Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thirty Years of Thanks

Thirty years ago Tuesday I was ordained a priest, in the Chapel of Mount Calvary in Santa Barbara. I have been meditating on 30 years as a priest and what comes to me is a deep sense of gratitude for all who have been part of the ministry I was given then. A priest does eucharist. And since giving thanks is what eucharistia means, and one of the principal elements of giving thanks is anamnesis -- not forgetting -- I'm going to dedicate this entry to remembering people and places and institutions that have formed my ministry as a priest.

I was ordained by Wes Frensdorff, Bishop of Nevada. My father, Duncan McCoy, was one of my clerical presenters. They are gone now, as is Mount Calvary. I was endorsed for ordination by All Saints Episcopal Church, Las Vegas, which my father founded in 1960. Members of the parish made the journey to Santa Barbara to present me. Bill Clancey, who was my seminary (CDSP) field work supervisor at All Souls, Berkeley, preached. Bishop Dan Corrigan, a dear friend of the Mount Calvary community, was vested and seated next to Bishop Frensdorff. The master of ceremonies was Fr. Bob Worster, Rector of St. Mary's, Palms, in LA. The organist was Fred Hammond, then professor of music at UCLA. In attendance among the reverend clergy were Robert Hale, of the Camaldolese, and Basil Meeking, then Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity in Rome, later Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand, and a dear friend of the Corrigans. And so many others. It was a wonderful day.

Such a cloud of witnesses. The bishops I have served in an official relationship as a priest are, in more or less chronological order: Wes Frensdorff of Nevada; Robert Rusack, and Oliver Garver of Los Angeles; William Swing of California; Fred Borsch, Chet Talton, Bob Anderson and Jon Bruno, of Los Angeles; Dick Grein, Mark Sisk, Catherine Roskam and Don Taylor, of New York.

My first years as a priest, of course, were spent serving the OHC communities at Santa Barbara and Berkeley, and then later (now) West Park. The eucharistic ministry is foremost in our communities, of course, but I discovered the ministry of hearing confessions, especially at Mount Calvary, where I must have heard hundreds over the years. Retreat leading and preaching and relationships that have grown out of those encounters loom large, and scores of churches I was graced to be invited into. Years spent helping Greg Richards when he was Rector of All Saints, Beverly Hills, and the group of faithful praying women who gathered around Alice Smith in the corner of their elegant parish hall, are vivid to me.

My first parochial pastoral charge was Holy Family, Half Moon Bay, CA, who taught me a great deal in a few short months in 1992. Then from 1992 to 2001, St. Michael's, Anaheim, and from 2001 to 2008, St. Edward the Martyr in East Harlem. So many people from those congregations rise up in my mind, too many to name lest I forget even more. So many wonderful Christians giving their talents in vestries and altar guilds and Sunday Schools and youth groups and music programs and ministries to the community. I especially want to lift up the Feed The Hungry program at St. Michael's, run by some great saints of the Church, among them Chuck Henderson and Bill Miller, who fed a hot meal on the church china to the homeless and unfortunate every Monday without fail for years and years. Much of what St. Michael's did in the way of outreach was funded by the profits from the St. Michael's Thrift Shop, and Alyce Compton deserves to be remembered for years of patient (and sometimes impatient) labor.

Baptisms in all three places, of course, but numerically the most at St. Michael's, especially among the Hispanic congregation. My last year I believe we recorded 152 baptisms, not all baptized by me, of course. Frs. Santos Flores and Juan Barragán labored mightily to bring that large congregation into being, and deserve an honored place here. But baptisms are just the tip of the iceberg! Presentations, first communions, confirmations and quinceañeras, by the dozens, even the hundreds. The Anglo congregation had its baptisms and confirmations and weddings as well, but also a lot of funerals, and I discovered what a great moment a funeral is for families. Hispanic ministry is largely about celebrating life events, especially those of children. When I left St. Michael's in 2001, there were well over 2,000 people on the membership lists. It was one of the great adventures of my life.

I would never have thought that I would have much to do with police, but for five years I was one of the chaplains to the Anaheim Police Department, and what a joy that was. Joy mingled with sorrow, because so much of the work was getting up in the middle of the night to be with and comfort people in the midst of trauma, disaster and death. Kneeling in the middle of a major street with Hispanic road repair workers at 2 in the morning to say the prayers for their dead comrade, killed by a hit and run, probably drunk, driver. Sitting with a mother whose son had just hung himself in the enclosed porch of their house. Helping to organize and lead the funeral for our Chief at the Crystal Cathedral with thousands in attendance. Listening to small, quiet moments of self reflection by police, who are not always the most inward-directed people.

Being Dean of north Orange County brought regular fellowship with the clergy of that region of the Diocese of Los Angeles. And monthly meetings of the clergy support group offered insight and solidarity.

Then coming to New York City and discovering ministry in another community, as St. Edward's is largely African-American. The faithful Christians there, who kept the Church alive for decades before I arrived -- beginning right after World War II, when almost all the white middle class people left that part of the City, with worsening conditions in East Harlem as the years marched on, crime, drugs, young people in trouble, despair on every corner. Small churches who continue alive in the midst of such conditions are in some ways greater cathedrals of the spirit than much larger, better endowed places with marvelous programs, because there is often little more than faith to feed the fire, and year in and year out their faith and hard work keep the flame burning.

One of the joys of my ministry has been mentoring people who have started on the path to ordination. In Anaheim, Ruth Tomlinson and John Kloman; and in East Harlem, Peter Irvine, Mary Ogus, Elise Johnstone, Willie Smith, Christopher Pyles, Susan Greenwood, Antonio Checo, Ajung Sojwal, Rob Picken, Filomena Servellon, Dustin Trowbridge. Another joy has been collaboration with the secretaries, sextons and musicians of the three congregations. And four years of teaching church history to the students of the Hispanic Programa as an adjunct faculty member of the General Seminary brought much joy.

A large part of the ministry of St. Edward's, and therefore of its Rector, is its work with community organizations: The Yorkville Common Pantry, with its directors Jeff Ambers and then Carolann Johns; Interfaith Neighbors (alas, no more) and its director Eileen Lyons; and The Amsterdam Boys' Choir and its director James Backmon; the Saul Alinsky-based Industrial Areas Foundation in its shape-shifting local incarnation usually known as Upper Manhattan Together. And I must not forget the two rewrites of the YCP lease which involved generous and tireless work by Gerry Ross, our volunteer attorney.

Then of course there was the seemingly endless building of the front door, with our architect Kevin Lichten and the Landmarks Conservancy, as well as the still-ongoing fire and safety project, both managed by a wonderful layman in the parish, Angus Oborn and our irreplaceable project manager, Dick Muffoletto. Without them very little would have been accomplished on the building front.

And finally, and still, the House of the Redeemer, which claims my time but also my heart.

So many wonderful people. I'll probably keep adding to this.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Letter for Rowan Williams

Thanks to TitusOneNine, I just came across this wonderful Christmas letter from the historian Diarmaid MacCulloch to The Archbishop of Canterbury. It is full of joy, hope and good cheer and a particularly appropriate message for the ecclesial celebration of the powerless one we recognize as Son of God. One apt quote:

"Worldly power has gone out of the established church, and that is why so many of its adherents have fallen away. Thank goodness for that; churches never handle power well."

And in the wake of it, I want to thank Kendall Harmon for producing his marvelous blog!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent Thoughts

The Monastery is emerging today from our quarterly retreat -- three days in silence. I love these retreats. Everything is quiet, no guests except a few pious souls who slip in for the Divine Office, work pushed back to the minimum necessary to keep the place running. I am in charge of ringing the bells this week, and I enjoyed getting to Chapel early.

A verse from the Old Testament reading at Matins struck me this morning, Zechariah 7:13: "Just as when I called, they would not hear, so when they called, I would not hear, says the LORD of hosts." This oracle of God to the prophet is about the restoration of justice, kindness and mercy among the people of Israel. It is a condemnation of Israel's past behavior, which led God to scatter them among the nations.

Quite a lot of the readings for Advent are about judgment. The whole ministry of John the Baptist warns people of the wrath to come, and is the centerpiece of the Advent proclamation. I used to think the whole judgment day business was a culturally conditioned first century Palestinian preoccupation, a little embarrassing in our more enlightened times. The fierce urgency of the prophets (who centered much of their work, one way or the other, around the destruction and restoration of Jerusalem) and of the Baptist, and of Jesus himself, caused one in preaching to struggle to relate to our own less dramatic times. The end-of-the-worlders were other people, strange Christians on the fringes, cartoon figures.

But no longer. If you're not an end-of-the-worlder now, your liberal friends think you callous, uninformed, deeply suspect of having gone over to the Other Side. Because, isn't it obvious? The world is going to hell in a handbasket. Or at least in an SUV. The financial system almost crashed. The health system is about to crash. Global warming is upon us. To name the three most prominent scenarios of the moment. In each case our current government finds salvation in vastly increasing its own power to run things and a concurrent increase in the amount of money it can spend to do so. But what if these crises are not amenable to well-wishing folk manipulating the levers of power?

Because you did not listen to me, I will not listen to you, says the Lord.

In Zechariah's prophecy there is a direct link between our past behavior and what is to come. The iniquitous behavior of God's people in the past will bring about God's deafness to our pleas in our time of need. His instructions to us show what has been lacking: "Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil against one another." That we have not listened and acted as God wishes has gotten us into trouble and will be the cause of more trouble yet to come. Worse is on the way.

Except... read on. The next oracle is a promise that God will come and live with his people in Jerusalem again: "I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem." God cannot help himself. He loves his people so much. Tough love. Watch out for that kind of love. It makes demands.

Leaving aside the exegetical question of who, exactly, is Jerusalem here (is it the actual Jerusalem? is it the literal people of Israel? is it all God's people, including us perhaps? is it the world God so loved?), the line of action is clear: God expects his people (however defined) to listen and obey, and if they don't, there will be the consequence of non-action on his part. But eventually he will act to restore them.

So the Advent question of the moment might be, Have we listened to God? Have we acted? It would seem that we have not. Wastefulness, injustice, lack of concern for each other, greed, have led us to the precipice of our current problems. Will we be able to address them ourselves, as the political elite of the moment would have us believe we can?

What God calls for through the prophets is for his people (= us, presumably) to change their (our) hearts. The prophetic analysis would seem to be that bad behavior comes from not listening to God, and that God will not listen to us when we are in our untrue, unkind, unmerciful state. So we had better get our inner dispositions together and act on them. In fact, the prophet doesn't seem to think that God's people have what it takes to make this change on their own. And so, God will come to live among his people: God with us. No wonder this is an Advent lesson. Zechariah is pointing the way to the Incarnation, or so we Christians would say.

We have been careless and so we are in trouble. Since we did not listen to God, God is not going to listen to us. Worse is on the way. But God will not leave us alone. Is our salvation in TARPs, in Copenhagen, in a 2074 page Senate bill morphing every minute and which Harry Reid won't let the public see, at least in today's headlines? Are these the societal equivalent of change of heart, or might we view them from another perspective? Have the dispositions in peoples' hearts that brought these problems about changed? If not, how effective can bureaucratic action be?

And anyway, can public action ever measure up? If ears do not listen and hearts are unchanged, what do such actions matter? Will they not themselves become occasions of more wastefulness, injustice, lack of concern for each other, greed? And with unchanged hearts, will we be ready for God to come and dwell among us? Will that not be judgment itself if we are not prepared?

God will not leave us alone. Advent comfort.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hither and Thither

November is a month of activity. It began with preaching All Saints Day at West Park, which was well received. Br. Bernard made his Life Profession in OHC on Nov. 4. I went into NYC on the 7th to preside and preach at St. Edward the Martyr, which was a joy. The evening before I had dinner with dear friends from the parish, Peter and Louise Crawford.

The afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 8, was the celebration of OHC's 125th Anniversary, at The Church of St. Luke in the Fields in NYC. They could not have been more gracious. Monday was the monthly clergy group luncheon and paper, whose topic was the 100th anniversary of the death of William Reed Huntington. Then Brother Charles and I spent the rest of the week at a conference on retreat giving at the Convent of the Community of St. John the Baptist in Mendham, NJ. It was sponsored by the Conference of Anglican Religious Communities in North America (CAROA) and led by Barbara Crafton. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know other religious and share our experiences as well as learn more about retreat giving from an expert.

And now I am off for some vacation. My dear friend Tony Jewiss is turning 70 this month -- I told him it can't be, but he assures me it is. Tony lives in a section of southwestern France called the Aude. So tonight I am using the rest of my frequent flyer miles and will fly to Amsterdam and then to Toulouse where Tony will pick me up. We are spending the actual birthday in Venice, thanks to Ryanair, which charges almost nothing as long as you do not need anything more than a seat and a space for a VERY controlled single bag. They make their money, apparently, on deviations from the basic plan. There is a fee for everything else. Probably one for breathing too often. I'll be back at the Monastery on Dec. 1.

I am taking along 4 books: Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou:The Promised Land of Error, about the Cathars in the very area where Tony now lives; Anselm Dimier's Stones Laid Before the Lord: Architecture and Monastic Life, in case I have the opportunity to see some, which I hope I will; Jeremy Driscoll's Steps to Spiritual Perfection: Studies on Spiritual Progress in Evagrius Ponticus, to keep the mind alive; and Hillary Mantel's new novel Wolf Hall, about Thomas Cromwell. We'll see in 2 weeks if I have obeyed my superego, or if I have found murder mysteries and spent the time in the reading equivalent of the candy shop.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Taking the Tiber Ferry

To those who have been so kind as to ask, Yes, I did finish writing the article on OHC's history and sent it off. It will be published shortly in the autumn issue of the Order's little magazine, timed to coincide with our celebration of 125 years.

Our Celebration of 125 years will be at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in New York City on Sunday, Nov. 8, at 4:00 pm. Solemn Vespers will be followed by a talk by the estimable Esther de Waal, and then munchies and holy schmoozing. Do plan to come.

The Pope's announcement of a personal ordinariate (I think that's the term) for Anglicans happened shortly after I finished a new book on one of the major groups of Anglo-Papalists, the monks of Elmore, formerly Nashdom, formerly Pershore. It is by Peta Dunstan, a Cambridge University scholar who has made the history of Anglican religious orders (more accurately, the religious orders of the Church of England) her specialty: The Labour of Obedience: The Benedictines of Pershore, Nashdom and Elmore, A History. It is a readable book, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. I enjoyed even more a cordial e-mail exchange with her about an error. She's a class act.

The thread which holds her narrative together is those Benedictines' history of Anglo-Papalism in the Church of England, a subject recently treated in a wider context by Michael Yelton: Anglican Papalism, An Illustrated History, 1900-1960. This movement was much stronger in England than in the U.S., where it was/is practically nonexistent.

Briefly, your average Anglo-Papalist (if there was such a thing: so many were Characters) believed that the Visible Unity of the Church was the great desideratum; that unity could only be accomplished under the headship of the Bishop of Rome; and that God's great plan for the English church would be best fulfilled by conforming as closely as possible to Roman norms, liturgical and otherwise, and working and waiting for the great day when the Holy Spirit would reveal the validity of Anglican ordination to that eminent personage, and with a great shout, all would be forgiven, the ecclesial rifts would be healed, and England Returned to the Bosom.

Some of the steam went out of this position with Vatican II and the liturgical reforms. Tridentine baroque Catholic liturgy was so much more fun than Father Facing The People and the pedestrian liturgical texts given unto the faithful in the 60's. But the truly faithful soldiered on, counting among their number people of importance, including, apparently, Tony Blair.

I don't know quite what to make of the Pope's recent announcement yet. The devil is in the details, as they say in other contexts, and the details aren't out yet. Apparently there will be no married bishops, so I don't expect to see a rush to join by the over-bishoped ranks of dissident Anglican leaders, so many of them so recently mitered. My guess is that there won't be much movement at first. But the establishment of a functioning Anglican rite within the Roman fold could in the long run be very significant culturally, apart from the current and continuing fractious bickering on all sides.

And I am reminded by this event of how much I love the Roman Catholic Church. So many wonderful friends in Christ, some gone to glory, like Fr. Thomas Duscher OSB, of Valyermo and later Fr. Romuald of the Big Sur Camaldolese, for some years my spiritual director; some hearty and well, like Robert Hale, also of Big Sur; the Camaldolese in general, who may have saved my life at a time of crisis; Benedictines of many sorts and conditions; Sr. Mary Klock of the Mercies; sweet and wonderful Christians, too many to name, all of them saints or on the way.

I do think that Benedict XVI has made an end run around Rowan Williams. I thought Canterbury looked and sounded distressed in that joint news conference with the AB of Westminster. It might have been better if he hadn't attended it. I don't feel that he held up the side, as the Brits say in cricket (or is it rugby?). There was a whiff of the deer staring into the headlights.

Does this affect me personally? Not really. I have prayed for the visible unity of the Church all my adult life, but on terms which recognize the dignity and validity of the Reformation, of the Anglican Church's heroic and self-sacrificial encounters with the modern world and with forms of thought and culture previously uncontemplated, from the mid 1500's through the centuries, in each succeeding age and on into the future. I think that is part of our genius. It comes wrapped in Anglican chant and Percy Dearmer and coffee hours and sherry and vestries and too many bishops and Trollope and Barbara Pym and Auden and Perry and Vaughan Williams and prayer book wars and are-you-high-or-low-or-broad and a thousand other little cultural artifacts we know and love. But to bring the catholic faith face to face with today's real challenges is our genius, it is the Gift of the Spirit to us, and to betray it would be to betray what has given us life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Death of Eurydice

The Superior asked me some time ago to write an article on the history of OHC over the last 25 years, a sort of brief update to the history of the Order I wrote in the 80's, to be published in the 125th Anniversary issue of the Order's little magazine this fall. So I went to work and started doing the chronicle of dates and names and events and so forth onto which to inscribe a more developed narrative. And I have kept at it and at it. And by doing so I have pushed off writing it.

In wondering why I didn't just dig in -- I had some clues of course -- I considered a lot of reasons, and they are all probably true at some level. But it wasn't until early this evening that they came together for me.

After supper I was having a quiet evening in my cell, reading an excellent article by Michael Casey in his The Undivided Heart called "Saint Benedict's Approach to Prayer", which is so wonderful I have been reading it half for knowledge and half as lectio for a few days, not wanting it to end.

I put on a cd of Haydn's L'anima del filosofo ossia Orfeo ed Euridice, the Hogwood version on L'Oiseau-Lyre, with the incomparable Cecilia Bartoli. It was the only opera he composed after leaving the employ of the Esterhazys, and was written for his first journey to London in 1791, though it was not produced there. It is contemporary with the last of Mozart's operas, but somehow it feels like it is from an earlier age. I was enjoying Haydn's brilliant but not always deeply moving music when, at the end of the second act, something I had completely forgotten: the death of Eurydice. The music dims in volume as Eurydice describes her emotion as the poison in her body takes effect:
Del mio core il voto estremo
dello sposo io vo' che sia.
Al mio ben l'anima mia
dono l'ultimo sospir.
Bartoli sings with such pathos that I was suddenly drawn into the music, into what was happening, in a way I have not been for a long time. As I listened to her, I could feel part of me dying with her.

Then it was time for Compline, and what would the first psalm be but 88:
my life is at the brink of the grave.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I have become like one who has no strength....
My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me,
and darkness is my only companion.
It would be an overstatement to say that I was undone. But tears came. I suddenly realized, sitting in the Chapel at West Park singing Compline this evening, what was keeping me from writing.

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is certainly one of the most important myths in the history of Western art, and deservedly so. The (purportedly) first opera is an Orfeo by Monteverdi, and there are others as well. My favorite is by Gluck. Orfeo is a musician, and at the death of his beloved wife Eurydice, he plays so beautifully that the powers of the underworld are moved to allow him to descend there and be with her once again. But he cannot turn to see her.

There is a lot going on in this myth, as there is in every major myth. Its main attraction to art and music would seem to be the power of music to change what seems unchangeable, and much more, of course. Orfeo's art rearranges the past, if ever so briefly, and resurrects (here we're getting into Christian territory, but that's another set of thoughts) the one so deeply loved, only to be lost again. When they are reunited Orpheus is not to look at her or she will return definitively to the Underworld, lost to him in this life forever. And, of course, he turns and looks at her. Who would not?

I have been resisting writing the article, brief as it will be, because it brings me close to what is gone, to places and times and events now past, to those who are dead, and to people and places living but different than when I encountered them in the early enthusiasm of monastic youth. It brings me close to what might have been but wasn't, and to what is, but not as I had hoped or imagined. And, not to be too lugubrious, some things have turned out better!

For Orpheus the death of the object of his love brings forth the power of his art, and I suspect that this is one of the reasons this story has moved so many for so many centuries, and probably still does. (I would mention the film Black Orpheus as a contemporary witness to the story's power, but it would only date me!) Eurydice's loss opens the gates of creativity to Orpheus, but in this version he cannot continue, and takes poison to join his beloved. Haydn's Orfeo cannot face his loss and live.

How can we write about "the" past when it is our own past? -- because in writing this article I will be writing about myself as well as the community I have been part of, and not something that happened before me. How can we write about what is irretrievably lost except to memory, and in setting it down, in choosing this and not that to represent, how can we not betray that past, that love? How can one continue to live when one's love does not? How can any artist take what he has lost and give substance to what is inexpressible, make what is emotionally inchoate beautiful, externalize it and share it in some recognizable artistic form, and continue to live? Certainly he cannot do so unchanged.

To give substance to the memory of what has been lost to external reality is to change it from the pure but unexpressed memory to a shaped and produced and shared object. By that act the memory, the love, will now always be different. That is the nature of art. In sharing it, it is lost in its completeness, it dies a second death. And so, at a profound level, the artist who "makes music" of his loss is both acting to recapture it and acting to betray its completeness. The work of art is thus not only an act of betrayal (losing its completeness in concrete, shared expression). It is also a work of hope, because in making it, the artist is rejecting the option of joining what is now gone (except for memory) in its Eurydicean oblivion. The artist reshapes and gives to others as beauty what would have drawn him down with it into what is no more. He conquers the Orphic temptation to lose himself in his private, irrecoverable, sensate memory, which will be lost to the world if it is not shared, and ironically, lost to himself (as private, as complete) if he does share it.

The artist, or musician, or writer, or (in my case) historian, takes "the" past, recognizes it as his own past, and makes something new of it, something that will live for others, as well as refashioning it for himself. Neither he nor "the" -- his -- past is the same after it is done.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mystical Chapters

I finished a book last week.

Now ordinarily that's not such a headline statement. There are good reasons not to finish a book: it has become boring; it is badly written and I just can't bear it anymore; I have figured out the main point(s) and a swift glance through the remaining chapters convinces me that my time is better spent elsewhere. I have abandoned many books over the years for these and other reasons. But I finish more than I abandon. At least I think I do.

Last week I finished a book and I was sorry I had come to the end. It is The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul's Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives, translated and introduced by John Anthony McGuckin. It consists of three "centuries" of sayings arranged in the classic Evagrian way: Praktikos, Theoretikos and Gnostikos. The eastern Christian sages include Evagrios (using McGuckin's Greek-based spelling), of course, but also Maximos the Confessor, Theodoros the Ascetic, Thalassios the Libyan, Symeon the New Theologian, Niketas Stethatos, and many others.

When I got the book I was initially disappointed. Some of the pages aren't printed as clearly as they might be. And as I looked at the layout of the sayings, in loose short-line poetic format, I thought, Oh dear, another smallish essay strung out into book length. I did not lay it aside, but began to read it. And as I did I began to be drawn into the world of the sayings. I decided to make it the book I read a bit of at the beginning of our common corporate meditation time at the noon office. And so began months of reading one or two of the brief chapters. They opened up worlds to me, not so much in that I did not understand what they said: they are perfectly consonant with the logos theology so prominent in the Eastern church from earliest days. But rather, the beauty of their imagery and expression gave me much to ponder in meditation.

When at last I read and pondered the final one, by Symeon the New Theologian, from his Mystical Prayer, I was not left with a sense of disappointment. I was left with a deep sense of satisfaction. It begins "Come true light. Come, eternal life. Come, hidden mystery." and on through 29 biddings, ending in "For I must give you all my thanks for making yourself one with me in spirit." That is how I felt at that moment, and indeed, how I had felt for many moments during the blessing of this book over the months past.

One Chapter remains especially with me. It so reminds me of George Herbert (especially in "Prayer 1") that I wonder whether he in his Greek studies -- because he was a formidable student of Greek as well as Latin -- I wonder whether he might have encountered it and pondered it and allowed its rhythms and substance to influence him. It is by Symeon the New Theologian, to whom I am apparently especially drawn:

My Christ,
you are the Kingdom of Heaven,
you are the land promised to the meek,
you are the meadows of paradise,
the hall of the celestial banquet,
the ineffable bridal chamber,
the table open for all comers.
You are the bread of life,
the wonderful new drink,
the cool jar of water,
the water of life.
You are the lamp
that never goes out for all your saints,
the new garment, the diadem,
the one who distributes diadems.
You are our joy and repose,
our delight and glory.
You are gladness and laughter, my God.
Your grace, the grace of the all-holy Spirit,
shines in the saints like a blazing sun.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

People my age can probably remember the torture session in grammar school when we had to get up in front of the class and tell everybody something about our summer. That's the point when one begins to spot the good speakers, but for others it can be excruciating. I eventually got over it, obviously. Here's my offering for this little class:

I began my "time off" with OHC's Long Retreat, 10 days of silence at the monastery. This is a venerable tradition and I look forward to it every year. It is a time when the schedule is simplified to encourage rest and quiet reflection. Matins in the morning, Eucharist at noon, Vespers at 5 pm, then one silent meal taken together, and that's it. The first few days I basically crash, and then begin to emerge. I was particularly interested when toward the end I thought a Tuesday was a Wednesday (when I was scheduled at the altar) and vested and said the Mass with the commemoration I thought was the right one. Everyone was very kind. I was the only one really upset. But it did make me think twice about the desire to enter the timeless realm!

After taking the Sunday services at Ascension and Holy Trinity one more time, I took off for two weeks in New York City, staying at the House of the Redeemer. I loved it. If you can envision a gentle time in New York, this was it. That neighborhood (East 95th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues) is clean, quiet, genteel even. It is walking distance to several major museums and other amenities. I had dinner several times with Carl Sword, OHC, lunch with some friends, went to the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Sunday, where the Rector, Jim Burns, preached a good sermon. Bede came down for a few days from West Park and we visited museums, saw a show and had some good meals together.

But mostly I rested, walked, listened to music and read. I brought a raft of books to read: Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red; Rupert Shortt's Rowan's Rule; Pierre Hadot's Philosophy as a Way of Life; Kathleen Norris's Dakota, plus some technical works on Evagrius and Cassian. But in wandering through some bookstores I got a couple of other books while I was there, and they were what I actually ended up reading: Ryszard Kapuscinski's delightful Travels with Herodotus, and Robert Wright's The Evolution of God.

I also enjoyed being at the House of the Redeemer for an extended visit because it gave me the opportunity to see it up close, get a better sense of the physical work involved in upkeep, and develop a closer working relationship with the Executive Director, Judi Counts, and the other staff.

And so I returned to the monastery rested and ready for the new program year. I hope your summer was similarly refreshing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ecclesiastical Anxieties

I preached on the Feeding of the Five Thousand in Mark 6:31-44 yesterday. I was taking services for Jennifer Barrows at Ascension, West Park and Holy Trinity, Highland, NY, the Episcopal churches closest to the Monastery. Jennifer is a goodhearted, hardworking priest, whose career before ordination included organizing social services and practical necessities for homeless people in midtown Manhattan. She deserves her break.

These two churches are yoked, and share the common problems of smaller, underfunded churches everywhere. They have beautiful buildings which need attention. The congregations are small. There is no substantial endowment. The bulletin listed a need for $7,000 to replace the "air handlers" at Holy Trinity. We had a little fun playing with those words. What it comes down to is that the blower system for the heat needs help.

This is a story that can be observed in thousands of churches. It is one of the stories that underlines the narratives of the recent General Convention: not enough people, not enough money, old structures needing maintenance.

I enjoyed preaching to these two congregations. I gave them a bit of historical cultural background for interpretation, and suggested that we always are interpreting on three levels simultaneously: what the text meant to its earliest hearers/readers in the context from which it originally came; how the text has been normatively proclaimed in the practice of the Church over time; and what it might mean to us in our particular and present situation.

I found the Gospel story especially interesting on the third, present, level. Here you have thousands of people running after the disciples and after Jesus, tracking them down in the wilderness, demanding teaching. This event is not a carefully planned attempt to get a large crowd to come to your special event. Quite the opposite. Its success brings the problem to the fore.

The people have left everything to seize this opportunity to hear the good Word. And their trust has left them unprepared for the practicalities: there is no organized food event. Visions of potluck planning meetings that take longer than the potluck rise before me, as a sort of counter-image.

Note that the concern is not coming from the people. It comes from the leaders. Here the background gives us a clue. The key passage is Mark 6:34: Jesus is concerned about the people following him because they are like sheep without a shepherd. My Jerusalem Bible study edition, usually so diligent in its marginal notes, fails to point to the OT referent for this passage. But the wonderful commentary by Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, does. In Numbers 27:17, Moses, having learned that he is not to enter the Promised Land, asks the Lord to appoint Joshua to be Israel's new leader, so that they may not be like sheep without a shepherd. This passage introduces the two key image clusters that lie behind Mark's story: the Exodus and the figure of the Shepherd, which help to explain the seemingly extraneous bits about the people being divided into hundreds and fifties, and the green grass on which they are invited to recline. Mark is not one to waste details.

So: Exodus (Moses morphing into Joshua, people out in the wilderness seeking their new life) and Shepherd (the inescapable comparison with David, and the inevitable reference to the 23rd Psalm) form the background to this story. The feeding miracle is thus linked to the manna in the desert as well as the shepherd leading the sheep to pasture. God will provide.

And so on to the General Convention moment: Anxiety. So many anxieties. Budget cutting. Structures that are too large -- talk of combining small dioceses at GC. Cutting the size of the national Church staff. Trimming GC itself from 10 to 8 days. God created the world in 6, so maybe we could improve our own processes a little. No in person meetings for the many groups that do the planning work of the Church next year, but relying on electronic communication. Not printing so much next time. And so on. Good, sensible, practical responses from good, practical people to real, practical problems.

Jesus does not enter into their anxiety. He simply looks at them (I had fun imagining his facial expressions, the pause as perhaps he recollected that a first, uncensored, response might not have been helpful. One has had such moments.) And then he says, "Give them something to eat yourselves." What?!! The leaders provide what the followers need?? It's supposed to be the other way around. It's like the national Church giving money to the dioceses, not the other way around. Clearly impossible. But a VERY instructive challenge to the leadership!

But where will we get bread to feed all these people? 200 denarii wouldn't be enough. If you calculate the value of the 2 denarii that the Good Samaritan gives to the inkeeper for 2 nights lodging and care at a minimum of $100 a night, 200 works out to $20,000. How can we possibly get so much for this great need?

So then Jesus sensibly asks, Well, what food is there here now? What actual resources do we have? And, famously, they turn out to be more than enough.

So many lessons here. But two principally come to me this time around (one does preach this from time to time, and it is always different!).

First, whatever we really need is already present. The Lord's example is first to challenge the leadership's assumptions about what is needed and where it is to come from, and then to look for what is already present and share it creatively, trusting that if we do so, God will provide. He will. He really will.

Second, this time the miracle seemed to me not to be the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, but the spontaneous assembling of this huge crowd -- 5000 men, implying women and children, probably 15,000 to 20,000 people. The Word they are seeking and which Jesus is preaching is so powerful that they rush out into the countryside to hear it, leaving the cozy security of regular meals behind, at least temporarily.

Maybe the Church should look to what it already has and use it creatively, expecting that what is truly needful will be provided when the time comes. Maybe the Church should concentrate its energies on the quality of the proclamation, listening to the people's deepest yearnings (enslaved Israelites hoping for freedom, sheep needing pasture and good trustworthy shepherds) and finding the answer in the liberating Word Himself. Preach that and people will come looking for you. When is the last time a crowd showed up at your church wanting to hear the Word so much that it forgot to think about lunch? May it be.

For the moment, there were 6 at Ascension and 13 at Holy Trinity. Good, solid, friendly, faithful people. It doesn't seem many. But it is what the Spirit drew that morning. They are God's gift to each other, to the Church, and to me. They are enough, for this moment. And for next Sunday the 26th and for August 9, this disciple will work on a Word of salvation that will justify their journey to hear it.

Faithfulness in little. Planting seeds that will grow. Slaves who become the nation of God's own choosing. Flocks of sheep needing shepherding. I love the ministry in small places that don't seem to have very much. You never know how many baskets will be gathered at the end of the meal.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

General Convention - Back home

The trip back home on Sunday was uneventful. Gassed up the rental car, turned it in at the airport, waited for the flight, no problem SNA to ORD. In Chicago a previous flight to LGA had been canceled and many unhappy people were trying to get on the flight I was booked on. The waiting list was more than 100! Needless to say, the flight was full. I was seated next to a delightful young woman who joyfully shared that she was six months pregnant. That was really nice. I took the shuttle bus to Grand Central and the 8:45 train to Poughkeepsie, where our Superior met me. Thank you, Robert! I was really tired, and "peopled out", so I cocooned most of the day on Monday.

I have been processing what I saw and what has been happening at General Convention. In a lot of ways it is easier to do it at home than on the site, at least in part because the unfiltered experience lacks perspective and is too filled with incidental detail. So what follows is a meditation on what is known as D025, the resolution passed by both the Bishops and the Deputies, and now the official policy of the Episcopal Church.

D025 says that the Episcopal Church will no longer, at the national level, exclude homosexual people from the processes leading to ordination as Bishop simply because of the nature of their sexual orientation. If you have read my blogs at all faithfully, you know that I am concerned for the unity of the Anglican Communion. There are many issues confronting Anglicans, but this is the one that is most controversial and divisive.

In his sermon on Saturday, Ray Suarez, of the PBS Nightly News, listed all the ways that the Episcopal Church seems to be out of step:

"So let’s stop clinging to that outmoded prayer book that happens to be one of the crown jewels of the English language, we’ve got the get rid of that hymnal, with all those tricky tunes and old-fashioned words… stop those long sermons delivered by people who always seem to want me to feel bad about something… the organs, the outfits, it’s so archaic in a world where religion bestsellers are trying to convince me that Jesus wants me to be rich. I thought Jesus wants me to be holy, and it just goes to show you how wrong a guy can be. But hey, while we’re jettisoning all these things that are leading us to what is called marketplace failure… let’s also stop the radical welcome… Let’s stop the willingness to live, sometimes uncomfortably, with the ambiguities of modern life."

I guess that Suarez is from the more traditional end of the Church, for which I give thanks. His point is, If Jesus wants us to be rich and successful, we're barking up the wrong trees. We should stop being what we are and became conservative megachurches.

But actually, Jesus does not want us to aim at becoming rich and successful. Jesus wants us to be holy.

And there's the rub. How can we as a church be holy when we are departing from the traditional standards of holiness?

Perhaps a church convention is not the place to go searching for holiness. For sure, that great besetting sin of churchmen down the ages is on full display: Ambition. It would be easy to lampoon this, but it would also be unjust and cruel. The Holy Spirit has always used ambition to get the work of the Church done. Are ambitious or proud people excluded from ordination? No. Are vainglorious people excluded? Check the Wippell's booth. They are not. Are people who want more than a moderate salary excluded? Surely you jest.

There are so many stony paths lined with temptations to sin that lead to ordination. So why single out one category of human behavior (sexual identity vs. desire for prosperity or worldly respect) over all the others and insist that God cannot work in and through it to accomplish His work?

I think the most brilliant line in D025 is the one that catalogues ways in which homosexual relationships can be channels of grace. It quotes a resolution from 9 years ago in doing so: "the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God" (2000-D039)"

It reminds me of St. Paul in Galatians 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." (KJV). Fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, holy love: against these there can be no law.

What the Church needs is more holy people, and right now, more holy gay and lesbian people, people who show forth Christ in their lives, who are self-sacrificing, whose words and deeds are activated by the Holy Spirit, people through whom the love of Christ flows and to whom seekers after the goodness of God are drawn.

My beloved Episcopal Church has taken another step in the prophetic direction. This time it may be a step too far, if unquestioning unity on other peoples' terms is the criterion. If so, then we will need to throw ourselves into the arms of the Gracious Lord of us all. In this moment, I think we need more than anything, more than daring words and acts, more than brave (and perhaps over-brave) stances, more than self-congratulatory back-patting on one side and ungracious muttering in the other, what we need more than anything is the irrefutable evidence of holiness. Gay and lesbian holiness of such goodness that no Christian can deny the Spirit's anointing.

Monday, July 13, 2009

General Convention - 6

Saturday is my last day at GC. I learned many years ago that the first four days or so at GC are the most productive for someone who is essentially doing public relations. In the past the first days were mobbed by visitors and it is good to be around then. But about the halfway point this aspect of GC begins to taper off. I understand that the exhibitors are required to sign a contract for the entire convention and man their booths. Some inevitably drift away. At any rate, that is why I decided to come home at the mid-point.

We get to the Conv. Center a little after 10. The opening hours for the exhibit hall are different most days, so today we don't have to wait. The same drill as days before -- check in at the booth, see who's around, talk. A very helpful consultation with Michael MacDonald at the Pension Fund booth.

The eucharist today features Ray Suarez, of the Jim Lehrer News Hour on PBS. He speaks on the day's theme, Hospitality. Lots of interesting insights. He speaks a little fast for the enormous room, but effectively. His basic message seems to be, Don't give up being who we are while trying to reach out. Behind me in the line for communion (given by Paul Colbert, former OHC) is Mark Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina. I greet him and he tells me that we met years ago when I spoke to a Province VIII meeting on evangelism. Nice to reconnect. I am at a table with David Bryan, who points out the Primate of Canada, Fred Hiltz. OHC has had a priory in Toronto since the early 1970's. I go over and introduce myself to him. He is gracious.

I have linked up with Tony Jewiss, intending to do lunch (as the local idiom would have it). Tony is on deck to help out, with his vast experience of this event. He is homeless, in that he was not given a room in exchange for coming at his own expense and working on his own time, so he is camping out in rooms paid for but not used. After all those years of saving money for the Church at this vast event, I guess karma has caught up with him. At any rate, Bob Williams, former Communications Director at 815 and now doing the same for LA, and an old friend, is his angel. Thank you, Bob!

Tony is with Robbin Clark (St. Mark's, Berkeley), Fred and Barbara Borsch, and Rick Swanson, from W. Michigan. We decide to do lunch together, and I suggest Nory's, a favorite from many years, in a strip mall a mile or two away. Peruvian-Japanese seafood. We exchange directions and cell phone numbers and are on our way. Nory's hasn't changed a bit. They still have my favorite dish, pescado a lo macho, a fish fillet breaded and fried with a clear red spicy sauce, lots of shrimp, calamari and baby squid, and rice. Yummmmm. The portions are ample, and everyone is happy. I am especially happy, sitting for an hour or so with old and dear friends.

Back at the Conv. Center, more schmoozing. Toward the end of the afternoon Tom Schultz and I wander up to the House of Bishops, on the third floor, and listen to a bit of whatever it is they are doing. Then to the Prayer Chapel (now reassembled) for Evening Prayer. A bit more of the Bishops. Their process is formal, but not as formal as the Deputies.

CDSP is having a reception from 6 to 8 in lieu of a seminary dinner, so David Bryan, Tom and I head over to the Hilton for that. Tom received an honorary DD a couple of years ago, after many years of spiritual direction to countless students, alumni and staff. He was Prior of Incarnation Priory in Berkeley from 1992 until we closed it last year. His spiritual influence there has been incalculable. I got my M.Div. in 1979, and David was Superior for 9 years and knows it well. So much joyful schmoozing again. I sit down between John Conrad (All Saints, Riverside) and an old friend of my days in Santa Barbara, Mort Ward, now mentoring people in interim work. We talk of Santa Barbara, of course. Mark Hollingsworth (Bishop of Ohio) finds me. We were at CDSP together. A nice long chat. Also, Barry Beisner (Bp. of No. Calif.) and Tom Breidenthal (Bp. of So. Ohio), for shorter chats. Donn Morgan, Dean and President, gives a gracious speech. He's retiring in a year. Then Eliza Linley, head of the search committee for the new Dean. Eliza was an acolyte at All Souls, Berkeley, when I was a seminarian there 1977-79. So I find her. All Souls chat. She tells me that Helen Laverty McPeak is here as well. Also an All Souls acolyte from those times. Helen is now a priest as well, and in Henderson, NV. So we have the Nevada chat too (my father founded All Saints, Las Vegas, and I was ordained by Bishop Wes Frensdorff, of blessed memory).

At some point in all this I am beginning to realize that I have been at the Episcopal thing for a long time. (My whole life, actually!) All these younger people! I will celebrate 30 years as a priest this coming December 29. I should feel old, but I really don't. Except for my feet.

David, Tom and I have been invited to dinner at the home of former parishioners from St. Michael's, Al and Pat Battey, so we excuse ourselves and drive over. Not far. Pat is a loyal Daughter of the King, and both have been involved in renewal and charismatic ministries for years. Al and Pat say some unexpected and gracious words about the long-term impact of my Bible studies (twice a week for 9 years) at St. Michael's. I am deeply moved and grateful. It is a delightful reunion and a lovely meal with dear friends.

And so to bed.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

General Convention - 5

We arrived at the Conv. Center around 9 am only to discover that the exhibition hall, where we are based, is not open until 11. Somebody said that "they" want to channel people into the meetings and so forth. So we allowed ourselves to be channeled.

I was channeled into the House of Deputies where I heard a fair amount of the open microphone session on what to do about B033. This is the resolution passed at the last General Convention in which the church agreed not to ordain any bishops whose "manner of life" is not appropriate, or words to that effect. It was really about homosexual people. The catch word is "move on", which seems to mean to abrogate that commitment. The speakers repeat the same arguments over and over: the justice and inclusion argument for those who want to "move on", the sensitivity to other Anglicans argument from those who want the policy to continue. Lots of use of the airplane analogy -- two wings are needed. There is a little edge to a couple of the comments, but not a lot. I am more interested in the tone of the remarks than in their content. The Deputies will almost certainly "move on". The action on this issue will be with the Bishops. My concern, as I expressed it yesterday, is the way in which decisions are expressed. I want us all to fly this plane together.

The morning eucharist features the Bishop of Milwaukee and a Moravian bishop. We are now in communion with the Moravians. Bonnie Anderson (President of the House of Deputies) opened her sermon with the story of Louis Armstrong being asked about how do jazz players manage to stay together when there is no written music: “Pops, what is jazz?” His answer first came in that gentle smile and then this penetrating response, “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.” She applied this to unity. The intuitive, feeling approach to unity, I guess.

The day winds on in the now-usual pattern. Lots more conversations. Vern Jones, an OHC Associate of 59 years standing, retired from St. Peter's, Redwood City, CA, now in ministry to older people. Jim Schumard, from Savannah, a graduate of St. Andrew's School who asks after Bonnie Spencer and Lee Stevens, and has an idea about funding for a possible new school at Grahamstown: Get St. Andrew's alumni involved. Jim turns out to be related in some important way to Vern. Another former OHC man is here, Vincent Shamo. I have a lovely chat with Janet Wylie, briefly my secretary at St. Michael's, Anaheim, before she became the Bishop's secretary.

About the middle of the afternoon I hit a wall. I am really tired. The Integrity eucharist is in the evening, and that is a priority for me. Tom and Lister feel the same depletion of energy, so after any number of wonderful conversations on the way out, including a good one with Frank Griswold, we return to the motel and crash.

The Integrity eucharist is at the Hilton. A reception is in progress, crushed with people, friends at every turn. The room is beautifully set up, with the furnishings from the Prayer Chapel. There must be at least a thousand seats, probably more. By the time the service starts it is full to overflowing. Vincent Jang, former OHC novice, now a deacon, is seated behind me. I'm next to my old friend Stuart Hoke, formerly with Trinity Wall Street, now retired to North Carolina and pastoring a small Anglo-Catholic Black parish in Durham. Great music and pageantry, with a Gospel procession that must have lasted 20 minutes, banners and holy water being sprinkled on one and all by Gene Robinson, the celebrant. A huge Thank You applause for Susan Russell's six great years of leadership, well deserved. Barbara Harris preached a sort of marching orders sermon, with edgy reflections on the sacraments: If a person, by reason of his/her sexuality, can't be ordained a bishop, then why ordain at all? In fact, why baptize? She was powerful on the logic of inclusion, devastating on the audacity to draw lines where God erases them: "What right does anyone have to draw lines beyond to whom God's grace, care and favor extend?" I was very moved by the whole service, and responded to the call for clergy to come forward. Many did so, a great crush. Here's the Episcopal Life story on the service.

The most poignant moments for me though were hearing Louie Crew read the call to worship at the beginning, and the vast applause and affection for Ed Browning. His famous statement in 1985 here at Anaheim (he was elected in St Michael's Church!) that "There will be no outcasts in the Episcopal Church" was the energizing moment for so many gay and lesbian Christians in our church. Louie basically invented Integrity's ministry and has been a rock in all the storms, a gracious rock too, if I may mangle a metaphor. He is a model of how to be true to principle and remain in fellowship with people who disagree. It is impossible not to like Louie. Ed Browning is showing his age. I am so very happy that he is spending his energy to be at this Convention and to be honored as he should be. He was and is and deserves the name and respect of a prophet.

Friday, July 10, 2009

General Convention - 4

Thursday is the Big Eucharist -- the Archbishop of Canterbury is preaching. We get to the Conv. Center about 10, and it is to start at 11:30. I hitch up with Jamie Callaway from Trinity Church, New York, and we try to make our way in early for a decent seat. Either he or I are accosted at every point by friends. I must really work on patience and disengagement, because I find my usual anxieties about fulfilling my prior agenda rather than responding to the moment coming to the fore. We find a table with some folks from Minnesota and North Dakota. But then Jamie goes off to find someone else he has hoped to sit with.

Jon Bruno, the Bishop of Los Angeles, is presiding. I had forgotten how big a presence he is -- large physically (even with his foot problems, which make him hobble), his booming voice, his habit of injecting comments into the liturgy. He always has a young person beside him at the altar. It is very clear that although he wants the eucharist to be inclusive, he remains the center of it.

Rowan Williams' meditation is magnificent. He begins by saying he wants to speak frankly, and he does. He thanks the Episcopal Church for hanging in there with the Anglican Communion, in a way that makes it clear that he is responsible for the whole Communion and not just our corner of it. And he says clearly that he hopes the EC does not decide to do certain things, which he does not specify, but which I suppose means repealing B033, same sex unions, the Windsor report response, and the rest of that raft of agendas. Then he gives a most wonderful meditation on facing up to what is not real, to nothingness and death. Here's the link to the text on his site.

After his words and during some of the music and prayers, before the eucharistic action, I find myself tearing up. I don't know exactly why. Perhaps anxiety mixed with joy. I have not spent much energy here so far thinking about the issues, because, frankly, I am tired of them and think that the church's over-energetic preoccupation with sex and who's more orthodox or in the progressive spirit or whatever is a devil's trick to destroy this part of the Body. The major issues are all important, and I have my opinions on all of them, of course. I am generally on board with the mainstream agenda of the Episcopal Church. What bothers me is a passion for being right and don't count the cost, on every side of every issue. My anxiety is there, because these 990-plus people can actually move this boat in the water, and it isn't clear yet what they will do. And since it is They who have the power, and the Rest Of Us really don't, there is a sense of detachment for me, just watching as Whatever slouches into view. Joy because of the magnificent voicing of the truth of the Christian faith at a fundamental level this morning by the leader of the Communion, who has taken time to be here and tell us his concerns and lead us, for a moment at least, out of the legislative lowlands into something very profound.

There are more people today in the exhibit hall, and more good conversations. I sit down at a lunch table with Carmen Guerrero, who was the multi-cultural staff person in LA when I was there and then went to 815 to run Jubilee Ministries, and is now in Arizona working on those issues. She tells me of a large Sudanese congregation in Phoenix that has organized itself. At our table is the Rector of Sitka, Alaska, who tells of the ministry of his church to the marginalized there, where addiction issues are huge, and the expense and difficulty of their Standing Committee, which can't afford to gather very often. There is an older woman from New Hampshire who tells of doing Vacation Bible School in Alaskan villages in the 50's, and is very moving.

David Bryan Hoopes and Tom Schultz arrive in the afternoon. Clark Trafton and Lew Kerman have brought David from Palm Springs, where he had a little R&R with them. See the picture of them with Don Anderson above.

Tom brings news of injuries to Jeff Bullock, the Rector of All Saints, Montecito, the husband of Nancy, who is the administrator for our ministry in Santa Barbara, and a dear friend of mine from seminary. He had a bad fall from his mountain bike. A little later I see Jim Burns, Rector of Heavenly Rest in NYC, who is returning this evening to be with his wife Nancy for major surgery. Please pray for them all.

Good chats with Fred and Barbara Borsch (formerly Los Angeles and CDSP), Ward and Jennie Ewing (General Seminary), Steve Huber (National Cathedral), and many others. If you read this and I have not mentioned your name, mea culpa. Everyone is a joy, every conversation a treasure. Really.

The day wears on. 5pm comes. Evening prayer, then taking DB, Tom and Lister Tonge back to the motel to get ready for dinner. Clark and Lew take us to the Anaheim White House, which maintains its high culinary standards (as I remember them from my days here) in an over-the-top decorating mode (it represents the School of Creative Fabric Use: covered chairs, ceilings, etc.). In the next room is a little party for Ed Browning attended by Frank Griswold and Carl Gerdau, among others. Frank and Carl say hello on the way in.

And so to bed.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

General Convention - 3

Wednesday began with breakfast at the motel. They provide donuts, sugar-laced dry cereals, milk, orange juice and coffee. The Holy Spirit Sisters have arrived. Also Fr. Lister Tonge, who was CR in England, but left, and has become Chaplain to CSJB and also to Cuddesdon College. A great guy. On to the Conv. Center. Too early for Lister to register, so we went in to the huge space used for worship to find a place for the opening Eucharist of the Convention. Set up with round tables, about 8 chairs to a table. Lively opening music (a southern African guy with a drum whose energy level was just a tad above mine at that hour). The Archbishop of Canterbury arrived about 10 minutes before the service with a retinue of 6 or 8 people, sat down at a table near us, but behind a post so we couldn't see him.

The PB presided and preached, very well. Her text was Ezekiel 36:24-26, a new heart will I give you. She used the analogy of a heart transplant, quite effectively. A good sermon. There was a little hiatus at communion when it was realized that they had stationed all the cup-bearers but hadn't put out the bread, but after 5 minutes or so that was rectified. A decent Eucharist with a good sermon.

Being at GC to represent an organization means standing around your booth a lot and talking to people who walk by, and also wandering around and talking to other people at their booths. My impression -- and it is only an impression -- is that there are fewer exhibitors at this GC than I remember from the past. Certainly there was not a horde of visitors. After a brief rush in the morning, it settled down pretty quickly.

But the relative quiet meant that I had a lot of really good conversations with OHC friends, personal friends, Church acquainances. My predecessor at St. Michael's, Gary Goldacker, was just around the corner, and we had a long talk. Also Barton Jones from the Pension Fund; Jane Tomaine (St. Benedict's Toolbox); Leo Frade, Bishop of SW Florida. Two former OHC brothers, Paul Colbert and Philip Mantle. I'd better not get deeper into names, because I will forget some. I'm name-challenged, a terrible affliction for someone in the ministry.

The day went fairly fast, although standing and talking is hard work and quite tiring after some hours. I encountered the PB and told her I liked her sermon. She seemed pleased, but probably 100 people had already told her that.

Everyone wants to know about Santa Barbara.

Schmoozing For Christ. That's the phrase I started using in conversations. I''ll be interested to hear if it comes back.

Evening Prayer again. More this time. 3 OSH, Don, Lister, Gregory, 2 CSF who have arrived from San Francisco. An Army chaplain from Oklahoma who is the nephew of Sr. Ruth, OSH, and has some funny stories about growing up with an aunt who is a nun. And Andrew and Barnabas from SSP, up from San Diego. Barnabas is having serious foot problems, and has had for some time.

The others being variously engaged, Lister and I depart for the evening. I take him up to St. Michael's and show it to him. This is the third time for me. I realized this morning that I am inoculating myself against old memories, bringing St. Michael's into the present for myself. It is good. Again, people recognized me. That was lovely. The Roman priest who got married and joined the Episcopal Church in Miami, Cutie, is preaching at St. Michael's tonight. A real phenomenon may be starting. He is very famous in his television ministry in the Hispanic community. All the Hispanic clergy I have talked to say this is the event which has brought the EC to the attention of masses of Latinos. So tonight's preachment is aimed at non-EC Hispanics. Interesting.

I wangled a dinner invitation from my dear friends Tom Curtiss and Saul Renteria in Silverlake, so Lister and I changed and we drove up. Lister had never been in LA before. We had a drink and looked at Saul's latest paintings (Saul's website is here), and then went to a great old Mexican restaurant for dinner.

An uneventful freeway drive home (well, uneventful for me -- Lister is not yet tuned in to the zen of the flow of a 10 lane freeway at 75 miles an hour). And so to bed.

General Convention - 2

I thought it might be useful to set down the basics of what has happened on this trip day by day and let thoughts, if any, emerge from them.

It turns out my suspicion about the distance of the motel from the Convention Center was correct. I'm glad I rented the car. The walk takes 20-30 minutes, along the heavily traveled Disneyland Drive. It is nicely landscaped, but a long haul, at least for me. Some of the CAROA folks enjoy the walk, to which I say, God bless you.

Don Anderson, Director of CAROA, Fr. Gregory, OJN, President of CAROA and I assembled the booth on Tuesday morning. One of the St. Margaret sisters arrived as we were starting and helped. It looks fine. There's a wide, flat screen tv that plays the CAROA video in a loop. We are giving out the dvd of it along with a brochure to anyone who asks. It is a little weird to hear Br. Scott's radio announcer voice all the time. The Order of St. Helena has its own booth next to us, with Srs. Cintra, Deborah Magdalene and Sophia Woods doing the honors.

That task was done about 11:00 or so, so Don and Gregory came with me for a little "inside Anaheim" tour. We went past where my old house was (much improved), then to St. Michael's. The secretary let us in to the two churches and the other spaces, and we saw pretty much everything. Then up to my favorite taqueria, Guadalajara on Anaheim Blvd. Don and Gregory were in a new world, with Mexican food in an untranslated menu. I had my favorite burrito pura carne al pastor (all meat, pork). Then on to the Anaheim Police Department where Sgt. Chuck Knight, Warden at St. Michael's in my time, was desk sergeant for the afternoon. Chuck gave us a little tour, including the dispatch center, which has very spiffy new computer stuff. Then to the local Vons supermarket for supplies, back to the motel, plug in the fridges in the rooms and load the produce in. And then we walked back to the Conv. Center. We wanted to hear the Presiding Bishop's opening address in the afternoon but did not understand the schedule correctly, and so missed it.

Tuesday was not the official opening day, but there were lots of people I know among the exhibitors and volunteers, many happy reunion conversations. A trickle of visitors. It is clear that everyone wants to know about what will happen in Santa Barbara.

CAROA is supposed to man the "Prayer Chapel" (as distinct, I suppose, from other sorts of chapels) which is WAAAAY at the north end of the huge exhibition spaces lobby, on the second floor, around a corner, tucked away next to the ultimate pair of bathrooms in the complex. You really have to be intentional about prayer in this space. No cheap grace. Your typical bare, room-divider divided, high ceilinged, overlit, "smaller" convention space. Some weird furnishings ordered up included four very colorful 5-6 foot pavement candles; an incomplete (8 of 14) set of "stations" -- a face with various expressions set against a dark background; a large square purpose built (two by fours and plywood) altar with fabrics (iridescent orange and a squarish fair linen); and most interestingly, three Asian (Tibetan?) umbrellas on long poles anchored in concreted plastic buckets. Later we met Randy Kimmler, who works in the LA Diocesan offices, who told us he was responsible for setting the room up. We came back a little before 5 for Evening Prayer and the rooms looked fine, the orange iridescent altar with the pavement candles creating a space in front, fifty chairs in three groups, and the station pictures in a semicircle behind. See the picture above.

So we (Don, Gregory and myself, and 3 OSH) had Evening Prayer. Don and I headed back to the motel on foot, took a detour into Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, sat in the beautiful Ahwanee-style lobby for a while, found our way into Disney Downtown, which was packed, and then got lost trying to get back to the sidewalk on Disneyland Drive. It is pretty clear that walking outside the Disneyspace is not greatly encouraged. We finally found our way back. I wanted to take Don to Nory's, a wonderful hole in the wall Peruvian-Japanese seafood restaurant in a strip mall, but when we got there, it was closed on Tuesdays. So up to another old favorite, Marie Callender's, where St. Michael's folk often congregated. Middle American comfort food. As Pepys would say, And so to bed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

General Convention - 1

I was wide awake at 4 am from jet lag, so here's a new blog.

Our Superior, Br. Robert, asked me some time ago to help represent OHC at the GC in Anaheim, so here I am. The trip yesterday was fine. I took the 8:56 am Metro North train from Poughkeepsie to 125th Street and then got the M60 bus ($2.25 - a pretty good deal) to LGA. The train took 90 minutes, the bus arrived at the stop in 5, and 45 minutes later I was at the Delta terminal. The flight, to Minneapolis and then on to Orange County (SNA) boarded but then waited 50 minutes for takeoff. No problem in the plane change at MSP. I'll be here until Sunday morning, July 12.

During the flights I started Iris Murdoch's The Green Knight, which has been sitting on my shelf forever. Finally shamed into reading it. Pages and pages of dialogue which seems to be going nowhere, and then all of a sudden, a passage of narrative that just grips you and won't let you go. And Julia S. Konstantinovsky's new Evagrius Ponticus: The Making of a Gnostic. I'm three chapters in and it promises to be one of the best things going on Evagrius.

In addition to schmoozing for OHC, I am helping out with CAROA, the Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas, which will have a booth in the exhibit hall. The point of it all is to be visible, to connect with old friends and make some new ones, and basically to hold up the flag for Holy Cross and the religious/monastic life in the Episcopal Church.

I have been to several GCs before: New Orleans (1982), Anaheim (1985), Detroit (1988), Phoenix (1991), Denver (2000), and now back in Anaheim. It is huge: each diocese (110 or so, including 10 foreign dioceses) is represented by four clergy and four laity, plus alternates, as well as its bishop. There are two legislative houses, like the US Congress: The House of Bishops (the bishops) and the House of Deputies (the clergy and laity). You can do the math. A minimum of 990 people to do the business, depending on how many alternates show up and whether there's an extra bishop or two. Well over a thousand official members of the Convention. But of course that's just the beginning. Most of the national church staff is here and a lot of diocesan staff people as well. Then there are the official organizations of the Church, from the Pension Fund on down, with people from the myriads of committees and commissions, the different official ministries, and a lot of unofficial ministries. The vendors of church stuff of all kinds. The exhibition hall is always huge. And of course faithful (or at least interested) church people drop in. It is a huge event.

My friend Tony Jewiss worked in the GC office for 8 years or so, retiring in 2007, and so I got a peek inside the planning process. It is complicated work, with facilities having to be locked in years in advance, schedules to be coordinated, people's egos to be massaged, and enormous amounts of detail work.

I was the Rector of St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Anaheim from 1992 to 2001, so the first thing I did after checking into the Motel 8 on Disneyland Drive, where CAROA are staying, was to drive up to see it. There was a gathering of Native American ministries just ending, and I wasn't dressed to be recognized, so I just poked my head in here and there to see how it looked. Pretty good was the answer. St. Michael's has had hard financial times recently. It is one of the largest Hispanic congregations in the Episcopal Church, and most of those folks are poor and virtually all of them were raised in the Hispanic Roman Catholic culture where stewardship is handled quite differently. Maybe I'll write about that someday, but the bottom line is, there are a lot of dollar bills in the plate on Sunday morning, but not enough of them.

I had been back to Anaheim for a wedding at St. Michael's some years ago, so this was not the first time. But it is a strange feeling. Fortunately the first person I ran across remembered me (bless you!).

More later.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The House of the Redeemer

Last week I was trying to get over a chest cold and so was unable to attend one of the favorite things that happens in my life each year: the annual Garden Party benefit at the House of the Redeemer, an Episcopal house of retreat in New York City. I'm glad to say that it was a smashing success. By all reports it was a lovely event, the people were interesting, and lots of money was raised.

The House of the Redeemer, on 95th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, was founded in 1949 by Edith Shepard Fabbri, a great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. She and her husband, Ernesto Fabbri, built it during the First World War to a Florentine Renaissance design. The architect was Grosvenor Atterbury. It incorporates many original elements brought over by ship, including a spectacular Library, the woodwork of which is from the library of a palace of the Dukes of Urbino, and is certainly one of the great rooms of the City of New York. The House is among the few standing great homes of New York, very few of which retain their original character as homes, with many of the original furnishings and works of art intact, as the Redeemer does.

Mrs. Fabbri was a devout Episcopalian, and a woman of considerable spiritual depth. When it came time for her to consider the disposition of her house, she decided she wanted to create a retreat center, "a place apart", as she put it, a place of beauty, quiet and prayer in the midst of the City. The Board was created in 1949 and the house deeded to the Board. It included Bishop Robert Campbell, OHC, who was then the Superior of the Order of the Holy Cross. Bishop Campbell had been the Bishop of Liberia, but had returned to the U.S. for reasons of health. The Board asked the Sisters of the Community of St. Mary to staff and run the House, and they did so until 1980.

The House's offerings have grown to include musical programs, lectures, group spiritual retreats, and meetings and events of non-profit organizations of all kinds. But its primary work is as a place of retreat and prayer, and the Chapel sees daily Morning and Evening Prayer Monday through Friday every week,as well as the Eucharist on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the House is open. The public rooms are not air conditioned, so the House is formally closed in July and August, though some guests brave the rigors of summer. There is a faithful band of people who worship regularly together with the priest in residence, who changes monthly. Many individuals and groups, Church related or simply spiritually minded, who value quiet and calm come to stay at the House when they are in New York, making a time of retreat their base for whatever else has brought them.

I became involved with the House in 2002, during the first year after I moved to New York City to became the priest at the Church of St. Edward the Martyr in East Harlem. I was looking around for a congenial church or community related activity to join, to give me a larger scope of interests and contacts and to be useful. My friend Fr. Tom Synan invited me to the 2001 Christmas benefit at The Church of the Heavenly Rest, at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue, and in the course of that I had a chat with the Rector, Fr. James Burns. I indicated I was looking for something additional to do, and his face lit up and he told me about the House. He was on the Board and would introduce me. It seemed a good fit for me, as I had been Prior of Mount Calvary in Santa Barbara for nine years and Guestmaster there for two years before, so I knew the retreat business pretty well.

Jim introduced me to the Board President, Frances Reese, known to all as Franny. Franny was a legend in her own time, a tireless worker for Episcopal Church and environmental causes, and a member of one of the old-line New York families, with deep roots in Dutchess County and in New York City. I was elected to the Board of Trustees in May, 2002. In the fall Franny drafted me to work on a subcommittee with the excellent Barton Jones, of the Church Pension Fund. We did our work, made our report the next Spring, the issues were resolved, and I went on vacation.

I was in Sevilla. I had wandered over to the local internet cafe and was checking e-mail, and learned to my horror that Franny had been killed in a terrible automobile accident. This was a real crisis for the House, as Franny had led the efforts which had reorganized the House's ministry and governance and had begun to put it on a secure administrative footing. We were devastated.

To my surprise, the Board asked me to be the new President. I was elected in December, 2003, and have served as President since. It has been wonderful, with many interesting challenges, and with some complex and difficult decisions to make. It has been my joy to work with a wonderful group of Board members and with a terrific staff, headed by the marvelous Judi Counts. When I moved back to the Monastery last fall, I asked the Board if they wanted me to continue as President, since I would no longer be close by, and they asked me to stay, and re-elected me last October.

I would like to encourage all the readers of my blog to become acquainted with the House of the Redeemer. It is one of the great places.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Great Library Retreat

Last week we held our second library volunteers retreat here at the Monastery. It was wonderful. The first was in November and attracted eight volunteers. This one brought three people back from the first retreat plus nine more, for a total of twelve.

I was a little concerned that we wouldn't have enough jobs for everyone, but I needn't have worried.

Holy Cross's library is located on the ground floor of the new monastery building, where it occupies most of the space. It is, next to the Chapel and the Refectory, the biggest area in the monastery. I would say that we have perhaps 15,000 books. The collection is an organic one, as most monastery libraries are that do or did not also serve as school, college or seminary libraries. That is, it has grown in response to the needs and interests of the community over the years. Our library is strong in areas you would expect, in older Anglo-Catholic materials, spirituality, and in religious biography. The older generations loved reading lives of holy people -- Fr. Huntington recommended it in his Rule. The scripture section is not huge but serviceable. The section on the religious life has some interesting strengths, particularly in materials on Anglican religious life. And there are some surprises. For example, in the 70's many of the brethren were involved in addiction ministries, so we have a fair collection of books on that subject. And quite a lot of liturgical materials, dating from Bonnell Spencer's days.

The collection uses the Dewey Decimal system. But not exactly, of course. One of the older fathers, now gone to glory, John Baldwin, tweaked it to fit his ideas. Actually, wrenched is a better word than tweaked. Whole sections were reassigned, including the religious life. When we made plans about the Library a couple of years ago, it was decided to get a computerized system which would allow more or less automatic data retrieval and cataloging. But it was clear that the work involved in switching over to the Library of Congress system was so great that, given the fact that we can't hire staff, it might never get done. So we have retained the Dewey system, and are gradually changing our special categories back to the normal ones. This means a lot of recataloging will be going one for quite a while. It also means that we will have the old card catalog and the new computer system (a creature named ResourceMate) side by side for years to come, if not forever.

One of the projects I started when I become Librarian last October was to move all the books published in 1900 or before into a protected area, which, if not climate controlled exactly, at least has a de-humidifier. We had already moved the Patrologia Latina and its Greek companion set there. There is a surprising number of books from 1900 and before, and looking at that collection gives one a snapshot of the Community's interests at that point, just before we moved from Westminster, MD, to our then-new Henry Vaughn-designed Monastery in West Park. Lots of the sorts of books you would expect from Anglo-Catholic monk types, but some interesting outliers as well. The room needs some new shelving, which will probably cost several thousands of dollars. For the time being it is a hodge-podge of smaller shelves, not quite enough to house them all as they should be.

The volunteers were wonderful. A couple of them started work on the old book room, reading the shelves against the cards, which had been carefully removed by volunteers from the first retreat. We had missed a fair number in our first pass through the shelves as it turned out. Several worked on the oversize books, opening up new shelf space for additions. The growing cd collection needed to be put in order, uncatalogued for the moment. One of the men is a church sexton and was able to clean the enclosed skylights which had grown filthy over the years, letting in more light. His wife is a computer wiz, and started cataloging existing books into the computerized system. She made some good progress. One of the volunteers straightened up the Guest House library and then added about 35 books to it from the proven duplicates in the library office. Three continued reading the shelves against the shelf listing, discovering books that had "walked". An interesting finding was that a whole section of books on Vietnam had disappeared. My guess is that a previous regime decided to de-accession them and had forgotten to take the cards out of that section of the file.

And one brave soul began something close to my heart. She started to check bibliographies of monastic history to see what we might have, and more importantly, what we might not have. Most of our acquisitions come from two sources: gifts of collections by people who are downsizing their libraries, or after death, and books that the brethren have acquired and which filter down the stairs in due course. But we have not had much deliberate acquisition over the years, mostly because we have such a small budget. The first step in improving the collection is to find out what we need.

I have two great dreams for the library. The first is to begin systematically building up our collection in areas important to us, especially in scripture and monastic studies. Since many of the books we will want to fill out the collection are out of print, the best way is to identify the ones we want and then start looking for them, purchasing what we can find and afford (donations anyone?) and beginning a regular list of desired volumes on the website that people might donate. The second dream is to begin welcoming writers and scholars to use the library. It is a small collection and probably never will be a scholarly destination for the holdings. And we don't want the books to circulate outside the monastery. But our library is a very congenial environment for study, reflection and writing. The Community, which has not been intensely focused on the library over the years (for many members, it is just there, as it were), has begun to wake up to the ministry possibilities our collections may hold.

It gives me enormous satisfaction to watch the collection improve. And as it does, it is even more satisfying to watch the brethren and others take a renewed interest in reading and study.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville

I spent most of the week after Easter at the Conference for Benedictine formation directors, held at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN.

The trip there was only mildly arduous, involving an overnight stay in New York City with one of my oldest friends in OHC, Fr. Carl Sword. Carl has been a psychotherapist practicing in NYC for many years, and like me, for many years a monk not in residence. I was up and out early on Tuesday morning and took the airport shuttle bus from outside Grand Central Terminal to La Guardia. The Northwest (becoming Delta) flight to Minneapolis was uneventful. At the gate for the connecting flight to St. Cloud I found Fr. Aelred Glidden, the Prior and Novice Master from St. Gregory’s in Three Rivers, MI, and Fr. Joel Rippinger, our conference leader. Fr. Joel is a well-known Benedictine scholar whose specialty is the history of the monastic movement in North America. He is the author of the standard history of American Benedictine communities, and is a monk of Marmion Abbey in Aurora, IL. The flight to St. Cloud lasts about 11 minutes, shorter than its attendant preparation and debarkation procedures. The flight steward was humorous throughout in the best self-deprecating Lake Woebegone, MN, fashion. Jokes about the flight to and from Minneapolis and the St. Cloud airport are de rigueur at St. John’s.

We were met by Br. Paul Richards, the Novice Master at St. John’s. Last summer, Br. Paul finished a 20-some year stint as director of the boys’ choir associated with St. John’s schools, and took up his new work at the same time I did. I sat up front in the van and had the opportunity to talk with him at length. He took us the scenic way. I had never been in Minnesota before, but it looked a lot like I remember the area around Lansing from my Michigan State days – flat to low rolling countryside, patches of woods and occasional wet areas. The campus of St. John’s is very large, encompassing farmlands and St. John’s University. The monastery is only a small part of it, forming a bridge between the Church and the University buildings.

The Church is enormous, looming over everything. Designed by Marcel Breuer and built in the 1950's, it is resolutely mid-20th century modern, representing I suppose an ecclesiastical version of brutalism in its style. The famous front is dominated by the campanile wall. I had seen pictures of it, but had no idea of it as a functioning building nor of its relation to its surroundings. After four days of worship in it I found it a liturgical success, both for the Daily Office and for the Eucharist.

The Community at St. John’s could not have been warmer in its welcome. My entire time there was punctuated by kind greetings and the small conversations between monks which indicate good will and benevolent interest, from the retired monks to the newest members and even to the Abbot, who sat down next to me at lunch on Friday. Abbot John Klassen is a listener, and obviously both a kind and a firm father of the community. He, like our Presiding Bishop, is a scientist by training. The atmosphere of the monastery and community was one of respectful, mutual and loving patriarchy in the best Benedictine sense.

We were housed in the monastery, some in the older section, others (including me) in the newer Breuer wing connecting to the Church. These newer rooms are functional, laid out like simple motel rooms: an entrance area with closet on one side and bathroom on the other, then a fair sized room with a big window and sliding door with view of the lake which the monastery property encompasses.

The daily worship schedule begins with morning prayer at 7, then noon prayers, Eucharist at 5, and evening prayer at 7. We were busy in the evenings, but my impression is that Compline is voluntary and private. They generally wear habits but no big fuss is made if some of the monks come in civvies. They use their own books -- well-printed and loose leaf, a seven or eight binder set -- for the daily office, as one would expect at this great liturgical center. The psalms are the Grail translation, the music is to modern modes – two or more simple melodies in a set, much as our Camaldolese friends do, and which Holy Cross uses in Santa Barbara and Grahamstown. The St. John’s usage is distributed with artful variety and care between the two sides of choir and one, sometimes two, cantors, which they call soloists. The organ backs up the melody. The singing is well-modulated and in the somewhat indistinct acoustical environment of the Breuer church it blends well and sounds good. I am not a huge fan of this setting for the Office, but at St. John’s it works and I enjoyed it. I found myself looking forward to the next time of prayer.

The other participants included Aelred and Paul as well as the three-man formation team from St. Meinrad’s, in southern Indiana, and individual “formators” (as the Roman Catholic world now designates those who usher in the new monkly generation) from St. Gregory's Abbey in Shawnee, OK; New Subiaco in Subiaco, AR; from Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin, SD; from Holy Trinity in St. David, AZ; from Christ the King in Schuyler, NE; and from St. Benedict's in Oxford, MI. It was quite a jolly group.

The conference itself was wonderful. On the first day Fr. Rippinger led us through some strategies for teaching the Rule of St. Benedict, and on the second day ways to approach teaching our individual monastic community history. I found it very useful.

One of the blessings of our time at St. John’s was the funeral of Br. William Borgerding. He was a classic monastic character. His uncle had been a monk there as well, a missionary among the Native Americans who formed part of the monastery’s original ministry in Minnesota. Br. Willie was in charge of cattle until they gave that up, and then was monastic night watchman for both the monastery and the university. He was both loved and legendary among the students, and when the student pub opened, they voted to name it after him – Brother Willie’s Pub. I imagine that his legends include reasons for his name being appropriate to a pub. It was a privilege to share the rites surrounding his burial, which included the reception of the body and vigil on Wednesday evening, and the office of the dead, funeral and burial on Thursday. The monastic community, including all of us attending the conference, processed chanting in double file, leading a large gathering of family and friends, to the cemetery overlooking the lake, where Br. Willie was laid to rest, the latest in lines of hundreds all buried in their new order of precedence, that of their entrance into the Larger Life of the Risen Christ.