Sunday, June 10, 2012

Just In from Diocesan Convention

I just returned from State College, PA where the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania met in Convention for the 142nd time.  It was a whirlwind experience.  What had been an event that occurred over the better part of three days has, over the year, been winnowed down to what we had this year: a single day packed with all the necessary business of the diocese.  Some Conventions in the past had been contentious ones where very controversial issues were debated with great conviction.  This year was not one of those.  Instead, the delegates gathered in a genuine sense of godly respect for one another, which testified to the unity of the diocese in essential things. 

I know that the bishop has been working toward this spirit for quite some time.  In his address to the Convention, Bishop Baxter called us to a spirit of revival.  He asked us to turn away from a way of thinking that sees only decline (members, finances) to examine and discern what we have in our possession – all gifts of God given for the work of God.  He called us away from an attitude of apology where we are unsure of our Episcopal traditions and teachings toward a spirit of pride that recognizes the unique gifts we have as an Episcopal Church in the Anglican Tradition: particularly our unique way of discerning God’s call for us in the work of evangelizing a world that still awaits the full revelation of Christ.

As part of this call, Bishop Baxter outlined his intended response to the Resolution C056 from General Convention 2009 that called for a “generous pastoral response” to those persons in our congregations who are gay and lesbian and who have chosen to enter into a life-long, mutual, faithful and faith-filled commitment to one another.  He told those gathered that should General Convention 2012 approve a liturgy for the Blessing of Covenental Relationships as proposed, we would approve its use for the parishes and clergy of the diocese under certain guidelines.  He wished to emphasize, however, that because there is not unanimity on this matter, that all persons would be respected and honored, whether or not they agreed with this decision.  No parish would be coerced or forced into implementing the trial liturgy and he would approve its use in a parish only after petition from the clergy and vestry of a given parish.  Once General Convention takes action (an affirmative vote is most likely), he would publish guidelines that would guide the implementation of the liturgy and guide its pastoral application in parishes of the diocese.

The Convention took another positive step for inclusion in the daily life of the Church by approving a resolution calling for a formal “youth representation” to be seated at future Conventions in the diocese.  The resolution called for the Canon for Children & Youth and Development to create the process for selecting the representatives and offer appropriate training.  As one delegate commented, “For a long time we have heard how our youth are the future of the Church.  They are not the future of the Church, they are the Church TODAY!”  At that comment, the entire assembly broke into applause. 
Other business included the approval of the operating budget for the diocese for 2013, the election of officers for the diocese in the coming year, and election of members on various canonically required bodies (Standing Committee, Council of Trustees, Disciplinary Board). 

There was much more – it was a packed schedule – but we ended as we began, in prayer.  Bishop Baxter led our closing Eucharist and bid peace and safe travels to all who had gathered.  Next year’s Convention will be held at State College on June 8th.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Chirist IS risen! (Present Tense)

In the Episcopal Church during Holy Eucharist we bless and give bread and wine in thanks for the sacrifice that Jesus made for the world. During the Great Thanksgiving, we proclaim the mystery of faith, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” It’s easy to overlook the fact that the verbs go from past tense, to present tense, to future tense. Maybe that’s just what the writers thought would sound good. But there is real meaning in the way  those statements are written.

Taking this response section by section, it describes plainly and revolutionarily how we as Christians should view our worship during communion.  Every time we share communion, we are participating in the entirety of Christ’s message and ministry. The liturgy takes us step by step through the Last Supper, by inviting us to relive in that moment the time and place where Christ broke bread and shared the wine, commanding the disciples to do the same in remembrance of him. It is only after we have recalled and lived through that moment that our statement “Christ has died” takes us from the Upper Room to the Cross.

The next affirmation is the cornerstone of Christian life. “Christ is risen”.  The implications of this brief statement are remarkable. The statement is not “Christ has risen.” If it were that, we would just be recalling the event in the way that it had happened and we have read it in the scriptures. No, by affirming that “Christ is risen,” we are invited in that very moment, at that precise time, to experience the resurrection. Every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, it is Easter again: It IS happening, right now, says the liturgy.

That what we say on Sundays, but it means something far greater for our lives outside church doors. If we can move through and live through the ministry of Christ, the Last Supper, the Cross, the Resurrection inside the service, we must strive to do the same in our “outside” lives. When we wake up in the morning, Christ IS risen. When we drive to work or school, Christ IS risen. When we help our friends, Christ IS risen. When we hurt one another, Christ IS risen. When we feel like giving up, Christ IS risen. Every single moment in our lives as Christians is a declaration that Christ is risen. It is for every moment of our lives that Christ gave his life - and gives it again and always.

Thanks to Margaret Blount Montgomery who inspired this reflection.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Creating space for God

When I was younger, I was given the advice that I should take some time everyday to be with myself. I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I thought I was with myself all the time! Daytime was time to be busy, spending time at work, with others and involved in lots of activities. I started to spend part of the day just sitting.  Yes, just sitting there.  Whenever I did it at my parents home, they thought I was bored and came up with ideas for things for me to do!

I made it a habit just to sit alone in my room for 15 minutes or so – mostly doing nothing.  I began to notice the quietness of the day and the warm rays of sun making their ways through the windows. Soon, I noticed a voice inside of me and I listened. I listened to its goodness and love. I began to realize that these were times of real prayer, of meditation, when I was filled with God’s love and presence.

If simply sitting there is too much at first, here are some ways to introduce yourself to a time alone with God:
Daily Devotions in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 137).  Short liturgies that can be said in 3-5 minutes.
Silence. Find a quiet place and close your eyes and let your thoughts go. Really, as they come to you, imagine that they are floating by you on a river. Let them go. (You can even do this at work or in school!)
Say a mantra. Repeat a sacred word or phrase over and over again. You’ll be surprised how it quiets your mind and body.  Try, “Come Holy Spirit, Come.”
Count beads. The word “bead” comes from “bede,” a fourteenth century word meaning prayer. You can make Anglican Prayer beads, wear a bead bracelet or carry a string of beads in your pocket. Count the beads with the name of people for whom you’d like to pray.
Color a mandala. If you’re like me, I concentrate better when I’m doodling. Mandalas are circular designs that you can color and center yourself. (Search “mandala” on the internet for designs.)
There are many more ways to pray. I’ve suggested this short list to encourage you that prayer can be simple. Find your own way!
Thanks to Jenifer C. Gamber who inspired this reflection

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's Ash Wednesday - Again

The ritual associated with Ash Wednesday is simple and clear.  It reminds us that we, like everything else on this earth, will die.  Today we remind ourselves about the certain cycles of life and death – the beginning and the end.  We also remind ourselves who we are and from whom we come – God.
Today is a sort of reality check.  The prophet Joel calls us to look at who we are and how we are living and, when it seems we come up short, return to the Lord.  Today we begin a journey inward to encounter and confront all that separates us from God and from one another by taking account of all that causes pain, damage, and separation in our lives.
The season of Lent that begins today, is a time to acknowledge that to move to a new way of life, we first must die to the old – to give up the things that get in the way of our knowing God and one another more deeply and completely.  Lent is a time to remember our baptism and the call to know, love and serve God and one another that came with it.  It can be a season of great change.
During Lent, we reconnect with who we are, with who we can be, with whom God made us to be.  We are humans – made in God’s image and likeness – but unlike God, we are also made of dust – and into that dust we shall return.  Now, then, is the time to make the most of it all!