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.

A Note from the Rector – 9/20/20

Last Thursday, September 16, the Church celebrated the life of St. Hildegard of Bingen who lived from AD 1098 to 1179.  She was the founder and abbess of a Benedictine monastery in what is now Germany.  As a theologian, politician, monastic leader, natural philosopher (scientist), mystic, poet, and musician she was incredibly accomplished; a true polymath.  She wrote many books including an encyclopedia of medicine and medicinal plants, several saint’s lives, and mountains of correspondence.  Her magnum opus was a massive three volume work that detailed her visionary prayer experiences, which, as she reflects on the visions and their meaning, unfold as a complex and detailed work that could be described as a systematic theology.  Though not recognized until later and still underrated, Hildegard’s work is on par with other great medieval (male) theologians of the church, like Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. 

The first volume of Hildegard’s visionary work, called (in English translation) Know the Ways of the Lord, is preserved in several medieval manuscripts, including one that was prepared under Hildegard’s supervision at her monastery near the time of her death.  This manuscript included a number of unique illustrations and illuminations created by nuns in the monastic workshop.  On its own merits, Hildegard’s writing is important and fascinating.  Her writing and the unique manuscript that was created was also important as perhaps the only surviving medieval illuminated manuscript entirely written and produced by women.  Alas, during World War II, the manuscript resided in Dresden and was lost during the bombing of that city.  By that time, a detailed copy had been made by German Benedictine nuns, preserving its illuminated contents for us (see the illustration below).  Other copies of the text also still exist.

Here is a portion of one of her visions in which she saw a representation of God as Trinity, along with its accompanying illustration.

“Then I saw a bright light, and in this light the figure of a man the color of a sapphire, which was all blazing with a gentle glowing fire.  And that bright light bathed the whole of the glowing fire and the glowing fire bathed the bright light; and the bright light and the glowing fire poured over the whole human figure, so that the three were one light in one power of potential.” 

(Hildegard of Bingen. Scivias. Trans. Columba Hart and Jane Bishop.  Classics of Western Spirituality.  New York: Paulist Press (1990), page 161)

Hildegard was also a composer of music and accompanying lyrics.  Many of her chants have survived.  Here is an example:

A Note from the Rector – 9/13/20

This week was week two of school for Haverford school district and the first week for Lower Merion.  It’s been quite a week for my family as we’re learning all over again how to do online school.  It won’t take long before my kids, members of a generation who are dubbed “digital natives,” know their way around Zoom and other applications far better than I do.  It’s an understatement and a cliché to mention that this is a difficult time for families trying to juggle jobs, school, childcare, and mountains of uncertainty.  And the difficulty of one demographic does not minimize or discount the hardship of others.  I don’t know anyone who isn’t struggling in some way.

As a community of Jesus-followers, Holy Apostles has a lot to offer during this time of adversity.  One of the things it is able to offer is something in short supply these days, grace.  Grace is the freedom from shame, competition, and inauthenticity that can only come from knowing that you are truly loved no matter what.  It is related to the realization that your worth as a human being does not depend on your efficiency, your ability to achieve goals, your online teaching skills, your bank account, your house, your car, your children’s college admissions, or any other metric society uses to categorize and measure.  Grace cuts through all of that like butter.  

All grace originates in God and God’s invincible, unflappable love for us.  Through our connection to God–our worship, our prayer, our generosity, our fellowship–we have access to an unlimited supply here at Holy Apostles.  Grace means no matter who you are, or what you’ve been up to you are welcome to join us, either for online worship or in-person worship this weekend.  We have two services: our normal 10AM service (livestreamed), and a new, bi-monthly outdoor service geared toward families at 4:30PM (off-line but with ice cream).  

Grace also means that you are loved and valued even if you can’t make it to church this weekend.  Grace means God won’t give up you no matter what.  If you can’t make it to church (online or in person), my advice is, don’t stay away for too long.  Find some way that you can engage and stay connected with this grace-filled community. There are plenty of barriers at this time. It isn’t safe for everyone to gather like normal. It can be hard to engage online. But, please find some reminder of grace, even if it’s just a phone call with a church friend and a quick prayer. Know that Holy Apostles is here for you.  

The grace and love and peace that is found in worshipping God together is something I am convinced we all need.  Humans are made for worship.  If we’re not going to worship God, we will surely find something to worship.  It’s just that our other religions—careers, possessions, pleasures of all kinds—do not leave any room for grace at all.   

A Note from the Rector – 9/6/20

A Note from the Rector – 6 September 2020

This week a came across an article (found here) from Plough, a print and online magazine that focuses on the intersection of Christian faith and culture.  The article, written by Jeffrey Bilbro, is about the Anglo-Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas (1913-2000).  Thomas was Anglican priest who served most of life in small parishes in rural Wales. I have had an affinity for R.S. Thomas since discovering him in seminary.  The veteran pastor and writer, Eugene Peterson, wrote that preachers should and often do have an affinity with poets because it is the job of both to care for words.  

The article is an excellent introduction to R.S. Thomas’ life and work.  It includes quotations of several poems that I had never read and that seemed to be particularly appropriate for these times. The article argues that a major theme of Thomas’ work was the concept of turning aside, pausing in the present moment and truly paying to attention to reality as it is.  Thomas used this as a strategy to deal with the ravages of a post-industrial society on Wales in the mid-20th century.  He writes a lot about “the machine” to represent the cold and inhuman ways technology (especially that connected to industrial farming & mining) had disrupted and destroyed the lives of his parishioners, not to mention the beauty of their home, even while most were too poor to benefit from the modern conveniences that technology affords.  So, here’s one quotation from a poem that caught my attention along with the way the article introduces it:

“In ‘Lore,’ Thomas encourages his readers find creative ways of living well amid a broken world.

What to do? Stay green.
Never mind the machine,
Whose fuel is human souls.
Live large, man, and dream small.

Notwithstanding the non-inclusive gender signifiers, that last line of the poem seems like awfully good advice for us who—five months into a pandemic—find that our lives are drastically different and seem to be shrunk in some way, a smaller vestige of the life we formerly enjoyed.  How do we live well amid a broken world?  We live large.  That is, we live with hearts open wide to each other despite the circumstances.  The opposite, to live small and dream big, represents the temptation felt by everyone to let our ambitions (big dreams) control us to the point that the character of our lives is small, petty, and closed off from true relationships.

 We must not become petrified by the difficulties and incalculable loss we feel; not that we deny or run away from reality either.  Instead, we dream small dreams of peace and mercy and care where ever and how ever we find ourselves.  This, of course, isn’t easy.  Poetry and other ways of paying attention and connecting us to faith can help.  As Thomas wrote in another poem, “The Small Country:”

on this shrinking planet favours the survival
of the small people, whose horizons
are large only because they are content to look at them
from their own hills.
I grow old,
bending to enter the promised
land that was here all the time.

The point that I see Thomas making in these and other poems is that “small lives,” those which society deems insignificant, of no value, redundant, or inefficient are in fact of infinite value and worth.  Small acts of care and beauty are the most important.  In fact, they are the only sorts of acts that are available to us.  As the Jeffrey Bilbro writes, “Perhaps the backwards nobodies from nowhere are, in fact, somebodies, particularly when they look for ways to quietly repair the rents of history with their hands. These are the true patriots, the people who faithfully love their small corner of the world.”

A Note from the Rector

We have had a “hybrid” worship service for about two and half months now.  Since mid-June, we have held small, in-person gatherings on Sunday mornings and have live streamed these services on our Youtube channel.  Someone asked me the other day what has been the most surprising thing about my first three years at Holy Apostles.  The first thing that came to mind is that I would never have predicted three years ago that I would become a tele-evangelist.  I am still surprised that during this pandemic we have adapted so well to be able to produce an hour long Youtube video every week.  Of course, this would not have happened, and it would not continue to happen without the dedication and ingenuity of some talented and knowledgeable folks. 

Those of you who have been to an indoor Eucharist lately know that the stuff we need in order to produce our online videos is sort of in the way.  The biggest distraction for in-person worshippers is a camcorder on a tripod set up next to the baptismal font, and right in front of the pulpit.  Faithful volunteers move the camcorder throughout the service in order to capture the readings, sermon, and music.  I have not heard any complaints, of course.  We’re all just happy to have church.  But I also know that it is jarring and distracting to prayer.  It has worked well as a short-term solution.  However, it has become clear that this pandemic is not a short-term problem.  As awful as it has been, this time has allowed us to imagine further ways that we can be witnesses to God’s love on the internet.  With that in mind, the vestry decided to invest in technology that will allow us to continue to livestream our services—and vastly improve the video quality of those live streams—while also getting rid of that unsightly tripod in the middle of the worship space.  So, we’ve contracted with an audio-visual company to install a remote controlled camera with a powerful optical zoom lens in the back of the nave (near the exit sign).  This camera will be able to capture everything that happens in our service in high definition.  Operated from the “command center” which has taken over our old organ loft, the camera will be completely out of the way.  It’s going to be pretty cool, but it will take a few weeks for all the parts to arrive and for the installation to happen.  

All that is left to say is that I am incredibly grateful.  I am grateful to the technology folks who know what they’re doing and have made it possible to stay connected during this difficult time.  I am grateful for the leadership of the vestry and their willingness and imagination to adapt to new circumstances.  I am grateful to those who have attended in-person worship and have faithfully taken care of each other by social distancing and wearing masks.  I am grateful for those who have joined us by watching online and who have contributed to our service using digital technology, including friends from around the country.  I am incredibly grateful that our parish’s pledging income has not decreased despite this difficult time, and grateful that this parish’s generosity toward those in need has, in fact, increased through an incredible outpouring of gifts to the Darby Mission and other outreach.  I am grateful most of all to God who never leaves us nor forsakes us; God who hears our prayers no matter where we pray or how good our WiFi is.  God is faithful to us and God gives us the patience to be faithful to each other in return.  


A Note from the Rector – 8/23/20

This week marks the end of my third year and the beginning of my fourth as rector at Holy Apostles.  How the time has flown! I remain deeply grateful to be here doing what I love to do, alongside people who I love, in a place that I love.  

Of course, none of us imagined what we would face together as a parish in 2020.  I won’t bore you (or condescend) with obvious descriptions of how difficult this year has been, or of what challenges this Fall will bring us.  Instead, I will share a lengthy quote from a speech given by CS Lewis shortly after World War II.  I thought of this passage, while sitting at the Jersey shore (I first typed “beach” but then corrected myself).  Faced with the awesome and awful power of the Atlantic Ocean one cannot help but contemplate the connection between beauty and goodness.  Right?  The fact is this world is heartbreakingly beautiful. If it were not so, pandemics and other terrible adversity wouldn’t hurt so much. The pathos of life is born out of its contrasts. Whether you are contemplating the grandness of the ocean, or all the splendor, life, and diversity that can be found in one square foot of your backyard, if you have eyes to see you will find beauty. That beauty raises questions about what is good and true, and about how we should live (and die).

Here’s what CS Lewis has to say on that subject:

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that ‘beauty born of murmuring sound’ will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet.

For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy.

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.”

-C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 42-3.

Christian Formation this Fall: A Note from the Rector

I am happy to share with you our plans for Christian formation and education this Fall.  While I wish things could be normal, I am also energized by the creativity and determination of our Sunday School teachers and parents. 

Sunday School

Our Sunday School will have two components this Fall.  First, on two Sundays a month our committed teachers will offer online Zoom Sunday School for both ages groups.  Second, on alternating Sundays, we will offer an in-person an intergenerational, family service that includes a Sunday school-type lesson (instead of a traditional sermon) and Eucharist.  Especially during September and October, this service will be held outdoors as the weather permits. All services will follow protocols for social distancing, masks, etc.  When weather gets colder, we will re-evaluate our plan in light of current conditions. Our Sunday School teachers are working with parents to put together times and dates for these offerings, which I will pass along soon.  

To celebrate the beginning of the Sunday School year, we will be offering all families a “Sunday School in a Box.”  This will contain lots of fun items and things our teachers would like each of our beloved students to have.  These boxes will be available starting on Sunday, September 13th.  Stay tuned for more specific information.

Lastly, we would love to have more Sunday School teachers!  We have a great curriculum that gives you everything you need, and is easy and efficient to prepare.  All you really need to begin to be a Sunday School teacher is an open and caring heart, as well as the ability to complete state and diocesan requirements for background and safety checks.  As a former Sunday School teacher myself, I can testify that the benefits and rewards of being a Sunday School teacher are enormous.  There is nothing like sharing your gifts and your love to nurture a young person in their faith journey and their connection to God, their family, and each other.  

Adult Formation  

Opportunities for adult Christian formation will be online this Fall with some supplemental opportunities in print.  

Online, we will offer a 5 week Zoom conversation called “Our Story, Their Story, God’s Story.” This conversation will explore how our own stories are connected to the stories of others, especially those who are different than us. Through engagement with Scripture, we will discover how all our stories are intertwined with God’s story of salvation and healing for all. The conversations will be on Wednesday nights at 6:15 starting on September 16th.  We will end each session in the most appropriate way imaginable by joining our regularly scheduled Compline service at 7:30PM.  

Zoom Bible Study will continue on Thursdays at 11AM.  We are about two thirds done in our reading of the book of Deuteronomy, but you can join anytime!

We are also working on some “lo-fi” opportunities for learning and connection this Fall.  We are looking to reboot our monthly print newsletter.  We are thinking of offering a reading group that would meet less frequently (perhaps through a group phone call).  You can also “mail order” print versions of my Sunday sermons and a daily devotional called “Forward Day by Day.”  Keep watching for more information on all of this.  

Of course, our liturgy is also Christian education and formation. It is first and foremost worship to God and our way to offer God thanksgiving and receive God’s grace. But, it also teaches us things about how to be Christian–and more fundamentally–how to be human. I encourage you to embrace the rhythms of worship that we have available to us: Sunday Eucharist, either in-person or online; and the Daily Offices, including our nightly Compline service.

Necessity births innovation, but what hasn’t changed is our baptismal identity as God’s beloved.  Through that identity, we can find ways to honor our commitment to each other and to Jesus Christ and to grow in faith and love.   Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas with me! 

The Transfiguration: A Note from the Rector

August 6 (the day I am writing this) is the Feast of the Transfiguration.  The pivotal event is Jesus’ life is narrated in the three Gospels: Mark. 9:1-9, Matthew 16:28-17:9, Luke 9:27-36.  The story is mysterious.  Christ takes the disciples, Peter, James and John with him to the top of Mount Tabor.  There, they are overshadowed by a cloud.  Suddenly Jesus, his face, and even his clothing shine with a bright and terrifying light.  Moses and Elijah are seen next to him, conversing with him.  A thundering voice from heaven declares, “This is my son, my beloved, listen to him!”  

The disciples are rightly terrified.  Peter, not really knowing what to do, suggests that they build a tabernacle or shelter for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  It is almost as if Peter wanted to crystalize this wondrous moment, to hold onto it and keep it from ending.  But that is impossible, for this moment on top of the mountain is just a fleeting glimpse of some greater glory that Peter won’t be able to comprehend or even articulate until much later.

Mount Tabor was one of my favorite destinations when Deb and I visited the Holy Land in 2019.  After a long, twisted van ride up the mountain, we entered the enormous, early 20th century church that is built amongst the ruins of a more ancient church and monastery.  Ironically, within the church there are three altars, the main altar dedicated to Christ, and two side chapels which are dedicated to Elijah and Moses.  The 20th century architects seem to have intentionally followed St. Peter’s suggestion and built a tabernacle for the three participants of the Transfiguration.  Every church building, including that Church of the Transfiguration, is built holding a fundamental tension.  On the one hand, places can be holy places, and buildings can point us toward the transcendent.  On the other, the mysterious presence of God, and the radiance of Jesus Christ are wholly beyond our ability to enclose within any space whatsoever, beyond are ability to fully comprehend or articulate.  Of the resources that we humans try to use to articulate God’s mystery, artistic beauty—lovely architecture, art, music—might be the truest.  But even these expressions ultimately fall short.  

The Transfiguration should be understood as a glimpse into the future.  At a moment in the narrative of Christ’s life, when he “sets his face toward Jerusalem” and begins his final journey toward his destiny, which includes betrayal and death, the Transfiguration foreshadows the way the story ends: we see a glimpse of Christ in all his resurrection glory.  Some images of the event highlight this theological truth by depicting Christ on the mount of Transfiguration with the wounds of his future crucifixion visible in the midst of his radiant glory.  

We, too, see our future.  Though we remain on this side of the “veil of tears,” Christ has promised not to leave us in this state.  He is God’s Son, and the Beloved One. We should listen to him. Even now, through Christ, God is in the midst of transfiguring all that is broken, confused, and lost.  And that includes us.

If you are in the mood, I invite you to listen to a song about the Transfiguration by the singer and songwriter, Sufjan Stevens.  A practicing Christian, Stevens’ music often contemplates biblical imagery and themes and, in so doing, translates them for his broad popular audience.  You can find Stevens’ song, “The Transfiguration” on Youtube.  

If you’re like me, once you start listening to music on Youtube, it’s hard to stop.  So, here is Stevens along with Chris Thile singing a haunting version of the Good Friday hymn (Hymn 158, in our hymnal), “Ah, Holy Jesus.” The audience joins in.  It is striking that it is a recording of an NPR radio show, not a church service.  God’s glory, also known as Christ’s radiance, also known as True Beauty can be glimpsed almost anywhere.