I’m not a big fan of January. Ever since I was a child, January has been my least favorite month of the year. I’m not quite sure why. I guess it has something to do with the weather and the general let-down that comes after the Christmas holidays. My father always insisted on taking down the Christmas tree on New Year’s Day which I found rather depressing. As an adult married couple, my wife and I much prefer to wait until January 6th or beyond to perform this least favorite task of the year. I am even intrigued by those cultures and traditions that keep the tree up until February 2, Candlemas Day but imagine the pine needles that would have to be cleaned up. Maybe my problem with January is also the frustration about New Year’s resolutions that go unfulfilled, although I have been sticking to my diet so far. It’s not that interesting and even enjoyable things don’t occur in January. Also, in January, the days start to become longer by one or two minutes each day which will be rather noticeable by the end of the month. Nonetheless, I know that when February 1st comes around, I will breathe a huge sigh of relief.
As we prepare our Thanksgiving feasts and look forward to Christmas, we invite you to take the time to celebrate Advent. Advent can be a wonderful time to pause and reflect on the miracle that is to come. To help you celebrate this season, we’ve gathered a baker’s dozen of resources below. From all of us at ECF, we pray that your Advent is filled with peace, health and hopeful anticipation.
1. Find Advent and Christmas resources from The Episcopal Church here, including an updated Journeying the Way of Love Advent calendar and curriculum, weekly collects for Advent and Christmas Day, and Advent and Christmas Digital Invitation Kits. Most of their resources are also available in Spanish and French.
As churches emerge from pandemic practices and take a fresh look at the way we used to do things, many are pondering what aspects of the past two years might carry over or influence our liturgies ahead. Some are committed to continuing worship online one way or another, some are challenged by the thought of returning to the common use of a common chalice. Some are wondering how they will exchange the Peace. The hand sanitizers that appeared in abundance in 2021 are sliding into the shadows. In all these things, the church is being given an invitation to enrich and expand its liturgical practices and understanding. Will we accept the invitation?
Ablutions, ceremonial washing of the priest and people, have been part of worship, or preparation for worship, for centuries. Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all have traditions of washing hands, face, and even feet, before prayer. Many Episcopal Churches maintain the ancient custom of keeping a bowl of baptismal water by the entrance to the church for people who want dip their fingers and sign themselves with the cross upon entering the nave. In addition to reminding worshippers of their baptism, this practice is a remnant of the medieval hand-washing before the Eucharist. Another tradition is the use of a lavabo bowl, held by an acolyte who then pours water over the celebrant’s fingers after the altar has been prepared and before the Eucharistic Prayer. Often, while engaging in this symbolic washing, the priest recites a verse from the psalms, “I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord” (Psalm 26) or “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51).
This month we offer resources for the upcoming season of Lent. In addition to resources from ECFVP, below you will find five resources from around the Church to help you observe Lent. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.
I understand why harps, lyres and trumpets are associated with angels. The notes of harps and lyres dreamily float. Trumpets blast, demanding attention to God’s impending Words and action. What I do not understand, however, is why timpani are not included in the realm of angelic orchestrations.
I might never have thought of this were it not for the wonderful timpani that a parishioner at my church donated to our music ministry. The kettles’ full, deep sound on Christmas Eve 2019 rolled through the nave, gathering our scattered thoughts and moving us to our feet in anticipation. O come, all ye faithful! Hark! The angels have good news!
There just had to be timpani that first Christmas night…
“No, I did not get ordained online.” Let’s add that to the list of phrases I never thought would hear myself say.
I recently officiated at a destination wedding. About an hour before the ceremony, the audio technician asked me to do a sound check. Needing something to say as he pressed buttons and turned knobs on his control board, I began reciting from memory a passage that we would all be hearing later that evening: “Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of…”
“That’s enough,” he interrupted. “You’re a real pro.”
“Thank you. I am actually a professional. I went to seminary and everything.”
“Really?” he asked with a blend of shock and incredulity. “Most of the officiants I work with got ordained online.”
Christmas is always a special time in New York City. With the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the department store window displays, and the throngs of tourists and shoppers, the city sparkles, bustles, and hums during the holiday season. After settling for virtual events and subdued celebrations in 2020, there is plenty of pent-up demand and even expectations for a “normal” New York Christmas this year.
And I know that this sentiment is shared by people throughout the country and even the world – we need a normal Christmas, and we need it now.
As we prepare to close the books on this second year of the pandemic, we invite you to take the time to celebrate Advent. Advent can be a wonderful time to pause and reflect not just on what has happened, but what is to come. To help you celebrate this season, we’ve gathered ten resources below. From all of us at ECF, we pray that your Advent is filled with health and hopeful anticipation.
1. 5 Ways to Prepare Ye is a short and practical article to help Episcopalians recognize and observe the differences between Advent and Christmas.
2. Journeying the Way of Love Advent Curriculum: The Episcopal Church has produced this four-week curriculum that moves through the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke. It’s perfect for use during your Christian Formation hour before or after church and can be used by small or large groups.
Come Holy Spirit and kindle the fire that is in us.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire. Amen.
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”
Not long after I was elected Bishop of Kansas, I was in a small coffee shop not far from Coffeyville, Kansas. There I sat, resplendent in my sincere suit, brand new purple shirt, and the shiny new pectoral cross generously given to me by my former parishioners at Saint Michael and All Angels, in Dallas, Texas. The cross, modest by Texas standards… was very likely the largest golden object in Southeastern Kansas at the time.
A regionally famous billboard along I-65 near Prattville, Alabama reads: “Go to church or the Devil will get you.”
Did a shudder just run down your spine? Mine too.
The billboard makes no mention of God or faith, of selflessness or devotion. Salvation is sold for the price of attendance. It calls to mind the famous words of Johan Tetzel that so troubled Martin Luther in the days before the Reformation: “As soon as a coin in the [church’s] coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” While this billboard’s message feels too transactional for my taste, there are transactional elements to the relationship of the church and its people. People come to church looking for something and the leaders of sustainable churches need to know what that is.
We do not know the history of the shack. It was already well worn in 2011, when the Church of the Advocate became the stewards of the site on which it stands. It has a doorstep and windows, so it is not a shed. It was likely inhabited by a humans along the way, probably sharecroppers, back when the church site was part of a farm. The steps are cement and the nails are made by machine and not by human hands. So it likely does not date to before the 20 century.
I don’t know when we started to notice the vultures. First there was one, then, on occasion, two. It was in 2017, when the Godly Play kids went exploring with their teacher that we started making the connection between the shack and the vultures. As the kids got close to the shack, they heard the vulture rustling about inside, then out she flew, catalyzing cries of fright and delight. The shack had clearly become the vulture’s den.
As we begin to really examine the implications and possibilities surrounding the continuation of Virtual Worship (VW) within The Episcopal Church (TEC), there are several significant aspects to such a proposal that bear our attention: logistics, standardizations, and theology, to name a few. Logistical planning is not one of my special skills, and standardization requires far more authority than I possess, so I’m going to stay in my lane and look at the theological basis for the sacraments and explore the possibility of their translation within a virtual setting.
Every month ECFVP offers resources on a theme. This month we've asked 2015 ECF Fellow the Rev. Dr. Reed Carlson to choose five resources from Vital Practices to highlight. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
As many cautiously return to church with the loosening of strict pandemic guidelines, church leaders are also facing the issue of congregants being reluctant to return to church.
As with the national conversation on employees refusing to go back to work the knee-jerk reaction is that people are lazy and prefer to stay at home in their pajamas.
Just as the secular world is examining the issues of reluctance so should the church.
Here are a few observations on reluctance:
The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to examine and adapt our lifestyles across the board- working from home (#WFH) became the new normal, even growing increasingly through new software platforms and new approaches to conducting business. The Church has not been insulated from this, and our reactions have brought forth a great many questions and concerns about the functionality of our place as ministers and shepherds in a landscape so drastically changed. Nearly every single priest friend I have has commented on their personal struggles with how to be a parish priest without a parish present in the pews; how to find meaning in their role as a priest, both in interacting with their parishioners, and in their own personal spiritual nourishment.
In my book, Behold What You Are: Becoming the Body of Christ, I suggest defining liturgy as “the work of the people and a public work, expressing and forming of the Body of Christ, given for the world.” As such, whenever we find ourselves planning or preparing for a liturgy, we might ask:How is this liturgy engaging the people? How is this liturgy public? How will this liturgy express who we are as the Body of Christ? How will it form us as the Body of Christ, given for the world?
We can apply these questions to everything from how we welcome to how we sing, from how we collect the offerings to how we send people forth.