A Note from the Rector – 9/23/2018

The year of our Lord 2018 is the 68th year of this congregation’s ministry in Penn Wynne.  It is the 50th anniversary of our becoming an independent, self-sustaining parish. Inspired by this and leading up to our celebration in October, I am going to use the “Note from the Rector” to highlight some of our history and the history of some of the furniture and sacred articles that fill our beloved worship space.

Church of the Holy Apostles was founded in 1950 as the Chapel of the Holy Apostles.  The parish that established this chapel and sustained it for 18 years was Church of the Holy Apostles and Mediator in West Philadelphia.  So I will start with the founding of our mother church.

In 1867, neighborhoods in southwest Philadelphia were growing as soldiers were returning from fighting in the Civil War.  The Rev. Samuel Appleton, the rector of Church of the Mediator, and the Rev. Phillips Brooks, the rector of Trinity Church, Rittenhouse Square met with several others to explore the possibility of founding a new church to meet the needs of this growing part of the city.  Phillips Brooks was one of the Episcopal church’s greatest pastors and preachers (and an alumni of Virginia Theological Seminary, my own alma mater).  Earlier in 1867 he had written the hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for his congregation.  Now he turned his considerable energy to founding a new parish.  He enlisted the help of the investment banker, Mr. George C. Thomas, who was a vestry member and deeply involved in the Sunday School at Trinity, Rittenhouse.  His name will appear prominently in the intertwined stories of Holy Apostles and her chapels, including what has become our beloved parish.

In early 1868, the fledgling congregation began meeting at a Presbyterian church, while work began on a church building of their own at the corner of 21st and Christian Streets. Reticent and first to leave Trinity, George C. Thomas quickly became the driving force of the new church.  He began work on a Sunday School.  On the first Sunday, the Sunday School was attended by 37 children.  Under Thomas’s leadership, Church of the Holy Apostles Sunday School grew to be the largest in the diocese, and one of the largest in the entire country.  At its peak before World War I, the Holy Apostles Sunday School averaged 1,500 students a Sunday.  Shortly after the Sunday School began, the vestry called the Rev. Dr. Charles D. Cooper to be their rector.  Cooper was Phillips Brooks’s best friend (more on him and his significance to our congregation next week).  The original frame building was completed in October of 1868.  Within two years, a new stone building was built, with a large contribution from George Thomas, and the Sunday School used the frame building, which they quickly outgrew.  A new Sunday School building was finished in 1873.  The neighborhood was struck with financial difficulty beginning around 1876, and the church suffered financially as well.  The building projects had incurred some debt which the congregation did not pay off until 1882, when the Church of the Holy Apostles was consecrated.

More to come next week!

James +

A Note from the Rector – 9/16/2018

Last Thursday at 11AM was the inaugural meeting of our weekly Bible Study.  It was fantastic.  Five of us sat around the table in the Memorial Room.  We each brought our different interests and life experience, and with a prayer we opened up our Bibles together and discussed what we read there.  It was not a class.  It was discussion, and a time of mutual learning and discovery.  For me, it is a great honor and joy to be part of such a holy time.  We began reading the Acts of Apostles.  The 5th book of the New Testament, right after the 4 Gospels, Acts was written toward the end the 1st century (A.D. 80-90).  It is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke and describes the actions that founded the early church, starting with Christ’s Ascension.  It is a theological narrative: a story that tells us something about God, and about ourselves.  It is an extraordinary book, and full of many little surprises.  Whether you’re new to Bible study, or whether you’ve read and studied Acts many times, you are guaranteed to learn something new and life-giving.

I know many folks work during this time.  For you there will be many other opportunities this Fall and Winter to gather and learn about our faith together.  You are also welcome to read the book of Acts along with us.  For those who can join us, even once in a while, please do. I am convinced you will find it a positive and faith-building experience.  Here is our tentative reading schedule for the next several months.  We may have to adjust as we go along because we’re taking our time, but this will give you an idea of where we’ll be if you’d like to jump in sometime!

Thursdays – 11AM

Sept. 13 – Introduction 1:1-11

Sept. 20 – 1:12-26

Sept. 27 – 2:1-12

Oct. 4 – 2:14-36

Oct. 11 – 2:37-47

Oct. 18 – 3:1-10

Oct. 25 – 3:11-26

Nov. 1 – 4:1-37

Nov. 8 – 5:1-16

Nov. 15 – 5:17-42

Nov. 22 – Thanksgiving; No Bible Study

 

James+

A Note from the Rector – 9/9/2018

I am very pleased to welcome back the Sunday School and the Choir this morning!

I read an article recently that explored the philosophical and scientific mystery of why listening to music gives humans pleasure.  The long and the short of it is: it’s a mystery.  Music can be open-ended, unexpected, and difficult to interpret.  It is capable of speaking to us in multiple ways, including directly to our emotions through non-verbal means.  It may be this quality of mystery itself that gives us pleasure.  I think the mystery of music is tied up with the mystery of God.  Human observation (science) cannot prove the existence of God, and if it could, the God it showed us wouldn’t be worth worshipping.  However, within the world of the natural senses there are many pointers to God, things that make us wonder, in both senses of that phrase.  Music is one of these pointers.  It can be so transcendent, and move us to such a deep level that we cannot help but wonder if music itself speaks of the mystery of the divine life.  For many people, music is one of the ways they sense God’s presence.  That is why music is so important for the worship of the Church, and that is why I am excited for a new year of exciting and beautiful music led by our intrepid choir under the skilled and learned direction of our organist and choir director, Paul Emmons.  St. Augustine was right when he said, “When you sing, you pray twice.”

The Sunday School is one of the ways we welcome children in our midst and ensure they and their parents know that children truly belong at Holy Apostles.  More than that, I am pretty sure God likes kids best.  Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like a little child, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).  God delights in the rambunctious joy of children in our midst.  Children are a treasure for God’s Church, not only as its future, but also as its present.  Children enhance our life together, and show us what it means to approach God and life with innocence, vitality, and wonder.  Or is it innocence, vitality, and wiggles?  Probably both, and we are better people for providing a safe and fun environment for our children.  Today after service, we celebrate these manifold blessings—Choir and Sunday School, children and music—with ice cream!

James+

A Note from the Rector – 9/2/2018

This past week felt like “the calm before the storm.”  It was the last of the summer holidays, a time for what is supposed to be a quieter, slower rhythm of life.  I am not sure that it is quieter or slower for many of us, although quiet and a slower pace of life are fine things, things that we should seek out and aspire to for our own spiritual and emotional well-being.

Nonetheless, the summer has sped by, or so it seems.  Many families are busy preparing for the start of the upcoming school year, and we are poised to begin what the church often calls our program year, next Sunday, September 9th.  This simply means that after a summer hiatus, we will begin offering weekly Sunday School classes for children again at 10am.  It also means that the choir will return to their important role of leading us in the worship of God through music.  I am very much looking forward to all of this.  It is a day worth celebrating, and we will celebrate with ice cream sundaes.

This Fall promises to be a busy season at Church of the Holy Apostles.  There will be opportunities for special worship, including special opportunities to re-unite and honor the parish that founded and funded this church 68 years ago.  We will continue to prepare for our bishop’s official visit in December, at which point he will confirm a whole gaggle of our young people in their faith in Jesus Christ.  There will be numerous and varied opportunities to engage in our faith in deeper ways through study and prayer.  There will be many joyous moments this Fall, including especially a baptism and two weddings.  In October we will have a Celebration of New Ministry which includes my official installation as the Rector of your church, and a commemoration of 50 years of Holy Apostles functioning as a self-supporting parish.

In all of this it will be important to remind ourselves again and again why we are doing what we are doing.  Our services and rituals are not empty, and our celebrations of life’s special moments are not in vain.  They all point toward and participate in Something bigger and more important than us.  We do what we do in order to glorify God.  We do what we do in order to immerse ourselves more deeply and fully into the rhythms of divine life into which God invites us.  And, we do what we do in order to invite others to join us on this journey of faith and blessing.  I am going to need reminders of all that in the coming months; to be reminded that being busy for its own sake is not a virtue; to be reminded that being grounded in the present moment and aware of God’s blessing in the daily rhythms of life is far more rewarding and life-giving than being caught up in the hustle and bustle of our society, or in trying to live up to some standard of efficiency and worldly success.  So, on this Labor Day weekend, take a deep breath and join me in remembering Who made you and why.  Remember and recount the blessings of this short and transitory life: your family and your friends, most of all.  Then—with hearts full of love and despite the cares and occupations of the week ahead—be sure to come to church next week for ice cream.

James+

A Note from the Rector – 8/26/2018

I have a heavy heart about the recent revelations of further clergy child abuse in Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.  The grand jury’s report of these abuses is horrific and heart-rending.  As I wear my clergy collar these days, I am aware (more than usual) of the pain and anger that many are feeling as a direct result of the evil perpetrated by those who were entrusted to represent Christ’s love to the Church and the wider world.

It is important to the well-being of this congregation that I address several issues that arise from the devastating abuse that occurred in our neighbor churches.  What follows is not a meant to be a judgement or criticism of the Roman Catholic church, per se, but rather a caution to and safeguarding of our own parish family.

First, it is our policy in compliance with state law that anyone who volunteers or works with children in the church in any capacity must undergo state and federal background checks, fingerprinting, and abuse prevention training.  This includes me.  Furthermore, if anyone undergoes or observes any kind of abuse at this parish or any other Episcopal parish or event, please do not hesitate to call the Rev. Canon Betsy Ivey at 215-627-6434.  All allegations will be taken very seriously, and all calls are confidential.

Second, child abuse and its institutional cover-up are unspeakably evil.  However, such evil doesn’t happen spontaneously; it creeps.  The foothold that opens the door to such creeping evil, especially in the Church, is spiritual pride on the part of spiritual leaders.  Leaders in the church, and especially ordained leaders, can very easily fall into the notion that they are somehow more spiritual and have a deeper connection to God than others.  If not kept in check, this notion gives rise to the idea that we can do whatever we want, that we do not have to be accountable for our actions, or that we are exempt from judgement due to our exalted position.  Spiritual pride does not always result in abuse, but clergy abuse always has its roots in pride.  The truth is that clergy are not automatically more spiritual or more deeply connected to God than anyone else.  Furthermore, the church does not belong to the clergy but to all the people of God: which includes you!  We are all in this together.  We are all called to support each other in what God has given each us to do.  It behooves all of us in leadership to remember that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

Lastly, the patterns of spiritual pride and abuse that have existed and do exist in many denominations, including the Episcopal Church, are often tied to twisted notions of masculinity, and the false belief that men are better suited for leadership.  This can only be addressed by raising up and maintaining strong female leadership, clergy and lay, in the Church writ large.  As a male priest who feels called to this community and who loves this place and this people, it falls to me to ensure that there is a balance of female leadership in all the areas of our little corner of God’s Church.  We are incredibly blessed with many strong women leaders in our parish, and I hope to encourage and empower existing and future female leaders.  In terms of the preaching and sacramental ministry of the church, I would love to see women lay preachers in our pulpit (yes, lay preachers are a thing!), and I will work to ensure there are women clergy who preach and serve at our altar from time to time.  It’s really important.

Now, may God, whose Name is above every name and whose justice is only matched by God’s mercy, be praised and glorified in everything we do, and may God richly bless this parish as we strive to follow Jesus together.  Amen.

James+

A Note From the Rector – July 29

If you look at the Books of Common Prayer that are in the racks on each pew (the red book with a cross on it), you will notice that most of them are very worn in one particular section, a little over one-third of the way through the book.  In fact many of them will open right to that section—Holy Eucharist, Rite II.  That’s the part of the book that has been used the most—not just by this congregation (before we printed everything in service leaflets), but by almost every congregation in the Episcopal Church.  There is some really good stuff in the rest of the book, though.  Recently, I’ve had several occasions to root around in the back of the Book of Common Prayer in the section entitled “An Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism” (page 844).  Did you know we had a catechism?  As many of you know, a catechism is a sort of teaching outline, meant to give a briefly summary of the Christian teaching.  But, some aren’t so brief.  One of the catechisms I know of from a different Christian tradition is almost 1000 pages long.  Do not fear, the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer is only 19 pages long.  According to its introduction, “it is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice; rather, it is a point of departure…a brief summary of the Church’s teaching for an inquiring stranger.”  You don’t have be a stranger to be inquiring, however.  There is some good stuff in the Catechism, and in the rest of the Book of Common Prayer.  Don’t take my word for it.  Why don’t you take one home and explore what’s in there.  Some of you might already have a Book of Common Prayer at home.  This is commendable, and I hope that it sits next to your well-used Bible.  If you have spent some time with both books, you have probably discovered that the Book of Common Prayer is chalk full of Biblical quotes and allusions.  If you don’t have a Book of Common Prayer, take one!  Because we use service leaflets most of the time, it would be ok if you took one of the pew books home you to read and pray on your own.  We can always replace it, if you decide to keep it.  What is irreplaceable is an inquiring mind, and a heart open to God.

A Note from the Rector – July 22

Last week I mentioned two historic actions of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church—a plan for liturgical revision, and the reunion with the Episcopal diocese of Cuba.  This week I want to fill in some of the other important things that happened.  As always, it was a two-week frenzy of worship, legislation, discussion, and debate. What distinguished it from recent General Conventions, however, from the reports of many attendees, was the spirit of grace and the evangelistic energy that characterized the gathering. Here are some of the highlights:

The Way of Love: Our Presiding Bishop. Michael Curry, has introduced The Way of Love, a way for Episcopalians to think about their lives of discipleship in terms of a rule of life. You will be hearing more about this in the coming weeks and months, and you can read more about it here.

Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Creation Care: The budget for the national church reflects our priorities of evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care. Especially worth noting is a significant investment in church planting as well as redeveloping struggling congregations.

Responding to the Concerns of Women: The House of Bishops heard the stories of many women who had experienced harassment or serious discrimination while working in Episcopal churches and other institutions, and committed itself to making concrete changes in the way we work as a church. Some of these changes that have already been implemented include alterations to the disciplinary process and the creation of task forces to address compensation differences, pensions, child care, the call process, and other personnel issues.  This is really important work.

Responding to Impaired Clergy: The Episcopal Church is strengthening its screening processes for ordination as well as creating intervention procedures for clergy who suffer from addictions.

Same-Sex Marriage in Traditionalist Dioceses: Before this Convention, there were eight Dioceses whose bishops prohibited same-sex marriage from taking place anywhere in the diocese. Another compromise resolution passed by this convention makes it possible for congregations within these dioceses who wish to offer the rite of marriage to same-sex couples to do so, under the pastoral supervision of another bishop. This is a form of what is usually called DEPO: Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. Precisely how these arrangements are lived out in the eight affected dioceses will become more clear in time. In the meantime, I ask your prayers for all those who will be discerning how to move forward, even as I rejoice that our church has found a way to walk together in unity.

Trial Use Liturgy:  In the absence of immediate and total prayer book revision (see my note last week), General Convention did pass a resolution which allows for trial use of our well beloved Rite II service with a number of changes to introduce more expansive and gender neutral language into this prayer. This liturgy is not perfect, and will have to have some rough edges knocked off of it.  It is unclear when and how this will be implemented, but you will be hearing more about this.

A Note From the Rector – July 15th

The 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church ended this past Thursday evening.  Around 400 pieces of legislation passed through the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops in just 9 days.  A number of significant things occurred., many more than I can report on here.  I will just highlight two.

 

Probably the most significant, and historic development from this General Convention was the readmission of the Diocese of Cuba back into the Episcopal Church.  The Episcopal Church in the United States founded the Cuban diocese as a missionary endeavor in 1901.  But, in the fallout of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the tensions of the Cold War, the House of Bishops voted to end its relationship with the Cuban diocese in 1966.  For over fifty years, Cuban Episcopalians remained faithful during difficult and isolating times.  So this past week, after a lengthy process, both houses welcomed the Diocese of Cuba back into the Episcopal church.  It was very emotional to watch (I was watching a livestream on the internet), as the both Houses voted unanimously to readmit the Cuban Diocese, and welcome the Cuban bishop and delegation into the Convention.  The House of Bishops repented of the divisive actions of its forbear, and Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio, the current bishop of Cuba (a remarkable woman, and a strong leader.) spoke passionately about how the Cuban diocese has always been family with the wider Episcopal church, and now that family is reunited in mutual bonds of love and respect.  How good and how pleasant it is when sisters and brothers dwell together in unity across borders, despite politics, united by Jesus Christ.

Another significant development from General Convention is the adoption of a unique plan for creating and authorizing more diverse liturgies for our Church while continuing to use and treasure the current Book of Common Prayer.  The plan commits the church to continue with the same theological commitments that have shaped our current prayer book, while also making room for expansive imagery and language for God and humans.  You can read the resolution online (link in the announcement email).  It represents an impressive compromise.  There were some in the church who wanted a wholesale revision of the Book of Common Prayer.  This plan was extremely costly (around 10 million dollars), time consuming (at least 12 years), and very divisive.  There were others who did not want any change at all for fear that the church’s core theology and mission would be changed in the process of revision.  The compromise bill makes room for revision, while affirming and protecting the foundational aspects of our faith and common worship: things like the Nicene & Apostles Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, and baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Also, the original plan to revise the Prayer Book put a lot of power for revision in the hands of a relatively small national committee.  The compromise bill gives authority to each diocese under the bishop to be a part of envisioning what the church’s liturgy will look like together.  It is a more grassroots process than before.  At the same time, the Book of Common Prayer 1979 will not change.  It will still be the standard for worship and doctrine in the Episcopal Church.

 

A Note from the Rector – July 1

Governance in the Episcopal church is unique.  One of its important aspects is General Convention, a once every three year gathering that serves as a bicameral legislative body for the church.  The two houses of General Convention are the House of Bishops, and the House of Delegates. The first General Convention was in 1785, two years before the formation of the U.S. Congress. William White, the first Bishop of Pennsylvania presided over the first General Convention.  The 79th General Convention convenes this year in Austin, Texas from July 5-13th.

Among the hundreds of resolutions that will be discussed and voted on this year are a several concerning the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  There are two major options on the table. Option #1 details a 12 year process of comprehensive revision to the prayer book culminating in a vote to adopt a new Book of Common Prayer at General Convention 2030.  Option #2 calls for extensive research into how the current (1979) prayer book is actually being used, and the development of resources to help parishes better “live into” the spirituality of the current prayer book.  Option #2 also calls for translations of the current BCP into French and Haitian Creole, and for a better translation into Spanish (the current one is not very good).

There are also various proposals for “surgical changes” to the current prayer book.  One of the most noteworthy is a resolution to insert the rite for same-sex marriage into the prayer book after the current marriage rite, and to change the definition of marriage in the catechism at the back of the BCP.  The rite for same-sex marriage was approved for trial use at the 2015 General Convention, and has been used in most of the dioceses in the Episcopal Church with the express permission of the diocesan bishop. Bishops who do not allow their priests to use the same-sex marriage rite are supposed to make some provision for same-sex couples in their diocese to be married (i.e. asking another diocese to provide clergy, etc.).  Inserting the same-sex marriage rite into the current prayer book would make it uniformly available to all, and would circumvent the authority of bishops to approve or disapprove its use.

I am not going to predict how these resolutions to change the Book of Common Prayer will ultimately pan out.  I will say that I am convinced by arguments against the complete revision of the prayer book. I think it is true that most Episcopalians, including myself, have not fully internalized the deep spirituality and practice that is encoded in our prayer book.  It would behoove the Church to spend some more time opening up the riches of this truly remarkable book.  Of course, the prayer book isn’t perfect. That is one reason there are approved supplemental materials like the alternative translation of the Nicene Creed that that we have implemented at Holy Apostles every other week with Bishop Daniel’s permission.

I will try to stay abreast of what is going on in Austin, and keep you informed of developments of interest. I ask that you prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide all the delegates and bishops of our wonderful church as they convene for their important and difficult work.

If you want to browse the resolutions that will be taken up at General Convention click here.

You can also keep up with General Convention news at The Episcopal Herald.

A Note From The Rector

Today, June 24th is normally celebrated as the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist.  It is not celebrated as such today because very few feasts supersede the normal Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day.  This is because each Sunday is to be celebrated as a “little” Easter, a feast of Jesus’ Resurrection, and the Resurrection transcends and supersedes every other day and event in the Christian faith.  So, we transfer the feast of Jesus’ cousin, John, to tomorrow.

The Gospel of Luke chapter 1 recounts the events surrounding John’s conception and birth in relationship to Jesus’ conception and birth.  It is not entirely clear from the Scriptural account when John was born, but it is does seem clear that Elizabeth was pregnant for some months, perhaps five or six, before Mary conceived.  So, when the traditional date of Jesus’ birth became December 25, the date of John’s birth was set six months “before” that, on June 24/25.

This scheme also roughly corresponds with the winter and summer solstices.  There is a theological reason for this association. It is encapsulated in John’s words about Jesus from the Gospel of John: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  This theological statement is symbolically encoded into the Christian calendar. Starting around the Feast of John the Baptist (and the summer solstice), the days get shorter.  This represents John’s decrease, until Christmas (and the winter solstice) when Jesus is born and the days begin to get longer, representing Christ’s “increase.”

There are lots of traditional ways to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, as well as a lot of interesting folklore associated with the day.  Some of this represents the mixture of Christian customs with customs and celebrations surrounding the summer solstice that originate in northern European pagan traditions.  A lot of this stuff is quite interesting, and learning about and recovering some of these customs might be worthwhile, as long as we do not lose sight of the theological significance of the day.  Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father , prophesied:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David…

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the
shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace