Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

For the record (like you don't have other sources of the news)

The text of the Archbishop’s invitation is below:

‘Dear Bishop,

I am delighted to invite you to the Lambeth Conference of 2008 and I very much look forward to our gathering together as bishops of the Anglican Communion.

The dates of the Conference are 16 July-4 August 2008 and I trust you will already have heard something of the vision for the Conference as it has been unfolding. It will focus on our equipping as bishops for leadership in mission and teaching, and it will also be an opportunity for all of us to strengthen our commitment to God’s mission and to our common life as a Communion. In connection with this latter point, we shall be devoting some time to thinking about the proposals for an Anglican Covenant, and about other ways in which we can deepen our sense of a common calling for us as interdependent members of the body of Christ.

This will be my third Lambeth Conference and I am very confident of the quality of the programme being developed for it. I want to offer my warm public thanks to all those from across the world who have worked so hard at planning this – especially the devoted Design Group under the Archbishop of Melanesia, those who attended the St Augustine’s Seminar last year, and our Conference Manager, Sue Parks. Their vision and their advice has been an inspiration at every stage so far. I am hugely excited by the possibilities the programme offers for a new and more effective style of meeting and learning, and for greater participation, which will help us grow together locally and internationally.

Because there has been quite a bit of speculation about invitations and the conditions that might be attached to them, I want to set out briefly what I think the Conference is and is not.

The Conference is a place where our experience of living out God’s mission can be shared. It is a place where we may be renewed for effective ministry. And it is a place where we can try and get more clarity about the limits of our diversity and the means of deepening our Communion, so we can speak together with conviction and clarity to the world. It is an occasion when the Archbishop of Canterbury exercises his privilege of calling his colleagues together, not to legislate but to discover and define something more about our common identity through prayer, listening to God’s Word and shared reflection. It is an occasion to rediscover the reality of the Church itself as a worldwide community united by the call and grace of Christ.

But the Lambeth Conference has no ‘constitution’ or formal powers; it is not a formal Synod or Council of the bishops of the Communion, which would require us to be absolutely clear about the standing of all the participants. An invitation to participate in the Conference has not in the past been a certificate of doctrinal orthodoxy. Coming to the Lambeth Conference does not commit you to accepting the position of others as necessarily a legitimate expression of Anglican doctrine and discipline, or to any action that would compromise your conscience or the integrity of your local church.

At a time when our common identity seems less clear that it once did, the temptation is to move further away from each other into those circles where we only related to those who completely agree with us. But the depth and seriousness of the issues that face us require us to discuss as fully and freely as we can, and no other forum offers the same opportunities for all to hear and consider, in the context of a common waiting on the Holy Spirit.

I have said, and repeat here, that coming to the Conference does not commit you to accepting every position held by other bishops as equally legitimate or true. But I hope it does commit us all to striving together for a more effective and coherent worldwide body, working for God’s glory and Christ’s Kingdom. The Instruments of Communion have offered for this purpose a set of resources and processes, focused on the Windsor Report and the Covenant proposals. My hope is that as we gather we can trust that your acceptance of the invitation carries a willingness to work with these tools to shape our future. I urge you all most strongly to strive during the intervening period to strengthen confidence and understanding between our provinces and not to undermine it.

At this point, and with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion. Indeed there are currently one or two cases on which I am seeking further advice. I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this. Such trust is a great deal harder to sustain if there are some involved who are generally seen as fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution.

I look forward with enthusiasm to the Conference and hope you will be able to attend, or your successor in the event that you retire in the meantime. My wife Jane will be writing with an invitation to the Spouses Conference which will run in parallel to the Lambeth Conference. Further communication to bishops will follow soon from the Lambeth Conference Office, including details of the costs and a reply slip on which you can respond formally to this invitation. It would be a great help if these replies were received by 31 July 2007. In the meantime, should you have any queries about the Lambeth Conference itself, or if you will be retiring before the Conference, please contact the Lambeth Conference Manager at the supplied email address or consult the Lambeth Conference website

I trust you and your diocese will join with me in praying for God’s gracious blessing of our time together.

Yours in Christ,


Statement from The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson
A Statement from The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson
Bishop of New Hampshire
By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson
May 22, 2007, 08:52

With regard to the Issuance of Invitations to the Lambeth Conference, 2008
May 22, 2007

It is with great disappointment that I receive word from the Archbishop of Canterbury that I will not be included in the invitation list for the Lambeth Conference, 2008. At a time when the Anglican Communion is calling for a “listening process” on the issue of homosexuality, how does it make sense to exclude gay and lesbian people from the discussion? Isn’t it time that the Bishops of the Church stop talking about us and start talking with us?!

While I appreciate the acknowledgement that I am a duly elected and consecrated Bishop of the Church, the refusal to include me among all the other duly elected and consecrated Bishops of the Church is an affront to the entire Episcopal Church. This is not about Gene Robinson, nor the Diocese of New Hampshire. It is about the American Church. It is for The Episcopal Church to respond to this divide-and-conquer challenge to our polity, and in due time, I assume we will do so. In the meantime, I will pray for Archbishop Rowan and our beloved Anglican Communion.

Bishop Robinson is currently flying to the West Coast and has no further comment at this time.

© Copyright 2005 by

Integrity Outraged At Canterbury’s Choice Of Bigotry And Discrimination Rather Than Inclusion Of Bishop Gene Robinson

620 Park Avenue #311 Rochester, NY 14607-2943

May 22, 2007

"Integrity is outraged and appalled," said Integrity President Susan Russell. "This is not only a snub of Bishop Gene Robinson but an affront to the entire U.S. Episcopal Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury has allowed himself to be blackmailed by forces promoting bigotry and exclusion in the Anglican Communion. This action shows a disgraceful lack of leadership on Williams’ part."

"Integrity calls on all the bishops and the leadership of the Episcopal Church to think long and hard about whether they are willing to participate in the continued scapegoating of the gay and lesbian faithful as the price for going to the Lambeth Conference. It is purported to be a conference representing bishops from the whole Anglican Communion. That can’t happen when Rowan Williams aligns himself with those in the Communion such as Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria who violate human rights while explicitly excluding gay and lesbian voices from their midst," Russell said. "Our bishops must ask themselves this question: 'Is complicity in discrimination a price they are willing to pay for a two-week trip to Canterbury?'"

Integrity is currently contacting the leadership of the Episcopal Church and consulting with our progressive allies about this situation. We expect to make an additional statement in the near future.


The Rev. Susan Russell, President
714-356-5718 (mobile)
626-583-2741 (office)

Mr. John Gibson, Director of Communications
917-518-1120 (mobile)

Time Out for some Shameless Home Pride

Way to go, Matt Romei! My man!

Here's the money quote from Coach Humphreys:

"These kids don't need to worry," Humphreys said. "I don't have to worry about them, either. These kids stay focused. They've all improved and they've all stepped it up."

That's what I'M talking about!

Chatham champion
Freshman Romei helps bring home sectional title

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

LIVINGSTON -- His heart pounded through his white, sweat-soaked shirt as Chatham's fate hung in the balance. But with a single, mighty serve, Matt Romei laid all doubt as to what team would be named sectional champion to rest.

Romei, with all eyes on him, blanked West Essex's Ben Sunshine in the final set of third singles, giving the Cougars a 3-2 victory and a North 2, Group II section title.

"It feels great to get the win today," Romei said, still breathing heavily. "It's great to be champs."

Many players may have wilted under such pressure, according to Cougars coach Bruce Humphreys, but not Romei.

The freshman looked the part of a seasoned veteran as he prepared his game-winning serve to secure the win (6-3, 4-6, 6-0). However, he admitted to being "very nervous" in what he said was the "biggest game" of his career.

Romei won the match's first set handily, but attributed his struggles in a second-set loss to his passive nature.

"I wanted to be aggressive," Romei said. "I'm usually not that aggressive. I wanted to hit my shots, come up to the net and make my volleys."

The freshman said he never doubted his chances to win going into the third set, but it was his coach's vote of confidence that sparked his tenacious side.

"I just told him, 'you're my guy,'" Humphreys said. "I said (he) can bring it home and (that he knows) what to do."

This is the second section title in Cougars history, the first coming in 2004. Back then, senior Jon Haverty was a just a freshman paying his dues on junior varsity.

"This feels amazing,"Haverty said. "They won it all last year. It was very nice to beat them this year."

Haverty and his doubles mate, junior Michael Lee, were impressive as they took second doubles in two sets (6-0, 6-1). It was the only match that Chatham controlled from the start as the pair came out strong and allowed their experience to take over in tough spots.

"We've played these guys before," Haverty said. "We beat them in both matches, so we knew we had the upper hand coming in."

After the match, Humphreys noted that the play of senior team captain Alex Rivera and junior Ben Klein in first doubles was "huge" as the duo scrapped together a victory in a seesaw contest (6-3, 3-6, 6-0).

Rivera and Klein cruised through their first set, but faltered in the second due to some mental errors. The pair rebounded to breeze through the final set in which the left-handed Rivera uncorked a rocket that sliced through the five-hole of one of the Knights.

"That was the hardest ball that I've ever seen him hit,"Haverty laughed.

Patrick Monaghan (first singles) and Paul Salierno (second singles) fell to their opponents in straight sets. Monaghan, a freshman, admitted to being overwhelmed by West Essex's Evan Zimmer, who carried into the duel an Eastern Section ranking of 108.

"He played much better this time," Mongahan said, who narrowly lost to Zimmer in their previous match up. "He got up pretty early and I just got down on myself."

Chatham didn't just lock up a sectional title with the win. It also got even with the Knights, who defeated the Cougars, 3-2, on April 23. But back then, Chatham was just a team struggling to find its identity, according to Humphreys.

"We've shown so much improvement from the beginning," Humphreys said. "At that point, I just felt that we would get hammered. They've come a long way. ...I'm awesomely proud."

Next Thursday, the Cougars will go toe-to-toe with West Essex one last time to decide who will take home the Iron Hills Conference Championship.

"These kids don't need to worry," Humphreys said. "I don't have to worry about them, either. These kids stay focused. They've all improved and they've all stepped it up."

North 2, Group II

Chatham 3,

West Essex 2

Singles: Evan Zimmer (WE) def. Pat Monaghan, 6-1, 6-1; Jeff Young (WE) def. Paul Salierno, 6-2, 6-4; Matt Romei (Ch) def. Ben Sunshine, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0.

Doubles: Alex Razera and Ben Klein (Ch) def. Jared Prince and Jared Davidson, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2; Jon Haverty and Michael Lee (Ch) def. Mike Sackman and Rob Gelberg, 6-0, 6-1.

Records: Chatham 18-4, West Essex 16-6

Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory: La Cuchina Lambeth

So, kittens, while we were pondering the heavy issues of pornography here at "Telling Secrets," the rest of the Anglican Communion was (and rightly so) up in arms about the latest from Lambeth Palace.

There is much to consider and digest, but my initial reaction to the ABC's statement concerns the message it sends about the recognition of the authority of Gene Robinson and Martyn Minns as bishops.

While I am insulted and outraged that Gene has not been invited as a full and equal member of the rest of the bishops in the Anglican Communion, there is no doubt that his election (vs. "appointment") is seen by the ABC as "regular" and the status and authority of his episcopacy has been officially recognized in his status as "invited guest."

It is also obvious (and, I would imagine, painfully so to some) that Martyn's "appointment" (vs. election) is viewed as "irregular" and his status and authority as bishop therefore has not been recognized at all.

I take no comfort or joy in any of this. It's the same British sense which created the "upstairs/downstairs" maid status, which is a slippery slope to extreme segregationist evils such as apartheid.

Gene can attend, but can not vote. However, the ABC also made it very clear that there will not be any "voting" - that Lambeth is not nor now nor ever has been intended to be a "legislative session."

So, in actuality, the "invited guest" does everything an "invitee" does. The status is primarily symbolic - which does not, in any way, reduce its sting.

What is confounding to me is that if this is the ABC's way of appeasing those who would object to Gene's very presence at Lambeth, it has failed miserably. If Gene chooses to accept the invitation with the status of "invited guest," he'll still be present and able to attend all sessions with the other bishops, archbishops and Primates. He'll still have the opportunity to be incarnational to those who profess never to have seen an LGBT person. He'll still have an opportunity to tell his story.

And, please note: BEFORE the imposition of the so-called September 30th "deadline."

So, what has really been accomplished? What kind of authority has really been exercised here?

In case you were wondering, that pungent odor in the air is a burnt batch of Anglican Fudge.

It seems to be a specialty of the "Cuchina Lambeth."

Monday, May 21, 2007

What is pornography?

A little provocative question at the end of the day: What is pornography?

In 1964, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart answered that question this way: "I can't define pornography but I know it when I see it."

My question is: Why do I have to see it in the first place?

Now, I can hardly be defined as a prude, but I just did an image search on the word "pornography" and 95% of what popped up was deeply offensive. I decided to go with the above picture because the looks on the faces of these kids pretty much summed up my exact response.

A few more questions: Is pornography okay in the "privacy of one's own home"? Or, is it only a problem when it upsets someone - like your spouse or partner?

So, it's okay on your personal computer, but not at work? Is that right? The privacy of one's home and all that.

Okay. Let's push that one step further: Is it okay on the rectory computer but not in the parish office?

So, is it okay, then, for clergy to view pornography? Is it okay with you to think that your priest is watching porn? Or, that your (male) clergy colleague can have a relationship of equality with you as a woman or other women and still read . . . view . . . (what IS the appropriate word) porn?

Okay, you want to know what I'm thinking. For what it's worth, here it is:

I don't think pornography in any form - Male/Female, Adult/Child - is appropriate for anyone at any time, but especially for those in Christian leadership.

Why? Well, what we're talking about here is a multi-billion dollar global pornography industry which objectifies the human condition - especially women, children and young adults - and demeans and cheapens it.

I don't think any of it is "harmless."

Rather, I think its effects are pernicious and deeply damaging to the soul - not to mention potentially addictive to the psyche. As such, I don't think it has any place in the Christian life - on church computers or personal lap tops, whether or not someone else "finds" it and is/is not upset by it.

I'm told there is "soft porn" - which, to me, looks like any video done by Beyonce, Jessica Simpson, Fergie, or Mariah Carey.

Of course, "sex sells" but here's my question: Is this 'sex' or is it 'soft' (I'm assuming, as opposed to 'hard core') porn?

What's the difference, really? That's a serious question. I'm just now realizing how very naive and uninformed I am about all of this.

It's not "just" a woman's concern, but as women are most often objectified and demeaned by the pornography industry, I think it's a feminist issue.

More importantly, I think it's is a Christian issue. Certainly, it is one that the Christian Right has defined, and not in particularly helpful ways. I have a classmate in the doctoral program at Drew who is a practicing Christian therapist in NYC, He is very deeply concerned about the growing number of men he sees in his practice who are addicted to porn.

He wants to do his doctoral work on male addiction to porn, but the only Christian research he can find is that done by the Dobeson/Focus on the Family Group which espouses a theology and treatment plan that will sound very familiar - and just as odious - to those of us in the LGBT Community.

So, what IS the appropriate response/theoloy? I think this topic is one that we who consider ourselves progressive Christians would be edified to discuss more fully.

What do YOU think about pornography? How do YOU define it? What do you think about clergy using it? What do you think the appropriate Christian response to pornography ought to be? What mechanisms of accountability are appropriate?

I expect a 150 word essay on my desk in the morning.

Episcopal Cafe: Lessons from Jerry

The following essay by Steve Charleston, former bishop of Alaska and Dean and President of The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA (where Jesus himself went to seminary) can be found at The Episcopal Cafe.

We've come to expect brilliance from Steve and this essay doesn't disappoint. Thanks, Steve, for expanding the conversation and touching our lives, our minds, our souls and our hearts.

Lessons from Jerry
By Steven Charleston

The recent death of the Rev. Jerry Falwell has produced an expected flurry of media eulogies and critiques. Both his supporters and detractors have offered opinions about his legacy. If we read between the lines of these many political post mortems, I believe conservatives and liberals alike can find some lessons that the Falwell experience has to teach us. The question is: which side in the debate will learn the most from these lessons?

Here are four of those lessons for our shared reflection as we look at the mirror that Jerry Falwell holds up to all of us, what ever our faith or politics may be:

Lesson Number One: if you can create a constituency, you can exercise political power far beyond your real numbers. The secret is in perception. Jerry Falwell created the impression of a unified grassroots movement. He influenced politicians and supporters because he claimed to speak for a solid block of public opinion. While he did not invent this process, he certainly refined it in the context of American civil religion.

Lesson Number Two: all social agendas rise and fall on the tide of media exposure. In our culture, images on a screen are validation. Falwell was one of the early practitioners of media religion. By using the most contemporary forms of communication, he was able to galvanize large numbers of people to both see and respond to his message. Even those who disagreed with him were talking about him, and as anyone in show business knows, the fact that people are talking is all that matters.

Lesson Number Three: if public opinion is a tightrope drawn between acceptance and rejection, exaggerated rhetoric is a strong wind. Falwell undercut his own credibility (much like his counterpart, Pat Robertson) with outlandish statements that brought him censure and ridicule. There is a moral gyroscope at the center of culture and it can tilt quickly if any leader steps over the line of reason.

Lesson Number Four: personal power is ephemeral while shared values are enduring. The great preachers of the age come and go, but the message they deliver can be forever if it is embedded in the commitments of a community. Falwell’s community remains a potent and resilient force in both religion and politics. His true legacy will not be in how well he is remembered fifty years from now, but in how many people continue to self-identify with the values (or lack of them) for which he stood.

These four simple lessons, among the many that we may identify, are an integral part of the religious landscape of this century. As both conservative and progressive factions contend for social impact, political power, and moral persuasion in the United States and beyond, these lessons from Jerry Falwell will be acted out over and over again. Certainly Falwell’s constituency will be continuing to press for an agenda of values that embodies their political and social agenda. With just as much certainty, they will be confronted by others whose value system is radically different. Both sides will attempt to unify and focus a community. Both will seek to use the media and technology to expand their base. Both will search for language that invites people to believe and to act. But in the end, both will be measured by how well they can transcend images in order to influence reality.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!

The grandchildren came for the weekend.

What? You didn't expect pictures?

Here's Ms. Abby, now nine months old. She's a veritable leprechaun. Just non stop mischief when she's not being naturally curious and very physical. I'm thinking we have an athlete in the making here.

What pure delight!

And, here's Ms. Mackie - now "five and three quarters" years old.

And, a Princess. Of course.

She couldn't be more completely opposite in temperament from her sister. She's as bright as you please and very much into make-believe and let's pretend. What a joy to watch her imagination and creativity! How even more wonderful to be invited to participate in it with her!

Can you tell we had a FABULOUS weekend?

A Baptismal Love Letter

“. . . .that they all may be one.” John 17:20-26
A Baptismal Love Letter to Madeline and Nolan
Easter VII – May 20, 2007 – The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Dear Madeline and Nolan,

I’ve just returned from spending a day and a half at the wee cottage we own on Rehoboth Bay in Delaware. The weather has been particularly harsh on our property this winter and early spring, and I had to be present while some work was being tended to by the repairmen.

I am never bored in that place, but this time of year in particular, Mother Nature puts on quite a performance. Indeed, it’s hard to get any work done. It’s amazing to watch life return to the marshes around the Bay. The Sea Gulls are always there – the Fred Sanford’s of the Waterways, I call them.

Your parents may remember the character Fred Sanford from the old TV show ‘Sanford and Son’ (It Was ‘Steptoe and Son’ in the original British comedy), about a junk man and his son who scratch out a life together in the junk yard.

The Gulls remind me of Fred – they are always on the lookout for treasure that was carelessly tossed aside or left behind, ready to swoop down and claim it as their own. (“Mine! Mine! Mine!” they cry in the animated film ‘Finding Nemo.”)

The Cormorants are due to return any day. These ‘sea birds’ are magnificent to watch as they swoop down and pluck out a long, slender, black eel from the marsh water, gulping it down in midair as they wing their way back to their tree top nests to finish their meal and then, later, feed their young.

I always say a silent prayer of thanks for their ridding the water of another ugly eel – one less for me to worry about when I’m fishing off the pier. (Euwwwh!)

The White Cranes and the Blue Heron will also soon return – hanging out in the shallow waters of the marsh, looking like something from a prehistoric age and yet strangely majestic and fully present as they patrol the area, elegantly bending their long legs and gracefully tilting their long necks to feast on the great bounty of mosquitoes and grasshoppers and dragonflies all day long.

Much to my delight, I discovered that the Purple Martins have returned – and they have had their first clutch of chicks! One of our neighbors must have put the bird house back up to its highest point – a signal for them to return home.

I call them “The Honeymooners (that’s another very old TV program) because the bird house is sort of an apartment complex affair – and two different families share the space. Lucy and Desi Ricardo are upstairs and to the left and Ethel and Fred Mertz are downstairs and to the right.

Purple Martins mate for life and they and their descendents return to their nest year after year after migrating to South America for the winter. They squabble and squawk at each other, but they are fiercely loyal to their family and absolutely committed to tending to their young until they are able to fly independently. The extraordinary thing about them is that both the male and female Purple Martin share equally in tending to the nest and to their young.

Just yesterday morning, Desi Purple Martin was returning home with a big fat dragonfly in his mouth, obviously food for the babies. Fred Steptoe, one of the Sea Gulls, must have spotted it and, thinking of nothing else than claiming that dragonfly, started to fetch it right out of Desi’s mouth. You could hear Fred calling, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” as he chased after Desi.

The two birds were within inches of the bird house when an amazing thing happened. Desi Purple Martin made a very sharp turn and started heading right for Fred Steptoe Sea Gull’s chest. At which point, Fred Sea Gull stuck out his clawed feet in an attempt to come to a screeching halt in mid air. Had this been a cartoon, you would have heard the soundtrack of tires burning.

Just as Fred Sea Gull started to flap his wings to stabilize himself before reversing direction, Desi Purple Martin transformed himself into a deep purple-black flash in midair. He turned again and flew for safety back into his apartment. Lucy and the kids were cheering him on, while Fred Sea Gull seemed dazed. It was quite a dramatic episode, no doubt repeated several times that very day when I wasn’t watching.

I tell you these things, Madeline and Nolan, because I think Mother Nature has a powerful gospel story to tell you today, the day of your Baptism, about your life as a Christian. I think that message from Mother Nature may be a bit easier for you to understand than the words we heard today from the Gospel of St. John, who can certainly have his way with words, often in a most confusing way.

As I do with all of these baptismal love letters – and Nolan, your big brother Owen and big sister Gwendolyn’s will have them, too as they were baptized here at St. Paul’s (Unfortunately, Madeline, your big sister was not baptized here, but not to worry, she’ll be Confirmed here) – I use the gospel lesson for the day as one of the meditations I hope you will use as you prepare yourself for your Confirmation. Confirmation, of course, is when you will take these baptismal vows, made on your behalf today by your parents and godparents, for your own emerging young adult self.

As I mentioned earlier, John’s gospel can be difficult to understand. The language can get pretty convoluted, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Whew!

Well, when you wonder about that, Madeline and Nolan, I want you to think about the story I just told you about life on Rehoboth Bay. What God wants most from human kind is that which the birds of the air already know. God wants us to be one – to work together to bring balance and harmony to the world which God has created.

Now, hear me clearly, children, because this is a very important message: God wants unity, not uniformity. God does not ask the Purple Martin to be a Sea Gull or a Cormorant to be a Blue Heron. Neither does God want Nolan to be his big brother Owen or Madeline her big sister Elizabeth. God wants you to be the best YOU you can possibly be.

You are one of God’s masterpieces – a unique one-of-a-kind creation. There has never been a you like you before and there won’t ever be anyone else like you ever again. If you work on becoming all of what God has made you to be, nothing will make God happier. Indeed, if each one of us made it our life’s work to become all of what God created us to be, instead of worrying about what everyone else in the world had in their possession or what anyone else was doing, the world would be a much happier place.

Oh, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be squabbling and fussing among us. From time to time we all behave like Fred Sea Gull, blinded by our own greed and swoop in where we don’t belong, trying to get what isn’t ours – sort of like the men we hear about in the first lesson from Acts.

Although we sometimes don’t use them the way they were intended, we do, as humans, have the gifts of “memory, reason and skill.” I believe that we are called in Baptism to take these gifts and use them to care for the gift of creation – to reconcile ourselves to God and with each other that the world may be reconciled in God’s name. That is the essence of our baptismal vows which will be made for you today, which you will claim as an adult.

I believe each of us is magnificently and uniquely made. I believe each one of us is here because there is something God needs and wants done in our lifetime, with the uniqueness of our individual lives, that can’t be accomplished any other way so that the universe will be in balance. One of the great mysteries of life, Madeline and Nolan, is that when we are most ourselves, we are in greater unity with each other.

I don’t know, exactly, how that works. I only know that the Great Mystery that is at the center of the Trinity is the same Great Mystery at the center of our humanity. And, the greatest mystery of all is the mystery of God’s love.

Like life in its most natural state, the simplest things are often the most mysterious – and the most compelling: Love yourself. Love others. Love God. Be uniquely who you are and do the work you are uniquely created to do. And, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we will be one, even as God and Jesus are one.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Anxiety at the Boundary

The clergy of the Diocese of Newark recently met with our Bishop and Chancellor to discuss clergy ecclesiastical discipline as defined in Title IV of the Canons.

The anxiety in the room was as thick as a cloud of incense at Grace Church, Newark.

That anxiety, I think, was two-fold: the first is that the current canons are based on civil law – that would be, in fact, criminal law. It assumes that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

That’s the good part.

The not so good part is that an accusation brings about a veritable sea change in terms of the “natural” pastoral relationship between a bishop and clergy person – priest or deacon - and laity. Effectively, it ends it until there is a resolution of the case - and even then, it may never be the same.

Pastoral care “ex officio” is made available to clergy via another clergy assigned by the bishop. A “Response Team” of pastoral care is also available to the victim/congregation.

Let me be very, very clear at the outset: Clergy - deacons, priests and bishops - as well as the laity who serve in roles of professional pastoral leadership ought to be held accountable for misconduct and boundary violations.

For too long, excuses were made and silences kept that were injurious to the victims - sometimes individuals and sometimes entire communities of faith - as well as to the Body of Christ.

We have long needed a system of accountability which provides for justice, mercy and a humble walk with God.

That being said, the action of any complaint - justified or not, even if never brought to ecclesiastical court trial - is destructive to all pastoral relationship: bishop and clergy, clergy and community, clergy and colleagues. It is a serious matter, not to be taken "lightly or inadvisedly."

I should note that, with the exception of obvious situations of sexual or financial misconduct (which, our Chancellor reported, constitutes most of the complaints), Title IV allegations of say, "conduct unbecoming" can be used against clergy without a whole lot of accountability by the plaintiff.

Indeed, I was recently involved in a situation of counter-presentment against a bishop as a means to level the playing field in unfounded Title IV charges made by that bishop against a clergy woman whose more progressive conduct in support of a city ordinance for domestic partner benefits for its employees was what was REALLY considered "unbecoming" to her more conservative bishop (of course, that was not the stated complaint against her).

After thousands of dollars in legal fees, she finally resigned her position in absolute disgust - which was, no doubt, what her bishop wanted in the first place. Oh, a good financial settlement was negotiated, but her pastoral relationship with her congregation was no longer effective, and that community's relationship with their bishop is permanently strained.

Oh, and did I mention that she has not worked as a priest since the end of that ordeal? Last I heard, she had no intention of returning to work in a parochial setting - and she is one of the finest priests I know.

It should also be noted that information revealed in an ecclesiastical investigation and/or trial could be used if there is a subsequent civil trial – irregardless of the positive or negative resolution or outcome of the church proceedings.

That’s hardly an incentive for the priest or deacon to trust the ecclesiastical process with their status of “innocence until proven guilty.”

I think there was another reason for the anxiety in the room. The unspoken truth is that, for every single one of us, the old saying “there but for the grace of God” found an unsettling truth in our experience of our lives as pastoral leaders.

Like any of the helping professions, there will be those clergy who are aberrations to the norm – who are dishonest, or corrupt, or predators – and are ordained despite the rigors of the canonical process.

The chancellor reported that, in the past 10 years, there have only been approximately six clergy who have had charges brought against them, and only one ecclesiastical court trial which led to the ultimate deposition of that priest.

Of course, there are many ways to interpret that fact and, as far as I’m concerned, one clergy boundary violation is one too many.

That being said, I think that statistic speaks to the fact that the majority of clergy who engage in misconduct and violate boundaries are not, inherently, bad people. They are people like me and you – or your priest or deacon. They are good people who made bad judgments in bad times.

They are, and rightly so, held to a higher standard than people in other positions of leadership.

It can happen so easily it’s frightening. You find yourself working especially hard – managing several difficult pastoral situations all at the same time. Your spouse or partner is also having a difficult time at work and is either preoccupied or working long hours on a project. Either way, s/he’s emotionally unavailable and, truth be told, so are you.

Because of the nature of the work of parish ministry, most of what you do and what people say to you, is strictly confidential. There are precious few people with whom you can discuss your ministry. You fear making a slip, so you being an unconscious process of isolation.

You may find yourself working longer hours – in part because your spouse isn’t home anyway but also because you figure it’s better to keep busy than to dwell on the ache of loneliness that now gathers around your heart.

When one of the members of your congregation makes a snarky remark about having stopped by the office to see you and you weren’t there, or your office door was closed – again! – you find it more abrasive that normal.

Indeed, it begins to have a corrosive effect on your soul. The isolation and work hours increase proportionately. You may find increasing comfort in a glass of wine or a shot of good scotch at the end of the day. Hey, didn't St. Paul advise Timothy of the goodness of "a little wine for the stomach"?

How much is "a little" can become important to define.

One day, as if out of nowhere, you find yourself in a conversation with a parishioner or a clergy colleague and you think to yourself, “My gosh, s/he really understands!”

The next thing you know, you lift your head from the plow you’ve been pushing toward the mountain top and instead, you find yourself on a slippery slope toward a Title IV complaint.

I’m not offering the above scenario as an excuse. I’m just saying that the old, old aphorism is especially operative in this situation: “Desperate people in desperate times do desperate things.”

I guess I’m still operating on my old public health nurse training which is less interested in pathology (as important as it is) than in prevention.

I’m wondering if there might be a self-assessment tool which might be developed – or one that is already in existence that might be adapted – for use by the person in lay or ordained pastoral leadership.

I’m thinking that the office of the “chief pastor” might be particularly interested in the model of prevention vs. pathology and that the members of the House of Bishops might, in fact, authorize the development and use of such a tool of self-assessment for those members of the laity and ordained who are entrusted with the pastoral leadership of the flock of Christ Jesus.

You know. Sort of a semi-annual “check in.”

Perhaps the task is best left to Clergy Associations or various diocesan "Clericus" or Clergy Deaneries or Districts. Who best to develop a "self-assessment" tool than clergy - especially those of us who have been to the border and have made it back again without a violation because we engage in regular self-assessement with our Spiritual Directors, Therapists, Supervisors, Coaches, and/or clergy colleague groups (not to mention regular chiropractic adjustments and periodic full body massages when we can afford them)?

I speak of this as a graduate of a four year Clergy Leadership Project and a grateful attendee of the CREDO Project. Both of these projects are wonderful tools of self-assessment and increased awareness for clergy leadership. But, they are pretty much experiences which, without any leadership or follow up from the office of the “chief pastor,” will remain one which is “once in a lifetime.”

I say this, fully cognizant that Title IV does not include consequences for the boundary violations involving the laity.

This, in my estimation, is a serious oversight.

As the church awakens to the fullness of our baptismal ministry, and more and more positions of leadership are being filled by members of the laity, the church would be wise to extend its efforts of accountability and prevention to laity and clergy alike.

As we consider the consequences for broken boundaries, let us also seriously consider preventative measures.

It seems to me a way to allow grace to triumph over the law.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Ascension

Salvatore Dali's vision of The Ascension of Christ is my favorite.

Of the two collects offered in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, this one has worked its way into my heart.

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Blessed Feast of the Ascension to you! May our hearts and minds be quickened and our souls pregnant with joy and ready to labor as we await the Advent of Pentecost.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Come home, Maddy.

You may have noticed that my darling MadPriest has been absent from his post for almost two weeks now.

He left one last silly joke about the Primates and then it was radio silence.

The rumor is that he is on vacation, but I just know it was something I said.

Oh, there is a group of folk who are trying valiantly to fill the void. They've set up a "shadow blog" they call
"Of course, I Could Be On Vacation."

Dennis, Ann, Eileen,Freedom Bound, K-Lady, and Lapinbizarre have been doing a valiant job of trying to keep up appearances, but it's just not the same.

I'm having "Maddy-withdrawal."

It's a terrible malaise characterized by low energy, unprovoked irritability, an annoying inclination to engage in bickering and complaining, and a foreboding sense of uselessness and hopelessness.

I've spoken to others who exhibit these very same signs and symptoms. Our numbers are legion. It's terrible. Simply awful.

It has to be something I said. I just know it.

This has to be my fault. Everything always is. I grew up believing that my father was often angry and in a bad mood because of me. Typically, his ill humor was due to the fact that my three younger siblings were misbehaving and noisy, which was because as the eldest, I was setting a bad example for them. Furthermore, there where children starving in Viet Nam because I wouldn't eat my Lima beans. Or, children naked in India because I had torn my trousers playing softball.

My mother told me all this, so it must be true. She has since become a very successful certified travel agent for guilt trips.

Well, I've become quite desperate, so I've taken to a desperate solution. I've hired a sky-writing airplane which is set to fly tomorrow at noon. I've asked him to write these words: "Come home, Maddy. Please?"

I had to pay extra for the question mark, but you know how Maddy is about proper punctuation.

I pray that it works. I simply don't know how much longer I can last without his bizarre sense of humour, his biting social commentary, his razor sharp wit, or his brilliant hand at Photoshop.

If you happen to see him 'round the neighborhood, please tell him that whatever it is I've done to displease him, I'm sorry and urge him to come home straightaway.

I mean, since Maddy's been gone, Tony Blair has stepped down, Harry's been banned from serving Iraq, and Falwell is dead.

What's next?

I shudder to think.

Come home, Maddy. Come home. It's just not the same without you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

R.I.P Jerry Falwell.

Jerry Falwell died today at the age of 73.

He is said to be the founder of the "Moral Majority," a conservative movement initiated in reaction to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling which established a woman's reproductive right to include abortion.

Matt Foreman, executive director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, extended condolences to those close to Falwell, but added: "Unfortunately, we will always remember him as a founder and leader of America's anti-gay industry, someone who exacerbated the nation's appalling response to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, someone who demonized and vilified us for political gain and someone who used religion to divide rather than unite our nation."

Perhaps Falwell will be remembered best for his . . ."analysis" . . .of the reason for the disaster of 9/11 as portrayed in the cartoon above.

I think his greatest legacy - and lasting curse - will be that he defined for the general public what it means to be "Christian."

A Falwell Christian is one with a negative, narrow view of the human condition, someone who is both judging and judgmental, who grants forgiveness contingent upon a pledge of allegiance to the god of Falwell's own imaging, and conformity to a way of life strictly prescribed by Falwell's own understanding of the will of God as revealed by his interpretation of the fundamentals of scripture.

When it is learned that someone has died, it has become as automatic to respond, "Rest in Peace" as it is to say, "God Bless You!" when someone sneezes.

As a Christian, I pray that's true for Mr. Falwell.

Because now, it's certainly true for many of the rest of us.

Nigerian 37-37

I found this posted over at Walking With Integrity I especially love the derisive story told about the lawyer by the politician - a little like the pot calling the kettle, well, black.

Should same-sex marriage be allowed in Nigeria?
By Taiwo Olanrewaju


In Nigeria, same-sex relationship has been banned, but many Nigerians are still practising the act. Should it be encouraged, asks Abdul Musediq.

HOMOSEXUALITY has always been in existence from time immemorial, but was rarely an issue to generate public reactions especially in Nigeria until recently. It started generating impulse for the first time in Nigeria a few years ago when a Gay Bishop was to be consecrated within the Anglican Communion in the United States of America (USA). The bulk of old generation Christians in Nigeria belongs to the orthodox setting of which Anglican is a prominent sect, therefore elite Christians who wield influence in the society are many in the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

The issues bordering on same-sex marriage and Gay priests were stiffly opposed by the church authority. This eventually led to the break-away of many African Anglican Churches from the world order, dissociating selves from same-sex marriage which they classified as unholy and ungodly, unfit for existence.

Subsequently, when homosexuality in South Africa became a public issue and many gays and lesbians came out to assert their rights, their counterparts in Nigeria became more confident, but before they knew, a bill had been passed criminalising same-sex relationship. All these notwithstanding, one can’t rule out the fact that homosexuality is very much among us, and those that practise it want to be heard. Speaking with some members of the public, the question the Nigerian Tribune put across was: Should gays and lesbians be given freedom to marry (same-sex marriage) in Nigeria?


Personally, I don’t think the act should be encouraged. However, there are many of them now in secondary schools, especially big secondary schools. In fact, I met one of them recently who told me she decided to become a lesbian after she had committed several abortions. She claimed she has not regretted it, since she was not doing it for money. Though, everybody should have a right to choose what they want to be and how they want to live, I don’t think it is godly, so it must not be encouraged. –Miss Lara Olawale

How can people of same sex engage in love affair? It is unacceptable, how would they procreate? It is totally ungodly. God who created man and woman has a purpose for them. I can never imagine such a thing in Nigeria. –Busayo, legal practitioner

It simply means that the world is coming to an end. God is not happy with it, therefore government should make a law against it with very stiff punishments. Of what benefit or profit is same-sex marriage? That would have defeated the purpose of reproduction as ordained by God.Those who I know were doing it while I was in school were doing it for selfish reasons either economic reason or mad thinking. –Yemi, sales executive

It is uncalled for, it is ungodly, it is against the law of nature. If they legalised it in Nigeria, it means the world is coming to an end. The developed countries which legalised an such act have reached their peak in terms of development and good things, and now they have started diminishing or retrogressing, more like the law of diminishing returns setting in. In our own case we are not even developed, so, we must not talk of diminishing returns. Such laws must not be passed. Many of those gays or lesbians were influenced by foreigners, and in most cases such foreigners took advantage of endemic poverty in the country and lured Nigerians into it by enticing them with money and gift items. I remember a white man (professor) who came to live in my home town some years back. He, indeed, had love affairs with so many young boys working for him and gave them stipends, but only one of his domestic workers refused his advances and today, the guy is a lawyer.-Hussein, politician

It is pure evil act. I don’t want to know why some people engage in it, all I know is that Nigerians must not allow it to happen, otherwise, the nation would soon perish. Such an act must not be enshrined in the fundamental human rights of Nigerians. -Samuel, student

A lesbian, who spoke under anonymity with the Nigerian Tribune, said she was happy dating a female friend but she was not ready to dare the odds and discrimination against homosexuality in Nigeria . “Even as a nurse, none of my colleagues knows that I am a lesbian but some of them may be suspicous. How I wish government can make laws giving us leverage to marry,” she said.

Also, investigation showed that many famous secondary schools now have many gays and lesbians among the students, though unknown to their parents due to the societal discrimination and consequences that may follow.

In some famous girls’-only colleges, lesbians are nicknamed 37-37 . The name was derived from Lele (short from Lesbian). However, to make sure the name is not easily suspected, the word LELE was turnded upside down. Only insiders would understand.

Monday, May 14, 2007

SWF, 26, Seeks UM Ordination

The following essay was sent to me by Rev'd Karen G. Puckett, M.D., in response to my essay on Young Vocations. It was first published in The Relay, August 2006, which is the monthly newsletter of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of the UMC, as a reflection upon the June 2006 gathering of the annual conference, and is reprinted here with the author's permission.

SWF, 26, Seeks UM Ordination

Enjoys silence, long labyrinth walks, images in worship, and as many candles as the altar can hold. Desires life-long relationship with denomination.

When all members of the Annual Conference under thirty to were invited to stand, I leapt to my feet. I wanted very much to be seen in this group and wearing a clergy-colored name tag dot! In addition to the youth delegates, I should have had four clergy colleagues standing with me. Perhaps my cursory count overlooked these four. Or maybe they have crossed the big 3-0 since the statistics were gathered...

Later, when the conference celebrated those with fifty years of ministry, I sat in awe of the perseverance and wisdom that is undeniably present in these golden anniversary clergy. I wondered to myself what it will be like when I am in that group or if God will call me to something else between 2006 and 2055. I wondered if I will be alone. With so few young people entering ordained ministry or becoming local pastors, who will be able to continue for fifty years?

Like the delightful speech we heard on behalf of the retirees at Annual Conference, “this was not my idea!” Were it up to me, I would have chosen something much easier—or at the very least I would have waited fifteen years or so until such a time as I would fit in better among my clergy colleagues. (It is difficult to be 26 in this group. Factor in my “S” and “F,” and it is lonelier still.)

I am delighted and honored to be a green and growing clergywoman among so many wise, seasoned pastors in this conference, though I sometimes find myself explaining apologetically that I went straight through school from pre-school to seminary. (As I understand it, this is the old fashioned way.) I will gladly reflect or debate theologically with anyone, but when it comes to a more personal level of relating, conversation grows more challenging.

I have never been married, divorced, abused, addicted, homeless, or destitute. I cannot reminisce about Carter’s presidency, the days before “U” was added to “MYF,” or a time when polio was a threat to children in this country. Contrary to popular belief, I do not need others to remind me of these obvious truths. I grew up with color TV, barely remember the Reagan years, and started using a computer at age four. Even so, I still have a story. Just because my story is only 26 years long does not make it any smaller than 62 or 97 year stories.

There is a subtle, “What can you possibly offer beyond that textbook knowledge you’re so proud of?” floating in the air. Is this how we approach all young adults in the church? We as a denomination have not found a good place for these persons in their graduate or post-college years who still define “family” as family of origin.

I consistently feel welcomed in the church. Congregations seem to enjoy the novelty of a young woman titled Reverend. (I am one of 93 female local pastors under the age of thirty in the world.) I have found people to be pleased to give me a place in the pulpit (whether or not I have any authority is another matter entirely). From my perch in the chancel I note the lack of twenty- or thirty-somethings in the pews. If young adults are not welcomed, what is to keep them from seeking extra-church agencies when answering God’s call to ministry?

Formal statistics and casual observation alike tell us that the old guard is in need of some new life—not replacements, but additions. We are long overdue in making space and time for young adult voices and stories. Perhaps we will find that the only drastic change needed is a spirit of openness. (Our doors seem open, but I am unprepared to call our hearts and minds open yet.) If we are open to ideas and perspectives, we might even find that incorporating some of them brings a breath of new life and leads the body of Christ closer to wholeness.

(Source of statistics cited here and more staggering stats available from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at, “United Methodist Clergy Age Trends.” For more opinions on young adults in the church/leadership, review the March/April 2006 issue of Circuit Rider.)

By Rev. Karen G. Puckett, M.Div., local pastor and certified candidate (

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Jon M. Richardson, seminarian
May 13, 2007
John 14:23-29; Easter 6C
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul; Chatham, NJ

+In the name of God…

“Actions speak louder than words.”

That’s what she would say to me.

I haven’t heard those words in years, but I can hear her saying them to me as if she were standing next to me – that’s probably because I heard her say them more than once. More than a dozen times, even.

“Actions speak louder than words.”

I was what an unsuspecting bystander might have chosen to call a “precocious” child. I was smarter than I had any right to be and I knew how to use the cuteness of my youth and the sweetness of my proper Southern upbringing to weasel my way out of almost any trouble that I might get myself into.

Yes, people who knew no better might have called me “precocious” but my mother did know better. She knew that I could be, as she sometimes described me, a “pill”. She knew that I was smart, but she also knew that I would occasionally use that to be “smart mouthed”.

She believed that I was cute, but she usually refused to allow that to color her experiences of me when I had misbehaved. She would occasionally melt under the sweetness of my proper Southern upbringing, but usually she could see right through it. She had, after all, instilled it in me.

I wasn’t a bad child. Just a “pill”. And despite my mother’s nearly limitless patience, I would occasionally push even her limits and she would have to firmly put me back into my place. On those occasions I would realize that I had overstepped some boundary and that I would have to summon all of the sweetness of my proper Southern upbringing if I were to salvage the moment.

Somewhere along the way I learned that I could stop, look up at my mother with the sweetest and most innocent eyes that I could conjure, and say, “Momma… I love you.”

Of course she crumbled… What God-fearing, salt-of-the-earth, saint of a woman like my mother wouldn’t? Who among us wouldn’t absolutely melt in the presence of a sweet, proper child professing his innocent love for another?

Yes, the first time I did that she crumbled in my hands. Even the second time I tried to pull that little trick she backed down from her posture of annoyance. I thought that I had struck gold!

I found three magic words, which, when properly blended with calculated postures of vulnerability, would yield the inconceivable – I had single-handedly, upset the power balance between parent and child! No longer would I be bound by good-behavior or manners. No longer would I be forced to do what I was told. There was a new sheriff in town.

But then I tried my little trick a third time. I had been misbehaving. More than likely I was being “asinine” – which I understood to be like unto being a “pill” but much more severe. When I had gone too far and when I was on the verge of making my mother extremely angry, I stopped and interjected a profession of my love for her.

And then I heard those other magical words that would change my life:

“Actions speak louder than words.”

Though my love for my mother was genuine – I wasn’t lying when I told her that I loved her – but my use of that love had not been borne of pure intentions. And to my surprise, she was able to see right through it. What I had misperceived as her weakness that I could exploit, I found instead to be a sign of her desire to teach me a deeper understanding of love – a kind of un-tethered love that is too profound and too sacred to be captured by empty words. It was the kind of love that she obviously held for me.

Through these past weeks, as we have journeyed together through Eastertide, the reality of Jesus’ love, like that of a mother, has been pressed upon us and offered to us for deeper consideration.

Just a few weeks ago we heard the story of Peter, who despite having denied the love of Jesus three times on the night before his death, was found three times to be professing his love to the risen Christ. Each time Peter was instructed to respond to that love with active love for others.

Christ said, “Feed my sheep,” but it might as well have been my mother saying, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Last week we were reminded of the new commandment of Jesus: to love one another as Jesus has loved God’s creation. He is not calling us to immature love characterized only by words, but to a deeper understanding of love that is characterized by presence and participation in the lives of others. Through that presence and participation in the lives of others we will experience the presence and participation of God in our own lives.

And in today’s readings we enter what some have called “the Advent of the Spirit” – the unofficial time of preparation for Pentecost, when we will celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit by God in the name of Christ – the giving of God’s wisdom and love which moves among us.

And even still, Jesus is reminding us that love requires action. He says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Not only is our love to be expressed through the action of keeping Jesus’ word – to love one another – but that love will be shared with us in kind by God, and it will be made known to us through God’s continued presence and participation in our lives.

This is the central message of our Baptismal Covenant. We recite the ancient words of the creed as an affirmation of our faith, but we recognize that our words are not enough if we fail to support them with action.

So the Covenant goes on to ask five questions – each of them designed to direct us to action. They are designed to pull our focus away from the serenity of the font. Like the light of the Paschal Candle, the impact of our Baptism into the Body of Christ should radiate out into the world. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” It is not enough for us to confess our love. That confession must be matched with our presence and our participation in the lives of each other.

I sometimes wonder if my mother knew the impact that those five simple words would have on me throughout my life.

“Actions speak louder than words.”

In teaching me that lesson, she was giving me a call to action from which I could never turn. She was right. And even though, in that moment, I was being an asinine child, I was stopped in my tracks.

Oh I tried to argue with her – because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my newfound power. But my heart wasn’t really in it anymore. I knew that she had revealed an essential flaw in my thinking. I knew a little more clearly in that moment what love could be. And I knew that I was, like all of us are, called to share it.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

There, is everybody happy now?

From Episcope
New from GTS
Clarification of the status of Mr. James McGreevey as a student at GTS

James McGreevey, after more careful study of the guidelines for ordination in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, has decided to enter GTS as a full-time non-degree student rather than as student in the Seminary's Master of Divinity program. His request for this change has been accepted by Dean Ewing. Having previously met General’s admissions requirements, including evaluations by a committee composed of faculty members, several students and the Director of Admissions, Mr. McGreevey will begin classes in September.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Youth may be wasted on the young . . . .

. . .but are 'young vocations' wasted in the church?"

While there are those whose breath is hot with the word “schism” in the church, there is yet another phrase that is all the rage: “Young vocations.”

We say we want them. We say we need them. But, do we?


My experience is that Commissions on Ministry – and many bishops – are ambivalent if not deeply conflicted about the issue.

For the past three years, I have had the pleasure of having three young people under the age of thirty discerning a vocation to the priesthood here at St. Paul’s. I love their energy, their enthusiasm, their theology and Christology, and their understanding of the role and mission and ministry of the church in this still-brand-new millennium.

They have knowledge and skills and talents I know I did not have at their age. And, they can preach! They have something – often, some very important things – to say about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they articulate them with creativity and innovation, occasionally with a post-modern poetic eloquence all its own.

And, they are young. Meaning, not quite fully matured. Meaning, that their confidence can often feel like arrogance – and, occasionally is. The ‘underside’ of their gifts and graces is often exposed in ways that can raise an eyebrow – as well as some concern.

Their creativity can feel irreverent. Their boldness can feel like unnecessary risk-taking. Their enthusiastic, headlong embrace of the task at hand without careful attention to detail can feel like disobedience to systems of accountability. Their penchant for a more casual dress can feel disrespectful. Their youthful energy and enthusiasm can feel challenging to the “more mature” adult clergy person.

I could go on, but anyone who has worked with folks in this age group gets the picture.

Oh, perhaps I didn't mention this: They can be very, very threatening – especially to those whose career path has veered off in a direction which has led to disappointment or whose present situation is not as satisfying as it once might have been. This can lead to an undiagnosed but nonetheless virulent case of the ‘Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas’.

Suddenly, and without any warning, a dreadful monster appears where there once was a mild-mannered priest. The monster sits with flashing green eyes, arms crossed and locked firmly across the chest, saying “Harumph!” quite a bit, when not saying things like, “There’s something about him/her that makes me feel, oh, I don't know, ‘uneasy.’”

As a member of the Standing Committee, I am invited to attend Commission on Ministry meetings. I attended one a year or so ago and sat in on a small group interview of a young man who had been one of my seminarians. He was twenty-six years old at the time, bright, articulate, creative, funny, and wise beyond his years. He also happens to be one of the best preachers I've ever heard. It’s not hard to imagine a miter on his head one day.

Raised in a non-denominational, evangelical church in the Midwest, he became a Methodist while in college, proving correct the predictions made about him by his local pastor who said, “Son, if you go off to college and get an education, you'll lose your religion.”

He had entered theological school directly after college graduation but fell in love with the Episcopal Church and was received during his first year of seminary. He also met and fell in love with the woman who would soon become his wife, who had been raised and remained a Methodist and was also pursuing the ordination tract.

The day he came before the COM, he had completed three years of seminary, having graduated with awards for liturgics and preaching. He had also completed a year of Anglican studies at an Episcopal Seminary as well as two years of therapy which the COM had required of him, and was excitedly preparing for his soon-to-be wife’s graduation from seminary and ordination in the Methodist church.

They were planning to return to the Midwest where they would be married and live in the Parsonage provided by his wife’s church while he worked with his new bishop to find a community to serve.

He had no sooner left our small group interview when the leader of the group, a thoughtful, middle-aged ordained woman, sighed deeply and said, “Oh, I just wish that his first big disappointment, his first big ‘No’, was going to come from any institution other than the church. He’s so wonderful, but he’s so young. I really want him to marinate a bit longer in Anglican juices.”

When I found the strength to pick my jaw up off my chest, I tried to reign in my astonishment and said, “But, you can't have it both ways. You can't, on the one hand, ask for and actively promote ‘young vocations’ and on the other hand, expect him to come with ten years of mature experience from another institution.”

“Oh, I know,” she said, as other members of the COM nodded their heads in agreement with her, “but he’s going to be moving soon, settling into a new home, getting married, his wife is going to be ordained and starting a new job, and he'll be looking for and starting a new job in the church. It’s all too much all at once. Another year of waiting won't hurt him and it will certainly be a great benefit to him.”

To my utter distress, I looked around the room and saw heads nodding in agreement with her. “But, what kind of job do you think he'll get without ordination? Have you any idea how much debt from student loans both these young people might be carrying? How is he to be expected to begin paying them off? He'll have to look for work outside the church in order to earn a living and what good would that do his vocation?”

“Well,” she huffed, now obviously annoyed with my position, “perhaps in that year he'll get that first big institutional disappointment and it won't be with the church.” Before I could say anything more, she quickly changed the subject.

His ordination was, indeed, delayed. Six months. Which, no doubt, made a HUGE difference in his maturity and ability to be more thoroughly Anglican. (Not!)Thankfully, the bishop in his new diocese saw right through the problem and found him part time work in a local church working with a seasoned priest who desperately needed his help.

I wish I could tell you that he is the only one to be treated this way. He is decidedly not. Indeed, the young theological students with whom I have spoken say things like, “You know, I am really thinking of transferring to another diocese/other denomination that really means what it says about young vocations.”

Oh, there are those who are young who sail right through the ordination process. They are the “good candidates” – the ones who don’t raise any red flags, who do every exactly as they are told, who are perfect in every way. Frankly, those kids give me the willies. I think they are precisely the ones who are at risk for future clergy boundary violations.

Of course, African American and Hispanic men and women in the ordination process have been complaining about their own process for years. Oh, we say we welcome ‘diversity’ but when people of various ethnicities walk in our door, they do not see that diversity reflected in the ordained leadership.

Women – especially ‘women of a certain age’ – have also heard the great institutional lies about what the church thinks it needs. Over and over again, organizational studies indicate that if you want diversity in your ‘audience’ (congregation), you must have diversity in your leadership.

I must confess, however, that as distressing as both these situations are, I am absolutely flummoxed about what I'm seeing in my own diocese as well as hearing how diocesan COM’s and some bishops are handling ‘young vocations.’

I'm wondering if the problem doesn't lie in the very nature of COM. In good Episcopal fashion, our canon law regarding the ordination process has an organic interdependence and mutual accountability that some refer to as “checks and balances.” The bishop “presents” the person for ordination, the COM “recommends” and the Standing Committee “certifies” and “consents.”

I'm wondering if therein lies the rub. Members of the COM are appointed by the bishop, not elected by convention. Clearly, they are an advisory body to the bishop, not a representative constituency of the diocese. There are usually no criteria for appointment to the COM and rarely any training for the enormity and sacredness of their task.

COM members are never, to my knowledge, examined in the same way that aspirants, postulants and candidates are to determine their theology, Christology or ecclesiology. They are not required to submit to a background check for past brushes with the law much less personal indiscretions, misconduct or boundary violations. Laity are never questioned as to their understanding of the role and function of clergy or asked to share stories of their relationships with their previous or present rectors.

Finally, as corporate members as well as individuals, they have no institutional power other than the power of their own personal influence and persuasion or that which the bishop delegates to them.

I don't know how you read that, but that seems to me like a set up for disaster. I suppose, then, that we shouldn't be surprised that there are as many COM disasters as have become customary in so many dioceses.

The pendulum in The Episcopal Church is notorious for swinging back and forth with amazing speed. Some of this is good as a self-corrective impulse, but without a careful analysis of the role and function of the COM, I am concerned that we are raising up a new generation of leaders who are entering their roles with a bad taste in their mouths for the workings of the institutional church. Despite what they learn in seminary, what, by our behavior, are we teaching and modeling for them concerning Christian leadership?

Our last General Convention approved major revisions to Title III Canons about the ordination process. I believe it is now time to turn our attention to a more careful analysis of the role and function of the COM in priestly formation. Indeed, I think this piece of analysis is critically important.

Based on my experience over the past twenty years of ordained ministry, and my observation of the way ethnic minorities, women, and young vocations are treated and managed in the ordination process, I am strongly persuaded to believe that nothing less than the future of our church is at stake.

Ah, the church! It was ever thus!

Today in History: On this day in 1692, Anglicanism was made the state church of Maryland.

Three years later this was overturned.

The state had originally been founded by Lord Baltimore to provide a refuge for Roman Catholics.

(One wonders what 'Big Pete' would have done had he been around in 1692. Then again, perhaps he was and all of this is just a recurrent nightmare. You know. Like "Groundhog Day" for Episcopalians and Anglicans.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On Being Irrelevant

I'm hearing that the last plenary meting of the Panel of Reference, which was meant to last three days, finished after only six hours.

Apparently, once you come face to face with the reality of your own irrelevance, the best thing to do is pack your bags and go home.

(931) 08-May-2007 - Panel of Reference Review of Work - ACO

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference met in the offices of the Anglican Communion Secretariat during the week beginning 30 April 2007.

In its meeting, it reviewed its work so far and discussed how best to follow up the work that had already been undertaken.

It has currently completed outstanding work on all the references made to it by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Panel also reviewed the Report which the Chairman, the Most Rev' d Dr Peter Carnley AO, had made to the Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam in February, and authorised him to release an updated version.

The Panel also set dates for future meetings in late 2007 and in 2008.

Review of the Work of The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference can be found

Aaaaaah - CHOO!

I love Spring.

I hate what it does to my body.

I have allergies. I developed them in my late 30’s when I moved to the Balto-D.C. area, also known as “the pollen belt.” I’ve always considered it my body’s punishment and revenge for moving this New England body even that far South.

I have spent the past few days feeling as if I’m moving through thick fog. My energy level is down, my eyes are red and watery, my nose drips and I have an annoying little cough from the drip at the back of my throat.

I know. I’m beginning to sound like a set up for a television commercial hawking an allergy relief medicine. Not to worry. I’m well stocked.

I’ve got a prescription drug antihistamine and decongestant (at $52 a bottle) which is, no doubt, making me feel sluggish and low energy, a small bottle of prescription allergy relief eye drops (at $72 a bottle), some prescription something or other to squirt up my nose twice a day (at $48 a bottle), and boxes of tissue everywhere (on sale at 3 boxes for $5).

Not only am I still miserable, I’m broke.

I mentioned this to my doctor today who said, “Trust me, you’d be feeling much worse without the medication.” I trust him implicitly but it’s hard to imagine.

Tree pollen. My allergy is tree pollen. So while the rest of you oooh and aaah over the lovely white Chinese pear tree and the cherry tree blossoms, all I can see is tree pollen.

As my beloved said, “Hey, think of it this way: it’s just trees having sex in your eyes.” Yeah, well, I wish they’d get a room – someplace far away from me.

My other seasonal allergy is to willow. I find that fascinating A herbologist in D.C. once told me that, in the Middle Ages, ground willow was often given to soldiers before going off to war. It was considered a substance which would give a person courage.

I suppose it was the more ancient form of Garrison Keillor’s Powder Milk Biscuits. As he would say: “Heavens they’re tasty and expeditious! They’re made from whole wheat and give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.”

I’m fascinated that, in addition to tree pollen, I’m also allergic to that which gives a person courage. What does that mean, do you suppose? Do I have too much courage? Is it indicative of a hormonal imbalance? Or, is it just a metaphor for my life, somehow? A message my body is trying to give me?

Once my head is less foggy, I’ll work on coming up with an answer. Right now, I think I'll go cook up a batch of Powder Milk Biscuits. I’m far from shy, but I am needing something to give me "the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.”

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Civil Unions, anyone?

Bishop Beckwith has given The Oasis permission to create a list of clergy willing to perform civil unions as a resource for same sex couples who wish for their ceremonies to be performed by clergy. As civil agents of the state, clergy are legally permitted to perform civil unions and canonically there is nothing to prevent clergy from performing them and blessing the union.

Hard copies of this letter were sent to all diocesan clergy last month, but as response to the letter has been spotty we have been asked to re-send the letter via email.

The Bishop has a standard of expectations for any clergy performing civil union partnerships.

1. Civil Union ceremonies may be performed in church.

2. A record of the service may be recorded in the parish register.

3. It is the choice of the clergyperson, as in marriage, whether or not they will perform civil unions, and

4. The same requirements and expectations exist for civil unions – counseling, participation in the life of the church community and congregation, etc. – that the clergyperson and church require for marriage. If it is a second relationship, permission needs to be given by the bishop (as in a second marriage request).

5. Guidelines for the service may be obtained from the Civil Union Task Force.

As you probably know, the Bishop has established a Civil Union Task Force to help respond to this new legal opportunity, chaired by Ms. Barbara Conroy and the Rev. Phil Wilson. In the meantime, if you are looking for services of blessing The Oasis has on file several approved ceremonies of blessing which are available by e-mail to anyone in the diocese who requests them.

If you have not already done so please let The Oasis know if you would like to be included on the list of clergy willing to perform civil unions. You can send a note of your willingness to The Oasis by e-mail to or to The Oasis, 31 Mulberry Street, Newark, NJ 07102.



John Simonelli, Commission Chair