hebrews 1). 

Angels were created for specific purposes.  We glean these purposes from Scripture.  True to their etymology, many angels in the Bible are bearers of divine messages.  The archangel Gabriel seems particularly exemplary to this task.  He is the one mentioned in Luke who bears the greatest message ever messaged to a young woman in 1st Palestine named Mary: “Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you…you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Luke 1:26-31)  A host of angels appear to shepherds announcing the birth of the savior (Luke 2:8-14).  Before this, an angel appears to an aging priest, Zechariah, to announce that he will have (naturally conceived) a son (Luke 1:11-13), echoing the story of Abraham and Sarah, who also received mysterious messengers from God announcing that God would fulfill God’s promise and give them a son, Isaac (Genesis 18).  Some angelic messages take on the form of a warning.  An angel warns Joseph not to divorce Mary, (Matthew 1:18-21).  Again the angel warns Joseph, this time to flee with his young family from the psychotic and murderous King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15).

Another function of angels in Scripture is protection.  Psalm 91, says “[God] shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.  They shall bear you in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Psalms 91:11-12).  In the book of Revelation, Michael the archangel and a company of angels under his command, are tasked with protecting a woman who has just given birth.  The woman represents Mary and the church, and the Michael defends her against a great dragon (Revelation 12:1-8).  Angels are associated with a mysterious passage in 2 Kings, where the prophet of God, Elisha, is caught in a besieged city.  The armies of Aram have surrounded the city of Samaria and there is no escape.  Elisha is unperturbed. When his companions ask him why he’s so chipper, Elisha responds, “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.”  He then prays that God gives those inside the city the spiritual sight to see what is going on.  Suddenly, those present see a vast army of horses and chariots of fire protecting the city.  When the attack of the Arameans finally comes, though, this mysterious army fights in a unexpected way.  God strikes the attackers with blindness.  Elisha comes out and, with kinds words, leads the sworn enemies of his people into the city.  When the king of city asks Elisha if he should kill them or not, Elisha responds, “No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.”  The Arameans never bother Israel again. 

There are other functions of angels in Scripture, some of them shrouded in mystery.  Angels guard, as in the angel who is placed at the gate to the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24).  Angels come to bring sustenance to Jesus in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13).  Jacob sees a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven, (Genesis 28:10-19) and Balaam’s donkey sees an angel with a flaming sword blocking the way when its human rider (and tormentor) did not (If you’ve never read this story you really should, it’s great.  You can find it in Numbers 22). 

Perhaps the most important function of angels, however, is the constant, perpetual praise and worship of God.  This function is mentioned every week in our liturgy when we say, “Joining our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn to praise the glory of your Name: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…”.  In my next “Note” I will explore the biblical passages from which we derive this part of our liturgy, and this will lead us to explore some of the different types of angels/spirits, and the way they are described by those who had spiritual visions of them.  Spoiler alert: angels don’t look like chubby babies artfully draped with tiny wings holding them aloft. 

A Note from the Rector – 12/06/2020

The feast of Christmas is nearly here.  It is a wonderful time of year when we remember that God became a human being for the sake of love; that God loved us so much that Jesus came to us—not as one with great power, prestige, or wealth, but as a helpless child who was born of a young woman named Mary in a stable in Bethlehem. 
This year our celebration will be different.  We will not be able to gather in large numbers on Christmas Eve and most of our worship and celebration will be online.  However, we will still mark the great mystery and beauty of Christmas with our long time tradition of decking the church with Christmas poinsettias. 
Christmas is also time when we think about and deeply miss our loved ones who have died.  So, like other years we will have the opportunity to offer these Christmas flowers for the glory of God and in memory of those we love. This is our way of honoring them, praying for them, and bringing them with us into our time of worship and thanksgiving for the miracle of Christmas.
If you would like to participate in this custom, please provide us with the names of the deceased loved ones you would like to remember along with a donation.  The suggested donation is $8.00 per name, but please do give only as you are able and so moved.  You may email the names of your loved ones to us and use our online “give” button on website in order to donate.  On the online form you will find a memo line that you can utilize to designate the donation as “Christmas flowers.”  You may also mail the names and/or a check to the church office.  Please have your names to the church no later than Friday, December 19th.
Thank you, and may God richly bless you during this season of Advent preparation for Christmas. 

A Special Note from the Rector – 11/23/2020

A Note from the Rector – New Coronavirus Precautions

As recorded in our four Gospels, Jesus has some pretty great one-liners.  One of my favorites is when he tells his disciples they need to be “as shrewd as serpents, and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  I thought about that after our vestry meeting on Sunday, November 22, because in their deliberation I saw them enact this saying of Jesus with alacrity.  There were difficult decisions to be made.  The task was to be prudent, shrewd, and wise for the sake of love, for the sake of taking care of everyone in this parish, and for the sake of doing our part to reduce the spread of this deadly virus.  Another important part of their task was to make decisions that were not driven by fear or despair, or marred by vitriol and division.  We agreed on the principles, but we did not completely agree about the best course of action.  Nevertheless, the vestry came to a decision with Christian love, gentle kindness, and respect for difference.  It was inspiring.  Here is their decision:

Starting Sunday, December 6th, Holy Apostles will follow a modified version of the Phase 1 protocols that were prepared by the diocese.  For all intents and purposes our services, gatherings, and meetings will be offered online only.  On Sundays at 10AM we will offer a live stream of our service of Holy Eucharist with prayers for Spiritual Communion.  This service will be live streamed.  The total number of attendees of this service will be 10 people.  About half the people in attendance will be those who have a role in creating the live stream service.  These include camera and tech operators, cantors, and clergy/officiants.  For those who feel passionately that they absolutely must attend the service in person despite the very real risks involved, there will be several places available.  Those spots will need to be shared equitably between those who want to attend.  Attendees will need to sign up, wear a mask, and socially distance at all times.  These protocols must be understood and applied vigorously by all, as a matter of Christian love and discipline.  Anyone who is sick in any way, especially with any known symptoms of coronavirus (fever, coughing, loss of taste/smell, etc.), should not attend.  Anyone who has been knowingly exposed to the coronavirus within two weeks should stay at home.  If you feel strongly about attending in person, I encourage you to speak with me to determine a course of action. 

Please engage as much as possible in our worship from the safety of your home.  There are many ways to participate from home, including recording yourself reading the Scriptures, and participating in the virtual choir (anyone can participate!).  We will continue to live stream to our YouTube channel, and post occasional videos and other content on Facebook.  We will continue daily prayer at 7:30pm via Zoom, and will be sending out materials to help facilitate prayer and worship at home during the season of Advent.  If you have a significant technology barrier that makes participation difficult or impossible, or if know someone in the parish who does, please let me know.  The church would like to help overcome these barriers if possible. 

This plan will be reevaluated in several weeks.  In addition, our plan may need to change based on guidance or directives of the Bishop.  Unless the rates of transmission and illness in our community are significantly reduced in the next few weeks, we will have to continue implementing more stringent protocols through the Feast of Christmas.  I am deeply grieved by what this decision means for our worshipping life, especially for Christmas and all our beloved holiday traditions.  However, I am convinced these steps taken by the vestry are necessary at this time.  I am equally convinced that God has not abandoned us.  Advent is a time to remind ourselves of the depth of meaning in the name given to Christ by the angel Gabriel when the angel announced to Mary that she would have a child and his name would be called Emmanuel which means, “God with us.”  God is still with us, even now.  Even when we must worship at home, Emmanuel, God is with us.  Though we will likely have to forgo many of our beloved holiday traditions, Emmanuel, God is with us.  Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Emmanuel, God is with us. 

Blessing and peace,


Advent & Christmas Worship Schedule (subject to change)

First Sunday of Advent – Sunday, November 29

8:30AM – Holy Eucharist in-person, 25 person limit, must sign up

10AM – Online service via Zoom with Holy Apostles and the Mediator

Second Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 6

10AM – Holy Eucharist with prayers of Spiritual Communion, live streamed.  In person attendees limited to 10.

Third Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 13

10AM – Holy Eucharist with prayers of Spiritual Communion, live streamed.  In person attendees limited to 10.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 20

10AM – Virtual Christmas Pageant!  Holy Eucharist with prayers of Spiritual Communion, live streamed.  In person attendees limited to 10.

Christmas Eve – Thursday, December 24

4:30PM & 10PM – Holy Eucharist with prayers of Spiritual Communion, live streamed. In person attendees limited to 10.

Christmas Day– Friday, December 25

10AM – Holy Eucharist with prayers of Spiritual Communion, live streamed. In person attendees limited to 10.

The First Sunday after Christmas – Sunday, December 27

10AM – Christmas Lessons and Carols, pre-recorded with special music.  No in person attendees.

A Note from the Rector – 11/22/2020

This is a short note to say that the vestry and I are in discussion about plans to deal with the surge of coronavirus cases in our area.  We will have our monthly Zoom vestry meeting on Sunday and make some decisions for how we will continue to follow Jesus and take care of each other in these difficult times.  We’ll use the latest guidance from our bishop to do so.  I will share those decisions in a separate email on Sunday or Monday.  In the meantime, please take this seriously, be careful, and stay healthy.  Hold fast to God’s promises.  God is faithful no matter what.  If you need anything or would like to talk, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 

A Note from the Rector – 11/15/2020

You might know the scene early in Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables, when the protagonist, Jean Valjean, just released from 19 years in prison, and is turned away from everyone because of his status as a convict.  He is finally welcomed into the home of a local bishop, Monseigneur Bienvenu (which literally means welcome).  Rising early, Jean Valjean, steals the bishop’s silverware and slips away.  He is stopped on the road by gendarmes because he looked guilty.  He is searched, and ultimately brought back to the bishop’s house to face judgement for his crime.  When the bishop sees Jean Valjean returning in the custody of police, dejected and ashamed, he exclaims, “Here you are!  I gave you the candlesticks too, why didn’t you carry them away with your forks and spoons?”  Though Jean Valjean is obviously guilty, the bishop extends mercy to him, pretending as if he had given him the silver from the very beginning.  After Valjean is released the bishop insists he take the valuable silver candlesticks as well.  Here’s the end of the scene from the novel:

Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting.  The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice:

“Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.”

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity:

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

The rest of Jean Valjean’s life, and indeed the rest of the novel, proceeds from this one foundational act of mercy that changes the course of a person’s life.  This work of fiction points us to a profound truth: when all is done and said and a final accounting is made for all the deeds that have ever been done, it will be seen that mercy, undeserved grace, and forgiveness have far more power over the destinies of humanity than the strongest weapon, and far more value than the most desired item or property. 

Our bishop reminded me of that story when I called him earlier this week distraught over something that happened at church.  Last Sunday, I was given 34 Giant gift cards which represented the generosity of many, many parishioners toward those in need who will be served by the Ardmore Food Pantry this Thanksgiving.  The cards were wrapped with a rubber band and slip of paper.  I put them in a filing cabinet in the church office, along with others that had been collected.  Four days later I returned for them to find that 20 out of the 34 were gone.  The remaining 14 were exactly where I put them, still wrapped with a rubber band and the slip of paper.  I looked frantically throughout the filing cabinet and the office, but they were gone.  Theft seems to be the only explanation.  I was upset at myself for not taking the time to lock them in the safe.  I was angry that someone would steal from the needy and the poor.  I thought about filing a police report.  I thought about casting accusations on possible suspects.  But then I called the bishop, instead.  He encouraged me to remember the story of Jean Valjean and to consider why anyone would steal gift cards from a church, or why they would only take some and not the others.  Most likely this person needed these gift cards for one reason or another.  As one member of the church reminded me, no property was damaged, no one was hurt.  The gift cards were destined to go to someone in need.

This doesn’t change the fact that stealing is morally wrong, not to mention illegal.  And yet, we serve a God whose property it is to always have mercy.  I am reminded that, just like Jean Valjean, we all need mercy.  We all need grace.  We all need a second or a third or a fourth chance. That is exactly the business that God is in, mercy for those who miss the mark.  Like a handful of dirt compared to the mighty sea, so is all of human sin compared to the ocean of God’s mercy. 

This tired, unforgiving world desperately needs reminders that mercy and grace are real, and available through faith, and are more powerful than revenge, or even than imperfect systems of human justice.  To be a bastion and beacon of mercy and love in a harsh world is the entire reason why this church exists.  So, I will not be filing a police report.  A couple of donors (including the bishop) will replace the stolen cards.  If the thief ever reads this, let them know they are forgiven and loved.  I’d love to talk to them, to offer them more financial support if they need it, to proclaim to them that they no longer belong to evil, but to good. 

None of this is meant to diminish or downplay the value or the effectiveness of your generosity to this or to other outreach initiatives.  To those who gave money for gift cards remember, your gift was in thanksgiving to God, first and foremost.  God knows your motivation and your heart, and God blesses those who are generous, even—especially—when generosity is shown to the seemingly undeserving.  For that is the form of generosity that most closely mirrors God’s own.

Nevertheless, I will ask the vestry to reevaluate our practices for handling and storing cash and gift cards, and in the future, I will be more careful with where I put things.  We are all stewards of the gifts that God has given us, after all.  In the final analysis, when the dust settles, love covers a multitude of sins.  God’s mercies are new every morning, and they are free and available to us all.  There is no better news than that.    

A Note from the Rector – 11/08/2020

In times of uncertainty, Scripture is our consolation as Christians.  In my stewardship message that went out with the November newsletter, I encouraged everyone in the parish to memorize one or of the following short verses:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for God who has promised is faithful. 
Hebrews 10:23

Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.
Deuteronomy 31:6

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7

I also promised memorization aids.  Here’s one.  If you’re like me, you are being tempted to grab your phone and check the news every 3 minutes or so.  My smart phone has a “lock screen” and I can change that image to whatever I want.  So, I thought, why not change it to one of these Scripture verses!  You can find lock screen images for all three verses at www.holyapostlespa.org/phone   You’ll have to navigate to this web page on your phone and then click on the image to download it.  If you don’t already know how, you can google “change lock screen image” along with the type of phone you have, and you will be able to find instructions on how to make your newly saved image into your lock screen image.  Then, all you’ve got to do is commit to reading the verse in its entirety before you unlock your phone, each and every time.  You’ll have the verse memorized in no time with minimal effort. 

Be strong.  Have courage. Hold fast. 

A Note from the Rector – 11/01/2020

It’s been a difficult week for Philadelphia.  The murder of Walter Wallace, Jr. in West Philadelphia was just 11 blocks from our mother parish, Holy Apostles and the Mediator.  Subsequent violent clashes with the police, property destruction, as well as tense but mostly peaceful protests have all happened in close proximity to HAM the past few nights.  As of this writing, HAM’s property has not been damaged to my knowledge.  In one of his frequent online updates, HAM’s faithful Senior Warden, Everett Gillison, spoke about how the church opened its doors to police officers who needed a place to use the restroom and rest on Wednesday night during the hours of unrest.  I was deeply moved to hear about the witness of HAM and the Cookman Baptist Church with whom they share their buildings. 

I cannot imagine how it must feel to be living in that community right now.  It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to be a Black man in America, or a Black mother, or, for that matter, a police officer who is in the midst of this fray.  HAM is only five miles away from Penn Wynne, but it might as well be 500 miles away.  That structural and imaginative divide, which is replicated in many cities and communities around the country, is a huge part of America’s problem.  Racism, violence, and extreme political divisions are just symptoms of something deeper—we are divided from one another at an external, structural level and an internal, heart level.  Empathy, compassion, and mercy seem unimaginable.  Actual societal change seems impossible. The Christian tradition has a name for this situation.  It’s called sin.  Sin encompasses both personal hardness of heart and vast structural evil.  It is what divides us from God and each other.  While policy, voting, and all the rest of it are vitally important (please vote!), they cannot alone solve the heart problem that is at the root.  There is a sickness in the soul of America.  Only the grace and mercy of God can heal it.  Only the unconditional love and the indestructible life of the Risen One can heal it.  As the actual Body of the Risen Christ, we Christians are singled out by God to work toward breaking down the barriers that prevent compassion and empathy, not contribute to them.  We are set apart by God to work for the healing of our community.  We are called to participate in the reconciliation that can only come when justice and mercy meet. 

As important as these ongoing and terribly difficult conversations are for us to have, right now is also the time to support our siblings in Christ at Holy Apostles and the Mediator.  It’s hard to know what to do, especially with the pandemic.  But here’s one thing tangible to do:  leaders from Holy Apostles and the Mediator pray Morning Prayer every morning, Monday-Saturday, at 7AM.  Their prayer is broadcast on Facebook Live on their page https://www.facebook.com/HAMPhilly.  If you find yourself awake at that time, I encourage you to log on and join in their prayer, listen to them, and drop a simple comment to let them know you are there, and that you are praying with and for them.  The service is also recorded so you can watch and pray later in the morning, but it would be great to let them know that we stand beside them in prayer during this difficult time.  We will look for other ways we can support them. 

On the eve of this election, with all the upheaval and insanity all around us, our only path forward as people of faith is to reject contentiousness, jealousy, and pride.  Pray.  If you haven’t already voted, vote.  Then pray some more.  Prayer actually changes things.  It also changes us, orienting us more and more toward God’s desire for the healing of the world.   After the polls close on Tuesday at 8PM, the church doors will be open.  You are welcome to come and pray silently for a few minutes on your own. At about 8:30PM, I will lead a service of prayer for our nation.  This service will be live-streamed on our YouTube channel.  If you do come to the church, please wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from others.  

May the God of peace keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and the love of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

A Note from the Bishop – 10/18/20

(This is the follow-up email to the Bishop’s October video message.)

The Seeds of Patience
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:25

It has been seven months since our collective lives as a world, country, church, and people of the Holy One have radically changed. Many people call it the “new normal,” but there is nothing normal about this time; even so, it is our present reality. As we face it, our assurance is that the Risen Christ is with us, and the Holy One is guiding our steps through this valley.

No one can deny that this journey has been frustrating, anger inducing, confusing, and at times disheartening. I want to remind the faithful of our diocese that we are not enduring COVID alone. As a world- wide pandemic, millions are feeling the same anxiety, fear, and concerns. Each diocese, every church and faith tradition; all humanity is suffering. Let us hold all humanity in our prayers and offer the Holy One gratitude for the gifts in our diocese.

We must acknowledge those feelings and hold our tears sacredly. Yet this time has also been defined by creativity, love, pastoral presence, deep faithfulness, prayers of the heart and breathless moments of grace. In many ways, we do not know more than we did in early March about COVID, yet we hope for what we do not see and wait with patience.

My prayers in September – and now in October – are for patience. I recently shared this beautiful description of patience with clergy during our weekly call. Patience is something we must seek and then allow to lead us through this time. It has been written that a great source of suffering in the current century is impatience. Especially in the West, patience has become a virtually extinct characteristic.

As we know from scripture, Joseph was left in a well, Moses waited and wandered, and Jesus’ ministry did not begin for 30 years. Yet all the while, the Holy One was shepherding, directing, and doing great things in their lives. The same is true for us. We see the bountiful fruits of patience over time. Patience turns a simple leaf into silk. A seed waits until it sprouts. With nurturing, the sprout eventually forms into a tree that houses a myriad of life. 

In the Islamic tradition, it is said that if today was the last day of the world and you have a sapling in your hand – you should plant it. We have more than a sapling; we have Christ, and we are filled with the gifts from God for the people of God. Let us continue to plant the seeds of faith, hope, and love. And may the fruits of that planting be joy, peace, kindness, trust, goodness, gentleness, and patience. While we face enormous challenges in the months ahead, the future of the body of Christ is strong. Let us renew our trust in the Holy one and wait patiently, with faith, to see all the good that comes out of this time.  

Do not weaken, have no fear. As is written in James: Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near (5:7-8).

The Budget
COVID has impacted our churches in ways we could not have imagined. It has also injected a sense of anxiety regarding the future financial health of our churches. We cannot negate or gloss over these worries. They are real. During our clergy call each week, and with each church visitation, I listen deeply to these concerns, anxieties, and fears. I take them to heart and carry them in my prayers. Yet I am reassured by that still small voice that whispers, “I am with you always.” 

As we move forward into 2021 and 2022, your voice continues to be important in the decisions we make together. We need to hear your thoughts, your questions, and explain the needs for our collective future before any changes are made. You are the diocese, and in our call to serve you, we enter into a sacred conversation rather than dictate. We are not a corporate institution or government; we are the living Body of Christ. The strength and health of our diocesan family do not come through top-down management. Instead, we share this sacred ministry. As long as the Holy One allows me to serve as your Bishop, nothing will be mandated. I honor and respect your voices and ideas, and we will enter into holy conversations together.

In the coming months and years, we will not have “ministry as usual.” Yet we can face these changes with confidence because we have dedicated our hearts to adapting and adjusting, all the while keeping our eyes on the Holy One. I ask that we pray for and support one another. When we grow frustrated, we must seek the face of Christ, and all the while we remain patient.

Because of COVID, we have made necessary changes to the budget. Over the last six months, we cut $250,000 to avoid potential deficits. We set up a special fund to assist churches who lost income or incurred new expense due to the pandemic. We organized free services and coordinated with our churches to promote their own efforts. At no time did we forget or neglect those in our community who are sick, hungry, and lost. This responsiveness to our siblings in southeastern Pennsylvania speaks to our faithfulness and strength.

For several reasons the budget process differed from past years. The pandemic caused us to forego our usual additional in-person budget discussion sessions. This was also the first year of the new Board of Trustees and Finance Committee; they have been faithful and prayerful in responding to your need. During the three Zoom budget sessions, the Finance Committee listened and took your concerns to heart. As a result, there will be no increase in our request for sacred gifts.

You may remember there were no increases in sacred gifts (financial contributions from churches) during 2017, 2018, and 2019. This was to allow our churches the chance to stabilize their operations. In 2020 they increased by only .02%. In response to your concerns, our new Board of Trustees has decided that there will be no increase in our request for sacred gifts in 2021. The 2021 budget replicates 2020, and the only increases are those required to cover the increased cost of operational expenses, health insurance, retirement, and cost of living adjustments. 

Like the early church, we are called to distribute our wealth and offerings equally among your siblings in Christ. Therefore, I humbly ask that you share as God directs you. Share from your hearts so that together we can engage in God’s work in our community and the world. We give to the Lord and share our gifts and resources with all 134 churches across our diocese.

I have asked the Trustees to establish a fund to assist our churches who may face additional challenges at this time. The Trustees unanimously approved monies to help those churches who cannot share the full amount of sacred gifts, thereby alleviating an unnecessary burden and worry. This is an important demonstration of who we are as the Body of Christ. I want each of our churches to know that we are in this together. If any church is unable to give, instead of fear or anxiety, we can all rejoice together in knowing that they will be covered.

It is important to remember the Trustees must formulate a budget and sacred gifts amount, and it remains at 5.75% of 2019 parish Normal Operating Income (NOI) which is approximately the level of 2020 parish giving at this time. However, there will be no long-term increase in sacred gifts made without the input from the entire diocese. Together, we must discern whether to abandon an antiquated system for funding the ministry of your diocese. While a single-ask system of sharing will have long-term benefits in terms of sustainability, this will only come about after these discussions and then through a mandate of diocesan convention. 

Thus, we will have a series of conversations in the spring to discuss how we fund the diocese and what changes we need to make for our financial health in the future. I hope these conversations will lead to a prayerful process that articulates how our sacred resources will be prioritized and what our diocesan ministry will look like over the next 10 years.

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11)

2020 Convention
Due to our present reality and after consultation with Standing Committee, our Diocesan Convention will be virtual. While we deeply yearn to sit in the physical presence of our diocesan family, the risk is far too great. We will instead hold a streamlined convention where we will vote on diocesan offices and approve the budget for 2021. My deep gratitude to the convention planning team for their faithfulness, attention and deep care for each one of you.  We will hold a test run and offer training. More information about the convention can be found here.

For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:11-12)

Loving Presence
I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. Jeremiah 24:7

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

In what ways has the Church attempted to whitewash the past so that our sins of racism would not bleed through? Yet the blood of Christ that we elevate each Sunday always shines a light on the truth, and we must face it. Like Thomas, we must probe the wounds of the Body of Christ.

Racism and institutional racism have no home in the church. Yet, we have built a house with a foundation of sin that we must reset to rebuild. We can no longer act as if this sin does not exist and choose to ignore it. If we ignore or cannot see the sin, we have a heart sickness that affects the entire body. It affects our vision, words, actions, liturgy, and destroys our community.  We cannot let our hearts harden, and for that reason, we need a revolution of the heart. 

In early June, I called together a group of clergy from diverse backgrounds to meet and develop a foundational diocesan covenant on race, white supremacy and institutional racism that would guide our faith community in this holy work. Known as the Loving Presence, their ministry is based in scripture and centered around the Baptismal Covenant. It seeks to engage everyone as we walk this journey. Their work is not simply a statement, but a covenant that will effectuate change and bring about a revolution of the heart that is rooted in spiritual transformation, scripture, and the necessity for the people of God to enter into this pain. We must heal our hearts to heal the wounds of racism inflicted on our black and brown siblings. 

As a people of God, where all are created in the image of God, we must all devote our lives to this ministry. If we are to banish the sins of racism, white supremacy, prejudice and hatred we must, through our lives and actions, make this the central truth of our faith and a lived reality. There can no longer be “us” versus “them”, or the determination of who is worthy and unworthy. The church must not cheapen the dignity or dehumanize any of the Holy One’s beloved children.

This is not a short nor easy road, but a new path. It will involve truth-telling, support, acknowledgment, repentance, and transformation. This is the cross that we all must carry. But if we take it up, and walk its arduous path, it will lead us into this new way of being, one of listening, embodying, repenting, and turning. 

The Loving Presence path has been approved unanimously by Standing Committee and Diocesan Council. It will be presented to Trustees in mid-October. I will share further information and reflections through a video when their work is released later in the month.

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (Revelation 7:9-10)

The Challenge of the Future
The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts. Haggai 2:9

Above all, I look at this time of COVID as an opportunity for the future. In 2021 and 2022 your diocesan staff will continue to focus on supporting our churches. In particular, the Canons will increase their commitment, focusing 100% of their efforts on churches and community. But this is also a time to learn and grow. Our church has a strong foundation, an apostolic structure that helps form our community and prayer life. However, that does not necessarily mean that our administrative systems have to operate in an antiquated fashion. We have learned so much and made progress in our use of technology in a way that no one would have dreamed possible. It has left me wondering, what else might we accomplish, if we shed our fear and look to the future that God has for us?

In my next conversations with the Trustees and with Standing Committee, I would like for us to begin to discern some essential, fundamental, and prayerful questions that will guide us through the next two years and help frame our entry into our long-term pilgrimage as a diocese. I also ask that you contemplate these questions.  
1.        What will the post-COVID church look like?
2.        As a church, are we challenging ourselves and one another in our ministries, outreach, and evangelism? If not, how can we meet the challenge?
3.        What ministries are more critical at this time than others?
4.        How can we maximize the efficacy and impact of our existing ministries?
5.        What existing ministries can we consolidate?
6.        Are we the only entity that can carry out the work, or are there other entities that can take it on, allowing us to concentrate on our most essential ministries?
7.        How can churches partner in outreach? Is it necessary to have 3 food pantries all within the same community? If they combined their efforts, could they serve more people more efficiently?
8.        How can we partner with other faith traditions or private entities for outreach and ministry?  
9.         How do we use our campuses seven days a week? What can we do to ensure that they are centers of community life and service all the time? What can we do to open them up to organizations that lost their buildings due to COVID?
10.     How can we consolidate our administrative functions at both a diocesan and church level so that we can deliver the same effective results but at a lower cost?
11.     What components of the diocesan structures can be restructured and realigned? Deaneries? The budget? Our process for resolutions? Etc.…
12.     How can our diocesan churches partner with one another on all levels of administration and staffing so as to be able to function more efficiently?
13.     How can we use the talents that are abundant among our laity to assist one another? Who will accept the challenge of the Holy Spirit to step up and reach out?
14.     Do we need to start over and rebuild from the ground up?

We should also capitalize on what we have learned.  How can we engage in ministry remotely without losing effectiveness, presence, or sacrificing our core identity? We must not stop but instead look to discern:
1.        How can we maximize video conferencing?
2.        How can we make use of technology to spread the Good News?
3.        Do all the committees need to meet in person every month, or should we utilize the new technologies to reduce our footprint on the environment?
4.        What is the future of office work?
5.        How will these factors impact our budgets and use of space?

The fundamental question is: “what is Christ calling us to do?”

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4:11-14

A Transitional Moment
I wanted to close by sharing a personal revelation. Over the past eighteen months, I have been led to a deeply spiritual place, all the while focusing on the beauty and power of the Holy One. COVID has led me further into prayer. As a child, I was taught that you cover your head with a shawl or scarf when you read or heard the word of God as we are in the presence of God (for this reason, you often see me with a scarf). A bishop wears the mitre during the Old Testament, Psalms, and the New Testament while removing the mitre during the Gospel. During Advent and beyond, I will be covering my head with a linen scarf rather than a mitre as it speaks to my natural desire for simplicity, jettisoning vestiges of patriarchy (women were always required to cover their heads), and a return to my history and cultural teachings. I look forward to teaching and engaging your questions about this new, yet old, practice.

My siblings, as you move forward, know that each day, I hold all of you in prayer. I also pray for the wisdom and patience to faithfully serve as the Holy One has called me to serve. In the end, I will account to the Lord and I cannot face the Almighty if I know that I have failed to serve each and every one of you from the depths of my heart and with whatever gifts the Lord has granted me. I can only promise you my unending devotion, faithfulness and love.  May the Holy One bless you and may the divine peace cover each day. 
Bishop Daniel

A Note from the Rector – 10/11/20

Next Wednesday our own Jeremiah Mustered will be ordained a transitional deacon.  The “transitional” part simply means that Jeremiah will also be ordained a priest (God-willing and the people consenting) in another 6 months or so.  The practice of ordaining minsters as a deacon first, regardless if they are called to the priesthood, diaconate, or bishopric is an ancient one.  In the early church, there are several examples of folks who were extremely reluctant to be ordained but were nevertheless forcibly seized, ordained a deacon, and then immediately made a bishop all in the same day.  Jeremiah’s process has been far more extended, deliberate, and—importantly—done with his consent.  

The reason to ordain Jeremiah a deacon first even though he will one day become a priest is found in the meaning and calling of a deacon.  A deacon is one whose primary orientation is a particular kind of service toward God’s people and God’s world.  In Acts 6, the first deacons were chosen by the people.  The apostles laid hands on them and commissioned them to lead the Church in the service of those in need: to take care of the early Church’s distribution of food and other administrative tasks.  This division of labor was made so that the apostles could do the things they were called to do, teach, preach, and administer the sacraments and worship of the Church.  So, from New Testament times there were two orders of clergy, bishops/apostles and deacons.  As the Church grew it became necessary to appoint sacramental intermediaries for the bishop, stand-ins who would teach and administer the sacraments for a community when the bishop could not be present.  This is what we call priests or presbyters.  

The reason all ordained people are made a deacon first is to remind them (us) that we ours is a life of service.  The starting place for ordained ministry is always the imperative to serve others. Our first job is to decrease so that Christ can increase. Of course, lay people are not off the hook here.  Your (our) ordination happened a long time ago when we were baptized into Christ’s Church.  At your baptism you were empowered to be a disciple, to serve God and love your neighbor.  Scripture calls all Christians members of “a nation of priests to serve our God.”  We are all called and all gifted to serve God in particular and unique ways.  We are all called to be faithful in our daily lives, our occupations, our families, our neighborhoods, and our church community.  This week, we can all rejoice with Jeremiah as he enters a new chapter of his life’s vocation serving God and God’s people.  Congratulations, Jeremiah!

The ordination service will be live streamed this Wednesday, October 14 at 6:30PM.  You can watch at https://episcopalpa.online.church

A Note from the Rector – 10/4/20

We are all dealing with a lot right now.  As a church we have had to adapt to unprecedented situations just as we all have had to do so in our personal and professional lives.  Our “hybrid” worship style–with limited in-person gatherings combined with online live streaming and Zoom worship opportunities–has not been without challenges. Nevertheless, it has worked remarkably well, thanks to the hard hard work and dedication of a lot of folks.  

As the year turns toward Fall and Winter, we are rethinking the ways we do outreach, stay connected with our ministry partners, and celebrate special events and holidays.  In this “Note” I want to highlight how we will continue to love our neighbors with two outreach projects.  

Scripture reminds us that it is better to give than to receive.  In difficult times and in times of stress, it’s amazing how cathartic and healing it can be to focus on helping others instead of focusing on our own anxieties and problems.  In part, that is what we do with our outreach programs.

Last year Holy Apostles put together nearly 20 thanksgiving meals to be distributed by the Ardmore Food Pantry to those in need.  This year, the food pantry is doing things differently, but we will still have a way to contribute.  They would like us to donate $25 gift cards to Giant, Acme, or Trader Joes that they can give to families who might not otherwise have a very abundant Thanksgiving.  Holy Apostles has set a goal to contribute 50 gift cards! You can mail them or drop them off at Holy Apostles anytime between now and November 10th.  

Last year was the 25th consecutive year that we have partnered with Connect-by-Night to provide a whole month of shelter and lunches to our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness.  Because of the difficulties brought on by the pandemic, the Connect-by-Night leadership is not asking churches to house people overnight this year.  Instead, they’ve converted their day shelter near the 69th street station into an overnight shelter.  They are asking their partners (including us) to help provide food, hygiene items, and gym equipment for the guests they are housing there.  Now more than ever, we need to be committed to serving those in need in our community.  We know that by serving them, we are truly serving Christ. (Matthew 25). As December approaches, look for more information about ways that you can safely get involved.