Posts Tagged With: Church

When the Church is Dangerous

Reflecting on predators in the Church

This week was the third time. 

The other day I was talking with local clergy colleagues about how society has made safety into an idol.  We discussed how the Gospel calls us to make sacrifices and take risks.  That our lives, even apart from the Gospel, can never be made completely safe.  To live is to risk.  To live should not be to be harmed or abused.  Jesus calls us to take risks and not to harm one another.  We too often fail at both.  The risks Jesus calls us to are to be made willingly, knowing what is being risked or sacrificed and knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

This week was the third time in 20 years of Church leadership (I’m both not that young now and was that young when I started), a cleric I know stands formally accused of sexual misconduct.*  Sexual misconduct by any one is an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Abuse of all kinds, and especially sexual abuse or misconduct, is the stripping of another person’s privacy, bodily autonomy, and leaves lasting harm to a person’s ability to form loving and trusting relationships.  Instances where a cleric is the offender  are also a horrendous abuse of the trust invested in clergy.  I am grieved at this news and feel horrible that my colleague (from another diocese and country and still my brother in Christ) has added to others’ challenge in finding what I have in my Church, a place where it is easier to see Jesus.

Three times in 20 years is a little more than once every seven years.  The cognitive dissonance between knowing perpetrators are usually someone you would not suspect and that someone having a name, a face, and fond memories does not get easier.  I did not know or suspect and was shocked to learn the truth.  There is a temptation to call them monsters but I will resist it.  Portraying sexual predators as monsters is part of how we make it easier to fail to notice and prevent the lasting harm of the actions of people we usually would not suspect.  Even more, they too are beloved children of God,  though they have committed horrible sins and need to face the full consequences, legal and ecclesiastical, of their actions. 

I want to close with a promise that we can make at least the Church free from this kind of sin.  I want the Eucharist and the sacraments to be able to draw us close enough to God that we are all transformed into people who do not harm others.  Barring that, I want policies like those in The Episcopal Church’s Safeguarding God’s Children to be sufficient protection.

I can’t make that promise. 

We can make ourselves and our spaces safer.  RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) has information about staying as safe as possible, noticing warning signs, and consent here (link).  This is my favourite article on how teaching consent (link).  Please ask your Church leadership what they are doing to prevent sexual misconduct.  

I pray for the victims.  I do not know their names but, from other survivors of sexual abuse who have courageously shared their journeys, I am aware that healing is a long and seemingly endless journey. 

I assure you that the God who made us, who has always loved us, allows nothing to be beyond God’s love—even when we cannot fathom the possibility of such love. 

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Funny, Tenacious, Kind, Maundy Thursday 2017

How would you describe your Church?
Without using family, loving, welcoming, or community.


The lessons can be found by clicking here.  I worked most closely with Jn13:1-17, 31B-35.




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There is a balm in Galilee

There is a balm in Galilee. 

Or at least that’s what I’m looking and hoping for, a balm in Galilee. 

The better known Balm of Gilead is only mentioned a few times in scripture and always as something with extraordinary healing properties, rare, and valuable.  The idea was later adopted and incorporated into an African American Spiritual.  “There is a balm in Gilead/to heal the sin sick soul.”

I’d take the balm of Gilead.  I’ve a chronic condition, or few, that it’d be nice to treat for the last time.  But the balm I’m looking and hoping for in Galilee, especially in Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s metaphorical Galilee, is not the mythical or magical balm of Gilead.   

I want the balm that will help the church, my well loved church, see me as a priest with chronic health issues, not as a problem to be fixed with doctors notes or only spoken of in hushed tones among trusted confidantes or endlessly suspect (“she says she has migraines, but who really knows” or worse “how can she pretend to do this demanding job if she’s in as much pain as she says”). 

It’s only been in the last year that I’ve found the courage to risk telling people I didn’t already trust about my chronic health issues.  My suspicion was well learned.  My health issues preceded my ordination and it was mentors and leaders I’d both trusted and been required to trust with my still new realities that advised me in my first job search not to mention the brain surgeries or the migraines, or suggested a doctors note certifying that I could work, and (in the same conversation) assured me that any congregation which rejected me for these reasons wasn’t worth working for.

That was a long time, several jobs, and many blogs posts ago.  And the church hasn’t changed.  I know I’ve lost jobs for alluding to my health conditions and I prefer not to think about those who may have seen the same sentences and just never responded.  I’ve received various advice from colleagues and congregants about my migraines, little of which my doctor agreed with.  And I’ve learned that I’m not alone.   

Along with friends who also live with chronic health conditions, more and less formal collegial groups who live with chronic health conditions, and friends who know how to listen, I’ve done my research and reading. 50% North Americans live with a chronic health condition, many of which we cannot see and society and the church prefer we not talk about.  Half of us. I am so far from alone.

The balm I want Galilee to hold is not a cure for me.  It is a road to Damascus falling away of the scales for my Church.  Stop pretending I’m not here.  Stop talking as though only old people were sick or in pain.  See me, hear me.  Find a way to hold both my gifts and my pain.  More concretely

  • Unlearn cliches.  (Some examples here)
  • See people not diagnoses.
  • Don’t offer treatment advice unless asked.  Not even that thing that was a miracle for your aunt/cousin/self.
  • Respect their language choices.  Some people use disability, some chronic illness.  I’ve opted for chronic health condition here.
  • Make one change every year to make your church more accessible.  Here are 50 ideas. 
  • Stop preaching in Jesus’ healing as psychological or community wholeness.  It was, but scripture says people were healed.  Some of us would love to have our pain relieved and it hasn’t happened even after, in many cases, sincere faith and years of prayer.
  • Get serious about the health benefits you provide your employees.  Copays for doctor visits, medications, limited sick days, plans that only cover the ER if you are admitted to the hospital are some of the barriers to people taking care of themselves. 
  • Stock some Empathy Cards and send those.
  • Chronic illness is long term and one day at a time.  There are good, bad, and in between days.  Trust people to judge their ability that day.
  • Educate your parishioners.  That can be serious or silly. 

Most of us live with, care for, or love someone with a chronic health condition.  May Galilee be a place where the Church can be healed of it’s blindness and ableism; a place where all of God’s children are encouraged to participate in the ways that best suit them.

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REACHing Breakthrough, August 2015

Today was Commitment Sunday, the official end of St Peter’s REACH Campaign.  REACH is a parish based, diocesan capital campaign to raise money for mission and ministry.   You can read about the Diocesan portions of the campaign.

At St Peter’s we’ve been focused on ways we can make our parish more accessible.  To that end $98,800 have been committed by parishioners.  Which is amazing.

Today, for Morsels and Stories and the sermon, I talked a bit about why we’d do something like REACH and everyone present was invited to fill out a commitment card which we then placed on the altar and prayed over.  (The audio stops once we start filling out the cards.)

Here are before and after pictures of the box of problems:

REACH chocolate REACH box









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Why The Episcopal Church?

I drove to and from my vestry meeting last night listening to episodes of The Collect Call.  If you don’t listen to Brendan and Holli, I heartily recommend this.  I enjoy it because they are church-y but they are also just plain delightful and entertaining.  Holli and Brendan offer The Collect Call as part of The Acts 8 Moment, a group working to proclaim resurrection in The Episcopal Church.

In the last few weeks you may have seen some of the posts responding to a trio of Acts 8 BLOGFORCE questions: Why the Church?, Why Anglicanism?, Why The Episcopal Church?

I haven’t said anything.  In part because of a busy schedule; in part because I feel like I’ve already commented on these ideas.

There is wisdom in the Church and in this Anglican Tradition.

I stayed in The Episcopal Church (now the Anglican Communion) because this is where I best see Jesus.

It’s been interesting to read people’s thoughts on why The Episcopal Church. In good Anglican fashion, I’ve agreed with some opinions more than others. It is always good to know that we share the cause of love, if not the details.  But then I was listening to Brendan, in the Proper 19 episode.  He made a comment about love being about more than the sum of the reasons we could list.

We can, and have, and will continue to make lists, to have reasons why we participate in and love this Episcopal Church of ours.  We’ll talk about polity and liturgy.

But there’s something more.  Our love for the Church is greater than the sum of our lists, even all our lists.  Our love for the Church has to do with seeing Jesus here, being transformed, and then trying to reason out what and how and why.

We have Church words for this: sacrament and miracle.  The Episcopal Church is a means by which we receive God’s Grace (sacrament) and something that only God can do (miracle). But those words only make sense, and often little enough even then, inside of the Church.

But perhaps we can say that The Episcopal Church is more than the sum of her parts and we’re in love.

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Being a Scholar Priest

“In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.”
Book of Common Prayer, 531

I was at Camp as the priest of the week. Right before bedtime, a Counselor brought a camper—an almost sleepy boy of probably 9—over to me with a question. “What does Hallelujah mean?”

I wasn’t thinking when I answered the call from an unknown number on my day off. “Did the Jews kill Jesus?” wasn’t the opening statement I expected.

I was at a joint service planning meeting and informed that my idea was unnecessary as my colleague did not believe our people were deep theologians.

I worry that our Church has come to believe this lie that our people are not deep theologians. We let ourselves compile lists of the things we never learned in seminary as if the ability to sketch out the major councils and heresies of the early Church had less bearing on our vocation than our ability to navigate Church repair. Convinced, hopefully or fearfully, that Christians do not care about the details, the history, the richness, the nuance of our faith. Some believe it. Believe that priests do not need to know the outline of Church history or the basics of the rubrics. Or that at most these things should be kept to our Continuing Education days. Sequestered off from people that primarily need to be lured away Sunday morning hockey (or football) commitments and into Church.

Sometimes the necessary skill is to know, on the spot, that Hallelujah means ‘Praise God.’ Sometimes it is helpful to be able to reassure a caller that her newly discovered Jewish heritage does not include a blood debt for the death of Jesus.
Or any of the other odd theological tasks ministry has us stumble over.

It is not just the odd, strange, and yet not uncommon encounters of my life that convince me of the importance of study, of deep theology.

My parish recently read Joan Chittister’s In Search of Belief for a parish book study. Towards the end of one class as people were discussing the challenges of the reading, one parishioner commented that I was sitting there smiling.
And I was.

Not because everyone was worried their entire faith system had just been found hollow.
Because we were sitting there, conservative, liberal, literal, literary, cradle Anglicans, recent converts, together.

I am called and charged “to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.”

And as a parish priest I particularly live this out through leading community. Not just by loving the people I am amongst but by hosting space where liberal and conservative and just-not-sure-yet all witness themselves being loved, heard, and understood in front of other people.
To do this means knowing more of my tradition than my preferred strands of it. It means learning how to hold open the riches of Christ’s grace for those who need other strands. And holding out the hope that in the life to come we will all be closer to God and thus to each other in our understanding of the faith we share.

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For the Benefit of Non-Members, Lent 4 2014

Robyns Sermons“The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of non-members.” (Widely attributed to Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple)


The lessons can be found by clicking here.  This is one of the rare occasions where I didn’t work with them much.

You can find the Anglican Church of Canada Catechism question I reference on page 553 of the 1962 Book of Common Prayer. (pdf here)

You can find The Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer and Catechism here.  The questions I reference are found on page 855.

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To Elevate the Host

It was January 2002, the weekend before my 2nd semester of college began. It was the beginning of my acceptance of a priestly vocation and I was sitting in a room at a Church 5 hours away from home, further from college. A priest, whom I’ve known for years and love and respect, said that he planned to continue celebrating Eucharist “until I can no longer elevate the Host.”

In the moment I knew three things. This was like no other position on retirement I’d ever heard. I had no understanding off what he meant. This was absolutely true and a visceral reality.

I’ve had a brief vacation over the last week. The timing was found where my need to rest (after the moving and moving and learning a new Church, Diocese, city, and country) met the schedule of the Diocese and Church. I was pulled a bit thin by the time my fist day of vacation came.

I took time to read, walk my dog, visit museums, go to the movies, clean my house, sit on my couch and watch television. I was on vacation for Sunday and the midweek services.

It was good to be gone and it is good to be back. Seven days is just long enough to rest and not so long that I am playing massive catch-up with messages. Still, I spent the first few days back out of rhythm with my usual week. And I didn’t quite know how to get back.
I know that this is normal. It doesn’t matter when my time away ends or how I set things up, the first few days are a little off.

I find my rhythm after my first service back.

This is My Body


This is I when hear my wise friend’s voice: “until I can no longer elevate the Host.”
I have been ordained and lived my way into that sacramental and elusive truth. There is something about who I am, how I am connected to my role as priest that is grounded and grounds me through celebrating the Eucharist. Through the sharing of Christ’s body and blood with my community.

“Until I can no longer elevate the Host.”

This is what I know now about this statement. It’s not about retirement; it’s about sacrament, relationship, and vocation. I can explain it no better than I first heard it. It is viscerally true.

And it was good and right and joyous to be back, elevating the Host and celebrating with my community, this morning.

Picture used via Creative Commons, Alan Creech, Flickr 
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SR St Peter’s 100th Anniversary

Link: St Peter’s 100th Anniversary

Summary of what I was saying and why:
Sunday was approximately 100 years since the dedication of St Peter’s. We had a 1914 style service followed by a Parish lunch. It was a great day. All I wanted to do was say something about the history of St Peter’s, of faithful people.

Theology: Ecclesiology
Jesus Count:low
Good News: the Church is a product of faith.

What did I change on my feet?
Not much
What didn’t work/what did I miss?
I wish I’d spent more time on the early history of the Church.
What did work?
I didn’t know how specific to be about events that happen(ed) at St Peter’s. It seems the general reference was a good choice. I didn’t leave anyone out and I gave people space for the stories I hadn’t heard.

Other sermons I liked:

Priest Downs goes back to the Baptismal Covenant.

Priest Linman asks if we’re looking for the Glory of God.

Priest Giroux has a vision of the Kingdom we’re invited to.

(Here’s the list of people I usually listen to. Am I missing someone?)
The Anglican Church of Canada uses the Roman Ordinary Time numbering system instead of numbering the Propers. Because all of this is new to me, I’m now indicating both numbering systems.

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A Sermon for St Peter’s 100th Anniversary

A few words on 100 years of life and ministry.Robyns Sermons


(They do not feature heavily but the readings can be found by clicking here.)

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