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.