Our Lady of the Snows, December 12, 2018

As much of a pain as the snow has been, it is beautiful. I’ve never really paid attention to the holly trees, but today it looked like a greeting card. I do hate, however, when it gets dirty. It’s depressing because it’s not what it was, what it should be.

…thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Oh how quickly it turns, both the snow and the soul.

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Mass today was for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I must confess to never having a strong devotion to the Patroness of the Americas, partly because of how her image is used in cultural kitsch instead of devotion. I am tainted by the fact that I can win a velvet Our Lady of Guadalupe at the county fair if I knock over four milk bottles with a baseball. This is something I need to work on. In my homily I addressed why Mary is so important and how we neglect her at our own spiritual peril. The more we focus on Mary, the more we focus on Jesus. Blessed John Henry Newman’s confessor said that one cannot love the Mother of Our Lord too much, as long as he loves her son all the more. By focusing on Mary, we preserve the orthodoxy of Jesus Christ. Mary gave birth to Jesus, thus he is fully man. Yet Mary was a virgin, thus he is fully God. Her various titles, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Walsingham, Our Lady of Lourdes, Fatima, etc., remind us that her protection – and spiritual protection flows from fidelity – is local. Her witness and her light is the reflection of the light of her son and is contextualized to wherever we may be. Loving Jesus is not for a distant people in a distant land. It’s for here and for us.

Mid-morning I led the weekly Bible Study. I was surprised by the numbers with the roads still difficult in many places (school continues to be out). Using the readings for this coming Sunday we talked about how we tend to operate under the assumption that our sins aren’t actualized unless they are discovered. John the Baptist disagrees.

Mass again at noon with unction. A quick drive-thru lunch of grilled chicken and a kale salad and a pre-martial counseling session at 2pm. For years I have used a resource called Pre-Marriage Awareness Inventory. Most couples roll their eyes at it first, but then appreciate the process. I always tell couples that no matter what I say regarding the fitness of their relationship, I assume they are going to get married anyway by someone else (they universally nod their heads in affirmation). My job is to make sure they have the best possible shot going forward. I use the awareness inventory to force conversation about topics couples usually avoid, namely communication, money, sex, and religion. For someone, either the husband or wife, there is not enough of one of those. For the past several years I have also used genograms from Family Systems Theory and I have them map their emotional family trees. I find this extraordinarily helpful for the couples. On the whole, however, I am not pleased with my pre-martial preparation and this is something I need to address in the near future.

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Evening Prayer was next, followed by Shrine Prayers, and the Rosary. I blessed three rosaries at the conclusion. Fitting, I thought, on the feast day.

The day ended with the Christmas Pageant rehearsal, which if I may say, could be the Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever. It’s old fashioned, sound, and powerful. As it should be.

On the ride home the night was brighter because of the snow. Dirty as it may be, it still can reflect the light.

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Business Plan, December 11, 2018

Morning Prayer, finally, back in the church (Advent Feria). As lovely as sitting by the fireplace is, it’s hard to do. I’m easily distracted. I rush. A surprising crowd at mass in the morning. Even though it has only been two days since I’ve said mass/received communion, it has felt like two weeks.

The morning work involved working on a funeral for the weekend, which will, liturgically, see a merger of two different cultures, neither of which is my own.

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I went to lunch with our choirmaster, who was my first hire nine years ago. We worked out details for the 2019 liturgical calendar. Ideally, this would have been done months ago, but all of us in the office are raging Type B’s with idiosyncratic Type A behavior.

After lunch I had a meeting with parish finance leaders and representatives from our new bank regarding financing for our capital campaign. This is uncharted territory for me, which is why it makes me nervous and also why I need it. This has been a fascinating experience and not the easiest sell over the whole parish. Many individuals have supported the campaign with significant gifts and pledges (nearly 2 million) but the support is from a minority of the parish. It’s a different kind of campaign. It did not come from a grassroots movement to build a classroom or parish hall or something that is easily seen as practical. I found myself presenting the “business model” to the bankers. Once upon a time, people might have given to the church so that priests would say requiems for their souls once they had died. They might have given out of a real sense of gratitude. People today may still give for the same reasons, but the motivation to worship and support is harder and harder to generate. Our “product” is a saving, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. We “market” that product through inspiration. How does one deliver inspiration? Through charitable works? Yes, and many have asked why we aren’t focusing on our homeless shelter. Mainly because, as important as this has been for us, we want to be out of the shelter business. This is one business model where we don’t want consumers! And it’s working. Last year on December 10, we had 17 guests in our shelter. This year, with 14 inches of snow on the same day, we had 8. That’s good news. God willing, in three or four years, we can close down the operation because it is no longer needed. The same thing is true about our young adult year of service program. For seven years we hosted The Abraham Project, a powerful ministry to and with young adults. We nearly bought a house for the project. The needs have changed and fewer young adults are doing year-of-service programs and we had to close our project this year. What is the one thing that will always be current, always be necessary, and will always inspire? The worship of our Lord. The altar and the font. Adoration is the best and longest (as in eternal) investment we could ever, ever make. There is nothing more practical, but the results are often delayed.

I am grateful for wise minds who understand markets, points, interest rates, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The conceptual drawings.

The conceptual drawings.

More admin after the meeting and off to Evening Prayer.

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For some time now, we’ve read a portion from the Rule of St Benedict at Evening Prayer. I borrowed this practice from Norwich Cathedral, which is near to my heart. Norwich Cathedral was once a Benedictine Priory and they still recite the Rule as a nod to this important heritage. I am also an oblate with the Order of St Benedict (St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota). The reading for December 11 was the beginning of Chapter 58, The Order for the Reception of Brethren. What struck me was how hard Benedict made it for brothers to enter the monastery. Test them to see if they are serious. It stood in direct contrast with a video I saw earlier in the day by comedian John Crist called “Virtual Church.” It was satire, but not by much. I know Benedict was speaking to monks, but surely there is something for us learn. The gap between the Holy Rule and Virtual Church is both deep and wide.

After Evening Prayer I gathered my things and went to the empty parking lot to go home. My car, however, had different plans. Rest eternal grant unto it. Always make friends with mechanics. A text message exchange revealed a dead starter.

Good thing we are Easter people.

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A Victorian Day, December 10, 2018

At 4:50am, I woke to the vibrating sound of a text message.
“Do we have power?”
I pulled on the chain to the bedside lamp.
“Nope.”

The next twenty minutes were spent preparing the house, or rather the residents, for a morning without power. Battery powered lanterns in the bathroom. Candles lit in the bedrooms. Blankets on children. A towel tied on the handles of the refrigerator with a sign – “Do not open the fridge – Management.”

No big deal until it hit me – no coffee. I thought about firing up the grill that I had moved to the covered porch and boiling water, but I had thrown away the broken French Press. I don’t know if it was psychosomatic or real physiological withdrawal but my head was now splitting.

With no power and the roads still treacherous in places (it was still snowing), there was no going in the office. I said Morning Prayer by the gas fireplace. I joked on Twitter that I was able to live out my Victorian fantasy, saying Morning Prayer by the light of an iPhone next to a gas fireplace. Just like the Victorians! Despite the pain from lack of caffeine and the disrupted routine, it was so very still in the house. No hums, white noise, blue noise, or electromagnetic whatevers. It was disorientingly beautiful.

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With nothing else to do, I went outside and shoveled the driveway. When I was done and realized it was still a very early hour and that I had accomplished a fair bit in the house and outside, it occurred to me that there may be something to this no power thing.

I recently heard on a news broadcast about a study that showed that we are our most creative when our minds are bored. The study suggested that because we now turn to our phones and devices to occupy our downtime, our creativity is stifled. I was on the verge of a creative explosion, I was about to map out the next great theological work, I was going to finger paint a masterpiece, I was about to do all of this when the power came back on mid-morning. I quickly abandoned creativity for coffee.

At lunch I watched the BBC’s coverage of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister’s decision to delay the vote on Brexit. I am not an uncritical Anglophile and I am certain there are major flaws with the Parliamentary process in the UK, but I would love to see our nation adopt it for a day or so, just to see what would happen. I am speaking from a place of naiveté, I don’t know much about British politics or politicians, but I find it refreshing that opposing sides must debate directly across from one another – ten feet from one another. I find it refreshing that everyone has, theoretically, an opportunity to speak. And I appreciate the forced civility – “my right honorable friend.” It’s a form of verbal discipline that makes the casual observer, someone like me, think that there is a real chance these politicians do like each other, but disagree on policy. That may be light years from the truth, but the appearance of such is surely far better that what we are currently dealing with.

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It was difficult to get too much administrative work done at home. I arranged some meetings, responded to emails, etc., but most of what I needed was at the office. The major triumph of the day was to wash and iron nearly a dozen amices. I don’t wash them as often as I should because I can’t stand the process. The strings inevitably get tangled in an impossible knot and I do not have the natural patience to undo them. This is why I have such a devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots. Knots, both literal and metaphoric, frustrate me. At our last diocesan convention, Bishop Rodman stated that he enjoys undoing knots. I perked up at the mention of this voodoo. He said that the one thing he had learned over the years is that you have to start where the greatest tension is. Now that is worth some thinking on.

Evening Prayer by the fire. A normal Victorian day.

Fr. Winston Churchhill, December 9, 2018

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God bless the meteorologists. I doubted, but they were spot on. When the alarm went off at 5:30am, the snow was on the ground and rising with each hour. I am guilty of the sin of pride in never, ever canceling church due to the weather. I am the Winston Churchill of mass. (“We will say mass in the rain, we will say mass in the snow. We will say mass in the storm and we will say mass when it’s warm. We will never, ever stay home!”)

I left the house earlier than normal, 6am, to give myself plenty of time. I barely made it out of the driveway and slid out of the neighborhood. Once on the interstate, I knew that if this main artery was covered in snow and very difficult to traverse, the roads around the church would be impassible. I aborted halfway and drove instead to the hospital, where my wife would be finishing her shift as a labor and delivery nurse. If the roads were this bad now, I wanted to drive her home.

For an hour I sat in the hospital lobby and did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before. I updated the parish Facebook page and, with the help from a parishioner, updated the website (one can’t do everything from an iPhone). Church was canceled for the Second Sunday of Advent. Exit Sir Winston.

I joke, but it was the right move. Had I lived within walking distance, it would have been a different matter. I would have walked to the church and said the office, but in this case the high likelihood is that I would have been stuck in the snow and wasted the time and energy of the police department to lift both my car and ego. The combined mass of both would have been significant.

The Facebook devotion, from a parishioner’s Facebook page.

The Facebook devotion, from a parishioner’s Facebook page.

At 10am, the time I would normally have finished the second mass of the day, I broadcast via Facebook a live devotion. The technology is wonderful and we are so lucky to be able to communicate the way we do. The things I was able to accomplish in short order with a mobile phone and a laptop are technological wonders. But it is not church. I was staring at a dot on my laptop. My whole day was off. I was able to experience what my heart and mind have always believed: if we want to hear a good sermon, there are thousands on YouTube, if we want the best choral music to lift our hearts, there’s iTunes, if we want to connect with friends, there’s Facebook, but if we want the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we have to be at the altar. There is no alternative. For all the talk of ‘alternative ways’ of doing church – online, at home, in bars, etc. – it will never satisfy the yearning of the soul unless the Sacrament of the Sacrifice is duly celebrated and Holy Communion is offered to the faithful. Ever.

But when one is starving, you can eat bark. Facebook is better than nothing.

After the digital devotion, my daughter announced that the large Weeping Willow in our backyard was lying on her side in tears. Apparently if a tree falls in the backyard and there are children playing, you can’t hear it. Thanks be to God, it fell away from the house. Damage seems minimal although I’m sure there’s some to the fence. A chainsaw purchase is in my future.

I spent the evening trying to tidy the house, especially knowing that we’ll have several days cooped up together. The children and I drove my wife back to work and they were able to experience the thrill of fishtailing in snow. That evening we had a brief moment of Norman Rockwell bliss as I pulled out my old piano books (three years of lessons with three different teachers – you can guess my ability) and played the first few bars of Christmas carols with the children at my side. I was pleased to remember Every Good Boy Does Fine and Great Big Dogs Fight Animals, FACE, and All Cows Eat Grass.

Evening Prayer by the sad little gas fireplace and I finished Luther on Netflix and the Sunday ended, although nothing about it felt like a Sunday.

Immaculate like snow, December 7-8, 2018

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The old joke about clergy is that we only work one day a week, and an hour at that. The irony is that my letter of agreement provides for only one day off a week (technically one continuous 24-hour period). 24 hours in a row rarely happens, but my Fridays and Saturdays are usually slower.

Pics, or it didn’t happen.

Pics, or it didn’t happen.

Friday morning I said Morning Prayer at home by the tiny gas fire. Away from the church, I pray the office as used by St Stephen’s House in Oxford. I absolutely love it, especially the hymns. After the office, I went to the grocery store to get something for lunch and to grab some milk in case we didn’t have enough during the storm. Turned out we had plenty (3 gallons!). For the past year or so I have abstained from flesh meat on all Fridays, save solemnities. Lunch was broiled salmon and asparagus. After lunch I binged a couple of episodes of Luther on Netflix.

In the afternoon I made a hospital visit and then went with the family to procure a Christmas tree. It’s hard to wait too long to have a Christmas three with three children, and it was the eve of the Immaculate Conception, so why not? I said the first evensong for the Immaculate Conception and noted the Snowmaggedon prophecy:

He giveth snow like wool
            and scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes.
He casteth forth his ice like grains
            At his frost the waters cease to flow.”        
                                    147.16-17 

Saturday I said the office and mass at the Church for the Immaculate Conception (commemoration of the Advent Feria). I know the Immaculate Conception is quite the controversy among Anglicans, but I think it need not be. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, still the official Prayer Book of the Church of England, includes December 8 as the Conception of the Virgin Mary. Furthermore the ARCIC (Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) document: Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, said in 2004:

that the teaching about Mary in the two definitions of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, understood within the biblical pattern of the economy of hope and grace, can be said to be consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions (paragraph 60);

I’m sure there will be time to say more on this at a later date. The rest of the day was spent being a biological father: basketball games, birthday parties, etc. Due to the impending 12-18 inches of snow, I cancelled Christian formation for Sunday but not the masses. As long as I can get to the Church, the sacrifice will be offered.

Evening Prayer by the fire, waited for the snow, and trusted that

“He sendeth out his word and melteth them
he bloweth with his wind and the waters flow again.”
                         147.18

Nothing Changes, December 6, 2018

The snow is coming. The local morning news meteorologists were hedging their bets on just how much, but it’s pretty clear something is coming. In the South, we lose our minds. We close schools, we raid the grocery stores for bread and milk (even if we never, ever consume them), and we consciously forget how to operate a motor vehicle. If snow comes, some churches will cancel services or, if they don’t, attendance is likely to be low. We won’t cancel. If I can physically get to the church, the Holy Eucharist will be celebrated. Even if no one shows up, like today.

Light coming in the sacristy.

Light coming in the sacristy.

It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when no one comes to mass. As long as I have server, mass is said. If I don’t have a server, I just say the office. While I always want a congregation, and the more the merrier, I do appreciate the empty chairs from time to time for the simple reason that nothing changes. Nothing. Mass is said for the benefit of the people, but it is done for God: “Pray my brother and sisters that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.” The prayers in the sacristy are the same, the approach to the altar is the same, communion is the same, everything is the same. Today might have been the Lord’s reminder that even if attendance is low because of the weather, the mass is critical whether or not there is a critical mass of people; there will always be the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

This morning the staff and I hosted our office volunteers to a tea party.  For the past three years we’ve used a lovely downtown tea and coffee shop for this event. Our office volunteers help us by answering the phone, working on publications, and any number of important tasks that come up in a church office. It’s nice to spend some time with them when neither of us is running around like our head is cut off. I am very fortunate (and I know it) to have the best colleagues in Christendom. I try to be the best leader I can be, but I am quite aware how I must drive them mad sometimes. We posed for our annual tongue-in-cheek photo. We are missing one member, our sexton, but we’ll get him in the picture someday. We take our faith seriously but not ourselves.

When we arrived back at the church, I discovered that St Nicholas had visited, and on his feast day no less! Sitting by the door were two large boxes with six new candlesticks that I found on sale. Our current altar candlesticks are wobbly and, frankly, cheap. These new ones aren’t expensive either, but they are a step up. There is a venerable Anglo-Catholic tradition of using cheap materials to make candlesticks, altar crosses, etc., not because we like cheap things, but because we desire beauty and use whatever we have as an offering to God. These candlesticks are slightly shorter than our current ones and I had to order taller candles (23 ½”).

This week’s Holy Doodles. Click picture to enlarge.

I spent the rest of the afternoon tying up administrative loose ends: talked to a priest brother on the phone, talked to another friend with a prayer request, booked a flight for a visiting preacher, talked to a colleague about our shelter plans in the event of heavy snow and how to cover the needs on Sunday morning, wrote the weekly newsletter article on why we are no longer using a processional cross for the Gospel procession, etc. I also picked the winner of the Holy Doodle. Some years ago I started placing a blank box on the back of the worship bulletin for children (or adults) to doodle during the liturgy. Children, especially, listen better when they can focus their energy on something productive. I absolutely love to see what they come up with. They draw pictures based on my homily or the liturgical season or the lessons. They always find a way to connect.

The Shrine of St Timothy

The Shrine of St Timothy

Evening Prayer came and the Shrine Prayers went. It’s getting dark so early now that Evening Prayer feels like Compline. When I returned to the office, I worked hard to empty my inbox. I try to have it zeroed out by the evening, but this has been difficult the past month. I’m always afraid I serve my email rather than my email serving me. I try to reign it in and not to obsess over it. Today, I was delighted to discover the snooze button on my Gmail account. Now I can snooze important emails to reappear closer to the time I actually need to respond. The day ended with a text exchange with a police sergeant. She was asking if her officers could use our Law Enforcement Chapel for food and rest during the snow. That’s why it’s there and that’s why we are here.

Boy Bishop, December 5, 2018

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I never know who will come to mass each day. There are a handful of folks who try to come everyday, the schedule allowing. I have four servers who take turns, again, depending on their availability. On Wednesday I can usually expect the most diverse congregation of the week, and today was no exception. I don’t make overtures to any particular demographic. I am of the conviction that if the church is indeed catholic, then all sorts and conditions will be drawn into her fold. Not to oversimplify things, but I think that if we keep the power of the Gospel and the Sacramental Life of the Church central, the demographics will take care of themselves.  I took this picture after mass this morning (Clement of Alexandria, commemoration of the Advent Feria). The parish as a whole isn’t this diverse, but we are moving toward it by moving always deeper into the life of Jesus.

As soon as mass was over I had a meeting to plan a funeral. The deceased is not a member of the parish, but the extended family is. Unless there is some extraordinary reason, I do not turn down funerals, as it is a corporal work of mercy.

Next was my weekly Bible Study at 10:30am. I wish I could do more of them and I wish I could do them at times when more working folks can come. I enjoy my weekly group. We look at the lectionary texts for the coming week. This helps them prepare for Sunday, but maybe even more importantly, it helps me. I enjoy seeing where people go with the texts when they first hear them, their intuition, and their questions. Some times I can anticipate where they will go, but oftentimes, I am way off the mark.

On Wednesdays, we have another mass at noon. This mass is in the original church and has a dedicated, consistent congregation. At lunch I sat in a corner and watched recorded portions of President George H. W. Bush’s funeral. When I watched the end of President George W. Bush’s tribute, I failed to keep it together. I don’t know what the folks at the restaurant thought; grown man in a dress (cassock), crying in the corner while staring at his phone. I’ve heard stories from colleagues “in the know” about President Bush’s faith and his activity as a churchman. From all accounts, he’s very sincere with real devotion. I’ve always liked the Bush family and today we prayed for the President’s repose. From what I could see, the funeral was very well done, straight Book of Common Prayer, Rite II. I’m not big on Episcopal Church tribalism and I’m not a fan of the slogan “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.” I know what Bishop Curry is getting at but I think it unintentionally creates theological problems. That being said, the funeral did show what the Episcopal Church, as English Catholicism, does well and I hope the beauty and the intimate solemnity will warm the heart of the cynic.

In the afternoon, I met with a retired bishop from the Anglican Province of America. He asked if I would help him raise money for Vacation Bible Schools in Cuba, something I’m very pleased to do. I’ve known this bishop for a couple of years and he frequently worships with us. I know, on some levels, the relationship between the Episcopal Church and Continuing Anglican jurisdictions is complicated, but a real source of irritation for me is how the governing bodies seem to have no desire for reconciliation. We have more in common with them than any other American Christian body but there is no desire to work together, pray together, and hopefully, be together once again. We’ll do what we can on the ground in this portion of God’s vineyard.

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After Evening Prayer and Shrine Prayers, we prayed the rosary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham (Joyful Mysteries). I love praying the rosary. I’m always distracted when we start. I’m always thinking of what has to be done next and the first decade seems like it takes forever. But then the mind quiets and the prayers do their work and, every single time, I’m sad it ended so soon.

Then it was time for my most favorite event of the year – the Installation of the Boy Bishop. I jokingly told the congregation that I love this night because I get to vest people as bishops and then tell them what to do! This is our seventh year keeping the Boy Bishop tradition. The kids take it so seriously and one really gets the feeling that the tradition teaches – the birth of Jesus Christ turned power upside down. The lowly have been lifted up and the mighty have been scattered. Our Boy Bishop is chosen from the 5th grade boys. Not to leave the girls out, a 5th grade girl is chosen to carry in the Bambino in the church on Christmas Eve.

Our Christmas Eve pageant rehearsal followed the St Nicholas Festival and Boy Bishop Installation. My role in the pageant is to be the narrator. The hard work, and the due credit, goes elsewhere. It’s going to be an old fashioned Christmas Pageant which, in my opinion, is the best kind.

After the rehearsal I went to the overflow shelter to greet the volunteers. While I was there, the bus pulled up with the night’s guests, so I went out to greet them too. Six blessed souls walked through the door and the day ended the way it began and the way it unfolded - with diversity.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Fr. Wilson

Fr. Wilson

I once read that Fr Wilson of Haggerston used to set three alarms, starting at 5 in the morning. The first alarm was across the room and would require a walk across a cold linoleum floor. I can sympathize. If I had to choose an identity as either a morning person or night owl, I would have to choose morning, but I do not jump out of bed like a coiled spring. I wish I could tell you I wake well before dawn for meditation and study, but I do not. I should; the great ascetics warn against lingering bed in morning. 

I was scheduled to wake at 5:10 this morning so I could be at the Overflow Shelter at 5:30 to assist with check-out. This season, Tuesday mornings will be my mornings. My colleague sent me a text last night saying there was no need to come in, as the census was low and we had plenty of folks on hand. I had planned to come in anyway and meet the new volunteers, but when the alarm went off, alas, I had no cold linoleum floor to walk across. I rolled over and slept in until 6:30am.

When I arrived at church, my server was already busy in the sacristy placing the newly arrived sanctuary lamps in the cupboards. To my horror, I saw the candles were yellow, but they were clearly not pure beeswax. Instead of announcing the Sacramental Presence of Our Lord, the candles look like a glowing stick of butter. They have been sent back.

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Mass was for the Feast of St John of Damascus with the Advent Feria commemorated. After mass, we said the Angelus at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham where the light, for the past seven days, has been extraordinary on these late autumn mornings. The image of OLW is the only thing illuminated by the rising sun.

After breakfast (my standard: grande dark roast and red-pepper egg whites from Starbucks), necessary administrative tasks, and the weekly staff meeting, I went downtown to our bi-weekly men’s lunch, Confraternity. We’ve been meeting at a trendy coffee shop/bar connected to an independent bookstore. It’s a perfect venue and centrally located for many of the men. I look forward to these gatherings. As I wrote yesterday, the Church needs more men. Men need the Church. This is a way for us to get together and talk about the things that are on our mind and ground them in our faith in Jesus Christ.

When I returned the office, I had some administration to tend to, including the identification of the graves in the Society of Arimathea cemetery. I discovered we’ve actually cremated/buried 24 children (and not 23 as previously reported) since 2017 and there are five currently buried in our cemetery with two to be buried at a later date. The need has outpaced our ability to plan and we are making decisions on the fly without having adequate time to think everything through. For instance, we don’t yet know how to permanently mark these graves nor do we always have a name for the child. Oftentimes, I only have the last name of the mother. This is certainly the case for two children that were left unclaimed at the morgue. Someone suggested we adopt the Moravian practice of Beatus and Beata for the babies. I am very fond of this idea. I am grateful for colleagues and leaders who are flexible and patient as we do so much so quickly.

Before Evening Prayer I had a pre-marital counseling session for a wedding at the end of the month (Christmastide). I barely made it to my stall by 4:45 and ended the day with Evening Prayer and Shrine Prayers. Quick trip home for some grilled chicken and then off to basketball practice (son’s, not mine!) where I composed and sent out the parish email on the gym’s wifi.

We'll Leave the Light on For You | December 3, 2018

I believe Motel Six was the hotel chain that would always end their commercials with the comforting tag line, “We’ll leave the light on for you.” What a wonderful image of vigil; we’ll stay awake and ready for whenever you find your way here.

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I usually arrive at St Timothy’s around 7:30am on weekdays (Morning Prayer is at 8:15 and mass follows). When I open the church doors, the inside is quiet and the lights are off, but it’s not completely dark. There is, more times than not, a single votive candle burning at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Early in the morning, a medical professional comes in the church to pray. I imagine she prays for herself, her family, and those who will be in her care that day. I also trust she prays for the parish and its priest. She lights the candle and by doing so, leaves the light on for us. I always get the feeling that we are a relay of prayer. She has come in before dawn and we take over from there. The altars of the church are always warm, never allowed to grow cold due to dormancy.

Today’s mass was for the feast of St Francis Xavier with a commemoration of the Advent Feria. To my shock and delight, it was a congregation of men. I’m sure it’s happened before, but I can’t remember. I know it’s not politically correct to say, but it’s true, we need more men in the church. Men are disengaged through lack of challenge, catechesis, and cult. I was pleased to have two seminarians today, one from Wake Forest and one from Duke. There is hope for the future.

After mass, I had eggs and coffee with our Wake Forest Divinity School intern. We meet every Monday morning, usually over coffee, to discuss his internship and to solve most of the theological problems of the world. After breakfast I heard a confession and spoke with a husband who just lost his wife at a young age. Her funeral will be 19th for this year, the most ever for me in a year. It’s been a difficult season for death.

After a simple lunch of canned chicken and bread and butter pickles (not as bad as it sounds), I spent the afternoon in weekly meetings. I met with a member of the vestry, then both of my wardens. We use these meetings to stay up-to-date with the fast pace of the parish and I keep them informed of what is going on and ask their counsel for any issues or decisions that might be tricky. We also spend a lot of time in laughter.

At 4:45pm it was back in the church for Evening Prayer and Shrine Prayers. The first lesson from Second Peter was beautiful. To strengthen faith we need goodness and goodness needs knowledge. Knowledge needs self-control. Self-control needs endurance. Endurance needs mutual affection. Mutual affection needs love. At the Shrine of St Timothy, we concluded our prayers for the day, with the day’s intention for missionaries, since it is the feast of St Francis Xavier.

After Evening Prayer, I peeked in to listen to the chorister’s rehearse (they are so very good), and it was back for a final standing meeting of the day – with my liturgical leaders. We recently started meeting to review the previous Sunday and to tweak anything out of whack. It is so helpful when they can anticipate my thoughts and I can anticipate theirs.

Out of the church just after 6pm and off to hear my daughter’s school orchestra concert. As I drove by the parish hall, I saw the preparations for tonight’s shelter guests. The light was on.

Advent I, December 2, 2018

Our King and Savior draweth nigh. 

I don’t know what other Christians in our area did today, but we did our bit to reset the month of December properly in the anticipation found in Advent. Average crowd at the masses (around 307, I think), but not the overwhelming December crush of people that rectors dream about instead of sugarplums. I think it’s harder every year to “do church.” When I first started parish ministry (ahem, 19 years ago), people would come to church just because you unlocked the door. A bit of an exaggeration, but the point is there. Two decades later our culture, yea, even Southern Culture, no longer supports, let along promotes, life schedules that are grounded in the practices of faith.

But here we stand, or rather, here we kneel. In the midst of Santa Claus, Rudolph, and Free Shipping, we await our King and Savior.

We had five at the shelter on our first night – one came late. They were all gone when I arrived at 6:40am. The lights in the parish hall were all off, resting until they’ll be turned back in just a little while. 

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I do love our violet vestments for this season. Made by Mr. Luzar in England, it’s a heavy Roman cut. As this is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, I made some tweaks to our liturgy, slowly but surely adapting based on practicality and personnel. We finally removed the crucifer from the Gospel procession, properly keeping the focus on the Gospel Book as the icon of Jesus Christ. The homily was a bit of a risk, although they never come out nearly as risky as I imagine them. I preached on the Advent themes of judgment and hell, not deeply, but directly. Between the 9am Low Mass and 11am Sung Mass, we had our monthly parish breakfast, this time couple with an Advent Wreath workshop.

After the masses, we had an information meeting for our Holy Land Pilgrimage next July. 29 of us will be walking in the footsteps of Our Lord. This will be the second pilgrimage I’ve led here, and the first to Israel. I was last in the Holy Land 20 years ago. I’m sure the landscape hasn’t changed, but I know I have. I’m very much looking forward to this trip. One of my dreams is to be the Rick Steves of Ecclesiastical Travel. Can’t you see me on the Travel Channel with a film crew visiting all the amazing holy sites in Christendom? If you can’t, I’m doing it for you.

Advent Lessons and Carols finished the evening. A couple hundred souls came to hear the readings and anthems and carols. Following a Lessons and Carols used at Salisbury Cathedral, we included the Greater Antiphons before 8 sets of readings. My youngest son, Luke, helped light the Advent Wreath. The choir did amazing, as they always do. It’s one of the few liturgies where I have very little to do but sit back, close my eyes, and let the choir do the heavy lifting.

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The highlight of Lessons and Carols was the reading by Mrs. Catherine. Her story is extraordinary. Several years ago she had a massive stroke. I remember being with her at the hospital and the doctor telling her husband that she might have a working vocabulary of 7-10 words. In the years that have passed she has worked so very hard to prove the doctors wrong, something I’m certain they are happy to concede. Her vocabulary has to be in the hundreds, if not thousands. Along with her husband, she read a lesson from one of the sets. This is the second time she has read a lesson since her stroke. The Lord will open our lips and regardless of what we think of our ‘performance,’ our mouth will show forth his praise.