The Holy Name, January 1, 2019

The New Year began at 5:30am with my shift at the Overflow Homeless Shelter. Our numbers have significantly increased since the beginning of the season and I’m on a weekly rotation to help with check-out in the mornings. When a guest comes to our shelter, they are given a bin that contains a pillow, sheet, and a blanket. If they come each night, they get their same bin. Such a small but profound gesture of hospitality. Yes, it’s a mat on a floor with 20 other women, but you’ve got your own pillow and your own blanket. Those of us who sleep in the luxury of our own beds each night know how important that is. My role is to help the overnight volunteers assist the guests with their bins. They get their clothes and items out of the bin and place the pillow, blanket, etc. back in the bin.

I always learn something when I’m there. On this day I learned that a winning smile and infectious personality (!) doesn’t always work. At one point outside with many of the guests on their smoke break, one guests was having a particularly rough morning. Nothing a little charm couldn’t solve, I thought. I smile and said “Good morning, Happy New Year!.” I was then told what happens to priests in prison, or what should happen to them, it wasn’t entirely clear, followed by some other words. It was completely my fault. She was having a bad morning and I should have let her be. That’s what I get for thinking I can fix everything. I can’t swoop in first thing in the morning and sprinkle a little sunshine and make her problems go away. My job is to help provide a place where she can be. Over time, with patience and consistency, progress can be made.

It struck me that after she made it known she had no time for me, she walked over to another guest and politely asked for a cigarette. When she was given one, she sincerely promised to replace it when she bought her pack. She was gentle with impeccable manners. We cannot quickly judge anyone and we paint portraits with broad strokes at our own peril. If anyone thinks there are easy, simple solutions to society’s problems, I encourage them to volunteer for a bit and listen and observe. Things are far, far more complex than politicians or Facebook meme’s make it out to be.

Ran home, changed clothes, and returned for the Feast of the Holy Name. I love this feast day and I hate that so few have the opportunity to observe it as it falls on January 1. I was pleased to have six join us for Morning Prayer and Mass, some for the first time. Whereas the Name of God was unspeakable, now we’ve been given a Name to remain forever on our lips.

The office was closed for the New Year, so I went home and did my best in preparing the collards, black-eyed peas, and ham I bought the day before. It was…ok. My wife had to work that night and needed to sleep in the afternoon, so I pulled the pots off the stove earlier than I should.

That afternoon, I watched a couple of episodes of Broken from my newly acquired BritBox subscription. Sean Bean is good as a Roman priest in the UK. Parts are hard to watch, but so far, it’s a good series.

I turn 40 this year. One of my goals is to have a book proposal and chapters submitted by April 13. I finally had an idea that might work and wrote about 18 words towards it!

Evening Prayer (79 BCP) for the Holy Name and lights out.

Cosmic Etch-A-Sketch, December 31, 2018

The end of the year is, admittedly, an arbitrary boundary. True markers of time are best drawn once time is done, or at least one’s life. There is nothing intrinsic about Monday, December 31 that signifies the end of one period and the advent of another. Yet there is something, at least for me, about the ending of one year and the beginning of another. Perhaps it is cultural permission, and more importantly, support to start over. For 356 days, we haven’t quite drawn the lines in our cosmic Etch-A-Sketch the way we wanted. Once the day and deed is done, it is done. We cannot go back in time and remedy what was done poorly or done wrong. But we can flip the Etch-A-Sketch, shake it, and start over with everyone else. Snakes shed their skins and some mammals shed their coats and antlers. Unlike the other members of the animal kingdom, we cannot renew our outside; instead we are given the responsibility and opportunity to renew what’s inside. Of course, we don’t have to wait until January 1 to renew our heart, mind, and soul. We are called by Church to do this every day, even every minute of every day. This is why we celebrate the Holy Eucharist every day as reasonably possible.

The final day of the year began the same as the first day – Morning Prayer and Mass. The mass intention was for faithful stewardship in hopes that the day would bring us in the black financially so the books can begin a new year in a right way. Again, it’s such an arbitrary boundary but a boundary nonetheless. If we finish the year in the red and on the very next day we are gifted two million dollars, we still end the year in the red even if we are flush with cash. This is why I shouldn’t stress so much over it.

The morning was spent in the office with my colleagues. We closed the office at noon even though most worked well past. I worked to empty my in-box. I wanted to begin 2019 with zero emails awaiting my attention.

IMG_3448.jpg

After church, I went to the grocery store to buy food for New Year’s Day. Collard greens, black-eyed peas, and all the accouterments were in order. I have never cooked collard greens. My father hated the smell of collard greens cooking in the house. He said it smelled like someone cooked them under their armpits! But I’m game to give it a shot. Collards, onion, ham hock, etc. will go into the pot. It’s all a fun superstition. The collards represent green backs and the peas represent coins. If you eat them on New Year’s Day, money will fill our accounts the way the greens fill the plate. It’s never really happened the way I would want, but maybe it is a reminder that if millions never come our way, we always have enough. Scratch that, we always have plenty.  

No major New Year’s Eve festivities in the Rice house, although I must say that I stayed up three hours past the ball drop (in London!!). I was in bed and asleep by 10:30pm. But before I closed my eyes, Evening Prayer via the Daily Prayer app from the Church of England. I do the 1662 BCP office and it’s a very fine app. It wasn’t the Eve of the Holy Name, but I was too lazy to go downstairs and get the right book. Hopefully in the new year, I’ll be better.

First Sunday after Christmas/Last Sunday of the Year, December 30, 2018

The last Sunday of the year is often one that feels ‘dialed in.’ Clergy and choirs are tired, people are traveling, and the number of people at mass is significantly lower than Christmas Eve. The lectionary even seems to play along, by repeating the Gospel (plus four verses) from Christmas Day, as if to say to preachers go ahead and preach your Christmas Day homily.

But I was pleasantly surprised. Good crowds for the final Sunday with tots of visitors, mainly visiting family members from out-of-town. I even preached a different homily from Christmas Day! I love the Prologue to John’s Gospel and we all could write a different sermon every week on it. I chose to focus again on the themes of light and dark.

IMG_3443.jpg

At the sung mass I was pleased to see Eric and Brandie Grubb. Eric is in his final year at seminary and was once an intern at St Timothy’s. I am very fond of the Grubb’s and am honored to have played a small role in his formation. Even though they are not official members of the parish, I count them as a part of the extended family. We had visits from three former members/interns the past two weeks who are either now ordained or currently in seminary.

We took the Grubb’s to lunch and talked about the Church, job prospects, and generally solved all the world’s problems. Not too bad over a cup of tomato bisque. The children were with me, as my wife had worked the night before and had to work that night, and I carried them along for a pastoral visit at a parishioner’s home. They’re good kids and dutifully sat in the car while I made the visit.

Visiting in a church my size (around 1,000 members) is quite different from visiting when I first started. A Roman Catholic priest friend of mine has a parish of about 3,000 families and he is the only priest. He told me that he tells his people he is like the 82nd Airborne, when they are in crisis, he will parachute in. The rest of the time he has to rely on lay help to visit and care for the faithful. He’s certainly not being lazy, there’s just no other way. I only have 400-500 families and I, too, feel like the pastoral care I can provide is more emergency response rather than well-visits and check-ins. This is not something I celebrate or desire, but rather it is the reality. When I first started, I had nothing else to do but randomly check in on folks and sit on front porches and shoot the breeze.  Now I think many would scratch their head at a random visit from the rector and our doors are closed and our porches are on the backside.

When we got home, my daughter and I went to the gym. I don’t want to be that guy who goes back to the gym on January 1. So I went on December 30. The evening was filled with domestic duties and responsibilities. Since the St Stephen’s Office keeps the First Sunday after Christmas as the Feast of the Holy Family, I did the regular Prayer Book office.

No one has asked this question, but let me explain why I always mention when and how I say the office daily. Years ago, the inestimable Canon Jeremy Haselock would post pictures of his gourmet Sunday lunch on Facebook. Somehow during a conversation he told me that he would post those pictures to prove that one could go to church on Sunday and prepare a fine meal. He was the Vice-Dean of an English Cathedral and still prepared an enviable plate. It was a response to many who would say they couldn’t come to mass because they had to prepare dinner for guests and family.

I write about praying the Office not because I’m Captain Pious (I’m not), but because I live a regular life with professional and domestic demands too and I want, not to shame, but to promise that daily prayer can be fit into one’s life.

Babies and Brides, December 28-29, 2018

Out of the mouth of very babes, O God, and of sucklings hast thou perfected praise.

Thus began the mass for the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Of the three post-Christmas feasts, this one means the most to me, even though Stephen is my patron. I think of all the vulnerable children whose lives are ended at the hands of others. Human life is sacred and the life of a child, pre or post-birth, must be guarded with holy diligence. If we become comfortable making exceptions for this protection for the most vulnerable, then how long before we start making exceptions for everyone? I know I just ventured into the waters of abortion and I know there are some very difficult cases. But can we not agree that all of human life is sacred and acknowledge that when difficult cases arise, they must be treated individually as just that – difficult cases?  I do not think that addressing women’s health and the sanctify of human life should ever be mutually exclusive.  I bet those of differing viewpoints have far more in common than they realize. There is a great wealth of ethical and theological resources to help us navigate the gray. Let’s use them. 

When I walked out of the sacristy, the sound of the sacristy bell was met with the morning cry of a toddler. The young daughter of a friend and brother priest was in the congregation as they were in town visiting family after Christmas. I came to know Andrew after he graduated college, prepared him for confirmation, gave him a very, very low paying job and married him to Amanda, who was a member of the first class of the Abraham Project. He is now a priest in Kentucky and this beautiful little girl was having no part of mass today. I could not think of a better day to have an energetic child compete with my voice during mass. As the introit reminded me, hers was a more perfected form of praise.  

After mass, I went to breakfast with Fr Andrew, Amanda, and this bundle of holy innocence.

Friday is my usual day off, so I spent the rainy afternoon unsuccessfully trying to jump-start my wife’s car, playing basketball at the YMCA with my eldest son, and reading.

On Saturday, I was up early for a two-hour drive to Asheville, NC for a wedding. This was to be a short and simple ceremony, so there was no need for a rehearsal the night before. The drive was pleasant and foggy. My body prefers the beach, but my heart and soul are happiest in the mountains.

A horrible picture of me, but a good one of the bride and groom.

A horrible picture of me, but a good one of the bride and groom.

I was crossing diocesan boundaries for this wedding and had to get permission to officiate. It’s one of those steps that may seem like unnecessary red tape, but I appreciate the fact that we are not independent agents or hired guns. A bishop is responsible for his diocese and he doesn’t need a rogue priest coming around administering sacraments. On this feast of Thomas a Becket, I was reminded of king who once asked who would rid him of a troublesome priest; I don’t need a bishop (mine or any other) asking the same about me!

The wedding was lovely and intimate. I stayed for a quick picture and then hit the road for the 2-hour drive back to Winston-Salem. Even though it’s been a funky week in regards to routine, there was still a sermon to write and things to prepare for Sunday.

Enlightened by John, December 27, 2018

IMG_3428.jpg

The three feast days after Christmas are among my favorite: St Stephen, St John, and the Holy Innocents. As the Golden Legend taught, these three feasts are snuggled next to the Nativity of Our Lord as examples of martyrdom in will and deed, will and not in deed, in deed and not in will.  Enid Chadwick’s My Book of the Church’s Year beautifully illustrates this theological grouping. I love Ms. Chadwick’s book. Over the years I have found three copies to pass down to my children so they may enjoy it and share it with their children.

On these three days, we say the Office in the side chapel and mass at the main altar with the trees and poinsettias. I was pleased to have a congregation full of men and I am grateful that the daily rhythm of prayer is drawing more and more men.

I spent the morning in the office with necessary administrative tasks: bulletins, the weekly newsletter, etc. I was also briefed on the financial situation. We have received 91% of our pledges through December 23. 9%, or nearly $65,000, needs to come in the final week of the year. It’s an extraordinary thing, leading a parish. Imagine any other business that operated trusting that nearly 10% of its revenue would come in the final week of the year, and that income comes from those who do not have to pay for any “services.” Our “product” and “services” are freely given. People may pledge all they wish, but fulfilling that pledge is completely voluntary and for me, a great leap of faith. I still stress over it, but less so than in the past. My worry won’t add one cent, but it will take something from me. I think the Lord wants it to be like this. It makes me a beggar. I am not comfortable begging, which is probably the reason why He wants me to do it. So, dear reader, if you are feeling generous, here’s a link for any year-end donations you wish to make! I will remember you with gratitude at the altar. Don’t forget the capital campaign too.

The afternoon was personal time. My father and his wife (my mother died 8 years ago) drove up for a couple of hours to visit for Christmas. My household made an evening trip to the bookstore and we ordered pizza.

Evening Prayer was from the St Stephen’s Office and the KJV. The second reading was from 1 John 5. I don’t often read the KJV and came into contact with the Johannine Comma (compare your KJV 1 John 5.7 with any other translation). Clergy are mostly generalists with some pet specialty. I am not well versed (no pun intended) in the various manuscripts and their histories, but this was really stoked my interest.  I use the RSV for the Office and I love the KJV for personal devotion, but so often I’m working with the text for Bible Study and sermons and 1 John doesn’t turn up and when it does, it’s 1 John 4. Maybe Luke Timothy Johnson brought it up back in the day, but I apparently wasn’t paying attention!

That’s the beauty of reading the Bible. You never, ever, ever exhaust the surprises. Even if you are a specialist, it’s a well that will never go dry.

O Come Let Us Adore Him, December 24-26, 2018

As a boy, Christmas Eve was simply the greatest day of the year. No other day came close. Rather than being one of the shortest days of the year, it was the longest. The night could not come fast enough. It was the only time my mother did not have to tell me to go to bed. Fast forward three decades and December 24 is still one of the longest days of the year, but for different reasons. And, like the ten-year-old me, no one has to tell me to go to bed! 

Christmas Eve began as the last day of Advent. Morning Prayer and Mass were in violet, not yet in gold and white. I closed the office at noon. I would have preferred to give everyone the whole day off, but a holiday for everyone else is a holy day for us. There is always much to be done. I went home at about 1pm and tried to rest my eyes for half an hour or so. I would have to be back at church at 3:15 to prepare for the 5pm liturgy. Before I left for church, my family and I opened our gifts to each other as is our custom.

For ten years, we’ve had the first of two Christmas Eve masses at 6pm. It has always been the largest by attendance (by far) but the numbers have been slipping. I knew we were losing people to family dinners. In a perfect Christian world, we would plan our family dinners and traditions around the liturgy, but we do not live in such a world. I am not willing to give up too much, for then we will never live in that world. The earliest I am willing to go is 5pm, which we did for this year. Attendance was up 30% from the previous year. 

It was a good, traditional liturgy. Sung Martyrology at the beginning, procession to O come all ye faithful, young girl carrying the Bambino, blessing the crèche, the whole bit. I believe we have a duty to offer our best to the masses when they come to mass. The Incarnation is so essential to the story of our salvation and so misunderstood that we can’t afford to cut corners. It is hard to present one of the central acts of salvation to many who haven’t been soaked I the story. It’s one of the hardest sermons of the year. I’d rather err on an appeal to the Mass instead of base mass appeal.

The homily for both Christmas Eve masses was on Christ as the light in the darkness. I was pleased to introduce Wisdom 18.14-15 to people who have never heard it before.

After mass and setup for the midnight mass, a trip home to eat and rest. I am not, by nature, a night owl. I would be very happy to turn in at 9pm every night. I managed to squeeze in the First Evening Prayer of Christmas before heading back to church. I physically struggle at the Easter Vigil and Christmas Eve. Not so much sleepy, but my mind is mushy and my voice gets weak. I’ve tried every trick to coat the throat and energize the mind, but nothing works. My wonderfully devoted servers provided a “craft services” experience for the acolytes before the 11pm mass. Hot apple cider, cookies, and other things coated in sugar were provided for our various necessities.

While at the caffeination station, I was notified of a mental health incident at the overflow shelter. I walked down to our parish hall to see a woman in great mental distress, triggered by past memories of trauma on Christmas. Her story and circumstances were hard to hear but I was very pleased she wished to go to the hospital on her own. I continue to be grateful for our volunteers and team members who are so good at diffusing rather than elevating situations like this. My colleague, who spearheads the shelter, once reminded a group of church members that we sometimes have a difficult time keeping everything together and we often have the best possible circumstances to deal with. Imagine trying to keep your “stuff” together when you have the worst circumstances to deal with. It was a helpful and sobering reminder.

The Midnight Mass did not start at midnight, but at 11pm. I would love to keep the old tradition and starting the first mass at midnight, but the stamina is not yet there – especially mine. I kept my voice together better than in years past. The attendance was up over last year, but not near the numbers or percentage of 5pm. Midnight Mass seems to be a dying tradition but I am not willing to euthanize it.

My daughter sang the opening line of Once in Royal David’s City and I was very proud father beaming in the sacristy. We left the church after 1am, with incense lingering thick and the echo of hundreds of wishes of Merry Christmas.

The next morning came quickly. Children were up at 7am, presents were opened by the tree, coffee was made, and Morning Prayer was quickly said while the children were surveying the loot. The Mass of Christmas Day was at 10am.

I grew up among the majority of never going to church on Christmas Day. My church never offered it. It never occurred to me. With many Christmases now under my belt as a priest, I cannot imagine why a church would not offer mass on Christmas Day and not offer their very best. I don’t understand, and I don’t wish to judge, why all clergy aren’t in church on Christmas Day. This is the day of Christ’s birth! We don’t attend the Easter Vigil and then take Easter Day off. I completely realize it’s a day associated with family, but that is only because it is first a day of religious observance.

Christmas Eve means so much more because of Christmas Day and vice versa. We had a sung mass with a skeleton crew in every position. My wife handed out bulletins. My boys were servers. My daughter was 1/3 of the choir. Despite the small number of people available, it was simply wonderful. Mass ended just after 11am. We cleaned up and went home, tired and content. Evening Prayer came later at home.

It was nothing at all like the Christmases I grew up with. But it was everything like the Christmases I want to grow into.

On the Feast of St Stephen, I said Morning Prayer in the side chapel and mass at the main altar, near the lighted trees and poinsettias. I was most pleased to offer the sacrifice in the presence of a first class relic of the Protomartyr. I absolutely love keeping the three holy days after Christmas Day and I think it is vital the church keep them. The office is closed for the most part, but I checked on some things in the office and went home. I took the children to the movies in the afternoon. It was my first time in the reclining movie theatre chairs (I feel asleep). In the evening we made S’mores over the new fire pit I received at Christmas. We sang Good King Wenceslas and played games. We also bickered and got on each other’s nerves, too. We are very much a normal family.  

Evening Prayer and then, bed.  

The End of Advent, December 22-23, 2018

Saturday was nearly a true day off and it was wonderful. Son’s basketball game, football on television, tea at 4; it was nice.

The Fourth Week of Advent this year is quite short, but not nearly as short as last year, thank God. Attendance at the masses was below average (around 284, I think). I’m certain many families are traveling and visiting family out of town. I think for some, there is also a psychological barrier against going to church more than once a week and many will be at mass on Christmas Eve. On the whole, I do wish Advent had a greater observance among the faithful (not just in my parish). The season is so very important and adds immeasurable depth to Christmas when we finally greet Our Lord on that happy morn. I’m not meaning to kick those who haven’t been here, but I hate they are missing so much power and truth in this season.

For the homily, I preached on Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. I took some of what I did at Thursday’s Priest and a Rabbi and went a bit further.

Who wore it better?

Who wore it better?

After the 11am Mass, I grabbed a picture with Officer Josh, one of our off-duty officers who helps with security. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a law enforcement household, but I do not understand the angst surrounding security measures in churches. Churches are indeed a place of peace and Officer Josh is an important safeguard to that peace. If we equate law enforcement officers with violence, then we have a bigger problem. And maybe we do have a bigger problem. I can think of a dozens of reasons why he would be helpful, and none of those involve shooting someone. Our officers are viewed as part of the family, because they are. Nothing gives me more joy than to see them peering through the narthex listening to the homily. Last Christmas Day, we recruited our officer to sing the choir (it wasn’t Officer Josh!). 

After the masses, the cadre of volunteers greened the church and we have a brief, but important, liturgy walkthrough with our servers.

20181223_145517_1545597906801.jpeg

At home in the afternoon, I wrote the Christmas Eve homily and said Evening Prayer (O Emmanuel).

The Day of Long Shadows, December 21, 2018

IMG_3311.jpg

The shortest day of the year. In the summers, I like to take a walk in the evening and I distinctly remember my walk on June 21 and acknowledging with a tinge of depression that after this long, long day, the dark will start to come.

The history of how we keep time is fascinating and worth study. June 21 and December 21 mark the longest and shortest days, respectively. Depending on the calendar and the errors associated with it, the solstices have been marked on other days – such as June 24 and December 24. June 24 is the Feast of John the Baptist and we recall his proclamation: he must increase and I must decrease. In this case the dark begins to increase setting the stage for the Light of the World to pierce the armor of darkness with his birth.

Now on the shortest day of the year we remember St Thomas who, under the shadow of the evening, said that unless he sees and feels the wounds of Jesus Christ, he would not believe he was alive. The shadow of doubt on the day of the longest shadows.

Morning Prayer and Mass in the Church (St Thomas, Ember Day, Commemoration of Advent) and breakfast at Starbucks to write this blog. The office is closed to normal business on Fridays, but there is always work to be done. I made a visit to one of our homebound members, a 94-year-old man who is a perpetual delight. He is nearly deaf and I have to put my lips almost directly on his ear when I speak. That kind of closeness generates a certain kind of closeness. I love visiting him. No matter how his day has been or how he is feeling me, he greets me as if he has been waiting all year for my visit. Officially, I go to bring care to him but selfishly, I go to receive it.

I rested in the afternoon, piddling around the house and desk. I wrote Sunday’s homily after dinner and Evening Prayer (O Oriens) by the gas flame. The St Stephen’s Office readings are similar to the American Prayer Book readings for the Morning, but I hear them differently reading them on my own. The Antiphon is perfect for this day. Those who insist on starting the Antiphons on December 16, consider this connection:

“O Dayspring, Brightness of Light Everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

And now the shadows will start to recede.

Confession & Confrontation, December 20, 2018

I have been really lax in making my confession. For a period of time I was making my confession once every month, but it was a two-hour drive each way. I allowed the inconvenient distance to put time between my confessions. My last confession was just before Holy Week. Not good. Sin clogs the pipes. I am like a clogged sink when I wait too long. When I delay, things that should normally pass through my thoughts, feelings, actions, and prayers with grace get backed up. It becomes stagnant and foul.

o_brother_tim_blake_nelson.jpg

That passive-aggressive comment that I would normally let pass through with compassion and understanding is now backed up and lingers. I can’t let it go. I obsess over it and let it grow into something it never should have been. Confession is the spiritual Drano. Instead of just pushing it through, confession pulls the obstructions out. It’s a forensic analysis. So that’s what was clogging me up. A former staff member used to say he could always tell when I made my confession, as I was far more pleasant to be around. 8 months of sludge has left me nearly stopped up. I’ve been irritable, suspicious, tired, etc. When people ask me what they should do for spiritual direction, I always counsel – confess your sins. Confession is spiritual direction as there is nothing else to help you see what’s really going on. Every time I emerge from the sacrament I always feel like Delmar after his baptism from O, Brother, Where Art Thou? “The preacher done washed away all my sins and transgressions!” I would need this today.

Since Christmas is just a few days away, I went closer to home, only about 40 minutes instead of two hours. It is not wise to have multiple confessors and this is not my intent. One should not shop around or avoid one, unless the confessor is indiscreet or truly not helpful.

The rain refused to stop all day, not even to take a breath. The afternoon was spent printing for this weekend and Christmas Eve and Day. We have two copier machines (one of the smartest things we’ve done) and I swear I heard them sigh at the end of the day. I felt like we should rub them down like a horse after a long day working cattle.

After Evening Prayer (O Clavis David) and Shrine Prayers, I gathered my things and headed to Finnigan’s Wake Pub downtown for my monthly Priest and a Rabbi event. Rabbi Mark Cohn and I have been doing this for six years (hard to believe). From September to May we meet at the pub and talk about everything under the sun, mainly drawing on what people want to hear. We’ve been stunned at the staying power of this event. We’ve had to add a second “seating” later in the evening and welcome around 80-100 people each month.

At the first session, Rabbi Mark talked about the origins of Hanukah and I talked about Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. We have dinner together and then we get ready for Round Two. It’s always a different kind of crowd and usually the topic is different from the earlier gathering, which I enjoy as it keeps us from getting too stale.

I don’t know how to do this, as I don’t want to share too much and thereby reveal too much, but I also need to share the story. Toward the end of the second session, a man joined the group and as we were wrapping up, started to challenge some of the statements being made. Challenge is not something we are afraid of, that’s exactly why we are there. Priest and a Rabbi is not an inter-faith effort at syncretism. At no point are we trying to suggest that the Rabbi and I share the same beliefs. We have much in common, but we also have significant disagreements on cosmic issues – namely, of course, Jesus Christ. If nothing else happens, I want people to see us disagree over the most important questions and still have dinner and genuinely love one another. That is something that is unfortunately missing from so much.

So we don’t mind challenge but we don’t take to belligerence. The challenges from the gentlemen became personal, and we quickly and as gracefully as we could, ended the session. It was time for it to end anyway. But the challenges didn’t.  In the corner of the pub, the tenor of the exchange became elevated and was potentially close to getting out of hand. The Rabbi and I did our best to diffuse the conflict but some things couldn’t go unchallenged. I haven’t been in a physical fight since high school and all I could think was the morning headline: Priest and a Rabbi get in a fight in a pub.

And then almost as quickly as it started, it turned. I don’t remember what was said, if anything, that flipped the switch, but the pain from the man became clear. He had a rotten day and he was medicating that day with alcohol (none of this justifies behavior, mind you), and there was real pain. Challenge turn to counsel. Counsel turned to compassion. Compassion turned to charity.

He was embarrassed. Had he not realized what he was doing, he should be, I told him. But you do, and now all is well.

If this had happened the day before, I can only imagine my internal dialogue; it would not have been graceful. It would not have been charitable. Had this happened the day before, I don’t know what I would have said. Because the day before, my spiritual drain was clogged.

O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

I left for home just after ten. The rain was athletic in its endurance. I didn’t care. I was a captive released from the prison and shadow of death. And I was hopeful that on this night, I wasn’t the only one.

A Pearl of Great Price, December 19, 2018

When I entered the sacristy this morning, I heard the words, “Anna is here.” Anna has been in and out of our shelter since the beginning six winters ago. She is complex: highly intelligent, schizophrenic, and a volatile combination of sweet and sour. Everyone on staff has an interesting story and lasting memory of and with her. I will never forget the time when I mentioned in passing Absalom, King David’s son, and she perked up and said, “He whose hair weighed 200 shekels.” What?? As soon as I got to the office and googled “Absalom” and “200 shekels,” there it was: 2 Samuel 14.26.  Don’t lie, you didn’t know that either.  That’s why for this blog, I will call her Anna, after the prophetess.

Anna is the homeless guest most likely to join us for mass, both during the week and on Sunday. Today, she was having a good day. She stayed for Morning Prayer and Mass (Ember Day, Commemoration of the Feria) and talked a parishioner in taking her downtown to the bus station. She always has the most manicured nails – hands and feet (flip flops today). Her nails aren’t painted, but they are clearly attended to and I always notice them. It’s one of those things that causes me to really think about my position, what I don’t know, and how far I have to go. I imagine that if I were homeless, the state of my nails would be the last thing I would care about. But it may be one of the only things I have control over. Why does this surprise me? Just because she’s homeless doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about her hands and feet.

IMG_4996.JPG

After mass, a quick run to the neighborhood Starbucks for Grande Dark Roast and Red Pepper Egg Bites, prepared the bulletin for the noon mass, took a call from a colleague, and sincerely thanked my Bible Study participants for coming an hour and a half early to help fold and label the January issue of the Parish Magazine.

Bible Study was next at 10:30 and we spent a great deal of time exploring the parallels between David and the Ark in 2 Samuel 6 and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1. Sunday’s homily will most likely explore Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

After Bible Study, a quick dash to the chapel to say the noon mass with unction, and then another mad sprint to meet two friends for lunch. Katie and Paul were both interns with the Abraham Project, our year of service program that ended this year after 7 years. Time flies and I can’t remember which class they were in, but they were from different years. Katie spent a second year working at St Timothy’s when Paul entered the program. They feel in love, I have the privilege of marrying them, and now they are both in graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta. Paul in law school and Katie is at the school of theology (my alma mater) preparing for ministry in the Presbyterian Church. They were in town for a short stop and it was so good to see them. I’m very proud of the Abraham Project and the lives that touched me. It’s been a real thrill to keep up with them as they left to do wonderful things: Peace Corps, graduate school, ministry, etc. Some completely changed their vocational trajectory after the Abraham Project. Some stayed in Winston-Salem and have become a permanent part of our lives. This wasn’t the case for everyone; some left early and unfriended us on Facebook as soon as they crossed the county line and some I doubt I’ll ever hear from some again. But all of them, all of them, made a mark on our community and I trust we made some mark on them and I shall always remember them in my prayers.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at Rosary.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at Rosary.

When I returned from lunch I had a pastoral care appointment to help someone find their grounding after life seemed to crumble apart. My spiritual direction is pretty consistent: go mass every Sunday, find a challenging and accountable community, and find a way to really serve others. Don’t let your mind get idle. We get in trouble when we get bored. Discipline your body and make it serve your will. Pray with the Church so the Church can help you pray when you don’t feel like it.

The day came to a close with Evening Prayer (O Radix Jesse), Shrine Prayers, and the Rosary (Luminous Mysteries tonight). On Wednesdays, I’m in prayer for two hours: Morning and Evening Prayer, 2 masses, Shrine Prayers, and the Rosary. I think it was Padre Pio who said that an hour of prayer a day should be sufficient, unless you are busy, then you need two. I completely agree with this counsel. The busier I am, the more time in prayer I need. I would not be as disciplined in prayer without the accountability of a public schedule. Whenever I have found ways to skirt time in prayer, I’ve paid a price. 

The rhythm of prayer in the parish is demanding and can sometimes feel like a burden, but what it does to a soul is priceless.