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.
As everyone knows, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning uses the word “Omaha” while calling audibles from the line of scrimmage. This has gotten a lot of press in the hype leading up to Sunday’s AFC Championship Game between the Broncos and Patriots. The word has been trending on Twitter the Nebraska city’s tourism department has been milking it for all it’s worth (they have lots of cows in Omaha, right?), and Omaha Steaks has been using Manning’s favorite word for marketing purposes.
I was in Omaha once. For five hours. In 1992 when I was still working on political campaigns for a living, I was hired to work on a congressional race in California. Naturally, I had to be there immediately so I drove from Baltimore to California in three days in my old 1985 Ford Bronco II. It was a crazy trip, though the only real blip came when I broke down just outside of Omaha. With all the miles I covered I was thrilled to break down only one mile from a gas station, where I sat for five hours waiting for a part to arrive. So, I’m grateful to Peyton for dredging up this wonderful memory.
Anyway, as I watched the Brady/Manning Bowl I started reflecting on ways the word “Omaha” could be used in liturgy.
At the end of the service the Verger could yell “Omaha” to change up the retiring procession. Perhaps indicating leaving one verse earlier in the hymn than originally discussed.
The Celebrant could yell “Omaha” if he/she decides to call an audible at the altar and switch from Eucharistic Prayer B to Prayer D.
The Congregation could yell “Omaha” if the sermon runs over 20 minutes.
The Rector could yell “Omaha” if he/she hears heresy in the Seminarian’s sermon.
The Choir could sing “Omaha” to Anglican Chant just to show off.
The Ushers could point and yell “Omaha” if a visitor doesn’t place anything in the collection plate as it passes by.
And if none of these work, maybe I can get the town fathers to approach Hinghamite Bill Belichick to persuade Tom Brady to start screaming “Hingham” before the snap.
While I’ve served in three different dioceses (Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts) over the past 13+ years, I’ve never participated in an election for a new bishop. Pretty much every time I leave a diocese the bishop retires and there’s a call for an election — which I try not to read too much into. This week the slate of five nominees to become the 16th Bishop of Massachusetts was announced. I’m hopeful for the end result and am thankful for the priests willing to enter this vulnerable and exciting time of discernment.
Of course I’ve also been formulating questions to ask at the to-be-scheduled walkabouts/dog and pony shows where all the candidates present themselves and answer questions. Since I can’t be at all of them, I’m offering my list for others to utilize.
“Will you insist your bishop’s ring be larger and blingier than the 2013 Red Sox World Series ring?”
“Do you prefer to be called Your Grace or Your Lordship?” **
“Will you start wearing hideous vestments just because they were hand made for you by Sunday School children?”
“Do you Tweet? If so, perhaps following @FatherTim is not in your best interest.”
“If you use social media will you commit to never using the phrase ‘the good people of St. XX’ as in ‘I had a great visitation with the good people of St. John’s today.’”
“Do you feel that any seat a bishop sits in automatically become the Bishop’s Throne even if it’s at McDonalds?”
“Do you prefer purple purple or reddish purple?” **
“Will you return Confirmation to parishes or do you prefer 3 1/2 hour liturgies that forever sour teenagers on the Church?”
“How do you feel about mentioning Jesus in letters responding to world events?”
“Where do you stand on the issue of the Cathedral Nautilus?”
“Do you promise not to use the phrase ‘humbled and honored’ in your acceptance speech?”
“Will there be liturgical dance that involves orange chiffon at your consecration?”
“Do you currently or have you ever owned a clergy shirt in any color other than black?”
“What’s your position on clergy from Hingham who like to live-snark diocesan convention?”
** I grudgingly acknowledge that my archnemesis, Scott Gunn, came up with this question.
As football season winds down (what am I supposed to do after church now?!), there will be a dearth of motivational quotes spouted by head coaches. While the only “motivational quote” I keep in my office is the parish mission statement, I think these are great.
But why should motivational quotes be the exclusive domain of football locker rooms? The church equivalent of the locker room is, of course, the sacristy. The liturgical players all gather here before kickoff cum procession. The priest offers a prayer/motivational speech with the acolytes and choir and off they charge down the aisle (at a decorous, stately pace of course).
I thought it would be helpful to offer a few motivational quotes to post in your sacristy. This will keep all the servers motivated and focused for the task at hand. I suggest putting up a new quote every time the church season changes so they don’t get stale and the acolytes start phoning it in. Let me know if you think of others. The church needs fired up altar parties!
There’s no “I” in Acolyte.
It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how the procession flows.
Win one for the Messiah.
Leave it all on the altar.
It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings the dismissal.
Let’s all give this liturgy 110% (which is the same fuzzy math as three in one and one in three)
It’s not the size of a crucifer but the size of the processional cross that matters.
Show me a bad liturgist and I’ll show you bad liturgy.
There is no substitute for preaching preparation.
It’s not whether the thurifer gets knocked down, it’s whether he gets up.
Communion isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.