School for the Lord's Service, January 7, 2019

Today we ended the Prologue of St Benedict’s Holy Rule. 

Therefore we must establish a school of the Lord’s service; in founding which we hope to ordain nothing that is harsh or burdensome. But if, for good reason, for the amendment of evil habit or the preservation of charity, there be some strictness of discipline, do not at once be dismayed and run away from the way of salvation, of which the entrance must needs be narrow. But, as we progress in our monastic life and faith, our hearts shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God’s commandments; so that, never abandoning his rule but persevering in his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall share by patience in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve to be partakers also of his kingdom. Amen.

Is this not the mission of the parish and the local priest as the parochial abbot? I might etch this sentence in the bricks outside: If, for good reason, for the amendment of evil habit or the preservation of charity, there be some strictness of discipline, do not at once be dismayed and run from the way of salvation. Yes! These disciplines of which I write and strive to keep are gifts to keep all of us in charity and to facilitate the amendment of evil habits. This is why we stifled yawns during Morning Prayer and popped our knees during mass as we knelt in adoration.

This is why I scheduled four housing blessings throughout the day and sat in the confessional for an hour. All of these things are done so we may be partakers of Christ’s kingdom.

This is important for me, especially, to remember. It is too easy to get bogged down in administrative and personnel minutia. All important, no doubt, but those things support the school of the Lord’s service instead of being served by it.

When I checked the mail in the afternoon, I found a letter addressed to “Resident.” Oh boy. When I opened it, I discovered two tracts pleading that I give my life to Jesus Christ. In fairness to the sender, they didn’t know this was a church (although I doubt that would have changed anything!). I don’t fault their intention, which I think is sincere. They want me, as the resident, to know the love of Jesus Christ. But I think there is a better way. Instead of spam in the mailbox, why not a school for the Lord’s service? Why not engage with the difficult and important questions of the day? Why not offer the perspective of faith, which has access to perspectives no other discipline has?

When I put the tracts back on my desk, they fell beside my choice from yesterday’s Holy Doodle. The person (I think it was a child) lifted a quote from my sermon: Jesus Christ is not just the King of the Jews; he is the King of all. There is hope for the Church, if we keep her a school for the Lord’s service.

After my weekly meeting with my two wardens, Evening Prayer, Shrine Prayers (today’s intention was for the choir), and my standing liturgical meeting. As the Epiphany Proclamation reminded us yesterday – Lent is less than two months away.

Chalk up another Epiphany, January 4-6, 2019

O tempora! O mores! I should have known no one uses chalk anymore. Preschoolers haul their iPads into nursery school and 3rd graders are using smart boards. Gone are the overhead projectors and gone are the blackboards, relegated to the dust heap of analog learning. I went to three different stores over Friday and Saturday looking for ordinary, run-of-the-mill white chalk for Epiphany. I found boxes and boxes of fat, multi-colored chalk. Neon green doesn’t quite have the same dignity, or visibility, on a residential lintel.

I was able to scrounge together a few boxes and I broke the chalk into smaller pieces, hoping to have enough for the houses needing a blessing. I had to include a couple boxes of colored chalk, out of necessity. Imagine my delight and surprise when I arrived early on Sunday to discover that all the chalk was white. An Epiphany miracle! I’m sure this will one day be up there with the story of the dogwood and poinsettia.

I love the tradition of hallowing the chalk. If you spend enough time researching its origins, you’ll find vague references to Middle-Europe and the Middle Ages. I like the tradition as it reminds us that faith is domestic. It’s not confined to the church on Sunday mornings only. It should be practiced at home and, among families, there needs to be adult leadership declaring that this is a home under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And it’s one of those arcane traditions that add to the mystery of our faith. By learning the chalk formula (20+C+M+B+19) children learn the names of the Magi, a little bit of Latin, and they contemplate what it means for Christ’s blessing to be upon us.

Epiphany on a Sunday was…different. I’m so used to keeping it as a feast during the week and at night that it felt strange celebrating the Epiphany 3 times in one day. The church was packed, nearly 400, which are about 75 more than average. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the new year and many were making the effort to start 2019 off faithfully. I did observe the gym was packed that afternoon, too, perhaps for the same reason? Whatever the reason, it was glorious to see so many. 400 people also means a couple hundred cell phones, which went off in unison due to an Amber Alert during the first lesson at the 9am low mass. Oddly, mine did not go off. It sounded like a fire alarm (“we’re not even using incense!”).

I blessed chalk at all three masses and the Epiphany Proclamation was sung at 11am (not by me, mercifully). Another old tradition that I’m glad we preserve. Hard to believe that Lent is just two months away and even at that, it’s a late Lent.

Lay Eucharistic Minister training.

Lay Eucharistic Minister training.

After the 3rd mass, we trained new and refreshed current Lay Eucharistic Ministers. We spent a good deal of time talking about Eucharistic theology and piety and why this matters so much. Administering communion is, on paper, a rather straightforward affair but in practice, it can be anything but. We also have a rising practice of communion on the tongue, which I encourage. It’s easier, more sanitary, and puts the communicant in a place of holy vulnerability and reception. Bread of Heaven, feed me!

The afternoon was spent at the gym where I ran (not literally) into three parishioners and the grocery store, where I ran into one. Tuesday marks the 18th anniversary of my first date with my wife. 18 years ago, I prepared chicken on a George Foreman grill, a green bean casserole, brown-n-serve rolls, and a Pepperidge Farm cake. Fine dining back the day. My skills have, thankfully, developed since then but I did prepare all the same things – but not on the George Foreman grill! 

Evening Prayer from the St Stephen’s Office with prayers of thanksgiving for the 39th anniversary of my baptism.

Disarmed, January 3, 2019

Every morning before I leave the house, I turn off the house alarm. The ritual is involuntary. I punch in the code and habitually sing along with the voice coming from the keypad, “Disarmed, ready to arm.” Sometimes I wonder if the voice is coming from somewhere other than the keypad. Is from the Holy Spirit? “You are disarmed, but you are quick to rearm; be alert.” Or is it from Satan, “You are disarmed, you better rearm! Be alert.”

We are all quick to rearm. If we let our guard down and entertain vulnerability, we quickly discover this is a risk and have learned to allow these episodes infrequently and with caution. If I enter the house and turn the alarm off while the door is still open, the message changes: “Disarmed, not ready to arm.” If a door is open, the alarm is not armed. If it is closed, it is.

If Balaam’s ass can speak truth, then why not ADT?

Morning Prayer and Mass for the Christmas Feria. The first lessons have been from a very challenging 1 John. So much packed into so few words.

After mass, coffee and eggs, and then the morning was spent preparing the weekly newsletter and bulletin. So much of my role as parish priest is of storyteller. I’m called to tell the story of Jesus Christ. In doing so, I need to tell the story of the Church and our local mission. It’s not so much “announcements,” as it is Good News. This is what the Church is called to do and this is how we are striving to live this out in Winston-Salem. Of course, all of this is told so a story may be told of the lives of the faithful – this is how Jesus Christ, through the work of the Church, has brought new life, hope, and restoration to me. Sometimes the details of the story are clear, “Overflow Homeless Shelter Sign-Ups.” And sometimes, they are not, “Finance Commission Meeting.” Both tell a story of God’s provision and promise, but some are easier to understand than others.

After lunch I spent a little bit of time doing some study on the history of the biretta. My upcoming adult formation series will be on the spirituality of the mass in ten objects. I found some fascinating reflections in the Talmud and an old paper from The Ecclesiologist. I think – I hope – it will be far more interesting than one might assume.

I also spent some time planning the logistics for a visiting preacher next weekend. He’s a seminarian flying down from New York to spend the weekend with us and will preach on the Baptism of Our Lord and assist me at Evensong and Benediction. Over the weekend, he’ll see the city, the parish, and our shelter.

Some pastoral care was in order for the afternoon, including calling an elderly parishioner who moved away years ago and is in the hospital. I’m grateful for family members keeping us in the loop, even though members may be hours away. It is far easier to provide pastoral care when families participate in that care.

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A large congregation of 9 met me for Evening Prayer. Luke, our divinity school intern, is now back from Christmas holiday. He led Shrine Prayers as I had to depart early to pick my daughter up from basketball practice.

She’s been wanting to try Chinese food, so I took her to my favorite Chinese place where we both had a generous helping of Mongolian beef. I’ll be on the lookout for my fortune. If you need my address, let me know.

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Asculta, January 2, 2019

St Benedict, from the west facade of Norwich Cathedral, clearly modeled after me.

St Benedict, from the west facade of Norwich Cathedral, clearly modeled after me.

Asculta O fili. Listen my son.

Thus begins the Holy Rule of St Benedict, which we read all the way through three times a year in the parish at Evening Prayer. On January 1 we begin again. In his prologue, St Benedict talks about different kinds of monks. He contrasts the monks that float from place to place looking for what suits them with the monks that are rooted in stability. While the ascetic heroes of monasticism may be the hermits who fight temptation and the devil all by themselves in the wilderness, most of us cannot do it that way. We need the support of a community and the stability of a Rule of Life.

Like everyone, I get wander lust. I am grateful for the tethers of prayer that keep me grounded, especially on the marathon that is Wednesday.

Morning Prayer, Mass for the Christmas Feria, Bible Study at 10:30, and mass again with unction at noon. In between I had time to speak to someone who had questions about confession. I’ve been ramping up my rhetoric on confession lately, as I am convinced more than ever this is what we need. I have come to learn that if someone keeps asking about confession, they are more compelled to confess than curious about the practice. The more opportunities for the conversation, the more likely they will act on that compulsion.

After mass, I worked on the chalk blessing cards for Epiphany on Sunday and started to work on a revamped employee handbook; not something I was looking forward to but something I have been needing to do for some time. Working in a church is so different from working anywhere else. In full disclosure, I’ve never worked anywhere else (not really) but it doesn’t take too many conversations with those who work in other fields to discover that, while they are some commonalities, we are really talking about different universes. Therefore the employee handbook must be different from the one used at the local corporation. It’s a bit more work in that I can’t simply cut and paste. Oh that I could!

Mid-afternoon was spent with my Wardens in our weekly meeting. Evening Prayer followed and then Shrine Prayers, and the Rosary. I was so pleased to have a seminarian join us for all three. It’s strange thing, really, to see this man who is now half through his first year of seminary. When I came to this parish, he was barely a teenager (he may not have even been one). I joked with him after Evening Prayer and asked when the last time he said Rite I Evening Prayer was. “The last time I was here,” he said with no joy. Such a shame, and he agrees, that many/most seminaries aren’t training their students to know the full breath of Prayer Book spirituality and practice. Sure Rite I isn’t en vogue by seminary professors, but when these students go to their first parish, the first time they will ever experience a Rite I burial is when they do one! So many parishes have their first mass of the day as quiet Rite I liturgy for the older folks who cut their faithful teeth on the 1928 Prayer Book. What about them? I don’t know why seminaries don’t teach how to use every tool in the toolbox. When they enter the parish, they may never have to use this or that, but at least they know how.  

I couldn’t tell you the last time I said mass versus populum and I certainly couldn’t tell you the last time I used Enriching Our Worship or Prayer C – but I have. As soon as I was ordained priest, the nuns of the Order of St Helena had me saying mass every Tuesday morning at the convent. I was given all sorts of prayers to say. When in Rome…. I can’t imagine ever using them again, but they are in my toolbox.

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I was pleased our seminarian stayed for Rosary, it was another first. I even took a picture to document it, doubtful his seminary friends would believe it! The rosary? In an Episcopal Church? Surely not! They might be surprised.

Not too long ago a parishioner told me how important the rosary was during an MRI. I’ve never had one and can’t imagine that claustrophobic hell. What helped take their mind off the enclosed terror was to recite the rosary. God gave us an organic rosary with ten fingers and it’s easy to do.

After rosary, about 25 of us went Christmas caroling around the neighborhood and to a retirement home where some of our parishioners live. I can’t imagine the confusion of people on January 2 hearing a crowd walking down the street singing Angels we have heard on high, but it is, as you know, still Christmas.

After a long day, I finished Broken on my BritBox. The last scene on the final episode got to me. Watch it.

Asculta.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.