This Friday (March 8th) is International Women’s Day, and we will be focusing on the ministry of women on Sunday at Transfiguration.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was once asked, “when will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?”
Her answer was priceless, “when there are 9!”
We have seen 9 men on the Supreme Court for generations, and no one batted an eyelid, why shouldn’t the court be filled with experienced, wise, capable women judges. The notorious RBG had a point!
It reminded me of a moment in my previous parish, at St Saviour in Pimlico, when we were debating having women serve as acolytes, and then eventually opening the ministry of the church up to women priests. It was a difficult conversation in parish life. One issue that arose was very similar to the one Ruth Bader Ginsberg addressed.
“We should work hard to make sure there is always a balance of men and women on the altar party.”
I thought about it for a second, nodded, but wondered why we should make sure such a balance existed. I also knew, having put many a parish rota together, that it isn’t quite as easy as it looks to make sure that there are balances of any kind in the Altar Party. It all depends on peoples availability, calendars, and lots of moving parts that are beyond your control. So I was pretty sure that by a miracle of scheduling an entirely female altar party would just happen one day. Then I was interested to see what took place.
Well it took a few years, but it did happen one Sunday. The priest, preacher, thurifer, crucifer, eucharistic ministers and acolytes were all female. I wondered if those who asked for balance would notice… no one said a thing. We had moved into a new reality.
This Sunday we are celebrating the first Sunday of Lent. The service will open with the Great Litany, and we will look at the theme of temptation. I am so glad that we will be joined by two of my colleagues for whom I have immense respect. Amber, who often presides at our 9:15am service, the chaplain of St Matthew’s Day School will preside. Canon Abbot Bailey, our Bishop's 'Canon to the Ordinary' will preach. I haven’t looked at the rest of the rota yet, so I don’t know if everyone else is female, but I am going to enjoy these colleagues leading me in prayer and opening the scriptures for me.
Won’t you join me in celebrating with them?
This week saw some momentous news from our church on a hill. We have announced that, during building work planned for the next academic year, we won't be having a preschool on our site.
This was a difficult choice to make, and flowed from acknowledgement that the site wouldn't be safe for children while we work on it.
It has also made me reflect on the importance of preschool education in our culture, and on our site in general. I love early childhood learning, I love our family ministry at Transfiguration. It has also been great to hear the noise of children playing drifting up into my office as I work.
We have a strong tradition of preparing children for school through our preschool at Transfiguration. Karen and her staff have been great at taking children from aged 3 and helping them to develop in a way that will make school less of a challenge. This tradition has been a part of our parish almost since its founding. It is hard to contemplate not having this go on here for the coming year.
But we do hope that refurbishing our buildings will prepare us for a future in which we can build on the strong foundations of our current preschool. As we refurbish the building we hope to build some new concepts into our future preschool. We hope to build it around the strong core of the current program, and also provide extended care throughout the day. We hope to take younger children, and to offer flexible choices for parents about the number of days they can attend. But we don't know exactly how that will all be constructed. Join in the conversation about what we need in a future preschool in the comments below.
Also watch out for notices of a celebration of the life of our preschool over the last five decades. We want to have a party to acknowledge the great work that has been done here.
If you have any questions or comments write them in below. I would love to hear what you have to say.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church
By the Rev. Hailey McKeefry-Delmas
This month, the Episcopal Church will be holding its triennial General Convention in Austin, Texas from Tuesday, July 3 through Friday, July 13. It is my great honor to be a clergy deputy for our our diocesan deputation, which includes 4 lay deputies/4 alternates, 4 clergy deputies/4 alternates and our bishop. As part of this work, I’ll be attending the meetings for the House of Deputies and following legislative committee hearings (Particularly around Care of Creation and environmental legislation, which is my assigned “beat.”)
Since most people have not made it to one of our General Conventions, you may wonder what happens there. This representative body of Episcopalians come from all over the United States, as well as Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and even Europe. This bicameral body is divided into the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. Together, these two bodies consider policies which affect the life of the Episcopal Church and speak to society on behalf of the Episcopal Church.
The focus of this General Convention as articulated by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is Racial Reconciliation, Evangelism and the Care of Creation:
These as well as many other issues will be addressed by resolutions proposed, considered and debated, and a few being passed by both houses.
Some issues are longstanding (such as revision of Book of Common Prayer to ensure that it accurately reflects our theology or marriage equality—you can read a statement by our Deputation here: A Memorial to the 79th General Convention #GC79: Supporting A085: Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies) while others are very timely (such as how we should address the chaos created by the separation of families seeking asylum.) In response, the schedule of the General Convention has been changed so that all may attend a special prayer service on Sunday, July 8 outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center in Taylor, Texas. I intend to be there. Further, delegates will likely put forth resolutions calling for action on immigration by the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations.
In addition, a Special Task Force on sexual harassment and exploitation within the church is meeting. This 47-woman committee will be proposing resolutions about church discipline and the prevention of misconduct in the life of the church.
In addition to serious business, there will be fun and fellowship as constituency groups (such as Black Episcopalians, Episcopal Church Women, and others) host events.
It’s going to be a busy time, but i’m intending to blog regularly about what I see and hear. You can read my posts here: www.scatteredrevelations.com. Other great resources:
The General Convention Web site: http://www.generalconvention.org/ (you can read all the resolutions here, see worship bulletins and more)
The Episcopal Church GC Media Hub: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/general-convention-2018-media-hub (A great place to get distilled information about what’s going on)
On Twitter? You can follow #gc79
If you are a friend of mine of Facebook or follow me on Instagram you will know that I was hosting my niece Mollie and her boyfriend last week. For part of the week I played tour guide and showed them the sights of the Bay Area. It was an interesting moment for me. I have been here six and a half years now and have become used to the beauty of our scenery, and the things one can do in this part of the world.
Going around with Mollie and Jamie, I got to see things again through fresh eyes. It was lovely to have my breath taken away by Redwoods as I gazed up at them beside Mollie. It was wonderful to walk over the Golden Gate Bridge and be reminded just how amazing this piece of engineering is and how lovely the views are. It was great to kayak with otters in Elkhorn Slough and have myself be calmed by listening to the birds chatter. Mollie and Jamie had a little difficulty getting their oar strokes straight, but after a while they settled into a rhythm also.
As I looked at California through fresh eyes, I also saw myself in a new light. I am the Uncle Matthew that Mollie has always known, but I have grown and changed over the years. I have some American attitudes that live alongside my English ones. I have a home here, and roots, and a community I care deeply about. I have had some difficult moments also. But one of the things I really noticed was growth.
Growth is so incremental that we rarely notice it. I wonder if you have someone or somewhere that you revisit from time to time and notice the same thing - that you have changed and grown. When I sit in pastoral conversation with some of you I believe that one of my jobs is to notice the growth that you may not be noticing yourself.
I invite you to look at the world with fresh eyes this week. Perhaps go visit, or talk on the phone with someone you love but don’t see that often and see how they, and you, have grown.
I am a work in progress, you could say I am unfinished. Praying every day is not something I do because I was once told to. It is part of my survival strategy.
I live with a degree of anxiety, it is not as great as some people I know, I manage it with prayer, meditation, and spiritual direction. I should add regular exercise to that mix, and in the past I have, but not so much recently. I have a great deal of respect for those who need more help than this.
In recent months most of the pastoral conversations I have had have shown me that anxiety is something lots of people in the Bay Area live with. Perhaps it is the aftermath of an election that did not go the way that many in this area hoped for, but I think that may just be a catalyst for them talking about something that has always been beneath the surface. The Bay Area generates anxiety, we have to constantly keep up, work hard to get ahead, and dig deep to be able to afford to live here. Anxiety is certainly not just limited to life in the Bay Area, I think it may be a condition of modern American or Western culture.
Recently I was talking to someone in my support system. I wished that my feelings of Anxiety could just go away. He looked at me and said, “oh no, you don’t want that, anxiety is your warning system that something needs looking at.”
His comment made me pause to think. Anxiety is a normal part of life and invites us to focus on its cause in order to understand it more deeply, and perhaps make changes in our behavior. The problem is, I have learned over the years to just ignore the niggling feelings that invite me to change my behavior until they grow and become more powerful. When they manifest as anxiety it feels like they may be too big to cope with and I just try to avoid them further.
Which is where my prayer life comes in. It is the place where I can encounter anxiety and do something meaningful with it. I used to pray because it was what I was meant to do, but I didn’t really understand why. Over the years I developed an approach to prayer that helped me see it as a safe space within which I could encounter the God of Love who cherishes me. In that space I can think about those things that cause me anxiety and look at them in a new way.
Prayer is less me examining things in my life, it is more like God is exploring and examining them in front of me and I am just invited to observe. God is far more patient than I could ever be, and every so often God reminds me that other people are living with anxiety also and I could give them a break if they over-reacted to something I said.
So I manage to carry out the work of a priest, I listen to other peoples problems and I pray with them every day. As I do that I try to model the kind, thoughtful voice that I believe God uses with me. I fall short, but I keep trying. My resilience in life doesn’t come from being tough, it comes from recognizing that I am actually quite soft and that I need to return regularly to God’s love in order to be constantly renewed.
My own resilience is a work in progress, sometimes I feel like there is no progress at all, and I wish that I could just turn the anxiety off. But then I am reminded that it is there to help me if I will just listen to it and react a little sooner within my prayer life. I am a work in progress, you could say I am unfinished, but I have faith that God will bring to completion the work of love begun in me.
Over the last few weeks sermons have focused on conversations Jesus held with two very different people. Nicodemus is a powerful man and a leader. Then there is an unnamed Samaritan woman, whose morality is in question because of her many relationships. She has no power, influence or social status.
Nicodemus is asked to examine how power works and understand the damage it can do. Jesus talks about his future death on the cross, saying that when he is “lifted up” people will need to look at him to be saved. Here salvation is achieved when people see how they use their power to cause pain. Nicodemus will be saved when he accepts the need for sacrifice. The Samaritan woman did not have to sacrifice to find her way to salvation; she had nothing to give up. This woman’s path to salvation was found when Jesus showed her respect and she discovered her voice.
These contrasting stories tell us that the path to salvation may be different depending on who we are and what position we occupy in our culture. Some of us need to acknowledge that our use of power is damaging, and that we must start to live sacrificially. Some of us need to realize that we are deeply loved by God, need not be ashamed, and can stand up and speak God’s truth with power and force.
The Greek orthodox church gives her a name: Photini. Do you notice that Photini, not Nicodemus, speaks out about Jesus message of love? Nicodemus remains within the power structures of Israel, trying to influence them from within, but he seems afraid. Photini cannot contain herself. She preaches.
Find the two sermons on our website:
Over the next two weeks, the Lectionary has given us an extraordinary gift. We are invited to eavesdrop in on two conversations Jesus had with two very different people. These conversations fit into our Lent themes perfectly, they are difficult and require artful negotiation by both conversation partners, and by the end all participants have grown and gained insight.
In the first conversation a powerful man and religious leader is inquisitive about this new teaching, but fearful of what his colleagues might think if they heard he was going to meet with Jesus. So he goes at midnight, in secret. Their clandestine conversation explores some of the deepest theological territory in the New Testament, but it is also sublimely simple. We have to be reborn in order to fully grasp the love of God; and Jesus came not to judge but to save. Nicodemus struggles with the message and is reduced to being an infant in the face of the younger teacher. It is only as he is willing to explore these new ideas as a child that he will benefit from them. Nicodemus has to adopt a 'beginners mind,' and when he does he is transformed.
In the second conversation, next week in our lectionary, a women considered morally bankrupt meets Jesus in the middle of the day when she goes to draw water. She cannot go in the cool of the morning, when the other women of Samaria are making their trip to the well, because she is ostracized. We will discover she has had five husbands and is now with a man she is not married to. Jesus breaks about every taboo imaginable, by speaking to a woman, who is a Samaritan, and of questionable character. He does - this without judging her. He treats her with respect, as a human being with intelligence and appealing to her spiritual core as he introduces her to new ideas about worship, faith and love. She is not invited to be a child by their conversation, she is invited to step into her own dignity.
Both conversation partners are ashamed, but for different reasons. Jesus invited them both to embrace new ideas and self respect.
Join us for the next two Sundays as we get a chance to listen in on their dynamic conversations with Jesus.
Last week I sat down with Matthew Burt to talk about our plan for Good Friday, as we were talking he mentioned the metaphor of planting seeds as an interesting way to think about Good Friday evening. That prompted me to remember a conversation I had just had with Michele Maia, who told me that she wanted to have the children from Sunday School plant seeds on the upcoming weekend. I was pleased by the coincidence, but I didn't think much of it.
Then I heard from the planning team for the Women's Retreat that Kristen Kearns was planning a contemplative activity that included planting seeds as a way of transitioning from Epiphany to Lent.
The coincidence seemed to be growing, and even though I was fighting the flu I began to take notice. When I talked about planting seeds at Staff Meeting with Fran this week I knew it was a repeat as she was simply telling me again about Kristen's idea, but the fact that it came up again kept the theme in my mind. Finally this morning (I am writing this letter on Wednesday), the following featured in Morning Prayer:
Lord God, extend our faith so that even when we fail to see the fruit of our planted seeds, we may have the assurance that every inch of soil overturned will lead to a harvest someday. Amen.
At this point I had to acknowledge that the coincidence was turning into a conspiracy. Perhaps Kristen was inspired to plant seeds at the Women's Retreat by the fact that the children did it at Sunday School, but there is no way that the prayer book could have known that. Perhaps the fact that this is all happening as we approach springtime could account for the synchronicity. But there is another explanation. God may have been trying to get my attention.
Since returning from my sabbatical I have been dealing with transitions at Transfiguration and wondering what I was meant to be doing exactly. It took a little while, but the image of planting seeds has now sunk in. The Vestry and I are working on a vision for next steps in our staffing: we are planting seeds. The men's group are working on how to gather more frequently: they are planting seeds. I have brought in clergy to help in our transition: we are planting seeds. I am proposing a project for Lent around deepening our conversation skills: asking you all to plant seeds.
On Good Friday we will remember the greatest planting of a seed that ever occurred in our faith: Jesus dying and being placed in the ground. Then we wait to see what grows.
Christ the King is a hard festival to understand. It has been on my mind all day, particularly after Donald Trump's election. What does it mean to have power? And what does it mean for Jesus to be our King?
In the Hebrew Scriptures the children of Israel lived with God as their King. They were led by human Judges who kept peace, guided the people, and gathered an army to protect them if necessary. But the Judges didn't rule. Eventually, the people asked the prophet Samuel to give them a king; he was angry.
"God is your king!" He shouted in frustration. "But we want a King we can see," they said. They wanted a King to protect their freedom. Samuel spoke to God, who told him that the people were not rejecting Samuel, they were rejecting God himself. He told Samuel to grant the request, and he did, but with a warning:
"A King will not make you free, a king will tax you, and make you fight in his army and enslave you."
They still wanted one.
Samuel’s warning was realized, and then repeated over and over again through the history of Monarchy. How do we reconcile this image with the idea of Christ the King?
When God finally decided to join us as Jesus, he did not take power and rule; he guided, advised, challenged and taught. He modeled a new way of living and invited people to follow him; to imitate him. Along the way, he made enemies. Some of those in power didn't like the way he challenged them. In spite of this, he lived his life fully aware that he was a free child of God. Nothing anyone else could do could take away his freedom, not even execution.
Christ the King is not a festival that celebrates royal power, it reimagines it. Jesus is regal, not because of his power, but because he is free. He lives his life, within a coercive and corrupt political system, without being subject to that system. He is an example to us that we can be free wherever, whenever, and under whatever regime we live.
This is a different kind of Kingdom in which we are all called to make the values of God present in our world by living them. This may mean supporting those in authority when their actions match those values. It may mean resisting, peacefully, the exercise of political power when it is in conflict with those values. Some have used a different biblical word to describe this Kingdom: Shalom - it means 'peace,' and it is what God wants for our world.
I wanted to find an example to make the concept I am trying to explain make sense. It was hard to find one in the middle of the current political climate. Then Martín suggested someone to me, Malala Yousafzai. For anyone not familiar with Malala, she is a young Muslim Pakistani girl who wanted an education. She was shot in the face by a member of the Taliban, who do not believe women should be educated. She recovered from the attack, and with great humor, courage, and grace became an advocate for girls education throughout the world. She is the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Malala is not powerful in the political sense, she does not rule and she is not a monarch; her power is in her example and in living her life: Malala is regal.
She is a Muslim woman who inspires me to be more Christlike.
Jesus lived his life as an example and invited us to follow him. Malala is an inspiration to millions. This week, find someone who lives a life full of similar values, someone peaceful, someone dignified, someone regal... and be like them.
We are in denial. We don't like to look at the past. The facts of history should be swept under the carpet and we should move on. The 'we' I am referring to is white people. Our lack of historical curiosity is, in my opinion, the main reason why we believe that we deserve our privilege.
Last week at our bible study we began to talk race. My bible study is made up of white people. I love them. It is hard to wrestle with issues of race when you have been conditioned to accept the status quo, and particularly when the status quo favors you. But for some reason they were trying.
After the shooting of black men, and the shooting of police that followed, it seemed as though a moment for serious thinking had arisen. It would have been possible for the participants of that study to say that their presuppositions about race were confirmed by what had happened. They did not.
As I sat and listened I began to see thoughtful individuals open up their hearts and explore ways of looking at race that were insightful. I have heard black commentators articulate them, but these white folks were now doing it. I want to share just one insight from a gentleman who has become increasingly aware of his cultural history. He started talking about the movement from the civil war, through to Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, through to inner cities today. He said that black people were made free, but not given any resources to build their lives after the civil war. White people were able to keep the wealth that they had accumulated through slave ownership and then pass that wealth on to their children. Black people had no inheritance to leave.
He noted that he had benefited from the inheritance received from previous generations, but black people had not. Furthermore, society restricted their access to the economic means they needed. He was making an argument for reparations, although none of us could work out how that should be undertaken.
We were talking about it in ways that left me hopeful though, we were becoming more conscious of the challenges our culture faces and how we were implicated. I have a sense that this is a conversation that is needed and that we have to encourage it to take place. The fact that we didn't finish its a problem, I am glad that we had started.
The conversation we need must not deny the facts of history. It must not say that unpleasant feelings should be avoided because white people are fragile. It should not give us a sense that we have earned what we deserve, but should acknowledge that we have what we do because of a deeply unjust system that existed in the recent past. Slavery is not the ancient history, it just happened yesterday.
Last night I heard Michelle Obama speak. I want to lay aside the fact that she was advocating for a candidate for a moment, and just focus on what she was saying about history.
"That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.
And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn."
In her speech she acknowledged her time in the White House and how difficult it has been, and she acknowledged the history of slavery. She also suggested that we are capable of something new.
She has a unique perspective on this, having served as the first African American First Lady and having suffered the insults leveled at her across the last 8 years because of this role. That she was hopeful at all, and that she constructed her argument from the facts of slavery, insult and struggle, was remarkable.
The speech suggested to me that the way through our current cultural difficulties is not by avoiding the past, but through a meaningful exploration of it.
Anyone who knows me will know that I believe in looking into the shadows for resources to help us grow. I have just never managed to do it quite as effectively as Michelle Obama did last night.
From the UK, Matthew loved US culture from the first time he picked up a Fantastic Four Comic when he was 12.