Friday, January 29, 2010

my day off

I took my day off today...I did call the church to see if a repair that needed done got done...but besides that, I took my day off.

I used to brag to other priests about how zealously I guarded my time away--and I did. But over the last few years I've found it harder and harder to 'stay away' on my day off and I've taken less and less of my vacation in large chunks. Part of that was that when a wondrous assistant I had left, it was harder and harder for me to trust the place to another...or even 'others'.

Often, in the last few years, I'd even go to a movie somewhere in Waterbury and then 'drop in' to say hello at the church. Of course, in a church like St. John's there is no such thing as 'dropping in' or just saying 'hello'. Life there is always pretty much teeming. St. John's is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a rain forest. Something is always happening, someone is always passing through, every moment is pretty much pulsating with life. So, 'dropping by' might turn into an hour or so and saying 'hello' meant it was hard to say 'goodbye'.

I do regret the loss of big chunks of vacation time that I gave up because I wasn't sure I wouldn't be needed. That was hubris, by in large, though not completely. I remember times when I took a month long vacation--even at St. John's. But somehow I stopped that in the last 5 years or so. Part of that was the loss of the greatest Episcopal priest vacation destination ever--Block Island, Rhode Island. St. Anne's on Block Island didn't have a full time priest so if you were willing to be available and to do the Sunday services you could stay in their rectory for free. I did that time and again. But they eventually had enough wealthy folks move to the Island, though only part time, that they decided they could afford a full time priest. Bye-bye free vacation spot!

Anyway, part of it is our dog--he's 4 years, 10 months old and Bern loves him so much she can't stand to kennel him for longer than a week or so. That's cut down on leaving for long periods as well. But much of it has been the gathering and expanding need I had to be there.

When people ask me why I'm retiring so young I should probably tell them if I don't do it now I probably would have to be removed from St. John's by the Bishop and Federal Marshals. I'm able to leave now--in another year I'd start wearing out my welcome at the same time it became impossible to leave....Just a thought.

It does occur to me that when I'm taking my 'terminal sabbatical' (that sounds final, huh?) in May, June and July I'll have to begin to adjust to the reality of 'not being there'. It will be, I know, harder than I think it will be. (I only took two months of my sabbatical I earned five years ago and half my vacation for the last few years. I thought about asking to be paid for all that time I 'didn't take' but it seemed silly since I was the one who decided not to....)

I had a long talk with the mail carrier who serves St. John's this week. Everyone, even lots of people I don't know and have never, to my knowledge, know of, is aware that I'm retiring. The thing is I can walk around in downtown Waterbury and 80% of the people speak to me as 'Jim' or 'pastor' or 'Father'. I told John the mailman that I'd given some of the best years of my life to St. John's. Not untrue. I was just 42 when I arrived and will be barely 63 when I leave. For a man, those should be the most productive years of your working life--unless you're Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or a pro athlete. So there is a big piece of me that has seeped into the stone and wood and air and flesh of St. John's. It will leave a gaping open wound in my psyche and heart when I leave. I'm not sure what the cure is, of if there is one.

Mostly I already wonder if I stayed a year or two too long already and fantasize about what it would have been like to stay a year or two longer. All of that is vanity, I know, so don't tell me! But I do hope my decision will be good for me, very good, and, prayerfully, even better for St. John's.

Someday, I know, I'll reflect on what I did and didn't do, what I succeeded at and failed with--stuff like that. But now it is just the reality of the leaving--that it IS going to happen now--that consumes me. I don't expect to be able to be as faithful to my day off in the next three months as I was today--but I'll try. I don't want the last 3 months to be radically different from the 247 months that came before. I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep and, as of today, I have 91 days left to continue to try to be who I have tried to 'be' for these 20 1/2 years....There is world enough and time for other pondering in the months and years to come after April.

For now, I am still the Rector of St. John's on the Green in Waterbury, CT--proud, humbled, challenged, amused, confounded to be so....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Another day in New England...

The temperature on our back porch dropped 10 degrees F. in the past hour. It went from 24 at 7:25 to 14 at 8:25.

When I woke up this morning nothing was happening. After a shower, the ground was covered by snow.

It took me 25 minutes to go 6 miles on I-84 because there were a slew of accidents.

Schools that opened before the snow were closing early.

Everyone at St. John's was hustling to get home before the expected early afternoon freeze. Before they got in their doors, the sky was blue and the temperature was in the high 30's.

On my way home at 4, it was snowing like crazy.

Now the temperature is dropping 10 degrees in an hour.

People ask me where we're moving when I retire. I tell them we're going to Cheshire. Who would want to miss a day like today?

Got to go. I'm going to Google "North Carolina Shore + Retirement Properties..."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

irrelevancy isn't so bad....

My last post may have seemed like a bummer of sorts--the church is irrelevant: woe are we!

But it isn't' that bad. In fact, I think being irrelevant to the culture gives the church a wondrous opportunity to play a different role than the church has--in the last 1600 years--normally has played.

For well over a millennium, 'Christendom' meant something. It meant that the Christian Church was 'relevant' to the society and culture of what we somewhat inaccurately call 'the Western World'. All geography depends on where you are standing at the moment. I guarantee you that most people who live in Iraq and Israel places like that, don't think of themselves of living in 'the Middle East'. People who talk about 'the Middle East' are standing somewhere else and looking over there and naming it.

Leaving that strangeness behind, let me share with you a fact: "Christendom" is gone. The church is not 'relevant' to the culture and hasn't been for a good while now.

But that is not bad. I personally think it was a problem for the church to be propping up and legitimizing Western Culture. There was a complicity that I think was unhealthy for the church. So, being 'irrelevant' in what was essentially an compromising and unhealthy connection with the the culture is not a bad thing.

Christianity, in and of itself, is not totally irrelevant in all places. But where it is--oh, take Nigeria where Anglican bishops have done nothing to oppose the criminalization of homosexuality with severe penalties even for those who 'associate' with gay folk--it is not a good idea to my mind. And the 'religious right' plays much the same role in the US. Pat Robertson has publicly stated that the earthquake in Haiti was God's judgment on the 'pact with the devil' that Haiti made 200 years ago by allowing voodoo and Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on homosexuals and other sinners. God knows who believes nonsense like that but I'm betting quite a few folks do.

But, for the most part, the so-called 'main-line churches' (and probably the Roman Catholic Church as well) are irrelevant to our American Culture. (How many RC families do you know who have never had a divorce or who all have 6 or 7 kids?--that's the base line of irrelevancy....
None of which is a bad thing. I'm personally pleased that RC couples who are battering each other one way or another no longer feel constrained to stay together because of the the church and that birth control isn't something couples discuss with their priests. (You see, some of the trappings of 'being Relevant' aren't bad things to lose....And that fish on Friday thing was simply a centuries earlier attempt to support Italian fishermen...)

So, being irrelevant as we are...there are remarkable possibilities for the church. Like this--we can be the fool, the jester, the gadfly, the prophet, the shaman, the joker, the wondrous and so needed foil to the nonsense of the culture.

Just one example of how this irrelevant church keeps thinking it is relevant and matters to the culture--the culture, the state of Connecticut, has outrun the Episcopal church by legalizing same-sex marriages. We should have beat them to it as the joker and Trickster of the culture, yet, even though they got there first, our Bishop has yet to even 'catch up'. I still can't sign a marriage license for a gay couple. We should have been out in front, flaunting the culture that takes us as irrelevant and pointing the way for the larger society.

Come on, being on the edges, being loosed to dance and be fools for Christ and to flaunt the eccentricities of a society and culture we are no longer responsible to shore up with our support, that's a remarkable calling for the Church 'to be....'

I love and adore the opportunity to hang out on the limits of the society and the edges of the culture and proclaim, not support of the status quo but an outrageous and Godly alternative to the culture and the society and 'the way things have always been done..."

I'm sure I'll ponder this more in the days and weeks ahead, but know this: retiring from full-time parish ministry will give me the opportunity to be even more irrelevant and irreverent than I already am....Praise be to God....

Fear not 'irrelevancy' doesn't mean the church doesn't means we "matter" in a way that frees us to be 'of God' rather than a part of the Culture....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

talkin' to hear our heads rattle...

We had a great conversation today at the weekly Clericus meeting. All the Episcopal clergy in the deanery are invited and who usually comes are pretty much the same every week. Three active priests (2 from St. John's and a third from Oakville), St. John's intern and 3 retired priests. Today our Episcopal/Buddhist clergy guy showed up too. And we talked about 'the Atonement' for over an hour. It was fascinating to us and showed a wide variety of interpretations of that central doctrine of the church and prompted not a little back and forth disagreement. Wonderful. It really was wonderful....

And I was all ready to detail some of the fine points of the conversation and outline the distinctions we made and the disagreements we had to prove that the Episcopal Church is the place, of all Christian churches, where you will find the most diversity and freedom to disagree.

Then I reconsidered.

My pondering is this: does anyone in the pews or, more importantly, outside the tight little clan we call the Episcopal Church really care. Do people pause over dinner or wake up in the dark of the night considering the doctrine of the Atonement? Driving to pick up your kids from school, running late because work took longer than you hoped or looking for a new job or shopping for groceries and comparing the contents of two kinds of chicken noodle soup or in the midst of a fight between two lovers--or a time of making up between two lovers...are people wondering which interpretation of the Atonement speaks to their lives and spirituality most vividly?

A former seminarian contacted me today to tell me she finally understood why I always said that a priest is "a nearly irrelevant functionary in a totally irrelevant institution".

Why did she come to that understanding? She read Henri Nowen and he said so to. Since a well known spiritual writer agreed with me, it might just be true. So much for both my authority and my irrelevance!

At any rate we enjoyed that hour of unabashed irrelevancy about a doctrine which matters not a fig to most people on the planet--or even most Episcopalians....

Being a priest, I tell people, is being the last 'generalist'. But even when we delve into stuff we know about and care about and worry about, we still probably show up irrelevant to the needs and moments and longings of our culture.

I don't think God is irrelevant. It's just the church and the church's theology....Alas and alack....

Monday, January 25, 2010

in the moment...and this one....

No matter what else I read, hear, experience about 'spirituality'--which is what has replaced 'religion' in our time--there is this: it is about 'being in the moment'.

It really isn't hard.

Today it was raining in wind driven sheets in Waterbury and I was watching it from the front steps of the church. The flag on the Green and the two in front of the Rectory of Immaculate Conception were all blowing UP! And I stood there for a few moments, just watching--"only" watching--and until I said to myself, "some rain, some wind...", I was 'in the moment', simply there, no doing anything or even thinking, simply 'one' with the wind and rain and flags.

As far as I can tell, that's what spirituality and all the folks making money writing and talking about it are saying. Just 'being there'.

I'd invite you to begin by simply 'noticing' when you are 'present' and nothing else. (The problem is, when you 'notice' it, you aren't there any more....

The question seems to be, how to provide the opportunity and possibility to simply 'be present' more and more. That's what 'spirituality' is about. Everything else is what we 'say' about it.

Just notice those moments when you are present in such a way that, actually, "YOU"--like your conscious mind or your ego--aren't there at all....

Ponder that. More later, I promise.

Yours 'in the moment'....

members of the Body

At the Annual meeting yesterday, I preached about Paul's long message to the church in Corinth about the many members of the body. It is in 1st Corinthians somewhere (chapter 14 I think) and points out that the 'members of the body' are equally important. That is something hard for parish churches to remember. Each of the 3 parishes I've served over 30 odd years have shared this one concept--there is 'the in-group', though they wouldn't call it that, I don't think, that does all the work that all the parish profits from. In all cases, the 'in group' feels overworked, beset upon and a tad resentful of the members who aren't 'doing' what they are doing.

It might just be that the in group are the brain and heart and alimentary canal of the Body and those further out in the concentric circles are things like finger-nails and hair and skin. Somebody has to be the vital organs of the Body, but that shouldn't mean the fingernails aren't important--like if you need to scratch an itch, for example, a fingernail becomes suddenly 'vital'.

Parish churches are NOT 'intensive communities'. There are 'intensive communities' of Christians--two I know of are The Church of the Savior and Sojourners--both in Washington, DC. In those gatherings of Christians 'everybody' is in the 'in group'. They are very efficient, effective and well oiled machines. But they cannot tolerate folks 'hanging around' or on the edges of their lives as a Christian community.

Parish churches not only invite those on the edges, those on the edges become the possibility for new members of the in-group if they can be moved, motivated and inspired...and most of all 'welcomed' into the inner circle.

One of the things I'm aware of, though I seldom say it outloud, is that people in the 'in group' in any community give lip service to wanting help, but the terrible truth is this: help in the 'in group' would involve the 'in group' in change--and one thing 'in groups' wherever you find them and you can find them in any business, organization, communion, clan, family--don't want to change. In-groups have pretty much worked out how to handle things and the last thing they want (unconsciously) is someone to tell them a different way to handle things. 'Consciously' and resolutely and honestly, they long for help and more folks to join them. The big problem is most in-groups I've ever observed are not hospitable to 'new thoughts' and 'new paradigms'. They do, sincerely and desperately, want others to join them...who are, it usually seems 'just like them...'

I'd have to think longer--though I have thought long and hard for years and years--about how to make 'in groups' truly welcoming to new folks with new insights and new agendas.

Perhaps it begins by convincing in-groups that the best way forward is to do things in different ways all the time. Go try to sell that concept to anybody--ice to Eskimos, warm breezes to Pacific Islanders...that would be easier.

I'll sit here under my withered Castor Oil Tree and ponder how to make the parish model accommodate itself to welcoming the 'new' into the inner circle. Give me a while...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Annual Meetings

Sunday is St. John's Annual Meeting. It will be my 22nd and last. It's only my 21st as Rector, but I was a supply priest at St. John's for 4 months back in Jan-April of 1988 before the parish called an interim Rector. That meeting will be a contrast to the one we'll have Sunday. There was a great deal of contention at the '88 Annual Meeting and since I just said the opening prayer I had no part in trying to calm it down.

Annual Meetings are fictions of canon law. The canons require that they happen. There is business to be transacted to meet the canons--elections and the presentation of the budget and other reports. Beyond that, Annual Meeting really don't have much to do. Those things are important, of course, but they are best done quickly and efficiently.

Some people expect too much of Annual Meetings. In that way an annual meeting of a parish is something like Christmas. People expect too much of Christmas too--things the holy day cannot deliver.

Annual meetings are not like town meetings in a small new England village. The Episcopal Church is a representative democracy through and through--not a direct democracy. The real responsibility for decisions lies with the Vestry, not the A.M. In fact, Annual meetings don't even have the opportunity to 'pass' the budget. The budget is prepared, approved and presented by the vestry. People at the a.m. have an opportunity to ask questions and make comments, but the budget is a faite-comple (which neither my spell check or I can spell--you know what I means...something already complete). We do vote for officers and vestry members, but most often their is a 'slate' presented of the number needed to be elected and I never remember any one to nominate anyone from the floor, though it could happen.

So you see, Annual Meetings are not intended to be debating societies or policy setting forums. It is a requirement of canon law--simply that.

I like them short and sweet and I'm sure some people thing I ram them through, and they would be right. You want to argue policy or have input, come to vestry meetings where everyone in the parish has a voice.

The only time they can get out of hand is if they are not scripted closely enough. I remember one year shortly after I arrived, a committee had recommended interring ashes in the church Close (fancy Episcopal name for 'courtyard'). Everyone loved it and the vestry thought it would be a no brainer. Instead it was a donny-brook! A few people objected, others objected to the objections and people got testy. I finally asked for a motion to table and we went back and gave more information and had a special meeting to have the parish approve.

Luckily, I was so surprized by the turn of events that it didn't occur to me to say to the meeting what I told the Sr. Warden immediately afterwards: "that was a lot of argument over a few 'ash holes...."

Lucky indeed for me....

Thursday, January 21, 2010

90 minutes of fame

Andy Warhol said everyone would have 15 minutes of fame--hell, I had 90 today alone! I was on radio for an hour and TV for half an hour. It was easy--all I had to do was talk about things that were important to me and be encouraged by the one 2 liberal talk show hosts in Waterbury! Piece of Cake. Bring on Jay Leno--I'd like to get Conon O'Brian's separation pay. Hey, I'm retiring, where's the $33 million?

Seriously, It was fun for me. I love to talk. I once asked my beloved friend and mentor, Bill Penny, before he died, if he thought I talked too much at our weekly clergy meetings. I was driving him home since he had serious macular degeneration. We were going to stop at his favorite fish store in Watertown on the way to Litchfield.

"Yes," he said, in response to my inquiry. Then he added, "I think I'll get some salmon...."

I once described my job to someone as 'walking around and talking a lot'. I wish I had said, 'walking around and listening a lot'. And I wish that had been true. If there is anything I regret about my life as a priest, it is probably that--that I didn't 'listen' more and talk less. And if there were any advice I'd give to someone thinking about priesthood it would be 3 things: "listen...then listen...then listen a little more".

Silence, I have begun to truly believe, is the Heart of God. I wish I had been a little more silent over these years....listened more....

But I do like the sound of my own voice....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

dogs with lights

I was walking my dog about 9:30 and we encountered a huge yellow dog with a red light around his neck. I was so shocked I didn't think to ask the dog's walker who it was for--the dog or him. The light was about the size of the little keg or brandy or whatever that St. Bernards are sometimes pictured with. It was red, not clear. I don't have a clue what that was about.

I'm really not up to writing more tonight but this keeps my promise to post each day and gives you something to ponder--dogs with lights, what's next? cats with windshield washers?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I had a long talk this afternoon with a trusted friend about preaching. I don't often get to talk about preaching so it was a welcomed and wonderful conversation.

I love the preach--JUST LOVE IT....

I often meet priests who don't 'love' to preach. Some of them actually hate it. And I say to myself, "self, why did they choose this vocation?"

Preaching, for me, is the most fun part of being a priest.

Mostly I preach to myself--whenever I don't, it doesn't feel good or right. I have very little right to 'preach' at other people. I do know stuff about scripture and theology that they might not know--though some do!--but that doesn't give me the right to 'be preachy'.

I read the gospel well ahead...and sometimes the other lessons, though mostly I preach about the gospel lesson. And I just sit with it...or drive with it...or move around with it...or sleep with it and then, at some point, start writing things down I've been thinking.

Often I write a sermon in one draft. I haven't always done that--I used to agonize over the whole process--but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Yes, you read that right. The more I preach, the younger and more child-like I become about it all. I listen 'for me' to what the gospel might be saying. Often it says lots of things and I have to trust my intuition to choose the one that speaks to me.

Then I write. And read it and read it (outloud several times) and then leave the text in the vesting room if I use the pulpit or on the pulpit if I preach walking around. (You've got to leave room for the Spirit--bless her heart--and read the faces of the poor, stranded, undefended listeners.

Preaching IS what a priest does--spoken or unspoken. Figuring out a new way or an old way spoken new to tell the timeless Truth of the Gospel.

I hope I will be able to preach much during my retirement. But it won't be the same, talking to myself in front of mostly strangers as it has been at St. John's--talking to myself in front of people I know so well and who have figured me out and who matter so much. It will be different, that I know--and I will miss preaching at St. John's...that I know fair well....

Monday, January 18, 2010

hot dogs, continued

I wasn't quite through with my tirade about hot dogs but hit some key that posted it against my will....

The reason I was thinking about this was today I was hungry and decided to give Frankie's one more chance. It was the same level of disappointment. I did know, from experience, to order a 'side' of 'cole slaw' along with the hot dog with chili--at least they have chili. But the dog itself was the same ol' CT hot dog, extending past the end of a fru-fru bun that had (horrors!) been toasted instead of steamed...that is my definition of adding insult to injury. The chili though, wasn't bad, so I finally removed the ersatz wiener and ate the chili and slaw on that piece of white bread toast shaped like a bun.

I was once in a place in North Carolina--a little beer bar with only a counter--and when the waitress brought me my hot dog with chili and slaw, just the way they made them, she said, "first bite of that wiener, honey, close your eyes...." I did, being a polite boy that obeys waitresses. I thought it was to savor the taste of a dog to die for--but when I bit, I realized what she meant...the scalding water and pork grease hit my eyelids, but since my eyes were closed, did not blind me....

I've been thinking, maybe I could rent a little place in Cheshire when I retire and do a hot-dog place. I'd only serve Dr. Pepper and draft beer for drinks and the only item on the menu would be 'real' hot dogs. I'd call it "Dogs not Dogma" and have a theological theme to the decor.

Cheese is not an insult to a hot dog--so long as it is hot cheese-whiz. And an occasional 'character' might want a little ketchup or mayo--though as a purist I think the slaw should have enough mayonnaise to do.

I did have a hot dog once in a wonderful place in Wilmington, North Carolina, with mayo, cheeze-whiz and bacon bits they had made from thick sliced bacon (not the stuff in a jar, please Lord!) that would have passed for a real hotdog. And I must admit that whenever I fly through Chicago I do get one of those with little green peppers, dill pickles and tomatoes. So my dog shop is already getting too complicated...I'll have to find something else to do when I retire.

Maybe there is a mail order place like Harry and David's, except it would be called Jimbo and Bubba's, where I could find those juicy, pink, oh so porcine wieners....I'll be up late surfing the web....

My kingdom for a hot dog....

Where I grew up all the little beer-bars--liquor couldn't be sold by the drink in WV back then--and all the Drive ins and some little hole-in-the wall places all could make a hot dog to die for....By a hot dog to die for, I mean something that, in my experience, does not exist in CT. (Once I describe it, if you know where to find one, please let me know.)

All the hot dogs around here are long and skinny. The hot dog I'm talking about is short and plump and pink. It is made of an equal proportions of pork, nitrates and some red coloring dye to make it so very pink. It is something you would never consider grilling since it would explode and shower you with lard and other noxious things that are better eaten than worn. This is a hot dog you only steam or boil. When you bite into such a hot dog, hot grease explodes into your mouth and you can feel your arteries closing.

But that's not all. These hot dogs ALWAYS have chili on them--no beans in that--just some combination of diced and fried onions, ground beef, chili powder and most like ketchup instead of tomato paste. And it is on a 'real' hot dog bun, not one of these sissy buns with the crust cut off the side. I mean a bun that is brown all outside, not a fru-fru thing that should be a lobster roll.
And the bun has been steamed as well so it is already a little wet and mushy before the other stuff goes on.

The other stuff is, as I have already established, chili, and either yellow mustard and onions or, and preferably, slaw. (Now I have learned to to ask for 'slaw' in CT you have to use the modifier 'cole' or someone just stares at you like your some hick from WV. Where I come from we don't waste an extra word like that. Besides, what other kind of 'slaw' is there? That's it. one way or the other. Just like 'regular coffee' in CT might come with milk and sugar--though there is nothing 'regular' about that--a hot dog will come with chili (did I mention that? no need to order a 'chili dog' where I come from, saving another word for later use) and either slaw OR mustard and onions. If you say, "a dog with slaw' you'll get chili and slaw. If you say 'regular dog' you'll get mustard and onions with the chili and heart stopping wiener.

And you need to order more than one because they are so good you can't stop at one. When my children were little and we were visiting grandparents in southern WV, we would always drive to Lynn's drive-in in Bluewell for a bunch of hotdogs. The soppy bun soaks up all the tastes and is a treat in itself. I pray, if there's a God, that there is still a Lynn's in Bluewell.

When I first moved to Cheshire, everyone told me I had to get a hotdog from Blackie's. So I went and ordered two with 'chili and slaw'. Of course, they had neither but did have some brown mustard (ye gods! brown mustard on a hot dog!) and this very famous confection of over cooked peppers and onions that everyone swore was delightful. Plus the dog was long and skinny--stuck out of the bun unstead of nestling comfortably in it so it takes two bites to get to (the first bite should be soggy bread, chili and slaw). It seemed to me they had somehow deep-fried the thing, which, I suspect had no pork in it, and then threw it on the grill until it was turned black in several places. I left mine half eaten at the counter and never went back.

You just can't find a hot dog around here....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

linear time

I often tell people I am confounded by linear time. It is true: I can't remember what year or what month and sometimes what decade things happen. When we go to Oak Island, NC, as we've been doing the last few years, Bern remembers which houses we stayed in which years! I vaguely remember the houses, but not the years--not on a bet.

Anyhow, I made the mistake this afternoon of looking at a calendar and I realized I only have 14 more Sundays at St. John's before I retire. That just doesn't sound right--it's over 3 months away so why aren't there more Sundays left? Besides, I've been the Rector of St. John's for about 1066 Sundays so far. How can it be only 14 left?

It's like that old question--if you had one day to live, what would you do?

If I have only 14 Sundays left to preach--hard as that seems and realizing I'll probably not preach them all since I usually invite others to preach a time or two during Lent--what do I want to say?

I of course, like Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin, want to sing some 'sustaining songs' over the next months. I want to assure everyone that 'everything will be alright' after I'm gone and I want to believe that for myself.

Lots of people say to me these days something like "what are we going to do without you?" I have good answers for that. The parish is going to find new life and new commitment as they look at themselve free of me. The parish is going to have a great adventure searching for a new Rector and listening to themselves and each other about how wondrous that might be after all these years. The parish is going to experience a burst of freedom and possibility once they get to the phase of 'acceptance' of my leaving and be able to 'define' themselves without the many boundaries and definitions I have imposed along the way. And some day in the not too distant future (this from someone who is confounded by linear time!) they will welcome a new visitor into their midst who they will love and support and be loved and supported back they way we've done it for two decades.

The real question is this: "What am I going to do without them?"

My life for 20 of its best and most productive years has been formed and shaped by the multitude of people who are part of the Body of Christ known as St. John's. I spend more time with the staff of the parish--especially H and S and A and lately F--than I do with my wife and much, much more than I do with my children and friends from beyond the parish. And I count as 'friends' many, many of the people in and around the parish. They'll just be missing one person...I'll be missing them all.

(There is a dispute in the Church about whether or not a priest should befriend members of his/her parish. Many choose and most believe a priest should not to be related to members of the parish on the level of friendship. The though is that it will confuse the 'pastoral' relationship and cloud the lines of authority. I have taken the road less traveled. I am a friend to many of the people I serve. Over the years seminarians have often asked me if I realized the danger of that and I have told them, honestly, that I believe the people I serve and lead--and that, in and of itself is a wierd enough relationship--know how to 'be my friend' and yet let me 'be their priest'. And to a great degree, it has worked for me and I pray for them. So I will be, in a real way, losing most of my friends when I leave St. John's. It makes me catch my breath to realize that. Only 14 Sundays to make sure they know how profoundly I love them....)

Human love and friendship, it seems to me, is a metaphor and a paradigm for the relationship we all should seek with God. Those connections people make in a parish church echo the connection to God that is the point to the whole thing. Friendship is a holy thing, it seems to me.

So, perhaps the best thing I can do over these last weeks and months is simply appreciate and acknowledge how dear the people of St. John's have become to me. Many of them know me so well that it would be impossible for me to 'pretend' with them about much of anything. They've pretty much figured me out. It will ever so strange going into a different community where I don't have those connections and to try to find friendship there....

Did I say 14 Sundays? It must be more than that, surely....

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Christmas Trees

Our Christmas trees are still up. Since I'm not in charge of their being put up or being taken down, I have no say in it all. However, I don't remember Bern leaving them up this long before.

We have two Christmas trees--first of all because we have more ornaments than one tree can hold and secondly, because I like White Pine and Bern likes Spruce. So one is in the living room and one in the dining room, near the long windows in the front of the house. There is a rocking chair that sits near the doorway from the dining room to the living room where you can sit and see them both. The White pine has colored lights--one inexplicable strand of which blink--and the spruce has very proper Cheshire white lights. Colored lights--especially if they blink in any way--are considered gouache or gauche (which are the two spellings my spell check gave me though I suspect only one of those words means 'tasteless, which is what I mean about 'proper Cheshire lights).

The lights and ornaments are long gone--shortly after New Year's Day--but the trees remain, still healthy and thriving, so far as I can tell. I smelled the White Pine tonight while I was moving through the crowded dining room--most everything from the kitchen is there since we had a new floor put in the kitchen last week. And it smelled like Christmas--or the forest or a Frabreeze pine spray...well, not really, those sprays don't smell like a forest at all, or even a tree. They smell like what they are: chemicals meant to smell like pine.

Anyway, after I smelled the pine tree I took the dog for a walk and in the melting snow we saw the most amazing sight. It was a dandelion, all fluffed up with those little seed wings that blow away and go make more dandelions. I touched it and it was frozen solid. It had just reappeared from the snow that melted today and I was astonished. I would have stayed there and wrote a sonnet in my head about the dandelion in the snow if the dog hadn't been ready to move on and do what most people politely call 'his business'.

Long-lived Christmas trees and frozen is a wondrous world we live in, after all!

K and B were married this afternoon. They are both small people, fragile almost, but exquisite for that. Perfect little images of a bride and a groom--as lovely as pine trees and dandelions...she as embraced in whiteness as any dandelion about to be blown away. They are sweet, dear people and I can only pray they have a life together that is long enough to have too many ornaments for one Christmas tree and a relationship strong enough to have two Christmas trees if they like different kinds. And I hope the smell that fills their lives is of a pine forest and that the joy they know is like the giddy feeling of a white dandelion against their faces. And I hope they'll have a dog to walk in the darkness and a new floor or two to love.

Bern and I were married in 1970. You could do the math...this year will be 40 years. Neither of us has the energy to do anything new so I guess we will make the 'death do us part' moment.

Those are awesome, if not aw-ful vows: better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health...'til death do us part. And they vowed to both 'love' and 'cherish'. CHERISH is such a remarkable word and such a profound concept. To 'cherish' is 'to hold dear', to adore and to honor. Can't do much better than that. Love, I tell couples preparing for marriage, much to their horror, "comes and goes". It just does, like all emotions. But we have a choice in what we 'cherish'. We can choose what we 'hold dear'.

Tonight, for me, I cherish my life, my marriage, Christmas trees, frozen dandelions and Puli dogs to walk....

Friday, January 15, 2010

for better or for worse

I had a wedding rehearsal tonight. B and K are getting married tomorrow afternoon. I've done hundreds of these and, if I might say so, I'm fair to middling with weddings. I keep everyone loose and humorous during the rehearsal. I'm pretty good at 'loose and humorous', if I might say so. I start at the end and end at the end, if that makes any sense. I start the rehearsal by practicing the 'going out part' which gets everyone paired up and ready to do the 'coming in part' and go through the service. Tonight's group laughed at all the laugh lines, so I think they are fine.

I have arguments with other priests--and probably with the canons of the church, if I ever bothered to read them--about weddings. Here's why. I think the 'church' is pretty much 'irrelevant' to our culture and society. So, when anybody wants the 'church' involved in their marriage, I am delighted, excited and ready to make it happen.

Lots of priests want people to 'prove themselves' by attending church regularly for some amount of time before the 'church' will be a part of their marriage. I actually think that people who don't attend church who want the church to be a part of their lives in such a remarkably profound moment are people God might want me to invite them into the myths and rituals that the church has to offer.

My definition of a ritual is this--"it is something that seeks to 'make sense' of life". And people, wanting to promise promises and vow vows that will 'make sense' of their lives and want the church's rituals to do that are people folks like me should be welcoming and hospitable to and, without causing them any guilt, let them know God wants to be part of their lives and their love and the crazy complications of being married.

I'm 'marrying Sam' in a way--my job, it seems to me, is to insert God into every crevice and crinkle of the fabric of their lives whenever invited. Have the couple be active and pledging members of the parish for a year before their marriage? I really don't give a fig. They want God messed up in their lives--in all the folds and fibers of their relationship and commitment and love??? That's enough for me. "Come on Down!" I say. Let me add God to all this and just wait and see what happens.

These are good people. I've talked with B and K a half-dozen times and 'counseled' them, if that's the word, about marriage. B's father is his best man. K's father is walking her down the long, long aisle. These are children of two intact families. The angels should serenade them for that alone in a time when marriage itself is an illusion and a temporary state. Sometimes I think the most the church could suggest is serial monogamy, not life-long marriage. And I simply am confounded by those in the church that would deny 'any sacrament' to anybody. The sacraments don't belong to the church, they belong to God. We are just the franchise that can administer them to those Children of God who come looking for them.

The option is to make the church more restrictive and exclusive and retain the sacraments (which are God's, after all, not the property of the church) to those who fit in, obey the rules, meet the standards, live up to the requirements. That direction, that option, which many folks I know support, is to make the church not only irrelevant but inaccessible to the very folks who need it and the very folks who still in some way 'believe' in the sacraments. That, I'm afraid, makes no sense to me.

Will B and K be active members of St. John's? Probably not. Will they, when they have a child, know there is a place that welcomed them and passed on the sacrament of God at their marriage that might just welcome them back with open arms to baptize their child? I think so. And will they, when their children begin asking questions they can't answer about life and death and the 'meaning of everything' consider, if not act on, coming 'home' to the church that is welcoming and open and inclusive to help them with raising their children? Maybe and maybe not. But either way, I want to be the one who opens the doors rather than closes them and leaves the rest to the good people who come to me seeking Sacrament and to God about what happens next.

Just me talkin'. Just me writin'. And that's what I truly believe. God 'opens' doors and windows and anything else that can be opened that might, otherwise, be closed.

Our God OPENS...That what God does, OPENS everything to possibility. And shame on us if we don't do the same....

Praise God for B and K, for their vows, their longing for God to be part of their relationship, their hopefulness, their openess, their marriage....Tomorrow--4 p.m.--2 made 1 by the One we all know, if only dimly. Pray for B and K that their vows will sustain them for decades and decades of struggle, doubt, wonder, love and joy.....

Thursday, January 14, 2010

When words fail...January 14

She was 37 years old and was one of the first brides I knew as Rector of St. John's. Just a week or two ago, I talked with her about baptism for her new baby--2 months old, as I remember--and she was deciding on whether the week after Easter worked for her. I'd baptized her two other children over the years. Then, on Sunday, she died. Just like that. Alive one moment and dead the next--the way death works. Death is not something that comes over time. Oh, you can be waiting for someone to die for months, but Death works simply: one moment you are alive and the next moment you are dead.

I did an odd service for her today at the funeral home at 1 p.m. She was cremated at the Medical Examiner's Office in Farmington, after an autopsy to determine why someone 37 had died at all, why that moment came to her.

Even in the cold, the funeral home was stifling because over a hundred people were crowded into a space for 60 or so. A video of her life was running to my right--pictures of her too short life, her children, her family, her friends, things she did before the moment when she was dead and dead for a long, long time. That's the power Death has over us--no matter how long we live, we will be dead for much longer.

The pain and loss was palpable in the room. Her husband and mother and oldest son were in a stupor of sorts, hardly able to react at all to much of anything. The rest of the people there were not talking and laughing and catching up the way people do when an old person dies. There was a pall over the whole room, a blanket spread across them. They were sober, solemn and mostly silent.

Here's one of the reasons I think I am a reasonably good priest: I never try to deceive or lie to people when someone is dead. I have no handy aphorisms or pithy biblical quotes designed to take their mind off the enormity of what has happened to them. Mostly, I say nothing. And when asked questions like "Isn't Daddy in a 'better place'?" I answer, "I have no idea...."

And I don't. That strange and final secret door named Death is something I have no clue about. I simply don't. And I don't reflect on it much because Death is one of the astonishing Mysteries of living. I know all the church's teachings and all the dogma and doctrine and none of that makes the least bit of sense to me.

The best I can come up with and not be telling an untruth is this: I entrust the dead to the heart of God. What that means is beyond me. None of the golden streets and wings and harps and singing the Doxology for eternity speaks to my mind or soul. 'Eternity' as a concept is something I cannot begin to imagine or claim to comprehend. I am locked in 'time'--which we made up to track our journey from birth to death. 'Time' is where I live and move and have my being. Eternity I leave to God.

So, at times like today, words fail--the beautiful and comforting words of the Book of Common Prayer ARE beautiful and comforting--but they fail. And my halting, stuttering words fall short of even failure. Something awful has happened. I am angry with God--which is better, I think, than being angry at the person who died...which we often are. I don't get it, this 'death' thing. I an outraged when it happens and then devolve into broken-hearted and then, usually, hopefully, can come to a moment of 'acceptance', that this horrible thing that has happened does not diminish, in any way, how much God loves us. I know this, when people I love die it doesn't reduce in any way my love for them--that love goes on and even grows. I love my parents much more now, decades after their deaths, than I did when they were alive and with me.

I simply believe the same applies to God. God loves us 'best of all' as we struggle and rejoice through life. Death only increases God's love. At least that's what I believe and hold on to and pray is true. Otherwise, nothing makes sense. Not only do words fail, all things fail.

God's heart, it seems to me--as a priest and a person who will die someday--is where we're bound. God's heart, which is beyond words, understanding, comprehension.

Pain and loss and Mourning and anger and depression we all know when someone dies. What we don't know and can't experience on this side of that strange and wondrous door is this: the Heart of God.

Words fail.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 13

Yesterday, H., St. John's Parish Administrator, told me she had finally realized that when I leave "every thing will change..."

No shit, Cheyenne! I realize that too--for the parish and for me. Everything will change.

The Episcopal Church has always participated in a group illusion that it doesn't matter, really, who the priest is...the parish is larger than the priest. In a sense that is true. My most profound prayer is that the parish will be stronger and better after I leave. But, in my experience, 'who the Rector IS' is astonishingly important. For one thing, the Rector is, by canon law, 'the boss' is areas of staff, program and worship. That leaves an imprint on the life and fabric of the congregation that in many ways defines the church. It doesn't mean a new Rector can't begin, from day one to replace that imprint--but it is there to replace.

Actually, parishes are like geological strata. Layer after layer is laid on top of the ones before. There are still people here from the Dr. Lewis layer. Dr. Lewis died 7 years before I was born, but he was here for 40 years and left a deep print in the nature of the parish. It was Dr. Lewis who--with far-sighted wisdom--made St. John's a parish deeply committed to 'outreach'. He brought the Red Cross and the Visiting Nurses Association to Waterbury. He provided space to teach English to wave after wave of European immigrants. He housed the WPA workers in the old parish house. And that outline of his devotion to outreach ministry has endured through my day. Others have tinkered with the outlines of the imprint, but have had the good sense not to try to eliminate it.

Then there are layers of people who became part of the church during the residency of other Rectors. The biggest one was Mike Kendall who was associate and then rector here during the late 60's until 1978. Another outreach priest who had a profound effect on people as a pastor and a friend. There was a long time member, God bless her soul, who used to tell people, in front of me, "Mike Kendall was my favorite rector...."

Mike was once standing outside the church with me looking at our sign. On the sign are service times and those universal symbols for male/female/handicapped bathrooms. "That's great," he said, "what a ministry."

Just today, on a light pole near the church I found a pencil drawn sign that said 'bathrooms' with an arrow pointing to st. John's.

The staff jokes a lot about our 'bathroom ministry'--which isn't pleasant but vital to those friends of ours who are outside and either homeless or far from home who need a bathroom. A recent seminarian gave a sermon about the holiness of cleaning feces off the wall. Some felt that was a little too vivid, but it is true. I have become adept at unplugging toilets in my time at St. John's and am better off for that. We are a church with a strong appreciation of Incarnation--the body has many functions and we are one of the few places in the center of the city where folks can find 'rest and relief'.

Several years ago I saw a young man walk past the church office window unzipping his pants. When I didn't hear the door open I went to see and found him peeing beside the church house door.

"Don't do that," I told him, "come in and use the bathroom...."

"I'm homeless," he said, about as angry as I would be if I were homeless, "I bet you have a bathroom in your house."

"I have three," I said, "and would like more but this isn't a conversation about the inequities of society, it's about how you are welcome to come in and pee...."

I've thought for a long time that the three professions that should be paid the most are Day Care Workers, Garbage Collectors and Nursing Home Aides. People who care for our children should be almost deities in our midst. People who take away the incredible amount of waste we make should be honored. And those who clean up our messes when we are old should sit in seats of honor.

It's all about waste and bodily functions when you get right down to it. Why shouldn't those jobs pay 6 figures? And why shouldn't cleaning feces off the wall be holy?

More later. Love you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

January 12--day three

I'm thinking, should I count up to my April 30 retirement or count down from now? I'd have to go to a calendar and figure out how many days there are between today and April 30 to count down to 1. I could probably do it in my head--Feb has 28 days, March 31, April 30. That's, if I counted right and it isn't a leap year (I didn't cheat and look) is 89 days. January has 19 left, I think, which boils it down to 108 days before I leave St. John's. That just seems too few after 20 years (some 7307 days and more). That really bums me out, having 108 days left out of so many. So, I won't count 'down', I don't think. I'll simply keep writing and let it go at that.

I'm having a hard time with this right now. There was an article in the newspaper today "Popular Rector Leaves Church". One of the reasons I'm stopping is that I believe, in a positive way, I still am 'popular'. Not with everyone, surely, but with enough and those who matter. I am always distressed by athletes who play one or two years past their prime and leave because they have to or aren't given a contract extention. That saddens me. So, leaving now, at--if not at the 'top' of my game, at least still playing well--seems the right way to go. One of the most wondrous members of the parish told me in the parking lot yesterday that he was happy I could leave 'on my terms'. He was forced out of his job decades ago and it still hurts. So I go now, even though I think I could still contribute to the life and ministry of the church. "My terms" aren't bad, not a bad way to stop.

Which is what I'm doing: I'm 'stopping'. I'm not quitting or leaving or finished or resigning...none of that. I'm stopping, now, on my terms, before I 'have to' quit or enough people want me to leave. And I'm having a hard time with it today. People I love have told me how they are having a hard time with it all and I don't even tell them I am too. I just tell them "I know" and try to honor their feelings of loss and pain even though I have those feelings too.

I've started noticing 'what I will miss'.

I'll miss my 'smoking porch'. I'm stopping smoking as well, but it, like my leaving St. John's, is a drawn out process. The only place I allow myself to smoke is a little porch off the sacristy. Smoking there is like being in Dr. Seusses' book about "I saw it all on Mulberry Street." Every time I go out there to smoke I see something amazing: an Orthodox Jew carrying a cat across the street wrapped in a blanket; a woman smoking and talking on her phone with her Pug dog driving the car, apparently; a crow as big as a chicken; a woman with jeans so tight I would pay to see her take them off (not for 'that' reason, but just to see how she does it); a plastic bag that blew around my head and then off down toward the Green like the bag at the end of "American Beauty Rose"; a guy with so many returnable bottles and cans in his car that I couldn't see through the windows to see him driving; a drunk man who stopped traffic until a young woman could get her baby carriage across the snow bank and cross; homeless couples holding hands like all lovers should; secretaries out walking on their lunch hours from the law firms that line the Green; a lovely woman jogging, thin and taunt as a dressmaker's dummy, her pony tail shifting side to side, grave and precious as a newly laid egg; large people on small bicycles; cars with the radio or CD player turned up so loud they must have permanent ear damage; old men shuffling, wheezing, on their way somewhere, perhaps to die; young people, their coats open even in the chill, strutting their stuff....and lots more. I see it all from my smoking porch.

And I've seen it all here as the Rector of St. John's. I've seen and experienced and known more than you imagine...more than you CAN imagine....And I'm going to leave that behind in 108 days or so. I've having trouble with it now, right now. It will pass, I know, but right now I dread that leaving....

Monday, January 11, 2010


Monday. I like Mondays at St. John's. Not a lot is scheduled to happen. Lots of priests take Mondays off, but not me--I love coming in and being around when nothing much is scheduled to happen. A priest who once worked for me told me "you do nothing better than anyone I've ever known." We're no longer close (more the pity) but things happen. And we must have been pretty close when she told me that because she saw through my facade and discovered a deep truth about me. I actually enjoy 'doing' nothing, just 'being' around. Sometimes people call me and begin by saying, "I know you're busy..." and I interrupt to say, "no I'm not, I've just been hanging around waiting for your call...." It puts them off stride so I wave it away and ask how they are and why they're calling such a busy man....

Priests are past masters of seeming 'busy'. I think it is because 'being a priest' goes against all the stuff we were told at our parents' knees and by the educational system and the whole ambiance of our culture. "Busy" passes in our culture for 'important'. And if you're not busy doing something, well, what do you hope to accomplish? I think we as priests are a bit embarrassed by how little we have to 'do', like work. So we fill our schedules with meetings and gatherings and busy work and not-so-busy-work to justify being paid. I have a classmate who left Virginia Seminary in 1975, along with me, and went to a church in Florida--just across some body of water from Cape Kennedy where he can sit in his back yard and watch the shuttles and other rocket things launch. He stayed there until a few years ago when he retired (he was only in our seminary for one year because he was a RC priest for years then left and married a woman with five children). He was in one place his entire ministry as an Episcopal priest. I talked to him several years ago when I visited about 30 of my classmates on a sabbatical to catch up with what had happened since we all left Virginia Seminary.

He told me this: "priests are the only people in the culture who are paid to 'do' nothing. We just wait around waiting for someone to need us....and if we aren't there when the call comes, we aren't doing our job...."

Anyway, I did go to a nursing home today to have a Eucharist. There has, over the 20 years, always been someone in the parish who could play piano who went with me to the three nursing homes each month so we could sing. I go to two now since one closed (more the pity) and though I used to dread going to the nursing homes (it is a momento mori to visit such places)I always enjoyed it once I got there. Its only been a few years since I finally understood why I liked going to nursing homes. It's because it puts me among people who 'really' do nothing. I understand that about them and I realize that just being around waiting is a ministry and a life in and of itself. And to them, when the pianist and I arrive, it is like the call on Monday morning that I've been waiting for. And I love them--these old people who used to be older than I am by quite a bit than they are now. They are mostly sweet and gentle and so pleased that we are there even if they have no idea what we're doing. I like that. It is a real triumph of human life to be pleased with what's happening when you have no idea what it is....Ponder that under your castor oil tree...

One lady at this nursing home waves at me all during the service. she waves when I'm praying or reading the gospel or celebrating communion or singing. She just waves and crosses herself whenever I cross myself. One of the Recreational directors once asked me if it distracted me. "No," I told her, 'it keeps me focused..." I mostly wave back all during all the things I'm doing.

When I give communion at the nursing home I intinct the wafer and put it on people's tongues--or tiny pieces of wafer if they have trouble swallowing. I say "the Body and Blood of Christ" and, instead of "Amen" they almost always say--even the ones who seem out of it altogether, not even able to wave--"thank you...."

I don't know, if there is ever a new prayerbook we should have people respond to the sacrament by saying 'thank you'. It's a polite thing and makes a lot of sense. I've decided when I'm retired and go to eucharist I'll say 'thank you' to the Body and to the Blood and to the ones who bring it to me. It just seems right.

When I'm retired I could write a chapter in a book about going to nursing homes. I think I will. I'll give you a preview....

Once when I was giving communion at a nursing home there was a woman with wild hair and no teeth and a lot of energy--she was tied in her wheel chair else she would have escaped to God knows where. I came to her and dipped the wafer and held it out and said, "The Body and Blood of Christ."

She stared at me like she was crazy (which she was) or like I was crazy (which isn't far from true) and said: "YOU'RE CHRIST?" real loud, like I wrote it.

"No", I told her, "this is the Body and Blood of Christ..."

She said, even louder 'YOU'RE CHRIST....' like she meant it, like it might be true.

I tried two more times and she said the same thing louder and louder until I noticed an orderly about to come over. So I said, under my breath, "I'm Christ" and she opened her mouth and took the sacrament and said, softly, "Thank you...."

So you read this whole thing--the second day of my writing knowing in April I'm retiring.

I could say, 'YOU'RE CHRIST', which wouldn't be as far off as you might think.

But, instead, I'll just say, "Thank you..." Not a bad thing to say in any circumstance....

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Day One

Today, January 10, is the first day that my plan to retire from my position at St. John's has been general knowledge. A letter went out last week that most people already received and I talked about it at all three services--just an initial and general comment, really. My last day will be April 30, so there is time to have longer, more serious conversations. After over 20 years there will be a lot of good-byes to say. And since someone leaving is like a death, I imagine we will all go through some of Elizabeth Kubla Ross' 'stages of death': denial, bargaining, anger, depression and hopefully, acceptance.

I've already experienced in others most of those stages. Some people who knew, before the letter went out, had the first reaction: "you don't mean it...." Others asked if there was anything they, or the church, could do to change my mind. Some spoke a bit harshly with me--words like 'abandoning us' and 'betraying us' were actually spoken. And many are simply sad--already in depression. A few have wished me well and told me they are happy for me. Thing is, people jump back and forth during a long illness--which, in a way--is what now until the end of April will be! My hope is to help the parish--and myself--come to acceptance in the end so my parting can be as wondrous and important as my time with St. John's has been. That's part of what I'll be trying to develop a discipline about by writing down the days.

I also want to reflect on my time here--I have grieving to do and things to let go of before I can leave cleanly. I usually work through things better in writing than in other ways, so this journal of the last few months of my ministry and presence here will help me do that.

I might start looking at 'the church' with a critical eye. One of the things I want to do when I have more time that will begin in May, is to write about 'the church' as an institution and a community. It is meant to be the latter but spends more time and energy of being the former, in my opinion at any rate. So I might drift into that once and a while.

And, really, is will be a time for me to say good-bye to some of the best years of my life. I was 42 when I arrived and didn't have a gray hair on my head though my beard had turned gray years before. Now I'm going to be a white haired guy of 63 when I leave. That's a lot of water under the bridge and a lot of wafers across the rail. It's also a lot of dying and being born and getting married and being sick and moving away and struggling and rejoicing. It is quite remarkable how little a priest 'does' like work. Most of my ministry is 'being there'. Woody Allen once said, "just showing up is 90% of life." In ministry 'just showing up' may be even more than that!

I've had discussions with other priests--and a couple of bishops--about my belief that ordination is ontological, not functional. There are 'functions' I can perform under the particular and peculiar polity of the Episcopal Church. But they aren't hard and soon become like 'muscle memory'. But I truly believe (as truly as I believe anything...we'll run into my odd theories about 'belief' at some point) that 'being a priest' is simply that--'being...."

I have a seminary classmate--probably many of them--who wear clerical collars. I don't and haven't for years--but that's just me. If I did wear a collar the last place I'd wear one is on an airplane--it attracts crazy people like a magnet and even the sanest of us is a little crazy at 38,000 feet trapped in a large, efficient sardine can. Once my friend talked to a man all the way from LA to Chicago. As they were circling O'Hare, the seatmate said to my friend, "what do you do for a living?" My friend looked down at his black shirt and Anglican collar and said, somewhat confused, "Why...I'm a priest...." And the man replied, "I know who you are, I want to know what you do...."

My friend asked me what I would have said. Truth is, what I would have said is something like, "who I AM is what I do...." Let him chew on that while he waits for his baggage.

I'm sure that will come up again in these musings under a Castor oil tree that will no longer be with us on May 1--my life and time at St. John's.

Hope you'll come along for the journey....

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.