Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Searching for the Christ Child

The traditional Simple Massing Priest Christmas story - as told each year since 2007.

The title isn't quite so allegorical as you think. We actually spent about ten minutes before the Christmas Eve service desperately seeking the Baby Jesus for the main creche at the parish where I serve as interim priest.  
It is actually a very interesting creche, set up inside the altar itself. A simple wooden chevron suggests the stable, while the remaining figures stand on black satin.  
It was already in place on Sunday last. Actually in the Sunday before last as we compromised the calendar in the interest of the children's pageant. But Sunday last the creche had only its minimalist roof, one ox and one ass. Mary and Joseph were not far away - standing on the altar pavement - but they hadn't arrived yet. The shepherds weren't there yet either, out tending their sheep on the edge of the pulpit. And the magi were in the middle of the aisle at the back of the church, still some ways away.  
Tonight, Mary and Joseph, and after some panicked moments, the Baby Jesus, were all installed in their places. The shepherds were "summoned to his stable" during the gradual hymn. And the magi were now half way up the aisle - accompanied by a helpful "Mind the Camels" sign prepared by my good wife.  
It was a good celebration in a community which seems increasingly hopeful and future oriented. And generally united. There is no parish on earth that doesn't have some divisions and tensions. But this little parish seem quite determined to be a family together.  
We found Jesus tonight at St. James - literally, allegorically and eucharistically. We all came to the same table, together. That is where we belong in worship - at the same table, together.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Voice is Heard in Ramah

When I was in Indianapolis this summer, I had the privilege of meeting Ian Douglas, the Bishop of Connecticut.  I have been thinking of Bishop Ian a great deal over the past 36 hours as he, his suffragans, his clergy and his diocese respond to the act of terror which occured yesterday.

Ian has been posting regular updates, including the most recent I've seen, here.

He mentions the messages of support and the assurances of prayer that he has received from around the world.

The Diocese of Connecticut has been blessed by sisters and brothers in Christ across The Episcopal Church and from around the Anglican Communion who are holding us all in their hearts and prayers. We have heard from colleagues in almost every province of The Episcopal Church and from around the Anglican Communion. We are being remembered in prayer and in specific worship services in churches as far away as: Australia, Canada, Congo, Dubai, England, Guyana, Myanmar, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, and others. Never before have we felt the importance and efficacy of our common bonds in the Anglican Communion than we do now in this time of need and in the prayers received.

Bishop Ian's diocese is the oldest Anglican bishopric outside the British Isles.  In 1784, the Bishop of Aberdeen and two other Scottish bishops consecrated Bishop Ian's predecessor, Samuel Seabury, establishing an enduring link between the Episcopal Church in Scotland and the Episcopal Church in the United States.  Today, there is a formal Companion Diocese relationship between the Diocese of Connecticut and the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney.  The following prayer was written by the present Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, Robert Gillies, in response to the events of yesterday.

Sustaining and redeeming God, 
In sadness and in the tragedy of awful loss, we offer before you those young lives lost as a consequence of human violence this past week. 
We raise in the distress of this time the families of whose children are no longer to share life and joy with them. 
We mourn those other families also fractured by the needless killings of that day. 
As Jesus first came to his people and lives of the young and innocent were lost in the cruelty of one individual upon others, so now 2000 years on we stand alongside those whose similar grief is beyond our imagining. 
Holy and loving God bring all consolation that can be brought to those most in need of your presence today, and never cease to make your presence real in this their hour of need.
To you we voice this prayer, Amen.

Bishop Robert's prayer makes reference to the now often forgotten story of the Holy Innocents as related in Matthew 2: 16 - 18.  Herod, terrified at the prospect of a new King in Israel, orders an act of mass murder and state terrorism.  This aria relates to the the scriptural account:
A voice is heard in Ramah ... Rachel, weeping for her children.  She refuses to be comforted because they are no more.
The selection does not speak of hope, for the hope which Jesus brings is not yet known.  We pray that the Rachels of Newtown may know a greater and more immediate comfort.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Suffer the little children . . .

Today, as usual, I picked up my grandson and his mother to give him a ride to preschool.  Unusually, I also ended up picking him up at lunch time and delivering him back to his mother.  I was at the school for only a few moments, and shared only a few words with the teacher who was supervising their play time.

Yet somehow, that brief encounter made the horrific news from Newport, Connecticut feel as though it was even closer to home.

A school, likely not all that different from the school Oliver attends.  Teachers every bit as dedicated to their charges as Oliver's teachers.  Children not much older than Oliver.

Like every parent, every grandparent, every person who has ever cared for a child, my heart is torn in grief for those children, for those teachers, for those families.

The insanity of a political culture that wails in grief while effectively condoning an epidemic of mass murder is simply to much to bear.  Already, the NRA and their fellow travellers are playing their propaganda games.  One longs for the day when the endorsement of the NRA will be as politically toxic as the endorsement of the KKK.

In the mean time, at least 20 children are dead, brutally slain.  Dedicated teachers have died with their charges.  An entire community has been rent asunder.  A generation of young children have had their innocence destroyed.  And all of this with the enthusiastic support of the far right fringe and the effective collaboration of a fearful majority.

Lord have mercy.

O God, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them, give us grace to entrust these innocents to your never-failing care and love, and bring us all to your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Most merciful God, whose wisdom is beyond our understanding, deal graciously with the people of Newtown in their grief. Surround them with your love, that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss, but have confidence in your goodness and strength to meet the days to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


 The picture is Trinity Church, Newtown, Connecticut, immediately prior to a prayer service earlier this evening.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Conformed to the Image of Christ the Good Shepherd

In less than 12 hours, our diocesan synod will begin voting to select the XIIth Bishop of Qu'Appelle. You can read about the process, including the diocesan profile and the profiles of the candidates here.

Although I've had ample time for it to sink in, I still find myself somewhat surprised to be one of those candidates.  Until six months ago, I had presumed that past blotting of my copybook would preclude me ever being a candidate.

It has been very strange to be a part of this process.  From time to time I found myself imagining what I might do about certain things were I to be elected.  It was not a helpful place for me to dwell.  But difficult in a different way was planning future activities in the parish, aware that I might not be the priest to see those things through.

A friend sent me an email yesterday with some excellent advice should I become bishop.  The thing is, it is equally good advice should I not become bishop and remain a simple massing priest.  I share it here as he has written it to me, with certain identifying bits and pieces appropriately redacted.
Hi Malcolm,
I think you would be a good bishop. God has certainly refined you in the fire over the years. May I ask you to do one thing if you are chosen? Love your people, Malcolm. Love your people and love your clergy. Shepherd them. Do not drive them before you like cattle. In a sense whatever you do as a bishop is irrelevant. (In my humble opinion.) It’s who you are as a bishop that is essential. And whether you’re bishop, pastor or housepainter, you already are who you are, created and called by God, formed by the Holy Spirit, refined in the Spirit’s fire, conformed to the Image of Christ the Good Shepherd. 
Please don’t think I have it in for all episcopoi or even for the archbishop that has been given to me. The man who ordained me,                          ,was a saint. What shone through his shy demeanor was immense love and humility. Whether he was “conservative” or “liberal” ultimately didn’t matter. He cared for us. He loved us. That kind of love cannot be faked. He literally breathed it with every fiber of his being.                           , too, before him, loved us.              was “liberal”,              was “conservative”. Ultimately, none of that matters. I could give a rat’s ass in what “direction” my diocese goes or what “great plans” anyone has for it. Maybe I once believed that was important, but I don’t anymore. Malcolm, love your people with all your heart, be their shepherd, be a father to them. Shepherd and father may sound archaic but, dammit, that’s what we need!  
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.
God bless!

Good advice for anyone who has the cure of souls.
By the end of tomorrow, someone will be the Bishop-elect of Qu'Appelle.  I ask your prayers for whoever it may be.