Victory Speech — Bishop’s Edition

After this weekend’s spate of episcopal elections (four bishops were elected in dioceses throughout the country), I realized 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 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

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 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.] And you, good people of the Diocese of XXX are obviously smarter than the Episcopalians in (name the five dioceses in which you lost elections).

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 and telling 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 costs 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.

Congratulations, by the way, to the four newest bishops-elect in the Episcopal Church: Nick Knisely in Rhode Island; Robert Wright in Atlanta; Jeff Fisher in the Diocese of Texas; and Douglas Fisher in Western Massachusetts. If any of you would like me to ghost write your first sermon as bishop, just let me know.

(The Definitive) Trinity Sunday Sermon

Ahhhh. Trinity Sunday. That day in the church year when we celebrate the mystery of the “one in three and three in one” that embodies the fullness of God. And the day when every rector in all of Christendom scrambles to find a seminarian to preach. Or a curate. Or anyone who is closer to the theological gymnastics of the seminary experience.

This year, I realized I was the only rector with a curate and/or seminarian scheduled to preach on Trinity Sunday. It’s a lonely club but at least you can admire my pluck, determination, and theological grit (ie. I forgot to look closely at the liturgical calendar when making up the preaching schedule). But it reminded me that a couple years ago I asked my Facebook friends to send me key phrases of Trinitarian minutia that often wind up in sermons preached on Trinity Sunday. I then prayerfully combined them into a Trinity Sunday Homilette.

Before I share the text, I should note that the key to good preaching on Trinity Sunday is linguistic sleight of hand. If you distract the congregation enough with props they won’t pay attention to the heresy you’re undoubtedly spewing. This lowers the potential of being reported to the bishop.

Trinity Sunday Sermon

“The New Paradigm of Homoousious”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (And I really mean it this time).

The Trinity [three intertwined circles appear on a giant projection screen]. It’s a confusing topic; one that I am not qualified to speak about because I failed the systematic theology portion of the General Ordination Exam. [Three circles morph into a green three-leaf clover] St. Patrick converted the King of Ireland to the Christian faith by using the clover [use awkward hand gesture to point to the screen]. As he held up the clover he enumerated (or is that renumerated?) about the Trinity telling the king that…[choir sings St. Patrick’s Breastplate to drown out the next few phrases. Twelve minutes later when the hymn ends and everyone has processed around the church nine times, the preacher continues].

The interplay between the Persons of the Trinity is like a dance. But not just any dance — a perichoretic dance of love. I once danced this way at a wedding of a good friend. My date left with a groomsman while I was doing my interpretive dance of the Trinity. It was at that moment that I decided to go to seminary.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh, the interpenetration of modality. Which sounds vaguely obscene until you remember that God loves you. Like a fox. But in a co-eternal, co-equal, co-habitating kind of way.

Did I mention I used to be a horrible acolyte back in the day? [After laughing at his own joke, preacher picks up three tapers and attempts to bring them together and then pull them apart. Unfortunately he lights the pulpit hanging on fire and puts them out with the three glasses of water he brought up to supplement the fire illustration in case it fell flat. He recovers by singing an a capella version of “Holy, Holy, Holy,”  dramatically miming the line “Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.”]

In sum, we are all called to a hermeneutic of being immortal and invisible while still being led by faith and not by sight. Let me end by quoting from the well-loved Athanasian Creed; so beloved in church lore that it’s relegated to page 846 of the Book of Common Prayer. In the “Historical Documents” section that you may have covertly perused earlier in the sermon. “Blah, blah, blah Unity, blah, blah, blah Godhead, blah, blah, blah Essence.”


Cocktails with the Clergy?

In a recent post, I mentioned the clergy-drinking-coffee-with-parishioners-phenomenon that seems to be sweeping the world. We have gatherings like “Coffee with the Rector” (that’s what I do) or “Coffee with the Pastor” if you’re either a Lutheran or an evangelical or an incredibly Low Church (bordering on Methodist) Anglican.

This led to some additional musings on my Facebook page that I’ll share here. Plus I’ve added some others to the list. If you have ideas, keep ’em coming. Together we’ll get the clergy bloated!

Rum with the Rector (Tom Sramek)

Vodka with the Vicar (Virginia Creek Tippen)

Bourbon with the Bishop (Claire Rodman)

Appletinis with the Archdeacon (Claire Rodman)

Champagne with the Curate (Claire Rodman)

Liquor with the Lector (Don Kenyon)

Vino with the Verger (Tom Daley)

Port with the Pastor (Janice Landrum)

I’m not sure how this all became alcohol-infused. Not every priest breaks into the sacristy to drink communion wine mid-morning. If this keeps up we may need to add AA with the Acolyte. Nonetheless, I’ll continue along these lines as long as you recognize that I didn’t start us down this path.

Cosmopolitans with the Canon

Manhattans with the Monsignor

Sidecars with the Suffragan

Daiquiris with the Deacon

Screwdrivers with the Sub-Deacon

Absinthe with the Acolyte

Patrone with the Priest

Hurricanes with the Heretic

Mai-Tais with the Minister

Pina Coladas with the Primate

Mojitos with the Monk

Cocktails with the Coadjutor

Alcohol with the Archbishop

Sex on the Beach with the Sexton

Old Fashioneds with the Organist

Wine Coolers with the Wardens

Good luck finding anything to go with Intercessor (all I could come up with was “insulin”) or Theologian (“therapy?”). And at this point I think it might be time for Detox with the Deacon or Rehab with the Rector.

Bad (Coffee) Mug Shots

In the fourth installment of my Coffee & Christianity “Trilogy” I take a look at some god-awful (literally) Christian-themed coffee mugs.

Parts I, II, and III of the ill-named four-part trilogy involved bad coffee shop names, serial clergy coffee drinkers, and church-themed coffee blends. In response to your “Please make it stop!” prayer requests, just know that this is what happens when I take four days off in a row. Just wait until I’m retired.

Of course, the greatest mug ever made is the Lent Madness mug but that’s a story for another liturgical season.

But does it taste better?

In the last of my recent trilogy of Coffee & Christianity posts, I explore faith-themed roasts. Of course, I only just realized it was the third such post and proclaimed it a trilogy (you can call it The C-Squared Trilogy if you’d like — though you’ll have to pay me since I’m copyrighting the name and there will likely be a fourth at some point).

First it was odd church-based coffee shop names. Then it was a riff on why clergy like to drink coffee with parishioners. Now it’s a look at religiously named coffee. Since coffee is its own religion, this may be redundant but here goes:

Coffee with the Clergy?

I recently highlighted some silly names of coffee shops located inside churches. While this was a fun exercise, there does seem to be an epidemic of clergy wanting to drink coffee with parishioners.

There’s nothing wrong with this — I do it all the time. In fact, I have a program called “Coffee with the Rector” where I meet with small groups of parishioners to discuss life at St. John’s in an informal, interactive setting. Sometimes I even hold “office hours” at the local coffee shop and encourage parishioners to drop in for a chat.

But I’m clearly not the only priest/pastor/minister who likes to do this. I’m not sure if it makes clergy feel like an “average joe” or if a program titled “Whiskey with the Rector” just wouldn’t fly. Something about coffee seems to break down barriers between people and opens the way to conversation. It might be the ritual of coffee preparation/drinking or maybe it helps to have something to do other than stare at the person across from you — something akin to having a good conversation with your teenager while driving.

I just like any excuse to drink coffee at work. Though, to be sure, I’m not above “drinking alone.”

Coffee Talk: Mega-church style

It’s no secret that coffee and church go together like, well, heresy and preaching. Besides the ubiquitous Coffee Hour that has followed every gathering of Christians since the Last Supper, rarely is a mega-church built these days without a coffee shop on the premises.

Christians drinking coffee is a good thing — I highly recommend it. Unfortunately these church coffee shops get named by Christians who likely only drink decaf. Below are few of my “favorites” though, in full disclosure mode, I admit a recurring fantasy to retire and open a coffee shop called “Sacred Grounds.”

Peachtree United Methodist Church, Atlanta, GA

Gulf Shores United Methodist Church, Gulf Shores, AL

Life Church, Laurel, MS

Faith Church, Dyer, IL

Bethel Life Worship Center, Greenville, PA

Covenant Glen Church, Rosharon, TX

Valley Word Church, Salem, VA

Relevant Church, Carrolton, KY

Missouri United Methodist Church, Columbia, MO

Victory Life Church, Sherman, TX

Coquitlam Alliance Church, British Columbia

New Life Church, Sullivan, IL

Franklin Road Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN

Faith Church, New Milford, CT

Top Ten Reasons Dogs Should Not Be Ordained

In recent days, an amusing list of the “Top Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained” has been making the rounds. It’s basically a response to the archaic reasons used to keep women out of ordained ministry. Of course I couldn’t let sleeping dogs lie so I decided to take it one step further. Hence…

The Top Ten Reasons Dogs Should Not Be Ordained

10. They are “worthy to gather up the crumbs under thy table.”

9. The question “Who let the dogs out?” would become a theological conundrum.

8. Panting the Eucharistic Prayer is a far cry from chanting it.

7. Dog spelled backwards is God. Pastor spelled backwards is Rotsap.

6. Lifting a leg is not considered a “manual act.”

5. They’re much too dogmatic.

4. Jesus didn’t say “I am the German Shepherd.”

3. Christus Rex doesn’t refer to one of your litter mates.

2. The priest’s host is not a frisbee.

1. There’s a fine line between a cassock and a doggie sweater.


Clergy Conference Survival Guide

Ever since I wrote the definitive Diocesan Convention Survival Guide, people have been begging me to author a Clergy Conference Survival Guide. Okay, “begging” might be a bit strong but several people have at least suggested it. Since I’m at the Diocese of Massachusetts Clergy Conference this week on Cape Cod (there has to be some perk to serving in New England) I thought I should get down a few ideas to assist my fellow presbyters.

Every diocese has some sort of Clergy Conference for their priests. I’ve attended them in Maryland (2), New York (7), and I’m now at my third one in Massachusetts. The point is to gather the clergy from throughout the diocese, offer an educational/inspirational program, and allow people to enjoy the ensuing collegial relationships. If you have children at home, it’s also meant to annoy your spouse who’s stuck at home with them for a couple of days by him/herself. But enjoy since you’ll have to pay the piper soon enough.

The venues vary from rustic diocesan conference centers to 1960’s-era monasteries to fancy resorts. Whatever the venue, you’ll always find people complaining (from “I can’t believe they’re putting us up in this dump” to “Would Jesus really want us to be in a place with an Elizabeth Arden-inspired spa?”).

The common elements are generally 1) a big name speaker — ie. someone from outside the diocese 2) a bunch of clergy toting around varying degrees of ego 3) a couple of bishops – and the usual group of priestly sycophants trailing behind them 4) a cash bar in the evening 5) poorly attended daily worship services 6) a fancy dinner billed as the “Bishop’s Banquet” followed by some form of entertainment – a “talent” show or some musician who couldn’t get a better offer and 7) name tags to help participants remember the names of people they met last year but couldn’t now pick out of a lineup.

Here are a few tips to help you survive your own Clergy Conference, whether this is your first one or 35th:

1)    Never, ever wear a clerical collar. This will signal that you are either a total novice or exceedingly pompous.

2)    When approaching the cash bar, don’t ever come with cash. This is the time for younger clergy to guilt cardinal rectors into buying them drinks (note: this tip doesn’t apply to cardinal rectors with endowed discretionary funds without pesky restrictions about being used for “pastoral purposes only.”

3)    Toss around the term “clergy wellness” when asked why you took a nap instead of attending the plenary session on health benefits.

4)    Don’t sit at the bishop’s table for any reason – it will earn you a reputation for sucking up. If he/she happens to sit at your table for a meal or a workshop, smile politely and try not to spill anything on the bishop. It’s bad form and will likely get you appointed to a diocesan committee.

5)    Bring your smart phone to all sessions – if the speaker starts droning on and on, remember there’s nothing you can’t Tweet your way through. Stay strong!

6)    During the bound-to-be sloppy liturgies, play “Count the Rubric Violations.” This game affords endless entertainment; get a group together and compare notes afterwards for the full effect.

7)    During the inevitable evening social hour (cash bar), always carry two drinks with you. This way if an especially wind-baggy colleague corners you to talk about his/her most recent Maundy Thursday sermon, you can escape by pretending you’re taking the other drink to someone else. Repeat as necessary.

8)    It’s okay to blow off the occasional session for important work like blogging, napping, banging your head against a wall, etc. Guilt is for the weak.

9)    To remove yourself from a mind-numbing workshop already in progress, pretend to answer your phone (it will already be silenced out of courtesy to the presenter so you don’t need to worry about an actual ring) and, with the phone to your ear and a concerned look on your face, exit the room. People will assume you had to answer an important pastoral call.

10)    Don’t complain too publicly about anything – you’ll end up on next year’s planning committee.

That’s enough for now. I better get back before someone notices I’ve gone AWOL. Maybe later I’ll have a chance to continue working on my new book “How to Blow Off Certain Parts of Clergy Conference While Remaining Canonically Resident.”

Archnemesis Reloaded

While I decided to give up alcohol for Lent, that was a piece of (chocolate) cake compared to my real Lenten discipline: Giving up my archnemesis. Not only did I have to be civil to Scott Gunn for a seemingly endless 40 days and 40 nights, I had to be in touch nearly every day to collaborate on Lent Madness.

To mark the end of our seasonal detente, on Easter Eve I even had to amend the following prayer at  the Great Paschal Vigil:

Through the Paschal mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life. I call upon you, therefore, now that our Lenten observance is ended, and I have regained my archnemesis, to renew the solemn promises and vows of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan, Scott Gunn, and their combined works, and promised to serve God faithfully in his holy Catholic Church.

Just as the women at the tomb on that first Easter morning didn’t leap up and start singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” but came into their joy gradually as the reality of the Resurrection began to sink in, so will I bide my time before firing off a salvo. There’s no hurry. Living into an archnemesian rivalry is all about endurance; it’s a war of attrition. You brush off the petty liturgical and homiletical insults, while recognizing that your archnemesis has neither altar nor pulpit of his own, and fortify your arsenal for the long haul of bitter conflict.

What will spark the next explosion? That remains to be seen. But I am thrilled that our Lenten fast has ended and the world has returned to rights. The disequilibrium of cooperation has been the true cross to bear.