Well it is finished. My time at St. James’ concluded Sunday, June 30. Although only being here 13 months, leaving was very hard. I love this place and these folks. They threw a wonderful party for us Thursday night and sweet reception on Sunday. With all that, including 4 services, that’s a lot of good bye hugs! The love displayed for us was amazing and I won’t forget it. It’s been a wonderful time.
I am in the “discernment” business. I often help people discern God’s call, what’s next for them, where are they being led. I am involved in various discernment groups and really enjoy that quite difficult and challenging and oh-so-rewarding work. The problem is, I am really bad at it for myself and my own family. So here we are. It is very hard to believe I have been here now 13 months. It has been a truly amazing and rewarding experience. I love this place and the people, I have been blessed to work with an incredible staff of lay and clergy superstars, and I get to hang out with some fascinating and inspiring folks. As Interim, I’ve tried my best to be the best I can be in that capacity and I know I have stumbled in that role at times. But I’ve had a blast and what an honor to have my oldest daughter’s wedding right here in this special place. It’s been that kind of year. The last 13 months my son graduated high school and started college, both daughters got married, we moved from the coast and moved THREE times in Jackson, ending up in our very cool downtown apartment. Jennifer started two new jobs and has found such joy working with children at Blair Batson. We knew it was a perfect “season” in our lives to be in Jackson and that has proven to be true. But that part of our journey has now ended.
It’s so much easier to give people, other people, sage advice isn’t it? Just Let Go and Let God! Trust in The Lord. Do not be anxious. God will open a door. All true, all worthy, all very very hard. At least for me, I confess.
It’s different this time around, as we don’t have to worry about such things as school districts. But other family considerations creep that were not present in the past. We have options. We have preferences. But we have VERY little control over how it all shakes out. As it should be, I suppose.
Discerning with parishes who are in search processes is about finding the right fit. These are not competitions with winners and losers. It’s a parish doing its best to discover and affirm, it’s a clergy person doing EXACTLY the same. The common phrase is “finding the right fit”, but how? A very wise clergy friend of mine once said “it takes about a year after a call is issued to find out who lied the most, the search committee or the Priest”. Blunt and true – we all put our best foot forward, right? Yet that allusive “fit” beckons both church and Priest so we search and pray and talk and pray and visit and pray and ask and answer and pray.
My prayer time this time around abounds with silence. I am trying my best to listen. Will you listen with me? Will you pray and dream, vision and wonder with the Knights? For some reason I feel the answer to all this may be surprising, but I can honestly say at this point I have absolutely no idea where we will end up. Earlier today someone said that would drive them crazy, to which all I could reply was “yep”.
So I go back and try, let go, let God, trust, listen. It’s all against my nature and it’s all vitally important.
Just writing this helps with the anxiety. Come Holy Spirit!
SO….here we go again. Pray with us?
Well another fabulous week at Camp Bratton-Green is wrapping up. It’s been very special with my daughter, Chelsea, as my co-director. We’ve had a blast! Of course my LW is my camp nurse, our special buddy Brayden is a staff brat. Really, really missed having son Joseph on staff (he is in summer school) and daughter Mackenzie (just started a new job). Camp for us is usually a family affair and they were definitely missed.
With my next job outside of the Diocese of MS (no, I don’t have one yet, just know it will be out of state), this is my last year as a camp director. It’s truly one of my most favorite things I get the honor of doing every year. Hopefully I can still come back to CBG in some capacity over the years. It’s such a special place.
What makes it special, for me, is the staff. I have 22 volunteer counselors, from 10th grade to college age. 8 adult cabin parents. And a very talented permanent staff. Every year they amaze me and challenge me and teach me and inspire me.
Camp is instant community with all that entails. 110 kids plus staff come together, many not knowing each other. Cabins figure it out, some better than others. We have the usual assortment of kids trying to figure out their place, those who are ultra comfortable here, those who miss home (at first) and then don’t want to leave. It’s a microcosm of life and it’s beautiful and fun and a struggle and a joy.
It’s camp. We get messy (I got thrown in the mud pit yesterday where the kids piled on and then dunked with ice and water twice at lunch, for starters), we play some great games, the permies run fantastic activity periods in the lake, the pool, arts and crafts, rope course, music and nature. It’s God and creation, it’s hot and tiring, it’s ghost stories and singing, it’s prayer and it’s camp.
It’s camp. And I will miss it.
I am so proud of the St. James’ folks who have been turning out in high numbers for the first part of Holy Week. Tonight, of course, begins the Triduum – Maundy Thursday / Good Friday / The Great Vigil of Easter. One continuous liturgy that places us in the heart of the story – there are all the elements – feet washed by God, new commandments that are simple yet so hard even now (just love, y’all), betrayal in the garden, solemnly the altar stripped bare we leave in stunned silence. The stark contrast of the church on Good Friday, no flowers, no pretty vestments, no organ music, just us and prayer and God on a cross. We must hold back the urge to scamper too quickly past the brutality, the denials, the fear, the sweat-like-blood, the anguish and pain. Don’t hide your eyes, look straight on, come and hear and say and feel. Leave in that strange silence, how awkward and different and powerful to walk quietly to our cars and exit, not dismissed, no “Thanks be to God”, it’s not yet over, for the tomb is not yet empty.
Come to the wonder of the Great Vigil, candlelight, baptisms, salvation history by story tellers, we all wait in the darkness, anticipating – we know the story but yet we come to live it out again, waiting for that blaze of light, new fire, singing, bell ringing moment when Alleluia rings out and we offer up to God our grateful hearts, changed again by remembering and gathering and sharing and proclaiming. This IS the night!
As I said in my sermon a couple of weeks ago – go for it! Carve out the time. Make it your priority. Teach your friends and your family members something this Holy Week, that we can make room for it all, for the story, for the grace. We can put our lives on hold – or more accurately we can envelope our lives within this story so that we become the gospel for others.
It is a real privilege to walk this path with the people of St. James’. If you are in the Jackson area and need a place to come and live into our Lord’s journey, we would love to have you. Come as you are, just show up and let the story wash over you, change you, inspire you, remind you. For this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!
See you in church!
There is a group of us in the Episcopal church who gathered at General Convention, proclaiming an “Acts 8” moment for the church. Click HERE to learn more about it – some really awesome writers contribute to that site. A recent post asked what questions GOEs (General Ordination Exams) SHOULD pose to show whether seminarians are ready for parish ministry. A good question.
It lead me to thinking more about the role of the Priest. I currently am serving as Interim Rector at the largest church in our Diocese. It’s an amazing place, incredibly busy with a great staff and some of the best people I’ve ever known in the congregation.
As their Interim I have learned a lot about the difference in being the Rector of a large church vs. a pastoral size one. Rector as CEO is the model it seems we’ve adopted for resource size parishes. We have 10 full time staff (including 3 Priests) and several other part timers. Managing staff, working on budget and finance, making daily decisions about use of facilites (ours are really nice and used constantly, 7 days a week), running meetings – this is the stuff of the CEO Rector.
And I wonder about the model….
Oft times clergy will make the comment, “well I didn’t learn that in seminary”. I certainly said that myself post-Hurricane Katrina. And the same is certainly true for the administrative skills asked of Rectors of large parishes. Fortunately I have had a lot of experience in the secular world managing staffs and other admin duties – but that’s not why I became a Priest! It’s part of the job, though, part of the expectations placed on Episcopal clergy (and other denominations certainly). And even though we have many, many Priests who are quite good at it, very competent in those areas, the question is not “can” they do it, but “should” they do it.
And please hear me clearly – this is not a whine! I love (LOVE) where I am right now and enjoy going to work every day, even with the headaches that are sure to come. I really mean that. However, that still does not mean we have this right. Do we just expect our clergy to have all those gifts – preaching, pastoral care, teaching, sacramental presence, and killer admin skills?
One thing I had promised myself 10 years ago when I was ordained, is that I would not be one of those preachers who waits until Saturday to write a sermon. And recognizing that only I can control my own calendar (in most cases) I am here to confess that is exactly the situation I find myself in most weeks. And I hate it. Now it’s true that I read the lectionary lessons early in the week, that I jot down ideas when they come to me, that I spend some reflection time on what to say, but it is now my typical week to write the sermon on Friday (my day off) or Saturday. This is unfair to my family and to me and really to my church. They need more than that from me, yet the administrative demands of a place like this, with Rector-as-CEO as the norm, has put me right where I swore I would never be. And I mean to change that. I love preaching. I love teaching. I don’t love not being able to give the amount of time required to do both well.
And to be brutally honest what has been pushed further on the back burner in my life than anything else has been the time I spend in prayer! That is obviously a recipe for disaster! Recognizing that, I began last week scheduling prayer time on my calendar (sad to think it takes such steps). Of course I pray at other times and pray often for and with parishioners and folks in need, and that has not stopped. But dedicated time in prayer, alone with God, well frankly I have let other duties and obligations overshadow that time, and that MUST CHANGE.
In the 6th chapter of the book of Acts, the 12 disciples are faced with some administrative problems. There was a complaint that some groups of people in need were receiving more help than others. Instead of putting this on the vestry agenda or hiring a consultant or building a consensus for a best approach or even just making an administrative decision on how to correct the problem, the disciples call the whole congregation together and tell them, basically, this is not part of our job description. They say, “We should not give up preaching God’s message in order to serve at tables. My friends, choose seven men who are respected and wise and filled with God’s Spirit. We will put them in charge of these things. We can spend our time praying and serving God by preaching.”
Now this may sound like the disciples felt those duties were beneath them. That’s not the case when you see the type of people they wanted to step up to the task. Instead, the disciples recognize what their true role was, what their gifts were, and what God had called them to spend their time on – praying and preaching.
There’s a model for ya!
Some of this is economic in nature. Rectors of most of our largest churches are paid quite well. With that salary comes the expectation, of course, that they will be the chief administrator, the CEO of the parish. I wonder if some of them have managed to move the admin stuff to someone else on staff? I would love to hear about that.
And please hear this – this is in no way saying that Rectors / Vicars of smaller churches don’t get strapped with tons of “non-seminary-trained” stuff. The priests in those places have to wear a LOT of hats, from plumber to pastor and everything in between, including “waiting on tables”. This question applies equally to them.
I am blessed to be at a big church that not only has a great staff, but we also have dedicated lay folks who work very hard with me on budget and finance and other administrative matters. Even so, the Acts 6 message keeps whispering in my ear. Is there a better way? A way that makes more sense to the call and gifts we each have? This is not about being “good at” something. It’s mostly about roles and expectations and how to best allocate the most precious resource we all have – time.
I don’t know. I hope so. Meanwhile, St. James’ folks – here is my promise to you. For the remainder of my time with you, dedicated prayer time, work on sermons and Bible studies and Inquirer’s classes will not be last on my agenda, they will be first (along with pastoral care and the like). You deserve that from me. And I know and understand the current expectations regarding the administrative tasks and they will not be neglected. Most of all, from time to time you will be unable to reach me because I will be praying – in the chapel, in my office, on a walk. I believe I will be a better priest for it.
So it’s been too long since I posted. Last post was a pre-Mackenzie-wedding thing. Here it is two days before Advent and I have some catching up to do….
Mackenzie and Wynne’s wedding was amazing. I am so happy for both of them and so proud of how it all went. Mackenzie worked so very hard on decorations, had a wonderful theme and both the rehearsal dinner and reception were amazing.
St. Peter’s-by-the_sea was gorgeous and the place was PACKED. Jennifer was on the coast all week with Mackenzie and I joined them late Wednesday night. You can imagine the flurry of activity the next few days getting it all ready. I am SO grateful for faithful friend and verger, Danny Meadors, who was so helpful for the wedding. And my dear friend and colleague, Fr. Jeff Reich, who assisted with the service and did their pre-marriage counseling.
As for me – I held up way better than I anticipated. I think making sure everything was in place and everyone in place kept me from being a basket case. Mackenzie’s bride’s maids are all really fantastic ladies and I always enjoy being around them. Following Wynne’s “preview photo op” of the wedding dress, Mackenzie staged one for Dad as well. It was very emotional – she was stunningly beautiful. She gave me a gift of a picture of the two of us the night she was engaged, and on the frame itself was a carving of her actual wedding dress! Amazing.
The service is a bit of a blur. My son Joseph was a highlight for me – he did all the music and was so great! Playing “Hallelujah” as the processional got us all going! Chelsea, my oldest and maid of honor, yelled at me to not look at her! She was struggling to not break down so I had to follow her advice myself!
Walking her down the aisle was a joy! She was nervous, as was Wynne. After handing her off, I dashed to the back to put vestments on, and after a panic of not finding my stole, made it back in time to preach. I am attaching an audio of the sermon: http://s3.amazonaws.com/dfc_attachments/public/documents/3167759/WeddingMacandWynne.mp3
I did get a tad choked up during the vows, but it was all just wonderful and sweet and special and glorious and still-hard-to-believe-my-girl-is-married.
The reception was at the new Biloxi Visitor’s Center, a gorgeous venue overlooking the gulf on 90 right by the Biloxi Lighthouse. It was a great time. Mackenzie and I had secretly taken dance lessons and had a cute routine to an Elton John song – “Blessed’. “Oh you, you’ll be blessed, you’ll have the best, I promise you that. I’ll pick the stars from the sky, pull your name from a hat – you will be blessed.” It is a song to an unborn, unnamed child. A perfect Daddy-daughter dance song and we ROCKED THE HOUSE!
An exhausting and fantastic and memory filled week for sure. Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Taylor!
Then last week I was honored to officiate the wedding of Jennifer’s step mother, Caroline, and her new husband, Bill. The event was in New Orleans and they did it right! We stayed at the Royal Sonesta and had a great time. Many of their friends from Ft. Myer’s came and she was a beautiful bride. Jennifer did a great job toasting the couple at the dinner and everyone had SO MUCH fun! We traveled to Ft. Myers, after two nights in Destin at a dear friend’s condo, and had Thanksgiving there. I won’t talk about the famous person whose dog bit me, but other than that it was a wonderful time.
Soon, I promise, some Advent thoughts!
This Saturday, God willing and the Priest being able to actually perform the ceremony, my middle child shall be married! How did this happen? Isn’t she in pigtails and overalls, braces and Keds, either arguing with her mother over what she will wear to school in the 2nd grade or arguing with her confirmation class teacher about creation and the whole point of Genesis.
More importantly, since every thing in life is really ALL ABOUT ME – how did I get old enough to have children getting married? By choice? Number one daughter will follow in April.
My daughter and LW are on the Coast already, doing that last minute thang. I will join them tomorrow. I’ve gone without a day off now for five weeks, so I am looking forward to a bit of time away, although it will be quite busy. But it’s all good and fun and really exciting. I am looking forward to family and friends for sure.
It’s also a time for remembering. I am now older than my own father was when I got married. THAT IS SO WEIRD! Like all of us that reach whatever age we reach, I sure have moved the needle on what I consider “old”. Isn’t it interesting how that works?
There are days when I am terrified to be 54. 60 is almost here. 70 too. I am well into my last 1/3 of my life. That sucks! I have so much more to do, to say, to see, to live. (**editor’s note – I am not saying any of those ages are OLD. But sometimes the numbers are rather intimidating!**).
But none of that comes close in comparison to walking my two precious girls down the aisle where awaits for them, respectively, two of the coolest guys on the planet. I tell the LW – we done sumthin right, because our girls have found incredible mates to share their lives with.
So Saturday we gain a son, we don’t lose a daughter. And yes there will be tears, especially by dear ole Dad who will pray to God Almighty he can make it through the service and the sermon AND the Father-Daughter dance! But mostly, there will be smiles, and laughter, and real, true, deep, abiding joy. Oh yes, and a great party – band and all! I really can’t wait……St. James folks – see you next week! I will be the guy with the red eyes and the big smile.
I’ve been debating even writing this for a couple of days. But in some ways it is cathartic (hopefully). First, all you folks on the Coast of Land Mass (also known as Mississippi) please know that almost every ounce of prayer time I have is offered on your behalf.
Why. Because I know….
Of course I have been watching – ever since Isaac was a depression with potential. It’s the Weather Channel 24/7, even if they don’t know the name of my state. By the way, how comical is it to watch them now try to say “Mississippi” every other sentence! Stephanie Abrams “I am showing you some love Mississippi”, and good ole Jim Cantore “we know NOLA suffered from a man-made flood and Katrina wiped out the coast of Mississippi”. I guess 7 years of being virtually ignored can pile up some hard feelings.
But, back to the watch. I just can’t look away. Cones and predictions and models and prophecy, I take it all in. And that’s when the feeling begins.
You know it, if you lived it. That feeling in your gut, your soul, your heart. The wound is there, the scabs peel back, and you have to deal with it all over again. My head hurts JUST LIKE IT DID when the pressure dropped. The nausea has existed for days, the anxiousness, the snappy remarks, the fear. And I am not even on the Coast now, although I still have a house in the Pass. So I lift up my brothers and sisters to the Holy One who never forsook us and never will. And then I watch some more.
And for those who don’t get it but want to make light of how we are, where we are, who we are in this moment – maybe you should just leave us alone. You cannot possibly comprehend the feeling, the feeling I cannot even define. There are probably moments in your life that are the same for you and we won’t be able to know what that was like, but heaven help us if we mock you on Facebook or roll our eyes behind your back. You see, it’s just different, if you were there. I saw the bodies in the bags, and blessed them. I prayed with search and rescue units whose job really was only to pull out dead people and spray paint the houses, when what they really wanted to do was save someone. And I had the miracle blessing of a house largely undamaged, so my story is far better than most. Maybe for a day or two, you just let us be.
No, this is not Katrina. But neither was any other storm and we just had no clue, no concept, no benchmark for something so horrendous and wide spread and all encompassing. Now we do, and we really, really wish we didn’t.
So I watch, and the memories come. The parishioners’ houses-that-were-gone, their desperate faces, their uncertainty, the overwhelming feeling of what will we do now. Yes, there was much, much to be thankful for in the months and years that followed, especially the people who came by the thousands to help. But those memories are for later – for today, and for the anniversary-of-hell that is tomorrow, we just get that feeling all over again, amplified by Cantore and Abrams and Isaac and projections and surge and preparations and despair and hollow laughter and that feeling.
Tonight and tomorrow and probably Thursday way up here in Jackson we will get wind and lots of rain and maybe tornados (hopefully not). We won’t get the sea whose incomprehensible power we learned the hard way. And as the skies darken and trees fall, I pray for those here who are alone or afraid or desperate as well. And the feeling, THAT FEELING will grow a bit more, I am sure, and if I hear the sound – you know the sound if you were there – then forgive my weeping for all that was and is now lost.
Anniversaries – sometimes we celebrate, sometimes we dread them. Sometimes we want them to just go away.
But they don’t. So tonight and tomorrow, we just pray. Because that feeling is here, for a bit.
May God protect you all.