Posts Tagged With: Priest

Called and Blessed

  The blessing oil drips off my hands, running onto the page as I write, and Scripture’s lines about oil dripping off of Aaron’s beard run through my head. I remember how I remind others that anointing with oil was a kingly act, that our baptism anointing ties us to the apostles, prophets, priests, and kings of our faith, stretching back to Moses and Aaron. And my hands seem small.Today these are the hands which blessed a dying woman and offer comfort which seemed to little to her family.
Last week these hands stapled, copied, changed toner, and moved chairs and tables. Next week they will light fire to turn palms into ashes, press the ashes into people’s foreheads, alto help us remember “you are dust and to dust you will return.

These are hands that pet my dog, cook, caress my husband, clean, sort laundry, and cart books around with me.

Hands that weekly raise bread and wine as I pray, hope, expect them to turn into Christ’s body and blood.

These are my hands, running over with the blessing of an Archbishop, drenched in the work God has called me to.

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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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I Choose to Stay

A recent post by Tony Jones on Theoblogy called for a schism over the question of women’s ordination.** This has kicked off some response.

I, as a woman ordained in a liberal branch of Christ’s Church, don’t agree.
You might think that I’d appreciate the solidarity for women’s ordination. After all I get quizzical looks and questions about being a nun when I’m in my collar.

I love my Church. I delight in my priesthood.
And I too choose to stay.

I stay after my weight, my marital status, my age, my health are all topics I’ve been asked about in job interviews,* and by mentors. I stay after hearing the leader of my parish label my desire to be acknowledged as a member of the parish as an inappropriate need to feel important. I stay after mentors, cornerstones of the Church made inappropriate jokes about my apparel. I stay after conversation after conversation where I have to repeat that “I’m the priest.” I stay after numerous people assume that my honesty, lauded as vulnerability in older men, is weakness. I stay after my questions are dismissed because they relate to women, pregnancy, and work. I stay after conversations where largely male colleagues left me to make the point that sexism and inequality still exist. I stay knowing I have colleagues who believe my person, my theology, and my resulting actions are an affront to the Gospel we both believe in. I stay even though my therapists ask me why I stay.
I choose to stay.

Not because I believe that unity should be stronger than our differences. Not because I know that every group of people will not perfectly agree on any issue. Not because Church isn’t suppose to be easy. Not because they let me. Not because they ordained me. Not because I fear leaving.

I’ve thought about leaving.
I have sat in the pews of Churches that make different, arguably less horrible, mistakes than mine. I learned that those Churches were not my Church.
So I stay in this Church I love, this Church which isn’t always sure it wants me, this Church which has hurt me so deeply, this Church which is frequently unsure what to do with me, this Church which still gets so much wrong.
I choose to stay.

Church should be about where people encounter Jesus.
This is where I best see Jesus.
I choose to stay.

*Questions on these subjects are illegal.

**Mr Jones has elaborated on what he was saying.  It is worth reading.  I am not trying to argue or dispute either of his posts.  I believe that some honesty about the imperfect nature of the Church and the ongoing decision we all make, in some way, to stay is worth holding up alongside reasons people leave.

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Moving Lists

In the last month almost everything has changed. I’m living in a new city and country; part of a new Diocese in a new Province, rector of a new parish, and settling into my new apartment. Everything is more than fine.  Not only is the dog still with me, but Edmonton, my parish, and the Diocese have been incredibly welcoming.
In all of these changes, there are a few things I want to be mindful of.

I work at the art of preaching. I don’t want to let those disciplines get lost in the bustle of moving, unpacking (someday, someday), settling in, and learning all the new things. The two largest parts are enough time for writing (a rule of thumb I’ve found to be true is 1 hour of prep to 1 minute of preaching) and sermon reviews.

Clergy groups
One of the most dangerous parts of ministry is the sense of isolation. Clergy groups help prevent this. Denominational, ecumenical/interfaith, age/gender, interest/focus, however the group comes together it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone.

Being part of my community
It is nearly impossible to minister to people and a community you don’t know. To be the priest I want to be, I need face to face interactions–becoming a regular at a few places, regular routes for dog walks, and the time and energy to explore a new place. (And I have a lot of new places.)
Also keeping and growing my online communities. Some of how I got here is due to Twitter; some of what keeps me happy and sane are friends spread across many (and international) borders. I need the ideas, support, and insight from this cyber-cloud of witnesses.

Reading Time
I love reading. Reading, and particularly reading with time to process, analyze, and apply, is where ideas, creativity, and informed opinions come from. Time for reading, for sitting immersed in a good book, is easily lost. In the moment it is possible to think reading isn’t more important than the crisis of the minute…and it may not be. But not reading can become the crisis of the month and year.
I will be blocking off several hours a week for reading.

Office hours
There’s office work and then there are office hours. In the past year or so, I let not having an office keep me from posting specific hours where my office door is open to people dropping by. And I plan on borrowing an idea from a friend and having office hours both in my office and at a local tea place.

Liturgical and Educational Planning
Sometimes good ideas happen at the last minute. But often advance thought and planning keep me from falling into ruts or simply reaching for the closest answer. Sitting down to think a season and a year ahead help keep me mindful of what is happening when and why.
And my inner introvert appreciates knowing what’s ahead.

Self Care
Sleep. There’s self care and then there’s sleep. A lifetime of restless sleep has taught me both the importance of sleep and that it must be a priority. When I’m not conscious of how much sleep I need vs how much sleep I’m getting, I don’t get enough. Part of this is self-policing (turn the TV off or put the book down) and part of it is scheduling (how many nights I work).
Quiet Days. One of the habits I’ve noticed in priests I admire is the habit of taking a quiet day. One day a month where nothing is scheduled but time is set apart for prayer, contemplation, and reading.

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Praying My Future

I started seminary the fall after I graduated college.  I moved across the country and, as it happened, away from a Church situation that was…unhealthy…for me.  It had been difficult for more than a year before I left.  I felt I had little community at my Church; I was not being fed spiritually. I even thought about switching denominations.  I couldn’t.  I wanted and needed a better community.  And I was about to move 2,000 miles away from the support I did have.

With no way to fix the situation I was in and no control over what would come, I prayed.  I started with no idea which seminary I would attend and no information about my future classmates.  Knowing that another unhealthy community would nearly kill my life in this Church I loved and wanted to serve, I prayed.  For my classmates, for how our community would be, for who we would be and become together.  For eighteen months,  I prayed my future, in blind faith that it might be true.

There was a moment where I knew.  Knew that seminary, along with all of its challenges, would be better, would feed me.  I kept praying–to remind God and myself.

One of the most frequent questions I hear (and I suspect most priests hear) is about the purpose and efficacy of prayer.  Do we pray to a God who listens?  A God who answers?  Why are there fewer miracles?  Why are so many prayers unanswered? Our  answers are tepid at best.  Of course God listens, wants to answer.  Miracles were likely natural cures in a time without scientific understanding.  ‘No’ is an answer.  We have to trust that God knows what we need better than we do.  Prayer is a meditative exercise meant to change us.  Worst of all: Miracles are knowledge of the presence of God.

I don’t know.  My prayers are often unanswered.  I have not witnessed a miracle, God’s intervening action in the world.  It often seems that I am praying into a void or as some sort of meditative exercise not communication with the God who calls me beloved.

But I also know that my seminary class was a healthy community where I was nurtured and healed.

For the past eighteen months I have been again been praying my future, from long the first moment I knew my time there was coming to an end.  I prayed for my Churches as I always had.  I also prayed for the Church that was calling me as their priest.  Long before I started searching, long before I had any idea where I would be looking, I prayed.

I prayed for their discernment, for my discernment, for the palpable movement of the Holy Spirit.  As I discerned with different Churches, I added prayers for them specifically.    As I kept looking, as the months stretched out, as I heard “not you,” as friends started to delightedly announce new positions and I had nothing to announce.  I prayed.

Now, after so many prayers:

I am delighted to announce that I have been called as the next rector of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Edmonton.

Categories: Church, My Life, Priest's Life, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

At Deathbeds: On Closing Churches

In the last 18 month I’ve been present at the closing of three Churches. I was their priest; they had been a cluster when I was called. In each case it was excruciating and sad. In each case it was the right choice. Churches, the actual communities, the buildings located in towns and cities, are not immortal. While The Church, the larger universal body has outlasted change after change, its constituent parts are often subject to the changes of the world.

I am often asked what it like to close a Church. This rises out of, I suspect, the pastoral wish to let me talk through my experience. And, in an age where we are inundated with fearful “the Church is shrinking” messages, the fear that the person posing the question may experience their Church’s closing. (1)

My answer is simple. It is like watching someone die.

Much like the deathbeds I have been privileged to be present at, there have been times when Churches close suddenly, times when we were waiting for the last Sunday as much as we were dreading it, and times when we knew the last Sunday was coming but none of us would ever be ready.

Three deaths, 18 months. The stories I want to tell have little to do with the last Sundays, with the ultimacy of closing–much like the stories told at funerals aren’t usually about reading the will or cleaning the house out.

I want to tell about potluck dinners instituted by parishioners. About hospital visits and funerals. About children who graduated. I want to talk about rediscovering coffee hour. About how the purpose of one Church was to bury the last of a generation. I want to talk about how it was important to understand the purpose of a church before one Church could close. About the classes I taught and the subjects we discussed. I want to talk about a Church community that rediscovered itself. About sermons preached and conversations had.

I want to talk about how we lived.

What I have faith in, what I believe, is that none of this is lost. God’s grand economy of us, of our faith, means that none of our actions, faith-filled or otherwise, are meaningless, lost, or forgotten. Walking out of those buildings for the last time, not just for me, but for the last time for a priest of the congregation, is a test of Resurrection Theology. My faith is not that these congregations will somehow rise from the ashes, that what is now dead will survive. My faith is that these congregations’ actions, their faith will be part of the day of the Resurrection. At which time we will understand how this part of our lives was God drawing straight with crooked lines. (2)

1 Watch Dean Markham’s on the The Myth of the Decling of the Episcopal Church”
2 Portuguese proverb

Later this week I’ll turn to Sermon Reviews and what this next chapter of my life looks like.

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