endings and beginnings

Last Wednesday I saw my spiritual director for the last time.

That’s not quite true, but it in some ways it felt like it. On Epiphany she is retiring from her position as rector of the parish she has served for many years. We had been meeting via FaceTime on our iPads since a year ago August when my company closed the campus where I had my cubicle. But last Wednesday I went to her office at Saint Where-she-has-been-serving Episcopal Church. It was of course the last time for us to meet there, and since she is taking January off I did not, as usual, check my calendar to schedule our next appointment at the end of our session.

The good news is that she is continuing her spiritual direction work. Though she doesn’t know what her February schedule will look like, she told me that she will contact me in January about meeting then. And she has affiliated herself with a nearby Presbyterian church which has a strong spiritual direction program, so we can meet in person when appropriate.

Rather than writing a check to the church with a notation for the rector’s discretionary fund, I’ll be writing a check to an individual. But I’ll still have a spiritual director.

I’m delighted about that.

Bishop Mary

The first time I encountered The Right Reverend Mary Gray Reeves, bishop of the Diocese of El Camino Real, was during her visitation to St. John the Divine in September 2011 when I renewed my baptismal vows and became part of that community. She impressed me, no — she blew me away, and when she put her hand on me for the blessing I felt an electrical charge.

The next time I saw Bishop Mary was at the memorial service for Jan, the Vicar at St. Stephen in-the-Field while I was there. Mary did not know Jan, but presided marvelously and preached an appropriate sermon.

On Palm/Passion Sunday this year, we had our first visitation at St. John’s since my renewal of vows. I was feeling a bit lethargic, and, as I have written here, not entirely pleased with my Lenten journey. I was glad I was there for the service. Bishop Mary is tall, stately, authoritative, and powerful. Her voice in singing the liturgy is pure as crystal. Her energy is palpable.

During the Peace she gave me a brief extra acknowledgement beyond the basic “Peace be with you,” as if to say she remembered me from my renewal of vows and that it was good to see me.

I left the service feeling alive and reinvigorated. It’s a real blessing to have her as our bishop.

liturgy and its variations

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know how important liturgy is for me, and that I have made a deliberate decision to be part of a liturgical denomination.

While I was listening to The Catholic Church: A History from The Great Courses, an engaging series of lectures, by the way, I therefore paid special attention to the comments on liturgy.

One comment that caught my attention is that Catholics sing “Lamb of God” before Communion. Lutherans do as well. In the Episcopal Church we go straight to the Communion music.

Catholics, according to the professor, William R. Cook, say the Nicene Creed each week, as do Episcopalians. In the Episcopal Church it is after the sermon. Lutherans sing the hymn of the day at that point and don’t say a creed every Sunday.

He mentioned that a non-Latin rite in the Catholic Church shares the Peace before Communion, as do Lutherans and Episcopalians. The vast majority of the Catholic Church is in the Latin Rite, and they share the peace, I understand, later in the service.

The Lutheran Church sings an Alleluia before and after the Gospel. Episcopalians sing a hymn related to the reading.

Episcopalians say the confession most Sundays. Lutherans say a confession occasionally, but it’s not integrated into the normal Sunday liturgy.

Lutherans end the service with “Thanks the Lord and sing his praise,” or the Nunc Dimittis (“Now Lord, let your servant go in peace…”). In the Episcopal Church the service ends with a hymn.

It’s not that these differences are important in any way, but I do find it interesting to see how the three main liturgical denominations in the United States vary in their practice.

continuity or…

One of my favorite people in the world of blogs and Facebook is Tahoe Mom. We have a number of things in common. Probably most important, our spiritual values are very similar.

Another thing we have in common is that we both lost our first spouse and both married people we’d known from before that marriage. In my case, I lost my first wife, Ruth, to a ruptured brain aneurysm in 1989. Terry and I were close friends in high school, but never romantically involved. We reconnected in 1991 and got married in 1994.

Reading Tahoe Mom’s blog, I can see how she sees her life then and now as one seamless whole. For me it’s one of discontinuity. I see my life before as a different world and a different time. Ruth was a school teacher, but her identity was that of a new age practitioner. I was in Religious Science (not to be confused with Scientology). Terry has long been in high tech hardware sales in one form or another. Today I am an Episcopalian.

The change was not overnight. I was still in Religious Science when Terry and I got together and she supported me as I got my practitioner’s license. I began to move to the Episcopal Church at the end of 1996. But where I was in 1989 and where I am today seems to me like two different worlds.

One difference with Tahoe Mom is that she was married to her first spouse for much longer that I was to mine. She had children with him. He died when the children were adults. Ruth and I were together for seven years, and married for less than that. No children of our own, although we had two from her first marriage during the summer each year.

I am extremely happy where I am today, and I would not want things to be any different than they are. At the same time, I have to admire Tahoe Mom for her experience of continuity.

The 77th Episcopal General Convention

I’ve long resisted twitter, but I opened a twitter account some weeks back in large part to follow the 2012 Episcopal General Convention. Originally the twitter hashtag was supposed to be #GC12, but the Presbyterians made ample use of that at their own convention earlier this year, so it was switched to #GC77, this being the 77th triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I checked in multiple times a say, and for the most part I was pleased with the results of the convention. You can get the official wrap-up from the Episcopal News Service here, but I wanted to share my own reflections.

The lasting work of the convention is in the resolutions passed or not passed, because that sets the direction for the church for the next three years. Among some of the resolutions I was pleased to see adopted:

  • A resolution authorized provisional use of a rite for blessing same-gender unions. (Watch Susan Russell on CNN debating the topic with an opponent of same-sex blessings.)
  • One resolution makes clear that the ordination discernment process is open to members of the transgender community, and another guarantees their equal place in the life, worship and governance of the church.

The convention passed a resolution on the controversial Anglican Covenant (see also http://noanglicancovenant.org/) that said: “as a pastoral response to The Episcopal Church, the General Convention decline(s) to take a position on the Anglican Covenant at this convention.” I don’t suppose that there was any chance of the Anglican Covenant ever being approved, but I wish the convention had taken a definitive stand against it.

The one big disappointment was on the matter of Open Communion. Currently the canons officially state that only those baptized can receive Communion, though this practice is rarely enforced. There were two resolutions on this, one to explicitly permit Open Communion and one to study it. What finally was passed was a resolution that doesn’t do much of anything. It simply states, “baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion.” I checked with my spiritual director, who is an Episcopal priest and was a convention delegate this year, and she confirmed that this has no effect at all on Canon 1.17.7, which requires baptism to receive Communion. She emailed me, “I’ll continue to be one of those who acts outside the canon and hope for a different outcome next time.” She will be far from alone in this respect. Disappointing, indeed.

I should mention, since the resolution passed both houses unanimously, that the convention voted to study a significant organizational restructuring. That will be interesting.

On social justice issues, though, and on matters of reaching out and including the disenfranchised, the convention hit the ball out of the park. Susan Russell wrote on Facebook:

Quick breakfast burrito in the airport. Debriefing convention with colleague. Cute, young waitress interrupts. “I just want to thank you for what your church is doing. I have too many friends who are struggling because their church tells them they’re not OK and so I just want to say you guys rock!” Seeds bearing fruit from our GC77 witness.

I have to say that today I am proud to be a member of the Episcopal Church.

pastoral care

One of the things I like about St. John the Divine is the attention that Fr. Phil gives to individual parishioners. A few times now I’ve gotten email from him that had nothing to do with church business, but commented on matters of my own personal interest. He sent me an email when Meg Whitman was named CEO of HP and one when he got word that Good Shepherd had voted to move to the ELCA. It’s a small thing, but it indicates that he takes his pastoral role seriously, and I, personally, really appreciate it.

the color of Advent

One of the things I liked about the Lutheran Church was that the color used for Advent is blue rather than purple. The idea was to represent Advent as less a penitential season and more of a season of preparation and expectation. This was first instituted in the Lutheran Book of Worship which was published in 1978.

In the Episcopal Church, of course following the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, purple is still the color. I’m not exactly in love with the somber Kyrie we have been singing on Sunday mornings at St. John’s this Advent. It’s appropriate if you look at Advent as a penitential season, but it just doesn’t seem to me quite right for Advent. In his sermon for Advent 2, Fr. Phil explicitly said, and I paraphrase remembering as best I can, that Advent is a penitential season where we let go of the things, good and bad, that get in the way of our being ready for the coming of the Christ.

That does make sense. But my spiritual director suggested that I look at purple not as a penitential color but as signifying awaiting the coming of royalty. I like that.  It takes me back to preparation and expectation, which is what I think Advent should be all about.

avoiding Advent snobbery

We were talking about information overload long before Facebook and RSS Feeds. You know what it’s like now. I have all of my thoughtful and literate Episcopal, Catholic, Unitarian, Quaker, and more Facebook friends who provide links to intelligent and thought-provoking blogs and essays. Then there’s the blogs I read directly with my RSS Reader. Unless I make a note of something of interest when I see it chances of finding it later are small.

Such was the case with a blog I saw earlier this week. The writer had a number of suggestions about how to make Advent more meaningful. Most were in line with the Advent ideal of preparation, but one caught me by surprise. He said pull out your collection of Christmas music early, listen to it, and add to it each year.

That set off my Advent snob alarm. “You’re not supposed to do that!” But, as my spiritual director once reminded me, I am not the Advent police. (And Fr. Phil had plenty to say about the Advent police yesterday.)

And really, why not do that? If it helps put us into the spirit of the season and prepare for the returning of the Light, why shouldn’t we?

What I’ve decided to work on this year: stop being an Advent snob.