Back To The Beginning

Ground Breaking for St. James’ Episcopal Church, Potomac – October, 1966
(Who are those two acolytes in the background?)

On the Sunday nearest St. James’s Day in 1963, St. James’ Episcopal mission held its first services at Green Acres School in the Lux Manor subdivision just off Old Georgetown Road. Some nine families were present and indicated their willingness to form and affiliate with the new mission.

The Diocese of Washington through St. John’s Norwood Parish in Bethesda were major sponsors in this endeavor to establish an Episcopal congregation in what was a rapidly growing area of Montgomery County. On March 26, 1964, The Rt. Rev. William F. Creighton appointed my father, The Rev. David C. Lord, as part-time vicar of the new mission. The mission grew, and funds were secured for a permanent building, for which ground was broken in October of 1966 (see photo above).

Fifty years later, St. James’ remains a vibrant community of faith, sharing the life of Christ and engaging the challenges of being the Church in a new missional era. The Rev. Cynthia O. Baskin, current Rector, is a talented and dedicated priest who continues to nourish and guide the parish in its excellent ministries of worship, learning, and service to the wider community. I was part of St. James’ during its earliest years and grew up in programs for youth and college students led by talented volunteers and lay leaders of the parish. My brother Rob and his wife Nancy were married there and it was to a new Coffee House ministry for young adults that I brought Debbie on our first date. All good!

St. James’ experienced a significant spiritual renewal in the mid-seventies as many congregations did at that time through a new openness to the gifts and reality of the Holy Spirit. This renewal certainly transformed many lives and released new confidence in the parish as well as a diversity of gifts and ministries that continue to mature and deepen to this day. It was in 1977 that the Vestry of St. James’ supported my growing sense of call to the ordained ministry and as a result, I entered Virginia Theological Seminary as a postulant in the Diocese of Washington in the fall of 1978.

So it will be quite a privilege to preach this Sunday for the 50th Anniversary of St. James’. The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of Washington will be the celebrant and I look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new members of the congregation. I’ll hold my father with fond awareness in my heart as I stand in the pulpit, remembering his dedication and hard work in helping to establish St. James as the strong parish it is today (my mother Julie, and brother Rob in Winter Park, Florida are not able to attend, but they certainly share my anticipation).

Thank God for the gift of transforming communities like St. James’ Potomac and Holy Comforter, Vienna whose ministries have transformed lives in the past and now in the present, and surely in the lives of those who will inhabit the journey of faith in years to come.

Great is God’s faithfulness.

Gregg Allman on the Episcopal Church

From Gregg Allman’s memoir, My Cross to Bear:

A big part of my getting straight with God had to do with sobering up. I’ve had a life that’s gone all different places and directions, and I’ve missed out on a certain amount of stuff because of the drugs and alcohol. As I got sober, because I was so sick of missing out, I finally reached out and prayed. Before then I’d been praying for a long time, but I never seemed to get any kind of answer. Later on, though, it became clear to me and kinda hit me at once. It was such a revelation, man.

Basically, what I did, in one big fell swoop, was surrender, and with that came all the rest. My life went into something like the spin cycle of a washing machine, and when I came out, I didn’t want any more cigarettes, and I damn sure didn’t want any more liquor. Now, if I’m having a problem, or a friend of mine is having a problem, or something is keeping me from sleeping, I’ll just lay there and not really pray so much as just meditate. I get real still and talk to the Man, and he’ll help you if you ask… God is there all the time, and so is my guardian angel, or whatever it is that keeps me from self-destructing or keeps me out of harm’s way…

At one point I was going to convert to Catholicism, but they had so many rules. I have to say that the Catholic Church is very much about who has the nicest suit, the valet parking–too much about the money. I don’t think you have to dress up or show God a bunch of gold for him to forgive you your sins, love you, and guide you. Then I went to an Episcopal church in Daytona, and it just felt right. The Episcopal Church isn’t about gimme, gimme, gimme. The Episcopalians are like enlightened Catholics. They have the faith, but they’re a little more open-minded.

Now I sit here in my house in Savannah, look out over the water at the oaks, and know that I have a reason to live.  After all I’ve been through, I can’t help but feel I’ve been redeemed, over and over. (pg 367-368)

I post this with no slight to my family and friends who are faithful and generous Roman Catholics. These are Gregg’s words not mine.  But how amazing would it be to play a little gospel guitar with Gregg at a Sunday Eucharist some day?  One can only dream . . .

Sent for these “Mean Times”

Photo by Sarah Bartenstein

At the Ordination of Priests for the Diocese of Virginia on Saturday, those gathered witnessed an extraordinary sermon by The Rev. Dr. Roger Ferlo of Virginia Theological Seminary.

Dr. Ferlo reminded us that,

“Jesus dwells among us in what Scripture and our Eucharistic Prayer describe as ‘these last days,’ the ‘meantime,’ the time between Christ’s first coming and his second coming in fulfillment of God’s dream for the world. These are also ‘mean times,’ a time when fear and violence are rampant across the globe, a time when rhetoric is hot and hatreds are worn on the sleeve, a time shadowed by war and by sin, by environmental degradation, by racial intolerance by fanaticism and sheer terror. These ten ordinands are being ordained to serve Christ in these mean times.”

Dr. Ferlo then offered this poignant observation:

“In this liturgy we pray, ‘Let you priests be clothed with righteousness and let your people sing with joy’. But I wonder if our prayer this morning should really be, ‘Give these ten poor fools the wit to duck for cover.’ It’s not just these ordinands who need to duck for cover, for we are all in this together.”

We are now deep into the season of Advent.  On the Third Sunday of Advent we are simply told that “there was a man sent from God whose name was John.”  I wonder if that also true of each of one us?  There is about the life of each and everyone of us a reality of being “sent,” of having a certain purpose and meaning for existence. As we reflect on the path our lives have taken and what has happened to us so far, we can see a thread of meaning weaving through our lives like rhyme.  Noticing that unfolding pattern of meaning and direction gives us an inkling of what it means to be sent by God.  The good news I hear in the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent is that each of us is truly meant to be here.

Like John the Baptist, we have an alternative story for these “mean times,” one in which every human life matters, and is created for loving relationship with the source of all life. In this story your worth is given, not earned.  In this alternative story, we are offered forgiveness for our faults and errors, for the harm we’ve done to others and this earth, and so are freed to forgive others and break the cycle of harm and retribution. In this story we learn that we are claimed by a love and power beyond our own. We have good news to share.

As we approach the final rush to Christmas, don’t forget what it means to be living in these “mean times.” In simple, loving, and yet prophetic ways, be a witness to the light of Jesus the Christ.

My sermon for Advent III can be found here.

 

Guitarists in the Monastery

“If there are artisans in the monastery, they are to practice their craft with all humility, but only with the permission of the abbot” (Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 57).

Last week, I spent an extraordinary week at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. This Benedictine community on the banks of the Hudson River was the location of a Classical Guitar Master Class with guitarist Jason Vieaux, of the Cleveland Institute of Music. I was one of eight guitarists and the juxtaposition of praying the daily offices, with periods of intentional silence as well as guitar pedagogy, created an experience I could not have imagined or hoped for. Had there been just the slightest bit more encouragement, I would have presented myself to the abbot for admission to the novitiate.  But I am a man of prior vows!

It’s difficult to describe my experience at the Monastery in any other words than, “life changing.”  I have long been steeped in the core values of the Rule of St. Benedict (e.g. community, prayer, silence,  hospitality, formation, mission), but there is no substitute for living the Benedictine rhythm in community with others.  Add to this, the opportunity to “practice one’s craft with all humility” as Benedict puts it, six or more hours per day with an inspiring musician like Jason Vieaux, and it becomes difficult not to believe that earth at times is overlapped with heaven.

During my time on sabbatical, I have been exploring how music and the creative arts can serve as a regular part of our spiritual practice, and the classical guitar has been a specific focus for me during this period of rest and renewal.  When I explained this exploration to one of the brothers, he smiled and said, “one can pray with their hands as well as their heart.”  Imagine that training the flexor and extensor muscles associated with the right and left hand to produce a clear and warm musical tone can be considered an act of prayer!

That has certainly been my experience recently, summed up in Benedict’s rule as “ora et labora” (pray and work), though I suppose for my purposes it might be adapted as “ora et excerceo” (pray and practice).  What creative gifts or artistic resources might serve as an act of prayer for you?

If you would like to explore more about Holy Cross or Jason Vieaux, here are a few helpful links:

Holy Cross Monastery

Anglican Benedictines

Jason Vieaux

Guitar Foundation of America

 

 

Thirty Years Ago . . .

On this day in 1981, I experienced a defining moment at the Washington National Cathedral.   I was ordained as a transitional Deacon (a necessary step before being ordained a priest) in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C.

As many of you know who read this blog, I was privileged to grow up in a family where a vocation to the ordained ministry was modeled by my father, and later by my twin brother Rob.

Brother Geoffery Tristram of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, has described those who share this vocation as “stewards of God’s mysteries,” based on a quote from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 4, where Paul goes on to say, “It is required of stewards to be found trustworthy.”

At a retreat I attended with Brother Geoffrey several years ago, he offered these good words:

 

For St. Paul, in some ways the product, if you can call it that, is the mystery of God, and the criterion for successful leadership is not performance but being found trustworthy or faithful. It’s not easy, and it is not correct to apply the criteria of secular leadership to what it is we have been called to.  For if the product is God’s mysteries, and if the criterion of good performance is not successful sales or profit, but being found trustworthy or faithful, what does that mean?  It means we cannot sell God’s mysteries, but we can teach them as merciful revelation, we can celebrate them in the liturgy, we can invoke them as healing and pardon, and we can live them as the deepest meaning of our lives.


Being a “steward of God’s mysteries,” has been a remarkable privilege. I’m astonished by how quickly the time has passed.  So many wonderful friends, colleagues, and the untiring support of my wife Debbie, have made the journey rich and worthwhile.

I promise to go on.

 

Episcopal clergy ‘very stressed,’ but ‘very happy’

From Episcopal News Service

In early August, New York Times religion writer Paul Vitello touched an ecclesial nerve when he launched a story, “Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work,” and raised a range of important questions on clergy wellness. His reporting, based on studies of clergy health, cut across the interfaith spectrum and resonates with lay professionals in the church, as well. It concluded that self-care, sabbatical rest and time for re-creation help church leaders lean into rising levels of stress, depression and fatigue.

A week later, Jeffrey MacDonald opined in the Times in “Congregations Gone Wild” on the same clergy propensity for physical and spiritual burnout, yet his conclusions shifted the debate in a different direction. MacDonald nodded to “several new studies” on clergy burnout and offered seemingly anecdotal evidence that demeans the laity as entertainment hounds who hunger for little more than “comforting, amusing fare” and render the clergy the “spiritual equivalents of concierges.”

Based upon relevant data gathered and addressed in 12 years of conducting research and hosting more than 200 conferences on wellness in the Episcopal Church, CREDO Institute Inc., an affiliate of the Church Pension Group, comes to a different conclusion.

Through analysis articulated in the Clergy Wellness Report (2006) and the initial findings of the Emotional Health of Clergy Report (2010), we have observed that there is more to the challenge of clergy stress than fickleness of congregations and the cultural pressures of increased consumerism among churchgoers.

Read the full editorial here.

The Quest for “Ubuntu”

It is an odd word, ubuntu, even difficult to pronounce.  It’s oddness, however, reveals more about our own perceptions and our need to continue to learn and grow, to overcome a propensity to lock down our souls.

What is the meaning and significance of ubuntu? It points to a quest of the human heart, to heal, to unify, to rediscover a larger whole that respects the dignity of every human being.  It’s a rich, non-Western word that my friend and writer, Brian McLaren defines as, “one-another-ness,” “interconnectedness,” “joined-in-the-common-good-ness,” and “profound commitment to the well being of all,” (see “A New Kind of Christianity,” p. 233).

The quest for ubuntu, I want to say, resonates deeply with the quest and vision of Jesus that I read in the Gospels.  And it is a timely quest as we consider the state of Christianity in the world today.  One can look out on the horizon and surmise by observing the actions and words of some who claim to follow the way of Jesus that there are other “quests,” at work – quests for survival, security, and ego-centered power.

It’s been a very fragile couple of weeks within the Anglican Communion, indications that a quest for ubuntu may be on very thin ice indeed.

What has dominated the Anglican blogosphere lately is the story of the pressure placed on our Presiding Bishop by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office to provide documentation of her ordination status and to refrain from wearing the symbols of her office (mitre) while visiting Southwark Cathedral in the Church of England. This was unexpectedly described as standard “policy” for our Primate following her numerous similar visits (and those of her predecessors) with no such requirements. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was calm and even courteous about the whole silly episode now dubbed “Mitergate” (see Ruth Gledhill’s article at the Times Online here).  It’s difficult for me to believe that such a shift in policy represents the deeper hearts of those who have applied it in this case.

We all know that theological debates and provocative actions over the issues of human sexuality as well as issues of authority and provincial autonomy, have torn deeply into the fabric of our beloved Anglican Communion. I do not for one minute want to minimize the complexity of the issues, nor the importance of seeking common agreements by which we maintain mutual regard, consistency of practice, and common faith and order within our Communion. But I do wonder at times, if in our exhausting attempts to preserve our institutional structures, we are missing a critical opportunity to discover a new and more inclusive way of being the Church in the 21st Century.

We live in the movement from modernism to postmodernity (a term we will live with until we can look back and name what has really happened); it is a time of great uncertainty but also a time of great possibility. Anglican Christians today, and all Christians who have eyes to see, find themselves living in a border land, somewhere between what has been and what is yet to be. We face the delicate balancing act of holding on to the best parts of our traditions while seeking distance from those things that prevent us from being a positive and transformative voice in our culture today. The truth is that we need both to have integrity, and maybe that is what the quest for ubuntu is finally all about.

I pray we can find the courage to pursue that quest with less fear and more charity.

Brian McLaren on Catholicity and the Middle Way

The blogosphere is once again alive with the latest developments among provinces within the Anglican Communion.  It breaks my heart to see some of my faith heroes backed into defensive corners over institutional matters that I believe are not consonant with their deepest hearts (my humble opinion).  This morning I read an essay by Brian McLaren that holds up the historic Anglican instinct of avoiding extremes when any number of controversies might cause us to turn on each other, rather than turn with each other toward a world in great need.  Brian offers these helpful words:

In its aspiration to be one global community the Church will not find it easy to resist being divided by denominational and nationalist ties.  In cherishing the beauty of holiness, the Church will need to work hard to resist having its soul reduced to a list of correct doctrines.  To resist these constrictions and reductions, the Church must hold to another ancient value: catholicty.

There are two models of catholicity.  One is a colonial or imperial model: unity and universality are maintained by submission to one dominating will.  The other is the humble or charitable model: unity and universality are maintained by a generous spirit of inclusion.  The spirit of inclusion is, at its core, a refusal to practice elitism (from Ancient Faith, Future Mission, p. 15).

I continue to believe, somewhat naively I’m sure, that Anglican Christians (read all Christians) around the world can find a center that will hold.  That center, I believe, is not a doctrinal or ecclesiastical consensus, but a person, Jesus the Christ, and his call to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as well as we love ourselves.

Spirited Christianity

Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the third great feast of the church year after Christmas and Easter for which the Church of the Holy Comforter is named. It reenacts the story of a small group of disciples who were still confused and adrift after the death and resurrection of their Lord. All they knew to do was to keep their routines, getting together, waiting, and hoping that God would do something new. They did not have to wait long.

Into that quiet room where the disciples gathered, St. Luke tells us there came a sound like the rush of an irresistible wind, tongues of fire in the air, and a startling capacity for the disciples to be able to speak in other languages (Acts 2:1-13). It was as if the life of the Spirit had been smoldering within them all along, waiting to be released. God breathed on the disciples and they knew the Holy Spirit as God’s energizing presence among them. They found themselves growing. Such “spirited Christianity” began at Pentecost. This does not mean that we must undergo some ecstatic Pentecostal experience in order to become a spirited follower of God.  It does mean that we can receive and continually know Christ’s personal presence, awakening our minds and hearts to the adventure, wisdom, and peace that moves us beyond ourselves into engagement with God’s mission in the world. Anglican priest and author, Dave Tomlinson writes:

Our postmodern world longs for numinosity: for a sense of awe and mystery, for sacredness, spirituality and enchantment, for something ‘more’ than the purely rational or cerebral. If the Church fails to engage and cater to this longing, it has no real future (From “Re-enchanting Christianity“).

At Holy Comforter, we are growing in our awareness that we cannot simply rest and wait for people to cross our threshold. We are called to engage with those in our immediate surroundings who are longing for something ‘more’ in their lives.  As Episcopalians we know we must become better conversation partners with those who want to explore questions of faith and purpose. We have a unique balance of mystery and rootedness to offer those who seek a spirituality that grapples honestly with our contemporary experience in the world. We often conclude the liturgy with these words: “Let us go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Oh, that it were so!

Bishop Greg Rickel on Revitalizing the Mission of the Episcopal Church

Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia is someone I’ve been watching over the last year.  I’ve been impressed by his commitment to help the clergy and parishes of his Diocese engage the new “missional era” we find ourselves in by focusing on the development of authentic faith and seeking new creative ways to connect with those seeking spirituality but who are skeptical of the traditional church.

The Seattle Times featured a report on Bishop Rickel over the weekend:

In this season of baptisms, and given that he’s a bishop, it seems strange to hear the Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel speak proudly of the time he talked some parents out of baptizing their child. He was convinced the parents were doing it only because other family members insisted. And that, says Rickel, who is preaching this Easter Sunday at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, is dumbing down the faith.

“My goal is not to baptize as many people (as I can) so I can count them up as Episcopalians,” he said. “My goal is to have an authentic faith that people can really articulate and understand.”

That approach might seem counterintuitive, given the decline in the numbers of Episcopalians — and other mainline Protestants — over the past decades, both locally and nationally. But it’s characteristic of Rickel, 46, who arrived 2 ½ years ago as head of the Episcopal Church in Western Washington.

Read the full article here.