As we prepare to welcome a new bishop, I wrote a “poem” to welcome him to the Diocese of Massachusetts. I also shared with him that if things don’t work out as bishop, he can always have is old job back — as curate at St. John’s, Hingham.
I still have a job, so that’s a plus.
Welcome to DioMass
Welcome, Father Gates, to our humble diocese
if it wasn’t for Safe Church, we’d all give you a kiss.
We have our quirks when it comes to liturgy
Sometimes we even clash quite bitterly.
But overall we’re rather broad church
to spite the Unitarians we’re so quick to besmirch.
Many of our churches are built of white clapboard
It’s a New England thing but don’t be deterred.
It’s true that some of us wanted your job
but fear not an ecclesiastical lynch mob.
Clergy will love you if you simply change the location
of that holy mystery that is confirmation.
We don’t know yet where you’ll reside
beyond our altars, at which you’ll preside.
If your taste is similar to the rector of Trinity
Perhaps a $3.6 million tribute to your divinity.
If the pressures of the job prove too rough
and you begin to say ‘enough is enough,’
there’s a solution to all this regret:
Find Bishop Barbara and bum a cigarette.
As Bishop Shaw prepares to hand over his crozier
we should state in full disclosure.
it will be tough to follow our saintly monk
a man small in stature but full of much spunk.
But Bishop Gayle will support you and show you the ropes
with advice much more helpful than that of the Pope’s.
And then there’s Bud who claims he’s retired
Good luck with him — he obviously can’t be fired.
We wish you well during this time of transition
as you prepare to assume your brand new position.
I hope this poem that’s so full of schlock
will not make me the first priest that you defrock.
Today the Diocese of Massachusetts gathers to elect our next bishop. I trust the Holy Spirit will do its thing and we’ll call the right person to be our overlord, I mean chief pastor. Naturally, I have a small piece of advice for our newly-elected bishop, whoever that may be. One thing I’ve realized over the years is just how tired I am of hearing the exact same quotes from the “winning” bishop-elect. The two biggest buzzwords are “humbled” and “overwhelmed.” Usually these spill out one right after the other as in “I’m humbled and overwhelmed to be called to this new ministry.”
That’s not to say I think this immediate reaction is inauthentic — I’m sure anyone called to such a position of leadership and responsibility is truly both humbled and overwhelmed. But I’m also certain that the “thrill of victory” gets publicly tempered while they’re popping the champagne in the privacy of their own homes.
So I thought I’d help out all future bishops — not just our new one — by writing a more appropriate “victory” speech. You know, the words they really want to say but can’t since they have an entire diocese waiting to hear just how “humbled and overwhelmed” they are at having been elected.
A Bishop’s Victory Speech
After the election, race up to the dais like and begin with a Howard Dean-like yell. Then do a few fist pumps. If you’re feeling spry, do some push-ups to show that you’re an incredible physical specimen who will never have to relinquish power due to health concerns before the mandatory retirement age. [You may be wondering why you're in the convention hall/cathedral after the election to deliver this speech. You were so confident you'd win, that you booked a room in a fancy nearby hotel. Then right after the election you "just happened to be passing by" in order to greet the diocese in person rather than via a bland statement].
To a standing ovation, you emerge from a giant cloud of incense to deliver your speech. There’s bound to be some praise band on hand (since it’s a diocesan convention and all liturgical and musical sensibility has therefore evaporated). Use this to your advantage and have them play what will henceforth become your theme song. Some suggestions are Purple Rain by Prince (change spelling to “Reign”); Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi; anything by Deep Purple (though Smoke on the Water could be considered baptismal imagery); We Are the Champions by Queen (change “We are” to “I am”); or if there’s a horn section, a short but intricate fanfare will do.
Victory is mine! [Then stand for a full 30-seconds with arms raised in the classic Richard Nixon double V pose while soaking in all the applause.]
Thank you for finally getting me out of St. Thomas-by-the-Turnpike and away from all those annoying parishioners who kept showing up week after week to tell me all about their “problems” at coffee hour. It’s been a long-time coming. And my wife and I are psyched that my current salary will now be doubled. Show me the money! And by the way here are some plans we had drawn up to redo the kitchen in the bishop’s residence [hand them to the diocesan treasurer].
To my fellow candidates: in an election, there can only be one winner. Thus, God thinks you’re a loser. As does this entire diocese. But take it from me — there will be other elections and other chances to join ME in the House of Bishops. Until then please know that I won’t return your phone calls and, in fact, I’ve already forgotten all of your names. [Your cell phone rings; you answer it and tell Wippell's to go ahead and ship the purple shirts you pre-ordered.]
I’m delighted you bought all that stuff I said at the pre-election walkabouts. Please don’t hold me to any of it since I can’t remember what I said to get elected. But the important thing is that I look fantastic in a purple cassock. Also, please forward pictures of the vestments from the cathedral sacristy as soon as possible so I can Photoshop myself in.
To my future staff, I like my coffee served at 163 degrees fahrenheit with 3/4 of a teaspoon of sugar and free range soy milk. And you can simply call me “Your Grace.” If you’d like to kiss my humongous bishop’s ring — that cost more than the down payment on your house — know that I do tend to keep it in my back pocket.
And, finally, to the good people of this diocese, I look forward to showing up at your churches, meeting you, and criticizing the liturgy. Sure, I’ll preach for 35 minutes and throw off your whole Sunday morning schedule while simultaneously giving your poor Church School teachers PTSD. And since I don’t plan to remember your name or what you look like in between visitations, kindly leave me alone when you see me dining in a fancy restaurant on the diocesan dime.
Oh, wait. I think I forgot to mention that I’m humbled and overwhelmed to be your new bishop.
In all seriousness, please do keep the Diocese of Massachusetts and all seven of our candidates in your prayers today. I’m thankful for their willingness to put themselves forward for service in the wider church.
Veni sancte spiritus.
PS. Please let the bishop-elect know that I would be more than willing to ghost write his/her first first sermon as bishop.
While I’ve served in three dioceses in my vocational life (Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts), I’ve never experienced a bishop election. Every time I leave a diocese, they elect a new bishop. I try not to take this personally but I’m finally getting my chance to exercise my right to vote as we prepare to elect the next Bishop of Massachusetts tomorrow.
Since I’m a novice, I do have a few questions. Perhaps some of you who have been through this process can enlighten me.
1. Is wearing purple to an episcopal election as big a social faux pas as wearing white to a wedding?
2. Do you need to sit on the east side of the cathedral since by the time voting gets to the west end the election will have already been decided?
3. Can we pretty please call it a “conclave?”
4. Is electioneering allowed within 50 feet of the altar?
5. Is it like Cinderella except instead of a slipper all the candidates try on a miter to see which one it fits?
6. If we all collectively decide not to cast any votes because we don’t actually want a bishop, will ecclesiastical anarchy ensue?
7. White smoke or purple?
8. Can we defrock the first cleric who friends the new bishop on Facebook?
9. If there is an election controversy, do we appeal to Saint (Hanging) Chad of Lichfield?
10. Does the winner get a free nautilus tattoo on a body part to be named later?
Well, those are my questions. Please keep the Diocese of Massachusetts and all the candidates in your prayers. Live updates will be posted here and if you want to follow along on Twitter tomorrow, check the hashtag #Diomass.
Ah, the start of Lent. The day in the liturgical year that many well-intentioned church goers mistakenly say the verboten “A-word.” You know how it goes. After the breaking of the bread at the altar the celebrant says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” And everyone replies “Therefore let us keep the feast. Allelu….oops.”
In fairness, some members of the congregation have been lulled to sleep by the smooth, monotone of the priest as he/she blesses the bread and wine. Out of habit, that word just slips out. If this has happened to you, you may recall the disapproving glances and rampant judging by your fellow pew mates. You can either turn beet red, laugh self-consciously, run screaming out of the church until Easter, or…let me help you.
You see, out of pastoral concern for my fellow Christians (it is Ash Wednesday after all), I’ve come up with a short list of words you can say if you catch yourself in time. Once you realize you’re the only one who has vigorously proclaimed “Allelu…” you can add these ending to change direction and save face. Here goes.
Allelu…theran (works better if you actually are one)
Allelu…re me in but don’t take advantage of me
The only one I’d caution you against would be Allelu…cifer. That might get you in trouble with the priest.
Over the next few days the folks at the NFL Network will try to bridge the gap between football and baseball seasons by televising the NFL Scouting Combine. The top pro prospects coming out of college are put through their paces under the watchful eyes of scouts for teams that may potentially draft them. Naturally, I thought it would be helpful for the church to have a similar skills competition for graduating seminarians. This way, freshly minted clergy could show off their skills while hiring rectors and search committees could get a sense of what they were getting before extending a call. Everybody wins, right?
One of the more controversial pieces of evaluation at the NFL Combine takes place off the field. The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test consists of 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in twelve minutes. A score of 20 indicates average intelligence. I’m not sure if a player’s scores are supposed to be made public but they always leak out. Here’s a slideshow with some notable scores.
All of which is to say that we already have the Wonderlic (doesn’t that sound like a place Larry Bird might vacation?) equivalent in the General Ordination Exam. Equally controversial — there’s been talk of eliminating it for years — but overall a decent baseline indicator of fitness for ordained ministry. So that takes care of the academic/cognitive portion. Now on to the fun part: the skills competition.
The marquee event at the NFL Combine is the 40 yard dash. It measures speed and explosiveness, two ingredients necessary to succeed in professional football. For seminarians, the most important event is The Triangle. At a simulated coffee hour, a “parishioner” holding a styrofoam cup of Folgers decaf corners the seminarian and says, “Great sermon today! Your sermons are so much better than the rector’s snooze-fests don’t you think? If you go tell the Senior Warden to insist Father Dim have you preach more often, I’ll support you.”
What do you do? Give a knowing nod of complicity and leave it at that? Approach the warden? Or say, “We all have different gifts but I think it’s important to hear regularly from Father Dim. I appreciate his approach to preaching but understand not everyone relates to every preacher. If this is such a concern for you, why don’t you go talk to the warden? I see her right behind that plate of stale munchkins.”
100 people you’ve never seen before file past you shaking your hand and saying “Good morning” and occasionally “Nice sermon.” While they’re all wearing name tags (this is hypothetical) the first pass, they file past you again without name tags. How many can you name? How many do you even recognize? Did we mention they all change their clothes in between?
Each seminarian is asked to preach a sermon on the Trinity (they may as well get used to it). They begin with 100 points. Points are deducted for: every minute past the 12 minute mark; annoying tics like hair flipping or swaying back and forth; use of any of the following words — paradigm, missional, multivalent, or homoousious; and doctrinal heresy. 30 is considered an above average score.
In order to properly prepare future clergy for long drawn-out diocesan meetings, having to stay up late on a Saturday night to finish the sermon because they had a funeral and a wedding earlier that day, and mornings following a late vestry meeting, it is essential to test their coffee intake skills. Unlike the individual challenges, this is administered in a group setting.
A giant vat of coffee is set up in the middle of a mock parish hall. Contestants line the walls. At the command “The Lord be with you,” the seminarians dash to the vat and attempt to consume Herculean (even though he’s a pagan) amounts of black coffee. At the end of 10 minutes, the winner will have consumed the most coffee (without dying). If you’re not sure how much coffee it will take to kill you, click here.
Let the games begin!
One of the great advantages of being a priest is that you can give your beloved leftover funeral flowers for Valentine’s Day. Jam some candle nubs that don’t really fit into your candelabra and set them on your table alongside some stale donuts from last Sunday’s coffee hour and voila! A romantic, low-cost dinner. I’m kidding, of course. As far as Bryna knows.
But if you really want to spice things up with your Valentine tonight, try this: show up to dinner at that cozy bistro dressed as the martyred St. Valentine. He was evidently beaten and stoned before his beheading at the hand of the Roman emperor for marrying couples in the Christian faith. So, depending on how realistic you want to make this, it might get a bit messy. Perhaps a simple Steve Martin arrow-through-the-head prop would suffice. Though maybe you should just stick to the roses and either borrow a red cassock from the acolyte room or, if you’re a priest, wear that seldom-used red chasuble hanging in the back of the sacristy closet.
As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s helpful to reflect upon the real St. Valentine. Actually, there’s some confusion over this since there appears to have been more than one St. Valentine. The feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 to mark the death of a St. Valentine on February 14th. But even then it seems to have been a day to mark several martyred saints sharing the name Valentinus (from the Latin valens meaning worthy).
Nonetheless, the modern feast day likely commemorates the St. Valentine who was a priest in Rome during the reign of Claudius II (260-270 AD). He was arrested for marrying Christian couples and assisting those facing persecution – a crime in those days. Valentine tried to convert the emperor and was put to death.
It wasn’t until 14th century England that the feast started to become a celebration of romantic love. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer is often credited with bringing together the romantic imagery of blooming spring and birds choosing their mates. In The Parliament of Fowles Chaucer’s was the first mention of St. Valentine in a love poem.
None of this should actually matter to Episcopalians since Valentine doesn’t appear on our official Calendar of Saints. Indeed we commemorate Cyril and Methodius on February 14th — a pair of 9th century Greek brothers who were missionaries to the Slavs — rather than Valentine.
The good news in this for forgetful husbands/boyfriends is that if you forget to pick up flowers, you can always give your beloved a copy of War and Peace by Slavic author Leo Tolstoy or dramatically read a poem by Vaclav Havel.
Judging by my Twitter feed a LOT of people have been watching the Olympics. For some, Olympic watching borders on a two-week obsession with sports never given a second thought in the intervening four years. I don’t know too many people who are luge fanatics outside the friendly competitive confines of the Olympic Games. Or who could name all the members of the Slovakian curling team in non-Olympic years.
Anyway, it’s made me think that we should institute an every-four-years Liturgical Olympics. Each diocese could field teams in church-specific events. Instead of the ugly jackets worn by Team USA in Sochi, the “athletes” could wear hideous vestments during the Opening Ceremonies at the Washington National Cathedral. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We first need to come up with comparable events. Here are some suggestions:
Freestyle Skiing — Thurible Twirling
Everybody loves the daring, gravity-defying thrills of freestyle skiing. Why not transfer this to the skills of our best thurifers? The possibility of setting things on fire adds to the danger of this exciting event. Thurifers show off their skills with 360s, around the worlds, figure eights, and even the newest move called the spinning nautilus. Extra points gained for smoking out any Protestant spectators.
Speed Skating — Speed Mass
After the starting gun/sanctus bell, Celebrants compete to say the Eucharistic prayer and distribute communion as quickly as possible. Everyone begins with the altar set for communion, 100 communicants in (mostly) good standing, and one deacon. Giant running digital clock behind the altar allows spectators to track each competitor’s time. While this event is Rite II, the Liturgical Olympic Committee (LOC) is considering a switch to Rite I to watch Celebrants trip over the words “innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same.”
Pairs Figure Sakting — Acolyte Choreography
Acolytes must serve at a high mass without extraneous movements or fainting while using perfect form and correct manual acts. Additional points are awarded for singing the hymns and not falling asleep during the sermon. Points are subtracted for unruly hair, wearing sneakers, and getting wax on the cassock.
Ski Jumping — Changing the Worship Space
Participants are challenged to make a substantial change to the worship space and then suffer the wrath of parishioners. The losers either give in and change it back or go home and curl up in the fetal position. “Substantial change” may refer to the removal of flags from the sanctuary, repositioning the altar, or removing anything — no matter how ugly — donated by a current parishioner (i.e. the modern baptismal font, 1970s-style altar hangings, etc).
Cross Country Skiing — Endurance Preaching
The ultimate liturgical endurance test, preachers are set up in a pulpit and asked to preach extemporaneously on a surprise text for as long as possible. There are two ways to get disqualified. 1) Uttering the words “um,” “er,” “ah,” or any other vocal placeholder or extra long pause (judges’ discretion) 2) When the first spectator falls asleep. This is the least popular event to attend especially because smart phones and knitting are not allowed.
Hockey — Coffee Hour
Participating clergy are thrown into a loud, crowded room with people drinking bad coffee out of styrofoam cups. They have 20 minutes to remember everyone’s name, have heart-felt pastoral conversations with long-time parishioners, identify and talk to all newcomers, answer passive aggressive questions about the hymn selection, and suck down two cups of coffee.
If you haven’t noticed (because you don’t have an internet connection), social media is abuzz about the death of singer-songwriter Pete Seeger. In fact, if one more person posts a picture of him, Facebook may actually explode.
So rather than doing likewise, I thought I’d offer tips for incorporating Pete Seeger songs into your Sunday worship service. Yes, folks, this is the Seegcharist (the term coined by my archnemesis Scott Gunn).
Celebrant: Bob Dylan
Preacher: Arlo Guthrie
Lector: Joan Baez
OPENING HYMN: The Bells of Rhymney (This is an obvious choice as bells are often used to announce the start of worship. Also it has this great line: “Even God is uneasy, say the moist bells of Swansea.”
COLLECT OF THE DAY
Celebrant: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Celebrant: Let us Pray.
I’ll arise at early morning, When my Lord gives me the warning, That the solar age is dawning, And it’s good enough for me. Amen. (last verse of Old Time Religion)
Lector: A Reading from Pete Seeger: In His Own Words.
People: Thanks be to Pete.
Turn, Turn, Turn (Technically it’s a song but it’s basically a reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes)
SERMON: Arlo Guthrie (as posted on his Facebook page)
I usually do a little meditation and prayer every night before I go to sleep – Just part of the routine. Last night, I decided to go visit Pete Seeger for a while, just to spend a little time together, it was around 9 PM. So I was sitting in my home in Florida, having a lovely chat with Pete, who was in a hospital in New York City. That’s the great thing about thoughts and prayers- Y…ou can go or be anywhere.
I simply wanted him to know that I loved him dearly, like a father in some ways, a mentor in others and just as a dear friend a lot of the time. I’d grown up that way – loving the Seegers – Pete & Toshi and all their family.
I let him know I was having trouble writing his obituary (as I’d been asked) but it seemed just so silly and I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound trite or plain stupid. “They’ll say something appropriate in the news,” we agreed. We laughed, we talked, and I took my leave about 9:30 last night.
“Arlo” he said, sounding just like the man I’ve known all of my life, “I guess I’ll see ya later.” I’ve always loved the rising and falling inflections in his voice. “Pete,” I said. “I guess we will.”
I turned off the light and closed my eyes and fell asleep until very early this morning, about 3 AM when the texts and phone calls started coming in from friends telling me Pete had passed away.
“Well, of course he passed away!” I’m telling everyone this morning. “But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.”
THE PRAYERS: Free form petitions (naturally) with this line from If I Had a Hammer interspersed: “It’s the hammer of Justice,
It’s the bell of Freedom, It’s the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters, All over this land.”
OFFERTORY HYMN: Michael Row the Boat Ashore (along with the collection plates — Hallelujah!)
EUCHARISTIC PRAYER C (duh) — including “At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.”
CLOSING HYMN: We Shall Overcome
WARNING: Don’t even think about actually using this on Sunday morning!
This time of year many parishes hold their Annual Meetings. I love taking a step back and reflecting on the year that is past, something tough to do in the midst of ministry. Though preparing for the Annual Meeting is something else — I swear I spend more time getting ready for Annual Meeting Sunday than any other Sunday of the year. Including Easter. Unfortunately among clergy, I’m not alone in this which may mean some priorities need tweaking.
Nonetheless, you’ll hear a lot of grumbling about the Annual Meeting as a necessary canonical evil. The rector gives the state-of-the-parish address, the budget gets presented, vestry members get elected, and a lot of people quickly leave before the meeting starts. It’s the one Sunday many people take the Dismissal literally and mutter “thanks be to God” as they sneak out the side entrance.
Most Annual Meetings are anxiety producing for clergy and boring for parishioners — at least that’s the common perception. But I think we can change that – the Annual Meeting simply needs a marketing makeover. Here are just a few suggestions for drumming up attendance. I’d give you more but I need to get back to preparing for the one I’m running tomorrow morning.
Bring your infant to the Budget Presentation and he/she will be out in seconds.
Come put your arcane knowledge of Robert’s Rules to the test by calling for a recount after the vestry elections.
As a clergyman, I am always sensitive to the pastoral needs of my flock. As a priest in New England, I realize that many in my congregation are grieving the Patriots loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. Yet as a Baltimore Ravens fan, I don’t really care about their feelings when it comes to football. So I’m torn in my pastoral duties. Since next week is the Annual Meeting and it’s best to keep the peace, I’ll err on the side of pastoral concern.
In times such as these, many are left wondering why? Why did my team lose? Why did God do this to the Patriots? Is God mad at me? To ease some of the confusion, I thought I’d share some light on why the Patriots lost to the Broncos. Understanding why is an intellectual response and so Patriots fans will still need time to grieve. I’m sensitive to that and I will walk with them during this painful time.
Here are the reasons the Patriots lost:
God’s wrath for cutting Tim Tebow after the preseason. (Of course he was also cut by the Broncos when they signed Peyton Manning but whatever. God’s complicated).
God prefers Anglicans (aka Redcoats) to Patriots (aka religious dissenters).
The continuing Wrath of the Cathedral Nautilus. This doesn’t explain the World Champion Red Sox but that was a beard thing.
Punishment for the globalization of Sam Adams Beer.
Many patriots in the revolutionary age were Deists.
God’s anger at Patriots coach Bill Belichick who lives in Hingham and yet has never darkened the door of St. John’s.
The presence on the Patriots’ roster of linebacker Dont’a Hightower (of Babel).
Retribution for tossing all that tea into Boston Harbor.
Actually, I do know that when your team loses deep in the playoffs it feels like you’ve been slugged in the gut. I feel your pain — truly.