Monday, September 26, 2016

Embraces, Part 2

Last week, I named the three ways that re-entry into the life of a parish after a sabbatical can be characterized.  In short they are: "hit the ground running," "honor what has passed," "accept what's new and emerging."

Each one of these responses have a particular action that in one way or another embraces the new reality.  Whether in seizing the moment, or laying to rest, or announcing the birth, each action institutionalizes the reality and identifies each party's role.

My return -- made unique by the unfortunate events of September 1 -- elicited another set of actions that qualify for the title, "Embraces."  So many people that I cannot count helped with my getting situated in Madison and perhaps even more importantly out of Athens.

From the crew that ripped up carpet, began emptying a garage, repaired a fence, trimmed and edged, swept and mopped to those who saw to the repair of the heat pump and moving of a piano and more; each was an embrace.  And I best not forget the casseroles!

I am humbled by how much was done and how much love came along with the doing.  Humbled.

I am also awakened to a greater truth about our lives together, especially our lives from this point forward.  Our embrace of each other has more to it that an expression of deep and soaring gratitude that I'm back, that my sabbatical goals were met, and especially that my life was spared.  It has in it the rest of each and all of our individual lives.

That is, we have embraced a future with each other.  Especially in how my leaving Athens has been incorporated in the process I see us together saying Madison is the address for our future.  Especially as several parishioners have offered housing options for me to consider.  Especially as I am being asked to consider participation in community fund-raising events.

Yes, I've agreed to try my hands (and feet) at the Boy's and Girl's Club's "Dancing with the Stars." At this point I think prayers are more important than donations.

But more importantly I want to say how much I intend to embrace a life with Advent in Madison that has No More burning a candle "at both ends."

I have done what I had hoped and let go of several encumbrances through my time away.  Now I hope to take hold and sustain my embrace of this new life with you.

This trimmed down, focused, singular view is new to me, new to us.  Let's embrace it as a gift and let it hold us into the future of God's embracing us all.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


I read several articles about how to reenter the life of a community at the end of a sabbatical.  All of them, one way or another described a similar set of realities the returnee would likely face.

The first reality mentioned is found in those situations that require immediate attention.  Either something new has just happened or something has been waiting to be noticed by the "right" person -- one bad version is described as festering -- and cannot wait any longer.

A second category are those things that have faded or died while the priest was gone.  The priest was perhaps overly involved and was eventually the main or only reason a particular practice persisted as long as it did.  This often shows up in parts of the worship life of the congregation.

A third category includes those things that were born in the priest's absence.  A new committee is formed, new volunteers step up to serve, or trees are trimmed, for instance.

In each case the returning priest must meet the reality with an embrace.

To the acute health crisis or the festering hurt the priest must say in word and action: I'm here. There is little else the priest must first do.  No magic tricks, for sure.  But also no easy or glib remarks. Instead a new moment of listening to the players and their parts.

Not all crises are immediately evident, some will require the hurt parties to say, "I'm hurt."  But the embrace of the returning priest needs to be ready to reply, "Thanks for waiting, for hanging in there so that we can be together in whatever happens next."

When the new thing is the loss of some previously priest-born reality the embrace is one of a proper farewell.  There may even be mourning but more importantly there needs to be a placement of a marker into the memory of all involved that says "thank you" and that begins an instruction toward whatever may need to come next.

When the new thing is just that, a new thing the embrace is like a baptism where all share in the naming and reception of this emergent necessity.

In every case the embrace of the one returning is important, even necessary and one hopes, life-giving.

So I ask for our first steps forward together to be where we make room, take time, and care for the moments of embrace as each reality requires. I can't wrap my arms and battered ribs around everything at once.

But I'm back, I'm glad to be back and before I can do any new work myself -- work that guarantees our engagement into the future -- I must manage these particular realities and embrace with love as each one calls out to me.  

The important piece in all of this returning is an embrace that we hope reflects our understanding of God's already evident and graceful embrace of each of us. That is how we together can and should move forward, first embraced then sharing that embrace.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Religion is to be Connected: Part 12

I'm still nursing some unfriendly ribs, waiting on new eyeglasses and "picking up pieces" left from the accident.  I hope you all are still holding Shane Robert's family in your prayers.  Our Facebook page has a link to a "gofundme" website that will help with expenses and we hope leave funds to provide for his children in the days to come.  
It is good to be orienting to life in Madison despite the unique pieces. I'm grateful for the work done to advance my exit from the house on Wedgewood.  Here's a pic of the team. 
Thanks to all for the work inside and out! I can wait no longer to be bound to that address. 
Excepting the sad news and related conditions all this recent commotion shouldn't be misunderstood as out of the ordinary. That is to say there is lots of love going around.  Love that was going around before I stepped away in June.  Love that sustained me in prayer all the way to Yellowstone's Bridge Bay Campground. Love that has grown -- has been growing -- into the major part of our lives together.  And so the baked ziti, salads, deviled eggs, pimento cheese are confirmations of a love that leaves me gratefully indebted.  All the sweeping, washing, trimming, hoisting, organizing, are echoes of God's calling to me into the priesthood and more specifically into service as rector of the Church of the Advent. 
We are connected, religiously, in love.  I only wish my ribs were as well connected.  

Religion is to be Connected: Part 11

Here's the text of the letter I wrote to the parish to begin my sabbatical:

Dear Adventers!
Let’s rejoice as we begin a new phase of our lives together in ministry.  I have signed a letter of agreement to take effect July 1, 2016 as Rector of the Church of the Advent!   So much has gone into this moment and I am glad to share with you some of my and the vestry’s deliberations. 

Becoming Rector is the culmination of a long process that began with my coming to serve the parish more than 6 years ago as a long-term supply priest.  Year by year I have carved bits and pieces out of my schedule at the Chapel in Athens until two summers ago when Bishop Wright directed me to make full-time service to Advent as Priest-in-Charge my work in the Diocese of Atlanta.  We hustled to realize that change and I have been serving under a letter of Agreement as Priest-in-Charge that expires at the end of this month of June, 2016. 

When I came on board full-time two years ago the vestry designated the entire month of July as a vacation for me.  That’s when I drove to Yellowstone.  That rest and refreshment was a great gift to me and the ministry we are still sharing.  I have asked the vestry for a similar break to begin this next phase in service with you. Not only do I need the break, I also need some serious and hopeful self-examination and a long overdue health screening, both physical and mental.  My prayer life could stand a return to silence and settled-ness, too. 

I have already addressed some of my physical health matters.  I was proud to have my internist note how much weight I had lost since my last visit, over 35 pounds!  My blood pressure is down to normal levels and my cholesterol numbers are the best they’ve been in years!  I am motivated and already practicing a much healthier diet and activity level.  I believe that another 15 to 20 lbs. needs to go.  When that happens I’m shaving my goatee.  But that is not all I want you to know about me. 

I have had more than one intense emotional demand in the last year.  Notable among them was finishing my divorce.  Many of you know how this process has been prolonged and that it is finally in the judge’s hands is to say the least, long awaited.  In other ways my emotions, self-confidence and attention span have been maxed out.  I am glad to take a deep and long look at my psychological health, at how I form and sustain loving relationships and how I bring to my calling the best of who God has made me to be. 

The image I have is that I have been forcing you all, my friends, my family and so many other good people who have tried to love and support me in these recent months to work with me as if I DIDN’T have one hand tied behind my back.  Sometimes it felt like more than both hands were tied.  And yet I insisted there was little wrong or at least it was something that I could handle.”  That was a formula for disaster and sadly this break will not avoid them all. Worse, I have lost valuable friends, and squelched the support of the very people who tried to love me. 

I need a break because I will not go-all-in” with God and Advent unless I have some comfort, some confidence that I am addressing these shortcomings in an honest, open and finally courageous way.  I will not go-all-in with one hand tied behind my back. 

In order to get to that point of comfort and confidence, I need your prayers and a good therapist who can stay with me and dig deep into the hurt places, the fear, the old angers, wherever there is something binding me, keeping me from being fully engaged, alive and free in my life, my love, my ministry. 

I can’t say much more except that I have already begun that work. I will look forward for the moment when this work is a good and regular habit for me.  This is a longer term re-education of me so that I can live, love and serve with less fear, anxiety, and distraction, with more gratitude, humility and kindness.  I want this for me, for my friends, for us all.  I want to go-all-in because none of us know how much longer any of us have. 

Here’s the agenda for my sabbatical: I will be out of the office this week and as far away as Kanuga between now and July 1.  I am using the time to rest a bunch, to lead a conference, to tie up some loose ends with my house in Athens and to get – in most cases get back – into those disciplines of prayer, study, listening, gratitude and humility that have been a part of my best days up to now. 

I will likely need more time away than what is left in this month.  I may want to visit my daughter in Yellowstone again.  I will definitely need to be in Athens some of the time as the house goes on the market. The vestry has agreed that my being gone as long as September 14th is worth it if it helps me find that sense of balance in life with each other and God. 

I do not believe I will be gone that long.  But that is not my first concern.  My health: physical, spiritual and mental is my first concern.  I want us all to understand that I am not the expert here.  It is my job to be as open to learning, to possibilities, and to deep scrutiny as I can be.

Finally, I want to ask you to pray for me and I want you to join me every day at noon and every night at 9 PM if you can.  Together let’s pray this:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

In love,


Peace is the way god means things to be.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Religion is to be Connected: Part 10

I am beginning an impromptu sabbath for self-examination and refreshment.  It is happening as soon as it is because I want to begin my time as rector as promptly as possible and as emotionally, spiritually and physically unencumbered as I can be.

If you have not had a chance to the read the longer letter sent separately, please do that, too. Copies are available in the parish hall.  These statements, along with the continued conversation that I hope you will have with your vestry can provide at least some comfort for the anxious among us.

So let me be direct and simple:
  • I have accepted the call to serve as Rector.  That letter of agreement takes effect July 1, 2016.
  • This is a sabbatical.  A time designated with a beginning and an end for exactly the things I will be doing.  I'll admit it has begun abruptly.  The better news is that it has begun.  The vestry and I have agreed that it can end as late as September 14th.  
  • While I am away you will be well served on Sundays by one of my colleagues in ministry.  If a pastoral emergency arises Allison and your wardens have the contact information for a priest. 
  • I will stay connected:  you can call or text me on my cell 706-206-0750, you can email me at, you can friend me on FB, you can follow my blog, you can read my continuing installments "A few words from the wilderness" in this blog and on our FB page.  
  • I'll be focusing on my health and looking to develop a trustworthy relationship with a counselor exactly because I want to be my best going forward. 
  • I am not the expert for this undertaking.  I want to listen and to learn from lots of sources professional and personal, private and public.  
  • I want you to pray for me and to pray with me everyday at noon and 9pm:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Religion is Connecting: Part 9

Portability.  I scared a bunch of good people last week by using it to describe how I manage to see my calling and my work and my relationships here at Advent.

Portability means I say yes to the call to be rector while at the same time understanding that God may call me to another mission another ministry any second.

Portability means I do my work as I have no other sure chance to do it.

Portability means I am open and honest in relationships and that I love others unconditionally because we may not see each other again.

That principal is built into the ordination rite and is how it works that bishops have seats and deacons are servant ministers and priests get to move around and gather the people so they can look like the body of Christ to each other and to the people around them.

Of the three orders, priests are the ones that should move.  But here is something we overlook or forget:  priests aren't the only ones that move.  The people move, too.

So what portability means is that exactly because parishioners may be gone tomorrow priests who themselves will come and go are tasked in our ordination to lead and model a "going all in" with others we might miss tomorrow.

Holding back from love, relationship, care and celebration because we are temporary inhabitants with each other is to cut in half something that is already shortened by our being human and broken and finite.

Jesus's words at the table were to "take, eat and drink."  Not keep or preserve or measure out but get it now and go.

So let's ALL admit and celebrate OUR portability and let's all go all in with God at the Church of the Advent while we can.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Religion is Connecting: Part 8

I wrote this this morning and have already published a version of it for my parish, Advent Madison. But my heart will not sit still and I am working with lots of stuff from lots of other places in my life.  The underlined pieces are what I've added since this morning and they reflect the continuing influence and learning from those "other places." 

I've had more than one train of thought behind my writing these entries about religion and connecting.  Please allow me to admit one of those to you as having very timely relevance to our life together at Advent.

I’ll start with saying that my membership in the Episcopal Church began and ended at Christ Church in Greenville, S.C.  I have never been a member of another parish in our beloved denomination.  

When a priest is made so by the vows spoken, the laying on of the bishop's hands, the invocation of God's Spirit and the pronouncement and all the years of service that follow, a new way of being connected is established.

Upon my ordination I became "canonically resident" in the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina.  Through the transmission from one bishop to another of "letters dimissory" I have changed residencies twice and am now a priest of the Diocese of Atlanta.  I am not nor have I ever been registered in membership, as baptized or as communicant in any of the 5 locations I have served.  

That's the technical or “regular” part of my connectedness.  There is another part of my connectedness that is highlighted for me by the decision of the vestry to call me as rector.  This peculiar sense of connectedness is ALWAYS with me, always in the back of my mind, always moving through my heart, always framing and directing my work, my calling, my priesthood, my life.  

In a few words this is it: I will always covet permanence but must always honor portability.  

I will always hope to connect and grow into a strength and trust and authority with the people of the parishes and chapels I have served; with you!  I will always hope to be a rector or a chaplain with all the “privileges and responsibilities thereto appertaining.”  

I'm not alone in my aspiration to the vestry’s calling here. Their vote proves that we want that confidence and solidity in our relationship. If nothing else, calling a rector acknowledges the vitality and strength that God has led us into.  We are here by God’s grace.

And we are grateful, indeed we understand that calling in the same way that we understand Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist and Marriage and Confirmation, etc.  

Just like when we say "the gifts of God for the people of God" about the very bread and wine that we have just minutes before placed on the altar, when we call a rector we are calling something to be broken and moved and shared and released into the lives of any who will join the communion with God's people for God's mission.

It sounds like a contradiction but honoring portability is how I protect you and me and perfect the calling to be rector.  Otherwise I’d think of myself and us as done and never risk being vulnerable again.  Otherwise everything can be delayed.

Honoring portability means connecting: by putting my heart into each moment I have now because God may ask me to leave tomorrow.

This is not an easy realization for me.  One of those "other places" is lost into my past now because I failed to honor that very same principle of human connection that portability demands here.  I did not live as if each moment was my last chance and I cannot go back.

Now, I am here and I must honor every moment we have left with the hope that God can still call me to be broken and moved and shared and released to this and other missions with others who are joined in our communion.

So please understand me. I am saying yes to your vestry and to you in response to their hopeful and courageous calling.  I want to be the rector, the one who honors the very portability I vowed to practice January 21, 1994.