On Being a ‘Traditional Church’

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It is well known that The Episcopal Church is one that follows a liturgical form of worship.  We hold up our tradition as one of the things that we love about our church because it connects with who we are as a tribe of Christians. We gather on Sunday mornings to worship together in the Holy Eucharist (also commonly referred to as Communion or the Mass), and we open the Book of Common Prayer to page 355 (or p. 328 if you prefer the traditional language) to enter into our Sunday morning worship.  No matter who you talk to in The Episcopal Church, if they have been in the church for any amount of time, they will know the form of worship that is used on almost every Sunday morning in almost any Episcopal parish throughout the church.  Even if a person is out of the country they could find an Anglican parish and enter into a worship service that is familiar.  The liturgy of the church is one of the chief ways that the traditional side of The Episcopal Church is embodied by everyday Christians seeking to encounter the Divine through common worship.

Just as any other Episcopalian out there, I love the traditional side of our church.  It is the side of the church that has kept me in the church for my entire life. I can go to worship on any given Sunday morning and encounter the divine through the same service week in and week out.  I know exactly what to expect when I walk in the familiar red doors of an Episcopal church, and I know that I will be able to worship God in a way that is familiar, that is embedded in the muscle memory of my body from years and years of practice.

The beauty that I find in the traditional side of our church is not simply the repetitive nature of our liturgy on Sunday mornings.  It is also that I can bring myself – no matter what state I am in – into that worship without having to cover up my current emotional state.  During the thick of the Hurricane Katrina response, I found myself going to church relatively often.  Though I was working 14-18 hour days for the Red Cross, I found a way to make my way to church because I needed words to help me fill the space that I did not have the vocabulary for.  I needed the words of the Book of Common Prayer to help me pray through my emotions. I needed the words of our liturgy to help bring my anger and my frustration before God.  I needed the liturgy to carry me forward in a time that otherwise would have completely consumed me.

The tradition of our church is one that runs deep through time having been handed down over centuries.  The creeds in our prayer book have been recited by Christians down through the ages since at least about the third century.  The shape of our liturgy is informed by a document dating back to the second century, and we continue in this ancient form of worship because we believe that the way in which we pray shapes the way in which we live.  It shapes the ways that we encounter others out in the world.  The traditions of our church help us to remain connected in the togetherness of Christian community across our church in the contemporary era and across the church catholic throughout the ages.  The traditional side of our church helps us to remember the ways in which we have sinned and the way that God redeems us through the gift of grace.  The tradition that I inherit helps me to navigate the path of faith as I walk it alongside others that worship next to and with me through the prayers of common worship.  The tradition helps us to experience the togetherness that invites us as a community and as individuals to discover the revelatory power of the Spirit in the here and now.

The tradition of The Episcopal Church is not simply found in the vestments that are worn during worship services or whether or not we use incense in a service or if we are low-church or high-church.  It is found in the antiquity of the prayers we pray each and every week; it is found in the connectedness of the Body of Christ praying similar prayers across the globe on Sunday morning; it is found in the knowledge that the saints that have gone before us prayed the same prayers in their own time and in their own languages.  The togetherness of the Church, the tradition of the Church is found in this reality – the Body of Christ coming together to pray the words of ancient prayers that transport us to the heavenly realm made real here on earth through the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.  Welcome to a traditional church.

On Being a ‘Bible Church’

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A few nights ago, our new little church in Parker County, Texas met to begin gathering a launch team for our new church. It is part of the life of any new church that you form a team of people that will work together, going in a single direction, to begin a new worshipping community, to invite new people into relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and to launch the worship of the church at some as yet undefined point in the future. In the course of our meeting, I asked the gathered community to think back about what they love about the Anglican tradition and why is it that we need a new Episcopal mission in this part of the country at this point in time. In the interim day that passed, I considered my own question and have been mulling over my own response to what it is that I love about my church and the traditions that I have inherited as an Episcopalian. One of the things that I love about my church and about the Anglican tradition as a whole is that we are a Bible church. Continue reading

Unexpected Hope: A Small Town Gay Bar

IMG_0426The events of the past week have left many people reeling in pain, confusion, fear, and grief.  The shooting at Pulse in Orlando has launched many to decry the fatal shooting (although not all of them could actually do so while also recognizing that the LGBT community was the target).  It has left a community with questions that it has to answer for itself, and it has marred a month that is often a month of celebration for LGBT Americans across the country.

Of equal import is the fact that this deadly attack happened in a place that has served (and continues to serve) as a place of hope.  The attack happened in one of few venues in which LGBT persons can be who they are without getting sideways glances from others. It is a place where it is normal to see two boys or two girls holding hands or even giving each other a peck on the cheek in between chatting with friends.  It is a place in which you can do all of these things and be understood as completely normal.

With all of this in mind, I share with you a story of my own trip to a small town gay bar many moons ago.  I share this with you now because it is the story of how a gay bar helped me to become happy with who I am, and I share it because I want others to know that a gay bar is not simply a place that LGBT go to drink or to engage in casual sex.  It is a place in which many LGBT people end up discovering their own community.  It is a place that we discover that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is not something to be ashamed of.  It is a place that we discover hope. Continue reading

A Prayer for the Gifts of Women in Ministry

Offered at the Women of Saint Michael Annual Luncheon – May 11, 2016

Dear Heavenly Father, we gather here today to give you thanks for the many gifts of women and for the life those gifts bring into your Church.

We give thanks for the women who, like Mary, devote their lives to nurturing dreams, to consoling sorrows, to celebrating victories, and to being present even in the most difficult of times.

We give thanks for women who, like Mary Magdalene, pray a life of faithfulness, become the firm foundation upon which we all stand, and who profess a love for you through the actions of their lives.

We give thanks for women who, like Phoebe, devote themselves to service within your Church, bring the needs of the world to our attention, and share the gifts of your abundance freely through the preaching of your Word.

We give thanks for the women of this parish who labor throughout the year to support the community organizations that respond to families living in impoverished conditions and struggle to have enough food, adequate shelter, and clothing.

Most of all, we give thanks for the gift of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ who is the way and the truth and the life that leads us into the grace and love that He shares with you through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Grant us the courage to continue in the ways of Christ, to preach your Word and Sacraments through the actions of our lives, and to learn of the grace and truth that women bring into the life of the Church.  All this we ask through your Son, our savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Silencing Another: The Violence of Word

In the on-goings of daily life, it is easy to get wrapped up into one’s self – to lose the ability to see how or when you have impacted another person’s life in a way that is far less than good.  It is ever so easy to find yourself in a place of doing a certain sort of violence to other persons without actually inflicting a single physical blow to another person, and yet, the person that is impacted has become the victim of this sort of violence.  It is the sort of violence that can easily go unnoticed, get swept under the rug, or simply blamed on the victim for being too sensitive or not being able or willing to speak up in the moment as a sort of self-corrective to the violence that is being inserted into the immediate reality.  It is the sort of violence that is created by simply using words while failing to pay attention to the impact those words have on another.  It is the sort of violence that enters into a room when a single person dominates others through interruption or by sucking up all the oxygen in the room thereby eliminating any chance of other persons to actually have a voice, to offer a creative thought, to give a new shape to the discourse (if one can call such a situation a discourse).  In this kind of situation, we find that the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is without any meaning because it runs counter to our experience as human beings.

dreamstime_s_44570897The ultimate sadness of this sort of violence (and any violence, for that matter) is that it is equally as harmful to the perpetrator.  Even when they are not able to see the impact that they are having in a moment, the person is damaged by the violence they have created in a given situation.  They have limited the ability to have authentic relationship, to engage in the gifts of others, and to learn more about the hopes and desires of people around them.  The perpetrator is cut off, stranded, isolated on the shores of the island of arrogance.  Though the perpetrator is not necessarily forgotten, he or she is left out of the constructive reality of community.  He or she is left to continue blundering about in the world without any cause to rethink how they walk their life while others simply hope to minimize contact in order to avoid the stinging violence that comes with it.

Of course, the question is how can a person find redemption if the person is completely unaware of the violence that he or she is creating in given circumstances?  Is it possible for the person to be saved from the downward spiral of the vicious cycle?  Is the ultimate fate for the person the lost shores of the island of arrogance?  Or, is there another destination towards which the person can aspire?

Perhaps the good news is that all of us have persons in our lives that care so deeply for us that they muster up the courage to give it to us straight.  They find the courage to call us out for our own baggage, our own missteps, and grant us the grace of being confronted with our own fallen condition in order that we might be able to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.  The key to breaking the cycle, however, is to focus on creating the opportunity for that reconciliation in order that all persons might be transformed through the experience.  It is remembering that the focus is not on a punitive justice that simply mirrors the tragic realities of our society in the modern age.  It is remembering that God offers something much more transformative if we can open our ears long enough to hear it.  It is remembering that the purest victim of violence, Jesus Christ, goes to the cross in order to subvert violence, to offer us redemption through the violence that is inflicted upon him, and to invite us into a new way of being by following, as closely as is humanly possible, in his footsteps.

In his book Resurrection Rowan Williams writes,

“What is at issue is simply the transaction that leads to exclusion, to the severance of any relation of reciprocity.  It may be unconscious, it may be deliberate and willfully damaging, it may appear unavoidable; but as soon as such a transaction has occurred, God is with the powerless, the excluded.”1

It is in this moment, the moment of the transaction that leads to exclusion, that damage is done to every person involved – both perpetrator and victim.  The exclusion wreaks havoc on all parties as dignity is stripped away from the persons, and it is the moment to which the perpetrator must return in order to find the healing power of God’s love.  Williams continues by saying,

“And our hope is that he (God) is to be found as we return to our victims seeking reconciliation, seeking to find in renewed encounter with them the merciful and transforming judgement of Jesus, the ‘absolute’ victim.”2

Our hope is that by returning to the moment of our sin, to the persons that were impacted by that sin that we are able to find the judgement of Christ – a judgement that does not seek to condemn but to transform the reality of how we enter into relationships in our daily walks with each other.  Our hope is that we will be reminded, when we gaze upon the Cross, of our ability to slip so easily into the vicious cycle of violence.  Our hope is that we will remember that Christ went to that Cross in order that we might see the self more honestly and grow from those unadulterated glances in the mirror of God’s love.

Though being confronted with the ways that we fall (again and again) is never comfortable, it can always be healing if we seek the healing that Christ offers to us through the ministry of reconciliation.  Each time a friend has had the courage to speak truth to me, though it stings when I receive these particular truths, I am always thankful that someone cared that deeply for me.  I am always thankful when I am able to grow in my self-awareness, and I am always thankful when I am given the opportunity and the courage to say, “I am sorry.  Can you forgive me?”

  1.  Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel (United Kingdom: Darton,Longman & Todd, 2002), p.10.
  2. Ibid.