Monday, April 22, 2013

God loves Episcopalians!

How could He not?


Doug LeBlanc has an article up The Living Church on the recent service at the St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond that included compositions by Bob Dylan. He writes:

Bob Dylan has performed six times in Richmond, Virginia, during his 50-year career. This year, a month before Dylan and his five band members took the stage again at Richmond’s Landmark Theater, the members of St. James’s Church gathered for their first Dylan Mass. Mark and Virginia Whitmire, who oversee the music and choirs at St. James’s, do not pretend that Dylan would have added bluesy riffs on his Hohner mouth harp had he been in town a month earlier. They mention honest doubts about whether Dylan would be pleased at their liturgical use of his songs. But they stress that the Dylan Mass rises from their adult conversion to the Dylan fan base, an eventual discovery of what Mark Whitmire calls Dylan’s “authentic prophetic voice.”

The Dylan service was part of a rotation of contemporary music sung by the parish’s West Gallery Choir, which already has adapted bluegrass and jazz to blend into contemporary settings of the Holy Eucharist.

The Whitmires and the Rev. Carmen Germino, assistant rector, spent hours finding common themes between the readings for March 3 and Dylan’s lyrics. “We started with the lectionary and it was providential that the service was in Lent,” Virgnia said. “It was Burning Bush Sunday.”

The choir sang “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” as a prelude, followed by the apocalyptic “Ring Them Bells.” The processional litany used a Dylan album title (Oh Mercy) and a song title “Strengthen the Things That Remain” (cf. Rev. 3:2) as prayer responses. The choir and congregation sang “The Times They Are A-Changin’” before sitting for the lessons. “When the Ship Comes In” served as the Gospel hymn.

“Saving Grace,” one of Dylan’s rare and startling expressions of humility (“If you find it in Your heart, can I be forgiven?”) was the offertory hymn. Communion songs included “Every Grain of Sand,” Dylan’s haunting anthem that draws from the work of William Blake, and “I Shall Be Released.” “Blowing in the Wind” served as the recessional hymn.

Read it all here.

First Same-Gender Blessing held at Historic Christ Church

NOTE: The part that is particularly interesting here is this: "On October 12, 2002, they had a Commitment Ceremony, approved of by Bishop Lee at St. Clement's."  Was not aware that Bishop Lee was approving "commitment ceremonies," since he publicly made quite different statements on what was accepted in the Diocese of Virginia at that time, four years before the thousands of members voted to separate from the Episcopal Church.

via email

Christ Church Episcopal, Alexandria, VA

Alexandria, VA, April 21, 2013 – Historic Christ Church celebrated its first same-gender blessing on Sunday, April 21. The Rev. Ann Gillespie, Christ Church Senior Associate Rector, officiated at the service, 

“As an Episcopal faith community, we witnessed and asked God's blessings upon the lifelong commitment Melissa Capers and Brunilda Hernandez have made to one another. This is a significant and joyful event, not just in the life of Melissa and Bruni, but in the life of our church: as a congregation, we are taking a historic and faithful step closer to the inclusive, abundant, generous outpouring of God's kingdom.”

Melissa and Bruni have been together as a couple since 1999 and have previously had several events to mark their commitment. On October 12, 2002, they had a Commitment Ceremony, approved of by Bishop Lee at St. Clement's, Alexandria, but the ceremony was not allowed to take place in the sanctuary of the church and any kind of blessing was explicitly prohibited. Four days later, on October 16, 2002, they had a Civil Union in Plainfield, VT. In October 2008, they had a Civil Marriage in Northampton, MA. The public commitment of their lifelong relationship has been made in the ways that were open to them.  Now their church can offer a blessing. Christ Church celebrated the Holy Union as part of a regular 5:00 p.m. Eucharist service on Sunday, April 21.

The Rev. Heather VanDeventer, Associate Rector for Faith Formation and Evangelism, knows the couple through their volunteer work at the church, “We recognize Melissa and Bruni’s special role in helping to bring a broader welcome to Christ Church.” This is considered an important event for Christ Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. When Bishop Shannon Johnston granted permission for this specific blessing, he offered his “thanksgiving for Christ Church’s leadership in our diocese as we continue to move forward in this new aspect of our liturgical life … I am no less thankful for Melissa and Bruni.”

To schedule a same-gender blessing, call Cindy Wright, Administrative Assistant for Worship, at 703-778-4936, or email

The parish home of George Washington and many other government and legislative leaders since, Christ Church has long been at the center of the religious and public life of the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. Nearly all the Presidents have attended Christ Church during their term of office. Other visitors include British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Senator Elizabeth Dole, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, Rosa Parks, Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Togo West, former Chief of Staff of the Army Gordon Sullivan, former White House Press Secretary Ron Nessen, and former Assistant Secretary of State Hodding Carter.

So the decline of the Episcopal Church is a myth?

The Very Rev'd Ian Markham.
The Very Rev'd Ian Markham, Dean of Virginia Theological Seminary, recently spoke at the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware, on the topic, "The Myth of the Decline of The Episcopal Church." Am not sure the good dean's attitude is helping his case here. He seems to think it's all pretty funny.  

Official stats put out by The Episcopal Church itself show that the Episcopal Church sees at best 657,000 in the pews on Sunday mornings, as opposed to, say,  the 22 million Catholics in the pews.  You can read the stats here.

Dean Markham thinks TEC can grow, could grow, would grow, should grow because it has more than one service (Rite 1 and Rite 2 - but doesn't mention that you can sort of write you own liturgy these days if you want to), that it requires "a skill set," in order to participate (stupid people need not apply), and says without irony that TEC is  "generous," and "thoughtful," as opposed to all those other Christians who are stingy and stupid.  He also thinks that there are people who aren't being counted on the rolls, though oddly enough, the fact that they don't go to church anymore doesn't seem to bother him.

How does he then describe the monumental events starting in August 2003, events that even the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Virginia described as a legal division?  Events that the Windsor Report warned is still tearing apart the fabric of the Anglican Communion?

"We are at the heart of the cultural wars and some people had real problems with it," he says simply,  "so they decided to call it a day."

That's it.  He says that and ignores the millions and millions of dollars spent - and continues to be spent - by the Episcopal Church on lawsuits and depositions and heartbreak. 

Watch it for yourself: 

Part One

Part Two

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Outside the Virginia Supreme Court

I sat outside the Virginia Supreme Court on a misty Thursday morning in Richmond, the spring blossoms blowing across the sidewalk. Inside, the court was convening at 9:00 a.m. to deliver their decision as the bells of St. Paul's next door began to toll and then mark the hour.

As I waited and listened, I was reminded of John Donne's well-known poem.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Farewell to the Iron Lady

In 1983, I was a senior at what I called at the time a "left-wing commie pinko college" in New England working on a "left-wing commie pinko major" of a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Creative Writing and Theatre. My minor was American Studies.  Perfect!  I should be a left-wing commie pinko myself. For heaven's sake, I was Episcopalian.

So what happened?

In the first semester of my freshman year, I sat in my dorm room and watched a speech:

That was that.  I was fired up.  I joined the Reagan Revolution.

There were many times during college where I did feel like some lonely little petunia in a giant onion patch.  This was despite the fact that even though many of my college profs were obviously children of the 60s, my classmates seemed to resemble Alex P. Keaton far more than Abbie Hoffman. Politics was not on the front burner for my classmates.  For my progressive profs, it was a different matter.

I recall looking out the windows of my American studies class waiting for the professor to arrive only to see the majority of the college profs congregating on the college green below protesting loudly, while up in our classroom our tuition clocks were ticking. We packed up our books and went home.

It was true, this was probably not the most hospitable environment for a young member of the Reagan Revolution.  I listened, I learned.  I learned up close and personal a counter vision of America  through the writings of great 20th century American writers as well as through the cultural history of my American studies classes. It was not a pretty picture.

I also had a picture of where that counter cultural vision could look like when I went to London to study theatre in my junior year and saw the world as it was in that time in a land that the new Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was taking on by the antlers. London was in many ways a dark place and crumbling place then, in the depths of a deep recession.  You could still see evidence of the ruin of World War II and the hideous attempts to rebuild the city with Utopian monstrosities made out of cement.

In the theatre world that I inhabited in London, Thatcher was indeed Enemy #1, as Reagan was back home. There was a General Strike while I was there, something I had never experienced in the United States.  The whole city stopped cold and thousands filled Hyde Park in protest.

The theatres, however, did not go dark.  Instead, we were treated to left-wing political speeches following the performance. Many in the audience walked out shouting back at the stage - and I remember thinking as they walked out, so, could it be true that not everyone dislikes Margaret Thatcher after all?

By the time my senior year came along I was doing more speaking out, frustrated by the outlandish opinions I kept hearing from many of my profs. I remember one time one of my profs sat on his desk dangling his legs lecturing us in his jeans about the heyday of the 1960s and the cultural explosion after President John F. Kennedy was killed. "You remember when Kennedy was killed," he said, waiting for us all to agree with him.

"Actually, no," I said. I remembered I was only two years old when Kennedy was killed. "To me Kennedy's always been dead, like Abraham Lincoln."

The prof stared at me for a long time in the silently uncomfortable classroom. I kept thinking, okay, did I say something wrong? He must have been looking around the classroom, made up of too many bow-tied preppies for comfort and wondering what happened. He must have wondered when he got old.

But my resolve was firm. I took a political science class in the midst of writing my senior thesis. My prof was provocative and I spoke up as though provoked. I'd sometimes regret it later but I had just about had it - I was ready to be done with college and get on with it. This time, in my Political Science class, I was told by the prof to come see him at his office. "Uh oh," I thought.

I was familiar with the offices of my Fine Arts profs, I had spent many hours with my profs there - but it was filled with writers and actors and directors, it was sparsely decorated with the interior decor consisting primarily of posters announcing coming readings by poets and short story writers and student plays with props from shows done and yet to be done lying about the halls. Walking into the Social Sciences offices was quite a different story. It was a hotbed of radical slogans and hipness. It had potted plants.  It was where it was happening. It was intimidating. I braced myself as I approached my political science professor's office.  I was in for it, this Reaganite, this conservative, this Republican.

I approached the door and saw him, sitting with his hands folded, waiting for me behind his desk that was pointed right toward the door. No one who went by would miss his attention, and no one who went by would miss what was boldly displayed on the wall behind his desk. I stood there stunned.

On the wall behind him, as though looking approvingly over his shoulder were two towering portraits. One was Ronald Reagan. The other was Margaret Thatcher.

"Come in," my professor said to me with a smile, as I sat down across from his desk, still stunned, "I'd like to recommend you to a stipend internship in journalism in Washington this summer. Would you be interested?" He showed me an article about the internship in the current issue of The National Review.

 I said okay, he did, and I went to Washington.

When I heard of Margaret Thatcher's passing this past week, I remembered that portrait on the wall of my professor's office. He knew, even then, that these two towering figures would change the world. And he was right. They did.  And they changed my world too.

And now like Kennedy and Lincoln, they are gone. There is a generation now that sits in the classroom as I did, who will think of these people as people of the past, long dead. But while they are gone, their ideas and ideals, their hopes, their dreams remain again in a world not unlike the one they once knew. Even now.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Bono is back

Listen carefully to Bono's message - it's a great message - but listen not just to what he says, but how he says it. Listen carefully.

Why the manner of the message matters.

Friday, April 05, 2013

LIVE from the New Wineskins Missions Conference

With thanks to AnglicanTV, the New Wineskins Missions Conference is brought to us live.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Peter Jackson answers some rather interesting questions about The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug ...

A must-watch, especially when Stephen Colbert shows up.   And the answer is "yes," just make sure the mug is clean.

Tonight at the Cafe: Kemper Crabb

Doulos from The Vigil by Kemper Crabb:

Bishop Spong returns to Richmond

Jeff Walton was there at St. Paul's Richmond to hear it all.  From here:

Bishop Spong and Bishop Johnston on Good Friday.
Less than a month after sponsoring an event for Virginia Episcopal clergy featuring a speaker who denies both the afterlife and unique divinity of Christ, Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has presided over a service featuring a similarly controversial figure. 
In a Good Friday service at historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, retired Bishop John Shelby Spong decried the Nicene Creed as “a radical distortion of the Gospel of John,” asserted that several of the apostles were “mythological” and declared that Jesus Christ did not die to redeem humanity from its sins. 
The three hour service featured a series of six meditations by the retired Newark bishop interspersed with prayers led by Johnston and a hymn promoted by the Center for Progressive Christianity entitled “Welcome doubt: Refine our thinking.” Johnston’s promotion of Spong, whose Newark diocese famously declined by 40 percent during his tenure, further undercuts the Virginia bishop’s claim to be creedal and orthodox. 
Spong has a long history with St. Paul’s, serving as rector of the onetime “Cathedral of the Confederacy” from 1969 to 1976, before his election as bishop of Newark. The Greek revival church across from the Virginia State Capitol, which once counted Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis among its worshippers, continues to draw prominent Richmond-area figures including a former Virginia governor and first lady who offered scripture readings on Friday. 
Arguing that the Gospels were not historic accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, Spong sought to isolate the fourth gospel, insisting it was not authored by John the son of Zebedee. Instead, the retired Episcopal bishop proposed that the Gospel of John was not a story of incarnation. 
“This Gospel sees Jesus as a life lived so deeply that he reached mystical oneness with God,” proposed the author of the upcoming book “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.
Spong argued that Jesus could say “I and the father are one” only because he was inviting his disciples “to enter a mystical reality of divine human oneness.” 
Instead of portraying the crucifixion of Jesus being about his sacrifice, Spong claimed the author of the book of John intended a “call to all of us to be whole people – to find yourself and give yourself away.” 
“God does not need human sacrifice to forgive,” Spong declared. “John’s Jesus is not about saving sinners and rescuing the lost. It is about moving beyond self-consciousness to universal consciousness.”

Oh yes, there is more.  Read it all here.  

Prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
-John 17:20-23