Thanksgiving - HELP!!!!

This is what we have left after Thursday

This is what we have left after Thursday

Every year we get together at Thanksgiving with Christine's side of the family, at somebody's house, for our annual reunion. It is a scene repeated across our country countless times. We've hosted this gathering twice, and we worry, "How will we manage THAT many people in our house? Do we have enough of everything for them?" I suspect we've all been there at some point.

Now imagine if for Thanksgiving you had 396 people coming to your house to be fed. That's exactly what happened at St. Michael's this Thursday. We provided Thanksgiving meals to 396 people, all in one morning. Our pantry angels are nothing short of amazing. But here's the problem - some of our extended family members couldn't make it here Thursday. They're going to come on Monday, and we need to provide for them. In the photo above, you see what's left of the massive collection of food we started the morning left. We have 18 hams left.

We would really like to have 50 bags of Thanksgiving meals to give away on Monday. That means we need 32 more hams, but we need "the trimmings" to go with: stuffing, green beans, yams, cake mix and icing, corn muffin mix, cream of mushroom soup. We can do it, i know, but we need your help. Please bring whatever you can to church this Sunday!!

Deep at the heart of all thanksgiving, without or without a capital "T," is an awareness of being in the presence of God and seeing that God has given us more than we could ask. For many of our clients, evidence of the presence of God in their lives can be hard to come by, and that's what we're giving them, as much as we're giving them food. Thank you for helping so many others understand and experience true Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving at the I AM Pantry


As the particularly American holiday of Thanksgiving approaches, we would do well to remember that it isn't just about eating too much or putting up with that one really odd member of your family that you only see once a year, nor is it about football or a head start on your Christmas shopping.

As its name suggests, Thanksgiving is really all about giving thanks to God for all the good things God has done for us. Of course, "all" is a big word for only three letters, so maybe it's better to focus on some or even just a few. We sometimes here that catchy little phrase of "an attitude of gratitude," but I want to suggest that maybe the best way to give thanks goes beyond attitude to action. If you really want to BE thankful, then DO something for someone else, preferably someone who can't return the favor - i think Jesus said something like that once...

And yes, I have a suggestion for how to do that, in case you're feeling stuck - the I AM Food Pantry. We are giving away Thanksgiving bags again this year, both to help give a number of folks a reason to be thankful but also to demonstrate to God, not just in thoughts or words but in deeds, just how grateful we are for the many ways God has blessed us. So please help us fill bags with food and hearts with gratitude. Here is what we need the most:

Canned Ham
Canned sweet potatoes
Stuffing Mix
Green beans
Small bags of rice
Cranberry sauce
Cream of Mushroom soup
Boxed cake mixes
and finally, reusable bags to put it all in.

Please bring these to church with you on Sunday, and then come Wednesday morning at 10:45 if you can, and help us put them all together. Have a wonderful and joyous Thanksgiving.

Some thoughts on ministry


Wednesday night I was privileged to get to preach at the service of Celebration of New Ministry for Holy Nativity, Saint Simons and the Rev'd Tommy Townsend, their new vicar. The picture above is from that service. It was lovely and joyful, and (if I may say so myself) the sermon wasn't half bad. Preaching at an occasion such as that one - much like at an ordination - always gets me to thinking about the topic of ministry, and i want so share some of those thoughts with you.

The Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer is quite clear about ministry. First, about the ministers themselves, it says "The ministers of the Church are the lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons" (BCP, 855). Notice that the laity is listed first; that's intentional. At our baptism we are all "ordained" to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus; some of us are then ordained for specific ministries within the Body of Christ, mainly sacramental ones. It's helpful to remember that there are essentially only three things priests can do as ministers that lay people cannot, and those follow the handy mnemonic device "ABC." We can Absolve, Bless, and Consecrate. That means we are authorized by the Church and empowered by the Holy Spirit to offer absolution to the penitent, to pronounce God's blessing, and to consecrate the bread and wine at Eucharist. I would point out that no priest can do any of those things alone. We must always have at least one lay person present with us. I like that - it reminds us that all ministry is communal - we are in this together, as members of one Body, the Church.

Everything else that we think of as "ministry," that we often believe is or should be relegated to the clergy, is in fact baptismal ministry - what we should all be doing as followers of Christ, carrying out the mission of the Church. That same page in the Book of Common Prayer reminds us that the mission of the Church is "to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." Our ministry is fundamentally one of reconciliation, of restoring what has been broken by human sin to health and to wholeness. It is about mending relationships and restoring dignity and worth to those from whom those things have been stripped away, or as the prophet Isaiah so beautifully said, it is about becoming "repairers of the breach."

Pope Francis says (and I quoted him on this in the sermon) that shepherds - ministers - need to be close enough to their sheep to be able to smell them. Ministry is hands on, sometimes dirty, work. It can be hard and tiring, and that's one reason why we have Eucharist every Sunday. The work that we do "out in the world" is part of what we bring to the altar at the Offertory each week. We pile our labor on behalf of Christ atop the altar with the bread and wine, and we ask God to take it, bless it, increase it, and give it back to us to continue our work in the coming week. We come to the altar to encounter the Resurrected Christ and to be fed by him to strengthen us for our ongoing work in the world. So yes, there's nothing wrong with coming to church to "get something out if it." That's what we're supposed to do, but we do so in order to be able to give even more back when we walk out the doors.

The Feast of All Saints

"surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses..."

"surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses..."

Next Wednesday, 1 November, is the Feast of All Saints, which we will celebrate again on the following Sunday. All Saints is the only feast the Book of Common Prayer allows us to celebrate twice - first on the day itself and then again on the next Sunday. As you might imagine, different traditions within Christianity have very different ideas about this feast and its meaning. Even its history within the ancient Church is hard to pin down. The date itself has moved around throughout the centuries, when at various times it either sought to compete with or be separated from other pagan festivals and celebrations.

Once the day was finally settled, in the eighth century, All Saints became a part of what is known as "Allhallowtide," a three day celebration that begins with the Vigil on All Hallows' Eve (yes, that's where Halloween comes from) through 2 November, All Souls' Day. The distinction between All Saints and All Souls is often blurred in American Christianity because it involves the doctrine of Purgatory, one which many Christians find troubling. All Saints Day is the commemoration of those faithful people - famous and not - who have entered into heaven and attained what is known as "the beatific vision" - that is, seeing God face to face. In technical "church speak" this is what as knows as the "Church Triumphant." All Souls remembers the faithful departed who are still in Purgatory, completing that process of sanctification and awaiting the entry into Heaven. This group is called the "Church Expectant," whereas we who are still in our pilgrimage on earth are called the "Church Militant." The Lutheran Church and many other protestants dismiss the doctrine of Purgatory entirely and so speak of the "two phases" of the Church, on earth and in heaven.

Regardless of what one believes about Purgatory and whether there are three parts of the Church or only two, what is important is that we are all - living and dead - still part of the Church, part of the Body of Christ and not separated from one another by death. When we pray or worship here on Earth, we are joined again with those who have gone before, particularly so when we come to the altar at the Eucharist and share in the body and blood of Christ. There is an exquisitely beautiful portrayal of this moment in the 1984 movie, Places in the Heart. If you haven't seen it, you should.

This connection to the faithful who have gone before us, held together in Jesus Christ and unaffected by death, is exactly what we mean when we say in the Creed that we believe "in the Communion of Saints." Samuel Wesley writes about this in his hymn "The Church's One Foundation," in the last verse;

"Yet she [the Church] on earth hath union with God, the Three in One, and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. O happy ones and Holy! Lord give us grace that we, like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee."

At St. Michael's this year, we begin our celebration of All Saints on All Hallows' Eve, Tuesday, 31 October at 6:00pm, in the service of Evensong. This is a sung version of Evening Prayer and is one of the most lovely services of Anglicanism. The choir has been working hard to get ready, and i hope you will join us.

It's that time of year...


Okay, not really, but almost. As October winds down, November comes next, and then before we know it, it's Advent, and then we celebrating the baby Jesus again. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves... it's almost time for our annual Christmas Tree Lot!!!! Yay!!!!

Yep, we're about to start selling Christmas Trees again, and we need your help. Please mark you calendars with these important dates:

Saturday, November 11 at 7:30am - Tree lot build. Meet at the church for breakfast and then we go to work.

Saturday, November 18 at 8:00am - Trees arrive. We need many hands to help unload a trailer full of the bestest Christmas trees ever. (We're going to bless the trees before we start selling them this year.)

Friday, November 24, time TBD - Tree lot opens for business. Look for a sign-up schedule at church soon.

We hope you'll take part in any or all of these events, as much as you are able. There are always tasks to be done, even if you physically can't carry trees or build the lot. It's also a great time for St. Michael's fellowship, so come be a part of it.

The tree lot is the major source of funding for the I AM Food Pantry and contributes to other ministries throughout the year. So come support the work and mission of St. Michael and All Angels.

Why We Call You Angels


Last week in this space we put out an urgent request for food supplies for the I AM Food Pantry. This is how you responded. In one weekend. A while back, when we first started to add more to our weekly email than just the schedule of servers for the Sunday liturgies, we started opening those emails with the greeting, "Hello Angels." It was a little tongue in cheek, a play on our church name combined with a lighthearted allusion to the 1970's TV show, "Charlie's Angels." It stuck, though, and now often instead of saying "a parishioner" or "a church member" we say "one of our angels."

If you've ever wondered why we think of the wonderful folk of St. Michael's as "angels," i would suggest you take a look at the photo above. Again and again, you show your love and generosity in displays like this or in much smaller and less visible ways that maybe only a few of us ever know about. You take food to the sick, provide rides for those who need them, or sometimes just take a fellow angel out for lunch because you worry they may feel lonely or unimportant. I usually hear about these acts of kindness not from the people (angels) who perform them but from the recipients. More times than i can count, i have been one of those on the receiving end.

True Christian living is not measure simply by how many Sundays a year you're in church or how many hymns you know by heart - not even by often or well you can quote Holy Scripture. It's shown much more simply by how you live and how you love. Indeed, the observation Tertullian notes about the earliest Christians applies equally to you angels - "see how they love one another."

Two important requests


In place of a post about a current event or a feast day or the like, we have two important pieces of St. Michael's news to share with you. First - and most pressing - the I AM Food Pantry is desperately low on certain key food items that go in our clients' bags. We need these by this Monday when we open the doors at 9am! If you can make it to the store this Saturday and bring these items to church on Sunday you will be a lifesaver.

Canned Fruit, Canned Vegetables, Pasta, and Canned Potatoes

Secondly, it's time for Coffee Hour to start back! YAY!!! (Can you hear the angels rejoicing?) If you were involved last year, or if you weren't but would like to be this year, please join us in the kitchen for a quick meeting this Sunday following the 10:30 service. (This only applies to the 10:30 coffee hour folks.) We'll hammer out details for teams - we want to have six this year instead of four - and make plans for the coming year. 

While you're coming to the meeting, you can bring the canned goods above that you got at the store on Saturday. :)

Four Sacraments and an Office

Baptism is one of only a couple of sacraments we won't be doing this weekend.

Baptism is one of only a couple of sacraments we won't be doing this weekend.

As a lot of you already know, it's going to be a busy weekend around St. Michael's. The title of this post refers to the four sacraments of the Church that we'll be celebrating on Sunday - Eucharist, Confirmation, Unction, and Matrimony. As far as i know, the Bishop does not intend to ordain anyone here on Sunday (although one really never knows with bishops...), neither will we be offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation (but someone might come up between now and then and ask for it. We're also not planning on baptizing anyone, either, but we will all be renewing our Baptismal Vows as part of Confirmation. There have been several times like this in the twenty-something years i've been ordained, where i've found myself counting up all the Sacraments we'd be having in the next day or so. It can be a little overwhelming trying to make sure that we know (literally) what page we're on and making sure we are devoting our full attention and presence to whichever one we happen to be doing at the moment.

Still, I always enjoy these times. The Sacraments are kind of like love songs that God sings to us, rhythmic reminders of God's eternal love and ongoing care for us. While the longstanding definition we use for sacrament - an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual Grace - is fine in some ways, I sometimes find it incomplete and lacking. The sacraments are physical and tangible ways in which God touches us directly; the elements of them are real and earthy - water, wine, bread, oil, hands. They are all means of healing, strengthening, reconnecting, and restoring. In many ways, the Sacraments show us God's third way of working and speaking in the world. In the Old Testament, God fed, healed, restored, strengthened from a distance, usually speaking through someone like Moses or the prophets; in the New Testament, God did all of those directly through Jesus, literally God incarnate among us, to do in the flesh what had previously been done in other ways. Now, since the Ascension of Jesus and the birth of the Church, God is still at work, performing those same tasks as always, but now we receive and experience them through the mysterious and tangible means of Sacrament. 

The weekend at St. Michael's starts not with Sacraments, though, but with an office - the Burial Office for Harry Steinhauser. Here the word office takes its old meaning - not of a room in which work is done but of a duty with which one is entrusted. This is much the same way we speak of the Office of President - that means much more than the actual Oval Office, as it describes the trust and work we place in the hands of the person who holds that office. Burials are not sacraments, although we often think they are. Sacraments are only for those of us still living on this side of the Resurrection. We are the ones who need them to mediate God's Grace to us; once we die, and the veil between us and God is sloughed off, we have no need of anything to reveal God's presence to us. We dwell in it face to face. Funerals aren't for the dead; they are for those of us still in our earthly pilgrimage.

While our "work" as the Church is vital and life-giving - work such as the I AM Food Pantry, the opening of our doors to our community, the pastoral visits, the meetings, and all the other day to day business of church life - I am enormously thankful for times like these when we draw our attention back to the sacramental life of the Church and are given the chance to see, hear, and feel God at work in our lives.

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Saint Michael the Archangel by Louise Shipps

Saint Michael the Archangel by Louise Shipps

On Sunday, 1 October, we will celebrate the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, our patronal feast. St. Michael's Day is actually 29 September, but the Book of Common Prayer allows a congregation to transfer the celebration of its patronal feast to the Sunday next following, with certain exceptions. Fortunately, none of those exceptions apply to us, so we are well within the rubrics for our celebration. Yay!

This year, our Bishop will be making his visitation to St. Michael's on that day, so it will be an extra special celebration. We will have one service at 10:00am, and a reception will follow. The Bishop will celebrate and preach at the Eucharist that morning, and he will also confirm those folks we will present to receive the sacrament of Confirmation.

Confirmation is a bit of a sacrament in search of a meaning under our current theology. The Book of Common Prayer says that, "Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church" (page 298). Full initiation, which means that nothing else is required. That wasn't always the case. In the early Church (at least as far back as we have reliable information) only adults were baptized, and only bishops performed those baptisms. As the Church grew (after it became first legalized and then the official religion of the Roman Empire) bishops simply could not keep up with the demand for baptisms, so they authorized their priests to baptize with water but not to anoint with chrism or say the prayer for the descent of the Holy Spirit. Bishops reserved those practices for such time as they could be present to administer them. So was born the sacrament of Confirmation, that completed the action begun in Holy Baptism. (It is for this reason that the belief persists in the Church that says one must be confirmed to receive Communion.) With the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, anointing and the prayer for the Holy Spirit were restored to the baptismal liturgy; few Episcopalians, i expect, realize what i dramatic change in theology this represented.

So why do we still have Confirmation? That's a very good question and one not easily answered. Come join us for the Rector's Forum at 9:30 this Sunday morning, and we'll talk about it. Hope to see you then.

News following Hurricane Irma


I hope far all of you things are beginning to get back to normal following Hurricane Irma. If not - if you are in any need dealing with the effects of the storm - please contact the church office as soon as you can and let us know. We are ready to help.

Some good news - St. Michael's is intact and apparently undamaged by the storm. Many thanks to Mike Johnson, our Junior Warden, Jane Riner, our Altar Guild chair, and Judy Naylor Johnson, our Parish Administrator, for their tireless work securing the property prior to Irma's arrival. Thanks also to Nancy Relyea, our sexton, for her mighty efforts cleaning up afterwards on Tuesday. Our Cub Scouts are coming Thursday night to clear away the sandbags, and by Sunday, things should look pretty much as they did beforehand. We have some good folks here, but y'all already know that.

The Revival at Honey Creek with our Presiding Bishop has been postponed until Saturday, 20 January 2018. Honey Creek was hit hard, but we are delighted that no buildings were badly damaged. We lost some shingles, and the dock did suffer a little, but nothing that cannot be repaired. We will still charter a bus, and if you made a reservation, it is secure. We will have the bus roster available on Sunday for you either to confirm that you will still be going or to release your seat for someone else. Look for it in the back of the church this Sunday. Since the revival has been delayed, we will follow our normal Sunday schedule this week - services at 8:00 and 10:30, with Rector's Forum and Lectionary Class in between. 

As of this writing, it appears only one church property in the diocese suffered any real damage. Holy Nativity, St. Simon's has three trees down on the church and rectory. One of those is fairly large, and they haven't yet been able to remove it safely, but it has damaged the roof of the nave, directly over the organ. Glynn County was hit hard overall, and it will take them many months to recover fully from all the damage. If you'd like to make a contribution to Holy Nativity, you can do so this Sunday.

In the meantime, there are still countless individuals and families whose lives have been totally disrupted by the recent storms. What can we do to help? First off, we continue to pray for them and for those assisting them. Prayer is a powerful way for us to enter into God's healing and restoring work in the world. Pray for their safety and recovery; pray for God to move others to generosity and willingness to help; pray for a clear revelation of God's presence with all those in danger or sorrow.

Other than prayer, there are many ways to be involved. Perhaps you loaded up on canned goods or other items in anticipation of days without power or water in your own house. Bring some of that surplus to the I AM Food Pantry. Many of our clients are among the hardest hit by and the least able to deal with the storm. Check on your neighbors nearby and see if they need help with clean up or debris removal. Even if they don't, invite them over for dinner one evening; a friendly welcome and good fellowship go a long way to healing the anxiety and uncertainty this kind of event can bring. Make a donation to a reputable charity - Episcopal Relief and Development is an excellent choice, or make an extra contribution to St. Michael's designated for storm relief.

Lastly, and just as importantly as any of these others, take stock of what you have in your life now and give thanks to God for all of it. Gratitude is an incredibly potent pathway to serenity and joy, and in these major crises, we cannot get enough of either of those.

Hurricane Harvey

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As of this writing, Hurricane Harvey is bearing down on the Texas coast, about 180 miles southwest of Galveston. It is currently a Category 2 storm, expected to strengthen to Category 3 by landfall. Because of the steering currents, what happens after that is at this point unknown. The storm might move back over the Gulf before traveling north and making landfall again, or it may stall out over land for up to a week. Current estimates put rainfall in some areas at over 30". By all accounts, Harvey is likely to be one of the worst and most destructive storms in a long, long time. Areas hit directly are likely to be uninhabitable for weeks or even months to come.

I bid your prayers for all those in the path of the storm and for all those who will labor to help protect others affected by Harvey. I commend to you this prayer by Fr. James Martin, SJ: 

God of the Universe, at the dawn of creation, your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness. You created the oceans and rivers, and all that dwell within them, and at your word the wind and the waves were born. The seasons follow your plan, and the tides rise and fall on your command. In both calm and storm, you are with us. 

On the Sea of Galilee, even when the disciples began to fear, Jesus showed that he was Lord over the waters by rebuking the storms, so that all would know that even the wind and the waves obey him. 

Creator God, we ask you to calm the wind and the waves of  Hurricane Harvey, and spare those in its path from harm. Help those who are in its way to reach safety. Open our hearts in generosity to all who need help in the coming days. In all things and in all times, help us to remember that even when life seems dark and stormy, you are in the boat with us, guiding us to safety. Amen.

In addition to offering our prayers, we can help in other ways. The single most effective response any of us can make is to send money to reputable institutions that can help. The American Red Cross is certainly one of those; I also wholeheartedly recommend the Episcopal Church's organization for such emergencies, Episcopal Relief and Development. Their website is here:

In any case, please remember the people of the Texas Gulf Coast in your prayers over the coming days.

Clergy respond to Charlottesville

Episcopal bishops and other clergy of Virginia in Charlottesville

Episcopal bishops and other clergy of Virginia in Charlottesville

A Statement on the Events in Charlottesville

We watched with horror the events of the weekend unfold in Charlottesville. As White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and others with similar ideologies committed murder and other atrocities, many of those did so while at the same time professing to be Christians. As clergy in the Episcopal Church, we proclaim clearly and with certainty that they do not represent Christ or Christianity. 

Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Over the last few days we saw in Charlottesville our failure to follow those commandments. As the clergy of Episcopal Churches of Savannah, we re-affirm our desire to follow the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. In so doing, we are clear in our conviction that the overt racism, raw hatred, and horrific violence that we saw this weekend is contrary to all that he taught and did. 

We pray for Heather Heyer and her family, for Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, and all those physically or spiritually harmed. We repent of our own complicity in the structures of our society that allow or support these behaviors and for our silence when we have lacked the will or courage to speak out. We pray also, as Jesus taught us, for the perpetrators, for James Fields, and for all those wielding the words and weapons of hatred and bigotry. We pray God’s blessing on them, and pray for their own repentance.

White Supremacy, bigotry, racism are all sins, egregious ones. They deny the humanity of those at whom they are directed and destroy the humanity of those who follow these ideologies. They are contrary to the teachings of Jesus, and they grieve the heart of God. While we recognize these attitudes and actions as evil, we also recognize those who displayed them this weekend are, even so, created in the image of God and are in the same need of repentance and redemption as we are.

We commit ourselves again to the vows we made in our baptism and in our ordination - to seek and serve Christ in all places, to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim by Word and Example and the Good News of God in Christ. We call upon all the faithful likewise to commit themselves to prayer and repentance for the things that have been done and for those things that we have left undone.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

The Rt. Rev. Scott A. Benhase
Bishop of Georgia

The Very Rev. Dr. William Willoughby III
The Collegiate Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Savannah

The Rev. Charles Todd
The Collegiate Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Savannah

The Rev. Michael S. White, Christ Church, Savannah
The Rev. Liam G. Collins, Christ Church, Savannah
The Rev. Helen S. White, Christ Church, Savannah

The Rev. Kelly Steele
Church of the Epiphany, Savannah

The Rev. Hunt Priest
St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Savannah

The Rev. James Parker
St. George's Episcopal Church, Savannah

The Rev. Denise M. Ronn, Ph.D. 
St. Philip's Episcopal Church, Hinesville

The Rev. June Johnson
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Tybee Island

The Rev. R. Kevin Kelly
St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Savannah

The Rev. Lauren Flowers Byrd
St. Francis of the Islands, Savannah

The Rev. Guillermo A. Arboleda
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Savannah

The Rev. David Rose
St. Luke’s, Rincon

The Rev. Joshua Varner
Missioner for Youth, Diocese of Georgia

Why I started wearing that funny little hat

Priest's zucchetto 

Priest's zucchetto 

If you've been around S Michael's on a Sunday or Wednesday the last couple of weeks, you probably noticed that i have acquired some new headwear. I thought i'd take a moment to tell you what it is, and why i decided to start wearing one. 

First off, let's deal with what it's called. It's not a beanie or a skullcap (okay, yes it is a skullcap, but in the Church we like cool-sounding names in other languages, so we don't call it that); it is also not a yarmulke (because i'm not Jewish). It is properly called a pileolus, but it's more commonly known by its nickname, a zucchetto, (which sort of rhymes with the name of the the wood carver in Pinocchio.) Zucchetto comes from the Italian word which means gourd and, by extension, the head. So despite what i said above, it really can be called a skullcap. So, what exactly is a zucchetto, and why do clerics wear them?

Dating back to around the fifth or sixth century, when one was received into the clerical order, a spot was shaved on the top of his head. This spot (and the rite that accompanied it) is called tonsure. Before being assumed by the clergy, it was originally a mark of slavery. Over time, the tonsure became associated with the vows of the the monk or priest. It was a sign of the obligation of humility and obedience the new cleric was taking on. In those days, monasteries, cathedrals, and even parish churches were often quite cold and drafty and to prevent the newly tonsured clerics from losing too much heat through their newly shorn pates, they developed a small, semicircular hat to cover them. Thus was born the zucchetto. As time passed, the zucchetto itself became a sign of the vows the monks and priests had taken. To wear one meant that you were under vows, under orders.

As the centuries passed, and customs changed, the tonsure almost entirely disappeared. With it, for most, went the zucchetto. In the Church today, they are mostly associated with the pope and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Relatively few parish priests wear them any more. Recently (and i mean "recently" in church times, not as in secular fashion trends) we've seen considerable changes among clergy vestments, with more and more room being given for "creativity" (i use that term lightly) and individual expression. Whereas for centuries, street dress for priests was black (be it cassock, frock coat, or suit and shirt) and liturgical vestments adhered to specific seasonal colors and religious adornment only, it is quite common now to see just about anything worked into a priest's stole or chasuble, and i won't even begin to address the liberties we now take with clerical shirts and collars. I will limit myself to only one example of a modern priest's stole, and i will leave it to your own imagination how this fits with any season or feast of the Church.

Yes - that is the tardis from Dr. Who.

Yes - that is the tardis from Dr. Who.

As this trend towards free expression has gained momentum, many of the traditional ideas about clergy dress and customs are now looked upon as quaint or silly. People think of the older expressions of clergy dress and practices as "dressing up" or "playing church." Lately i've found myself wondering what's wrong with either of those. When we "dress up" and "play," we allow our imaginations to lead us out of the ordinary and the understood and into the mystical and mysterious. Imagination leads us to belief in that which is unseen and perhaps to touch for a moment  that which cannot be fully grasped. The most powerful and most normative expression of our corporate worship, the Eucharist, is an imaginative re-entry into the events of the Jesus' Last Supper. Is that not the very height of "playing church"?

For me, though, the decision to wear a zucchetto reaches beyond even that. It is a visible and tangible reminder that i took vows when i was ordained, that i am a person under orders. It is a reminder that i am called to obedience, humility, and prayer, not just when i want to be or when i "feel like it" but as my obligation, my duty in the service of Christ and the Church. We are at a time in our culture when self-expression is running rampant, when the norms and expectations of decency, kindness, and respect are being cast aside in favor of viciousness, anger, and ridicule. We have come to openly admire power and egocentric greed instead of recognizing them for their addictive and destructive natures. At this moment, i can think of nothing more countercultural than to turn to a centuries-old sign of servitude and simplicity. I think it will be good for my soul. 

And for those who think it is just silly, being thought of that way is probably also good for me, and besides, it's certainly no sillier than what else is out there. I'll take a zucchetto over a tardis any day.

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Transfiguration of the Saviour, Stavronikita Monastery, Athos, Greece, 16th Century

Transfiguration of the Saviour, Stavronikita Monastery, Athos, Greece, 16th Century

This Sunday, August 6, is the Feast of the Transfiguration. Towards the front of The Book of Common Prayer is located The Calendar of the Church Year; in it are lists of all the Feast Days of the Church. Only three named feasts take precedence over Sunday celebrations: The Feasts of The Holy Name of Jesus, The Presentation in the Temple, and The Transfiguration. This feast marks that moment (which appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke) in the life of Jesus when he took Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain. There, Jesus' appearance is changed - transfigured - and his clothes become blindingly white. Moses and Elijah appear next to him, and a voice from heaven names Jesus as "Son" and "Chosen."

I have always loved icons of the Transfiguration, especially those, like the one above, where to demonstrate the power of this experience the iconographers show the disciples literally being knocked out of their shoes. Here is a detail of the above:

I have to confess one part of my attraction to these images is that they remind of a different sort of artwork from my childhood...

... and another that i discovered some years later...

You could argue that Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes aren't quite on the same plane spiritually as centuries old Greek icons, but I would say that's just because you haven't spent enough time with them. That could be the subject of a later post. What is certain is that in all three, we see the figures involved being knocked out of their shoes. I do believe these other two images help us grasp the immense power being portrayed, something that is often easy to miss in the elevated style of icons.

Peter, James, and John follow Jesus up this mountain, not really knowing what to expect. Whatever they had in mind, i doubt it came close to what actually happened. Throughout Holy Scripture and elsewhere, mountains are often seen as places where the space between God and humankind is very thin indeed. The Transfiguration is a vivd and raw encounter between human and The Divine; it's little wonder the three disciples are terrified.

The readings this Sunday draw our attention to those moments where we come into conscious contact with the Living God; the Feast of the Transfiguration provides us an opportunity to examine our own lives for those same moments when we know God is present, and it is a reminder that we experience one of those moments every time we draw near to the altar of God, when we are fed with the Body of Christ, and we drink from the Cup of Salvation. It is easy to come to church with our thoughts occupied by and our attention turned to something - anything - other than God. My hope is that perhaps this Sunday we might be more mindful of the power of the presence of God. Who knows - we might even get knocked out of our shoes.

What's new at St. Michael & All Angels

For some time it has bothered me slightly that, with the exception of the wooden cross hanging over the coffee pot and the small photograph our our bishop near (of all places) the scullery door, if you found yourself in Patton Hall, you would really have no idea that you were in a church building. In most homes, the photos and other artwork on the walls tell you a great deal about the person or people who live there. You can often see the history of their lives laid out; you can tell something about their interests or about what is important to them. As i have asked some of you personally, what does what hangs on the walls of our church buildings say about us? What stories do those items tell about St. Michael's?

Don't get me wrong - i'm very glad we have some blank walls. Too much of even a good thing is too much, and it's helpful to have wall space that can be used for newsprint from time to time or other needs. But i have really wanted something in that space that says something about who we are and what we believe. I have learned, though, about things like this that often it's best to just wait and be patient, and a solution will present itself in time. That time has come.

St. Michael and All Angels has very recently been given two incredibly lovely gifts by folks with longstanding attachments to our parish. The first was a set of 22 icons given to us by the Rev'd Canon Bob Carter. Most of them depict scenes from the life of Jesus or are images of the four Evangelists. Thanks to the labor and skills of Judy Naylor Johnson, our Parish Administrator, those icons now adorn the walls of Patton Hall.

Last weekend, i returned home from a wedding in Atlanta to learn that Louise Shipps had given us one of her own creations, a mixed media representation of St. Michael the Archangel, our patron. This one will not go in Patton Hall; i am hoping we find the right place in the sanctuary or nave of St. Michael's for it. It is rather large and quite striking. (If you were here last Sunday, you saw it in church.)

I'm enormously grateful to both Fr. Carter and Louise for their generosity, grateful that St. Michael's is important enough to them for them to want to give these gifts to us. I hope the next time you're near the church with some time on your hands that you'll drop by and take a look. Be warned, though, especially if it's an I AM pantry day, we may put you to work while you're here.

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalen

Mary Magdalen Announces the Resurrections - St. Alban's Psalter

Mary Magdalen Announces the Resurrections - St. Alban's Psalter

This Saturday, July 22, is the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalen (Magdalene), one of the most important figures (other than Jesus) to appear in the Gospels. Not much is actually known about her at all, though, and in some ways the Gospel accounts are not much help. There may be as many as seven different women named Mary in our four Gospel narratives; there may only be three or four. Scholars and others argue over whether Mary Magdalen and Mary of Bethany are the same person and, if so, is that Mary the same "sinner" Luke describes as the woman who washes the feet of Jesus. This last idea has been helped along over one school of thought around the origin of the name "Magdalen" and also by a sermon given by Pope Gregory 1 in the 6th century. (From this homily arose the notion of the Seven Deadly Sins, taken from the seven demons Jesus cast out of Magdalen.) There are other, wilder ideas about Mary Magdalen that have persisted throughout the ages, most recently in novels by Dan Brown.

Regardless of any of these ideas or traditions, there are some things about Mary Magdalen that we do know. She is mentioned more times than nearly any other of Jesus' disciples, Peter being the most notable exception. She was present with Jesus at multiple times throughout his earthly ministry. Most importantly, she was present at both his crucifixion and his tomb after the resurrection. John tells us the most poignant of these stories - after Peter and John have returned home from the empty tomb, Mary stays and stands there, weeping for her dear Lord. Jesus then appears and calls her by name. Mary then rushes with joy to tell the other disciples, "I have seen the Lord." (The photo above depicts this moment; it comes from the 12th century illuminated manuscript "The St. Alban's Psalter.")

Mary Magdalen is in many ways my favorite saint, at least among the named saints of the Church. (There are two unnamed characters in the Gospels for whom i have an even greater fondness, but they are a subject for another time.) She comes to Jesus out of life marked with difficulty and suffering, and her encounters with him transform her into perhaps the bravest and most faithful of his disciples. When the others flee at his arrest and dare not draw near the cross, Mary is there. When they leave the empty silent and not sure what to believe, she remains, and in her grief and loss, Jesus comes to her and reminds her that she is known to him, that she belongs to him, and he sends her to be the first witness of his resurrection. 

For many in Christianity, this Saturday will pass with no mention or thought of Mary Magdalen, but we would do well to remember her and to give thanks for her faith and witness to our Lord.

VBS 2017

Many thanks to everyone who helped with and participated in VBS this year. We tried a "New Thing" this year, meeting in the evenings instead of the mornings and inviting people of all ages to take part. It was a wonderful week, with yummy food, meaningful fellowship, fun songs, and quiet worship. Most of all, it was just fun to be with one another, to worship and pray and reflect upon what it means for us to be members of the Body of Christ.

We had such a good time with each other, it may be that this week could be a model for something we do the rest of the year. Maybe once a month (to start) we could meet for dinner, conversation, singing, and worship - something very relaxed and informal, with time to be together as fellow followers of Jesus and to learn more about what it means for us to be members of the Body of Christ.

For more pictures of the week, check out our Facebook group here.

Violence downtown: How do we respond?

The Fourth of July brought terrible violence to downtown Savannah this year, violence that killed three people, injured several others, and brought fear and grief to many. While i didn't know him personally, Scott Waldrup, the general manager at The Grey, was a close friend of some of my close friends. They are saddened and angry, and - like we all are in similar circumstances - looking for answers and solutions to the problems that led to Scott's death.

There will be no shortage of suggestions there, I suspect. Some will suggest tougher and more restrictive gun control laws, others more police officers or security personnel. Still others will suggest that more "good guys" carry guns with them at all times or that we should arrest everyone known to have any connection to gangs and hand down longer prison sentences. These are just a few that come readily to mind; they are the ones we seem to hear the most whenever a tragedy like this strikes close to home. Let me be very clear - i do not believe that i have THE answer to the problem, but i do believe this: not one of those suggested reactions will solve the problem. They are simple solutions to a very complex problem, and the complex problems of society and humanity never have a simple fix. If they did, we would have solved them all long ago.

As followers of Jesus, even if we don't have the answers, we still can respond. There are real, practical, and positive actions we can take. In the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." I believe our appropriate responses are found in these words.

Come to me - Jesus beckons all of us who are weary and (in an older translation) heavy laden and promises to give us rest. If we're honest, this is probably not our first instinct upon hearing what happened. We tend to look first for who is to blame, for some target at which to aim our anger. Then we look for other people to fix the problem until they can't, and then we can blame them as well. But Jesus knows better and invites us to turn to him instead. This course of action requires faith and patience, which at these times are often in short supply. When we are sad or angry, we want immediate relief, preferably the kind that will bring some consequences upon those we blame.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me - uh, oh. Just bringing our problems and laying them at the feet of Jesus, as comforting as that sounds, apparently isn't enough. If we turn to Jesus with the burdens we're carrying, he's going to offer us another one. Jesus asks us to learn from him, and that of course means learning to live as he did, to respond as he did, to see others as he did. Taking his yoke upon us means practicing those difficult exercises of love and forgiveness, and it means being willing to ask him not just to change the world around us but to change us, too. It means having the courage to look honestly at ourselves and ask if we play any part in how the world is. Do our own fear and selfishness,  the "devices and desires of our own hearts," contribute in any way to the things we see happening that we do not like? That isn't to say that any one of us caused these terrible events Tuesday night; it is to say that our own brokenness is part of the brokenness of the world, and we, like it, are in need of redemption.

I am gentle and humble in heart - these two qualities, gentleness and humility lie at the very heart of the problem, I believe. If we are looking for a solution to the ills of the world, we need look no further than the lack of humility and gentleness to which we are all given in some measure. If we want the world to change, if we want there to be an end to hatred, violence, and murder, that change begins with and depends upon our capacity to be gentle and humble. Humility shows us who we are and what we are, and gentleness allows us to forgive ourselves and others. To be followers of Jesus means that we hold Jesus to be the model for our own lives, to see where we fall short and, with that in mind, to deal gently with others when they also fall short.

This is not an easy path, but Jesus never promised it would be. Anger and retribution are quicker and easier, but the history of humankind shows us that they have never worked, not once. So we turn away from them and turn instead toward the One who calls us to him, to the Light of the World. We place our trust and our hope in him; we lay our heavy burdens down at his feet; and we take up in their place the one that he offers us.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: Draw us ever closer into that embrace that we may be changed more and more into your likeness and reach out our own arms of love to those around us. Amen.

Vacation Bible School 2017

This year for Vacation Bible School, St. Michael's is going to take a different approach. In the past, we have followed the typical model of VBS every morning for a week, for children only. While that works pretty well, it does leave out the vast majority of our own congregation, many of whom are not children, who do not have the usual VBS-age children but who may have jobs. We'd like to include as many folks as possible this year, so we're changing the time and the format.

VBS 2017 will be Tuesday - Friday, July 11-14, from 5:00pm-8:00pm. It will be open to all ages. We will gather for dinner together in Patton Hall at 5:00, split into different age groups for the evening program, then re-join one another in the church for singing and worship at the end of the evening. We hope this will be fun for all and will also be an opportunity to learn more about God and our faith in God. 

Registration forms are available starting this Sunday in church and from the parish office throughout the week. Come yourself, bring your children and grandchildren, invite your neighbors. Let's show folks why we have chosen to make our home at St. Michael & All Angels.