May 17, 2022 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

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).

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May 3, 2022 by Sandy Webb

“This can be the next rector’s problem,” I said to myself.

A silk dossal curtain hung behind the altar at Church of the Holy Communion in Memphis. It measured almost twenty feet tall and fourteen feet wide – a royal blue damask field with gold bands and appliqued image of the ascending Christ. Wippell made the curtain for us in the early 1950s, shortly after Holy Communion moved to its current site. The dossal presided over every Eucharist, offered hope at every funeral, and appeared in every wedding and graduation picture for three generations. But, it had begun to show its age: The fabric was threadbare and the porcelain tone of Jesus’ skin reflected the artistic sensibilities of a former age.

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May 2, 2022 by Donald Romanik

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending Holy Week and Easter in Abilene, Texas, where our son, David, is rector of Church of the Heavenly Rest. In addition to spending delightful time with our three granddaughters, we attended multiple church services with moving liturgy, inspiring preaching, great music, and lots of people. Everyone seemed so happy to be together and, after two years, have “normal” celebrations. Due to the ruling of a federal judge, the mask mandate was lifted on our flight back to New York – yet another indication of normalcy.

Based on anecdotal evidence, it seems as though Heavenly Rest was not unique and that most Episcopal parishes enjoyed robust holiday services which has generated some excitement, enthusiasm and even optimism. Was this just an Easter “flash in the pan” or an indication of new vitality? Might this mean that the pandemic slump in church attendance is finally behind us, and people will be coming back to church as before? Might we even be turning a corner when it comes to numerical decline?

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April 21, 2022 by Michael Carney

Eugene Peterson spent most of his adult life serving as a pastor. He was also a scholar and was best known for The Message translation of the Bible, but that came out of his struggles to help people pray. “Getting started is easy enough,” he wrote. “The impulse to pray is deep within us, at the very center of our created being. ‘Help’ and ‘Thanks!’ are our basic prayers.”

Over the years, Peterson found that people often seemed “awkward and out of place” as they tried to deepen their conversation with the Creator. When they felt inadequate, Peterson would “put the Psalms in a person’s hand and say, Go home and pray these. They’re the real thing: honest, true and personal in their response to God.” (The Message, Introduction to the Psalms)

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April 5, 2022 by Sandy Webb

The Episcopal Church needs to ask bigger questions.

Pastoral training has long taught us to look for the bigger questions: Is this person really upset about the color of the new carpet or does this person feel that too much is changing too quickly? Is this person really angry about last week’s sermon or is there something going on at home?

We are more effective pastors when we identify underlying issues and address them directly. The same principle applies when we take our place in the councils of the church: If we ask the bigger questions, we will get better results.

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March 24, 2022 by Michael Carney

Twenty years ago, I heard such a powerful sermon that it’s still vivid today. Bishop Mark MacDonald, now the Indigenous Anglican Archbishop of Canada, invited us to picture Jesus and his followers through the eyes of an eagle, soaring high above them. Imagine the “great multitude of people” gathered to hear the Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s Gospel (6:17).

An eagle looking down would have seen Jesus right in the center, with “all in the crowd trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” Peter and the other eleven were right by Jesus’ side, surrounded by “a great crowd of his disciples.” Luke makes it clear that all kinds of people were on the road with Jesus: women and men, elders and kids, folks from every walk of life. Jesus connected with all of them, regardless of their backgrounds.

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March 10, 2022 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

Episcopalians know that words matter. Words in our liturgy express what we believe and form who we become. The same is true of the words we use to tell our particular church’s story.

When telling the story of our congregation, parish or mission, do we refer to the year in which we were founded? Planted? Maybe we just say “started”, or, “We began worshipping together as a community in 1928.”

To be founded or established suggests something set in stone, unshakable. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord. Christ is made the sure foundation, yes. For an establishment church, the language of establishment and foundation seems fitting. But for a church that is the Body of Christ given for the world, to be launched may be far more accurate.

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March 3, 2022 by Michael Carney

It’s painful to see the forces of darkness at work, even when the violence is thousands of miles away. It hurts because we all know, in different ways, what it’s like to suffer. We picture the people of Kiev (the capital of Ukraine) fleeing their bombarded homes in midwinter. We hear of thousands huddling in subway stations for safety and imagine the terror of tanks invading their streets.

How could that be happening to such a peaceful nation? It’s simple, really: to satisfy a petty dictator’s lust for power and empire. Once again, evil is at work in the world, visible to everyone. Bishop Steven Charleston called it “the shadow of the bully, cast long across the playground of time.” Sadly, it’s not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last.

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March 2, 2022 by Donald Romanik

I am fascinated by the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christians know who they are, know what they believe, and know what they need to do to be faithful members of their local church. Orthodox theology, liturgy and practice are rooted in the Creeds and the historic ecumenical councils of the church. Unlike other Christian expressions, these basic elements of the faith are considered universal and timeless and are not subject to modification through the chances and changes of denominational governing bodies.

I also admire Orthodox Lenten disciplines and practices, especially those associated with fasting. Actually, Orthodox Christians are called upon to fast at various times during the year, including every Wednesday and Friday. And this is a strict fast requiring abstinence from meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, olive oil, and wine and other alcoholic beverages. Recognizing the challenges of such a diet, Orthodox clergy encourage their faithful to adopt these practices gradually and to even consider such a fast only during the first and last weeks of Lent. The stated reason for fasting is not just to follow the rules but, more importantly, to empty ourselves from the cares and concerns of the world – a means of preparation and conditioning which will enable us to serve God and grow closer to God. And, according to Orthodox teaching, fasting involves abstinence from everything that distances us from God and must be accompanied by good works and other spiritual practices.

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February 17, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

What’s our response as Christians – individually and collectively – when we find ourselves in the midst of a storm?

My God, why is this happening to me? God is testing me: I’m going to suit up for battle. What a storm! I’m going to grab my surfboard and ride the wave.

We’ve all been in a constant state of multiple unexpected changes since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Work closures, sickness, death, vaccines and boosters, viral variants, mask wearing, kids home from school, relocations, shortages, travel restrictions, and lockdowns have become a regular part of our daily existence.

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February 14, 2022 by Sandy Webb

This will be the least romantic St. Valentine’s Day essay you will ever read. That’s because today is not St. Valentine’s Day.

Check your liturgical calendar: The patron saint of lovers, people with epilepsy, and beekeepers was removed from the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1969. He does not appear in the Episcopal Church’s calendar either. February 14 is reserved throughout the Catholic and Episcopal world not for the commemoration of St. Valentine, but to honor the blessed memories of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, ninth century missionary bishops to the Slavs whose story should still inspire us today.

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February 8, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

It is everywhere on social media:

Got a new car! #blessed

Spending a week in Rome! #blessed

Promotion! #blessed

The use of this hashtag has always troubled me. In my experience, the vast majority of people using #blessed are doing so to celebrate some material gain. The not-so-subtle implication is that before getting the new car, spending a week in Rome, or being promoted, they were not blessed. Perhaps worse, until and unless you acquire things or experiences (that frequently seem to involve large sums of money) you are not blessed.

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January 31, 2022 by Michael Carney

Only once in the forty years we’ve been married have I picked out a gift for my wife that she really liked. We were on vacation, walking around a little mountain town on a summer evening. She admired a necklace she saw in a shop window, but they were closed and we were leaving early the next morning. The following week I called the store and arranged for the necklace to be shipped, surprising (and delighting) Marsha on her birthday.

Though we stopped giving each other presents long ago, sharing gifts is really important to us. The gift of making a home together. The gift of raising up wonderful children. The gift of planting gardens wherever we went, surrounding ourselves with beautiful flowers and luscious tomatoes.

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January 12, 2022 by Donald Romanik

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 always 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.

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.

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December 30, 2021 by Sandy Webb

Last month, Greg Syler posted an essay, You Keep Using that Word “Parish”, that challenged us to use the word “Parish” in a more intentional and historically accurate way – referring to a geographic area rather than to a specific type of congregation. In this essay, I would like to challenge our use of the other word that we use to describe our congregations: “Mission”.

The dictionary defines “Mission” as a specific task to be completed, or as a vocational calling. The canons of most dioceses define “Mission” as a congregation that is not self-sustaining. These two could not be more different. The dictionary definition is filled with purpose; the canonical definition is characterized by scarcity.

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December 28, 2021 by Ken Mosesian

$10.4 billion annually. That’s what the so-called “self-help” industry is worth. By 2025, that number is expected to grow to $14 billion.

Search “what’s my purpose?” and about 6,860,000,000 results will be returned.

It’s a question I’ve long struggled with until this past year. Something came to me during one of my early morning walks with my dog, who is the best meditation partner one could hope for. My purpose, in fact our collective purpose as Christians, is the same: to expand the presence of God on earth by fully sharing the gifts which we’ve been given.

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December 22, 2021 by Linda Buskirk

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…

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December 20, 2021 by Ken Mosesian

I have noticed a subject trending among some Christian writers, speakers, and preachers over the past year, from evangelicals to Roman Catholics and everyone in between: victimhood.

Though the specifics of their stories differ, the framework remains the same: society used to be guided by Christian values some 60+ years ago. Society then became indifferent to Christian values, and is now openly hostile towards them.

They further state that there are “pseudo-religions” in the form of social movements which are taking the place of the Christian religion. Most all of those who are advancing the victimhood narrative point towards so-called “liberal” or left-leaning organizations as the problem. The problems that they identify invariably include human sexuality, marriage, and what they identify as the breakdown of order in society.

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December 15, 2021 by Donald Romanik

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.

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November 23, 2021 by Sandy Webb

The request to speak to one of our church’s small groups seemed ordinary enough at first. That is, until they sent me the topic: The first Thanksgiving. Curious...

There are many subjects on which I can speak with some authority, and even more subjects on which I can fake my way through to a semblance of competence, but the history of the Thanksgiving holiday isn’t on either list.

As it turns out, this small group wanted me to settle a debate: Was the first Thanksgiving held in Plymouth Colony in November 1621 or was it held at Berkeley Plantation in December 1619? Was the first Thanksgiving held in Massachusetts, the place where I was raised, or was it in Virginia, the place where I was serving at the time? Would I tell the story as it was told in my natal homeland or as it was told in my adoptive one?

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