October 3, 2022 by Greg Syler

On sabbatical this past spring, I walked to the village of Grantchester from Cambridge. Turns out, Grantchester is very much a real village, not just a lovely PBS series. “Go to the Blue Ball,” the docent at Kings College told me when I asked for directions; “that’s the best pub.” The walk was lovely, and the inn’s hospitality and lunch were spot on.

Walking out into the afternoon sun, I saw on the wall a cartoon drawn of some characters in the village circa 1980-something: there was the barman; and a number of other characters, some in business attire, some in work clothes; and then, near the center, was a balding man in a backwards collar on a black shirt: the vicar.

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August 23, 2022 by Donald Romanik

We all love stories. Storytelling is imbedded in our DNA as human beings. Stories were used to explain the unexplainable—those mysteries such as birth, death, nature and the existence of a higher power or force, eventually described as God.

People of faith, or those who follow or practice a particular religious tradition are especially fond of stories. Jewish and Christian heritage and custom have been passed down to us through stories—about creation, sin, floods, slavery, freedom, laws, prophets, angels and, ultimately, redemption and resurrection.

While we love to tell stories, we also love to talk about ourselves, especially those qualities and experiences of which we are most proud. Telling our story is an essential element of the human experience and is the precursor to making connections, establishing relationships, and falling in love.

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August 11, 2022 by Michael Carney

The disciples had been watching their Master immersed in prayer, sitting in silence for long periods of time, and they’d learned not to interrupt. Jesus regularly went off by himself before the first light of day, seeking a deserted place to commune with the Creator. The disciples could feel the power of those times and yearned to experience that for themselves. “Lord,” they asked, “teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)

So Jesus gave them some words of prayer: calling on God’s Name, proclaiming the coming of a holy kingdom and their dependence on the Creator, seeking forgiveness “for we forgive everyone,” and asking for help when trials come. This simple version of the Lord’s Prayer (expanded in the Gospel of Matthew) has such an impact that we still say it today. It probably wasn’t new to the disciples—we can all use a reminder—but from their disappointed looks, something more was needed.

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August 10, 2022 by Donald Romanik

As I write this blog I am in Abilene, Texas with my wife, Margaret, visiting our son David and his family – part of a month-long road trip during my six-week sabbatical. (David is Rector of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in the Diocese of Northwest Texas.) Our first stop from Connecticut was western Maryland, where Margaret’s brother hosted the annual family reunion followed by a visit with old friends from Hartford in Oklahoma. While there will be stops along the way, the next few weeks will include additional visits with family and friends in South Carolina and Virginia. All these summer gatherings continue to be wonderful opportunities for relaxation, refreshment, and reconnection.

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August 1, 2022 by Hannah Armidon

We live in a glut of information. Practically anyone can find any information or opinion that they wish if they put a few minutes of effort into it. As a result, people tend to mistrust scholarship. “I can think for myself!” is the constant refrain. Or, as I saw recently on Facebook, “We are all theologians by right of our baptism.”

In such a world, why on earth would I put the time, money, and effort into becoming a scholar? Why would anyone listen to a theologian?

The truth is: theological scholarship is so much more than just reading books.

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July 1, 2022 by Michael Carney

We all know that the past two years have been scary and difficult: the pandemic has been like nothing we’ve seen before. More than a million Americans have died, and all our lives have been turned upside-down. The death rate has been worse in the U.S. than in other similar countries, and surprisingly, the main reason is not medical care. Professor Robert Putnam of Harvard and his colleagues found a different explanation: that the levels of mutual trust and cooperation in our country have “rarely been lower” than they are today. (Time magazine, January 11, 2022, with reference to their recent book, The Upswing)

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June 24, 2022 by Catherine Thompson

When I arrived as the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in 2014, there was one topic on the hearts and minds of many of the members. The original sanctuary built in 1970, which was converted into the Parish Hall in the early 1990s, was no longer meeting the needs of the congregation. It is too small to hold all of us at one time; we need a more functional kitchen both for our preschool and the church; and we want to add showers and laundry facilities, so it could serve as an emergency shelter when we experience extreme temperatures. Despite these identified needs, I kept coming back to the fact that it would be labor intensive and expensive, only to see the space stand empty most of the week.

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May 27, 2022 by Michael Carney

Jesus came to earth to live among us with his heart wide open. He came to love, because “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “the Father and I are one.” (John 10:30) At the Last Supper he told his friends that “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Living so fully in love led to Jesus’ heart being broken, over and over. He saw children going hungry and elders being neglected. He saw people with disabilities banished from their communities and so-called “outsiders” demonized. He saw systems of power supported by violence, making a few people rich at the expense of many others. He knew that none of this was God’s will, and it broke his heart.

Jesus called his disciples to “be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” (Acts of the Apostles 1:8) That means that we, individually and as communities, should love as Jesus did. It means that when children in school or elders in a food store are gunned down by an assault rifle, our hearts will be broken. Again… and again… and again.

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May 23, 2022 by Michael Carney

Jesus was known for working miracles, right? The Gospels say he healed hundreds of people, fed huge crowds with just a little bread, walked on water and calmed a storm. Those “signs” made him stand out from other teachers and spiritual leaders.

For some reason, the Creator’s miracles don’t get as much attention. We often take for granted the way day follows night, the changing of the seasons, the cycles of birth and death and new life. Taken to an extreme, science can seem to reduce all of that to a mechanical system, meant to sustain its human operators. One of our most basic sins (meaning “separation from the Creator”) is acting like we’re in control of the world.

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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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