Wednesday, May 25, 2016

LIVE FROM ITALIA: PART II



First night in Verona. I dreamed Bishop Katharine was ordaining me or installing me – some sort of clergy initiation rite – in Nevada, though I had been serving there already for all these years. It felt like a fresh beginning. I introduced the offertory with some of my usual explanation but added this: when the alms, bread, and wine are brought together from the congregation to the altar, it extends a lifeline from our hearts to God, a lifeline by which God draws us into Godself.

It is true: “Praying shapes believing.” The way we worship shapes our view of reality, our spiritual experience, and eventually our behavior. So it is not just nit-picking to say it really is a problem that most of our congregations perform the offertory wrongly. The point I was trying to make is the heart of what I fear the Church is misunderstanding about who we are and our path to wholeness and authenticity.

When we have the elements already inside the sanctuary or when we surreptitiously slip them up for the setting of the table while the offering is collected, it suggests the priests are in possession of God who will be dispensed at the altar rail to sustain the needy for another week. But when the offering is performed as the rubrics prescribe, it signifies that we give ourselves to God for transformation, and the grace we receive is not merely a sustaining but also a transforming grace, that the movement of grace is a gift exchange that extends out into the world. The effect of ritual is subtle, slow, almost subliminal. It takes years and years to shape the soul. But I do wish we were doing a better job of shaping souls for dynamic interaction with God instead of passive dependency on sustenance doled out by clerical hands. Do not worry Nevadans; I will not attempt to force this change. I only dream of it – literally -- for it for all our sakes.

The first day in Verona, I spent mostly reading in cafes. I was prepping for my upcoming Church & Society class for our postulants. It was a slow moving lovely day, followed by a reception with law school folks and dinner with good friends who told me about more new books I need to read.

The second night in Verona, I dreamed Linda and I were changing planes in Houston. As we were getting on the plane, I realized I had lost my computer somewhere in the airport. I had to get off the plane and go looking for it. This reminds me of the last time I flew into Houston. My computer had died and was then lost by the Geek Squad in the course of repairing it. But to be a bit more psychological, I wonder if there is something I’ve lost that I need to go back and reclaim for use in what lies ahead. I wonder if trying to move ahead is impossible until I have gone back for something. What might that be?

Our second day in Verona, we toured the Arena where they used to pit gladiators against each other in the good old days. Today they were setting up for an Adele concert followed by the summer opera season. We then took in the museum in Castel Vecchio, a huge castle with lots of wonderful late medieval and Renaissance art, almost all on sacred themes. On thing that struck us was the feminine representations of Jesus, reflecting the “Mother Christ” theme we read about in Julian of Norwich. One could have spent a few hours on any of the statues or paintings. These artists truly had a gospel to proclaim, and it wasn’t simplistic happy-clappy feel good stuff. It was about the love of God running in the deep currents of human life where love and sorrow flow together, often intermingled.



Monday, May 23, 2016

LIVE FROM ITALIA: PART I


Like Aeneas, we have made our way to Italy. Only he had a harder time of it.

At McCarran, emergency clergy consult calls were coming in right up until boarding time. But I declared the point where the flight attendants make you put your cell phone in airplane mode the beginning of my sabbatical. The long flight was from San Francisco to Frankfurt. I conversed at some length with a woman whose raison d’etre is spaying and neutering dogs and cats in Romania. It’s a strange world. I also got a lot of reading done as class prep for my upcoming Church & Society class for our Nevada postulants.

We arrived pretty jet lagged in Frankfurt, where we connected with one of Linda’s law professor buddies from Sacramento and her husband. We are all here in Verona for the Global Legal Skills Conference. We had dinner with her law school friends tonight – yes, it was very good pasta – and tomorrow she makes her presentation at the Conference. While standing at an ATM machine to get euros, I saw a young woman sauntering down the sidewalk wearing a t-shirt with NEVADA boldly emblazoned across the front. I started to speak to her, but then thought better of it.


So far Verona strikes me as a quaint old city. We are in an old hotel with a room that actually has a tiny balcony. “Hark what light from yonder window breaks?”

Thursday, April 28, 2016

OUR MONEY'S WORTH: ASKING A BETTER QUESTION


I sometimes hear the disgruntled question, “what is the diocese doing for us?” Or I hear, “We aren’t sure we are getting our money’s worth from the diocese.” That’s kind of discouraging to me – not because I think we are doing such a great job, but because the very spiritual level of that question is strong evidence that we are not doing so well. There are much better questions we could be asking.

But let’s start with the question people are asking. To answer it, we need to clarify a key term. Who is the diocese that is supposed to be giving people their money’s worth in this question? I assume they mean Wendy (Finance Officer), Michelle (Administration and Communications Officer), Canon Catherine and me.

Wendy works tirelessly not just to keep our diocesan finances and Camp Galilee finances well ordered; but also to help parish treasurers and wardens to keep things right. She is constantly on the phone with them and sometimes travels the state to help our parishes with their accounting. When parishes have insurance claims, Wendy helps them get reimbursed. When clergy or parishes need help with Church Pension Group, she is the one who gets things straightened out. The annual reporting to The Episcopal Church is her job, which involves gathering and compiling al the data from the parishes.

Michelle is the information clearinghouse of the diocese. She produces the weekly E-Announcements, the weekly Clergy Flash, the Nevada DJ (our diocesan journal), the prayer list, and special communications. She maintains, the diocesan web site, Face Book page, and Twitter account. Michelle is the coordinator for all sorts of events – Diocesan Convention, Priests Conference, Deacons Conference, and training events like the recent Preaching Workshops with Prof. Judith McDaniel. Recently she has been hard at it arranging for us to host the Province VIII Deacons Conference in 2017 and the All Our Children Regional Workshop (on equity in public education) in Fall, 2016.
She schedules and arranges Canon Catherine’s and my visits to parishes, prisons, and outreach centers. And Michelle is the basic place people turn to figure out how to get done whatever it is they need. She is the ombudsmen red tape cutter for parishes.

Canon Catherine is usually on the road. She visits parishes to help them explore their vision and mission – sometimes as part of a clergy search process or at other transitional points. Catherine is our Transitions Officer; so she is a headhunter finding clergy to serve in Nevada parishes and a talent agent helping our clergy who need to relocate find new ministries. As Transitions Officer she assists parishes in their profile and search processes so they do not have to hire consultants to help them maneuver their way through the maze of clergy deployment.  She visits congregations to preach, celebrate, facilitate conversations, and teach. At this writing, she just offered her first session of Celtic Spirituality at Epiphany. It was attended by 50 people, 35 of whom were visitors. Right now she is gearing up for the second session, and two congregations in the Northwest have asked her to reprise her course there. She oversees our ministry development for lay and ordained ministries, serves as Individual Discernment Guide to some in the ordination process, and advises the Commission On Ordination & Licensing on the progress of those seeking ordination. She recruits people (including me) to teach our postulants various subjects and leads a group spiritual formation process so our new clergy will bring wise hearts as well as clever heads to their ministry.

These are just a few of the things the diocesan staff does. As for me, “those who seek to justify themselves do not convince.” So I won’t try to persuade you I earn my pay. If you wonder what I do, I’ll just give an example. Last weekend was pretty typical, I had meetings with two aspirants for ordination, met with a grant writer looking for a way to save our building in Virginia City, worked with the lawyers on that same project, attended the Preaching Workshop at Trinity, celebrated and preached at St. John’s in the morning and St. Nicholas (Northern Nevada Correctional Center) in the afternoon, and held a forum on national and international shifts in the Church. On Monday, I spent half of my day “off” driving home, and then joined six of our congregations for a Nevadans For The Common Good meeting that night.

But I really believe all of that is going to answer the wrong question. A mature spirituality would ask something else. Let me give you some facts that lead toward that question.

Last week, when I was at St. John’s, the Women’s Group from St. Paul’s, Sparks were there. They had been having a retreat at Camp Galilee. More and more of our Nevada parishes are sending groups to Galilee for retreats and workshops. We have worked with the Galilee Board on shifting their mission in that direction and we have increased our diocesan support of Galilee by 1,600% since I have been here. That’s one place “our money” (a theologically problematic term) goes. Aside from the fun and formation Galilee offers our children and other children, this is one way Galilee serves parishes. And St. John’s is serving them too by providing Sunday worship in an incomparably beautiful setting.

Holy Trinity, Fallon has become a major supporter of St. Hugh’s Outreach Center in Silver Springs. While I was celebrating at St. Nicholas (in the Northern Nevada Correctional Center) last week, we consecrated additional elements for St. Thomas the Believer (in Lovelock Correctional Center) so the inmates there can have Public Communion Under Special Circumstances. Deacon Marla from St. Paul’s, Elko goes once a month to lead worship for St. Barnabas, Wells. Priests from Fallon and the Pyramid Lake congregations travel to Yerington to serve at St. Alban’s.

St. Martin’s, Pahrump has a line item in their budget to support St. Mark’s, Tonopah and sends Bob Greene twice a month to lead worship and to train a Worship Leader/ Eucharistic Visitor in Tonopah to help them stand on their own feet. Grace in the Desert has begun a program called Travels With Shannon And Sherm. Their priests take turns leading delegations of laity from Grace to visit small congregations, particularly those who do not have priests so Shannon and Sherm serve as celebrants.

We just conducted training in community organizing skills to be used for building bridges between the Latino and English Speaking members of All Saints, Christ Church, and St. Matthew’s. Epiphany hosted it.

Lay and clergy leaders from Trinity, Epiphany, and Grace are serving as stewardship consultants to seven congregations using the new Project Resource model for their parish stewardship programs.

The point: more and more of our congregations are dropping the passive dependent question, what is the diocese doing for us? and putting together this missional statement/ question combo: We are the diocese. What can we do for each other in the name of Christ?