Archive for the Doing Church Category

Dear Mom Letter

Posted in Doing Church with tags , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2020 by timtrue

Feeling like not much is happening these days–we’re still sheltering in place, same ol’ same ol’–I’m thinking (though it might not feel like it) it’s really the other way around. Our children’s children will have a lot of questions about pandemic life someday. So, yeah, for posterity: it’s probably a good time for an update. Here’s mostly something I wrote my mom earlier today and some accompanying photographs courtesy of my friend John:


Just hiked 35 miles in 3 days with my old friend John! (Remember him? We were on the Bionic Kids together in second grade.) Started Saturday morning on the south side of the Rincon Mountains at just under 3000′. Summitted Mica Mountain at noon on Sunday at 8666′, camping that night back down at 4200′ (with an ample supply of blisters forming on the steep descent). On Monday we crossed the desert Land between the Sky Islands (I made up this name), a thirteen-mile stretch ending with a hot and steep ascent into the Catalinas. We passed through 6 ecosystems on foot. Just awesome! Woke up this morning with every muscle sore but ready to do some more. (Has to be the most physically demanding thing I’ve done in like 30 years.)

By the way, water is super scarce in the desert. I bought a good filter. Good thing too! At one point yesterday I was totally out of water. We were within a half mile of what a ranger we met on the trail had called “the Lake.” Turns out it was a small, stagnant pond with cow pies all around the shore and water bugs all over the surface. John passed, taking a gamble that there would be water two miles up the trail at an intermittent water source, counting on his remaining half-liter to get him there. I, on the other hand, got out my water filter and got to work, generating a liter and a half in five minutes or so. It was a less than appetizing cocktail, for sure. But good thing I did! I drank the whole thing by the time I caught up with John at the intermittent spring. Fortunately, there was one algae-filled pool there (with bleached bones of some kind of animal nearby–a true old-west scenario)–just one pool as far as the eye could see. We filtered away, both drank our fill, ate some lunch, and re-filled our 2.5 liters each which was enough to finish the final 2.1 miles, that hot and steep ascent into the Catalinas I mentioned above.

The only other thing I have to say about desert backpacking is: whoa!

So, John’s intention is to hike all 800 miles of the Arizona Trail from south to north in sections over something like six years. To date, he’s hiked 161.6 miles. The next 25 miles or so are over a tall mountain (with ample water sources). He asked me to join him when I can, and without thinking about it I’ve now hiked more than 65 miles of the trail. Will try to join him for the next, less hot section. After that, we’ll see. . . .

Otherwise, COVID life rolls along. H, E, and I are winding up our school years. E and H went back to college to retrieve their belongings and are now back (picked up H from the airport this morning). We’re still planning to close on the new house on the 28th. You know, social distancing at its finest.

The food pantry work continues. We at the school take many precautions, but it’s worth the risk to make sure our families aren’t too food-insecure. Also, it looks like I will be engaging in more church work soon, as a supply priest again, but this time with the possibility that I may stay on indefinitely as something like a quarter-time vicar: I will have ninety days to discern with the church whether the arrangement will work with my full-time chaplain position. It’s interesting to think about how we might re-open churches for public worship. How’s your pastor approaching it?

Hope all’s well with you,

More soon,





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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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: 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!

On Being Christmas-and-Easter Warriors

Posted in Doing Church, Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2017 by timtrue


Matthew 4:12-23

Before we get into today’s Gospel, let’s gain our liturgical bearings. Where are we in the liturgical year?

Think of a pie graph.  Starting at the top, we have a purple section, Advent, which lasts between four and five weeks.  Next is white for a few weeks, Christmas, up to the Epiphany.

Then for some weeks we find ourselves here, in a green section of the year, the season after the Epiphany, or as my Roman Catholic friends call it, “ordinary time.”

Ordinary.  Ho-hum.  Not much of a ring to it, eh?

This year’s season after Epiphany is eight weeks.  Then we go to purple again for the season of Lent, for five Sundays.

We then have a narrow sliver of red on Palm Sunday; followed by seven Sundays of white—for Easter the resurrection, and the Ascension; another narrow sliver of red for Pentecost, and one more of white on Trinity Sunday.

And now we’re only halfway around our pie graph.

Do you know what color the rest of this graph is?  For the remaining 26 Sundays this year—with only two exceptions (Transfiguration and Christ the King Sundays, both white)—it is all green.

Yeah, green time.  Ordinary time.  Ho-hum time.

Which brings up a concern for me.

My concern is that as a church we love Christmas and Easter.  We focus our liturgical calendar around the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  And well we should!

But do we focus too much on Christmas and Easter—to the exclusion of all the other times in the year—that green section after Christmas; that long spell after Pentecost; all that ordinary, ho-hum time?

Christmas and Easter aren’t enough to sustain us through our ordinary, ho-hum times.

I remember my freshman year of high school.  My parents had recently divorced; I wasn’t in a very good place.  But it was an El Niño year, meaning lots of snow was coming to the Sierras.  Maybe Dad understood I wasn’t in a very good place, I don’t know.  But he knew my brother and I loved to snow ski.  And so that year we planned three three- or four-day trips to Mammoth Lakes, as well as some a one-day trips to the local soCal mountains—Mountain High, Mount Waterman, and Mount Baldy—promising at least one ski trip a month through the winter.

Well, I remember how much I looked forward to those trips in the months, weeks, and days leading up to them.  I also remember how much I relished the recent memory of those trips after returning home from them.

But what I remember most keenly was the dread I felt when I got out of bed each morning realizing that I had to plod through another day of the prison sentence I called high school.

That year, my freshman year, I tried to live for my skiing adventures, with the resolve that the anticipation and memory of them would sustain me until the next one.

But they were few and far between compared to the everyday, ordinary, ho-hum experience of high school, my daily grind.

That year, the only moments I lived in were when I was skiing, escaping from the daily grind.  While enduring the daily grind itself, I never lived in the moment, but rather always in the future or the past.

I had become a bona fide weekend warrior.

When we in the church live for Christmas and Easter, we risk not living in the moment of the ordinary, ho-hum times that, frankly, comprise most of our corporate life together.  We instead become bona fide Christmas-and-Easter warriors.

Now we’re ready to turn to today’s Gospel.

In it, Jesus begins his ministry by calling four disciples: Simon Peter; his brother Andrew; and two other brothers, James and John, the sons of a certain Zebedee.  All four of these men were fishermen.  And, because Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” we usually focus on the evangelism theme here: we, too, need to fish for people.

But I want to look at another theme, having to do with—you guessed it—the ordinary, ho-hum life Jesus called these men to live.

So, track with me.  These men, all four of them fishermen, were living a comfortable life.  They were settled, doing what they knew how to do, continuing the vocation their fathers had passed on to them.  So routine were their lives that they knew what to do without thinking.

They knew the sea—where to find the most fish, when the best times of the day were to find fish, what seasons of the year were better or worse for a kind of fish they’d like to catch, and so on.  When boat repairs were needed, they knew what to do.  If a boat sprung a leak while out on the surface of the sea, how to get to shore (or whether they could make it to shore) was almost an afterthought.  Their vocation was second-nature.

Moreover, we can surmise—along with biblical scholars—that these men had fairly lucrative businesses.  Fish were in demand as a food throughout the region.  People paid relatively high prices for them.  And, as with many established routines, overhead costs were low.  These men enjoyed high productivity and low overhead, a recipe for a comfortable life.

One more consideration: these men more than likely were married with families.  In fact, we know that Simon Peter was married: Jesus cures Peter’s mother in-law in Matthew 8.

Point is, Jesus called these four men to follow him; and following Jesus for them meant sacrificing a lot!  Comfort.  Stability.  Established homes.  Financial security.  Predictability.  Routine.  Plans.  Nest eggs.  Family.

What does it mean for us to follow Jesus?  Those who manipulate the good news of the Bible for their own ends—who make a gospel out of prosperity or family values—would do well to consider today’s Gospel!  So would we, as in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church—which we’ll get to shortly!

Now, sure, Peter, Andrew, James, and John had heard of Jesus by the time he came calling.  He was probably something like a celebrity by now, a household name.

Do we all know the name of our presiding bishop, Michael Curry?  So, imagine if he sought you out personally and said, “Jane, John, Insert-Your-Name-Here, I have a job for you.  Come with me now, and see.”

Well, yeah, there’s a certain amount of adventure and excitement around this.  At least initially.

But today’s Gospel doesn’t end there: with the celebrity Jesus coming to these four men and saying, “Follow me on the adventure ahead, and I will make you fish for people.”  In today’s reading, there’s another verse.  Jesus and his new followers then set out traveling, teaching, preaching, and healing.

These four men followed Jesus, sure.  But they weren’t following him into a kind of weekend-warrior life of adventure.  They followed him into a kind of ho-hum, ordinary life.  And they left their established, comfortable lives to do so.

These apostles weren’t Christmas-and-Easter warriors—by any stretch of the imagination!  The feast of the Epiphany and the Last Supper could not have sustained these men for the three years ahead of them—and not just for the three years with Jesus but for the lifetime beyond that, for they all went on to build the church of Jesus Christ.

So, we’ve looked at the liturgical calendar; and we’ve looked at the Gospel. Now it’s time to do some harder work: to look at us, St. Paul’s.  Loosen your collars: it might get a little warm in here.

I’m concerned that we are a church of Christmas-and-Easter warriors: that we think these principal feasts are enough to sustain us through all the ordinary, ho-hum times of the year.

On page 15, the BCP says there are seven Principal Feasts in the liturgical year, which all point (at least loosely) to Christmas or Easter: Easter Day; Ascension Day; The Day of Pentecost; Trinity Sunday; All Saints’ Day; Christmas Day; and the Epiphany.

The word “feasts” suggests that we should break bread together, which is another way to say celebrate Communion together, on these seven days.

But when I got here, we weren’t doing this: we weren’t coming together for all these feasts—which is one indication that maybe, over a long time of doing church together, we have become Christmas-and-Easter warriors.

In addition to these seven Principal Feasts, on p. 16 of the BCP, we read, “All Sundays of the year are feasts of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

All Sundays are feasts.  Thus, we should celebrate Communion together on all Sundays of the year.

Which is why our Constitution and Canons make it clear that, unless we are unable to obtain a supply priest, we should celebrate Communion on any given Sunday.  Otherwise we demonstrate a lack of respect for the Eucharist.

Now—to turn up the heat a little more—our operating budget for 2017 is just north of $200K.  To date, pledges for 2017 are south of $140K—about $70K shy of our operating expenses.  In an ideal world, our operating expenses and pledges would be equal.  But they’re not.  Leaving the vestry with some difficult challenges and questions.

Their chief question of late has been where to cut costs.

It’s a question faced by a lot of organizations.  Public schools, for instance.  Long has it been a complaint among my friends and family members that the first budget corners to be cut in education are in the arts.

So, here’s my main concern.  As a way of cutting costs for the year, the vestry has proposed allotting only $1000 for supply clergy in this year’s budget.

Now, I anticipate being away for seven Sundays this year—a normal amount.  Father Paul is not here anymore; we can’t ask him.  Which means we need to fund supply clergy; or go without the Eucharist on the Sundays when we cannot obtain a supply priest.

With travel, accommodations, and a supply fee, it costs St. Paul’s approximately $500 per week of supply.  In other words, the budget should be at $3500 ($500 x 7 Sundays) for supply clergy, not $1000.  $1000 covers only two Sundays.

What will we do for the other five?

We could have a Morning Prayer service, yes.  But, unless we cannot obtain a supply priest—and supply priests are available!—we should celebrate the Feast.

So, anyway, that’s the what part of my concern.

The why part, however, concerns me even more.  Why would we cut corners here?  Sundays are feast days.  It’s when we gather as a corporate community.  And gathering for Communion—the Eucharist—is our chief corporate act of worship: not singing; not preaching; not praying; but Communion.

As your rector I’ve been called to be the spiritual leader of this community.  I don’t want us to be Christmas-and-Easter warriors.  That attitude will never sustain us spiritually.

Thus, I leave you with a few questions to contemplate in this week leading up to our annual meeting:

  • Have we become Christmas-and-Easter warriors?
  • Like the apostles, is St. Paul’s ready to follow Jesus wherever he calls?
  • Where have we become too comfortable in the way we do church? In our routines?  In our spiritual disciplines?
  • Where and how do we need to change? Along these lines, when we say we want to change, do we actually mean that we want to return to the way it was twenty years ago?  Are we really desiring to move forward?
  • Is our present way of doing church sustainable? The budget suggests that the answer to this question is no.  So, where do we need to cut corners?  Really?
  • Is cutting supply clergy costs a sufficient excuse to neglect the Sacrament?
  • Do we respect the Sacraments as we should?

Partnering with Pokémon

Posted in Doing Church, Musings with tags , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2016 by timtrue


“Dad, St. Paul’s is a Pokéstop!”

This was the statement that really caught my attention.

My daughter, Hannah, had been making comments for a few days about a new app she’d downloaded, something called Pokémon Go.  I’d listened to her explain how it works a time or two, half-interested, like I am with most things technological.  You know how it is: a new app comes out, it’s hot for a few days, then the fad passes and something else catches the attention of those who stay up with these things.

I don’t, though.  I’m not one of them.  My phone, for instance, doesn’t even have a camera.  I can text and call.  And I like it that way.

But I keep up with my kids.  And so what my kids are into, by extension I’m interested too, or at least half-interested.

But when she ran into my office on Sunday morning, wide-eyed and grinning, and expressed her excitement in the words at the start of this blog, my half-interest turned into full interest.

Here was an app that had caught her attention.  Moreover, a few days had passed and not only was her attention still caught, it was increasing.

And the out-the-box idea of a game to get people outside, off their backsides and into the highways and byways!

“So,” I replied, “explain.  What is a Pokéstop?”

Which she did, showing me on her iTouch just how this app worked, utilizing something called Augmented Reality (a term which, admittedly, before Sunday I thought referred to cosmetic surgery); something like a scavenger hunt all over the neighborhood, the town, the county, the state, or anywhere else a person determined to catch them all is willing and able to go, except what you’re hunting for are Pokémon, which can be seen only through a screen.  (Think of it as ghost hunting, where the ghosts can be detected only through paranormal cameras.  The Pokémon are the ghosts; the paranormal cameras your smart devices.  The more you catch, the more your rewards.)

And, for whatever reason, the creators of Pokémon Go decided to designate many churches (and gyms, by the way) as Pokéstops, places Pokémon could go to catch a breath, rejuvenate, whatever: a virtual Pokémon nest.

Now, we people in the church business think we’ve got something valuable to offer, namely, the calming presence of Christ to a chaotic world.  There’s salvation in this; it’s why we do the “business”—or it should be.  And thus we’re always concerning ourselves with the question of how to offer more of this message to the world around us, how to exude even more of Christ’s peace.  This question seems especially important now: politics, arguments over the second amendment, tensions over racial and religious differences—these matters are at a fever pitch.

So, my alarm woke me a 3:30am on Monday morning.  With another daughter, I was rising early to hike to the top of Telegraph Pass in order to catch the 5:40am sunrise.  I do some of my best thinking when I have a few hours of quietude, the heat would be unbearable by 8am, and besides it was a workday—so, yeah, a sunrise hike.

We enjoyed a brilliant sunrise in fact, summited just ten minutes before the eastern sky was pierced by fire; and returned home for breakfast just after 7am.


Unusual morning as it was, it turned even more unusual some ten minutes later when we suddenly realized that all five of us—my wife, both daughters, my seven year-old son, and I—were sitting casually around the breakfast table—all on summer break (except me)!

So, put it all together—concentrated time freshly spent with the younger set; recent more-than-half-interest in this new app; fever-pitched large-scale angst over politics, religion, and race; and a personal constant concern to offer Christ to the world—and a sudden brainstorm came.

“Girls,” I announced, “what if I put a message up on the church marquis about it being a Pokéstop?”

Almost instant and definitely loud yesses erupted.

The marquis, by the way, is a sign with changeable letters.  See top photo.  The church makes an effort to change it out weekly, offering a sort of calendar or inspirational or humorous message to passersby.  And there are many passersby, for it overshadows a main thoroughfare in town.  Between you and me, when I first started as pastor I thought, really?  So I’ve tried to see it as potentially useful, maybe somehow, possibly, to offer Christ to the world around us, etc., etc.  Still, many a Monday you’ll find me agonizing in my office over coming up with something worthwhile to say.

In any event, my girls and I deliberated over the exact message during breakfast, concluding something short and to the point.

And when I arrived at the office, instead of agonizing indoors I took matters into my own hands outside, set up the ladder, removed last week’s message (“Good judgment comes from experience that often comes from bad judgment”), and put up, simply, “Pokéstop!!”  (I would have used more exclamation points if we had them.)

So, that was at 9am.

At 3pm a TV reporter stopped by and interviewed me, with the sign in the background.

At 5pm a 20-second clip of this interview aired on the news.

At 6pm the news showed again, but this time the local police told the dark side of the Pokémon Go story: some bad people might use Pokémon Go to lure good people into secluded areas and mug them; and (oh the horror!) in fact teenagers were out hunting for Pokémon last night past curfew!

And at 10pm, the whole minute-forty-nine story aired—both sides of it—giving me a full thirty seconds of air time:

Then today a radio show from Phoenix called me and interviewed me over the phone—supposed to be broadcast on a morning talk show tomorrow—supposed to be emailed a transcript.

All from that silly marquis!

All from wanting to bring Christ’s peace to a chaotic world, and seeing how Pokémon Go is helping to do just that—a fun, community-oriented activity to distract us in a healthy way from the fear and anxiety over recent national and international tragedies.

Who knew?

On behalf of St. Paul’s, thank you for partnering with us, Pokémon Go!