Wednesday, November 30, 2011

18 Years: The Feast of St. Andrew, my Ordination Patron

Today marks eighteen years since my ordination to the sacred priesthood in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church on St. Andrew’s Day. It was a beautiful, powerful, poignant liturgy. So much of my life led up to it, yet it was not a “mountain top” experience, an event isolated from the rest of my life. Rather, it was a confirmation, journey further into, an opening up. I shall never forget when the chasuble was lowered over me at that liturgy. While I knew that the “moment” of ordination was during the laying on of hands, it was in the otherworldly silence and enveloping of that fleeting action that the grace of ordination was truly impressed on me. For a brief second, the seamlessness and tranquillity of the Christian faith completely overcame this fragmented and anxious world. It was a foretaste of heaven.

Andrew and his brother Peter, the Gospel according to Matthew tells us, were mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow him. They were engaged in the ordinary things of life for fishers. This fact about St. Andrew’s life and vocation has not left me. It is in the ordinary run of things that God so often comes to us. Andrew, who had begun this journey as one of St. John the Baptist’s disciples, was clearly ready to hear the word of invitation to follow Jesus; he was a person of deep faithfulness and thus makes for a great Ordination Patron, whom I remember daily and at each Eucharist. But the moment of his calling that St. Matthew paints for us is one of the daily, the routine, the unglamorous. Much of being a parish priest falls into this category. For some, this is a trial. I won’t say I haven’t been frustrated by it from time to time, but on the whole, it is precisely in the ordinary, the mundane, the scut-work of this vocation that I have found Jesus calling to me. Along with the riches of the liturgy, it is in the hidden and simple round of parochial life that I have most often found Our Lord—and been found by him.

Pray for me, the deeply imperfect servant of Christ.

Pray for me, St. Andrew.

The Collect of St. Andrew
Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

From the Ordination Liturgy

The Bishop says
As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you.

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.

My brother, do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to this priesthood?

Answer      I believe I am so called.

May it be so, by God’s grace and the prayers of his people.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Saint Ephrem of Edessa on why we do not know the exact time of the Second Coming

To prevent his disciples from asking the time of his coming, Christ said: About that hour no one knows, neither the angels nor the Son. It is not for you to know times or moments. He has kept those things hidden so that we may keep watch, each of us thinking that he will come in our own day. If he had revealed the time of his coming, his coming would have lost its savor: it would no longer be an object of yearning for the nations and the age in which it will be revealed. He promised that he would come but did not say when he would come, and so all generations and ages await him eagerly.

Though the Lord has established the signs of his coming, the time of their fulfillment has not been plainly revealed. These signs have come and gone with a multiplicity of change; more than that, they are still present. His final coming is like his first. As holy men and prophets waited for him, thinking that he would reveal himself in their own day, so today each of the faithful longs to welcome him in his own day, because Christ has not made plain the day of his coming.

He has not made it plain for this reason especially, that no one may think that he whose power and dominion rule all numbers and times is ruled by fate and time. He described the signs of his coming; how could what he has himself decided be hidden from him? Therefore, he used these words to increase respect for the signs of his coming, so that from that day forward all generations and ages might think that he would come again in their own day.
St. Ephrem of Edessa, Deacon [373]

Unlike some Christian groups, Anglicans do not concern themselves with trying to determine the exact time of Christ’s coming, precisely because he has told us not to (and because St. Paul also made clear the foolishness of such an endeavor). Rather, we are called to live our lives in the continuous expectation of his coming. For us, the Second Coming is a revelation of God’s truth, and something we earnestly desire. The Christian does not have to wait for this event in time in order to begin to experience it. We may do so even now by reading God’s word to us in Scripture, receiving the sacraments, doing the works of the Gospel, and examining our conscience and repenting from sin.

The eagerness St. Ephrem points to is a desire for a union of will and life in God, not a timetable for self-vindication. That eagerness is essential to the spirit of Advent—and to the Christian life always, in every season and place.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Eucharistic Table: Classical Anglican Thoughts

For as God descended and came into the tabernacle invested with a cloud, so Christ comes to meet us clothed with a mystery. He hath a house below as well as above; here is his dwelling and here are his provisions; here is his fire and here his meat; hither God sends his Son, and here his Son manifests himself. The church and the holy table of the Lord, the assemblies of saints and devotions of his people, the word and the sacrament, the oblation of bread and wine and the offering of ourselves, the consecration and the communion, are the things of God and of Jesus Christ; and he that is employed in these is there where God loves to be, and where Christ is to be found; in the employments in which God delights, in the ministries of his own choice, in the work of the Gospel and the methods of grace, in the economy of heaven and the dispensations of eternal happiness.

And now, that we may know where to find him, we must be sure to look after him. He hath told us where he would be, behind what pillar, and under what cloud, and covered with what veil, and conveyed by what ministry, and present in what sacrament. And we must not look for him in the highways of ambition and pride, of wealth or sensual pleasures; these things are not found in the house of his Father, neither may they come near his dwelling. But if we seek for Christ, we shall find him in the methods of virtue and the paths of God’s commandments, in the houses of prayer and the offices of religion, in the persons of the poor and the retirements of an afflicted soul; we shall find him in holy reading and pious meditation, in our penitential sorrows and in the time of trouble, in pulpits and upon altars, in the word and the sacraments: if we come hither as we ought, we are sure to find our Beloved, him whom our soul longeth after.

Jeremy Taylor, in “Worthy Communicant,” (1660)

This extract from Taylor’s profound reflections on the Eucharist and our participation in it tells us much about the Classical Anglican understanding of this sacrament. Taylor is not embarrassed by the Eucharistic Liturgy. Unlike many today, who have been schooled on a diet of secular utilitarianism, Taylor knows that the Eucharistic liturgy is a direct experiencing of the Kingdom of God. The liturgy is not a means to an end; it is the sharing in the "end" itself. It deserves to be offered with care and "the beauty of holiness" because it communicates the presence, power, and purposes of God to a lost humanity. It is in this “economy of heaven,” as Taylor so beautifully puts it, that we desire to be: first in the liturgy and then in the rest of our lives.

And it is this fusion of the liturgy with the rest of our life that marks the second paragraph--and marks the Classical Anglican approach to sacramentality in general. The participation in the Divine Life that marks authentic liturgy leads to the rest of our existence sharing in this call to holiness and wholeness—both in what we must not and what we must do. In the Eucharist we see Christ in word of scripture and in bread and wine. Through this encounter, we see Christ in the poor and the afflicted, in times of struggle and in times of peaceful contemplation, in activity and in rest. The Eucharist, far from being an escape from life, is the very place where, for the Christian, life is transformed and revealed to be the holy thing it truly is and must be.

The Eucharist is the centerpiece of the Church's life until the Last Day. Anglicans of whatever stripe must both cherish it and offer it with great intentionality. This is why the Eucharist can never be taken for granted, nor may it be "tossed off" by careless clergy, laity, or parishes. To do so it to betray the very gift of transformative encounter God has given us.

Wake Up!

"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake-- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Advent, that season of opposites, ends with the Holy Family going to Bethlehem in silent obscurity. It begins, however, with the shriek of the rooster, the disorienting clang of the alarm clock, the crash of a break-in.

Jesus’ words to his disciples in today’s Gospel lesson require eternal vigilance from us. There is never a good time to let our guard down, to get comfy or complacent.

Christianity is never a faith or a practice of avoidance: it is always a direct encounter with God, with the neighbor, with the reality of our discipleship. Falling asleep, in any of its many forms in the spiritual life, is another word for death. As C.S. Lewis aptly noted, we are ever advancing to heaven or hell. For the Christian, wakefulness is the pilgrimage to heaven: spiritual sleep is the coasting into alienation from God, the other, and self.

May this be an Advent of new wakefulness for us all.

Collect for Advent Sunday
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Art of Giving Thanks

A General Thanksgiving
from the Book of Common Prayer (1979), 
page 836

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things.  Amen.

The Prayer Book contains a number of prayers of thanksgiving. This one, composed for this revision, ascends rung by rung into the heights of spiritual freedom and maturity.

It begins with giving God thanks for what has been done for us, personally and corporately: in creation and all that flows from it—all of it being an expression of the mystery of Divine Love found in the Holy Trinity. Interestingly, this prayer assumes a theological beginning and end, framing the entire idea of thanksgiving in our participation in the Divine, rather than in the material benefits we have received. The two things are not opposites, but in a materialist culture like ours, it is essential to make clear that the material proceeds from and points towards a spiritual wholeness.

Then the prayer tightens the focus to the particulars of our own experience. This can be difficult, especially if we find ourselves in a season of loss or pain in any of the relationships central to our life. Giving thanks for any love or care we have received, even briefly, is essential at these times. When we are grieving or in emotional turmoil, evil seeks to isolate us from all memory of God’s presence and leading. This prayer speaks to that tendency, recalling before our heart and mind that God has been there, loving us in and through others.

Then comes a thanksgiving for our work, skills, abilities, and the creative capacity God gives us each in unique ways. This includes our work (how often do we really give thanks for work? After all, we were given work to do by God in the story of the Garden of Eden well before the “fall.”) Creativity, stewardship of resources, labor… these are all ways we share in God’s love. When our work or efforts “demand our best efforts,” we find out not only more about the hidden gifts in our lives, but about how much we need God in order to unlock those gifts—and hold them with humility and for the benefit of others when using them.

The prayer dares to contemplate an extremely important, but oft-overlooked part of thanksgiving: for failures and disappointments. This is a high rung to reach for, and usually can only be understood through a costly grace. Yet, it remains true that the greatest learning we will ever have will be from our failures, should we take the time to review them with eye not to self-justification but to a desire to love and serve more authentically. That is true dependence on God. When we learn not to fear failure as rejection, but to learn from all things for deeper discipleship, our very lives become a bridge between God’s holiness and the world’s need.

The prayer then proceeds to give highest thanks for the Word made flesh: Jesus Christ. It rehearses the story of incarnation-ministry-death-resurrection-ascension (His and ours--emphasizing our share in the ascension to God), placing our whole capacity to give thanks in the light of that which frees us to live upright, holy lives. It is not our own smarts, strength, good luck, good looks, personal charisma, or any of the myriad other things the world exalts that gives us hope: it is the gift of union with the Holy Trinity made possible in Christ that should call forth from us the greatest praise and thanks.

Finally, the prayer concludes not with thanks, but a petition: for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We do this because the Spirit’s work of connecting, urging, and communicating is essential for us to make this act of Thanksgiving—whether said on Thanksgiving Day or at any other time—more than a moment in time, but a way of life.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How your parish works...

How Your Parish Works:
A short introduction to the mission and life of
 St. Timothy’s Church, Salem.

St. Timothy’s common life is based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to live out the Gospel we have developed a brief mission statement. All of our ministries and activities are related to it.

The Mission of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
We gather to experience the Holy Trinity through Scripture, worship, study, and fellowship. Receiving and reflecting God’s love and grace, we are sent out to love and serve our neighbor, see the Christ in others, and share the Gospel by the example of our everyday lives.

At St. Timothy’s we believe the first priority of any Christian community is the worship of God. There can be no more important activity for Christians than the coming together for the purpose of worshipping our Creator and Redeemer. All other ministry is grounded in this worship: the liturgy is the training ground for service in the world. The central act of Christian worship is the Holy Eucharist, where Christ is present to His people in the Word of Scripture and by the bread and wine mystically made his Body and Blood. This is the basis of our parish’s life.

Some key aspects of the way we worship:
  • St. Timothy’s puts a great deal of focus on robust symbolism, with the full use of the senses (such as incense, holy water, chanting and hymnody, kneeling, &c.), all offered to God’s glory.
  • We value regular attendance as a way to grow in faith and gain understanding of parish activities and offerings.
  • Our model for worship and theology is the ancient and undivided Church, grounded in the Apostolic faith and scripture.
  • Sermons are generally of a practical character.
  • The Church Year, with its focus on the key themes of Christian teaching and practice, is central to the parish’s life.
  • Holy Week (Palm Sunday through the Easter Vigil/Day) is the pinnacle of our worship and community life; plan to participate!

Vestry and Rector:  The Episcopal Church lives a shared form of leadership between the laity and the clergy at each level, from the National Church through to the Diocese and at the parish church. St. Timothy’s is led by an elected body of laypersons (the Vestry) and the Rector (Fr. Brandon). A Treasurer and a Clerk are appointed by the Vestry. Two of the Vestry persons are designated Wardens. The Senior and Junior Wardens, along with the Rector, form a kind of Executive Committee. Vestry members are elected by parishioners at our Annual Meeting early each year.

Commissions: St. Timothy’s has a number of Commissions, each one covering a different aspect of ministry in the congregation. Each Commission has a Coordinator. This person helps focus and facilitate the Commission’s area of ministry. The Commission may organize itself as it best sees fit to do its work. All Commissions have a Vestry Liaison to whom the Coordinator makes regular reports of the Commission’s work. All members of St. Timothy’s are called to minister the Gospel in their daily lives: Commissions provide one way for us to do so as a parish community.

Commissions at St. Timothy’s

Building and Grounds
Ongoing maintenance & planning for future needs

Christian Formation
From the nursery through Adulthood: a lifelong process

Liturgical Ministries
Acolytes/Altar Guild & Flowers/Music/Lectors, &c.

Ministering the Gospel locally and globally

Helping people move from visitor to full member

Parish Life
Our fellowship events & ministry nurturance group

Pastoral Care
Connecting members to each other in care & compassion

All we have is a gift from God; let us use it wisely!

  • Photos of Vestry members and Commission Coordinators are posted in the Narthex (the foyer leading into worship)
  • You are invited to join one or more Commissions. Do you see something that interests you? Talk to Fr. Brandon, a Coordinator, or our Parish Administrator, via e-mail, or by a phone call. We are here to serve!
"How do I join this Church?"   The answer to this question is really two-fold.  The basic steps are:

1. Baptism.  All persons baptized with water in the name of the Trinity are members of Christ's Universal (catholic) Church, of which the Episcopal Church is part.  If you are seeking baptism, please see the parish priest.  We ask that only those baptized receive communion; if you are not baptized, please come to the altar for a blessing by the priest at the time of communion; cross your arms over your chest to signal you desire a blessing.

Having your baptism recorded, receiving communion at least three times a year, and giving in one's own name establishes membership in the Episcopal Church.

2. Confirmation. The last step toward full and mature participation in our tradition (including serving in certain leadership areas) is by being confirmed by a Bishop of our Church. Inquirer’s Classes and Catechumenate Classes leading to Confirmation are offered each year.

If you are an Episcopalian joining St. Timothy’s from another Episcopal parish, ask your former parish (or our parish office) to have a Letter of Transfer sent to establish your membership here.

All new members at St. Timothy’s are asked to attend the Inquirer’s Class & to begin giving to the work & mission of the Church in their own name by pledging or by other means.

Some Special Terms at St. Timothy’s

The Catechumenate:
An ancient process whereby adults are prepared for baptism. Adults seeking to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church and those seeking a deeper faith are also normally part of the Catechumenate. After the Inquirer’s Class series in the autumn, Catechumenate begins in Advent, and concludes at Pentecost in the spring. The Catechumenate is not only about teaching; it is about sharing our stories, questioning, and learning from each other. Interested? See Michael McFetridge, Head Catechist.

Chaburah (Ha-boor-ah)
This Hebrew word refers to a gathering of believers for a meal and discussion. They are our form of parish fellowship groups. Each year, Chaburah groups form and meet monthly in each other’s homes for food and conversation. Sign-ups are posted before the next rounds of Chaburahs.

This Greek word refers to the entry space outside of the Nave (the worship area) of the Church. At St. Timothy’s many activities occur in the narthex, including Sunday post-worship receptions, weekday fellowship activities, and occasional teaching events.

Living in the Kingdom
A discipleship enrichment group meeting on Wednesday evenings.  Retreats, presentations on various “how the faith is lived” topics, plenty of discussion, as well!

Parish Hall
The “log cabin” building just north of the main church. This was our original worship space, and is now used for parish meals and special events.
+ + +
Are there other unfamiliar terms? Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Our “church language” can be confusing, but we’ll translate!

Getting (and staying) connected

The Bulletin: Look on the right side of the service bulletin for a quick calendar of the week. Look on the bulletin back for more detailed information about events and other parish news. Verbal announcements are often made at the Sunday Eucharist. Stay for coffee hour if possible, too.

The Tidings: This is our monthly newsletter. Please give your address information to the Parish Office to start receiving your copy.

Parish Web Site:
We have many offerings on our web site, including photos of events, educational, daily prayer and scripture resources, back issues of the Tidings, the rector’s blog, contact information for parish leadership, &c.

Weekly eTidings: If you have Internet access, sign up for this e-mail bulletin via the parish web site.

Other ways…
  • Chaburah Groups (see above),
  • Annual Parish Campout in August
  • Tuesday morning Eucharist (10 AM)
  • Wednesday craft group (10 AM–Noon, at church)
  • Summer Wednesday Evening Potlucks
  • Bible Studies
  • Commissions
And most importantly:
Inquirer’s Classes and the Catechumenate are the best tools for learning about the parish.

*Illustration from The Cartoon Church

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Day by Day we praise you: an introduction to the Daily Office

The Prayers

The final portion of the Morning/Evening Office has to do with prayer, as its title indicates.  

The Prayers take all we have done, where we have been in the previous stages of the Office and, in a sense, "apply" them to the ongoing work of being more like Christ. We pray the prayer Jesus taught us, we share in his priestly work of intercession and thanksgiving, and we contemplate what it means to be merciful, compassionate, just, and loving in the full sense of these words. All the purgation, all of the illumination, now come to their highest purpose, the one manifest in Christ's Incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and in baptism: sharing in the divine life we were always meant to have, the union of wills which is our glory, our desire, our peace.

The Prayers commence with a dialog: “The Lord be with you. And also with you. Let us pray.” (in Rite 2; Rite 1 uses the form “The Lord be with you. And with thy spirit.”). This assumes, of course, public recitation of the Office. When it is being said in private (remembering the truth that there really is no such thing as fully “private” Christian prayer), it is permissible to change this dialogue to “Lord hear our prayer, and let our cry come to you.” This preserves the communal sense of the Office while acknowledging the realities of the setting. This dialogue recalls to us that all our prayers are part of a dynamic interplay between ourselves, Christ’s Body the Church, and God. There are many times when we can lose track of this in life, and the liturgical forms of our worship brings us back to the truth: we do not do this alone.

The Lord’s Prayer then follows. This may be said in either its Elizabethan or modern translation. I would suggest that one try to pray this prayer in its modern form with some regularity. The Lord’s Prayer serves as the “summit” of this part of the Office. It is here where we most clearly speak about our will being in union with God’s. The prayer Christ gave to us sets the pattern for Christian life. From this flows the fruit of such a union: intercession, adoration, and thanksgiving—all connected to the actions of a life lived partly in the Kingdom of God already. The rest of the Office is, in a sense, a "living out" of the Lord's Prayer.

The Suffrages that follow the Lord’s Prayer may be a new word and concept to some people. Suffrages are a prayer form based on short intercessory phrases (the “V” and “R” mean “versicle” and “response” in public recitation of the Office). Together, they cover a great deal of territory in a short amount of time: prayers for mercy, protection, Christian leadership, the Church, peace, the state, justice, mission, the poor, purity, and the power of the Holy Spirit. They are similar to a litany (changing petitions, each with a fixed response); in fact, at Evening Prayer, the “B” set of suffrages is a short litany from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. One may certainly “toss off” the Suffrages, as one may rattle off any prayer, but I would advise anyone using them to take them slowly, thinking about what each petition means to you, today. Intercession is one of the clearest fruits of our sharing in the priestly ministry of Christ our Lord; it should be offered with care and reverence. Real lives, real souls are at stake.

At Morning Prayer, Suffrages “A” are the traditional set; the “B” set were for centuries attached to the end of Te Deum (Canticle 7 in Rite I, Canticle 21 in Rite II Morning Prayer), and I tend to use the “B” set whenever I say the Te Deum (as appointed in the Table of Canticles mentioned earlier in this series).

At Evening Prayer, the “A” set of suffrages is, again the “traditional” set, but since it is a repeat of set “A” at Morning Prayer, I tend to use the “B” set most of the time, as this litany has so much to contemplate even in its brevity. The “B” set makes provision for one to add specific saints in the final petition. A good custom here is to begin with “St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord,” as she is the uniquely-honored "God-bearer;" then the patron of one’s parish (if there is one), the saint being commemorated on that particular day, and (perhaps, especially in personal recitation) one’s name saint. It is also customary to make the sign of the cross at the petition for forgiveness of sin in this set of Suffrages. This physically recalls the significance of Christ's love for all humanity poured out upon the cross, as well as our baptism into the "Way of the Kingdom" the we are called to live out through forgiveness and mercy ourselves.

The Collects that follow are a venerable part of the Office--they once formed the conclusion to the service, and may still be used this way. The Prayer Book allows one to use as few as two or as many as one wants. For public services, three is usually a good number. In personal recitation, it is good to start simply, and then add a few as one’s comfort with the Office develops.

The Collects are more than just “prayers” in a generic sense. They are an education in the mission and theology of the Church, a laboratory for spiritual experimentation, and a formation in the depth of conversation with God. To become familiar with the collects of the Daily Office and the Church Year is to be immersed in the fertile ground of faith, where good seeds can sprout and put down deep roots.

In most Anglican forms of the Daily Office, it is customary to start the Collects with “The Collect of the Day.” This usually means the Collect of that particular week (being that of the preceding Sunday), but could also mean the Collect for a particular Holy Day. All of these prayers may be found in the Collects section of the BCP, either in traditional language (pages 158-210) or contemporary (pages 211-267). If this seems confusion (and it certainly can be—this is why I suggest starting very simply), this is where using an online source can be of some help.

Morning and Evening Prayer both have special collects appointed for Sunday, Friday, and Saturday. The remaining collects can be distributed through the week, making for a seven-day cycle. Together, they make a circuit of major areas of focus in prayer: for protection, grace, a sense of God’s presence, &c. One can use these in place of, or in addition to, the Collect of the Day. If one is starting out saying daily Morning/Evening Prayer, I would just use one of these collects, and not worry about the “Collect of the Day” above until you get the sense of how it works.

The 1979 BCP also provides three “Collects for Mission” at Morning and Evening Prayer: choose one to conclude these section. The third of these (“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross…”) is particularly appropriate for Wednesdays and Fridays, the traditional fasting days in Christian practice. The point of these collects is to help the Church move from an excessively interior focus to a more outward- and other-focus in mission. This is central to our renewed sense of being the People of God sent (missio) into the world by Christ to bear the message of the Good News of God.

After the Collects the BCP makes provision for a variety of options. One may immediately conclude the Office here, without anything further.

Other prayers, particularly from the “Prayers and Thanksgivings” section (pages 810-841), may be added following the collects. This is a good way to work through the various prayers for particular concerns/thanksgivings for blessings that the Prayer Book so richly provides.

One may, instead, choose to sing a hymn after the collects, or say the Great Litany (page 148 and following) or some other Litany. When saying the Office in a non-public setting, one could follow the Collects with time for journaling, meditation, observance of silence, or any number of other devotions (see below).

The Office may conclude with The General Thanksgiving and/or The Prayer of St. Chrysostom. The General Thanksgiving is one of the great gems in our tradition. One can pause prior to saying this prayer and give thanks for a particular blessing, then begin. In this prayer we see the gamut of blessings from God… from our own particular concerns on to cosmological gifts of redemption and grace. This is a good prayer to memorize.

The Prayer of St. Chrysostom is probably best suited to group settings, as its content implies. However, saying it on one’s own does remind us that whenever a Christian prays, we are part of the whole Body of Christ offering continual praise and intercession to our God around the world, and beyond the grave.

The Office concludes with the Benedicamus (“Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.” – with alleluias added during Eastertide) and with what is called “The Grace,” traditionally the short verse from 2 Corinthians 13:14 (“The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.”) while making the sign of the cross. This way of ending the Office recalls us to the central Mystery of the Christian Faith: the Holy Trinity, and our communion with the Trinity by God’s grace. Two other options from the Scriptures are also provided, as well. One might vary the concluding grace by season, as appropriate.

So, how do I deal with this massively rich and complex set of possibilities?

With so many choices, perhaps it is best to set up some rough groupings of ways to conclude Morning or Evening Prayer after the Creed. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but it is a start. Here are three such groupings:

The 1979 BCP lays out the following as essential steps in the final section of Morning or Evening Prayer:
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • The Suffrages
  • A collect (prayer) for that particular day, or from those provided in the Office
  • A prayer for mission
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • The Suffrages
  • Collect of the Day
  • Collect from the seven provided in each Office (enough for one to go through them all each week)
  • A prayer for mission or a form of Intercession from the Book of Common Prayer such as the Prayer for All Sorts and Conditions on p. 814 or another form of intercession from other sources
  • A hymn appropriate to the time of day, the season, the liturgical calendar, or lessons from scripture
  • The General Thanksgiving and/or A Prayer of St. Chrysostom from Morning or Evening Prayer
  • The Benedicamus (“Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.”)
  • Concluding grace
Devotional (likely used for personal recitation of the Daily Office)
  • Those items on the “Basic” list, to which may be added such things as:
  • Some or all of those on the “Enriched” list
  • Memorial prayers appropriate to the Day of the Week
  • Prayers of Preparation/Thanksgiving for the Holy Eucharist (some available here and here, and here)
  • Extended time of personal intercession, petition, thanksgiving
  • The Anglican Cycle of Prayer for global intercessions
  • A Diocesan cycle of prayer (here is an example from this diocese)
  • Prayer for specific local ministries, service-providers, government, clergy, parishes, &c. Also, prayer for neighbors.
  • The Great Litany, either as in the BCP (p. 148), or in a form such as from the Church of England’s Common Worship, available online here
  • Additional devotional litanies: at Embertide, of the Holy Trinity, of the Holy Spirit, of Penitence, for the morning, for those who are dying and the departed in Christ (BCP p. 462, 465), &c.
  • Silent contemplation
  • Journaling
As you can see, the possibilities are tremendous in scope. The point, however, is not to become lost in an endless sea of options. Rather, we need to start with a simple rule of prayer and stick to it for a season in life, only adding or changing after we have truly come to “know” these prayers as an experience of growing union with the will of God.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Convention Meditation

Thoughts upon a picture distributed at a diocesan convention, after lectures on the Kingdom of God, the Church, and our seemingly endless love affair with earthly power…

Triptych, Redux

You wait in rhythmic ranks,
            Frozen and timeless, aloof and secure;
Ivory butterflies without concern,
            Save for the flowering Imperial Christ
                         Holding all by unseen force.

We, your egalitarian successors, salute you,
            We lift our fair-trade coffee
To our unfair lips in grudging admiration
            For what you are, or were, and
                        What we still half want.

Our pensions, position, power and place
            Betray our rants, chants and daring poses:
We are radicals, Oh yes, until
            We feel the weight of our cross.
                        Then we look back at you

Furtively, in envy’s green light.
            We wonder:
Where will we fit ourselves
            In your silent, secure parade?
                        Where is our recycled, righteous triptych found?

A Litany for the Armed Forces

Let us remember to pray for all those in the military--at home or abroad, in active service or veterans--on this day when we also recall St. Martin, whose life of service and holiness began while he was in the military.

A Litany for the Armed Forces

Holy God, the protector of all who trust in you:
Grant to the Armed Forces of this nation,
and all who seek you,
the assurance of your presence,
the knowledge of your love,
and the guidance of your spirit
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Bring healing and wholeness to people and nations:
let your mercy rule all that we do.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Be with all who defend your truth and your peace,
that they may vanquish injustice and wrong.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Give wisdom to leaders and commanders,
that they may be a force for good on the earth.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

In your wisdom embrace our enemies,
and those who wish us harm:
turn, the hearts of all to kindness and friendship.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Be with all medics and chaplains,
and all who support the suffering:
give then wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Sustain the anxious and fearful,
and renew then with courage from on high.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Comfort all worried families, whose loved ones are in danger:
surround them with your love, protect them from all harm.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Be with the sick and wounded,
stand by all prisoners and captives:
let your mercy be shown to all, and your power to heal and save.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Receive those fallen in battle, and all innocents who have died:
surround their loves ones with compassion,
and give them a patient faith.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Confirm what is founded on truth,
and establish your love in our hearts:
that justice may abound on the Earth,
and all peoples rejoice in your peace.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

The litany may end with the Lord's Prayer, or else this or some other collect

Lord our God, our sure stronghold,
hear the voice of our pleading
and deliver us from evil.
Strengthen us as we strive for the poor and oppressed,
and establish your justice in all the earth.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

No Idol Threat…

O Lord our God, you call whom you will and send them where you choose: We thank you for sending your servant Willibrord to be an apostle to the Low Countries, to turn them from the worship of idols to serve you, the living God; and we entreat you to preserve us from the temptation to exchange the perfect freedom of your service for servitude to false gods and to idols of our own devising; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Collect for St. Willibrord (c. 658-739 AD)

Yesterday the Church gave thanks for the witness of an Englishman who studied in Ireland and evangelized in the Netherlands and Denmark—all before jetliners and the Internet. Willibrord’s ministry was as heroic as it was pioneering. But today, it is the collect we offer in honor of him that fascinates me the most.

“O Lord our God, you call whom you will and send them where you choose...”
Ah, yes—God is the one who calls and sends, not the various forms of Church bureaucracy or the ego of the individual Christian. That is awfully easy to forget. Perhaps it doesn’t stop there? Maybe it is God who sends renewal into moribund parts of the Church, or God who decides it is time to open our hearts to the challenges of a new era—not the latest plan or initiative or trend from Central.

We thank you for sending your servant Willibrord to be an apostle to the Low Countries, to turn them from the worship of idols to serve you, the living God…”
Idolatry? Isn’t that, well, pretty out of date? Come on? Who does THAT any more? Well, maybe a little bit… I am up to my eyeballs in credit-card debt for stuff I’ve long since thrown away, and I do tend to fill the recycle bin each week with bottles (quality stuff, mind you), and there is the matter of what I do with my private time—but that is hardly idolatry. Sure, I have “issues,” but I’m working on them. I just need more time.

“…We entreat you to preserve us from the temptation to exchange the perfect freedom of your service for servitude to false gods and to idols of our own devising…”
All sin, whether it comes in the form of idolatry, addiction, delusion, decadence, pride, or any of the myriad other forms it takes, begins with a promise of freedom, but leads to slavery. To follow Christ starts with servitude: we must die to self and follow Jesus by taking up our Cross. But then it begins to change. We move from the slavery to self that marks the world “as it is” to freedom in God. God’s desire for us in our perfect liberation. We can never get there by simply “being ourselves,” for we have forgotten who we truly are until we stand in the light and love of God.

Holy Willibrord, as we have remembered you in our prayers this day, pray for us in our time, that we may be faithful to the mission you set before us!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Who are the saints?

A short primer on the saints in the Episcopal tradition...

  • In the New Testament times, saint is a term denoting a baptized person, as in St. Paul’s greeting  “To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia.”  This is still the basic meaning of the word today.
  • Beginning with official persecution of the Church under Roman Imperial authority, the title “saint” came to be given to those who had laid down their lives for the Faith, and by extension to “confessors” who, during persecutions, were faithful to their profession as Christians but were not martyred, and then simply to Christians who were notable for their holy lives.
  • In later times, as a result of large-scale borrowing of dates commemorating revered Christians kept in various regional Churches, a formal calendar of “saints’ days” appeared, and a process of “canonization” was developed for the recognition of saints by the wider Church (canonization meaning to add to a canon or list of saints).
  • During the Reformation, the place of the saints in the Anglican Tradition was returned more to its early meaning: the saints are first and foremost all baptized Christians.
  • The Church commemorates the lives of particular Christians (popularly called “saints”) as models for living the Gospel of Christ. For us, the Saints are a source of inspiration & support, reminding us that God uses ordinary people to do his extraordinary work.
  • To God, all people are alive, for God is not the God of the dead, but the living. The Communion of Saints is the recognition that all those who have turn to God in faith are part of one Body—the Church, and this Church in turn desires to share the Good News of God’s love and reconciliation with all people so that we all may come to know our true identity as saints (holy ones) of God,
(Adapted from “Words of our Worship,” by C.M. Guilbert) 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Only living things need food: Hooker, the Eucharist and Baptism

     The grace which we have by the holy Eucharist doth not begin but continue life. No man therefore receiveth this sacrament before Baptism, because no dead thing is capable of nourishment. That which groweth must of necessity first live. 
     If our bodies did not daily waste, food to restore them were a thing superfluous. And it may be that the grace of baptism would serve to eternal life were it not that the state of our spiritual being is daily so much hindered and impaired after baptism. 
     In that life therefore where neither body nor soul can decay, our souls shall as little require this sacrament as our bodies corporeal nourishment, but as long as the days of our warfare last, during the time that we are both subject to diminution and capable of augmentation in grace, the words of our Lord and savior Christ will remain forcible, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink ye his blood ye have no life in you.  
     Life being therefore proposed unto all men as their end, they which by baptism have laid the foundation and attained the first beginning of a new life have here their nourishment and food prescribed for continuance of life in them.
    Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V—1597

Today is the annual commemoration of Richard Hooker, the great early Anglican theologian and still one of the surest interpreters of what it means to be a “reformed catholic” – the classical self-understanding of this tradition.

Hooker’s discussion of Baptism and the Eucharist here show what a profound, lively, and intensely real understanding of the sacraments he had. Far from being spiritual “comfort food,” a sign of being part of the group, or “chip-and-dip with Jesus” (yes, I’ve heard it described in these ways), the Eucharist is intensely real food for committed (though fragile and vulnerable) disciples. It is a food of authenticity: we receive it not only to be nourished, but also to be judged by the Gospel’s criteria and to have the truth of Christ poured into our lives afresh, so that our conscience being cleansed, we might witness not to our own selfishness or distortion, but to Christ’s healing and power of resurrection.

Baptism and Eucharist are not stepping stones towards something, or "about" something else: they are the thing they say they are: New Life in God and nourishment in that Life. When the sacraments are understood this way, contemporary confusions of hospitality and discipleship are resolved. Hospitality, especially for those not yet baptized, is essential… but the Life given in Baptism (and the centrality of the much-quoted baptismal covenant) and nourished in the Eucharist is not an act of hospitality: it is a radical break with this world and its power; a gift of restored life in God the Holy Trinity and the accountability and grace to live that life.

Collect for the Commemoration of Richard Hooker, 
Priest & Theologian
O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

These Unsearchable Benefits

O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
[Collect for All Faithful Departed]

Christians grieve. We are human. Yet, we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope,” as St. Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Thessalonians. Rather, we grieve as those with hope, with an assurance of Life’s final victory in the Resurrection, available now to us by faith and communion in God. This is one of the most obvious benefits we have been given in Christ.

Another is, however, less evident: it is the way God embraces the ambiguity and pain of our life in love and mercy. From the moment of Christ’s birth in a manger because there wasn’t room or time, to the moment that his body was laid in a borrowed tomb, Christ’s earthly life was filled with the less-than-perfect of this world. The One who knew no sin embraced and redeemed the broken, partial, and flawed. That embrace, overcoming all our unworthiness in the power of the Resurrection, is a benefit reaching into the heart of many who grieve with hope, but with pain.

For many who mourn, there are a thousand unanswered questions: “what if…,” “why…,” “how could I have…,” “if only…” and so on. Like battery acid corroding delicate wiring, these questions often burn into our souls in not only unproductive but utterly destructive ways. Being able to let these questions go is a necessary process for many who mourn… but how?

When we come to All Souls’ Day each year, we bring not only the assurance and peace of a “reasonable and holy hope” (as the Prayer Book puts it) to our grief: we also bring the unsearchable benefits of knowing a God who walks with us in the incompletion of life and death. When we have no answers, no way of making sense of loss, of lives not lived—or lived unwisely—we know that in Christ these, the souls we bear in our hearts, will be manifested as God’s children in glorious completion when the story is finally told in full. God, who knows our limitations, also searches out our deepest desires—the desire to love and be loved. Learning to live from this kind of hope, this kind of faith, we can commend what is impossible for us to the God for whom all things are indeed possible.

Rest eternal grant them, O Lord.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

For the Living and Dead

O God
Your majesty is ineffable,
Your power incomparable,
Your goodness inestimable.
You are the Lord of the living and the dead.
We are those whose power in the world
Is bound in the flesh.
They are those, whose bodies are laid aside and are now received.
Give to the living, mercy and grace,
And to the departed, rest and light for ever.
Give to the Church, truth and peace,
And to us, forgiveness of sins, and your good favor.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626),
as translated by David Scott

For use as in daily intercessions, on All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2), during times of grief, or at the Eucharist, prior to Communion.

This prayer expresses with precision and economy the Church's teaching on the Communion of Saints. Christians experience an assurance capable of looking through death to Life in its fullness. We do this by faith, and this faith comes from a gift given freely by God and received by the human heart. It is a fruit of love—not in this case the “love” of passing emotions, but the love of the Holy Trinity, to which the threefold opening of this prayer alludes.

A Litany for the Dead

For use on All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2), and during times of mourning.

God the Father,
Have mercy on your servants.
God the Son,
Have mercy on your servants.
God the Holy Spirit,
Have mercy on your servants.
Holy Trinity, One God,
Have mercy on your servants.
From all evil, from all sin, from all tribulation,
Good Lord, deliver them.
By your holy Incarnation, by your Cross and Passion, by your precious Death and Burial,
Good Lord, deliver them.
By your glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the Coming of the Holy Spirit,
Good Lord, deliver them.
We sinners beseech you to hear us, Lord Christ: That it may please you to deliver the souls of your servants from the power of evil and from eternal death,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you mercifully to pardon all their sins,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you to grant them a place of refreshment and everlasting blessedness,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you to give them joy and gladness in your kingdom, with your saints in light.
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servants. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, sheep of your own fold, lambs of your own flock, sinners of your own redeeming. Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.

Rest eternal grant them, O Lord:
And let light perpetual shine upon them
May their souls, X and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.
[From The Book of Common Prayer, 1979]