Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Back to Blogging

I've not shared anything on the blog since last June.  Apologies.  No excuses except the usual -- preoccupation and perfectionism leading to sloth.  So I will try to catch up in the next bit of time.

Meanwhile, here is a link to my sermon on the occasion of the Order's annual celebration of the Feast of Fr. Huntington.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Week One in Geneva

Well, I've actually been here a bit more than a week.  I arrived Thursday morning, after an ok overnight flight on a subsidiary (I think) of Lufthansa called Swiss International Airlines.  The only nonstop flights from NYC or Newark to Geneva.  Waiting to pick me up was Alan Wittrup, husband of the Senior Warden of Emmanuel Church, who kindly took some time off his work at the International Labor Organization to greet a nervous traveler. 

Denise Bénéteau, wife of the Rector, welcomed me to their apartment.  What a nice person!  After organizing me, for which I am profoundly grateful, she left the next day for a week of cycling down one of the major rivers of France with her husband, who is on sabbatical.  I spent the next few days orienting myself -- getting a transit pass (CHF 50 instead of 75 because I am now 65), etc.

I was full of plans.  But I gradually realized I had no energy for plans.  So I have spent the better part of the week doing little things and resting.  I had no idea how tired I was, especially after the runup to Chapter, with Finance Committee and other obligations.  Yesterday (Friday) I woke up from a nap and realized I had my energy back, and went out for a long walk.  But a week to recover!

Last Sunday was the first at Emmanuel.  What wonderful, welcoming people!  And afterward the annual Choir Picnic, at the lovely suburban home of one of the choir families.  My first social meal in Geneva, and it was hot dogs, hamburgers and perfectly divine ribs, with rhubarb pie for dessert!  And ice cream sundaes, served up by the kids, who were dressed as waiters and perfectly charming as they took our orders.  Though they were a little vague about all the topping options, the menu memory running basically to chocolate sauce.  They were great!

During my weeklong slough of exhaustion I did manage several interesting things.  A parishioner who lives on the floor above took me and her visiting daughters and their friends to a recital of vocal students held at the Auditoire Calvin, next to the Cathedral in the Old City.  The Auditoire was one of the places where Calvin held forth.  Fifteenth century gothic church, small, stripped of everything visually interesting.  Used weekly now for services by the Scottish Presbyterians, and less frequently by the Dutch Calvinists and the Waldensians.  The recital was interesting, and perhaps illustrative of a vocal teacher's life:  several youngsters of varying promise, wildly cheered by their friends and families.  Some older folk who seem to want to graduate from singing for their own benefit to something more public, again with varying promise.  And several really, really good voices, professional or near professional quality.  One of them was the reason we were there, Patty Solomon, youth coordinator at Emmanuel, possessed of a perfectly wonderful soprano voice.  She sang Gershwin's "Summertime" better than I think I have ever heard it.  The note at the end -- high and long, the signature of the piece -- was absolutely thrilling.  One of the older guys, whose first piece was so-so, sang for his second "Bring him home" from Les Miserables.  I love that song anyway (what does that say about a life as a monk --  the son I've never known, etc.).  He did it with amazing expression.  I was moved to tears.  A late night walk back made it a perfect evening.

I returned to the Vielle Ville to see the Cathedrale de St. Pierre.  The interior is what you would expect a fourteenth/fifteenth century gothic cathedral gone Calvinist to be --  essentially devoid of interest except for the architecture itself, which is standard issue medieval gothic.  But underneath is the real story.  There has been first class archaeological work underneath the cathedral, with walkways through the various zones of the site.  This tour carries you all the way back to ca. 100 BCE, when the site was essentially created with the burial of some tribal worthy, likely an Allobrogian chieftain, whose skeleton (I am supposing it really is his skeleton, and not a display copy) is a little more than half exposed.  Over him in succession were raised a sort of mausoleum, then a tribal temple to his genius (presumably), then a Roman temple, then a church, then another church, and then another and another, and so on.  His burial essentially defined the space as holy. 

I then visited the Musée de la Reforme, and was fortunate to latch onto the English language tour.  It is housed in a very fine 18th century house built over the former cloister of the cathedral.  Books, books and more books, lots of paintings, lots of letters.  I located a copy of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, but not the Edict itself.  And something curious about the bookshop: tons of Calvin, of course, but not a single Bible in sight.  The charming attendant told me there was a Bible store just down the hill.  Curious.  Not enough Bible business for two shops selling the scriptures?  In Geneva??

The music director at Emmanuel is a seriously gifted woman named Shauna Beesley.  She is a singer and composer.  She recently composed an opera on Michael Servetus, the proto-Unitarian who was burned at the stake on Calvin's instructions.  Le procés de Michel Servet.  Major blot on Calvin's historical copy book, perhaps the biggest blot.  The opera was produced in Geneva, but ran into various roadblocks. Apparently the City of Calvin is still quite protective of his memory.  Shauna and her husband invited me to dinner, with the purpose of reading through Shauna's adaptation of a novel as a libretto.  I won't say which novel so as not to step on her fame when and if it is composed and produced as an opera.  Fascinating!  There we were, reading as best we could, Shauna changing things on the spot, and all of us discussing how this or that worked.  She is amazing.

Tomorrow, Sunday, is Youth Sunday.  The kids are doing basically everything except the sermon (which I will key to the younger ones -- the calming of the storm, perfect for child participation) and the consecration of the elements.  Then the Church picnic, held at a grand maison in the country belonging to one of the parishioners.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Eastertide and Ministry

Holy Week and Easter have came and gone. It was glorious here at the Monastery. The community gave quite a lot of thought to what went well and what didn't go so well last year and made a few adjustments. Nothing major, but they worked pretty well. For the last few years I have been asked to be the confessor for the clergy before the Holy Tuesday Mass of Collegiality at which the clergy renew their ordination vows at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. I regard it as a great privilege, and think the Order is honored to have one of OHC's priests do so, and march in and sit up front and all that sort of glorification. Not that the whole clerical order is lined up for the sacrament of penance. But I am always moved by those who do.

 The monastery's Library Volunteers were with us again at the beginning of May. This is a working retreat program that has grown in its three years or so into a real community of people. I can't express how wonderful it is to have their help in the never-ending work of improving our library collection.

The last two Sundays (May 27 and June 3) I took the service at the Spanish language congregation of La Virgén de Guadalupe, which meets at Christ Church, Poughkeepsie. I was cheered to find that I could still officiate and preach in Spanish after some years away from that ministry, which has been such an important part of my life. The service on June 3 began with a baptism and then 8 first communions, so it was a very family affair. There is a wonderful sort of background noise that babies and little ones make in church that I realized I have missed -- sort of like the waves of the sea at the shore, rising and falling, sometimes soft and sometimes not so soft, but continuous. I love it, and it was such a joy to be in it again. Those making their first communions ranged from about 6 or 7 to 22, all dressed in white, as is customary. The lay leader of the congregation, Dominga Jimenez, was marvelous leading me through a ceremony I had not performed in some years, and which is always a little different in each church.

June 3 was also Trinity Sunday, and I preached at the Monastery. The sermon is posted here.

This week is Chapter for the Order of the Holy Cross. The brethren are gathering. The Finance Committee, of which I am chair, meets today. I have spend days getting the information packets ready -- statements and budgets from all four monasteries (West Park; Santa Barbara; Toronto; Grahamstown, South Africa), the Holy Cross School, the OHC Corporation and our financial advisers, various grant requests, as well as matters relevant to this meeting of Chapter. It's a lot, and it will have to move along fairly briskly in order to do everything we need to do. I'll be glad when it is accomplished.

Next week, when Chapter is over, I will fly to Geneva, Switzerland, to be one of the priests who will take Sunday services at Emmanuel Episcopal Church there while the Rector, John Beach, is on sabbatical. It is a working vacation. I'll be there the Sundays of June 17 and 24 and July 1 and 8.  I've never been to Switzerland, and hope to travel around a bit. Many adventures!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Have a Holy Triduum and Easter

The Monastery is in the midst of our preparations for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter. I presided at the Eucharist on Palm Sunday, and seem to be free to worship for the rest, except possibly for Easter Sunday, for which the duty list has not yet been published. What a privilege!

I spent 16 years organizing liturgies, presiding and preaching for this holy season at St. Michael's, Anaheim and at St. Edward the Martyr, East Harlem. It was a joy and a privilege each and every year to do so, but it is also a joy and privilege to be a simple worshiper.

May the Lord's Supper be our supper. May his passion inform our passion. May his death be with us as we die, and may his resurrection lead us on the way to new life.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

At Holy Cross Priory, Toronto

I had a wonderful retreat at OHC's Holy Cross Priory in Toronto last month, and it is time to write about it.

I took Amtrak up to Toronto on Sat., Feb. 18, for an eight day individual retreat at OHC's Priory there. The train trip was quite restful, and while Amtrak is not the ne plus ultra of train travel, it was comfortable, the microwaved cheeseburger was more or less edible, the Canadian immigration people were polite, and we were only about an hour late getting in. Brothers David Bryan and Randy met me at Union Station.

I had started to develop a cold before I left and by Sunday morning it was in full flower. I actually spent the first three days of my retreat laying low, except for a planned visit to the Royal Ontario Museum with May Kong, a friend of OHC and an expert in Chinese art. The brothers were very kind, and I gradually began to emerge.

The prayer life at the Priory is simple but follows the full OHC schedule using our Monastic Breviary. David Bryan and Reginald work outside the house, Richard is engaged in scholarship at home, Randy is attending seminary at Wycliffe College, Christian is retired but still active, and Leonard was in Ghana teaching, as he has for some years. But everyone (except Leonard, of course) comes back for dinner every evening, and there is a warm family feeling to community life. I grew to love our Priory more and more every day.

My agenda for the retreat was to rest (which the cold forced me to do), learn a bit about Chinese and Canadian art, pray with the community, read a new theologian (this time Margaret Barker and her work on Old Testament temple theology) and have lots of time to pray quietly. All of which was exactly what I was able to do.

OHC's Fr. Turkington, who was resident at the Priory in Toronto for many years, was an unrelentingly positive person, and always said that whatever was being done just then by the community was the best he had ever seen. So I guess I am channeling him when I say, This was the best retreat I ever had!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Abba John the Dwarf and Lent B

I preached at the Monastery on March 4, Lent 2B. The Old Testament lesson was God's promise of a child to Abraham and Sarah. The Gospel was Jesus' prediction of the crucifixion, to which Peter objects, and which earns him the famous rebuke, Get behind me, Satan! In looking for the common link, I thought of the old story of Abba John the Dwarf, whose own abba when he was starting out had him water a stick planted in the ground as a discipline. Pointless, or so it seemed.

The sermon was well received, so I thought I would include a link to it here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Church of England European Chaplaincies - Some Thoughts

Tony Jewiss asked me to write a little something about my experience with the congregation at Limoux for the Chaplaincy Newsletter, and so I did. With his permission, I publish it here. I think it is mostly self-explanatory, but just a little background:

There are (surprise, surprise) Brits scattered more or less everywhere in the world. Some places have well-established Anglican churches, including all the Anglophone countries and the former colonies. But there are parts of the world that never were British nor which learned to use the English language as their national form of communication. In such places (most of Europe and the Middle East, for example) the Church of England has formed chaplaincies. They have various origins and manifestations. Their common characteristic, as I see it, is that they bring together the Anglican British diaspora for worship and characteristic Christian activities in countries where Anglicanism is a rare and exotic flower. Most do not seem to have full time clergy, or buildings, or many of the other trappings of your usual Anglican bodies when in full fig.

So here goes:

One of the joys of the last two years has been coming to know the Church of England congregation which meets in Limoux. I came to know it through Fr. Tony Jewiss, the pastor, who is an old and dear friend. It is a completely unexpected joy. I never thought I would be in Languedoc-Roussillon for any time, and I certainly did not expect to find a church home there, and so many friends.

The congregation at the chapel of St. Augustine in the heart of Limoux is warm and welcoming and faithful and friendly and full of fun. It is small, but the congregation does all the things I would expect an Anglican congregation to be doing – good preaching, music, lay ministries, Bible study, Christian education for children, a variety of liturgies, coffee hour after the service, charitable and ecumenical outreach, pastoral concern for its own members and for the British diaspora in the Languedoc-Roussillon. In fact, I imagine if all the things the congregation does were listed, people would be pleased and a little surprised at how much is done! Where do they get the energy?

What I see in Limoux interests me very much. It is no surprise to anyone that the whole Church faces challenges today, and we Anglicans have our own set. Smaller numbers and not enough money and the anxiety that brings; buildings which are frequently both beautiful and expensive; our dear and very accomplished clergy, who when they work full time cost rather a lot; a large and complex institutional structure. These challenges from within sometimes leave little energy for engagement with the political, social and theological challenges believing Anglicans face from outside the Church.

So it is interesting to me to see in the Limoux congregation, and I can guess in others as well, a different model of doing church than most of us are used to, and which may have something to say to the wider church.

Here are some of the “disadvantages” I see in the Limoux chaplaincy, and perhaps in others: using someone else’s not always ideal buildings; part time clergy who are older, usually retired, and compensated for expenses and little else; the necessity to rely on volunteer lay people rather than paid staff; geographical dispersion and the lack of town or village focus, making communication a challenge; a very wide range of churchmanship in a single congregation; and of course, not very many people and not very much money.

But are these really disadvantages? Rephrase them and they sound something like: freedom from building maintenance worries and expense; experienced, and possibly wise, elders leading the congregation at small cost, and a witness to the value of older people; the development of lay ministries essential to the heart of the Church; developing new ways of being in touch with people and creating community, and with fewer meetings; a widely comprehensive appreciation of theology, liturgy and practice; intimacy and simplicity and energy released from seemingly insoluble problems which can invigorate small congregation ministries.

Perhaps the chaplaincies are in some ways “church lite”. They don’t have to bear all of the burdens of regular parishes, whose life is so vital to the Church. But perhaps it is not such a bad thing for some parts of the Church to tread lightly on the earth when so much of the Church doesn’t.

And perhaps it is good to concentrate on creating worship, faith and community with few resources, and to worry less about buildings, money, numbers and structure. Not the Church model for all, certainly, but a witness of great value, whose form of life can enrich the Body of Christ.