the challenges of a mainline church

My Toastmasters group meets at the Menifee United Church of Christ (UCC). We’re not affiliated with them; we simply rent the space. They’re a friendly group of people, and it’s a nice place to be.

Menifee UCC signOne week as I approached the building I saw a sign for a New Birth Church situated beneath the Menifee UCC sign. When I drove into the parking lot I saw that a sign pointing New Life to the sanctuary and Menifee UCC to the fellowship hall had covered up the message board.

Menifee UCC is a something of a maverick congregation. They are aunited church of christ logo liberal church in a very conservative community. The pastor is socially progressive. He decided to go into the ministry after 9/11, and the church displays the rainbow flag rather than the United Church of Christ symbol. They have a dedicated core group of volunteers if the people we see on Thursday is any indication, but it seems that they don’t have a large enough congregation to maintain the facility on their own.

I applaud them for sticking to their values, and if renting their sanctuary to another congregation helps keep them afloat, they are doing the right thing.


Eucharistic Prayer C

As I discussed yesterday, when I look at the statistics for this blog I see some recurring themes with respect to those who find this blog via search. One of my blog entries that keeps popping up is one about Eucharistic Prayer C in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I went back and looked at it and I feel a little bit bad about that, because it’s not a very good blog entry. I don’t really say much at all there.

I think Eucharistic Prayer C deserves more attention than that. It is my favorite of all of the Eucharistic prayers. In the Episcopal churches I have attended the standard prayer on most Sundays is Eucharistic Prayer A. At Good Shepherd Episcopal here in Hemet, in the past year we have switched to Eucharistic Prayer B the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Easter. It’s a nice change, because it forces me to listen to the words, to read along in the prayer book, as opposed to the very familiar words of Eucharistic Prayer A. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a worship service where Eucharistic Prayer D was used.

For me, however, it is Eucharistic Prayer C that has the most powerful words.

God of all power, Ruler of the Universe, you are worthy of
glory and praise.
Glory to you for ever and ever.

At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of
interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being.

But the prayer also admonishes us:

Lord God of our Fathers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our
eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver
us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace
only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for
renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one
body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the
world in his name.
Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.

The words that stick with me are:

quoteDeliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only,
and not for strength;
for pardon only, and not for renewal.

Those are words that I need to hear. And hear again.

I wish that I had the opportunity to experience Eucharistic Prayer C more often in worship, but it’s always there in the prayer book whenever I want to turn to it.

You can find Eucharistic Prayer C in the The (Online) Book of Common Prayer. Navigate: The Holy Eucharist > The Holy Eucharist: Rite II > Eucharistic Prayer C.


quiet time

chair & quiet time resourcesI have long found it difficult to get into a habit of quiet devotional time. I have not found a routine that worked for me. Until just very recently.

I somehow simply of fell into this. I sit in my chair and read the day’s Forward Day by Day meditation. Then I pull out my copy of the marvelous book, 2000 Years of Prayer, which I have owned for more than a decade and a half, and flip to a random page where I read a prayer or two or three.

Simple and straightforward. And so far it’s working.


the original serenity prayer

I have always thought that the serenity prayer as we commonly know it (“God grant me the serenity…”), made popular by 12-step groups, to be rather trite and trivial. That is no doubt due in part to its ubiquity and for me perhaps due also in part to it being shoved at me in my younger, much more impatient days.

Back in March, I wrote about a new serenity prayer written by James Martin, a Jesuit priest. I have kept it framed on my wall since around that time, and I commend it to you. I have recently been thinking about the original, complete serenity prayer, however. It was written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Given the current political climate and the state of the world in general, I have pulled it out of my electronic archives, and it is now on my study wall directly below the James Martin version. For me it is much more powerful than the oft-repeated version.

For your consideration:

quoteGod, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.


an unexpected departure

From the first Sunday Eucharist I attended at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd here in Hemet over a year ago, I felt welcome and comfortable. That was due in large part to the rector, Pastor Kathleen. She was very cordial and made me feel at ease in the church. Though I have to say I’ve reached the point where I would feel comfortable walking into just about any Episcopal church.

GoodShepherdHemetKathleen is amazing at becoming familiar with people’s strengths and interests and turning those into volunteer opportunities for the church. She very quickly had me writing a couple of articles for the church newsletter. Her energy is unbelievable. I can’t believe how much she accomplishes in the course of a week. Then there are her sermons, which are down-to-earth, practical, and hit close to home.

So what came in the mail last week was completely unexpected. When I saw the envelope from Good Shepherd I didn’t open it right away as I assumed it was simply a giving statement or some such thing and I was busy with other things. When I did open it I discovered a letter from Pastor Kathleen saying that she was retiring and that her last Sunday would be 11 September.

Good Shepherd will be fine. It is a strong, healthy church that has changed rectors before. But I will greatly miss Kathleen and all of her unique qualities.


I sort of am

quoteMy parish and a local synagogue are sharing in some services, so tonight I went to Shabbat service, my first time there. Best question of the evening: “Did your family get upset with you when you became Catholic? Did you do it because you got married?” Me: “No, I started out this way. I just seem Jewish because I sort of am.”
—my friend Fran on Facebook

I identify with Fran. I’m not Catholic. I was raised a Methodist and these days I am an Episcopalian. But I do identify.

I have been attracted to Judaism since I was in high school. In college I was happy to be surrounded by so many Jewish classmates. I dated and was very fond of a Jewish woman named Julia during my Claremont Cockroach days. Somehow I managed to not make that relationship work.

In Oklahoma City my first wife Ruth was Jewish. We were married by the Reform rabbi under a chuppah in you back yard. I considered converting. I found the Yom Kippur Kol Nidrei service to be deeply moving. I loved attending Friday evening Shabbat services, but the rabbi made some unkind comments about the New Age movement in a sermon, and seriously ticked off Ruth who was a big time New Ager. My attempts at “But what he was really saying was that…” fell on deaf ears. So that was the end of that.

One time I attended an interfaith panel sponsored by the Oklahoma City Islamic community. I was there to present the perspective of the Unitarian Church, to which I belonged at the time. When I arrived, the host came over to me, extended his hand, and said, “Rabbi Maharam?”

Even today I become somewhat wistful when Yom Kippur nears.

I would not consider converting today. I know where my roots are, and I am where I belong in the Episcopal Church. But, like Fran, I sort of am Jewish.


avoiding dualism

The Eastern Church has long placed more emphasis on the Incarnation than the Western Church, which early on got caught up in a sort of Platonic spiritualism. I like the perspective Richard Rohr takes on this.

quoteWe have created a terrible kind of dualism between the spiritual and the so-called non-spiritual. This dualism is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as a lie. The principle of incarnation proclaims that matter and spirit have never been separate. Jesus came to tell us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t see it until God put them together in his one body.