Sunday, October 13, 2013

Worshipful Walks - Worship in the midst of Creation

This fall, as part of Grace Episcopal Church, Medford's Experiments in Sunday Night Worship we did several, what we named, Worshipful Walks. The walk is a short hike, stopping on the path along the way for prayers, reading from scripture, meditation and finally the Holy Eucharist celebrated at a pre-chosen beautiful setting.

The service is designed to help connect with the experience of God in nature, and help to inspire for the care of creation and the environment. 

We did walks in several different green spaces around Medford, a walk through the Fells to Wright's Tower, along the Mystic Lakes and in the Brooks Estates.  

 Here is an articles in the local papers about the walks:

Medford Transcript

Inside Medford

Here is a sample bulletin from one of our walks:

Grace Episcopal Church Medford
Experiments in Evening Worship
Worshipful Walks- Brooks Estate
Sept. 29, 2013
5:00 PM
All Are Welcome
Words of Welcome
Opening Prayer- The Collect
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Station 1: Song &Scripture
Song- “Seek Ye First”
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And his righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Allelu, Alleluia (repeat)

The Holy Scripture: Nehemiah 9:6-7
And Ezra said: “You are the Lord, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. To all of them you give life, and the host of heaven worships you. You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham.

Lectio Divina (LD)- You are invited to speak a word, phrase, or thought that catches your attention.

Walk in silence to 2nd station

Station 2: Nehemiah 9:6-7
                 LD: Share in pairs where this passage has meaning for you and/or where it invites you today. Later, you will be given a chance to share with the larger group.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And his righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Allelu, Alleluia (repeat)

Walk to 3rd station

Station 3: Prayers of the People
An excerpt from“A Future Not Our Own”- a prayer by Oscar Romero (read together):

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
Ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Walk to Loop Trail

Song at the fort: “Sanctuary”
 Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
             Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving
 I’ll be a living sanctuary for you

Walk to 4th station

Station 4: Poem & Guided Reflection

Walk in silence to 5th station

Station 5: Eucharist
Songs: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
 Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore


Friday, April 5, 2013

My Sabbatical Plan and Reading List

I am going on sabbatical from Grace Episcopal Church in Medford from April 15-August 15, 2013.  I have two themes for my sabbatical - 1.) leading change in organizations and communities and 2.) emerging and new forms of Christian community.  

My sabbatical includes leading a conference, attending four or five different conferences and trainings,  going on a week-long silent retreat, teaching Sunday School at my wife's church (Christ Church, Waltham), attending the Wild Goose Festival and visiting a number of emergent churches and christian communities and driving across the country with my family.  I am really excited for this time away from the day-to-day of parish ministry and the chance to reflect and learn about where the wider church and my parish is changing and growing.  

Some folks have asked for my reading list, so here it is.  It is getting kind of long!  Let me know: what else do you think I should be reading?
  • Born of Water, Born of Spirit, Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook
  • American Grace, Robert Putnam
  • Give and Take, Adam Grant
  • Switch:  How to change things when change is hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation, Kegan and Lehey and Immunity to Change: Kegan and Lehey
  • Liturgical Sense, Louis Weil
  • Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
  • Lost in the Middle:  Claiming the Faith of Christians who are both evangelical and liberal
  • You Are Already Praying, Cathy George
    • Buddhist Boot Camp, Timer Hawkey
    • Jesus Freak and Take This Bread, Sara Miles
    • In the Neighborhood: the search for community on an American Street, Peter Lovenheim
    • Blessed are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America, Jefferey Stout
    • Destiny Disrupted: The history of the world through Islamic eyes, Tamin Ansary
    • Transforming Leadership: new vision for a church in mission, Norma Cook Everist and Craig Nessan
    • Emergence Christianity, Phyllis Tickle
    • The gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
    • The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Heifitz and Grashow
    • Wide Welcome: How the Unsettling Presence of Newcomers Can Save the Church, Duckworth Jessi
    • Scattering Seeds: Cultivating Church Vitality, Stephen Chapin Garner
    • Appreciative Living: The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry in Personal Life,
      Jacqueline Bascobert Kelm
    • Sacred Acts, Holy Change: Faithful Diversity and Practical Transformation, Eric Law
    • John Marshall: Definer of a Nation, Smith, Jean Edward
    • How to Pray When You're Pissed at God: Or Anyone Else for That Matter, Ian Punnett
    • And some fiction…

    Thursday, February 14, 2013

    Since it is the day after Ash Wednesday...

    Since it is the day after Ash Wednesday, most of the religious world will have forgotten about Ashes to Go, and the debates surrounding it, until next year.  But, I would like to reflect on the experience of doing Ashes to Go with my parish for the first time this year.  Here is some of our local coverage of Ashes to Go -, Medford Transcript, and Inside Medford.

    First, “Ashes to Go” was not Grace Episcopal Church, Medford’s first experiment in bringing church practices outside of the church walls.  Last Advent we set up a “Blessing Station” at a local commuter rail stop in order to offer prayers of healing during the darkest week of the year.  We received some good press, which you can find here.  We actually expected “Ashes to Go” to be a bit easier than the Blessing Station to do, and the energy that our first endeavor produced in the parish meant we had more ministers for “Ashes to Go” – so we were able to place three teams around town for “Ashes to Go” and were able to reach more folks.

    Second, “Ashes to Go” was positively received, but in this first ring town outside of Boston, we didn’t have droves and droves of people come forward to receive ashes.  Our three teams, two at bus stops, one at a commuter rail station, served at total of about 40 people in one and a half hours.  Some of that is just the layout of the town, and public transportation hubs – no single place has loads of concentrated foot traffic during the morning commute – it is much more distributed around town.  We all had many profound encounter with folks, someone who told me they "didn't deserve ashes,” then a few moments later came with tears in her eyes to receive them, feeling reconnected to a faith she seemed to have lost.  Another man talked with me about God in his life and recovery from addiction.  He never took ashes, but it was a profound encounter.  A daughter took ashes home for her father on hospice.  And some school kids as they got on the bus.  And some folks who when offered ashes said, “what the hell…” or “why not?” and received them and walked away.  What the experience meant to each person was different, some profound, some not so much.

    Third, there are some really good blog post running around the internet of “Ashes to Go,” (you can read two good ones here and here) many of them focusing on the meaning of the ashes is lost outside of the context of liturgy in the church.  One friend wrote to me that it has no meaning outside of “Christ has Died, Christ is Risen, Christ has Come Again.”  I guess my feeling is that we do not have a lock on the Christian message inside of the walls of the church.  Many folks have experienced resurrection in AA meetings, through their own struggles, and in many other ways.  Many people have received formation in Christian teaching and practices, but haven’t been a church for years for a whole host of complicated issues (less than 20% of Boston Roman Catholics even attend church).  “Ashes to Go” opens the doors to encounters with these folks, and many more.  My sense is the encounters are ultimately more important than the ashes.  Maybe these encounters will be encouragement to rediscover of community of faith, maybe it will just be encouragement for their own spiritual exploration outside of the church, maybe it will just be a story told waiting in line for the bathroom at work – we don’t know.  It’s a gift of something we as the church know and love to the wider community outside our doors. 

    Fourth, the controversy around “Ashes to Go” is a healthy and important part of a changing church.  “Ashes to Go” is not “the answer,” but it is an important experiment, like our blessing station, on new ways to do and be the church.  New ways to share and spread the message of the transformational power of God that we know within the church walls, to people who want and need to hear the message.  The traditions of the Church are what we, as church people, know best.  Why not figure out how to share what we already know, and find life giving, with those who want and need to hear the Good News, instead of inventing completely new ways, unfamiliar to us in the first place.  It’s about grounding our evangelisms in the traditions we know, and giving them as a gift to the world.

    Is “Ashes to Go” the greatest thing in the world, to change our church and invite and welcome new people in.  No it isn’t.  Is it a great experiment that can help us to learn new ways of sharing the faith we know and love with a community who wants and needs to hear our message?  Yes, it is.  We are going to do it again next year, and other things like it.  How else are we going to know what works, and how to bring Jesus grounded in our tradition out into the community, than to start trying…

    Thursday, January 24, 2013

    The Way of the Cross is the Way of Life

    Early this morning, on our last full day in Jerusalem, as the call to prayer was ringing out from the mosques over Jerusalem, we venture into the old city to do the Via Dolorosa. The Via Dolorosa is the stations of the cross through the streets of the old city, ending in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, each station at the place where the events actually happened. We carried a large wooden cross with us through the streets each taking a turn carrying it to each station. The streets were very quiet as we walked, telling the story of Jesus' passion and death. In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we visited mount Calvary, and placed our hand on a rock where Jesus' was crucified, found under an altar. We joined a celebration of the Eucharist at the epicure, or the place of Jesus' tomb and his resurrection. We prayed for those we care for, those we love, peace throughout the world, and our own continued conversion in Christ.

    We prayed that we might "...make the way of the cross the way of life..." The prayers ended with a statement that we are all citizens of Jerusalem...truly a place I hope to come home to again. As we left the Church, the sun was in the sky, and the streets of Jerusalem were packed with people. Today was a Muslim holiday, the prophet's birthday, so schools were closed and children filled the old city. It was a reminder to me that the story of the Cross of Christ happens each day, in the midst of all of our lives, each day. These stories of our faith that we have been exploring over the past two weeks are meant to not be artifacts of an interesting past, but a narrative to make sense of our lives and our world, and inspire us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

    The waters of everlasting life...

    Yesterday, we visited the Taybeh, the only all Christian town in the Holy Land. Taybeh has really suffered from the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land, with many houses remaining vacant, and the town suffering from some pretty severe brain drain, as educated youth choose to move to and work in North and Latin America. We did visit a great sign of hope for the town, the Taybeh Brewing Company. Started by a local man, who while studying at Harvard began to brew his own beer. After studying brewing in the United States he decided to return home and open a brewery. Now the only brewery in the Middle East, Taybeh Brewing is a local business bringing economic development to the region. It took a family's commitment to local business development, instead of immigrating elsewhere, to help bring this economic engine and jobs to the community.

    We also visited Nablus, where the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has helped to renovate the emergency room of St. Luke's Hospital, which is run by the Anglican Diocese of Jeruselem. St. Luke's is an important part of the medical network in this economically depressed West Bank town. It delivers 2500 children every year, and promises to serve anyone who comes to it without regard to their ability to pay. Infant mortality in the West Bank is about four times higher than in Israel proper, showing the incredible disparity in the occupied territories. The Episcopal Church here is a really important part of the local social services structures in the West Bank.

    From there we visited the site of Jacob's Well, where Jesus met the Samaritan Woman in John's Gospel. It is an amazing site, with a Greek Orthodox Church recently rebuilt by a local priest over it. The priests of the church had been attacked several time by Israeli settlers who have sought to take control of the Holy Site. One priest was killed, and his remains are interred in the church. Broken marble stairs from grenade explosions also remain from the attacks. The faith and fortitude of the local community against great suffering is really incredible. In the basement of the church is the well of Jacob, where one can lower a bucket more than 50 feet down to gather water for drinking. It is here at this well that Jesus said that the water from the well will always leave you thirsty, but that he had the waters of life. It is faith in Jesus that inspires the work of places like St. Luke's Hospital, Taybeh Brewing Company and the Orthodox community gathered around Jacob's Well, not just the stones of the holy sites. Their work and discipleship is truly an icon of God's movement and Christ's living water nourishing lives.

    Monday, January 21, 2013

    The muddy river and the glistening sea...

    Yesterday, we ventured around the land were Jesus lived and spent much of his ministry, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, near the town of Capernaum. We began our day at the Jordan River, the river where John the Baptist preached, and where Jesus was baptized. The river was high due to recent rain, but was not more than 25 feet across. It was also very muddy. There on the shore of the Jordan our group renewed our Baptismal promises, and gathered water from the river that some of us will mix with the water we use at Baptisms in our churches. I also released some of the cremation ashes of a friend of mine into the river, a bitter sweet moment of death being mixed with the waters of Baptism and new life. And again I was reminded what the resurrection life of Jesus we live together in Baptism is all about - it is in places of death that we find new life.

    From there, we went on to visit the hills, valley, and the sea where Jesus called and taught his disciples. The land where he worked, and his fame grew. We visited the 1st century town where Jesus lived, Capernaum, after he was driven out of Nazareth. We visited were the synagogue once stood that Jesus taught in, and the house that is believed to be where Peter lived. We stood on a hill where the Sermon on the Mount could have been delivered, and the spot were the loaves and fishes could have been multiplied. We can not be sure if these are the exact locations that these things took place, but we do know that it all happened along this few mile strip next to the Sea of Galilee. It really sunk in for me that Jesus was a real person, who lived in a real place, had a society and a culture that he struggled with, and real friends and companions he worked and ministered with. Jesus' teachings were not just abstractions about life and God, but real teachings, that had to do with the real struggles and experiences of God of his people. Our faith, is about the here and now of our own lives, and meant to be lived out in the real world that we find ourselves in each day.

    The mud between my toes in the Jordan River, and the glistening sun of the Sea of Galilee, I found to be a profound reminder that God is so often found in the regular, everyday, things of our lives. Right here, and right now, today.

    It is funny that I had to go half way around the world to remember that!

    Sunday, January 20, 2013

    Living Stones: Sunday in the Holy Land

    They say here that the Living Stones of the Holy Land are not the holy sites of antiquity, or the basilicas built in the 1st, 4th or 12th centuries, but the people who have been keeping the faith in their lives and families since the time of Jesus. Today, being Sunday, we visited some of these "Living Stones," at worship in their churches. These are the same people who have been keeping the Christian faith since the time of Jesus.

    For Sunday morning church, we visited St. Paul's Anglican Church in Shafa Amr. This small church lies in a mostly Arab city, which serves as a suburb of Haifa. The worship today was bilingual, English and Arabic, because we were there. Bishop Gayle preached, and the Rector translated the sermon. The Province of the Middle East, which includes the Diocese of Jerusalem, does not recognize woman Bishops, so Bishop Gayle did not celebrate the Eucharist. It was amazing to sing several old English hymns in English, while members of the congregation also sung them simultaneously in Arabic. It truly was a beautiful moment of sharing a tradition across many nations and cultures. During coffee hour we celebrated a parish child, Michael's birthday, with a cake, songs and balloons. Really, it was just like coffee hour at church back home!!

    Several of the members of the parish told us about how many of the Christians have fled from the Holy Land over the last 20 years due to the struggles between Israelis and Palestinians. Historically, Christians have played a moderating role in this multi-ethnic and religious land, but the number of Christians has greatly diminished in the last two decades. They worry about being forgotten by Western Christians. They urged us to tell their story, and thanked us for our visits. They asked us to return, to bring others. It reminded me of St. Paul's work of traveling around the Mediterranean taking a collection for the church in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts - the importance of knowing and supporting these early followers of Christ.

    The Parish of St. Paul had recently refurbished a house next to the church as a local "multi-cultural community center." The land for the house was purchased with a grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, and refurbished from donations by the local church. We brought a donation from the Diocese of Massachusetts to help further the work of this center. The center now serves as a center where Christians, Muslims and Jews in the town to gather together for shared arts expeditions and musical performances. It shows the important work of the local Christian communities to build bridges to bring people together, which is the first step in working for peace. I have a lot of admiration and gratitude for the life, witness and work of these "Living Stones" of the Holy Land, and pray for their continued ministry of building the bridges to peace.

    Saturday, January 19, 2013

    Can anything good come from Nazareth?

    John 1:46

    Today, we arrived in the Northern Israeli city of Nazareth. The city that Mary and Joseph were from, and where Jesus grew up. It is a provincial city of about 100,000 people today. At Jesus' time, it was a small cluster of 20-40 caves or grottoes with a population of 100-200. It is on a hill overlooking a large valley below.

    When I mentioned the line to a fellow traveler, she replied back with a snark, "that was an early statement..." So far, we have visited many of the sites of the miracles of Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection. Nazareth and the land around the Sea of Galilee is where Jesus did most of his ministry, teaching and preaching. The life and teaching of Jesus is so often overlooked when we focus on the miracles. Another fellow traveler has asked "why do we not have a holiday to celebrate the Sermon on the Mount, along with Easter and Christmas?" A good question...the teachings of Jesus show us how to shape our lives, and to have our lives shaped by God. That is why we have come to this region, to explore where and what Jesus taught.

    Earlier in the day, we visited Jericho, the lowest point on the earth at 1200 ft below sea level, and the world's oldest city at 10,000 years old. We saw the cite of the biblical city of Jericho, where Joshua caused the wall to tumble down, a site still being excavated today. And we also visited a sycamore tree, said to be in the same spot where Zacchaeus climbed in Luke 19, another man inspired by Jesus' teaching.

    Outside of Jericho we climbed to a monastery believed to be the place of Jesus' temptation in the desert after his Baptism in the river Jordan. It is not a flat desert like we may think of, but a cliff with caves. Early Christians later inhabited these caves when they left the cities to form early monastic communities.

    Tomorrow, we visit a local Anglican congregation that worships in English and Arabic, outside of Nazareth.

    Friday, January 18, 2013

    The truth about the Holy Nativity...

    Today, which happened to be Christmas Day in the Armenian Orthodox calendar, we visited Bethlehem, the City of Jesus's birth. In visiting the city, I learned a lot about how the birth of our Lord really happened...

    First of all, it was amazing for me to see that Bethlehem lies on a hill about four miles outside of Jerusalem. Following a star to the city makes a lot more sense, when it lies on the mountain ridge looking up from the valley below from the East. Looking up to the city, I can see clearly how the magi were led there by a star.

    At the time of Jesus, most people in a small village like Bethlehem didn't live in houses, but in caves. A village would be a grouping of caves, maybe with some rocks built up around the entrance to create some more room. The animals were brought into the caves at night, and pushed into the back side of the cave, and the family would sleep in the front. The word that is translated as "inn" in our biblical account of the nativity, is actually the word for "dwelling places"... There was no room in the cave where the people usually slept, so Joseph and Mary were placed in the back of the cave, with the animals. A manger was a hewn out rock, to feed and water the animals. Our Europeanized visions of the nativity are wrong.  Jesus was born in a cave.

    The Church of the Holy Nativity bears this out. The birthplace of Jesus is below the church, in a cave. You enter under the altar of the church of the Holy Nativity, and below in a cramped cave, you see where Jesus was born...

    Learning all this, and seeing it with my own eyes makes the story of the birth of Jesus even more amazing to me, even more true. And it all happened on Christmas Day!

    Check out this link below for a video I took of the Armenian Patriarch entering the Church of the Nativity on Armenian Christmas Day:

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

    Praying...and being a tourist

    We woke up very early this morning to go, see and pray at the Western Wall. The Western Wall is the still remaining wall of the second Jewish temple, and considered the holiest site for modern Jews. Thursdays are one of the days that boys have bar mitzvah at the wall, so the place was teeming with families and 13 year old boys coming for the ceremony of manhood.

    As I went into the the area next to the wall, I was given a yarmulke and went to the wall to pray. At first, I didn't know what to do. There was an orthodox Jewish man next to seeming lost in ecstatic prayer, rocking back and forth, and chanting. I wondered whether I belonged, was this not my faith tradition, and I should just go, what to do...I felt like a tourist! But, then, I saw a tiny slip of paper, with a prayer on it sticking out from the wall in front of me. It said "love to all." Somehow reading that prayer, left by some other visitor, rearranged my inner anxieties and allowed me to submit to the moment. To, in a way, submit to God. I felt the smoothed stones before me, where thousands had prayed before. I could feel the energy of the holy, almost like it pulsated through my fingers, and into my soul. Psalm 33:22 ran through my mind

    Let your loving-kindness, O LORD, be upon us, *
    as we have put our trust in you.

    I then was able to truly pray...I prayed for my family, for my church, for people I know, for peace around the world, peace in this place. And then the sounds around me stopped, and I was just there. My head placed against the stone wall, where thousands had prayed before. I felt so small, yet so loved by God. I left a page of prayers stuck into the wall, into the hands of God's loving kindness.

    When I stepped back from the wall, one of my fellow travelers pointed out a dove sitting on the rock above. A sign of the holy spirit and a sign of peace.

    And then I was a tourist again, on to another site...another gift store, another place to take a photo.

    Later in the day, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place that marks the place of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, I saw a wall with crosses carved in it. I realized that crosses has been carved into these walls by visitors for almost a thousand years. Pilgrims, tourists...

    A friend of mine told me that tourism is about going and seeing, pilgrimage, is about going, seeing and returning changed. How this experience will change me is still to be discovered, but one thing I am sure, my faith will never be the same.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2013

    Coming home to Jerusalem

    Yesterday, I came home to Jerusalem. I have never been here before, but this city is a special place representing God's presence on earth for Christians, Muslims and Jews. It is a spiritual home - a place that has dwelled in my imagination and study for years - though my preaching and teaching of Holy scripture. And so here I am, the real deal, Jerusalem.

    I am traveling with a group from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, led by our Suffragan Bishop Gayle Harris. There are 16 of us, we come from a handful of different parishes around the Diocese. Each of us has brought a different reason for going on this adventure, and I think that in time we may all discover the real reason we have come. As with any pilgrimage, we will discover more upon the way.

    This city is enfolded in prayer. We hear the Muslim call to prayer through out the day. The first time I heard it, I was unpacking in my hotel room. I rushed to the window, and threw it open to hear, but already its beautiful sounds are becoming common place in this amazing Holy city.

    Today, we went to the Mount of Olives, and walked down the mountain to the City of Jerusalem the same walk Jesus took on Palm Sunday and then on to the the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed before his capture.

    It continues to amaze me how close everything is, how the stories of Jesus' passion take place in a very small geographic area. Every site is marked by a church. We read the scripture associated with the site, and have a chance to pray. I am looking forward to exploring my spiritual home more over the days to come...