Friday, June 3, 2011

Looking Out, Not Up: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (June 2011)

With Ascension Day upon us, and a bit of time to pause before the end of the world (phew, spared again!), we have a God-given reprieve to consider that part of our heritage that puts less weight on notions of Rapture and Apocalypse and more weight on the present suffering and our high calling to do something about it.

Harold Camping is just the latest in a long line of doom and gloom preachers who gather adherents not because of their faultless hermeneutics, but because of their appeal to our longing for home.  This would have us standing on the holy mount where Jesus ascended doing nothing but looking up, awaiting a promised return.  After all, 'that’s what the Bible says!'  Researchers note that during periods of rapid change, fundamentalism frequently gains popularity.  The world is spinning faster, more capriciously, and who doesn’t want control, certitude, and surety?  There is an appeal to a ‘Home Sweet Home’ for which many people are willing to pay a high price.

However, instead of endlessly parsing Revelation for a way out, what is greatly appreciated about the Episcopal Church is its emphasis on John 17 (this Sunday’s Gospel!), which promises eternal life right now.  We need not await the eschaton to be with Jesus, which means my posture is not one of standing around looking up for a divine escape route, but to look out, where Christ is calling us.  The Episcopal Church reminds me that a much more central message of Jesus is to ‘go ye’ into the world to do the work of Our Lord, to heal, feed, clothe, and reconcile.  We have only precious moments before check-out time.  Let us have the courage to look out at a mission field that longs for workers, not straining our ears to hear Gabriel’s trumpet, but the cries of the hungry, naked, and hurting whom we have the privilege to serve.
**An important word about our future: Facebook is shutting down our group People Who Are Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church.  We are too big to be a ‘new’ group, so our best option is to become a ‘Page.’  This means you will have to opt-in to join.  So please type into your Facebook search box: “People Who Are Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church.”  Then go to the ‘Pages’ (not the Groups) result.  Once you are on this page hit the ‘Like’ button on the upper right. This will ensure we can stay connected!  Sorry for the hassle, talk to Zuckerberg.  And note that this message will be sent out a few more times just to make sure no one misses it.

A Great Place to Ask Questions: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (May 2011)

People of faith have certainly had plenty to ponder lately. Between deadly storms, assassinated terrorists, and the spectacle of the royal wedding witnessed by two billion people (though it took place in a lovely and historic abbey, not everyone agrees on how God might be at work there…).

In the midst of this swirl, Thomas the Apostle walks onto the stage on the Sunday after Easter.  Most people call him “Doubting Thomas” but I like to call him “Good Question Thomas.” He does what many would be afraid to do: he asks the obvious question.  How do we know?  How do we know that Jesus was raised from the dead? How do we know that God’s love is really stronger than death?

It is precisely in these moments that I am grateful for the Episcopal Church. We offer a place where it’s OK to ask questions. This is not a church where you have to nod along as if you understand everything, as if you agree with every word. You can ask obvious questions. You can ask difficult questions. You can even ask painful questions.

Thomas’s question was, I think, courageous. And to his credit, when confronted with the truth that Jesus was raised from the dead and that God’s love really is stronger than death, Thomas believed. My Lord and my God! He asked the question with an open mind, and he kept his mind open in discernment and inquiry.

I love that when we waver in our faith, we can ask questions. When we’re not sure where God fits into the picture, we can ask questions. As much as that, I love that the Episcopal Church is a place where the sacraments are offered beautifully, where people are fed fully, and where all people are welcomed openly.

Let us have the courage, like Thomas, to bring our questions. And like Thomas, let us keep our minds open to see God at work all around us. My Lord and my God!

This post was written by The Rev. Scott Gunn, a prolific blogger (, a priest in the Diocese of Rhode Island who enjoys his family, reading, music, travel, and asking questions.

Ashes and Diamonds: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Apr 2011)

A Special Lenten Guest Post by The Rt. Rev. Kirk S. Smith

As we all learned in our high school science class, life cannot exist without carbon. All life, from the lowest paramecium to the largest blue whale are dependent on this essential element — number 6 on the periodic table and the fourth most common element in the universe. We are all carbon-based.

An interesting element, this carbon - we usually think of it as black and crumbly, like charcoal, soot, or black smoke coming from a chimney or the graphite in our pencils, even though there is far more of it in the air as invisible carbon dioxide. But we should also not forget that this same element, which looks so dark and dirty, is also the same element that makes up the most beautiful and strongest thing we know — diamonds. Carbon is something we associate with death and decay, but it is also the source of strength, brilliance, and fire.

It is a juxtaposition we all know well.

St Paul says..."For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing...”  And Paul asks what we ask — "Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

So we see carbon-based life is destined for more than ashes, more than the grave. The ashes we wear in this solemn season remind us to await the power of God who desires more than anything else to turn our carbon, our ashes, into diamonds.

The Rt. Rev. Kirk S. Smith is the Episcopal Bishop of Arizona.

Incredible Poetry! Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Mar 2011)

(Guest post by Ashley Busse, PhD)

Episcopalians are the beneficiaries of a wonderful repertoire of rich and gifted poetry, few have contributed more than Richard Wilbur.  As you may know, he’s the author of the beautiful hymn, “A Stable Lamp is Lighted” (#104, Hymnal 1982).  Wilbur’s poetry is not only stunningly elegant, profound, and moving, it also clearly reflects many of the values and beliefs of the Episcopal Church, of which he is a longtime communicant. 

For example, across his 80-year career (b. 1921, he published his first poem at age 8), Wilbur has remained committed to the use of traditional verse forms and meters, even as these have gone in and out of fashion.  Despite what some might see as the constraints and restraints of these forms, Wilbur has said that they are “simply instruments or contraptions which heighten and empower [a poet’s] words,” enabling him to express simultaneously timeless and relevant truths about the human condition.  This idea might resonate with those of us nourished by the Book of Common Prayer, which both structure and set free our worship.

Wilbur’s poetry reflects the optimism and hope that the Episcopal faith offers in the midst of a dark and sometimes terrifying world.  He once told an interviewer, "I'm the sort of Christian animal for whom celebration is the most important thing of all…When I go to church, what doesn't particularly interest me is the Creed, although I find that I can say it... What I respond to is, ‘Lift up your hearts!’ It's lines like that in the Mass that belong to me, belong to my kind of religious experience." 
Wilbur recognizes how every time we celebrate the Eucharist in the Episcopal Church, we are reminded of the joy God inspires.

Wilbur has called poetry “a balancing act in which one trie[s] to enlist all of one's voices in the rendering of an inclusive view.”  At its best, the Episcopal Church embodies a similar poetry, even during our fiercest times of debate and conflict.  So thank you, Richard Wilbur, for reminding us through your verse that, “whatsoever love elects to bless/ Brims to a sweet excess/ That can without depletion overflow.”  We’re rather fond of you!

To read some of Wilbur’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry, click here:
Ashley Denham Busse is a ‘Cradle Episcopalian’ who holds a PhD in English literature from George Washington University and has a love for all things Anglican and literary.  She lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband and their two young daughters, of whom she is also rather fond.

Altar Calls! Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Feb 2011)

 OK, they’re not the altar calls made famous by Charles Finney and the 19th century evangelical movement, in which people respond to an invitation to approach the altar and make a new spiritual commitment to Jesus, although for Episcopalians they can be every bit as life-changing.

It’s been said that Episcopalians, and those in other liturgical traditions, have their own kinds of altar calls.  They’re preceded by a Confession, an Absolution, then the receiving of Jesus – both on our lips and in our hearts (and this, literally so, depending on your Eucharistic theology, if you consider how the body absorbs the bread and wine).

The common denominators in both traditions are the yearning to make Christ a bigger part of our lives; the exercise of free will in choosing Jesus; and, of course, the experience of knowing Christ will forgive our sins and grant us reconciliation at the ask.

What is especially nurturing in the Episcopal tradition is the act of doing this not just once in life, but over and over again.  A former Archbishop of Canterbury was once asked if he was saved, and his response was that, ‘he was saved, he was being saved and he would be saved.’  In other words, the life of faith requires continuous attention, the beatific journey suggests we avoid the plateaus and choose Christ at every turn.

In what ways has the Eucharist served as your altar call?  Have you ever felt profoundly changed by Holy Communion?  If you have an uplifting story, feel free to post it on the home page.

The Lectionary! Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Jan 2011)

It’s a New Year, time for new resolutions, goals, and plans for 2011!  And if you’re like many Christians, you may be embarking on a systematic plan to read through our most important book: the Bible.  But it’s such a long, complex collection of writings, how do we do it justice?  How do we break it down into digestable pieces, and read it alongside other relevant texts so that we might better understand it - and find the inspiration, comfort and truth the Bible so often gives?

Episcopalians, like many Christians, walk through the Bible using Lectionaries.  The Sunday Lectionary is a Bible reading schedule that appoints certain texts for public reading on Sunday mornings – a selection from the Old Testament, Book of Psalms, New Testament, and the Gospels.  It’s arranged in a 3-year cycle, so that people who go to church every Sunday, will have heard the vast majority of every verse in the Bible in those 3 years.  The Episcopal Church uses the Revised Common Lectionary – and so do the majority of Christians in North America, including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and many Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists.

Our common reading, then, binds us together with other Christians.  Why not ask another Christian neighbor, or co-worker about what they heard on Sunday – and what their preacher said about it - the Lectionary gives us a reason to share our faith outside of Church.

It also gives a way to wrestle with texts we’d rather avoid.  Many of us have favorite Bible passages – and without a Lectionary it’s easy to keep returning to them – which means we can avoid difficult and more obscure texts – and rob ourselves of the context that’s so important in interpreting God’s Holy Word.

In addition to the Sunday Lectionary, Episcopalians also have a Daily Lectionary – it arranges the Bible into a 2-year, daily reading schedule.  So if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to read more of the Bible – check out page 934 of the Book of Common Prayer.  And if the Lectionary has played an important role in your walk with Christ, why not share your thoughts on the Home Page?

The Book of Common Prayer: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Dec 2010)

There are two English language books that stand as preeminent – that tower over the most beloved writings of even our most talented playwrights and poets.  They are the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

If the Bible stands unparalleled in its insight into God, the Book of Common Prayer stands unequaled in its insight into how we might worship God.  After all, the Prayer Book can be thought of as the Bible rearranged for worship.

Since Whitsunday of 1549 the Book of Common Prayer has drawn untold believers into deeper relationship with the Almighty, shaping our souls, sculpting our liturgy, and encouraging us to engage in that ongoing and sacred conversation that we all know as prayer.  Its Collects and liturgies are rich with words, phrases, and images from some of the most beloved Bible passages.  Its order and simplicity open our hearts to the grandeur and wonder of God in unparalleled fashion.

However the Book of Common Prayer rather unfortunately, remains one of the Episcopal Church’s best-kept secrets.  Just this week while officiating at a funeral a young man (who was not very fond of the Episcopal Church) refused to read the petitions from the Prayer Book’s Burial Office because he said they were not Scriptural.  I resisted the urge to explain (and box his ears) and instead wondered how I might go about sharing The Prayer Book with the many people I know who are sincere in their love of God and whose spiritual journeys might find nourishment from this inspired book.

After all, one need not be an Episcopalian to use the Prayer Book.  It was God’s gift to us, and has become our gift to the world.  As Christmas approaches, who do we have on our Christmas list who might benefit from a Book of Common Prayer?  How might we share Christ by sharing the Prayer Book?
As an aside, there’s a new website up that’s designed to briefly outline the Episcopal faith for newcomers and inquirers.  Feel free to visit, set up a link on your parish website, or pass it along.  It’s at

We Love Saints! Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Nov 2010)

New Episcopalians are sometimes surprised to discover that Roman Catholics aren't the only Christians who have a high regard for those mighty men and women of God who have preceded us in the faith - people we call saints.

While Episcopalians do not have an official canonization process and are not well known for elaborate veneration, we do have a formal, though modest collection of saints we routinely recognize in public and private worship.  These are devout Christians, ancient and contemporary, who have excited us in our faith journeys and whose witness continues to model exemplary behavior for us.  A newly revised collection of these heroines and heroes of the faith can be found in the book ‘Holy Women, Holy Men’ – and is available here

As we may already know, the word 'saint' appears 60 times in the New Testament, and it refers to all followers of Jesus – if we’re believers, we’re saints.  What’s curious about this is that when you and I are called ‘saints’ we often bristle or belittle the term.  Maybe we think we’re not good enough.  Or maybe we don’t want to be good enough.  Years ago basketball star Charles Barkley famously shunned his celebrity status saying, he didn’t want to be a role model.  But, like it or not, NBA stars are role models.  Like it or not, Christians are saints.  We’re people who have been called and have chosen to believe in Jesus, and this affords us a certain place in the eyes of God, and others.

So how can we live up to our status as saints?  Do we have to do anything special?  This is a good excuse, on this All Saints’ Day, to study up on the life of a saint.  Is there a particular saint who’s touched your life?  Why not tell us about it on the home page.

As an aside, there’s a new website up, that’s designed to briefly outline the Episcopal faith for newcomers and inquirers.  Feel free to visit it, set up a link on your parish website, or pass it along to a friend.  It’s at

Invitations vs. Commandments: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Oct 2010)

Which story would you rather listen to, the one that starts with ‘Thou Shalt Not…’ or the one that begins with ‘Once Upon a Time…’?

Modern Christianity is widely viewed as a religion hopelessly bound up with the former - rules, verdicts, and divine commands.  It’s no wonder that a survey out not long ago asked non-believers to describe Christians – and the most popular adjective they chose was “judgmental.”

However, Episcopalians, tend to view the faith a bit differently.  Many of us don’t see Christianity primarily as a set of rules as much we see it as an invitation to take a mystical journey.  When Jesus gathered His disciples.  He didn’t use coercion, intimidation, or quiz them on the commandments.  More than anything, He invited them to follow Him, then painted a magical picture of healing, restoration, love, forgiveness, sacrifice, death, and resurrection.  Often times Jesus didn’t tell his followers where they were going, where they were staying, or even what they were eating.  He led them, and left them, with only the vaguest guidelines, but that was all they needed to turn the world upside down.

This is not to say Jesus paid no attention to the laws and the rules prescribed by his faith, we know He did, and we know we need rules.  However, there’s so much more to the Christian faith than that.

Episcopalians are sometimes criticized for not having enough rules – and for bending those we have – but, at our best, we like to think it’s because this amazing invitation to journey with Jesus defies predictability and convention, asking us to burst out of boxes, sweep into new places, and catapult our imaginations to new heights.

In what ways has your faith helped you dream? 
Leave a post on the Home Page so we can all see.

A Voice in Washington: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Sept 2010)

A friend of mine on a Senate staff in Washington, D.C. recently told me that if the same ratio of elected congress members to constituents was the same today as it was two hundred years ago there would be 10,000 congress members.  His boss, one man, represents 25 million people.

That’s huge.  So few people hearing so many voices...  And while the debate over the government’s size is certainly hot, it impresses upon us the importance of having a voice when there are so many out there.

An important voice for Episcopalians is the Episcopal Policy Network (EPPN).  They go to bat for us on Capitol Hill over issues that are near and dear to Episcopalians as expressed in our once-every-three-year General Convention.

Many of us shed tears last January seeing the pictures of Haitians suffering from that devastating earthquake.  It was great to see the huge outpouring of support, but many of us fear that the spotlight will shift with the 24-hour news cycle, and the rebuilding of Haiti will be neglected.  One of EPPN’s jobs is to make sure that doesn’t happen, as Haiti relief is just one of many issues for which they advocate on behalf of Episcopalians.

EPPN is one of the ways Episcopalians try to live out their baptismal covenant, to “strive for justice and peace.”  It is one of the ways we move beyond the work of charity, to the work of addressing systemic injustice.  EPPN is a great resource for current legislation of which Christians should be aware. 

If you’re interested in learning more head to their website at, you can sign up for regular alerts that allow you to email your elected representatives on pressing issues and get your voice heard.

Hungry for God Not Church: Another Reason to be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Aug 2010)

The frozen chosen are thawing out.

Yep, Episcopalians, like the rest of the Protestant Mainlines (Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational etc.) have this lingering reputation for caring more about our institutions, social status and keeping Jesus at a safe distance (because we don’t want to be like those Christians).  We were deeply formed by our surroundings when our membership hit its peak in the 1960’s, which was about 3.1 million members compared to 2.2 million today.  That’s when it seemed like everybody went to a church.  And the church’s job was not to make disciples as much as to make good denomination members.  Mainlines looked a lot like Kiwanis Clubs, understanding church as a religious place for social acceptability and business contacts.  There were no real demands other than conforming to some sort of vague Protestant morality.

But that was then and this is now.

More and more Episcopal congregations are rediscovering the deep and distinctive spiritual practices that are at the root of our faith.  It’s no longer about church - it’s about God.  More and more congregations are finding new vitality, new life and moving encounters with the Almighty through the age-old disciplines like prayer, Scripture study and gratitude, to name a few.

The good folks at CREDO are taking this seriously.  They’re publishing a resource guide to spiritual practices.  Check them out at:

Integral to the renewal of the mainline church is getting the focus back on the Lord.  God must be the focal point of our preaching, worship, and life together.  We must turn all eyes on God – the God who is, the God who has done, and the God who is doing.  Spiritual practices help us do that.

What spiritual practices have played important roles in your life?  How have they brought you closer to Jesus and for caring for the world?  Leave a post on the home page and let others know.

Radical Forgiveness: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (July 2010)

Same sin, different time.  Or place.  Or circumstance.  But it’s the same sin that we simply can’t shake.  We all have them.  We all wallow in them.  And we may wonder why we keep falling victim to the same temptation.  But at the same time we all may also wonder why God keeps forgiving us. 

God forgive us for two reasons.  First, God deeply loves us, and second, God deeply loves the world.  Karl Menninger said that the major cause of mental illness is one’s inability to forgive one’s self for their shortcomings.  When we wallow in guilt, unforgiveness and shame we can literally drive ourselves crazy. What’s more, while we’re in this state we have little or no energy to consider the plight of others.  We become self-consumed, inwardly focused and unable to do the crucial work of reconciling all things to Christ.

In the Daily Offices of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer we are commended to confess our sins twice a day – much too infrequent for the number of transgressions on my plate – but, nonetheless, a crucial reminder of one of Christ’s most important messages: God does not give up on us, God has not lost hope in us, but urges us to dust ourselves off and get back on the horse.  God takes sin seriously.  God takes forgiveness seriously. 

Sometimes Episcopalians are accused of a cavalier attitude toward sin.  However it may be fairly argued that our love affair with liberty is not rooted in a denial or unfamiliarity with sin nearly as much as it is with a deep awareness of the radical nature of God’s forgiveness.

What are our persistent sins that Christ is calling us, yet again, to lay at the altar?  How might we forgive ourselves as Christ has forgiven us?  Post a strategy that’s worked for you on the home page and help us receive forgiveness and move on to the crucial work loving the world.

Small Churches Are Good: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (June 2010)

It’s been said that the person who belongs to a small church lives in a much larger world.  Seeing the same people week after week leads to friendships, many times with folk whom we wouldn’t ordinarily get to know – indeed, whom we might initially have so little in common with that we would’ve never met anyplace other than at church.  This diversity can be rewarding.  It can open our minds and make us deeper, more thoughtful and less rigid human beings.

Small congregations force us to get along with one another.  They compel us to understand where other people are coming from and civilly settle our differences, which can be of immense value in the larger world.

Small congregations keep us accountable.  You can’t miss too many Sundays before someone calls or drops by just to make sure everything’s OK.  We think twice about skipping Sunday services – not just because we miss out on worship, but because of the people who will be disappointed if we’re not there.

Large churches get this - as attested by their emphasis on small groups.  In fact, the biggest trend in the mega-church world is multi-site congregations – the establishment of much smaller satellite campuses that promote intimacy and closer relationships.

The Episcopal Church is a small church haven.  80% of our congregations host 150 people or less on Sunday mornings.  The vast majority of Episcopalians are converts (70%), and a great many of us came from much larger churches.  Many of us joined because of the size.  We realize we are created for relationships.  We were made for deep, intimate and sacred relationship, not just with the Lord, but with each other.  Christianity isn’t just about me and Jesus.  It’s about me and Jesus and you.

In what ways has your small congregation deepened your faith?  Leave a post for the group to respond.

We Get to Sing Hymns! Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (May 2010)

OK, we may not hear it on many iPods or radios, but if you’re a fan of what many people consider to be the great hymns of the Church, you can almost always find these tunes at your local Episcopal parish.

Sure, the worship wars rage.  The ‘praise and worship’ crowd calls us boring, irrelevant and sentimental, and we make fun of their 7-11 songs (7 words sung 11 times).  But like a lot of church arguments these are usually nothing more than exit ramps that take us off the highway we need to be on.  Our call is to stay on track and keep focused on what’s at the heart of all Christian hymnody, Jesus Christ.

Some of the best theological ruminating can be done with The Hymnal 1982, which includes some of the great hymns of the ages.  Using a wider vocabulary and more complex sentence structure than moderns are used to, the Light, nonetheless, shines through.  The same is true with the musical progressions and arrangements.  The same Christ that took the hearts and minds of these blessed writers comes through to touch our souls in some pretty powerful ways.

And this is what makes Christian music continually relevant – regardless of its style and age - its ability to touch the souls of worshipers.  After all, heaven will be filled with music – exactly what kind the Bible writers wisely left out.  What they did not omit was the focus of the Lamb on the throne and the throngs of joyful singers lying prostrate bringing praise to the One who is worthy.

In what ways do you find your church’s hymnody inspiring?  Leave a post for the group to respond.

Johnny Mercer: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Apr 2010)

If you've ever crooned along with Moon River, Summer Wind or Days of Wine and Roses, you can thank songwriter and lifelong Episcopalian Johnny Mercer.

A Savanah, Georgia native, Johnny Mercer was singing in a choir by age 6 and had memorized most of the hymns by 12. He soon left home for New York then Hollywood where he worked as an actor, singer and songwriter, penning more than 1,500 songs during his 45 year career.

Mercer won the Oscar for 'Best Song' four times. He also co-founded Capitol Records where he served as the company's first president. He often made film and TV appearances working with Henry Mancini, Bobby Darin, Hoagy Carmichael - even Barry Manilow recorded one of his songs following Mercer's death.

Mercer died in 1976, and recently, at a commemoration of his 100th birthday, Christ Church Episcopal Church in Savanah unvelied a life-size bronze statue of the famous songwriter. His niece, Nancy Mercer Gerard said, "Uncle Johnny loved this church with all his heart, and he loved being an Episcopalian... the Episcopal Church was for him - as it is for all of us - a place where there is a depth of spirituality and a common desire to serve God and God's world with grace and dignity."

During this Holy Week where song, and the absence of it, plays such a formative role, we too, seek iinspiration from melody and lyric - how might the Spirit be speaking to us through music?

Sadie, Best in Show: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Mar 2010)

OK, maybe it’s a stretch to say that Sadie, the cute Scottish Terrier who won ‘Best in Show’ at this year’s Westminster Dog Show, is an Episcopalian (she’s owned by Episcopalians Dan and Amelia Musser who also own the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan).  But it’s no stretch to say that caring for God’s animals and all of God’s Creation is something Episcopalians have long been interested in doing.

Some people trace it to our Baptismal Covenant (page 304 of the Book of Common Prayer), which calls us to strive for justice and peace.  We can understand this to include our relationships with everything the Lord has created, especially animals and the environment.

Many Episcopal congregations take this seriously and sponsor a ‘Blessing of the Animals’ service in the fall, as St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day is October 4.  Churches like St. John the Divine in New York City have welcomed horses, elephants and camels into their sanctuary (surely not the sexton’s favorite day).  If your church is like mine the celebration is a bit more subdued (though probably not much tamer) as we thank God for the wonderful gifts of our faithful companions.

Some of us put our faith into action in places like The Episcopal Network for Animal Welfare (, which works to bring awareness to issues of animal cruelty and abuse.  Some parishes take a pledge to be ‘animal friendly,’ agreeing to promote animal welfare.  Another like Trinity Episcopal in Bethlehem, PA, established an animal food bank, which supplies free pet foot for low-income families ( 

Animals are a delightful gift from God.  When was the last time we thanked the Lord for the animals in our lives?  Or perhaps more importantly, when was the last time we did something nice for the animal closest to us?

Haiti Earthquake Response: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Feb 2010)

Imagine if your home was crushed, neighborhood flattened, electricity cut off, belongings destroyed, phones dead, water turned off, cars disabled and your world had pretty much turned into an Apocalypse Now Redux.  Sure, we could wait for the Chinese Army to parachute in and the Red Crescent to drive in their campers – but what if someone you actually knew, say a couple of your clergy or fellow church members stopped by on bicycles with a bag of groceries and some advice on where to go for help?  And what if they told your there were cots open at the church, nurses there to tending to the injured, and a big pot of spaghetti waiting for you?

Sure it’s an imperfect analogy, but it cuts to the heart of how church-based relief in times of disaster is so critical to getting folk back on their feet.  Churches are established community centers.  People know where they are.  They’re trusted.  They’ve got buildings.  They’ve got contacts.  And if they’re really blessed, they have ties to a larger network that can provide immediate resources when disaster strikes.

This is what we’re seeing with the amazing work of Episcopal Relief and Development (just one of many church-based relief organizations that has sprung into action).  There are about 100 Episcopal churches and 250 Episcopal schools in Haiti.  It is the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church.  ERD has been working on disaster preparedness way before the quake hit, and thanks to generous donations (like yours, I’m sure), they are currently serving 25,000 displaced Haitians in 23 camps.

Thanks to endowments and shared administration costs with The Episcopal Church, ERD is able to get $.92 of each donated dollar directly to the need.  You get a lot of bang for your buck.  If you’d like to give go to

CS Lewis: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Jan 2010)

OK, so Clive Staples was not an actual Episcopalian, but as a member of ‘The Mother Church (of England)’ nonetheless and a cousin in the Anglican expression that brought him to Christ and to a place where his amazing gifts of imagination and creativity might never have gone, we can be most glad.

An Irishman by birth, this medievalist, Ox-Bridge scholar, author and lay theologian, he is one of the best-known Christian apologists of the last one hundred years (Christianity Today voted his epic ‘Mere Christianity’ as the best book of the twentieth century).  Though baptized in the Church of Ireland, he renounced his faith at age 15, embraced atheism and was particularly interested in mythology and the occult.  It would take 17 years, and the influence of Christians like J.R.R. Tolkein (author of The Hobbit, etc.) for Lewis to once again embrace the faith of his childhood.

His imagination unleashed, yet bridled by his new found Champion, Lewis would bring us the epic seven-story, ‘Chronicles of Narnia,’ the first being well-known  ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’  ‘The Great Divorce,’ ‘The Screwtape Letters,’ ‘Surprised by Joy,’ and ‘A Grief Observed’ are also some of his most popular books.

Lewis never sought ordination in the Church of England but considered himself a lay theologian of the Church.  He was fed by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments and sent out by the Holy Spirit to use his tremendous talents to change the world.  In this New Year, a time of pulse-taking, reality checks, and goal-setting you and I do well to reacquaint ourselves with the gifts God has given us.  And we ask ourselves, how, like Lewis, might we use the unique talents we’ve been given to change our world?

Welcome to the Refugee Camp: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Dec 2009)

With all of the media attention on Rome's recent gesture toward disenfranchised Anglo-Catholic Anglicans we're reminded of our own needs to find places of authenticity in our religious expression. This is what’s driven most Episcopalians out of the tradition in which they were reared and down the Canterbury Trail.

Yes, we’re a church of refugees.

70% of us were raised in another church (or no church at all).

Apparently we’re not very good at raising Episcopalians. But somehow, some way, we must have some sort of skill at attracting them. Call it another one of God’s little jokes; the church that couldn’t be less known for its evangelism is obviously doing something right.

OK, it’s the Holy Spirit who’s doing something right. It’s the same Spirit that gave us the gift of the via media, or the middle road, and the handful of Anglicanism’s other defining features. God’s blessed little bridge between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism has brought multitudes of us to deeper understandings of who Jesus is and what He is up to in our lives. We have learned about life and about God in ways, and in communities, that we could never have learned otherwise. This is where we have been picked up and loved, nurtured and strengthened to go out into the world to do the work we’ve been called to do.

Bickering over church polity has been with Christianity since the start and shows no sign of lessening. It has orphaned a good number of us. It has made too many refugees. So thank the Lord for refugee camps, unlikely places to find sacred community, but God’s way of reminding us that we are never forgotten and always loved beyond our wildest dreams.

A Great Place to Get Re-Married! – Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Nov 2009)

OK, maybe the title is a bit over the top – because as we all know the pain and stickiness of divorce stinks.  It is tragic, shattering, and in some cases, the best option available.  But as many divorced people know, the Church is at its best when it tries to mend the brokenness instead of adding to the pain – which is what the Episcopal Church seeks to do.

The Episcopal Church sees marriage as a human endeavor entered into (usually) with the highest of expectations and the grittiest of determinations to make it all work out.  But sometimes it just doesn’t.  We’re human.  Marriages involve humans.  Both fail.

And when they do fail we believe our faith communities should be places that welcome the hurting and help put back the broken pieces.  This is why annulments and the renunciation of previous marriages may be suggested, but are rarely required.  It is why the Communion Rail at our churches is open to divorced people.  It is why the clergy and parishioners generally open their arms to give comfort upon hearing such news.

This does not mean Episcopalians take marriage lightly.  We have rules regarding pre-marital counseling, waiting periods before marriage, and take other wise measures.  What this does mean is that despite (or because of) our heritage, as home to the oft-married King Henry VIII, God has sought to make us rather exceptional at forming authentic communities that are not afraid to welcome those who have been divorced. 

And when the dust finally settles, and the prospect of remarriage appears, we rejoice, but don’t take that lightly either.  Our charge is to make sure responsibilities from previous relationships are tended to, and that principles of honesty, integrity and respect are upheld.  We all know it’s complicated, but your local Episcopal clergy person is well equipped to talk about it, find one at

We Get to Tithe! – Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Oct 2009)

If you’re an Episcopalian you’ll soon be hearing about this year’s Stewardship Campaign.  The Episcopal Church, like other Christian churches, maintains itself on donations from its members.  But for several decades now we’ve been paying our way via an annual pledge campaign that gets all the money-talk out in the open at this time of year.

Most Episcopal churches spend most of their money on four things, salaries, property, administration and outreach.  It’s no secret our houses of worship need money to survive, but the more important reason for talking openly and extensively about money is theological, not practical.   Jesus talked about money.  In fact, next to the Kingdom of God, money was Jesus’ most frequent sermon topic.

This is one reason the Episcopal Church, like other churches, has established the Biblical tithe (10% of one’s pre-tax earnings) as the starting point for giving.  This is not to be used as a requirement for membership or to get a better parking spot (James 2).  What it is meant to do is help us be who we, and God, want us to be: generous people who are known for our charity and desire to give.

But tithing is hard for us to do.  We’re rich (by world standards) and if you’re like me you find that the more money you make, the harder it is to give away.  I found it easier to tithe on an annual salary of $11,000 (my first job) than I do today making several times that amount today.  I appreciate my church talking about money, urging me to tithe, and to become the person I want to be.  I recently heard the slogan, ‘God gave us everything and we get to keep 90% of it!’  Do you tithe?  If so, how did you get there?  Share your tips on our Facebook group page.

Sandra Day O’Connor – Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Sept 2009)

With all the attention this summer on the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court let’s turn the spotlight on the woman who paved the way - Sandra Day O’Connor. 

O’Connor was raised on the family ranch in Arizona.  She attended Stanford University for undergraduate and law school.  Her gender prevented her from working in law upon graduation so she turned to public service in California then in the Arizona state legislature.  In 1975 she was elected judge in Maricopa County.  She would be appointed to the Supreme Court six years later by Ronald Reagan becoming the first woman ever to serve on the high court.

A cradle Episcopalian, O’Connor was married at All Saint’s Episcopal Church in El Paso, Texas.  Today she is an active member of the Cathedral Chapter of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  Last month she received the presidential Medal of Freedom alongside another famous Anglican, Desmond Tutu.

O’Connor’s accomplishments are a legacy to her keen mind, hard work and tenacity.  And they remind us of the gifts God has given you and me.  And just like us Justice O’Connor has found something worthwhile in the Episcopal Church.  Perhaps it’s a tradition of intellectual rigor in approaching ethical issues, perhaps it’s the beauty of the liturgy that acknowledges God as the supreme judge of all, or maybe it’s a place to feel comfortable presenting our gifts as we look for discernment.

Chances are none of us will ever serve on the Supreme Court, but we are called to use our gifts to their highest and best.  In what ways has our church helped us discern?  Has the Episcopal Church helped clarify a difficult issue in your life?  Feel free to stop by the message board and post a comment.

Godspell – Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Aug 2009)

 And you always thought the words sounded familiar...

A staple in high school drama departments, few Godspell actors may know that many of the words they are singing are actually from the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal.  It's because Godspell was conceived by a lifelong Episcopalian named John-Michael Tebelak. 

The story goes that the 22 year-old Tebelak, who was working on his Master's Thesis at Carnegie Mellon University, attended an Easter Vigil service at St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh in 1970.  He wore overalls and a t-shirt (drama student attire) prompting a cop to search him for drugs after the service, "I left with the feeling that, rather than rolling the rock away from the Tomb, they were piling more on.  I went home, took out my manuscript, and worked it to completion in a non-stop frenzy."

Tebelak used St. Matthew and the 1940 Hymnal as his inspiration for weaving together various parables into a memorably cohesive musical production.  Following its run on the college stage he took it to New York City eventually teaming up with Stephen Swartz (also a CMU grad) where the final production became one of the longest running shows on Broadway.

Tebelak went on to work at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where he would lend his talents to liturgical drama.  He died of a heart attack at age 35.

While most of us will never get the chance to meld the Gospel into our work in such an obvious (and hugely successful) way, our faith still calls us to use the words we hear and sing on Sundays to find a place in our souls and, in some way, to change the world.  How are these words working in us today?  How is Christ asking us to carry the Gospel message onto our stage?

Thanks to Kempton Baldridge for organizing a group to honor the 40th anniversary of Godspell, you can join it at:

Very Cool Weddings: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (July 2009)

"Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here..."

The familiarity and formality of these words has inspired reverent joy and gleeful expectation among the masses for many, many years.  Getting married in an Anglican ceremony, cool enough for folk like Courtney Cox Arquette and Bono (and perhaps U, 2…),  - these weddings are a staple at this time of year, and the beauty and richness of their ritual is another reason many people are rather fond of the Episcopal Church.

Sure, courthouse weddings quickly get us to the point-
Vegas weddings quickly get us to the party-
Yet Episcopal weddings seem to do both... and neither.

Sure, there is an economy of words and a legal pronouncement, yet there is also a sense of lingering presence and joyful proclamation.  Episcopal weddings offer a dignified cadence and an unabashed divine invocation that is rarely rushed.  They inspire gowns, ribbons and flowers to betray the couple’s favorite colors and smells.  And they often throw in an organ rumble, a trumpet blast or a belfry ringing that can only be announcing one thing.

Christian marriage, no matter how it's done, is rich with the symbolism of Christ's love for the Church and the foretaste of that heavenly banquet.  In it we remember Jesus' first miracle and celebrate one of God's greatest gifts.

Episcopalians work hard to build upon these themes - melding this sense of Christ's presence with the seriousness of solemn vows amidst the joy the blending of two lives inspires.  Out of our little place in Christendom we bring gifts of formality, ceremony and quiet reserve to Mother Church that we happily share (after all, how many times do you hear the words of the Prayer Book in movies, TV shows and even 'non-denominational' marriage ceremonies?).

What do you like about Episcopal weddings? 

People ask where the information from these posts originates- and they come from one of two books I've written for inquirers and newcomers to the Episcopal Church- you can check them out at:
Also, if you're a liturgy fan, consider joining this group: