Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What is a Rector? What does a Priest do? What is a Priest? What does a Rector do?

All Rectors are priests, but not all priests are rectors.

Priest in charge vs. Rector
The vestry called the Rev. Dr. Charles Hawkins to be the Priest in charge of St. John’s beginning July 1, 2013 and continuing until June 30, 2015. During the two years of the contract (called a “letter of agreement”) Charles was the ecclesial authority of St. John’s.
The vestry has now called the Rev. Dr. Charles Hawkins to be the Rector of St. John’s. Like “Priest in charge,” the Rector is the ecclesial authority of the parish, but a rector’s contract has no termination date—it is open ended. The rector is said to “have tenure.”
Charles’ day to day duties have not changed with his change of title. His canonical responsibilities remain the same.
The change is simply in the length of the contract between the priest and the parish.

On the Word "Rector"
Episcopalians love obscure vocabulary!  We don’t have a Music Director, we have a Choirmaster.  Likewise we have sextons, vergers, wardens, and a vestry!  So, now that the vestry of St. John’s has called a “Rector”—you might be curious as to what exactly that is!
From An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church by Don Armentrout:  “Rector.  The priest in charge of a parish.  Typically, a rector is the priest in charge of a self-supporting parish, and a vicar is the priest in charge of a supported mission.  The rector is the ecclesiastical authority of the parish.  The term is derived from the Latin for “rule.”  The rector has authority and responsibility for worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the parish, subject to the rubrics of the BCP, the constitution and canons of the church, and the pastoral direction of the bishop.  The rector is responsible for the selection of all assistant clergy, and they serve at the discretion of the rector.  The church and parish buildings and furnishings are under the rector’s control.  The rector or a member of the vestry designated by the rector presides at all vestry meetings.”

Orders of Ministry
The “orders of ministry” in the Episcopal Church are bishops, priests, deacons, and laity.
There are four orders of ministry recognized by the Episcopal Church.
“Bishop” is from the Greek word episcopos, or “overseer”; “priest” is from the Greek word presbyteros, or “elder”; “deacon” is from the Greek word diakonos, or “servant”; and “lay” comes from the Greek laos, which means “the people.” !
Each order is to be represented in the liturgy each Sunday. In the absence of one or more of the orders (for instance when we have no bishop present) others take their place. For example, when no deacon is present, a priest will introduce the confession of sin, read the gospel, etc.

Bless--What a Priest Does
The first of the three tasks for a priest is to pronounce God’s blessing. You will notice that it is always someone the Church has ordained to the priesthood who pronounces the blessing at the end of Holy Communion.

Celebrate--What a Priest Does
The second of the three tasks for a priest is to celebrate holy eucharist. You will notice it is always someone the Church has ordained to the priesthood who presides at a service of Holy Communion. The presider is called the “celebrant” and what the presider does is “celebrate.”

Absolve--What a Priest Does
The third of the three tasks for a priest is to absolve sin. You will notice that it is always someone the Church has ordained to the priesthood who pronounces the absolution of sin after a confession of sin in our liturgy. !
To bless, to celebrate, and to absolve—the three tasks of priests. All priests, whether Curates, Vicars, Rectors, Associate Rectors, or Assistant Rectors, et al are charged by the Church to do these three tasks.

Ecclesial Authority of a Parish
A rector is the ecclesial authority of a parish (in the same way a bishop is the ecclesial authority of a diocese). There are, however, other names for the ecclesial authority of a parish. Vicar, Parson, or Priest in charge are also titles given to the ecclesial authority of a parish.

"Rector" or "Vicar"?
A Rector is the priest in charge of a parish. In some congregations, the head priest is called a Vicar. The difference is that a congregation with a Rector is a self-supporting congregation and has more say in the choosing of the priest. A congregation with a Vicar is receiving some form of support from the Diocese and the Bishop is primarily responsible for the appointment.

Trivia. Did you know?
Another name for “Rector” is “Parson.” “Parson” comes from “Person in charge;” as in “I need to talk to the person in charge?” In a particular moment in time, if you wanted to conduct business with a parish in England you had to see “the Parson.”
The technical definition of a parson is “an incumbent of a parochial benefice.”
The house a parson lives in is called the “parsonage.” Likewise, the house a rector lives in is called the “rectory.”

Of Bishops, Rectors & Vestries
Canon law in the Episcopal Church is a careful system of checks and balances. Bishops have certain rights and responsibilities. Rectors have certain rights and responsibilities. And, vestries have certain rights and responsibilities.
With regard to the exercise of power within the church, each serves as a check and balance to the other.
The bishop, the rector, and the vestry are partners in the mutual discernment of mission and ministry of the parish.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Homily for Proper 5 Year B 2015

Several years ago, I received a grant from the CF Foundation to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  The CF Foundation has been sponsoring a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for ministers since the 1990s.  The program brings together a pilgrimage with study, lectures, shared discussions, and worship with other ministers.  The purpose of the pilgrimage (to quote from the promotional materials) was to renew the spiritual life of mid-career ministers.”
My pilgrimage to the Holy Land followed another pilgrimage: a pilgrimage into illness, brokenness, sickness.  The two pilgrimages form, for me, the two sides of a single coin.  
Before the first of the two pilgrimages I took, I did not know the meaning of papilledema.  I had never heard of fungal meningitis.  
Standing near the Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem, I look at what remains of the pools of Bethesda.  Bethesda:  “House of Mercy” or “House of Grace.”  For the Roman soldiers it would have been a secure water source, easily defended if attacked.  The Roman’s dedicated the pools: one to the Roman god of good fortune and the other to the Roman god of healing.  The site was once offered to England as a gift.  The Archbishop of Canterbury lobbied Queen Victoria to accept.  Instead, she asked for Cyprus.  Anglicans can, however, make a pilgrimage to west transept of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee and view a stone that was once part of one of the columns that surrounded the Pool of Bethesda.  No one waits by the pools for healing now.  They contain no water.  It was but a temporary “House of Grace.”  Pilgrims seeking living water and an eternal house, must continue their pilgrimage.
Several months before, I was sitting in the waiting rooms of the Mayo Clinic, and I would look around at all the sick people.  Each had made this pilgrimage, not on the Camino de Santiago (that ancient pilgrim’s path), but rather on some other path; a path that would take them to Rochester, a cathedral of modern medicine. 
We, the sick, gathered in waiting rooms not unlike the sick that gathered by the pool of Bethesda: a great multitude of impotent folk, the blind, the halt, the withered.  We waited, as underneath five porticos, not for the water to stir, but for our name to called.  You see, the way the system worked was also like the pool of Bethesda.  
At the Mayo Clinic, appointments are made for you, to see particular doctors or to have certain tests.  They give you an itenary, but it is ever evolving as one doctor sends you to see another, and all the appointments are reshuffled to keep them in the most efficient order.  Sometimes, however, even in the most efficient order, there may be several days between appointments.  If you wanted, you could sit in the waiting room and if there was an unexpected opening (if the water was troubled), the doctor would go ahead and see you.  You had to be present when the opening occurred.  If you had gone to the restroom when your name was called, your name was taken off the waiting list for that day.  So, many sat, waiting; afraid to leave, even for a moment.  While you were gone, the angel might stir the water. 
Sitting all day in a waiting room is harder than it sounds.  The sicker you are, the harder it is to tolerate the ordeal of the waiting room.  More than once, I waited all day to no avail, my name not called that day. And, as I waited, I watched as the most ill, give up and go home for the day.  
I thought of the lame man who laid by the pool of Bethesda thirty-eight years and who told Jesus:  “Sir, I have no one, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: and while I make my way to the pool, another steps in before me.”  I thought of a nurse, calling his name, but before he could make his way to the front desk, the nurse would assume he was not present and the nurse would call the name of another.  The nurse as an angel who stirred the still waters.
Pilgrimage is both a modern metaphor for our life with the Divine and an ancient practice that unwraps the life of one devoted to the Holy.  My dual pilgrimages were both.  
I started writing a book about my two pilgrimages, but this sermon is all I have to show for it.  I preach it today because of the words we heard from the Apostle Paul.
“But, do not lose heart,” Paul admonished the Corinthians.  We are more than our suffering, our mistakes, our choices.  And, we are not alone.  That mystery called resurrection is at work in us, even now, shaping us into a new reality that we cannot see but one that will be everlasting.  Look beyond our crumbling selves and see a re-creation!
Over the hill from Nazareth, a first century city lies unearthed by archaeologists.  Modern day pilgrims can walk its streets.  The city was being built when Jesus was a child.  Joseph, his father, the carpenter, may have helped build this city named Sephoris.  I wondered if Jesus, as a little boy ran in these streets, upon the very pavement I now trod.  I wonder if Jesus, as a young man, watched its occupants live out their day to day lives.  I wonder if scenes he remembered from this place would be the material from which he would craft some of his parables. 
Later, on the Sea of Galilee, crossing by boat, we drink from a cup and break bread and we remember.  A journey in time as well as in space.  On the opposite shore, I stand in a museum and before a boat.  Well, it once was a boat.  Two thousand years ago it was a boat that regularly crossed the Sea of Galilee.  It is a fisherman’s boat.  Found buried in mud, not far from the village where Peter lived.  I study how carefully some fisherman of yore used scraps of wood from this or that to keep his boat afloat.  I imagine him mending his nets and I make a mental pilgrimage to his side.  I ask him to show me how it is done.
In his coming of age story, The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss writes “…If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name.  Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass.  A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.”
I love the scene from the movie Forrest Gump as he runs, after he has suffered a heartbreak, down a long stretch of road.  “Run Forrest, run” I mutter under my breath when I spy a fellow pilgrim with a long stretch of road ahead.
Hear again the words from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth.  
“...this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”

“...we look not at what can be seen 
but at what cannot be seen; 
for what can be seen is temporary, 
but what cannot be seen is eternal”

“For we know 
that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, 
we have a building from God, 
a house not made with hands, 
eternal in the heavens”

“...do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”

 Run Forrest, Run.

Chaucer quoted this scripture at the end of his epic poem, Canterbury Tales: (from the book of Jeremiah)
Thus says the LORD:
Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.

I close with a blessing.

May the love of God carry you through every storm 
and bring you peace;
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ 
point you in the direction of home and bring you joy;
May the presence of the Holy Spirit 
surround you with a cloud of witnesses 

and give you courage.
May it be so. Let it be so. Now.  And, forever.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Homily for Holy Saturday
Holy Saturday, the Saturday of Holy Week, the day between Good Friday and Easter is a day of waiting.  Most of my life has been lived on Holy Saturday.  Good Friday is behind me.  Easter lies ahead.  Now, I wait.
We strip the altar bare on Maundy Thursday.  On Good Friday, the church looks, barren, forsaken, without its adornments.  In its emptiness, it echoes. 
During day of Holy Saturday, anticipating Easter, we decorate the holy space--adornments galore.  But, it is “not yet.”  We know how the story ends.  We are eager with anticipation, but Easter has not yet dawned.  We keep this space dark.  We wait for the light of that Easter dawn.  And in our waiting, we experience a longing.
Holy Saturday is special in the Church year, it is a day set aside to feel and to express our longing for God, for the “more” we have hoped to experience and have not yet experienced.  Like the season of Advent, it is legitimized longing, a validated ache, a lack that is not a wrong.
        Again, our Holy Saturdays can be long.  So, it is nice, therefore, to have that ache validated, that longing legitimized, to acknowledge our lack is not wrong.
I’m reminded of an expression in Hebrew, bat qol; it mean means echo of a voice, or literally “daughter of a voice.”  We cannot hear God’s Voice directly, but we hear an echo of a voice.  We do not hear God’s Voice directly, but who cannot be grateful for its echo, however faint?
Anglican theologian, N. T. Wright believes there is a universal longing for God, and we experience it as the echo of God’s voice in four longings:  The longing for justice, of spirituality, of beauty and of relationship.1
The longing for justice is a Holy Saturday longing and our cry for justice, in the time of injustice, is God’s own cry.  On Friday, we are painfully aware of injustice.  We await the day of Justice to come.  For now, living in the not yet, we long for justice.
Our longing for spirituality is exemplified in Reynolds Price’s novel Kate Vaiden, Kate has suffered the violent deaths of her parents and is being raised by extended family.  In the novel, Kate writes about her spirituality.  She says,    
Prayer took a big share of my time then.  I’ve said I didn’t enjoy church a lot, that I went with Caroline twice a month when the circuit rider passed.  What I really had was long talks with God, Christ, angels, trees, the Devil, birds, and dogs.  Anything seemed liable to turn sacred on me, and I’d worship it freely till it faded off.3

On those long Holy Saturdays of our lives, we long to hear God’s voice, not just an echo; we long to talk to God--trees and birds and dogs are liable to turn sacred on us; to become sacraments for us--outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace.  We look forward to the grace.  For now, we relish the visible sign of its coming.
        There is also the echo of God’s Voice in beauty.  From the church’s beginnings, we saw beauty as a window to God.  We built the most beautiful places of worship we could imagine.  We enter into this sacred space with its elegant simplicity, and rich visual symbolism.  The worship conducted in this space, the liturgy employed and the ritual performed, seeks to worship God in the beauty of holiness.  With its seasonal rhythms, vestments and song, flowers and frontals and language and stillnesses.
In our architecture and in our use of art, in our liturgy and sacred music--we are engaged in the holy work of reflecting the beauty of God.  As Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed this calling:  “Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God,  beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.”4  Or, in the words of George Herbert: “Wherefore with my utmost art I will sing thee, and the cream of all my heart I will bring thee”.5   As Albert Camus put it so memorably (speaking of this longing we have for both justice on the one hand and beauty on the other): “In this world there is beauty and there are the humiliated, and we must strive, hard as it is, not to be unfaithful, either to the one or the other.”  On Holy Saturdays, we strive, not to be unfaithful; either to one or the other.
And there is relationship as an echo of God’s Voice.  We were made to live in communion and community, with God and with one another.  The first creation story says that when God formed us in the divine image God formed us male and female, which reminds us that the divine partakes equally of male and female, and it also suggests that we were made to live in communion with one another, in deep, abiding relationships.  So marriage, and friendship, and community are gifts of God without which life cannot be as full or rich as God intends.  Relationships cannot cure all our ills and all our incompleteness.  As Wendell Berry says: “Some wishes cannot succeed; some victories cannot be won; some loneliness is incorrigible.”7 But being in relationship with each other is part of God’s intended goodness to us.  
Justice, spirituality, beauty, relationships: they are windows we can peep through and see Easter on the other side, they are echos of the divine Voice.
But they are not God; they are only echos.  Without the transcendent dimension justice can become fanaticism, spirituality a solipsism, the self as object of worship, beauty a false god, and relationships idolatry.  They are good, but they are not God.
So we long for something more, not an echo of a Voice, but the Voice itself.  And thus, we await Easter.

We are thankful for the echo, but we long to shout the Easter proclamation--do I dare speak it now, must I wait. We banish the proclamation during Lent.  No, to say it now, while it is still Saturday, while we live in the “not yet” would not be right--the words would ring hollow.  No, to shout the Easter proclamation, we must wait and live with our longings.  We say in our hearts “be patient” “it won’t be long now” And, we wait.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It is that time of year--again. GOEs (General Ordination Exam)

I have been neglecting my posting of GOE questions this year.  Sorry.

Set 3 Christian Ethics and Moral Theology


You observe two bumper stickers displayed together on a car in a university neighborhood. One says, "Save the Whales." The other says, "Keep Abortion Safe and Legal.”

Choose one of the following ethical approaches: Virtue Ethics, Feminist Ethics, Teleological Ethics.

1. In your own words, provide a 250-word, working definition of the chosen ethical approach as practiced in a Christian theological context. The definition should be appropriate to what might be given at an adult education forum in a parish.

2. With direct reference to the definition given in 1.), provide a reasoned, 750-word argument for how the messages of these two bumper stickers, taken together, do or do not represent a morally coherent world view, consonant with your understanding of Christian responsibility.

Friday, January 2, 2015

On "Loopers"

With cable companies now offering “on demand” viewing of a host of television shows and major motion pictures, you can find yourself watching something no one else has seen in awhile.  I recently found myself watching “Looper.” In the film (now two years old), criminals send victims back through time to be killed by hit men living in the past.  One of the hit men gets sent back in time to a younger version of himself.  But, the older version escapes “the hit.”  So, the younger version finds himself in the strange position of having to chase and kill his older self.
But, as in all time travel narratives, actions and consequences get all mixed up and are difficult to disentangle.
“Looper” refers to time, but there is also a loop of violence in the film.  They are all caught in a seemingly endless loop, not only of time, but of violence.  Murder, killing, hit men, power, victims that later become perpetrators.  How will it ever end?  It is a circle--a vicious circle.
In a moment of insight, (we pray we all will have such moments), the lead character becomes a most unlikely Christ figure.  He realizes that he can change the seemingly endless circle--if he sacrifices himself for the others.  He realizes that, not by using violence on others, but by allowing himself to be the victim, he can end the loop.  He can make a difference, but only if he gives up power, only if he is willing to suffer, only if he will give his life.
Seeing the religious themes in pop culture is an occupational hazard for me--I am a preacher.  So, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that Christians often quote Jesus: “to be the greatest, you must be the least.”  “To save your life, you must lose your life.”  And I couldn’t help but reflect on it--a paradox full of irony.
There was this way about Jesus: A pouring out of himself for others. Once, referring obliquely to himself but directly to God’s plan for us all, Jesus said,
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”