Every month ECFVP offers resources on a theme. This month we've asked ECF's own Dr. Adriane Bilous to choose resources from Vital Practices to highlight. Please find her choices below. 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 this difficult year comes to a close, we invite you to take the time to celebrate Advent. A season of anticipation and waiting, 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 for Advent. 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.
More than 25 years ago, I started using Forward Movement’s Forward Day by Day (FDBD) publication as a Lenten discipline. I found starting the day by reading the Scriptures and reflecting on the meditations so meaningful that I kept it up. In those days, I read from the little printed booklets distributed at my church. When I found a meditation I loved, I gently tore out the page and taped it into my prayer journal. Today, I visit Forward Day by Day online. Now when I am particularly moved or enlightened by a meditation, I “copy and paste” it into my digital prayer journal.
How delighted I am to learn that Forward Movement has published a collection of past meditations in book form entitled Come and See: Reflections of the Life of Jesus. Curated by long-time Forward Day by Day reader Sanford Smith, Come and See includes some of the best Forward Day by Day meditations from the past three decades.
As we head into election week, ECF has gathered five resources from around the church to help make this election week holy.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will lead a live-streamed prayer service from Washington National Cathedral, Holding on to Hope: A National Service for Healing and Wholeness, on All Saints Sunday, November 1, at 4:00-5:30 p.m. EST. In the midst of a pandemic, racial reckoning, and a historic election, the live-streamed service will gather Americans for prayer, song, lament, hope, and a call to love God and neighbor. The event will be simulcast in English and Spanish. Learn how to participate here.
Shocked, bewildered, hurt, and angry are just a few words that come to mind when thinking about what I and many others have experienced along with David in 1 Samuel. What do you do when the very institution that you love, trust, and given yourself to, turns against you? Moreover, what do you do when these institutions not only turn against you, but come against the purposes and plans of God for your life?
In 1 Samuel 18, we see the powers that be both bless David and attack his very life. In this chapter David is given armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt of King Saul’s son, Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:4). It is also recorded that David is successful wherever Saul sends him (1 Samuel 18:5). In fact, he is so successful that Saul sets him over the army (1 Samuel 18:5). David’s fame grows to the point where the women of the towns of Israel sing a celebratory song about him recorded in verse 7: “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” At this, Saul became angry.
Did you know there’s a Christian holiday that celebrates the sacredness of mountains? It’s called the Transfiguration, and it takes its name from a Bible story. Jesus took Peter and two other disciples up on a high mountain, where Jesus was transformed right before their eyes. His face “shone like the sun” and his clothes became “dazzling white.” The Voice of God rang out and the disciples fell to the ground in terror.
Everything is different when we go up in the mountains, right? Daily life is left behind, with all its habits and routines. That’s why mountain outings can be so refreshing, and why people have always gone there to seek visions. Bishop Steven Charleston wrote that “Matthew 17:1-8 has all of the classic elements of a traditional Native American quest. Jesus has prepared himself; his lament is so deep that he has predicted his own death. He goes up to a high place, accompanied by spiritual supporters, and stands alone before God. A vision occurs, so powerful that his friends actually see it.”
 Steven Charleston, The Four Vision Quests of Jesus, p. 120
We’ve been in Covid time for more than four months now. It has taken a while for us to realize our spiritual needs and desires and our abilities to meet them. The human contact, the Eucharist, the singing together, are all missed sorely. We find some of our spiritual longings are met by Zoom, a technology developed just in time to allow us to see each other, to connect, to gather, to pray together on Sunday.
Still, through the weeks, the end of the day is hard. More and more, people report having trouble getting to sleep, especially if they have checked in on the news in the hours prior. The what ifs, the hows, and the realities of our personal lives, the community and the nation are alarming or frightening or discouraging at best. Those who live alone have no one with whom to process the day, the week, the season. Others welcome a transition from day to night just as much.
Anyone who attends an Episcopal baptism service is foolish to participate.
You see, everyone who attends is asked to make vows before God. Making vows to God you know you will not keep is a bit foolish, and maybe dangerous. If you want to be frightened over the promises, and impressed if anyone makes those vows intending to keep them, look in the Book of Common Prayer, specifically page 304. The final one is: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?
The first part is easier. It should involve more but it could be fulfilled by marching at a rally, voting for the right candidates, working at a food pantry => ALL GOOD THINGS. I am not minimizing them, just acknowledging they are doable.
The second part – never doable. At least for me. Respect the dignity of every human being?
My goodness, a lot has happened in the world since we all worshipped in person together. For many, processing it all happened in the privacy of their homes. Others had to do so from hospital beds. Others from food lines, a situation they never dreamed of experiencing. Others from the front lines of community protests over racism.
In the weeks or months ahead, faith communities will gather again. Can we really just pick up where we left off and head on our way? Will Vestry meetings resume the usual topics of budget and Commission reports?
With the COVID-19 pandemic came the precipitous end to in-person classes at Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in early March. Students who had the option to do so were strongly encouraged to leave seminary housing and get out of the virus epicenter in New York City, so we became physically scattered and separated from our worship space in the small chapel at Union.
Within days of the cessation of classes, the EDS worship team met over Zoom and came up with a plan. Our Monday through Thursday Morning Prayer schedule would resume by Zoom. We shortened the form of worship slightly, omitting the canticles but keeping the time for song that we had cherished when we had been physically together to pray the office. Because we shortened the service, we had the space to add a time of reflection after the Gospel reading. This gave us more interaction during the service in the virtual space. We kept the EDS at Union custom of reciting the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer in Spanish.
Participating as a lay leader of a congregation is a joyful opportunity to participate in building up the Kingdom of God. Sometimes that joy ebbs low as we face of fewer people in the pews and fewer pledges in the plate. Our highest hope and prayers aim to get by for another year, rather than really hoping and praying for the fullness of God’s promises.
If you or your Vestry are in a bit of a rut, here is a quote worthy of intentional meditation from 19 century preacher and Bishop of Massachusetts, Phillips Brooks:
"Pray the largest prayers. You cannot think a prayer so large that God, in answering it, will not wish you had made it larger. Pray not for crutches but for wings."
“Nearly every morning, I enjoy morning prayer time with a group of friends.”
Three years ago, those words began my Vital Practices blog post about a virtual community of faithful people who regularly read and comment on Forward Movement’s daily prayer meditations published online at Forward Day by Day.
Today there is a new dimension to my gratitude for this ministry and my friends who meet me there. The constancy of this place keeps me grounded while my home church is closed. Thanks be to God for new platforms for community worship such as YouTube, Zoom and Facebook. But let’s face it, it’s been a learning curve to find them and get used to them.
If the Constitution and Canons of the 1920s Episcopal Church were anything like what they are today, the prayers and rites of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer would have been vetted over 6-9 years. Which means they were largely written in the shadow of the 1918 influenza pandemic. It’s no wonder, then, that the 1928 BCP includes this prayer, In Times of Great Sickness and Mortality:
O Most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer, 1928, page 45).
Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” including, “a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.”
Yes, this is a time to refrain from embracing. But what else does this scary time of COVID-19 offer to those in church leadership?
In January I co-led a retreat with actor Erin Dangler for the women of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston Texas. Priest and actor, we wove together concepts of church and theater. But we had to start by making clear that acting is not being “fake”. Rather the best acting happens when the actor is able to access her/his/their true self, and is then able to connect that self to the role they have been given.
Erin introduced the gathering to the “actor’s palette”, a concept created by Brian Cranston, which includes life experience, talent, research and preparation, and imagination.
These are the things that an actor brings to any role taken on. Some roles require more research, others require deeper digging into life experiences. Some require a whole lot of imagination.
Once again, Episcopalians (and others!) are participating in the Good Book Club. This time, we are reading through the Gospel of John, and this week is mostly John 8. As I read through John 8, I see many themes: sin, forgiveness, death, new life, and more. But again, one overarching theme: Discipleship.
John 8 begins and ends with crowds and stones. It opens with a crowd gathered around a woman caught in adultery and ends with a crowd gathered around Jesus. The crowds saw an adulterous woman and a demon-possessed liar, and the crowds wanted to kill them both.
But Jesus saw something different. In the woman, he saw a child of God. And in himself, he saw the son of God.
What did you expect?
Did you expect a Christmas miracle that would turn tense family relationships into joy at the dinner table? Did you set extra chairs in the sanctuary expecting an overflow crowd? Did you hope that hearing the Christmas story would bring you peace? Whether you daily meditated around an Advent wreath or shopped, wrapped, cleaned house, baked, hosted, and mixed cocktails for the party, what were you hoping for the most?
We hold such high, hopeful expectations for Christmas. When they shatter like a fragile ornament, shards pierce our soul with loss and regret.
That’s when the first 18 verses of John’s Gospel come in handy.
This month we offer five resources for Christmas reflections. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1) Did you ever think, why, oh why, did I host that last Christmas party? In Bearing Gifts, Hosting Parties Richelle Thompson invites us to slow down and enjoy Christmas, while joining the Epiphany party trend.
Like so many of my fellow Episcopalians, I love the season of Advent. Really, I like all three winter seasons – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany.
I live in the northern hemisphere, so these winter seasons coincide with the dark days of the year, which match up well with the themes of Jesus, the Light, coming into the darkness of the world. “Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light!”, we pray in the Collect for the first Sunday of Advent. “Jesus, the Light of the World”, we sing in Christmastide. And, in the season of Epiphany, we celebrate at that we are “the light of the world”, called to carry that light out for all the world to see.
But, in recent years, I’ve had my consciousness raised by the testimony of dark-skinned clergy and laity, those for whom the popular hymn, “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus” causes pain.
On the Feast of All Saints, November 1, the Church gives us an opportunity to reflect on the faith and witness of those who have died in the faith of the Church. In prayer and song, we remember all the saints, “who from their labors rest.” In traditional practice, The Feast of All Saints is the day we remember the Saints with a capital “S”, those who have been recognized by the Church for their faithful life and death The following day, November 2, is the “Commemoration of all Faithful Departed”, when we are encouraged to remember saints with a small “s”, those who have inspired us personally — parents and godparents, teachers, clergy, mentors, and more.
In many churches, the two remembrances are conflated the following Sunday, in a celebration unofficially called “All Saints Sunday.” While the distinctions between the capital “S” Saints and the small “s” saints may be ecclesiastically significant, pastorally, the blending of the two is inspiring and kind. As the secular world recognizes and adapts the Mexican celebration of the “Day of the Dead” more and more — in schools, public libraries, and homes — we can see that we all, at some level, yearn to remember our ancestors in faith, family, and love.