Tuesday, December 30, 2003

End of Year

This is always a weird week for me. First the week doesn't start the way normal weeks do. This week begins with Christmas Eve. The entire month of December seems to rush toward that single night. And what a night! About 15 years ago I discovered the wonder of the midnight service at my home church. There is a peace, a serenity that I find in that service that I find no where else. The familiar stories and music are a balm at the end of a prolonged rash of cultural madness. At the end of the service the lights are dimmed so we are lit only by candle light. The whole congregation is on their knees singing "Silent Night". It's wonderful!
This week ends for me on New Year's day. It's kind of weird starting the week with one of my favorite holidays only to end it with one I find utterly idiotic. I avoid going out on New Year's Eve if at all possible. And I have very little use for college bowl games. The day is usually of complete indolence. Food is prepared in the crock pot and left to warm all day long. It's a great day to not bother even getting out of my PJ's. I watch old movies and begin thinking about getting the tree out of the living room.
But it's this week in between. It's a vast expanse of nothing. No projects will be started this week and few will make much progress. You can't have a meeting because so many people take the week or parts of it off. No one wants to think about anything. If the world ended this week would anyone even notice? This is the week for long naps, and quiet days. Turn off the television and watch the snow drift gently by the window.
On balance maybe this is the perfect week for the end of the year. A chance to sort and sift and think. Take the opportunity and enjoy.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Of teens and their parents

My daughter turned 16 two weeks ago. To be honest I have trouble imagining my "little" girl as a HS student. It only seems a couple years ago that she would greet me at the end of my work day by flinging her self against my legs all but knocking me over. It was only a couple years before that when I held her tiny, 3.5 pound body in my arms, small enough that her butt was at my wrist and her head nestled against my elbow.
Last night she drove my car (with me in it) for the first time. Is this how my Dad felt? I remember those first times in the driver's seat with him next to me as some of the most terrifying moments of my life to that point. It was petrifying! The fear that I would mess up (my greatest fear is and probably always will be failure. Especially in front of my family) stopped just short of debilitating. Now I'm in the other seat and I'm almost as worried.
She did fine, especially for someone who has only been driving for two weeks. But I found myself grabbing, as unobtrusively as possible, the handle on the passenger door. I made sure that my comments and corrections came out quietly and calmly. I refrained from slamming my foot down on the "parent pedals" on the floorboards under my feet. My voice never became strangled or shrill. To the best of my ability I sat calm and supportive in my seat, speaking only encouragement and gentle advice.
That of course was the outside. Inside I cringed several times, shouted, pounded on the dashboard, and looked about wildly attemtpting to identify the next obstacle between me and safety at home. I noted every defect in her style, her hand positions, her use of the controls, her focus. Within I was a screaming lunatic, bracing my feet against the dash to brace me against inevitable doom as I hung dangling from the seatbelts.

In the end we arrived home without incident. I gave her a solid B for her work. There was no parental nervous breakdown.

So I suppose we both passed.


Wednesday, December 03, 2003

LIghten Their Backpack

(This was originally published in the December issue of "ChurchActs" the official newspaper of the Diocese of WNY)

I only caught a glance of them. Two young men out in the woods firing what looked like some heavy-duty weapons. They seemed pretty pleased with the destruction they were causing. A chill ran down my spine when I realized those same young men with those same weapons walked into the high school in Columbine, Colorado a couple years ago and opened fire. It was a videotape that was found a couple months ago and shown on national TV.
Those images nag at me. Images of youth so alienated from themselves and their community that this seemed like a good idea. As if in addition to the omnipresent school backpack they carried a psychic backpack. One so filled with rage and anger and hurt that it shattered them. How heavy did that backpack have to be?
Social stress is never higher than in Middle school and High school. It’s a time when we feel weird about ourselves. It is a time of experiment and change. Embarrassing yourself is the worst thing that could happen. The entire world seems to judge you. Many of us seem to fall short of the mark. Out of that environment grows frustration, anger, self-doubt, and depression. The emotions bubble up inside of us seeking relief. If you’re young you don’t quite know what to do with it. You end up yelling at family and friends. Sometimes you act in ways that afterward just don’t make a lot sense even to you. It all makes you feel worse.
At that moment what would you really like to happen? When I was a teen I struggled with the same frustrations. I wasn’t particularly athletic, I was terminally shy, and I was branded one of the “brains”. I became the pet target for a variety of people to rank on. The popular girls snubbed me because I was skinny and awkward. The jocks occasionally used me to bounce off lockers. The kids who didn’t like school mocked me for getting good grades. And I got mad. Too many days at school just made me feel foolish and clumsy and strange. When the weather was warm I’d walk up the hill in our back yard to a little grove of trees. There I’d find a stick of just the right length and suddenly I had a sword. I wasn’t the resident geek anymore. I was Conan the Barbarian and my foes fell by the dozens. What can I say, I had an active imagination.
But in the end that’s not what I really wanted. What I wanted was someone to listen to my feelings without criticism. I wanted someone to reassure me that I wasn’t going be like this forever. I just wanted people to be nice to me. On those occasions when one of the popular girls smiled and said hello it was a great day. When someone came to me with a question because they knew I knew the answer I felt great. Looking back it’s amazing how simple the answer was. As Christians it’s set out quite simply with Jesus’ “new” commandment – Love one another.
Loving one another means accepting that not everyone is like us and that’s OK. It means remembering that the geek and the jock and the popular and the weirdos are people. Every single person in your school is part of God’s creation. The next time you walk into school you can control how you treat others. All of them have their own psychic backpack filled with pain, worry and fear. The question for you is are you going to give them more to carry in that backpack or less? Smiling and saying hello to everyone, treating everyone with respect and refusing to allow disrespect to happen around you will certainly gain you a reputation. Plenty of people will think you’re weird. Let them. Continue to fulfill the commandment and many more will begin to realize that around you their backpack is lighter. Along the way you may discover that you’ve picked up some “strange” friends. Good. Most days some pretty strange people surrounded Jesus. Most days He sought them out.
Look around and watch for others whose backpacks have begun to burden them. Lighten their backpacks.
Peace, Jay

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

A Lack of Passion

There's a study out that shows that Episcopal teenagers tend to score lower than the national average (for teens) when asked questions like "Do you feel close to God?",and "Is faith an important part of your life". They did score ABOVE the average when asked if the adults in their churches were hypocrites.

So what do I think of this study? I'm familiar with the basic project and have found it quite useful. They seem to be doing an excellent job. Do the numbers surprise me? No. Do they disturb me? Only sorta.

I believe that the numbers are in fact affected by the questioning phase of the teen years. That's aided and abetted by the overall poor job we're doing as a denomination in translating our faith into terms the teens understand. We are by and large a rather laid back intellectual denomination. (By intellectual I'm not saying we're smart or even well educated but that we tend to approach our faith lives from a cerebral rather than visceral point of view) This creates a problem in that our kids don't see us being passionate about this part of lives. They are far more likely to see passion about our favorite sports teams, politics, music, TV or whatever. Is it surprising that they don't feel "close to God" or that they see too many of us as hypocrites? When I ask an adult how they would explain their faith life to someone else (of any age) I tend to get long discourses either on tradition and practice or a helpless shrug.

The questions our young people are asking is "Why should I care?", "What affect will it have on me?", "Why is this more important than the fun stuff? (Because they clearly see that damn few of us get any joy out of all this church stuff)"

This is not ECUSA's fault. The national church is not interacting with our kids. It's not the dioceses fault because we're not interacting much more with the kids (I'll see any given youth maybe twice a year except for the very active ones whom I'll see about 6-8 times). Plop down in the pew this Sunday and look around. That's who is failing our youth. Then pop out a mirror and include yourself (me too. I'm dealing with a fairly large hairy crisis in my own personal ministry life because I'm not sure I'm making a damn bit of difference).
If a young person walked into your parish this Sunday as a total stranger what would they see about the life of a Christian in the Anglican tradition? Where would they see, hear and feel? Are you offering something that would change the numbers in the survey up or down?

I wish I had a quick easy answer. First because it would be such a boost to the church I love. Second because it would make me rich and famous. I'm working on it. What are you doing?

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

An interesting weekend

Sometimes real life just demands to be let in. Over the weekend WNY was hit with a terrific wind storm. Top gusts hit 70+ MPH. It knocked out the power at my house for some 30 hours. Given that the temps were in the 30's the wind chill fell to I'd-rather-not-think-about-it ranges. The heat in my house? Electric. Lights, stove, computer, cable, you name it, it was out. We survived one night of it bundled under massive amounts of blankets. My darling teen daughter hit the bed in three shirts, full pants, socks and her slippers PLUS three blankets! Meanwhile my mom's "summer" home (long story) had a 30 foot tree fall on it. There wasn't any damage (except to the tree) but it made for some exciting phone calls and a fun trip through the storm for me to inspect the house.
Through it all it's amazing how much I've really come to take for granted. Before the next storm hits it's my plan to have at least one alternate heat source (you try and find a kerosene heater in the middle of a state of emergency), an alternate cooking source (propane stove, already purchased) plus basics like spare candles, flashlight batteries etc.
Was it scary? Yeah it was in some ways. I was afraid for my wife who has circulation problems. In a storm that violent people who live in 100 year old houses should be a little concerned. In the end we survived (Thank you Lord) and that makes a major difference in how I can look back on all this.
I'd be just as happy not to have to worry about stuff like this of course.

Monday, November 10, 2003

And yet another....

Seems like I'm a roll, and not a good one either. Just came across a notice that Bishop Crittendon, the former Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania passed away back in September. He was 95. More importantly in my own walk of faith in my teen years he was "my" bishop. We didn't even live in that diocese at the time but he was the bishop that I cared about and looked to as I grew up.
We had lived in that diocese for a couple of years when I was in elementary school. We made some friends and a few years later my mom was asked to serve as camp nurse for the diocesan camp. We lived in the Diocese of Pittsburgh at the time but that was fine with everyone. Soon I and both my brothers were attending that camp and we eventually all worked for the camp as well. It was during that time that I came to know "The Bish". Bishop Crittendon would show up and spend part of a day with us. Most importantly he would talk with us and answer our questions. For that short period of time he was all ours and he remained ours in our hearts for years to come. The Bish confirmed both of my brothers at camp with me serving as his acolyte. We were a sight. He was in his full episcopal regalia. My brothers and I were in cutoff shorts wearing brightly colored shirts from South America. They were the nicest clothes we had at camp!
After I took my job as youth missioner my thoughts turned to my first Bishop. So I wrote him a short note thanking him for his part in setting me on the road that led me to where I find myself today. I got a nice note back from him. In the end I hope I never let the Bish down. I'll miss him always.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

The loss of a friend

Just heard the news that Mike Yaconnelli died yesterday in a car crash. Many of you may not know the name but if you've ever used materials from Youth Specialties then you know Mike's work. He founded YS. Known affectionately to most of us as Yac he was a writer, a youth minister, a thinker, a lay minister to a small church in N. California, a father, a husband and more.

I met Yac only once at a Core workshop put on by YS near Pittsburgh. He had sold YS several years before but stayed on working with them. The workshop I attended was one of only a handful or so that he had planned on attending that year so I counted myself lucky. Yac's writing, on the YS home page plus in some youth journals, had always grabbed my attention. He had a knack for getting me to think even if I disagreed with him. His writing was always marked by honesty and a certain wit that appealed to me. I truly felt honored to meet the man that day at the Core.

Yac also worked to create a resource for youth ministry in YS that reached across denominational boundaries. It seemed to focus more on faith that form, more on power of relationships than on the piety of religion. I've never found a piece from YS that couldn't be modified quickly to be useful for my ministry.

I didn't know Yac, really at all, but I feel like I've lost a friend and a mentor. My prayers go out to his family and the folks at his church and YS. Somehow we will all have to carry on without him.


Tuesday, October 21, 2003

On Beauty

Bear with me folks because there's an element of thinking out loud in this one.
It begins with a thought about women. It applies equally to men but being a guy I prefer thinking about women. So translate in your head and work with me here.

The thought is this:

All women are beautiful. Some have allowed someone to convince them otherwise.

On the surface it would seem that this thought is silly. Our society sets very clear standards on beauty and there are a great many women who just don't meet it. They may be pretty or average looking, or just all right. And let's be honest there are some that are just (is there anyway to say this with a good heart?) butt ugly. Sounds like more of that "I'm Ok, You're Ok" mushy pop psychology stuff doesn't it? Isn't it time to be honest?

Sure it is. It's time to be honest enough to say that All Women Are Beautiful. That's the way God made them. He didn't make all fit whatever the current beauty fashion is. Right now that standard seems to be stripper meets call girl. If you're not a tall blonde with a body that has a body fat ratio approaching zero and an upper body that enters the room 30 seconds before the rest of you then you're probably not up to the current "standard". Buff it, tone it, tan it, get it lifted, enhanced, tucked, trimmed and botoxed.

Now let me clue you in on a little secret. You're not any more beautiful than when you started. Sorry. If you want to tone up because it's good for you and you'll live a longer and yes you'll look better in clothes (or out) then go for it. Eat right, get your exercise.

But none of it makes you more beautiful.

Beauty doesn't come from a surgeon's blade, a Pilates class or the latest bottle or tube of makeup. If you care about beauty forget them all. Beauty does come from caring for yourself. But you don't have to drop two clothing sizes to get it. Beauty comes from learning to love yourself. With your height and your weight and your hair. Beauty comes from letting other people love you as well.

In my life I've met beautiful women who are young and incredibly old. They've been physical beauties and wrecks. They have beautiful smiles even when they've had no teeth! Beauty shines from within. I've also met some physically gorgeous women who lack a single atom of beauty. Their anger or their emptiness robs them of their beauty. Too much time was being spent on their looks and not enough time on their beauty.

What I want to get through is the thought that you started beautiful. Beauty cannot be applied or supplied. It lies within. Find your beauty, get rid of anything or anyone who interferes with your beauty. No one has the right to try and take it away from you. You should never let them succeed.

Go on, go be beautiful.

Monday, October 06, 2003

A Little Heart

I thought I'd share this story. Some folks have heard me tell it before. It began with "one of those days". The kind of day when everything seems to go wrong. When it doesn't matter how hard you try it stills comes out wrong in the end. I had spent the day struggling with a couple of projects that simply did not want to cooperate. None of them were complicated all were things that I had done before but they just wouldn't play. With each passing minute I grew more and more frustrated. I knew I could do this stuff but somehow I kept dropping the ball. The final straw was a printing job that kept getting lost in my computer. I couldn't take it anymore! The computer was stupid. I was stupid. The world was stupid. I was incompetent. God was obviously ticked off at me and my Momma probably didn't love me anymore too. Suddenly my printer whirred into life. This was a little startling because I hadn't asked it to print anything! Great! Stupid piece of technological (dirty words, dirty words, dirty words) won't work when I need it and does when I don't! When I turned to look at the page it spat out it looked like it was blank. Looking again I realized it had printed a single symbol in the upper corner of the page.

A single heart.

I just sat there staring at it, almost afraid to touch it. It was like a direct answer to my thoughts at that moment. Of all the random symbols the printer might have kicked out it was that one. I had to laugh. I also had to say a little prayer of thanks.

Today that piece of paper still sits in my printer tray. If you dig down under all the pages that sit on the output tray you'll find it there. It's a reminder that God (and Mom) love me. Even on the days when I can't get the machines to work for me. Even on the days when I think I'm stupid and incompetent. Even on my worst days.

It's kinda nice to have the reminder sometimes.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Time for a rant!

Trying to get back into the blogging habit and there's always room for a good old rant!
I spend a lot of time reading stuff about young people and the statistics on sexual activity just really frightens me. Teens are having sex younger, they have distorted ideas about what is and isn't "sex" and our culture holds up sex as the ultimate form of expression. It's all about gettin' your jollies as we used to say.
Through all of this the church seems amazingly silent. When we do say something it's usually in a form that it guaranteed to turn off the hearing of the young people. Lot's of "Thou shalt nots" and talking about rules. Very little actual discussion of what a proper faithful response might look like, why we value such a response and what forms the basis of our belief. More often than not in the Episcopal church we don't talk about it all, or even worse bypass the discussion of sex for another donnybrook about sexuality. So let me make clear what I want us to do:

Separate sex from sexuality
We can actually do this because we are dealing with them as theological issues. This church needs to discuss how we "use" our sexuality no matter what it is. If we don't separate the issues we will continue to not speak clearly and our young people will continue to flounder in this arena.

Get Over It
It's time to stop being all squeamish about talking about sex. God gave us sex, it's a gift. It is a normal part of our functioning beginning with puberty. Sex is the single most discussed/thought about/spotlighted human activity in our current society. If we remain silent then our youth will believe that we don't have any trouble with the version of sex (cheap, disposable, totally recreational) that is presented in our culture. If it's a choice of our comfort level versus helping our young people and we choose our comfort we should be ashamed of ourselves. And new parents/ministers should be found for our kids. If we don't speak out THEN WE HAVE FAILED

Address the issues that we are strongest on
We can eliminate a lot of the squeamish factor by simply deciding that we don't need to educate our kids on how the plumbing works. The schools are better equipped to talk about equipment. The strength of the church is talking about how we use that equipment and why. I believe that explaining the why part may be the most important part.

We have no choice, we MUST enter into this discussion. We need to stop blushing and stuttering and look our young people in the eye. The subject needs to be faced squarely and explained clearly. The images of the culture must be confronted and exposed for the shallowness of life that they are. This is the prophetic voice calling to the world from the wilderness, this is the counter culture nature of Christianity demanding that we remember that we're not SUPPOSED to be in the mainstream, we're supposed to fight the power. Because it is a power that destroys and can kill. How we continue not to pick up the challenge and the burden? How much longer can we ignore the ministry we are called to do?


Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Back in the saddle again...

It's been a long time between blogs I know! It has taken me weeks to even come close to getting a handle on all the stuff that backed up on me in my office. But I think I'm about there. My desk is starting to show through the piles again.

I do want to note here (as well as EVERYWHERE ELSE!) the change in our Youth Commission meeting time. As is well known Episcopalians (of all ages) don't really like change. On the whole we don't want to deal with it. So changing our meeting time from Tuesday nights to Sunday afternoons may seem a little radical. But more of our members (especially the youth) were having more and more trouble making the meetings. As I've noted elsewhere this is probably the busiest generation of teens in the history of the world. So YC discussed it and decided to make two (or three depending on how you look at it) changes.
1: We moved the meeting to Sunday. It was the only day that offered any improvement. No one wanted their Saturdays clogged up (more than they already are) so we ended up on Sunday.
2: We went to afternoon meetings. It's just easier to travel during daylight, especially during the winter. So meetings moved to 2 PM with dinner at 5:30 and hopefully everyone merrily on their way by 6.
3: We will now only meet every OTHER month (I know of at least one diocese where they only meet once a YEAR!). So the schedule goes September, November, January, March, May. We usually ended up not meeting in December anyway, February is a no fun travel month so we skip it.

These changes mean we also have to really get some work done during the meetings. Not just doing the agenda items but some of the committee work can be done then as well. It's an experiment, we've only committed to it for a year. I encourage everyone to give it a try. If you couldn't make it before now's the time to try. If you NEVER came before nows the time to try. Remember that youth commission is open to anyone High School age and over who is interested in the youth ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of WNY. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

On Spiritual Health

After a long and challenging summer I'm feeling rather worn down. Physically, mentally and spiritually. The first two are relatively easy to mend. I'll take a couple days off leading into the Labor Day holiday and just catch up on sleep and time with loved ones. In a few days time I'll be right as rain (of which we've gotten an awful lot these days). It's the spiritual health that bothers me. Because the most obvious ways to refresh myself are at least partially blocked right now. Normally I'd just focus on Sunday worship, that wonderful time of prayer and thoughtfulness. But I've become deeply involved with videotaping our 10 AM service and that keeps me away from "my" pew and family. Yes, I could just show up for the 8 AM service and work the second service but it doesn't put me in a pew with my wife. Plus it makes the process a burden to me. Get up early (an unnatural act for your gentle author), listen to the sermon twice (our clergy are wonderful and fine preachers. But there are durn few sermons worth hearing twice). Is there a goodly bit of laziness and self centeredness mixed in there? You betcha. But this is where I am right now. I'm not feeling spiritually fed and that's a very bad place for anyone to be. An even worse place for someone who is answering a call to minister to the spiritual needs of someone else. It is my hope to find sometime soon to go on a short retreat, off into the woods by myself to rest, pray, think, read and perhaps write. I hope that this will help recharge my batteries spiritually.
But it also strikes me that this is a recurring theme in a lot of what I read about ministry in general. We neglect our own spiritual health because we spend all our energy on others. Eventually we burn up, flame out and leave. I can't believe that this is the way it's supposed to be. Take a moment and do a personal spiritual inventory. How satisfactory is your faith life? How is your worship life (not the same thing!) How much time have you invested in the care and nurture of your own soul? If you're not happy with the answers (and you shouldn't be happy if the answers are of the "I'll get to it, there are other things I need to take care of first" type) then the time may have come to reassess what you're doing and how you are approaching your ministry. I find it impossible to believe that God wants ministers that burn like the sun for only a short time then wander through the remainder of their lives as the burnt twisted remnant. I'll keep you up to date on how the planning and the retreat itself goes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Stupid and Outrageous

With a million details of actual youth minisry to take care of (like Junior High camp next week and my presentation on Confirmation) I still feel the need to address the results of GC. The current prompt comes from two news stories. The first in London reports a Kenyan bishop being physically assaulted by two C of E clergy (!) who were outraged that he defended the Kenyan church's stand on homosexuality. They reportedly grabbed him, yelled at him and threatened to beat him up before bystanders seperated them. Bishop Simon Oketch was on his way to a church conference when this happened.
The second story comes from the little town of Graham Texas. The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit was hit by vandals who trashed the church and hall, started a fire in the office and scrawled "God and Jesus Love Homosexuals" on a wall. The pastor (who also pastors two other mission congregations) had taken a traditional stand on the issue and sees this as a reaction to that. I'm afraid that I'd have to agree.
Wherever we stand on this issue I believe we must all agree that this kind of reaction from either side is repugnant, stupid, outrageous and completely outside of the traditions of Christianity and Anglicanism. I do presume to tell any of you what you should be teaching your young people, that is appropriately decided by your own faith and the direction of your home congregations. But we must teach that such a reaction will not and must not receive the blessing of the church. Even if we believe that "the other side" (who ever that may be from where you stand) is profoundly, fundamentally WRONG we are called to deal with them from a foundation of Christ's love.
I will make my public pledge that I will not tolerate, support or permit any such attacks, physical or verbal, in my presence. I hope that we all will be willing to do the same.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

A column idea

(The following is a large portion of my September column for my diocesan newspaper "ChurchActs". I hope my editor will forgive my publishing it here early. The column talks about a thought that nagged at me while I was watching the events of GC. The subject will seem a little silly to many folks for whom this is a "given". But for many of us it has been a long struggle Peace)

What has pressed on me most strongly is a single word. A word that has bothered me for many years but one that I would like all of us to adopt and use. The word is minister.
In my years in youth ministry I’ve called myself a youth “advisor” and a youth “leader”. But I shied away from youth “minister”. A minister is someone with a ministry and ministry is for those white collar types right? In a religious culture that has always tended to divide us (the lay people) and them (the clergy) it felt like I was onto someone else’s turf. Over the last several years I’ve realized that a minister is anyone who answers a call to care for someone or something. Making sure the garbage is disposed of properly can be a ministry to your faith community every bit as much as caring for the formation of young people. My personal call is to care for young people in my home parish, this diocese and in our province. After many years struggle with the concept I accepted that this was my ministry. Now I’m prepared to claim the title that comes with it. I am a youth minister. This is the proper title for the calling from God to which I have responded. I know that I am far behind some of the adults who work with youth in accepting and adopting this title. I hope that everyone working with our young people will join me in adopting this word.
Why is this word so important? Because it recognizes that our work with youth is not only based in our love for them but also in a divine call to us. It is a call to lay persons, deacons, priests and bishops. It is a call to congregations, dioceses, provinces and denominations. Truly this call has little to do with youth groups or Sunday school classes. Being a youth minister is a full time ministry for some of us, being open to the special needs of growing bodies and searching souls. The call also extends to every person of faith. You are called to welcome young people in the worship and to the community of faith. Without that ministry the young people will not stay long enough for the rest of us to work with them.
Accepting this single word remains scary for some of us. Like a new piece of clothing there are days when it still feels a little uncomfortable to me. Too tight in some places, too loose in others. It means no longer justifying what we do with easy phrases like “I love the kids”. The word declares “God has called me and I have answered”.
It is time for many of us to take the step and say, “I am a youth minister”.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

In retrospect

Well I'm home now. It feels awfully good to be honest. The first night back I slept for 12 hours. No real adventures to report on the way home. I sat next to a very nice ELCA gentleman and we chatted. I didn't blurt right out that I was ECUSA but the info became inevitable (He asked what I did for a living, I'm a youth minister, Oh? With what church? Boom) The conversation was wonderful and filled the time in the air quite peacefully.
Got my first taste at my home congregation of what the reaction might be. Very subdued. This is simply not an issue for us. I overheard several little old ladies tell our associate rector that while they were quite sure about the decision on the bishop they wanted her to know that if they didn't show up in the next couple weeks it didn't have anything to do with that, they'd just be away! They all laughed and said they weren't leaving their church, period. I think a great many Episcopalians will arrive at the same conclusion. There is still plenty of pain, I can hardly wait to hear what happens in England in October(?) when the primates come together in Canterbury to discuss.
But now it's back to the normal routine of being a youth minister. Junior High camp is only a week away and I have lots to get organized. Plus lots of "new" projects I seemed to have volunteered to take care of in the next couple months. Any one know of a good muzzle?

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Almost done!

Well by now you're up to date on the big news. So I won't re cap here. But we are hearing reports begin to come in: Priests that have announced they are leaving the church, individuals leaving their congregations, financial impacts both large and small. A string of conservative members got up in front of the Deputies for points of personal privilege to speak against the Robinson approval. There were empty seats (even empty tables) at the Eucharist. The "troubles" of the Episcopal church are only beginning. How big they will be is hard for me to judge from so close to the center and with as little sleep as I've had. I'll just keep praying.
In other news the dates for the next GC may NOT be carved in stone! The Bishops rejected the process and sent it back to the planning committee. There are still issues to be dealt with (like penalty clauses in the contracts already signed) but the youth are VERY encouraged by the support of the Bishops. Way to go Purple!
I promised some lighter bits. First an apology. A couple days ago I referred to a "priest from Nigeria" preaching. Ahem, that was an ARCHBISHOP. Oops. My apologies to all.

Notes from around convention:
Miles I walk - seems to average around 8 per day. Probably did a little more than that the first couple days while I was exploring the Exihibition Hall. Hundreds of boothes!
Pipes in the "Voice of Minneapolis" - For all you traditional music, pipe organ fans the Conv. Center has a resident pipe organ. Built back in 1929 it was moved to the new Center. 10,000 pipes in 123 ranks. Very impressive sounds.
Funny bits - How a bout delegates names? They tend to introduce themselves by last name and diocese only. So we got a small laugh from "Black - Mississippi" ( a white female priest) but we really liked "Snow, Alaska".
When the budget materials were handed out today they played a couple of Beatles tunes ( Can't buy me love and Hard Days Night) We were treated to several delegations getting up and dancing - picked up on the big screens too! A great light moment when we could all use one.
Best line from a deputy - Chair - For what reason does the deputy at microphone 8 rise? Deputy - To wait my turn.
Actually I've been impressed with the amount of humor on the floor. Pres. of Deputies George Wirner has been wonderful with a very light touch. There's a fair amount of laughing. The one deputy who said she was fluent in 8 languages not counting the dead ones got a nice response. Too many others to note.
Watched the Bishops on closed circuit for a while. The Deputies are much easier to bring to order (I know, you're stunned). Took the PB 5 tries to get them to settle down. He handled in good humor.
Well we are all exhausted. Some of our kids are starting to shows signs of stress so it's good that we're done after lunch tomorrow. We're blowing off the afternoon legislative session and going to the Mall of America to just hang.
I thank you for wandering along with me. I'll probably have a few more closing thoughts between now and next week. As always pray for our church.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

A stunning day

Well by now I'm sure you've seen or heard the reports. I had some fun stuff to share but I think I'll hold off on them for a while.
The day was progressing normally till the announcement made near the beginning of the afternoon legislative session. It took a moment for the import of the statements to sink in. There was no reaction, just stunned silence. Most of us simply couldn't believe it. For the accusations to have arisen this late in the game, especially from someone in New England who apparently "knows the ropes" strikes us all as ludicrous. This comes off as a poorly designed last minute attempt to slander the candidate. There was an arrest made in the convention center earlier today, I don't know why or any details. If I find them I'll pass them along. There have also been several death threats so police activity has increased around the convention center as well. Curiously the protesters were no where to be seen. No idea if they are related. I'm just happy they're gone.
I was sitting in the large room used for worship this afternoon. A screen was being used to show a closed circuit video link of the business in the house of Bishops. One light note: the Deputies "come to order" MUCH more quickly than the Bishops. The PB had to ask 5 times for everyone to sit down and be quiet. Never raised his voice, never got sharp. He was the model of peace and good humor that I've seen for the last 8 days. Got quite funny however.
They had begun to do some routine business. In the room with me were several hundred other folks, reading, working on computers, chatting quietly. Finally the PB introduced the statements concerning the investigation. Once they were read 90% of the people in the room got up and left. I was sitting with a priest from western Michigan both working on our projects. Suddenly we both realized that the room was virtually empty, maybe 80 people left.
While some conservatives are openly pleased that there may be a last minute reprieve the majority reaction can be described as simply stunned by the turn of events. It is quite likely that he may not receive consent before the GC ends. As near as I can tell, no one is talking about it much yet, this would throw the process back to the normal process. Consent would have to come from the Executive Councils and the Bishops, all done by mail. We have no idea how long the investigation will take.
In case you didn't catch it the vote in the Deputies ran this way: Lay 63 Yes 32 No 13 Divided, Clergy 65 Yes 31 No 12 Divided.
I'm very tired. Physically, spiritually and emotionally. I don't want to believe that anyone from inside my faith community would stoop this low (Yes I'm giving Canon Robinson the benefit of the doubt. Innocent till proven guilty is the American way) even under these circumstances. To do such a thing would be an act so vile, so repugnant, so outside my understanding of the Gospel that I can not find any place for it in my understanding. As I have before I ask you to pray for GC and our church.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

A Moment in History

Well today was the first day for the consideration of the election of Canon Gene Robinson. Lots to mention but a few other details first.
Minneapolis is a beautiful city, many water fountains and sculpture along the main street. Plus lots of green space too. I enjoy this city a great deal. Some wonderful restaurants and a lot of theatre( including, of course, the Guthrie).
I've actually found a positive side for the looney protesters (yes they're still here. Starting to see some counterdemonstrations too) They make me appreciate and feel closer with the conservative elements within our denomination. We may disagree, even very seriously, but we are much closer than we realize when we see what the extremes really look like.
For the lovers of massed choirs today's Eucharist was for you! Fabulous huge vested choir just give you goose pimples. Sang "I am the bread of life", "Guide Us Oh Thou Great Jehovah" etc. A great round of applause when Puerto Rico brought up their UTO offering as a member of ECUSA. I think that was their first "official" act. Good Sermon from a Nigerian priest.
Meanwhile on the floor...When the time came to begin discussions (it was NOT the first order of business) the lines that formed were immense. A preliminary time limit of 30 (?) minutes was set. Comments went from the pro mike to the con mike. Much of it was same old same old on both sides. One of the OYP was one of the first pro speakers and represented the youth of the church very well. The best con argument I heard was one that said if you're not sure then you should be voting NO. For such a contentious issue that struck me as reasonable. The vote came but the results were not displayed immediately. In order to insure that nothing went wrong the computer votes (done with remote control voting pads) then double checked with the paper ballots. Vote was done by order (meaning clergy and lay votes were tallied seperately. Then each diocese reported that each order voted Yes/No/Divided) When the tallies were proper the No and Divided votes were read off. The secretary read them off into utter silence. There were very few surprises. For those in WNY both the Lay and Clergy voted Yes. No demonstrations (yelling, clapping etc) are permitted and the very large crowd in the gallery behaved itself very well. The tension was very apparent. In the end the vote was over 60% in favor of Canon Robinson in both orders. We prayed for several minutes both before and after the vote. It was very powerful. I simply prayed that we would be open to what God wants and would carry it out with love. We'll see if it gets answered. Bishops will consider the issue tomorrow.
Tomorrow I'll be wearing a pedometer to give you some idea of how much walking we do during a routine day. I'm sure there's something else I wanted to tell you but I can't think of it now!

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Welcome to the B Team

Thanks to all for your comments. I only got the chance to check them out today. Schedule took a bit of a break so I'm feeling a little better. Except for my expanding waistline! Too much food and too rich. I'm suffering a little gastric distress. Will start behaving myself tonight.
Young people are thriving on it all! They are very active, speaking at hearings and on the floor of the house of Deputies, approached the PB directly on the dates issue etc. I could not be prouder if they were my own flesh and blood. These are wonderful young people (I'm only slightly biased).
Spent an hour with the PB today. He carved out some time for the OYP. Great meeting. For my friends back in WNY this note: His pectoral cross belonged to Bishop Brent (for everyone else Bishop Brent is honored on the liturgical calendar was a great missionary bishop in the Philipines and diocesan bishop in WNY). I had the honor of holding the cross (Celtic style crucifix) in my own hand. An oddly moving moment for me.
Preaching today! Oh my beloveds! Bishop Michael Curry of NC brought down the house! An African American raised in the preaching style of his culture. He shook the rafters, had us laughing and crying. Spoke for a half an hour and could have gone on and on. I was deeply moved and inspired. This kind of preaching I love. Another bishop sits at my worship table and turned to me to say I was raised a pentecostal, if he has an altar call I'm going. I told him I'd be right behind him. Me, a liberal, suburban broad church Episcopalian. The title of this post comes from his sermon. A member of his last parish told him that he (the parishioner) was on the B team. Bishop was puzzled, what's the B team? He was told "I be here before you came, I be here while you're here and I'll be here when you're gone". What struck me was that with the angst surrounding us here this week I've decided I'm on the B team too. It doesn't matter what they decide. Even if I believe they make the WRONG decision I will be here. This is my church, this (including you all) are my family. To steal a line from Martin Luther "Here I Stand". This is my beloved home, and no one is chasing me off. I was, and still am, so powerfully moved by the Bishops message. He also told a wonderful story about his child watching TV and seeing a KKK rally. The child, who had seen her father in a tall white miter, asked him why all these Episcopal bishops were standing around a burning cross? When he thought about it he said that 30 years before no black child in America would have made such a mistake. We haven't reached the mountain top but we're headed up the slope. I was in tears. Michael took us, for only a moment to the mountain top. Amen, Amen, AMEN!
We're working on making sure that GC is never again scheduled during school. It's all we can do it appears. The youth are determined to make sure those that follow them are protected.
I am so proud of these young people, I love the people I'm working with. And I miss you all. I look forward to seeing and "seeing" (for my B-net family) you soon.

Friday, August 01, 2003

More Thoughts from GC

Well the early word is that we will NOT be able to change the dates for the GC in 2006. Seems the contracts have already been signed (makes you wonder what GC '03 thought it was doing. Just rubber stamping decision made elsewhere. Ah well). Work is going forward to make sure this never happens again. The worst part for me is the realization that there is very little chance we will see many candidates for the OYP in our entire province. Just a stupid thoughtless decision.
Around the city of Minneapolis we see signs saying "This establishment bans weapons". In fact it has nothing to do with GC but because of a new law here in MN that allows carrying concealed weapons. If you don't want them in your business you have to have this sign up. If you are a public gathering place you ALSO have to make an announcement to that effect. Yes, churches too! The local churches are NOT amused and are trying to get an exemption.
GC has its own news cast on the hotel TV systems (in fact over my right shoulder as I type our own Barbara Price is doing today's pastoral minute on the broadcast. Way to go WNY. Barbara is the chaplain to ECW's triennium. Kinda cool.
Music has been wonderful at the daily Eucharist. It's a little different each day. Day one was pretty "traditional" Episcopal church music, vested choir, organ etc. It was very well done. Yesterday was a more Gospel/Latin feel. I loved it! Today had a Gregorian choir leading the music so we had much more chant/Taize type music. We have more Gospel coming, plus worship bands, handbell choirs, Ojibwe Singers, Youth choir, and more. I have truly enjoyed the worship experience. Today I served as Eucharistic minister. Also on my team (there are about 9-10 people on each team and there are at least 5 teams)? Would you believe the Rev. Susan Anslow Williams? Total coincidence. Very cool as well.
We've been having some of the very young members (like 8-10 year olds) doing the readings. Today's young lady had to stretch up on tip toes to reach the mike but read in a clear strong voice. Just wonderful.
I got to hear Rev. Malcolm Boyd reading some of his prayers today. Boyd wrote a best selling book back in the late '60's call "Are You Running with me Jesus?" that was very influential to my personal faith journey. It was wonderful to hear him and see him in person I was deeply moved.
Hey a story I had never heard before - in 1969 the crew of Apollo 11 celebrated Communion on their trip around the moon. Buzz Aldrin (an Episcopalian!) brought wine and host and led the service. So the first lunar Eucharist was celebrated by a LAY PERSON from ECUSA. A resolution to celebrate this only recently revealed fact next year on its 25th anniversary.
Hearings this morning on the approval of the election of Canon Gene Robinson. Both sides were heard and the tone was respectful and calm. Meanwhile outside the...well I'm going to behave myself and NOT say what I just thought, protesters continue to vent their hatred and anger. We simply avoid them. Sad and nauseating.
So many other things still to do. I'll try and post again tomorrow. Keep praying for us.

Their first mistake

Starting to suffer a little from tiredness. Not getting a lot of sleep and we're constantly on the go during the day. Most of us took last night "off" although I ended up in charge of 9 of the 18 youth! Great young people but wow the energy. It appears I may be getting old. I'm trying to ignore the thought.
Yes GC made their first mistake yesterday. Not some little procedural one but rather one that really ticks me off. The resolution approving the NEXT GC came up. The location was mentioned but NOT the dates. By the time the dates were mentioned we were late into the discussion. The youth got flustered and didn't get to the mike before the question was called (ending discussion). Right now the suggested dates are JUNE 12 - 21, during the school year for a great many young people. Plus it's finals time and graduation time. Based on the current OYP we figure at least 50% of the young people would be unable to attend. For a church that has repeatedly said it is VITAL to increase the number of youth invovled in the church this is just idiotic. The justification is that it will save $150,000. Normally I'd think that was some real money till you look at how much money is spent on this event. This strikes me as penny wise and pound foolish. We're not giving up. We will be appealling to our bishops to reject the proposal in their house. The Bishes have been very supportive of the youth and we think they'll see the logic. We're all willing to bet that there are no youth members or youth ministers on the GC planning committee. I'll let you know how the battle comes out.
Hearings on blessings for longterm relationships outside marriage (do NOT call it blessings for same sex unions because that's only a portion of the what the resolution addresses. This is my current pet peeve) and approval of Gene Robinson will begin ramping up today. Details as they're available. I stopped by the NH hospitality area to chat with them and get some of my own questions answered. Spoke for about a half an hour with a very nice gent who seemed very well informed. Turned out he's Gene's partner! Very nice and as much as a straight man is capable of judging very good looking! Also got to talk with the Canon hisself, told him that I'd heard him do an after dinner speech that was so good it kept me awake even when I'd wanted to doze off. He had the graciousness to laugh.
Quick overview of a "day in the life". Breakfast early (for me) because hearings can start as early as 7:30. So you either ride the bus (as in big yellow. Horrible HS flashbacks) or hoof it the 10 blocks or so. As you get near the Convention center you are greeted by long lines of pamphleteers, all very polite and with info on a wide range of issues and events. Guaranteed you'll get the chance at the daily AAC newspaper (for the record the GC paper has quoted AAC folk, but I haven't seen the reverse. I'll keep watching) Ran into my friend and former priest in my diocese John Melcher doing this much to both our surprises (at meeting, not at his working) He sends his greetings back to WNY. Once inside you head off to wherever. Eucharist at 9:30 is awesome! Fabulous music both days so far, in different styles. Then legislative meetings (I usually head to the exhibition hall with almost 300 exibitors!) lunch is on the run, more hearings and another legislative hearing in the afternoon. Dinner on the run then more hearings or other events in the evening. Back to the hotel for a 10 PM meeting. I've been getting to bed by midnight. Remember the tired comment at the beginning?
Oh and a quick note on the official binder. Three rings, custom made and at least 5 inches thick the biggest one I have ever seen. I may need to buy a new bag to bring it and all the exhibitor stuff home in!
Gotta run, meeting youth in less than 20 minutes.
Pray for our church to be open to wisdom.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

And So It Begins

Well today is the first official day of GC. It has been a fairly amazing day in many ways. I'm trying to keep notes to remember all the little details for you but I don't know how well I do by the time I get to the keyboard in the evenings.
It is astounding to be surrounded by literally thousands of Episcopalians. Of all colors and pieties and theology. It was a profound moving experience to worship together this morning and hear the massed voices singing and praying together. Equally wonderful was listening to a very young lady, perhaps 8, doing the epistle reading before all these people. She was wonderful! Receiving the cup at Communion from one of the youth delegates was also wonderful.
The Presiding Bishop(PB) opened with a wonderful address yesterday calling us to be open to all points of view so that we can hear what God wants us to hear in this time and place. He reminded us that Christ came to redeem the world, not the church. A focus on who is in or out of communion with whom is not based on the Gospel. Our denomination was born in a time of conflict between "tradition" and "reform". We are the people who are called to the "both/and". We have not "become" the church, but rather we are constantly "becoming" the church.
The president of the House of Deputies also addressed us (The Very Rev. Geo. Werner). What struck me in this equally powerful address was a reminder that there is no "neutral" interpretation of the Bible. It is a powerfully disrespectful position to say that someone holding a different interpretation doesn't take Scripture seriously. He said that the church is much like Noah's Ark. The only way to bear the stench within is the remember the storm without. The two addresses created a wonderful starting point for the difficult decisions that are still ahead.
I've seen all the various "celebrities" for this GC. Canon Gene Robinson sits at the next table to mine at worship. I've passed the PB on the street several times and had many other bishops pointed out to me. Their strengths and weaknesses are well known (and often widely discussed) by all here. We come as imperfect human beings to struggle and try to find the right path.
So far we've only seen one "demonstration" by an outside group. Their message was so obviously hateful and lacking in the blessing of the Spirit that they are easily and quickly ignored. Some of the more conservative elements have also made themselves apparent. Being handed an outside publication (not published by the GC itself) that declares itself the voice of "Mainstream" Episcopalians strikes me as both arrogant and presumptuous.
The big events today were addresses by two of the GCOYP, one to the house of Bishops and the other to the house of Deputies. The two young men gave wonderful speeches and received standing ovations in each house. They challenged both houses to move forward to truly bringing young people into full membership in the church.
Beyond that Minneapolis is a beautiful city filled with wonderful people. The weather has been beautiful so we've been doing as much walking as possible. A good idea since I'm eating about twice as much as is good for me. Ah the weight I lost is coming back with a vengence!
The business will really get cranked up starting tomorrow. More updates as we go along.

Monday, July 28, 2003

First Day at GC

Well I'm here! Beautiful weather and a great hotel room in Minneapolis. So far that's all I can tell you about GC. The convention itself doesn't begin till tomorrow. My role here is as Provincial Youth coordinator for Province II. My immediate concern are my two youth delegates (they have seat and voice but no vote. They're allowed on the floor -I'm not - and can speak to convention just like any delegate. But they can't vote on the issues) Ryle and Betsy are two outstanding young people just like all the rest of the Official Youth Presence (the official term for the youth. I'll refer to it as GCOYP) They're catching back up, playing, laughing and not thinking a lot about the issues that await us. I don't want you to think that these are kids who don't care. They went through all the proposed resolutions, pulled out all the ones having to do with youth and passed them around for comment. But they then went on to read most of the rest of them too! I've spoken with a fair number of them who have also spoken to either their rector and/or their bishop about the issues coming up.

As for myself I'm saddened by the vitriol generated by both sides in these debates. While I have my own feelings on the issues it bothers me that there seems to be little discussion only posturing. There seems to be only "our way". For the traditionalists it's our way or we leave. I'm not sure how the church advances by splitting. I am also hearing from some traditionalists that they're NOT leaving even if the church does something that they think is absolutely wrong. I hope most, even all the traditionalists will take this position. We need all the parts of the spectrum (OK maybe not all, the extremes at BOTH ends can take a hike in my opinion).
I'm saddened by the feeling coming in. I'm apprehensive that some folks one way or the other will feel they have no choice but to leave. I also told the youth that they will spend the next 10 days standing firmly in the center of history being made. The world is paying more attention to our church than most days. What we do here will be marked if only for a little while. They will have the best view and perhaps even be given the chance to affect the outcome. I will pray for the youth and my church.
May God keep us all in the palm of his hand. May our ears be open to His words.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The path of many paths

I had someone bring up the question of "Does God know what's going to happen to us" again earlier. This is something that I've fiddled with for years, trying to balance an "All Knowing" God (which I believe) and Free Will (which I also believe). If we have the opportunity to hare off in any strange direction at the drop of a hat and we only decide at the last minute how can God know?
The image that came to me years ago was of me standing at the edge of a sheet of paper. Stretching out in front of me is a black line, a path. But the path begins to branch immediately and branch again and again and again. Each branch branchs again, and the branches cross one another repeatedly till the paper is a mass of black with only tiny flecks of white. Each branch or crossing is a decision or event. That decision or event offers the opportunity to move in a different direction. Each decision (voluntary or otherwise) closes off some branches but opens new ones. At the far side of the paper are the possible outcomes, good, bad and indifferent. I, standing only man height above the page can see some of the immediate surroundings, but I can not see all the possible outcomes or how to get there. God, resting in the traditional position of God - above, can see the entire page. He (pardon the anthropomorphizing, I was raised thinking of God as "him". I realize the limitations of that but it's kind of hard wired now. And the subject for a whole 'nother post) can see all the possible permutations. He knows where each choice may lead, can lead. He also knows where He would like to see me go. In the end it remains my choice. Which choice, which path eventually leading to which outcome.
Free Will and Absolute knowledge. All that's left? Deciding what to do next?

Monday, July 21, 2003

Just a week away!

One week from today I'll be winging off to General Convention, the national convention for my denomination. I've never been to one before and I'm a little nervous to be honest. For the 13 days it meets it is the largest bi-cameral(meaning two houses - Deputies and Bishops) governing body in the world. Beyond all the usual issues (who gets how much money) this GC will also face some controversial issues, verifying the election of an openly gay bishop and whether we should create a blessing service for same sex unions. Opponents of both are making loud noises that if approved they will leave the church and even threaten that our entire worldwide association may come apart. I hope they're wrong. Is this issue a struggle? Absolutely. Should it be the make or break for a worldwide communion? I just can't see it. But that's me. I'm glad that I'm just an official observer. Most people will leave me alone on the subject.
Over the two weeks that I'm there I will be posting thoughts, stories and reactions to what's going on. It will be a completely un official look, representing only my own point of view. I hope folks will stop by and leave comments as the time progresses. Not often that one gets to be at ground zero for history like this.
I'm looking forward to it.
In the meantime I have to figure out what I need to pack!