Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Daily Office: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of The Episcopal Church

My friend Todd has a personal trainer.

Three times a week, he stops by the gym and is put through a rigorous workout that includes all sorts of exercises that condition and buff his body into the kind of frame he desires. Todd is a very smart, busy man who relies on his trainer to put together the right kind of program to help him grow and develop.

One day after a workout I asked Todd, “Does your trainer show you a lot of different kinds of exercises that are more effective than the ones the rest of us do?” “No,” said Todd, “the main reason I have a trainer is not because of what he teaches me, but of how he pushes me. I know how to do all the exercises, I just need help doing them.”

Isn’t the Christian life a bit like this?

That's why I am particularly fond of the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer. It's where I find a framework for leading the kind of prayerful, devoted life I want to live. 

It’s been said that the faith life of the average North American Christian has developed little since Sunday School. Polls that test biblical literacy seem to support this (my favorite: 1 in 10 Christians believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife). This sense that our spiritual lives should take precedent over the development of our physical bodies or our careers is not widely shared both in the culture or in the Church.

It is poignant that Jesus did not spend much time showing us how to be physically fit or how to climb the corporate ladder. He commended us to pay the highest attention to our spiritual lives – knowing this would lead to the most fulfilling and satisfying life of all.  Yet we know we live in a culture that actively works against this. Indeed, growing more deeply into discipleship is life’s most difficult endeavor.

So do we need a personal trainer? You bet. In fact, we need several. And the Daily Office in the Prayer Book can serve as a seasoned companion on our journey as we set to form, or reform a regimen that allows us to take our spiritual lives as seriously as we take the development of other areas of our lives. In fact, summer is a wonderful time to take a step back and consider what deeper formation might look like. What concrete steps toward deeper discipleship might we look to take - and how can the Daily Office help?

Friday, June 1, 2012

God Loves Us While We're Sinning: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of The Episcopal Church

I have friends who believe that terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center because of the abhorrent sexual behavior of Americans.

I have friends who believe that they can do things that will separate them from the love of God.

And I have a feeling both of these are connected; both assume that God reacts punitively to our bad behavior.

But my reading of the Bible, through the lens of Anglicanism, leads me somewhere different.  In John 17, Jesus' great prayer of affection, we hear Our Lord praying for his disciples. It is a heart-touching petition in which Jesus pleads that they’d be kept safe from harm and be able to experience the deep joy of God. Jesus is surely aware of what will soon come – Peter denying him and the rest of His disciples abandoning Him. Are there worse sins than these? Yet, in spite of their sin, past, present and future, Jesus is steadfast in his allegiance to them.

And Jesus is steadfast in His allegiance to us.

One of the more difficult notions for you and me to get our heads around is that God loves us in our sin. Sure, we, and the whole world, would be better to stop sinning, but it will never separate us from God. God is not a punisher. God is not a leaver. And Jesus’ ministry, in which He steadfastly prays for those who follow Him, continues to this day. This suggests there is no one who is more firmly rooting for you and me than Jesus.

By all means, quit sinning – now. By all means, embrace the reality that God is not (and cannot) love you any less because of your behavior. God cannot, not love you. That’s God’s job.

In what ways do we need to get rid of the guilt and relax in the knowledge that God really is on our side?

The Rev. Chris Yaw is the rector of St. David's Episcopal Church, Southfield, MI and moderator of this blog.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Common Prayer is Rather Uncommon, Really

By Kit Carlson

Sunday mornings are wonderful. The family of God gathered around the table, sharing in Christ’s Body and Blood, becoming Christ’s Body and Blood given for the world, then leaving for another six days out in the world, the place where most of us have our ministries and do our work.

So is one day really enough to charge us up for six days of work and worry?

One of the gifts lurking inside the Book of Common Prayer is the Daily Office.  Like the daily office to which we must trudge from Monday through Friday, these worship services are meant to be regular, routine, a daily practice like toothbrushing, a daily sustenance like eating.

Most of us don’t even know these services are in there, able to shape an entire day from sunrise to bedtime – Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline. And if we have tried to pray with them at home alone, we have found them awkward, because they rely on a call and response style of praying. The leader says something and the others respond. Hard to do at home by yourself.

The trick is, this is common prayer. It is meant to be done in community, with others, saying these prayers together, holding them in common.

At our parish in East Lansing, we are trying an experiment this Lent. We are offering some kind of daily office service every day of the week, and we have asked folks to pick one and commit to it. Evensong on Mondays, Noonday prayer on Tuesdays, Holy Eucharist with healing prayers on Wednesdays, Morning Prayer on Thursdays, Facebook Morning Prayer and an Interfaith Noonday Prayer on Fridays, and Stations of the Cross on Saturdays.  Folks are gathering to pray together, in groups as small as three people, or as large as 40.  Just to pray. Together. In common.

You don’t need a church to do this.  You just need some folks. Your family. Your roommates. A few friends.  With a Book of Common Prayer and a small group, your prayer can become common … and routine …like brushing your teeth, or eating.

Where two or three are gathered, Jesus said he would be in the midst of them.

Kit Carlson is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Michigan. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ashes to Go: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church

Welcome, my friends, to Lent.

This season joins us all to the shared human condition of sinfulness and repentance - things found not just in the Church, but outside.

Sure, Episcopalians aren't the only ones who mark this season (and our foreheads) - but this year hundreds, maybe even thousands, of clergy (and others) took to the streets in a missional attempt to bring Ash Wednesday ashes to foreheads of those who didn't go to church.  Volunteers went to bus stations, parking garages, and public squares (above) to remind folk that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

They did it to welcome people into this holy season - which is our annual tithe to the Lord - 10% of the year, 40 days, given to God’s deep attentions to our lives.

Christianity offers a radical way of understanding human flourishing that’s not rooted in the things that can be seen but in the things that can not be seen - like love, care, concern, affection, hope, and faith.

We challenge ourselves to do some radical things to combat the world’s assault on our souls.
The world says: Buy something for you.
Lent says: Give that money to the poor.
The world says: Practice self-indulgence.
Lent says: Practice self-discipline.
The world says: Feed your body.
Lent says: Feed your soul.

So as we offer ashes to all, confess our sins, skip meals, give alms, and read more Scripture. We’re not doing it because we want to get ahead in this world, but because we want to better imagine another world. We believe that when we get a deeper vision of that other world - the one with the Real Rewards - we are made stronger to resist the false rewards of this world. 

It is a message that sends us out into the world, ashes and all, to reconcile all things to Christ.

Chris Yaw is the rector of St. David's Episcopal Church in Southfield, Michigan

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Grandparents with Great Faith: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church

         You would have loved Grandma Ruth. We did. Our kids definitely did.
         Raising a young family in an established suburb of Detroit, we were the kids on the block. The folks who lived there built the neighborhood, raising their own families many years ago in an idyllic world that we could only imagine. They were from an era where neighbors watched out for each other.
         Grandma Ruth and her husband, Grandpa Bill – that’s what our young children called them (even though we weren’t related) – were the perfect neighbors. She would give our dog treats over the fence. And if we couldn’t find our kids right away, we knew where to look – next door, where they would fold laundry with Ruth, have an ice cream with Bill and generally love their elderly neighbors to pieces.
         At around the same time, my wife and I were growing increasingly disillusioned with the Catholic Church and wanted to explore other religions. We eventually found an Episcopal church in our town. The first time we had ever been inside an Episcopal church wasn’t under the best of circumstances. We went there for Ruth’s funeral.
         During the eulogy, given by Ruth’s daughter, we heard wonderful stories about Ruth. One of them included how grateful they were for our children, who obviously loved Ruth so much and came over almost every day to see her parents. That touched us, but I thought it spoke volumes about our neighbors.
         Ruth and Bill were always offering to help us whenever we needed it. Maybe it’s not a surprise that my wife and I knew finding this Episcopal Church was no accident. We knew this was the church we had long been seeking.  
         Thanks, Grandma Ruth.

         Rick Schulte is Director of Communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. You can keep tabs on all communications of the diocese on Facebook

Monday, January 2, 2012

We Are Ancient and We Are New: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of The Episcopal Church.

(This month's post is from a special guest: Anne Rudig, head of Communications for The Episcopal Church)

Out with the old! In with the new! Happy New Year!

Wait a second – not so fast...

At least, that's what comes to mind after polling some in our tribe regarding our just-launched updated website:

"Gothic? Dark? Traditional? Fine. I am not an Episcopalian because I want to be "hip" and "21st century" and I still consider myself young. I like some tradition. I like cathedrals. If I wanted "Buddy Christ", I'd likely find a non-denominational mega church. The Episcopal church stands for a lot of "modern" thinking. I also enjoy and support that."

I have been responding to comments related to the new site that launched on December 28.  One thing that strikes me is that a few of us want to be new, without also remembering the rest of our identity, which is very old. We weren’t born yesterday, and people actually like that about us. Especially in uncertain times, they find great comfort in our prayers, worship, music, and even our worn wooden pews:

They are well worn, but polished. There is something about it that is used and old, but well maintained…You can tell people have held onto them over time, and the wood has been smoothed by age. I think it’s a good image of this church. It’s been shaped by people over time, and yet it’s timeless and substantial.

That quote is from research done with both current members and newcomers to The Episcopal Church. We heard that people love our church because it is steeped, but not mired, in tradition. Young people said that they want to “touch an ancient tradition, while asking a lot of questions.” The design of the new website evolved directly from this research.

I know that there can be no resurrection without death. It’s healthy to let go of some of our old “stuff.” In fact, we must. But we have an authentic and unique story to share, and it involves the old colliding with the new.  The stained glass motif of the new site allows us to showcase our contemporary church within an ancient framework. I think that’s a good metaphor for us. That’s where the drama lies, where the sparks of creative energy can fly. Not always comfortable, but more dynamic and relevant than any other church.

Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Spilling the Secrets of Faith

To spill a secret: my family goes back six generations in the Episcopal Church — and before that, to the Church of England. I don’t talk about it much; it sounds a bit elitist, but underneath, I’m proud of it. The church has been both a bridge and a beacon for me, one that both stretches back and shines forward.
There’s an old saying that goes, “Faith can’t be taught; it has to be caught.” I caught that faith when growing up; not because all was right with the world, but probably because things were wrong.

My mother struggled with cancer, my father with alcoholism. And our parish church, St. David’s in Minnetonka, Minnesota, was there for them in their stuggles:  warm and welcoming, always providing a structure and a place of enduring hope. They had their church. They had their Prayer Books, handed down; they had their faith, passed on by previous generations. 

We went to church every Sunday, even in difficult times. We went to bake sales and parish fairs and church was a fun and positive place, despite the craziness at home. I  found I was not alone. I knew the presence of God; I knew the love of a parish family; I knew my way around the great stories of the Bible because someone had bothered to teach them to me.
There were “junior” choir rehearsals (not yet called “youth” choir). There was confirmation in the seventh grade (which worked out fine; I was glad it was then instead of later). There were potluck dinners and youth groups and retreats. There was a sense of normalcy. 
Church was a place of strength and respite. It was a place where the larger questions about life and death and faith were answered. No one was perfect. But there was love: God’s love. I knew I belonged; I knew the ground on which I stood. 
That love carried me through college and seminary and into parish life as a priest. I don’t expect the church to be perfect; it never is. But I do call it home, and love it dearly. 
A priest of 26 years, the Reverend Lindsay Hardin Freeman lives and works in the Episcopal Church of Minnesota. She is the author of The Scarlet Cord: Conversations with God’s Chosen Women and the editor of Wisdom Found: Stories of Women Transfigured by Faith. For more info,