Ode to a Copier: A Prayer for Holy Week

1581541396_7ce4936d25_oAbout six years ago, when I was rector of All Saints’ Church in Briarcliff Manor, New York, I wrote a Holy Week prayer titled Ode to a Copier. I like to share it this time of year in recognition of all the parish secretaries/administrators out there — the unsung heroes without whom  mass liturgical hysteria would ensue. Thanks, especially, to my own parish administrator, Evelyn Czaja, who is as we speak knee deep in about twelve bulletins!

I’ve learned over the years that whatever we as clergy or office staff or musicians or volunteers do or fail to get done this week, the resurrection is not dependent on us. Sometimes we all need this reminder!

Blessings to all in the midst of your preparations.

Ode to a Copier
A Prayer for Holy Week 

Holy Week, dear friends, will soon draw nigh;
From Trinity, Boston to All Saints’, Tenafly.

Parish secretaries and their rectors, too,
Thinking of the bulletins that will ensue,

Drop to their knees and begin to quake,
Praying their copiers will stay awake

Through Maundy Thursday and the rest;
Without behaving as if possessed.

Rectors wonder with uncertainty,
“Should I have purchased the extended warranty?”

Misfeeds, toner woes and a paper jam
Always seem to accompany the Paschal Lamb.

Why this happens is a great unknown,
A mystery worthy of the bishop’s throne.

So stoke the incense, say your prayers;
anything to stave off copier repairs.

As the dark shadows of Tenebrae now approach;
may your copier behave without reproach.

And as we begin the Good Friday fast,
May it wait ‘til Low Sunday to breathe its last.


Invitation to Holy Week

The invitation has arrived, as it does every year. It’s an open invitation. One that gently beckons.

Gaugin, 1

Agony in the Garden by Paul Gauguin

Over the coming week Christians throughout the world will gather to retell and relive the heart of our story: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are offered an invitation to walk with Jesus, not as passive observers but as full participants in the paschal mystery.

And when we accept this invitation we embark upon a journey that draws us closer to God; a journey that exposes our human weakness; a journey of discovery about ourselves and the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ; a journey that demonstrates, above all, the power of God’s love for each one of us. There will be highs and lows, opportunities and temptations, euphoria and despair, tears of joy and tears of sorrow. It’s not an easy journey nor is it without commitment, but we don’t travel it alone. We walk with Jesus and one another.

It begins with praise and jubilation, palms and the singing of sweet hosannas. Yet the hard wood of the cross looms behind the leafy green palms. Bittersweet hosannas ring as condemnation and accusation overpower love. We find ourselves in an Upper Room, a garden. We pray, we deny, we cry “crucify.”

Thanks be to God, death is not the final refrain; it’s not the end of our story. It is not finished. We pass through death to resurrection but Christ’s death is not the last word. We wait and watch and journey with Jesus this week before we can proclaim with authenticity and audacity that final refrain – the refrain that only comes with the triumph of the resurrection.

Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, consider this invitation. For in the cross is our hope; in the cross is our salvation; in the cross is our life. Accept this invitation. Live fully into this invitation. Transformation awaits.


A Date with Grief

Scan 18The emotions surrounding the anniversary of a loved one’s death are…unpredictable. We may be gripped by barely controllable feelings — especially when the grief is raw. Yet in some years the day may slip past with barely a whisper of awareness. In both cases, I find solace and joy in reaching out to those whose lives are connected to my own through the person we’ve lost.

While I keep the anniversary of my father’s death on my calendar — as if I could ever forget February 19, 1992 — there’s something about keeping a date with grief that feels peculiar. I’m often moved at times I don’t expect and in ways I least suspect. Perhaps I glimpse someone at a ballgame who shares a physical feature with my dad — his smile or the tenor of his voice. Or I encounter an object in the far recesses of my closest that serves as a talisman to a particularly vivid memory. Maybe it’s a smell that evokes time spent together in a way that is forever lost.

I was surprised at the degree to which the anniversary of my father’s death affected me today. Twenty-two years isn’t a particularly memorable number. Yet I woke up very aware that I’ve now lived more of my life without his physical presence than with it. This day is always tinged with regret as the seminal events in my life — the ones he missed — dance through my head. He never met my wife Bryna or sons Ben and Zack. He never knew of my calling to the priesthood or how my life has unfolded as an adult. And yet he continues to have a major impact on me every single day — in my faith, my parenting, my approach to married life, my vocational passion, my personality, my values.

Sure, his musical talent (he was a symphony orchestra conductor) wasn’t as hereditary as I might have hoped, but none of us are exact replicas of our 99923712527_p0_v1_s260x420parents. [Here’s the obituary from the Baltimore Sun if you’re interested — I just reread it for the first time in years and it still breaks my heart].

Of course “keeping a date with grief” is precisely what we do when we commemorate saints in the Church. We remember these men and women who have come before us in the faith on the anniversaries of their deaths rather than their birthdays. Why? Because we celebrate their lives in the context of Jesus’ resurrection and we see their deaths as glorious moments of reunion with the risen Christ.

The Good News of the Christian faith is that death is not the end — it is merely a temporary farewell. That’s the glory of the Easter message and it’s why, while the pain of loss endures, hope always transcends grief.

If you’re part of a faith community, I encourage you to share these special anniversaries with one another. There’s no reason we must bear them in isolation. To be human is to know grief and we are called to share one another’s burdens. Make an appointment to speak with a member of the clergy on an upcoming anniversary in your own life or call a friend for a coffee date. Shared experience and empathy are two of the great spiritual gifts we can offer our fellow pilgrims on this journey of life and faith.

Spiraling out of control!

029-22_zps0b57abb4Response to the Cathedral nautilus conversation has been, well, spiraling out of control. This is an apt metaphor for the chambered nautilus so perhaps this shouldn’t surprise anyone. In the “all publicity is good publicity” department, the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston is thriving. Granted not all the responses have been positive and some have even been malicious but, hey, people are talking about the Episcopal Church so there’s that.

After posting my thoughts on the new artwork gracing the long-vacant cathedral pediment and inviting the Cathedral Dean, the Very Rev. Jep Streit, to do likewise, the whole issue has gone a bit viral.

First, The American Conservative’s Rod Deher tried to stir up some controversy in true Fox News fashion with an article titled Episcopalians & The Way of the Seashell. His most offensive, vaguely racist comment was:

Sounds like the inside of a Twinkie has a more solid core than the cathedral community’s theology, though it’s probably not as white.

Surprisingly some of the 50 online comments that followed were actually balanced and a few were even in favor of the nautilus.

Jim Naughton of The Episcopal Cafe posted quotes from and links to both of our responses and also saw the value of open, honest disagreement in “One man’s beauty is another man’s fish house.”

Two people of good faith are having a respectful disagreement, and I find this such a refreshing development in our church that I feel obliged to call attention to it.

The usually balanced Religion News Service posted this comment under the headline “The old rugged seashell

Favorite story of the day:St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedralin Boston has finally filled in the triangle-shaped pediment on its facade with … wait for it … a giant nautilus shell that’s lit up at night like a Vegas show girl.

Real Clear Religion (whatever that is) tips their thoughts in the headline “Episcopalians Trade Paul for a Seashell.” The good news? They didn’t refer to us as “Episcopals.”

First Things went with the neutral “The Nautilus on the Cathedral.”

The key takeaway in all this? Religious symbols are powerful and elicit strong emotional responses. I’m still convinced the Church must first stand up and embrace its own Christian identity — that’s at the heart of this conversation for me. We can and must embody an inclusivity that flows directly from the foot of the cross out into the world. Much of Jesus’ ministry involved shattering the barriers that divide us one from another. The Good News of Christ’s gospel still has the power to do just this.

Nautilus Redux: The Dean’s Response

pedimentlitThere was a lot of reaction and (mostly) thoughtful commentary after I posted my response (The Heart of the Nautilus) to the new artwork on the pediment of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston. Since then I’ve been in contact with the cathedral’s gracious dean, the Very Rev. Jep Streit, who naturally doesn’t share my opinion on this.

I’ve invited his deanship to post a response here on Clergy Family Confidential as a Guest Blogger. Although he’s the first ever GB on my little slice of the internet, I’ve assured him this is a very prestigious honor. In all seriousness, I’m grateful for his willingness to engage on this issue and I appreciate the vulnerability of his position in opening himself and the cathedral community up to every art and ecclesiastical critic to ever stroll across Boston Common.

Guest Blogger: The Very Rev. Jep Streit

JepheadshotI very much appreciate the thoughtful critique Tim wrote in his blog about our new nautilus pediment. I love his list of what he seeks in a cathedral. “Amen” to that list.

I’m grateful for his generous offer to respond to his posting as a “guest blogger” on his site, which only underscores my appreciation of how he engenders reflection and discussion in a thoughtful way.

In our video the artist remarked that he wanted to create art for the pediment that was not “too religious,” which of course alarmed some people, as though he were articulating our new mission statement. Remember, he’s the artist, not the Dean. I simply thought he was trying to articulate, in his imperfect way, his experience of the Cathedral as a place with an expansive vision of God, “not just for Episcopals” as he put it, and so he attempted to create something that would be broadly inviting.

At St. Paul’s Cathedral we celebrate the Eucharist eight times a week, keep our church open all day for anyone to come in and pray, hold a weekly meditation group and have welcomed and fed hungry people every single Monday for thirty years. I don’t worry that we aren’t Christian enough.

I was a little surprised at how dismissive people seemed to be to the nautilus as a symbol of our faith. It may not be an immediately self-evident symbol, but neither was the cross when it first was used. I can imagine people wondering, “Why are they glorifying imperial Roman instruments of torture and execution?”

After two millennia the cross is now an unmistakable symbol of Christianity, it’s something everyone expects to see on a church. But isn’t God the One who surpasses our expectations, not  the One who just meets them?  Isaiah proclaimed, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” Is it unfaithful to imagine a new symbol for our faith?  It may not be immediately clear exactly what a nautilus atop a cathedral means, but that ambiguity can invite thinking and conversation, much more than if we had done something less provocative, as evidenced by all the responses to Tim’s blog.

For the record, here is why I think a nautilus is an appropriate symbol for our faith:

  • A nautilus is ancient (half a billion years old), just as our faith has ancient roots and traditions. Both the nautilus and our faith are open-ended, ever-expanding.
  • A nautilus grows by forming new chambers is it outgrows old ones, it can never go back, just as the God leads us on our faith journey into new places, deepening our conversation. The Holy Spirit is dynamic, not static.
  • The spiral of the nautilus shell is universal, an elemental form found throughout creation, from galaxies to weather patterns to the growth of plants to sub-atomic particles, just as we believe God is universal and unlimited.
  • Jesus gathered disciples by inviting people who were curious about him and what he was doing. “Come and see,” he told Andrew, who then brought his brother Simon.  My hope is that our nautilus sparks curiosity and welcomes exploration.

The nautilus works (or perhaps doesn’t work) as a symbol on these and many levels, but for me it is beautiful and inviting. I love it, and I think it does not require an explanation to be appreciated. Of course everyone doesn’t agree with me: one man’s beauty is another man’s fish house.

The week after the official dedication of the nautilus I received the following email from a total stranger. In it she confirmed my hope that our new june09_Page_48_Image_0001artwork would be engaging and inviting to people who might not otherwise care or even be aware of St. Paul’s and our ministries, and she offers her own reason why the nautilus is a good fit for our cathedral.

Walking through the Common from Beacon Street tonight, I saw the Nautilus sculpture lit for the first time. It is thrilling, and one of the most redemptive architectural feats I have ever seen, bringing the building into new light and new light into the city.

I read about the inspiration of the Holmes poem, but I want to comment also (surely I am not the first) that the nautilus’s many ‘rooms’ evoked John 14:2. As I read about the multi-faith ‘homes’ provided by the Cathedral, not to mention room for the ‘homeless;’ whose room has been on your porch for many years, the verse echoed in my mind. I am not Christian, but I am a great appreciator of this new and marvelous work. 

Thank you and everyone connected with the gift.

Finally, a couple of respondents have noted the limits of the cathedral building itself; poor sightlines, dim lighting, inadequate handicap access. They are right. This is why we are not only adding sculpture to finish our pediment but renovating our interior space: bringing in light, installing a full size elevator, adding a chapel, removing the pews to make our space more flexible and installing an efficient heating and ventilation system.

But when all is said and done, what is true is simple: our ministry is our message. I’m proud of our ministry, the gospel witness we make every day.  I’m also glad for the conversation we are having about our new façade. Of course there are many viewpoints, just as in God’s house there are many rooms.

All are welcome.

The Heart of the Nautilus

8743169960_8f84e88b52_bWhile some of you may find this hard to believe, I hesitated before writing this post. A lot. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the ministry that takes place at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston. Under the current dean, they have a long history of reaching out to people on the margins which is, at heart, what Jesus’ gospel message is all about. Bishop Shaw says he is “especially proud of the cathedral for doing the work of Jesus Christ — feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger.”

The recently released video about the artwork that now graces the cathedral’s long vacant pediment, however, speaks to me about the disconnect between that very gospel message and the very public portrayal of it. If you’ve been down Tremont Street along Boston Common, perhaps you’ve seen it — it’s a giant nautilus that, at night, gets illumined with blue backlighting.

The original plan called for a relief sculpture of the cathedral’s patron, St. Paul, preaching to King Agrippa (Acts 29). This idea was scrapped when the230px-Paul-before-agrippa money ran out and the pediment remained empty for nearly 200 years. I’m still not sure why Paul was pushed aside for a seashell.

Sure, I’ve mocked the nautilus occasionally in the months since it went up. Mostly it was good natured. Mostly. Things like telling everyone I now refer to it as St. Paul’s Fish House & Raw Bar since it looks more like the entrance to a fancy seafood restaurant than a cathedral. Granted the Greco-Roman architecture made it appear — pre-nautilus (PN) — like a bank. St. Paul’s Savings & Loan, perhaps.

The nautilus is supposed to be a metaphor for spiritual growth, based on an Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem titled The Chambered Nautilus. I actually don’t mind the sculpture itself — if it was on the facade of a contemporary arts museum it might even entice me to go inside. But labeling it a symbol of spirituality feels contrived and as empty as one of its chambers.

But what really set me off was the artist’s description of his vision — a vision the cathedral community enthusiastically embraced. He says in the video that the cathedral is “not just a church for Episcopals.” Okay, ecclesiastical grammar aside, I understand the cathedral sees itself as a House of Prayer for All People (Isaiah 56:7) — a Biblical slogan popularized by the Washington National Cathedral. They live into this motto by offering a place of prayer for the local Muslim community on Friday afternoons and opening their doors to “all sorts and conditions” of people.

Yet, unless you first place your stake in the ground as the epicenter of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, a community of disciples following Jesus Christ, this slogan can easily delve into “A House of the Least Common Denominator for All People.”

The artist goes on to say, “I was trying to think of a symbol or an image that would be spiritual but not be religious.”

nautilusshellWhat?! A Christian cathedral by its very nature is and must be “religious.” It should be a beacon of the gospel and, as the dean says in the video, “the spiritual heart” of the diocese. If our core is this theologically squishy we may as well just tear down all of our crosses and erect nautili (what is the plural of nautilus?) on all our parish churches.

This video did make me reflect on what I envision as cathedral ministry and for this I’m grateful. I would love the cathedral to be the spiritual heart of the diocese but in order to do so, I believe, it must first be clear about its Christian identity. As a parish priest and simply a Christian, this is what I seek in a cathedral:

I want a cathedral that is both spiritual and religious.

I want a cathedral that inspires — liturgically, theologically, and spiritually.

I want a cathedral that is a powerful sign of the Christian faith, boldly proclaimed.

I want a cathedral that preaches Christ crucified and risen with reckless abandon.

I want a cathedral that is a beacon of hope amidst a sinful and broken world.

I want a cathedral that, as the bishop’s seat, is engaged in a ministry of Christian teaching and formation.

I want a cathedral that is a place of prayer and spiritual refreshment.

I want a cathedral that ministers to those on the margins of society.

I want a cathedral that is relevant to its urban context.

Yes, that is a lot to place on one community and its leadership. I am not a dean and so it’s easy for me to put expectations upon a cathedral community. I understand that and I understand it is impossible to be, as St. Paul himself said, “all things to all people.” It’s hard enough in parish ministry without having the priests and laity of over 160 congregations looking to you for inspiration and who may all have slightly different interpretations of what a cathedral should be and do.

There are certainly things at my own parish, St. John’s in Hingham, Massachusetts, that could and should be improved upon — we just finished up a strategic planning process that was revealing, challenging, and hopeful. Every parish church and every cathedral has strengths and weaknesses that must be taken together when looking at the whole.

It’s also quite possible I’m wrong. Maybe the nautilus will be just what the cathedral needs to invigorate its mission and ministry. Perhaps people will indeed “come and see.” The question remains whether they will come and stay.

Christian Formation’s “Dirty Little Secret”

psa-Laptop-with-hands-5k-co_t640There’s nothing more disheartening than putting a tremendous amount of effort into an adult education program only to have a handful of people show up. This happens more than you’d think in parishes of all types, denominations, and sizes but no one wants to talk about it. Clergy don’t — because it looks like failure on their part. And lay people don’t — because they’d have to admit they weren’t interested enough to show up.

In fact, I’d call this lack of attendance at adult education programs the “dirty little secret” of Christian formation. It’s easy to rally around children’s formation events — Sunday School, Confirmation class, Vacation Bible School. We’re all passionate about “passing on the tradition,” even if we don’t have the time or the inclination to keep our own spiritual lives fresh and vibrant.

I don’t think this means the end of mature discipleship, it just calls for new methods of approaching adults who have precious little time. We can’t continue to offer the ubiquitous Wednesday evening potlucks as the only means to the adult education end. The pace and volume of life has changed and the Church must adapt to changing educational needs to continue to form disciples in Jesus’ name.

Fortunately, there are some church leaders out there trying to meet this new reality. Online Christian formation — for both adults and children — is a ChurchNextlogonew and exciting frontier, one that we’re still figuring out but one that we all need to embrace.

One friend of mine is doing something about filling this void. Chris Yaw is an Episcopal parish priest and the founder of Church Next, a new online Christian learning initiative. He’s also a former Lent Madness Celebrity Blogger and Emmy Winner, but I digress. His team has an ever-expanding library of short, online courses on a variety of topics from ethics to liturgy to Scripture. Each course consists of four five-minute videos from experts across multiple denominations. An individual can subscribe or a parish can do so, in effect, creating an online “school” for the congregation. People can watch videos on their own schedule at their own pace and may or may not then engage in face-to-face conversations at church.

The key is flexibility, accessibility, and access to solid content. Check out the ever-expanding online library here.

Chris asked me to do a class on the season of Advent. I haven’t actually seen all the videos but you can watch (and share) the first one as a free sample. Here’s the course description.

I really believe this is the future of Christian formation — not replacing in-person parish formation programs but supplementing them and giving people who are too busy to attend potluck suppers access to spiritual growth. Imagine being able to grow your faith while waiting on the carpool line or  with that first cup of coffee when the house is blessedly quiet or during your morning commute. It’s a concept that’s past due and one that embraces the changing landscape rather than simply ruing it.

“I don’t like my priest”

aPrivate Conversation

You just know they’re talking about their priest.

“I don’t like my priest.” Someone — not one of my own parishioners — said this to me recently. It had nothing to do with what the clergyman in question was doing or failing to do in ministry. By all accounts this person’s priest is quite an effective pastor and leader. The parish is growing and he has a lot of support from various segments of the congregation. The issue, from this person’s perspective, was the priest’s personality. She just didn’t like him.

What happens when you don’t really like your parish priest? Does it matter? We certainly don’t “like” everyone we encounter in this life. Some people just rub us the wrong way. It may be something trivial like their voice or their wardrobe — superficial reasons to be sure but even such small things may mask deeper reasons. We throw labels around all the time when trying to explain what we don’t like about a person: arrogant, glad-hander, bully, suck-up. Often these accusations reveal our own biases or previous life experiences. Granted, sometimes the other person is actually just a jerk.

What a lot of people do when they don’t like their priest, of course, is simply leave the congregation in search of another one. In a culture where “church shopping” is an accepted practice, why not just shop around until you find a priest you like? A place where the priest’s personality better suits your own; a church where you could see yourself going out for a beer with your pastor.

like-FacebookBut is “liking” the clergy really the point? For some, being friends with their clergy is the single most important thing in their spiritual life. People don’t like to admit this since it really should be all about God but the lines can become easily blurred. Whether we admit it or not, “liking” the clergy is a major part of why people attend particular congregations. We want them to know our names and our stories — something increasingly difficult in growing congregations.

In some ways this issue reminds me of the Donatist controversy of the early 4th century. In North Africa the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered a wave of intense persecution against Christians blaming them for a series of plagues that led to economic instability. During this time any Christian who renounced the faith was spared. Christians who were caught with copies of Scripture (usually clergy) were especially susceptible to punishment — usually death. Many priests allowed their texts to be burned, thereby sparing their lives.

After Constantine succeeded Diocletian, the persecution eventually abated and disappeared entirely in 313 when the emperor declared tolerance for Christianity. A significant number of North Africans who remained faithful objected when the lapsed clergy again took up their positions. A group of purists led by Donatus, condemned these priests as Roman collaborators who defamed the memory of the martyrs. They declared the orders of the lapsed priests invalid and refused to accept the sacraments from them while the opposing party championed the concept of forgiveness for all.

Into this controversy stepped St. Augustine of Hippo, whose view was that it was the office of priest, not his personal character, that gave validity to the 703sacraments. This position won out and Donatism would go down in history as a classic heresy.

The point here is that an individual’s personal feelings about a priest are ultimately irrelevant. It’s the sacramental ministry that matters, not whether or not we “like” our clergy. Faith transcends personality. And while we all seek connection and relationship, it’s important to keep it in its proper perspective. Connection and relationship with Jesus Christ always comes first, the realization of which, I think, takes some pressure off both clergy and parishioners.

I hope the woman I spoke with doesn’t leave her community just because she doesn’t want to hang out with her priest. While a priest’s personality can set a tone for a congregation, a community of faith is more than just one person. It’s a rich tapestry of personalities and experiences — some that resonate with us, others that don’t — all working together to seek and serve Christ in all persons.

Praying the Parish Directory

parish directoryAt our weekly staff meetings we’ve recently started praying our way through the parish directory. Each week at the conclusion of our meeting, one member of the staff slowly reads the names of two columns-worth of parishioners — about 18 families. There’s something profound about praying for the entire parish as we remember all of the souls in our care.

There are people who are very involved at St. John’s and others I’ve never met or whose names I don’t recognize. Just last week — we’re mired in the “D’s” right — we prayed for a member of the parish whose wife had just died. We all sort of paused in awe of the gentle moving of the Spirit.

What I really love about this concept is that it keeps us grounded on the importance of community formed in Christ’s name. It’s easy — especially at staff meetings — to get stuck on the logistics and minutiae of ministry. This practice helps us remember the main thrust of our ministry with and among God’s people.

Parish directories are funny things. Despite all the hard work involved in putting them together, they’re immediately out-of-date the moment they’re published. People die or move out of town; babies are born; some get mad at the rector and storm off in a huff; newcomers join the parish. Ultimately they’re mere snapshots of a particular moment in the life of community of faith.

Yet even knowing this, praying the parish directory feels like a sacred spiritual discipline.

And anyway, I’m confident that God alone, the God who can count every hair on our heads, has the one, truly updated directory.


A More Perfect Union

photoIn light of today’s Supreme Court decision to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, I’ve been thinking a lot about Lisa and Fiona. In the days before gay marriage was a viable option for same-sex couples, clergy were occasionally asked to perform “blessings.” Sometime these were even done in the context of a house blessing since many weren’t ready to bless these couples inside the four walls of a church.

These issues sound almost quaint in light of the recent progress toward marriage equality but these were high stakes, emotionally-charged times. I officiated at a same-sex blessing while a priest in New York and, with the couple’s “blessing,” I wrote an article about the experience that appeared in the Episcopal New Yorker. I share it with you here as I rejoice with the many gays and lesbians who simply want respect, dignity, equality, and perhaps an over-the-top wedding cake.

A More Perfect Union
One priest’s encounter with a same-sex blessing

“You two are nothing if not liturgically challenging,” I commented to Lisa and Fiona as we met to plan the blessing of their union. An interfaith same-sex blessing is not in the Book of Common Prayer. I looked.

Fiona, South African by birth, is a lifelong Anglican and a member of the All Saints’ vestry. Lisa is a self-described “Jewish Episcopalian.” Though she has not converted to Christianity, she and Fiona attend church together each week, pledge, and take their turn hosting coffee hour. Fiona’s daughter enthusiastically participates in our Sunday School program.

When they first approached me about performing a blessing, I admit I was slightly taken aback. Theological considerations in the abstract often have little relationship to concrete situations. I presumed such a request was inevitable and had formulated various responses, but the hypothetical never included faces. Suddenly this was more about two faithful parishioners than any General Convention debate. And it is why, after much prayer, consultation with the bishop, and conversation with my wardens, I agreed to conduct the service. Knowing Fiona and Lisa, praying with them, serving God with them, I became increasingly convinced that no other pastoral response was possible.

The service itself was not a political statement. It wasn’t about two women who had a tangential relationship with the parish. It wasn’t a publicity stunt. I didn’t call the press for “look-at-how-progressive-we-are” coverage. Lisa and Fiona didn’t send an announcement to the Style Section of the Sunday New York Times. Rather, it was a bold statement of love and commitment. A statement of Fiona and Lisa’s love for one another and a statement of Christ’s love for us all.

Fiona and Lisa could have made this statement in a variety of locales: a garden, a gazebo, a beach, or a courthouse. But they wanted to make this statement of love in their spiritual home. They wanted to share the moment with their friends and family, with their community of faith, in the place that has played such an integral role in their individual and collective spiritual journeys. And I couldn’t imagine denying them this simple yet profound request.

The liturgy evolved over time. And I was pleased at how much care and attention Lisa and Fiona paid to the ceremony. It was a carefully planned liturgy. Several resources for same-sex blessings exist; some are helpful, some are miserable. But none of them include the breaking of the glass. With input from the rabbi who assisted at the service, we put together a unique liturgy. One with dignity and joy, but above all one that sought to capture the abiding love of God for two faithful people seeking God’s blessing upon their union.

I’m not sure how the issue of same-sex blessings and even gay marriage will be resolved within the wider Church. All will be revealed in time. But I do know that I stared blankly at the parish register for quite some time following the service. It was not a “marriage.” Civil law and Church canons make this clear. But this liturgy was much too meaningful for Lisa and Fiona and all who witnessed this celebration to be classified under “Other Services.” There was nothing “other” about it.

Later that evening at the reception, as my wife and I danced the night away at Lyndhurst’s carriage house, I had the overwhelming conviction that God’s presence had hovered over the entire evening. There was a transcendent holiness that seemed to stop time and rest, if ever fleetingly, over those who had gathered in the presence of God to witness and bless this union. This was a celebration of love, commitment, and faith. And as a priest, it was a privilege to participate in a seminal moment in the lives of two wonderful and faithful people.