Archive for January, 2009

“Open” Communion?

January 31, 2009

It was good to hear the keynote speaker — Dr. Louis Weil — at this year’s “Epiphany West” conference come out strongly against so-called “open communion” (communion of the un-baptized). That was especially courageous here in California where the practice is becoming widespread.

Cautioning against “playing God at the altar rail” (meaning that he would never turn anyone away from communion), Dr. Weil nonetheless  believes that this practice trivializes baptism and wonders why, after all the years reclaiming its centrality, we would now want to make it virtually optional.

The theme of this conference has been “Baptismal Water: Thicker Than Blood” and we have looked at baptism through a variety of lenses — liturgical, ecumenical, and missional. Dr. Weil, of course, has taught generations of clergy and laity about the important rediscovery of a baptismal ecclesiology, the recovery of the Easter Vigil, and the use of the rich symbols in our liturgical life.

I am in absolute agreement with Louis Weil here. I am familiar with the “open table” of Jesus argument — that he ate with outcasts and sinners and never turned anyone away, etc. However, I am unpersuaded that this is the same thing as the Eucharist and would encourage congregations really to invite the poor into their homes and parish halls for meals rather than believe that they have  actually exercized hospitality by inviting the unbaptized to communion.

Certainly, it is an ecumenical nightmare. An Orthodox priest friend of mine wandered into an Episcopal Church inviting “all who are hungry for God” to receive the sacrament and later told me, “If you think Gene Robinson is a problem, that is nothing compared to this from our perspective!”

The point being, we have ecumenical covenants and commitments that we have made over the last forty or fifty years which are predicated on our commitment to certain basic sacramental practices. When these practices involve the most basic sacrament which unites all Christians together, regardless of our other differences, surely we run the risk of being considered unreliable ecumenical partners when we make these changes with virtually no theological conversation among ourselves and certainly none with our ecumenical partners.

And, of course, any priest who formally and publically invites the un-baptized to Holy Communion is in direct violation of canon law and subject to discipline for that.

But, hey, who cares about that, right?

Common Mission: What Is It, Really?

January 28, 2009


Tom Ferguson and I are here in Berkeley CA presenting at CDSP’s “Epiphany West” Conference –Baptismal Water: Thicker Than Blood. It has a real ecumenical theme. I am presenting on the WCC document “Nature and Mission of the Church.”


But Tom and Jon Perez, a member of our Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee and pastor of Epiphany Lutheran and Episcopal congregation in Marina, California did a major piece called “Common Mission: What is it, Really?”


If you, like me, sometimes wonder about that, go to Epiphany’s web site


and see what one fine congregation is doing. Even better, click on their “Called To Common Mission” link and find a list, and contact information, for many, many such examples of common mission!


It is gratifying for our work to take a look!

Baptismal Water: Thicker Than Blood

January 25, 2009

As a fitting conclusion to this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (did you observe it in any way?!) I head off tomorrow to participate in the Church Divinity School of the Pacific’s “Epiphany West Conference — Baptismal Water: Thicker Than Blood.”

I’ll be teaching a class on the World Council of Church’s nascent text “Nature and Mission of the Church” (touted to be a successor to “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry”) and my Associate Tom Ferguson will join with a member of our Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee, Jon Perez, to explore “Common Mission: what does it really mean?”

Led by Louis Weil, this conference aims to bring together a number of areas which have been central to my life and ministry over the years — liturgy, the ministry of the baptized, and ecumenism. Often these areas appear to be separate and people engaged in one are not necessarily involved in the other two.

I think that is a great mistake. Liturgical renewal, ministry development, and the search for church unity are all streams leading into one great river. It is no accident that the renewal of our church’s worship (best seen in our still-yet-to-be-rivaled 1979 Prayer Book with its centrality in the Baptismal Covenant) led pretty directly to the renewal of the diaconate and what we used to call “lay” ministry.

And we are not engaged in this journey alone — sisters and brothers in other Christian communions are making the same discoveries. And they are bringing us together!   

Not sure how much time I’ll have for blogging over this next week. I don’t want to miss anything! But I will try to post any insights I receive as soon as I can.

The Journey

January 12, 2009


The journey to the river had been long and hard and the young man was tired. Seeing it now, after so long, was something of a disappointment to him. It was sluggish and muddy.  The banks, sloping upward so sharply that there was no easy access…or approach for that matter. The copper-colored water seemed curiously lifeless, and even the foliage which sprouted right from the water’s edge was dull green. Unhealthy, somehow.


The man he’d come to meet was there at least. No sluggishness or lifelessness in him! This man was vibrant, filled with energy. Filled with anger too, yet somehow with hope.

He had seemingly appeared out of no where. Challenging people to go in a new direction, change their ways, and marking that by a purification ceremony in that dirty water. Crowds had come out for this!


But the roughly dressed man didn’t seem interested in signing up a bunch of followers. He kept saying “one more powerful than I is coming. I’m not worthy even to loosen his sandles.”


And now that One stood before him. Just one more face…in the middle of the crowd. The baptizer turned toward the river, pushing his way through the brush and raising clouds of dust before reaching the narrow bank.  He waded into the still water with the traveler close behind him.  Their bare feet sank into the soft river bed, and churned up more mud and the smell of decay.


But even this dirty water felt cool and refreshing as it bathed his body.  And the traveler’s thoughts raced back…and back…back to a time when all was water, until the words, “Let there be.” And there was.


He closed his eyes and the image changed. Again, everywhere water! And no life. Except for those few faithful, the ones who trusted God


“In the cup of whose hands sailed in ark,

Rudderless, without mast…

Who was to make of the aimless wandering of the Ark

A new beginning for the world…” *


Yet a third time, and the traveler recalled a redeeming of life from a watery death. This time in the Red Sea, a sea of reeds. There was a pathway for some. A gauntlet of death for others. But life and freedom on the other side!




And there was water from the rock…streams in the desert…water for the purification of a thousand priests. And now, this…


As he came up from the water, he felt a oneness with all of it!  He knew that he was an inheritor of that Universe which had been prepared for him and for all others. And, he knew that he was God’s Child!


“And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”



That’s what happened to Jesus of Nazareth on the day of his Baptism in the Jordan River by John.  He knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he was God’s Son!


That would be an event worth celebrating, I guess, even if it didn’t have anything much to do with us. But it does.  Because you and I share the Baptism of Christ!  And the Church’s teaching is that “Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as…  children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.” 


When you and I were baptized, God said to us, “You are my beloved son or daughter, and with you I am well pleased!” And when women and men renew the vows of their baptism in confirmation or reception or reaffirmation, God says the same thing to them, “You are my beloved sons and daughters, and with you I am well pleased.”


Oh, not in everything we do is God pleased. We make mistakes. We consciously sin! And that makes God very sad. But in you, in the essence of you that really is “You,” God is well pleased.  God loves you as a daughter or son and, because you share the life of his Incarnate Son, God will never let you go!


That is Good News, beloved!  That is the Baptismal Covenant God has made with us and with all the baptized.


It all started with a Baby in a manger…the visit of some wise men…and a Jordan River Baptism!


“Epiphany” – the shining forth of God’s love! To you. And to me.




*Alan Jones, Journey Into Christ, page 37 






















I Wonder What They Did With the Left-Overs?

January 8, 2009

Mark 6:30-44.


I’ve always loved these lines from Mark’s Gospel. They include the Feeding of the 5,000, but I think they speak volumes about the style and substance of Jesus’ ministry. First of all, he pays attention to the apostles. Lots and lots of Jesus’ time was spent in the formation of, and sending out of, his 12 apostles.


Here, they are just full of themselves…and of all the good things they’ve been doing in his name! Rather than rebuking them, or even, calling them on their pride, Jesus just says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” They probably thought he was just giving them a well-deserved break since so “many were coming and going (that) they had no leisure even to eat.”


But I think he was inviting them into a time of silence and reflection. So that they could put all their busy-ness into perspective and see what it all really meant. You and I could use times like that as well. It’s part of what I was trying to say in my little workshop during these in-house days on developing a spiritual “rule of life.” We all need times of silence and reflection in the midst of our busy ministries!


Not that those times ever last for long! In the case of Jesus and the apostles “many saw them going and recognized them, and hurried there on foot…” Always there were demands on Jesus and the apostles and on their precious time. But – perhaps precisely because he had made some space for quiet and solitude — Jesus is able to respond to the crowds and to their needs: “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”


Jesus welcomed the crowd, cared for them deeply, and began to exercise his ministry as teacher, as Rabbi, to preach his message about the Reign, and the mercy, of God. But he doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t stop with meeting their so-called “spiritual” needs. When the disciples try to bring the day to a close and send them people away so that they can get something to eat, Jesus says, “You give them something to eat!”


Never does Jesus divorce spiritual needs from physical needs. If your belly is empty, you may not have much time to worry about your empty soul! So he feeds them. Feeds them from the meager provisions the apostles had brought. “And they all ate and were filled!” 


What a pattern for ministry: listen to your colleagues, encourage them to find times of reflection and rest, be prepared to re-engage your active ministry from that place of refreshment, keep your eyes open for opportunities to minister and to meet human need – spiritual and physical. And, by the way, be a good steward of the resources you’ve been given to minister. After all, “THEY took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.”


I wonder what they did with the left-overs? 

Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth

January 4, 2009

In New York for a Church Center staff meeting all next week, I got to worship at my old parish church,  St. Mary the Virgin, in Times Square on Christmas II.  One of the great anglo catholic shrines in this country,  “Smokey Mary’s” never fails to disappoint in the care and quality of the liturgy, the simple Gospel-based preaching, and splendid music.

In convincing my friends that the current rector of St. Mary’s really is moving them into the 21st century, I used to smile and say, “Hey, the parts of the liturgy that aren’t in Latin are Rite Two!” And it is true that they have retained the long tradition of great classical Mass settings at the 11 a.m. service (in addition to simpler liturgies at 8 and 9 a.m.) but people there know the Latin, sing the hymns and worshippers’ parts with gusto, and above all else, know that they are encountering the Incarnate One every Sunday in Word and Prayer and Sacrament in that great liturgical space.

Oh, I would love to see more women in liturgical leadership and am not sure I agree that creating a west-facing Altar would “mar the architectural lines of the building” but I appreciate a worshipping community that cares deeply about worship, celebrates the fullness of the Christian year, season by richly observed season, and with both daily Offices and Eucharist.

Not every parish can (or perhaps should) do all that St. Mary’s does, but The Episcopal Church needs places like it to uphold the quality of liturgical worship and remind us what it means to form a Christian community primarily by worshipping the Triune God “in spirit and in truth!”  Don’t miss it the next time you’re in New York!