Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Echoing our vows

When I was ordained to the deaconate at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, SC in June of 1993 I was handed a bible, "The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha Expanded Edition.   It is leather bound, black, heavy, a little floppy (think Billy Graham) and . . . seldom used.
Don't get me wrong I read a Bible everyday, either electronically or from among the other 20 plus translations and copies I own.  I even have another "New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha Expanded Edition."
I seldom read from my ordination Bible BECAUSE it is special.  I want to use it as a symbol as much as a tool, as a milepost as much as a map.  Maybe you have something like this in your life.  A piece of wedding cake?  Some jewelry? An article of clothing?
But the marker IS a reminder that at a specific time and place in my life I committed to those ordination vows, gave up my life as a lay person (including my parish membership), was blessed and with the laying on of hands made a deacon.
There is something about our vows that begs an echo, a reminder, a re-upping.  When we celebrated as we did this past Sunday with Bishop Whitmore's help we all participated in echoing the first vows I made as an Episcopalian. Vows I made in May of 1989.  They are the vows of the Baptismal Covenant.
As Anna, Daisy Jane, Debbie, and Holly and the several others who presented themselves to the Bishop in reaffirmation and as I accepted your call to serve this parish as Rector WE ALL renewed our baptismal vows.  The echoing refrain of "I will with God's help" is just plain beautiful, deeply stirring, consistently encouraging, bright but sobering.
So I will remember this past Sunday without a Bible but with a people.  A people together renewed and committed to:

  • Continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers
  • Persevering in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
  • Proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
  • Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves
  • Striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being

To each of these we aspire "with God's help."  Over and over we recall the promises we made first at our own baptisms, then our own confirmations, and then every time we've welcomed others into this fellowship.
There's a post-it note in the front of that New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha Expanded Edition.  It says, "Please bring this Bible to the ordination May 21, 1994.  [signed] FCB
I was ordained to the priesthood a little earlier than that. January 21, 1994 at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Augusta, GA.  I brought the Bible.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Giving: A Path from the Past to Future

Travelocity has published a list of cities that are good examples of benevolence. Three Georgia cities are on the list: Atlanta, Augusta and Athens.  Having lived for several years in Athens I can vouch for their inclusion.  I remember learning that the annual Relay for Life held on campus raised more donations than any other college-based relay.  That's just one example.  There are many more, UGA Heroes, Dance Marathon, all the Greeks and their service events.  Coupled with what comes out of all the community groups there's probably an opportunity for every week of the year in Athens.
I'll bet Madison would be on the list if we were the size of Augusta or Athens.  This is a very giving community.  Didn't we just raise more than $30,000 for the Boys and Girls Club at the Dancing with the Madison Stars?  How many families were fed by the Thanksgiving dinners Calvary Baptist organized?  Seems like Madison has its own constantly giving spirit.  
I've been thinking about our giving for several reasons.  First because I recall our Dickens "A Christmas Carol" movie viewings last year.  More on that in a minute.
Another trigger is my own finishing out my pledge for 2016.  I'm on track but still have more than 10% of my promise to keep.  
Another trigger is our current and closing pledge campaign. Excuse me for being so direct but it feels like we do not have the same spirit in us this year as last.  I'll take some of the hit for that difference being the one who escaped on sabbatical so abruptly this summer.  Coupled with the accident my absence caused more worry and anxiety than we've ever known together.  
There is a future we have not considered as well this year as we did last and the year before.
So . . . back to Dickens.  Scrooge is visited by three spirits or ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.  The visit to the past saddens Scrooge and the one to the future scares him.  Just remember the cold dark scene in the cemetery as Scrooge's own grave is pointed out to him.  He jumps out of his nightmare-ish slumber and is converted.
For sure there is plenty in his life to fear and plenty to have him say "hold on tight," "don't be a spendthrift," "you never know when things will get worse," and most of all "don't waste what you have on the poor."  My take on it is that the inevitability of his own dying and the likelihood of his being dismissed from loving memory because of his stinginess triggers a conversion to giving.  
I believe in the hearts of each of Advent's parishioners.  I do know that we are among the many in this community who give so well for the benefit of others.  In many ways we are the leaders.  
I also know that at present we are not as confident, not as hopeful, not as ready to embrace the future and to give to each other.  
I'm not complaining.  Instead I'm hoping to build on a truth about our anxiety, our worry, our fears and move through the present moment.  
Ironically, it's the ghost of Christmas present that looks more like we want to be; generous, exuberant, happy, hopeful.  Also, we are NOT Scrooges.  We have not denied that our lives will end and as faithful people we are already doing whatever we can for those less fortunate around us and beyond our boundaries.  
I'm here to say this: We have so much more to do so that a future Advent, and a future Madison, and a future Georgia -- think "ever widening circle" --  can give like we can give, can hope like we can hope, can celebrate like we can celebrate. Our future in God is calling us.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

From the Bishop of Western Louisiana

Hate, Love, and Thanksgiving

The Nazis imprisoned my mother in one of the lesser-known concentration camps. Mauthausen was located about 12 miles from her home, Linz, Austria. More people are familiar with camps like Auschwitz, Dachau, and Treblinka, but Mauthausen and its nearly 100 subcamps was one of the largest labor camps of the Nazi Regime. 

ens-111416_swastikaSlave labor was a slow and agonizing form of execution. People were sent to labor camps to work and starve to death. Somewhere between 122,000 and 320,00 people died in the Mauthausen complex.

A nice if rebellious Catholic girl, my mother entered Mauthausen at around age 15. The American soldiers who liberated the camp found her badly beaten and left for dead in the dirt.

You may be wondering why I have chosen this Thanksgiving week to share a ghastly part of my family story. Well, this is a holiday unlike any I’ve experienced before. The swastika is having a resurgence in our country, and as a Bishop of the Episcopal Church I cannot remain silent.

Vandals marred Episcopal churches in Maryland and Indiana with the Nazi symbol. They added hate speech like “whites only” and “fag church.” 

Political figures are considering forming a registry of Muslims who live in the United States, whether they are citizens or legally resident aliens. And I am reminded of the stories my mother and grandparents told about the Star of David on Jewish shops and clothing. They said nothing, never imagining that a nice Roman Catholic girl could eventually become a target.

My mother always made a big deal out of Thanksgiving. She was grateful to be a naturalized citizen of this country. She understood what freedom means in a way that very few of us born on these shores will ever know.ens_111416_trumpnationwhitesonly

Every Thanksgiving my thoughts turn to my late mother. And this year, I feel the shock and the horror she would feel seeing the resurgence of the hate and the violence she thought she had escaped once and for all. 

Minorities, women, LBGT persons, and immigrants have expressed fear and anxiety. But everyone should be vigilant. In the twentieth century, Germany and my mother’s birthplace Austria were sophisticated, humane, advanced countries. And they succumbed to organized hatred. Especially Christians must speak up and stand in solidarity with the weak and the marginalized. They are always the first targets. But they may not be the last if we do not speak up now.

ens_111416_buddeandvalleIn our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons. To love our neighbor our ourselves. To strive for justice and peace among all people. To respect the dignity of every human being. Every. Human. Being. Not just the ones who look like us. Think like us. Believe like us. Speak like us.

This is what followers of Jesus look like. We look like we’re learning to love what he loves—who he loves—in response to the love he has already given us. That is what real Thanksgiving looks like.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

From our Presiding Bishop

"The Episcopal Church Welcomes You," is not just a slogan, it’s who we seek to be and the witness we seek to make, following the way of Jesus.

November 14, 2016
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael B. Curry has issued the following statement:

Last week I shared what I pray was a reconciling post-election message to our church, reminding us that 'we will all live together as fellow Americans, as citizens.' Today I want to remind us that during moments of transition, during moments of tension, it is important to affirm our core identity and values as followers of Jesus in the Episcopal Anglican way.

Jesus once declared, in the language of the Hebrew prophets, that God's "house shall be a house of prayer for all nations" (Mk 11:17). He invited and welcomed all who would follow saying, "come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens" (Mt. 11:28).

We therefore assert and we believe that "the Episcopal Church welcomes you" – all of you, not as merely a church slogan, but as a reflection of what we believe Jesus teaches us and at the core of the movement he began in the first century. The Episcopal Church welcomes all. All of us!

As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement today, we Episcopalians are committed, as our Prayer Book teaches to honor the covenant and promises we made in Holy Baptism: To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

As Christians, we believe that all humans are created in God’s image and equal before God – those who may be rejoicing as well as those who may be in sorrow.

As a Church, seeking to follow the way of Jesus, who taught us, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself," (Mt. 22:39) and to "do to others as you would have them do to you" (Mt. 7:12), we maintain our longstanding commitment to support and welcome refugees and immigrants, and to stand with those who live in our midst without documentation.  We reaffirm that like all people LGBT persons are entitled to full civil rights and protection under the law. We reaffirm and renew the principles of inclusion and the protection of the civil rights of all persons with disabilities. We commit to the honor and dignity of women and speak out against sexual or gender-based violence.  We express solidarity with and honor the Indigenous Peoples of the world. We affirm the right to freedom of religious expression and vibrant presence of different religious communities, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers. We acknowledge our responsibility in stewardship of creation and all that God has given into our hands. We do so because God is the Creator. We are all God's children, created equally in God's image. And if we are God's children we are all brothers and sisters.

"The Episcopal Church Welcomes You," is not just a slogan, it’s who we seek to be and the witness we seek to make, following the way of Jesus.

Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael B. Curry
The Episcopal Church

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"Fixin' to . . . "

I was born in Harlan, Kentucky.  On Friday the 13th, November 1953 I followed my twin sister Laurie into the world of light and noise and breath and cold.  Before my first 24 hours were done my dad and I were on the way to Baptist Hospital in Knoxville, TN.  The little hospital in that coal mining county seat didn't have good facilities for a newborn with a collapsed lung.
All my other siblings were also born in KY and we brought with us to our new home in Anderson, SC several habits and characteristics common to those Bluegrass climes: accents, interests, and especially turns of phrase.  Even my twin and I took on some of those "things Kentucky" despite leaving and living our childhood within a year of our birth somewhere else.
All the Brown siblings still use and understand  "fixin' to."  Fixin to go, fixin to stay, fixin to read, fixin to fix.  There was always a convenient ambiguity in its definition.  You could stop "fixin to" whatever and it simply meant you had changed your mind or that another course of action had taken the place of that which was being adopted.
More often than not, in our house "fixin to" was a buffer between immediate compliance and autonomous responsibility.  "I'm fixin to rake the yard like momma said" would give the potential raker at least another 30 minutes before real raking must begin or a better plan took its place.  "Fixin to," when announced left the fixer free from any other obligations or entreaties, as well.  "Don't ask me to . . . , I'm fixin to . . ." was a generally allowed use of the phrase.
As November surrounds us at the Church of the Advent we are transitioning into the season of Advent. This time has lots of "fixin to" in it.
We are fixin to:

  • Finish collecting pledge cards
  • Approve a budget for 2017
  • Remediate some Episcopalians
  • Get some of those folks confirmed, received and reaffirmed when Bishop Whitmore visits
  • Take next steps with Tim Pridgen and thank the PCOM for their prayerful discernment
  • Elect a successor for Gertrude Rainwater to serve with Mary McCauley in leading our Altar Guild
  • Nominate for vestry 3 "confirmed communicants in good standing who have made and kept a financial pledge to the parish budget in the year previous to their election."
  • Rearrange our Acolyte teams and ROTA
  • Search for a new organist

I'm sure there's more but suffice it to say that we are always "fixin' to."  We are always moving through compliance to responsibility, always creating buffers so that discernment and planning can happen, always on the way to better version of ourselves and our work in this part of God's realm.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Embraces: Part 7

Every effort should end in sabbath.  Even God's effort in creation came to its fulfillment in "not creating," or in rest.

2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-3 (NRSV)

The blessing that God bestows on the seventh day is not like those that follow the six efforts of creation which end in "And God saw that it was good."  It is a blessing but it is more implied than spoken.  God made the day holy by resting, by letting go and not by any effort of creation or recognition.  

When we ordain in the Episcopal Church there is an embrace of the ordinand in the liturgy.  It is called the laying on of hands and there is special hymn sung that begs the presence of the Holy Spirit, Veni Creator Spiritus.  

Often bishops will prolong the period of silence before chanting and praying.  No matter how long all those elements take what happens last is that we take our hands off the newly ordained.  Our effort ends and we rest in what God has done in making a new deacon, or priest, or bishop.  

It is in that sabbath, that letting go that a blessing begins to be realized much like the blessing of God's rest for all that had transpired in the previous 6 days.  

The same principle applies to our embraces, whether physical, ministerial, missional, or evangelical.  You name it.  There is a blessing in the letting go.  

When we let go of hugging a loved one we are expressing our trust of God and of them and saying that the next moment doesn't need our control or input.  In ministry we are adding to number of ministers at that moment of letting go.  In mission we are joining to the embracers those who were subject to our reaching out to them first.  Now they are part of that team that reaches.  In evangelism we are crediting the Holy Spirit with informing the witness those newest angels will pronounce.  

We let go and in so doing we expand and enhance ours and God's blessing.

Just like sabbaths are hard for a busy people, especially those so highly motivated to keep attending Sunday worship, so too letting go is hard.  What a difference it makes to understand that there is a blessing that waits on our release, our letting go.

A blessing in realizing that God made us AND set us free!  Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Embraces: Part 6

Bishop Wright has led us to understand the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta as of "Middle and North Georgia" and as an "ever-widening circle."   Perhaps you remember the logo.

It says something about the dynamic of humans embracing the world around them in Christ's name especially those bearing the Episcopal brand.  Our embrace is BOTH inclusive and never finished. We can look at who is among us as we reach to bring others in.  We can also see immediately that there are some still to be included among us.

It has always interested me that we call our work of extending God's blesing toward the world around and beyond our parish "outreach."  For Episcopalians that is largely an effort of giving and providing for those who are in need.

We do not usually insure that any informational piece gets delivered along with our gifts.

Some of our brothers and sisters in other denominations are more inclined to include messaging that is not only informational but meant to elicit a response of commitment.  I grew up calling it "accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior."

I rejoice that there are multiple ways to accomplish "outreach."  Some with targeted messaging some without.  No matter.  In the end we all should have a hand in God's widening circle.  Not just Episcopalians in Middle and North Georgia.

At our most recent Outreach Committee meeting I shared something that was news to many at the table.  It was information about who we are as Episcopalians and how our outreach effects an ever widening embrace.

The old name for our denomination was the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America."  For a while we reduced and then finally removed from almost all our labeling the word "protestant" and the acronym became ECUSA.

Now we known as TEC - The Episcopal Church.  That is because our circle is not just in the United States of America.  We are in 16 nations other than the USA.

Here is the biggest piece of what was learned by many at the outreach table:  The largest diocese in TEC is . . . The Diocese of Haiti established in 1861,  with over 83,700 members and over 100 congregations.

Some of the "widening" is within our embrace.  Thanks be to God.