Archive for the Rationale Category

Why School Chaplaincy: Ideals Bow to Pragmatics

Posted in Rationale with tags , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2019 by timtrue

Soon two kids became three; then three became four. All daughters. Each roughly two years apart. Yep, when our oldest turned six, Baby Number Four was about to say hello to the world.

The dream of ordination was now clouded by the necessity to get food on the table and diapers on bottoms.

On a teacher’s salary.

That’ll put one’s faith in ideals to the test!

But we managed, somehow, by teaching piano, voice, and violin students out of our home. I also took on evening jobs, usually having to do with music in some stripe of church or other.

And that was life for a while.

Treadmill.

Plodding on.

The vocational dream was still there, but now more like a phantom, leaving me to wonder often if I was merely imagining the ghost or if it was actually something of substance.

So I poured myself into my work, trying to extract value from it and not just going through the motions. I filled holes when they came up, offering to do extra work, administrative work, development work, curriculum work, as long as a few more dollars fit into the scenario.

Which is how I ended up, among other things, learning and teaching Latin. Teacher shortages were real and I was willing and energetic.

Having joined a Presbyterian Church by now, the pastor learned of my latent sense of ordination vocation and encouraged me to apply to a sister church in Texas, a church looking for a full-time staff person to focus half-time on education and half-time on music.

A chance to get back into church ministry? Heck yes! I was interested.

The interview went very well. My wife liked the idea. I was offered the position. We packed up and moved 1500 miles east.

So certain were we of this turn of events, in fact, so certain were we in our faith, that we bought a house.

This was God’s will for us, surely.

Only it wasn’t.

Somewhere between California and Texas the church’s elders decided that the timing wasn’t right to build the education program: the budget couldn’t support me.

Only they didn’t say anything to me until after we’d closed on the house.

Well, we decided the house would root us; we’d take the adventure that awaited us. An adventure, I might add, that wasn’t to include the Presbyterian Church.

So it was there–after returning to the profession where I had found success–teaching–but otherwise feeling back at Square One–no friends, no family nearby, no professional network yet–that we decided to check out the Episcopal Church.

And–why had it taken us so long?–we were home!

Here was a church that didn’t cheapen grace by calling Christianity fun. Here was a church, too, that recognized the faith as not so simple, not so black-and-white as our evangelical roots kept trying to tell us. The Christian faith, in other words, was more like real life: genuine.

That was a breath of fresh air for us.

We also liked the beauty of the music and liturgy, and a theology that included kids in the Eucharist, etc., but that’s another topic for another day.

Fast forward a year or so. By now my wife and I had been confirmed and received into the church. Then, suddenly and rashly it seemed to me, not long after the 2006 General Convention, the rector stood at the pulpit on a Sunday and announced,

“Well, the vestry and I have been having some serious discussions. We’ve come to an agreement that next Sunday will be our last. We’ll march out of here together to another building we’ve rented two blocks away. We’re leaving the Episcopal Church!”

My wife and I were floored! We’d just found our spiritual home–at long last!

So I called the bishop directly to express my concern and mentioned, “I wish I were ordained so that I could jump in here and help out.”

Truth is stranger than fiction, they say.

My words struck a chord with the bishop. In a short time I found myself entering a formal discernment process. Adult-lifelong dream, always met with obstacles; until now, when it was happening almost without any initiative or effort on my part!

By spring of 2008 the bishop asked if I was interested in relocating to attend a residential seminary.

Gulp!

By now we were expecting Baby Number 5, so I said something like, “Sounds great! But I can’t see how we could afford it–five kids in the house!”

We agreed to take a year to process, pray, daydream, and otherwise consider this new/revisited idea. Would seminary 2010 actually come to be?

During that year of daydreaming etc. it dawned on me that there is a very strong network of Episcopal schools all over the country, most of which employ a full-time chaplain, an ordained priest.

So, what if I could combine my ideal vocation with my realized one–priest with educator?

“Bishop,” I asked one day in the middle, maybe during winter, “what if I were to become a school chaplain after ordination?”

“Tim,” he said, with a look on his face that was somewhere between dejection and disapproval, “I don’t send people to seminary to become chaplains. I send them to be parochial priests.”

“Okay,” I replied, quickly realizing that pragmatism would have to trump my idealism in the moment–like it had in so many other moments over the last fifteen years–“of course! Yes. I want to be a parochial priest.”

The bishop and I never brought up the subject again.

But the idea remained lodged firmly in my psyche.

Why School Chaplaincy: Vocational Ideals

Posted in Rationale with tags , , on June 29, 2019 by timtrue

My sense of call to the ordained ministry surfaced in college.

I hadn’t grown up in the church.

Dealing with a series of deep personal questions following my parents’ divorce, in high school I delved into some off-campus Bible studies led by some well-meaning if theologically misguided young adults. That was my introduction to the Christian faith.

When I moved away to Davis, California I decided it was high time to get baptized and join a church.

I jumped in with both feet to everything I was hearing and learning: the conservative American evangelical version of the Christian faith. Soon I was a key player on the College Life leadership team, a ministry of the church that baptized me; and during the summers I worked on program staff at a large and very popular evangelical Christian camp in the Sierra Nevadas.

Maybe not all my probing questions were addressed—definitely not! But one message came through loud and clear: Christianity was fun.

So, college became easy and enjoyable. I studied what I wanted, what I was passionate about—music theory and composition—rationalizing that I was bound for a graduate education in seminary, to earn a Master of Divinity degree. Seminary required a bachelor’s degree. Major mattered little. Check!

Well, do you see where this is going?

I met a girl. Our mutual interests in music and spirituality soon began morphing into discussions about the future, maybe even our future together. Seminary still figured into the equation, but more pressing became the idea of marriage and family, new life, resurrection after my parents’ divorce. Which is what we did, fresh out of college, jobless but in love.

After a year of doing this and that then, not to mention the birth of our first daughter, an opportunity availed itself: I accepted the position as Director of Youth Ministries with Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in my hometown.

We were happy. Our parents were happy. We were on our way to vocation realization. Life was good!

But here’s where it all went.

Up till now I had only very limited experience in actual churches. The one that baptized me in Davis was really more like a parachurch college ministry than church. It had a college worship service on Sundays, ninety-five percent of people in attendance being, you guessed it, college students. And in the Sunday school hour, when the rest of the congregation went to church, we college students had our College Sunday school class.

The gist is I knew very little about a church as a community, largely run by parishioners with money and longevity and opinions about the way things should be.

And now I found myself in a Baptist Church, still feeling called to ordained ministry, trying to maintain and develop a ministry for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students, drawing from what I knew.

Which most definitely ran against the grain of the parishioners with money and longevity and opinions!

I noticed that the kids drawn to my ministry were largely in conflict with friends and family members, some effectively estranged from their parents, one a foster kid. What was needed was love enacted. The kids needed to feel respect and dignity; families needed reconciliation; the foster kid, who would be kicked out on his own on his eighteenth birthday despite not yet having finished high school, needed support. Big tasks!

What my overseers–the wealthy ones with staying power and expectations–wanted to see, however, was what they called “altar-call experiences, like a miniature Billy Graham Crusade. Bring 500 kids into the church. Do something fun. Then, in the last five minutes, preach at ’em! And don’t do anything to attract the skaters and surfers. We want the popular kids, the jocks and cheerleaders!”

Really? Fun? Is that what sums up the Christian faith?

I was a Baptist Youth Director long enough to realize I wasn’t a Baptist. So I quit.

Still, the personal sense of vocation remained. Except now my wife and I had two young daughters. Diapers and groceries couldn’t wait. Vocation realization, however, would have to.

Why School Chaplaincy: an Introduction

Posted in Rationale with tags , , , on June 21, 2019 by timtrue

I jotted most of this post down on June 2, when I was visiting our soon-to-be home in Tucson. I plan to reflect on this move from time to time as we Trues settle into the newest chapter of our lives. The post is not much, but it is a starting point; and it addresses a question I have been asked many times in the past couple of months. The answer I give today is general. It will become more specific in future posts. For what it’s worth, church life can take a toll on priests.

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So, I’m sitting here in Tucson, in the house I will be moving into with my family in just over two weeks, with a little time on my hands.

I’m here on a scouting trip. To take pictures of the place so that my wife and I can figure out if our furniture will fit; and to go over details with the landlord, details like there are no blinds on the windows and the gas company failed to turn on the gas despite our bending over backwards to accommodate them.

The house, by the way, is fantastic. It’s a renovated bungalow with wood floors and wavy glass (i. e., old) window panes and a wonderfully landscaped backyard for entertaining.

Its location is likewise: seven blocks from my place of work (downtown) and two blocks off a very cool (and rather gritty) historic shopping and restaurant district. (The other Trues will have a 9-mile commute.)

But the house is 113 years old. So, yeah, it’s also got all the old house quirks and creeks, moans, groans, and inconveniences. (The garage is too short for my midsize pickup!) Wondering if there might even be a ghost story or two that comes with the place. . . .

Anyway, it should prove a good place for us to be for the next several years—while we save up a downpayment for a place of our own.

But all this points to an elephantine question (in the room): why move at all?

And you’re right to ask it. St. Thomas was a good gig.

I was a priest in charge of a congregation, I was my own boss, people listened to what I had to say, most of them even respected my leadership, I got along well with my bishop and colleagues, and I was making ends meet (not to mention building a pension).

I was comfortable. My family was comfortable. Why would any priest want to move on from such a situation? Why not just cruise for nineteen more years till retirement?

Well, thank you for your interest. It’s an unusual move, I know. But I’m following the calling Christ has given; and the past six years of parochial ministry have made clear that, for now anyway, it is time to step out of the priest-in-charge-of-a-congregation role.

Suffice that I am partly to blame–my disposition, how I’m wired, is more suited to school chaplaincy; but it is also partly (and I will argue much more) the fault of the institution we have created, which is very similar to the religious establishment Jesus opposed again and again in the Gospels.

More to come soon.

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

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!

Fellowship

Posted in Books, Education, Rationale with tags , , , , , , on August 8, 2015 by timtrue

Sewanee fall

Elated to be returning to my alma mater for two weeks this fall!

If you know me half-well, you might wonder if I’m headed to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee to see my two daughters who are presently students there.

Or you might be wondering if I’m returning to spend more time playing Sewanee’s 54-bell carillon, a one-of-a-kind instrument I performed on from time to time during my tenure as a graduate student; the tower in which it is housed stands tall in the photo above.

Or you might be wondering if I’ve got some pressing business with the School of Theology–to attend the Daily Office in COTA (Chapel Of The Apostles) or to sit in on some especially riveting lecture or other or to press a former professor or three on some vexing theological question.

Or maybe I want to spend time with my good friends in the classics department.

Or maybe I’ll be stopping by some of the area congregations in which I served as an organist, deacon, or preacher.

Or maybe I just miss the burgers at Shenanigans.

Truth be told, that’s all part of it, sure.  No doubt I will be trying to see as many people and enjoy as many meals as I can with them, especially the two favorite people mentioned in the first paragraph–not to mention visiting the tavern a time or two too with the older one since she’s turning twenty-one tomorrow.

But none of this is actually why I’m going.  Not technically anyway.  Unless, arguably, it all is.

The truth is I’ve been awarded a fellowship to research and otherwise work on a book.

The book’s subject matter is quintessential Sewanee history–albeit with a splash of lore.  Or, on second thought, it’s quintessential Sewanee lore with a splash of history.  Ghost lore, to be specific; which is indeed a significant part of Sewanee’s history (as is angel lore).

So you know, my fellowship proposal stemmed from a desire that went unfulfilled all my while as a student.  For, as a student (who also happened to be a father struggling to make ends meet–and thus all the carillon performing, Latin teaching, and organ accompanying), I never had adequate time to explore all the ghost lore that captivated my imagination while in the old town (by American standards).  It simply would have been too difficult to write all those theology and church history papers with ghost stories on my mind.  So, while a student, I set the captivation aside, calling it too distracting or whatever, trying to ignore it and hoping it would go away.

But it didn’t.

So now, I’d like to return to Sewanee, I said on my fellowship application, to explore this ghost lore in a focused way.  I want to eat meals and drink pints in the tavern with those who have a story to tell–with those who have lived and breathed long enough in the community to have heard a tale or two enough times to have most of the details worked out.  I want to climb the stairs in the bell tower again to the carillon cabin–a bell tower with a tale or two of its own–and maybe even play a piece.  I might even want to explore one of the graveyards or any other haunt with anyone willing to explore with me–might want to go on a bona fide ghost hunt or two!

And so, yes, technically, I’m returning to Sewanee for none of the reasons listed above.  But, on the other hand, it’s kind of for all the reasons above–and many more.

So if you are a Sewaneean with a ghost story to tell and will be around Oct. 26-Nov. 6, please let me know when and where we can meet for a conversation.

And–oh yeah–Halloween, conveniently, falls right in the middle of my time there.  I’m hoping to share some of my findings in Hamilton Hall during my stay.  Who knows, maybe it will be on Halloween itself–right before a midnight graveyard ghost hunt?

Hooters for Haircutters

Posted in Family, Musings, Rationale with tags , , , , on October 7, 2014 by timtrue

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I took the bait.

“$10 off men’s haircuts,” the coupon said.  My wife had grabbed two: one for me and one for my five year-old son.

“It’ll be fun,” my wife said.  “I’ve heard good things about this place, like it’s a step or three up from that place you usually go.  Besides, it’ll be some father-son bonding time.”

Father-son bonding time, eh?  We usually experience that when we go to that step-or-three-down barber.  But they know us there.  And they know how to cut our hair.  It’s functional–and as stylish as we want to go with our timeless, product-free “boy cuts.”

Plus, with the money I save, my five year-old son and I usually walk a few doors down to Baskin-Robbins afterwards, for continued father-son bonding time over single scoops of Peanut Butter Chocolate and Mint Chocolate Chip.  Bet the new place isn’t next to a Baskin-Robbins, eh?

But ten bucks off each haircut, and a step or three up?

Like I said, I took the bait.

I wish I hadn’t.

We walked into this new place, this place that boasted to give “sports cuts,” this place whose only clientele were men, this place that promised us ten bucks off, and the reek of gimmick penetrated deep into our olfactories.

Firm but relaxed chairs beckoned in the waiting room, each one strategically facing a large, flat-screen television displaying a live football game; each one covered with a deep-red faux leather, a manly textile.  We indifferently chose two facing Tennessee vs. Georgia.

And now I noticed that the lights were dimmed just so and angled for minimal glare–another manly touch.

Then the cutters of hair began to appear, girls all, wearing black stretch pants–or was it mere body paint?–and shirts to look like referees, black-and-white striped.  And were those actual whistles around their necks?

They offered us soda, PowerAde, water; sweet and bubbly–the girls, that is, not the water.

And, except for the coupons in my hand, I thought we could have been at Hooters.

My son didn’t seem to mind so much, or maybe he didn’t really notice.  He’s only five, and the hormones aren’t boiling in him yet–at least they aren’t to the extent that they obviously were in a middle schooler next to us.  I wanted to shout, “Put your tongue back in your mouth, boy,” but opted instead not to draw any more attention to this already skewed vision of reality.  Maybe my son wouldn’t take much notice, I thought.

The haircuts came and went, and were nice enough in their own right.  A step or three up indeed, as my wife had said.  But after our haircuts–my son too!–the bubbly, scantily clad cutters of our hair led us each back to a dark room behind a curtain, where they shampooed our hair and massaged our scalps, quietly giving us permission to fall asleep in their capable hands if we so desired.  Which was followed by a backrub.

On our way home my son said, “Well that was weird!”  He had noticed.

As for me, I found the whole experience maddening.  We live in a culture that prides itself on becoming increasingly gender-equal.  Women were allowed to vote quite early in the bigger picture of world democracies.  Average women’s salaries are closer than ever to average men’s salaries for equivalent jobs.  The Episcopal Church is the first church in the global Anglican communion to elect a female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.  And yet we have this haircutting chain that objectifies women?

It’s hip, it’s trendy, it gives men an experience with which they are comfortable.  And it’s successful.

But the haircutters, all female, wear skimpy clothes.  They look like referees: a quasi appearance of authority.  But the truth is that these women are paid to do the bidding of men, the real dominators in this scenario, who lounge around watching sports and refreshing (and scratching) themselves.  It’s twisted, even perverted.

Definitely not the message I want to teach to my five year-old son!

So, coupon or no coupon, we’ll not return.  Instead, we’ll go back to our step-or-three down barber and ice-cream conversation, thank you very much.