I try to keep our parish as far away from politics as possible. But, what happens when politics choose to visit us as they did with the question of COVID-19 vaccination mandates?
As our mayor and our governor battled each other in court about what could and could not be required of churches, we had to figure it out for ourselves. Surely, we were going to encourage vaccination, but would we require it? And, if so, of whom?
A recent article in The Atlantic argues that it is harder to run a church in 2021 than it was in 2020. I couldn’t agree more. Our choices were relatively straightforward at the height of the pandemic, but they are far more complicated now. Our approach to vaccination requirements worked for us, and I offer it as a starting place for others facing similar questions.
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?
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.
Episcopalians love to use the word “parish,” as in: ‘parish meetings’, or ‘parish ministry’ or, simply, ‘my parish.’ But as the great Inigo Montoya said in 1987’s The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
For starters, it’s a sweet sounding word. It takes us back to a time no one alive ever enjoyed, although it’s nice to think that someone, somewhere did once upon a time. It sounds simple, pastoral, peaceful, lovely. Etymologically (Wikipedia tells me), it has something to do with living together, “sojourning in a foreign land” (thanks, Wikipedia), and it emerged in the English language right around the time the Church of England parish system also emerged – sometime post-12 century.
This was driven home for me when I was serving as curate (yet another sweet Episcopal word) in a bustling city in a rather large parish, er, congregation. I must’ve mentioned the word when a parishioner – aha! there it is again – said to me, “You keep using that word, ‘parish.’ But that’s not what this is. This is a church and we are a congregation.” At the time, I thought it was an odd response from a relatively cranky worshipper. In the ensuing years, however, I’ve come to realize how spot-on she was. We keep using the wrong word for what we’re really trying to describe. Even worse, I believe our common life has inspired us to actively choose the wrong word – not because we don’t have other words but because it subtly removes levels of personal responsibility for claiming our present moment in leadership. It doesn’t help, and it only furthers my case that the line drawing of that same congregation – a busy urban church set in an active, people-packed neighborhood – features none of the neighboring high-rise dwellings; no cars, no people, no busyness whatsoever. In fact, there’s a grove of trees where streets actually exist – and have always existed, long before that church was built! – suggesting that it’s set somewhere in a field in the countryside.
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.
Earlier this year, our Board of Directors adopted the “ECF Compass” – a rearticulation of our Purpose, Mission and Vision. This document also highlights who we are, what we do and how we do it. In addition to describing ourselves as Episcopal, Independent and Lay-led, we also state that ECF is inclusive, i.e, “we are anti-racist and committed to social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.”
While the process does involve an important missional and strategic conversation, it is fairly easy for an organization to make bold statements about who it is or hopes to be. The challenge becomes whether these articulations are more aspirational than actual. When it comes to being Episcopal, Independent and Lay-led, ECF has a long track record of demonstrating and living out these core qualities of our identity. When it comes to being Inclusive, or more specifically Anti-Racist, we have a much longer way to go. Clearly, our commitment in this area is aspirational but, at the same time, very sincere.
Pineapples were on sale at the supermarket this weekend in Memphis.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider how ridiculous that is: A springtime fruit from the tropics was on sale in the fall… in October… in Tennessee. (If we are looking for evidence that we live in a globalized world, I think we have found it!)
These cut-rate pineapples were brought to us by technology that says we can have almost anything almost anywhere at almost any time. Similar technology says we never need to experience anything but comfortable temperatures and low humidity all year ‘round – another unnatural feat for Memphis!