Archive for the Doing Church Category

Goings On

Posted in Background, Doing Church, Reflection with tags , , , , on January 18, 2020 by timtrue

In an effort to help the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona out, I’ve agreed to do some pulpit-supply work on Sundays through March.

On the one hand, it’s great to be able to do this without interrupting my responsibilities as a school chaplain. But on the other, I’m finding that I don’t have as much energy as I used to in order to put in an extra 15 or so works hours a week.

Did I say fifteen hours? Yes, often more even.

It’s two different congregations with a round-trip of 240 miles. I leave on Sundays at 6:45am and return around 4:45pm. That’s ten hours right there.

But, also, I’ve found I really miss preaching to adults; so, admittedly, I’m putting in more hours that I need to on my sermons.

Check out the last two, to be posted shortly.

Peace!

A Baby’s Dependence

Posted in Doing Church, Homilies with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2020 by timtrue

The following homily, below the photo, was delivered on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, at St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona. At this service I also had the privilege of baptizing my first granddaughter, seen in this photo.

OMS baptism

Matthew 2:1-12

1.

Today marks the 12th day of Christmas, the Epiphany, 12 drummers drumming.

Back on Christmas Eve, the 1st day of Christmas (technically), we heard about a sign: this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby in a manger.

A sign: a baby.

And today, as we complete this journey, the wise men from the East, the magi, who followed a star, find this sign, the baby in a manger; and they present this baby with incredible gifts, kingly gifts, gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Epiphany is the feast when we celebrate this part of this remarkable story: when the wise men from the East find the sign, the baby in the manger. Jesus is an epiphany to the world. God is not just for the Jewish people, but for all people.

We remember this baby in the church calendar by celebrating year after year the twelve days of Christmas. We feast sumptuously. We pull out all the stops—both literally, with the organ and choir and a special orchestra; and figuratively, decking the halls with candles and wreaths and so on. Our main liturgical color is white, which symbolizes resurrection, hope, new life.

But what happens on January 7th, the day after the Epiphany?

The decorations get put away, the wise men make their long journey home, the main liturgical color returns to green.

Green time is called referred to as ordinary time. On the day after the Epiphany we return to ordinary time. Ho hum.

And so, I’ve heard it said that, on the day after the Epiphany—after the wise men from the East showed up and gave their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and after they began their long journey home—the next day, January 7th, three rather ordinary women show up, some of Mary’s friends, and they give ordinary gifts: bottles, diapers, and a stroller.

But, of course, these are just ordinary women bringing ordinary gifts, so we don’t celebrate a feast for them. We’ve returned to green. Ho hum.

2.

But, really, a baby? What do you think Mary would have been more excited about? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh; or bottles, diapers, and a stroller?

As many of you know, a baby recently entered my life: my first grandbaby. In fact, I will be baptizing her in a few minutes. Can I tell you a little bit about her?

So, as is always the case, we knew she’d be arriving soon. For us this meant somewhere around the end of October or the beginning of November. So, you know how it is, we prepared for the baby’s arrival. Kind of like Advent.

The parents live in Yuma, about 3.5 hours by car from our house. So, around Oct. 20, we told our daughter, “We’re packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Just text us when you go into labor.”

And we were! Overnight bags sat by the door. Arrangements had been made at work.

Then, on Nov. 1, at 7:15 am, just as I was about to head out the door to work, I got the text.

Now, Holly, my wife, was already on her way to work, heading west on I-10 with our son. So, I called her and said, “Turn around. She’s in labor!” Which Holly did.

And somehow we tied up all the necessary loose ends and managed to get on the road by 8 am, placing us in the Yuma Regional parking lot at 11:20.

Good thing too, for we poked our heads in the hospital room and said our hellos to our daughter and son in-law; and after only a few minutes my daughter said, “Dad; can you get the nurse? I think it’s happening!”

Well, it was. And just like that, at 12:51 pm on All Saints’ Day, weighing in at 7 lbs., 5 oz., and measuring 19 inches, we welcomed this brand new baby girl into the world.

And you can be certain: diapers, bottles, onesies, and even a stroller were waiting for her.

But there wasn’t any gold, frankincense, or myrrh.

Now, here’s the thing: here’s where I’m going with this.

Babies are wonderful—and cute; and they fill us with joy and gladness. But they’re also deeply dependent upon us.

Babies need other people—to the point that those other people—us—we have to take a break from “normal” life for a season.

We revolve our lives around the babies we welcome into the world. We and the babies we love become intimately and intricately wrapped up in each other’s details.

This is natural. This is normal. It is an image we all know and understand.

And it is the image by which God was made known to the world.

For to you will be a sign, an epiphany: a baby in a manger.

3.

Isn’t this incredible? Think this through with me.

Before this sign, this Epiphany, throughout the ancient world the predominant image of God was a king. And it wasn’t just the Jews. The Greeks and Romans had their pantheon with Zeus sitting on his throne, ruling the worlds of the gods and humans from on high, above Mount Olympus, the king of the gods.

So, what if our predominant image of God is that of a king? What does this image do for us?

A good king makes wise decisions. A good king protects and provides for his people.

So far, so good.

But what happens when we push back a little? What happens when we ask a question like, “How does our king protect us?”

Well, historically, it’s been through military strength and might.

And when we envision God predominantly as our king, don’t we end up wanting our God to be the strongest and mightiest king ever, the king of kings and lord of lords? It’s a natural inclination. I mean, after all, God is the best, right?

So, here’s where we take it—or, at least, here’s where history took it. We think, “We have our freedoms, freedoms given to us by God our king. And we want to keep these freedoms. And, really, wouldn’t it be best if everyone else could experience these same freedoms?”

So, taking its cue from the Roman Empire, the church sought to establish and maintain a Holy Roman Empire—mainly through force!

Through military might, known as the Crusades!

And through strength, known as the Explorations into the New World!

And today—2020—hindsight shows us how many lives were lost senselessly—because God our king, we told ourselves, wanted to expand his empire.

Really, do we want our predominant image of God to be a king?

By the way, since I’ve brought it up, here’s something else a king does: A king rules and reigns from on high. A king makes his decisions from some far-off place. A king is aloof. A king has very little concern for us in our details; in our day-to-day lives.

So, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my predominant image of God to be that of an aloof king, detached, not really concerned with my day-to-day life; exercising strength, might, force, and violence to get his way.

Instead, I rather like the image of a baby: that of God being intimately and intricately tangled up in the messy details of my life, unconditionally loving me as a newborn loves her mother.

What about you?

Maybe this is why, when the fulness of the time had come—when the dawn of a new era was made known to all humanity—when the Epiphany at last took place—when the new way of love was forever established—maybe this is why the image of God was not a king in all his regal splendor with his royal retinue, but a baby in a manger.

4.

To bring this all home, then, I ask us all a question: What if we, the church, as people desiring to follow God through Christ—what if we were to take this shift in divine imagery seriously?

What impacts might this shift make on our life together? What might this shift do to our liturgy? Our music? Our art? Our vestments? Our processions? Our architecture? Our outreach?

It works something like this. Take the idea that a baby is utterly dependent on the people who love her. Now, apply this to God. If we are to take the image of God as a baby seriously, then we must entertain the idea that, at least in some way, God is utterly dependent on us.

Well, that’s preposterous! God doesn’t need us!

Or is it?

Jesus came to bring good news to all people: to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to set captives free. These are real acts, tangible acts, messy acts. You know, this mission fails without us. And thus, in this way at least, God is utterly dependent on us, the church: to accomplish Christ’s mission.

The image of God as a baby reminds us that God is intimately and intricately tangled up in the messy details of our lives; and that God is not there to judge us but, rather, like a dependent baby, to love us unconditionally.

Do you see how this works? Doesn’t pondering this shift in divine imagery seem worthwhile?

The image of God as a baby isn’t just some sweet story to bring a little cheer to our winter blues year after year. Rather, taken seriously, it is nothing short of revolutionary—like everything else about Jesus.

6th Grade Prayers

Posted in Doing Church, Education, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 22, 2019 by timtrue

The prayers that follow are the result of a unit on prayer I just completed with my 6th grade World Religions course. They will be incorporated into next week’s school Thanksgiving Eucharist liturgy (the Prayers of the People), just before school staff distributes about 70 turkey dinners to the students and their families. I hope you find these prayers as life-giving as I do.

God, we thank you for the religions of the world, the hope they bring, and the wisdom of religious leaders around the world; may all their members follow their missions, so that the world will become a better place. We pray that religious wars everywhere would come to an end.

We thank you for Tucson’s nice weather, that we don’t have to deal with hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes. We also thank you that we live in a democracy where people can make a difference through voting. We pray for our political leaders, that they make good decisions not for just a few people but for everybody.

We thank you for all the people who care about cleaning up our world; and for all the people working to bring peace to the world. We pray for a world where people are not judged by the color of their skin or because of how they look; and we pray that love, justice, and peace would increase throughout the world.

We pray for the suffering, betrayed, homeless, and enslaved; and for those who have died.

We thank you for our school’s staff members and teachers and the other people who care about our education. We thank you, also, for camp, Playformance, and electives; for the Family Pantry; and for all the food and fun we have at school. We pray that we learn to love and care for one another, that we will be ready for high school and college, that Imago Dei Middle School grows, and that our donors keep donating.

Accept, O God, our thanks and praise for all you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. Amen.

In case you don’t know, Imago Dei Middle School is devoted to breaking cycles of poverty through Episcopal education. It is a tuition-free private school. All students are living in poverty. Most are considered at-risk. Please let me know if you would like to learn more.

Resigning

Posted in Doing Church, Rationale with tags , , , on May 4, 2019 by timtrue

The following letter, explaining my impending departure, went out to the St. Thomas community yesterday. I will offer more detailed rationale in the weeks to come.

April 30, 2019

Dear St. Thomas Community,

I write today with mixed emotions; my time with you is quickly coming to an end.

After months of prayerful discernment with the Bishop, the diocesan Canon for Deployment, and my spiritual directors, I have decided to leave parish ministry in favor of school chaplaincy. My last official day will be May 31st; with eight accrued days of vacation, this means my last Sunday with you will be May 19th.

St. Thomas is a beacon of Christ’s light in Riverside County and the Diocese of San Diego. During my short tenure here I have been challenged, strengthened, and encouraged by this community. You have helped me grow in my leadership and administrative skills. Thank you.

As your vicar, I have tried to follow Christ throughout, seeking to bring to St. Thomas an increased understanding of what it means to be a community. Together we have asked the questions, “What is Christ’s call to us as a body?” and, “What is our reasonable response to that corporate call?” I exhort you to continue moving forward here. Keep building relationships with our neighbors; welcome, include, and learn from all; serve the marginalized.

My new position will be Chaplain of Imago Dei School in downtown Tucson, Arizona. Imago Dei is a tuition-free Episcopal school that serves low-income students and their families, working towards breaking the cycle of poverty through education. For more information, or to help this unique organization achieve its goals, see https://www.imagodeischool.org.

I will keep the St. Thomas community in my prayers; please do the same for me and my family.

Christ’s Blessings,

Father Tim

Vicar’s Annual Report

Posted in Doing Church, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 31, 2019 by timtrue

St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church’s (Temecula, California) Annual Meeting was held on January 27, 2019 at 11:30 a. m. This was included in the Annual Report, distributed prior to the Annual Meeting. It gives a good glimpse into the practical sides of running a church.

In my report this year I want to begin with a piece of financial transparency. St. Thomas is in a considerable amount of debt. Presently the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego is holding our promissory note (think mortgage) in the amount of approximately $1.8 million. We are repaying it back at 5% interest. Without going into detail, what this means is that we paid down principal on the note by about $30,000 in 2018. We’re poised to do the same in 2019. Additionally, we have a “backburner” loan with the diocese of approximately $900,000—backburner because we presently pay no interest on it but still owe (and will likely start paying interest once our promissory note is paid). Long story short, we’re managing; but at our present tack it will take about 75 years to pay off our total debt.

It didn’t take long after my arrival at St. Thomas to sense a feeling of anxiety here. This understandable, isn’t it? We are in a large amount of debt. The mainline church has been declining in membership and pledges steadily over the past four decades. Closer to home, the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego has had to make the difficult decision to sell several church properties over the last dozen years or so. So, what will happen to us if we can’t keep up?

Anxiety isn’t always a bad thing, though. I applaud the creativity I’ve seen since arriving here, especially with respect to space sharing (for a fee, of course). Our parking lot is a “Park and Ride” area. Cadenza Music Academy uses our nave for rehearsals on Thursday nights. We recently hosted a diocesan Walkabout event. Anxiety has motivated us to think in creative ways about how best to steward the property that houses our spiritual community.

Perhaps best of all, the diocese is motivated in this way too. There is keen interest on the diocese’s part to partner with us in order to help us achieve the sustainability we so desire—maybe through developing the vacant part of our land, through rethinking our promissory note’s terms, through a combination of these, or through some other means. Stay tuned in 2019 as these ideas begin to take form.

Indeed, we are moving forward with respect to our financial situation, taking action. Now, though a level of anxiety remains, what I sense is a stronger feeling of hope and vision. We are making great strides towards becoming a full-fledged parish.

But, of course, the church is not just about making ends meet. It’s more—much more—about making disciples; about rallying together as a praying community to accomplish the mission Christ has left us, to proclaim good news to the world around us and heal and care for the sick and provide hope and advocacy for the marginalized and. . . .

The Bishop’s Committee and I did a lot of hard work in 2018 around ideas. We studied a book together that examines the most important elements of church life and devoted time during each of our meetings to hash out these ideas in conversation. This year I will work with the Bishop’s Committee to glean from the best of these mission-focused ideas and begin to put them into practice.

Exciting things are happening around here. Again, stay tuned in 2019!

Finally, then, the 2018 stats:

  • Eucharist celebrated 238 times: 149 on Saturday nights or Sundays; 46 on weekdays; and 43 in homes and hospitals. 6,459 total persons received.
  • Average Sunday attendance (ASA): 115.
  • Daily Office services: 12.
  • Baptisms: 1.
  • Confirmations: 5.
  • Reaffirmations: 1.
  • Weddings: 1.
  • Burials: 1.
  • Pledging (as of 1/15/2019): $163,014 ($167,672 last year).

Time for Slow Church?

Posted in Doing Church, Musings with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2019 by timtrue

Been falling behind a bit lately. Have a backlog of homilies from January and an Annual Report to post. Let me just say, lots going on. Here’s an article for the February newsletter:

Time for Slow Church?

We are in the Green Season again. That’s right, the season in our liturgical calendar when nothing seems to move quickly. We experience it for about six months after Pentecost; we experience it again between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. Which is where we are now, on the longer side this year because Easter is late, April 21. In fact, by Ash Wednesday (March 6), we will have spent fully eight of the past twelve months in this slow, mundane season.

Maybe you’re like me and want things to happen more quickly. The season of Advent lasts only four weeks—that seems about right. Then Christmas is only 12 days—even better! Best of all is Holy Week, because it only lasts, well, a week!

But hold on a minute! Is slow all that bad?

We live in a busy world. We’re used to speed, things happening fast, instant gratification. But—as we recently considered together the Wise Men from the East—God seldom takes us from Point A to Point B via a straight line. Despite all our efforts to the contrary, God’s ways of doing things are not always the most efficient, productive, or economical.

Along these lines, pockets of humanity are coming to grips with our culture’s proclivities for promptness. Are you aware of the so-called slow movements that are (forgive me) picking up speed around the world? There’s the Slow Food movement, begun by people like you and me who were tired of consuming mass-produced foods. There’s also a Slow Cities movement (called Cittaslow—it began in Italy), which in 2014 (the date of publication of the article I read about it) included more than 140 communities in 23 countries. To qualify, cities of fewer than 50,000 inhabitants are evaluated on categories such as sustainable agriculture, local food cultivation, land use, and hospitality. By the way, there is even a World Slow Day, which falls annually on February 26.

I believe that these slow movements—not to mention other popular trends like yoga and forms of meditative prayer—demonstrate a large-scale response to the frenetic pace that characterizes today’s world. In other words, the productive, efficient lives we lead are tiring us out; wouldn’t it do us all some good if we were able just to slow down a little?

Maybe it’s time for a Slow Church movement. This is actually a thing, by the way. There’s a rather good book out there called Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. There’s also a blog worthy of your perusal: slowchurch.com/blog/. But isn’t that what we’re already doing? During that Green Season? That slow, mundane part of the liturgical year when things move along like molasses?

This Sunday’s worship service will largely be the same as last Sunday’s. I will say, “The Lord be with you”; and you will respond, “And also with you”—just like we always do during the Green Season. I will recite the same Eucharistic Prayer I recited last week. And the body and blood will taste just the same.

But that’s the point! Our faith grows best over the course of time, slowly, organically, authentically.

Celebrating Inconvenience

Posted in Doing Church, Rationale with tags , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2017 by timtrue

17th-century_unknown_painters_-_The_Resurrection_of_Christ_-_WGA23478[1]The following article, which appears in the April/May newsletter of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Yuma, Arizona, discusses the significance of the historic Easter Vigil worship service.

“The Great Vigil, when observed, is the first service of Easter Day. It is celebrated at a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning.”

So says the Book of Common Prayer on page 284.

To which I ask, “Is there such a thing as a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning?”

Easter is late this year. Sunset will occur after seven o’clock, with real darkness only truly descending after 7:30. The rubrics of the Prayer Book constrain us really, then, to a first “convenient” time of 8pm.

But how convenient is 8pm for folks who cannot easily drive in the dark?

We do have other options, I suppose. “Between sunset and sunrise” means a midnight service would be appropriate, and midnight’s always cool. Or, for those who have trouble seeing in the dark, we could begin the service at 4:30am, timing it so that it would end just before sunrise (which will occur at 6:07am). That way people would only have to drive one way in the dark, and at a time of the day when there is very little traffic.

Still, neither of these options strikes me as any more convenient than 8pm.

The Prayer Book continues:

“The service normally consists of four parts:

  1. The Service of Light.
  2. The Service of Lessons.
  3. Christian Initiation [i. e., baptism], or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows.
  4. The Holy Eucharist with the administration of Easter Communion.”

In other words, it’s like a normal Sunday service—which consists of two parts, the Service of Lessons and the Holy Eucharist—with a couple of additions: the Service of Light and baptism.

That “Service of Light” part really does constrain us to the dark—a time between sunset and sunrise—which, let’s face it, really does feel inconvenient, no matter how we look at it.

And it feels even more inconvenient when we think about that other part, that baptism part!

I mean, really? The Prayer Book would rather we baptize at the (dark) Great Vigil than wait for the next day, when the sun is up and the Easter Lilies are smiling along with everyone else who got a good night’s sleep? What if that baptism is of a young child, who’d probably be in much better spirits on a bright Sunday morning than a dark Saturday night—not to mention his parents? Or what if the hoped for godparents aren’t able to make it out at night for whatever reason? Or what if? . . .

Okay, okay, I hear your questions. Yes, they are reasonable. Yes, a nighttime, dark service does indeed feel inconvenient. And yes, we could just as well forget about the Vigil and revert to the way things used to be around here, when we simply waited for Easter Sunday to roll around, stress day.

But if there’s one thing about me you’ve gotten to know by now, it’s that I highly respect our Episcopal tradition. And by “Episcopal tradition” I don’t mean the way we did things last year, five years ago, fifty, or even a hundred; I mean the tradition that goes back before the Reformation, before the marriage of the Roman and English Churches in the seventh century, even before the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. I want to go clear back as far as history will take us. How did the early church do it? That’s the tradition I’m talking about.

The reason I value this tradition so greatly is because many, many saints before us have thought long and hard—a lot longer and harder than any of us have—about how best to worship and glorify Christ. By the way, this is the rationale behind our Book of Common Prayer, leaving little room in our assemblies for novel, innovative liturgies.

And, even more importantly, there’s this: Jesus inconvenienced himself a great deal—when he emptied himself of the glories of heaven and became human; when he washed his disciples’ feet; when he stayed up all night praying fervently in the garden that his Father would take his cup from him; when he stood trial before Pilate; when he was stricken, smitten, afflicted, and nailed to the cross mercilessly; when he eked out his last breath—all for us! We break these dark inconveniences when we come to worship him at the Great Vigil, the fitting end to this drama known as the Passion, where we celebrate new light and life together—something the bright Sunday morning service just can’t replicate.

And thus, when it comes to worshiping Christ as God, the term inconvenience takes on new meaning.

Let’s celebrate this inconvenience—the Great Vigil, the tremendous conclusion to Christ’s Passion—together on Saturday, April 15, at 8pm. There will be a baptism this year; and, immediately following the service, a champagne-and-hot-cross-buns reception!