Monday, November 19, 2012

Digital bishops

I was asked to preach at the consecration of my good friend, Nicholas Knisely as the XII Bishop of Rhode Island this past Saturday.  The sermon, which I thought long and hard about, got some good press.  Here it is for those interested:


Digital Bishop

We have all been at meetings where the first thing the speaker does is to ask the audience to turn off their cell phones.  This afternoon I am going to do just the opposite—I am going to ask you to take them out and to turn them on!   Why? because you, my brothers and sisters, have a got yourselves a bishop for the 21st Century, a digital bishop, one who is going to help you communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ in a whole new and exciting way.  So get those smart phones ready, because beginning today you are about to tweet, facebook, and social media your way into the minds and hearts of a new generation--those who may text dozens of messages everyday, but have never heard the Message, who belong to virtual communities but not to a community of faith, who may be Linked-In, but are not yet raised up.  Who follow their friends on Facebook but who are not yet followers of Christ.

If you think that I am putting you on, that is because as Episcopalians we are seriously out of touch with a world where the average teenager sends over 3000 text messages a month, where the number one goal of nearly all Fortune 500 companies is to increase their social media presence, and where Facebook has over a billion users, making it the equivalent of the third largest country in the world.  In the past, the church used the revolution caused by the printing press to share the Gospel with the world.  It has pretty much dropped the ball ever since, missing out on the opportunities given to it by film, radio and television.  Is it too late?  Here are some are two scary facts—80% of people looking for a church to attend for the first time, go to the internet, and yet only 20% of Episcopal churches have an active and up-to-date website.  Here is another one.  There are 110 active bishops in this country, only six are on Twitter, and yet at our General Convention this summer, when we were discussing the blessings of same sex unions, over 10 million people worldwide were following us on Twitter!  File this under #majorfail.

Of course your new bishop is one of those high tech bishops.  In fact, he might be said, like Al Gore, to have invented the internet, at least for Episcopalians.  You will probably hear from him the story of how as a graduate student back in the 1980’s he realized that the then clunky computers he was using would have tremendous potential, and he set out to learn all about them and especially about how the church could use the Web.   By now you all know that Nick is a smart guy, how many bishops have an advanced degree in physics?  What you may not know is how much he knows about technology. He taught our Arizona clergy how to blog, and as the cathedral Dean in Phoenix, so much of his time was spent consulting about IT, that I considered getting him a tee-shirt which read, “NO, I will not fix your computer.”

Your new bishop’s desire to embrace technology is motivated by far more than a desire to be cool, hip, or wired.  It comes instead from a longing to connect, especially with those in our society who are often on the margins of the churches’ attention, especially young people.

Bishop Thomas Marsh Clark,  5ht   Bishop of Rhode Island told his convention in 1898:  “Innovation is not always improvement, but there can be no improvement without innovations. That which is more familiar to us was a novelty once, and that which is new to us will become familiar in the process of time."

Your new bishop embodies that tradition of Yankee innovation.

Those of you who were at the electing convention will remember that when Nick’s election was announced, you all sang his favorite hymn, “They cast their nets in Galilee.” We sang it again just now.  This was more appropriate than you may know.  Years ago, I served in a parish in Old Lyme Connecticut, not too far from here, and so my family would often come over Rhode Island to take the ferry to Block Island.  That ferry leaves from—Galilee, Rhode Island!  (As I recall there used to be a pretty good seafood restaurant there).  Galilee, Rhode Island is named of course after the place where Jesus did most of his ministry, and from whence he called his disciples.  Why did Jesus base his ministry in Galilee?   It was not his hometown.  He had to make quite a trip to get there.  The answer I think is that Galilee was the cultural crossroads of Jesus’ day.  It was home to many different ethnic groups, and hosted many different religious traditions.  Even though it was rural, it was a melting pot, a kind of first century Times Square.  

It is to that mix of culture and beliefs that Jesus preaches his message.  His audience is not the good, temple-going, establishment type Jew of Jerusalem.  But the marginalized and the forgotten.  Remember all the dismissive comments from the Jewish establishment about Jesus “the Galilean”.  Hence someone for them not to be taken seriously.

A digital bishop cannot but be concerned about one group found in our own modern Galilee of high tech pop culture, and that is youth. Its is to youth that the church must “cast its INTERnet.”   Internet communication is not a toy for young people—it is a way of life.  It is the language they speak, and if the church is going to grow, it will have to realize this.  This fact is especially hard for Episcopalians, a greying denomination where the average age is 62, and where the average number of youth involved in an Episcopal parish is 8.  We all say  we want to attract young people and children and families, and yet most church budgets allocate more for coffee hour than they do for children and youth.

One of the few dioceses in this country that is growing in numbers has done so because of a concerted effort a decade ago to put a youth minister in every parish.  Your new bishop will also make the needs of youth a priority.  He talks to them, not down to them. And he speaks their language both online and offline.  I have seen him do that at our Arizona diocesan camp and at the cathedral in Phoenix, which thanks to his efforts now does have a full time youth director.  Nick knows that those fishermen in Galilee who followed Jesus were not the bearded figures we tend to imagine, but were all probably about 18-20 years old.  When they followed the Savior, they left their old man, their father Zebedee in the boat.  Hmm,  I wonder what that might mean?

But there is no use in effectively communicating if we don’t have something to communicate.  And your new bishop is clear as to what that is—the Good News of Jesus Christ.  This might seem like a no-brainer, but sadly that is sometimes not the case in our church.  I remember very well the meeting I had with the Arizona Cathedral Chapter just before they called Nick as their new Dean seven years ago.  They were down to two candidates, and I was with them to help break the deadlock, I asked each member of the cathedral chapter to tell me what they liked most about the two finalists.  One woman, said, “I really like that Nick Knisely, there is only one problem, in his interview he talked about Jesus an awful lot.”  Another member of the chapter quickly chimed in.  “Oh, don’t worry about that, he said, “It’s just a fad, they are all doing it these days!”

Happily we have come a long way since then.  The cathedral in Phoenix has seen a nearly threefold increase in attendance since six years ago, due mainly to Nick’s instance that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is to be proclaimed in that place with power, clarity and conviction.  Nationally too, we have learned the hard way that merely resting on our laurels as genteel post-Victorian protestants is not going to bring new people in. We need to be absolutely focused on our mission and unapologetic about our church:  Episcopalian and proud of it!  

--We need to be clear in our theology—
No more Unitarians in vestments—
--We must be compelling in our worship—(no more mumbling our way through the prayer book and droning hymns by 19th Century dead white guys)—
--We have to be demanding in our formation as disciples—no more confirmation classes in which a few weeks of instruction to bored eighth graders is the standard for joining the church.

Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas (another digital bishop) has a new book called Unabashedly Episcopalian in which he rightly challenges us to fall in love once again with our Episcopal church. It’s not enough just aspire to follow Jesus, we must live our out discipleship in a unique church community with a particularly rich theology and tradition which we can be proud of.  In his words:

“I am not challenging you to come up with your own really cool understanding of our church, but rather to choose to form people of every age in the way of the Episcopal be unabashedly Episcopalian.”

Nick, we are all called to be unabashedly Episcopalian, and today, we call you to be our bishop unabashedly!  And so I would ask you to now stand.  

You stand facing the altar, but you also stand with with 200 years of history and ministry of the Diocese of Rhode Island, standing behind you.  You stand on the shoulders of its previous twelve bishops, most importantly those of Gerry Wolfe, and the clergy and lay leadership who elected you.   They have chosen to consecrate you on the feast day of two great bishops of the medieval English Church, Hugh of Lincoln and Robert Grosseteste.  Hugh, because he was known for his great personal piety, and his gentle pastoring of his clergy and people.  Legend has it that as he traveled around his diocese he was so humble that he chose to walk rather than ride his horse.  Although this might in fact be possible given the compact nature of your diocese, I do understand they have provided you with a Toyota.   Robert Grosseteste on the other hand was noted for his intellect.  He was chancellor of Oxford University before he was elected bishop of Lincoln, where he wrote on physics and astronomy and pioneered the scientific method--sound familiar?  His great learning earned him his surname of Grosseteste which means literally “swelled head,” or “egg head,” as we might say today--so be careful!  It is these two qualities of pastor and teacher that this diocese was looking for, and it is these two gifts that you will bring them.   Indeed, you have already began to care for them when you contacted every congregation after Hurricane Sandy, and you have already begun to teach them on your online blog.   As you continue this Episcopal ministry, always be mindful the changing nature of the church you serve.  Be to them a true digital bishop, using technology to strengthen relationships, to reach the unchurched, and to proclaim the Good News.  

And Karen and Kenney, I would ask you to stand.  For you have an important job too.  Your task is to remind Nick that his ministry begins at home, and that his care for you is to be above all others.  I once heard a wise old priest say that in ministry, the clergy person is required to keep many different balls in the air--some of them are made of rubber and some are made of glass. The rubber ones represent work, the glass ones, family.  If you should happen to drop one of the rubber balls, it will bounce, but the glass ones will shatter.  So Karen and Kenny, remind your husband and father that he may be the chief pastor of the Diocese, but you are his most important flock.

And the rest of you, members of this great Diocese, would you all please stand.  You have probably all noticed that you are not standing in church building today, but on an athletic playing field.  I hope this symbolism in not lost on you, for you are all called upon to be part of a team.  Nick may be your new captain, but he can’t play the game without all of you, from those who are the starting players, to those who spend most of their time on the bench, or carrying water.  The team called the Diocese of Rhode Island needs all of you.  And it needs you to both treat your captain with respect and with care.  No intentional fouls, no elbowing on the court, no playing out of bounds,  and make sure you all call for plenty of time-outs.  Talk to your captain and not about him.  Make sure he takes his day off, and remember you are all wearing the same uniform--you know, the one which has written on it, “the cross is my anchor.”

Now sit down and get out your phones.  To paraphrase Jesus in our Gospel for today, “Be dressed for action and with your phones turned on!”  Before you leave here today I want you to text, twitter, or post an important message.  Your message is going to reach more people than has ever happened before in the Diocese of Rhode Island.  Here is the math--the average smartphone user has about 100 friends or followers.  There are about 2000 people here today.  So that means nearly a quarter of million people are going to receive this proclamation:

“The Episcopal Church in Rhode Island is a church for the 21st Century.

You  invited to join us  in the name of Jesus.

For we have a great new bishop--thanks be to God!”

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Think Before Your "Share."

Think Before You “Share”

Recently I saw a YouTube video posted on facebook called “Rich Kids of Instagram.” (  The video featured a group of twenty-somethings unselfconsciously sharing their pictures of lavish beach parties, consuming countless bottles of Dom Perignon champagne, getting off their private jet in the Hamptons, all of which they post on websites to impress their friends. Over the top—right?

It got me to wondering if those of us with more modest means who try to hold to a Christian ethic of a simple life, attempting to respect the environment and meet the needs of the poor, have not succumbed to a similar temptation. When does sharing our blessings on Facebook become flaunting them?  A few cases in point culled from those I follow on facebook:  A priest wonders whether three trips to England is too much for one year. A deputy to General Convention posts the nightly dinner menu (with pictures) taken at Indianapolis’ most posh restaurants. A vacationing Senior Warden shares several pictures each day of the lavish golf courses he is playing in Hawai’i; a bishop poses with glamorous Hollywood celebrities at a recent fundraiser.

For my part I can think of times where I have done similarly, including sharing snapshots of the red rocks taken from the balcony of my home in Sedona, Arizona, purportedly one of the state’s more affluent communities.

What must our readers think?  What are we thinking? Are we on some subconscious level advocating our own Episcopal brand of the “prosperity Gospel” (follow Jesus and he will add to your bank account) or is this simply inadvertent boasting—”see what I have?” Don’t you wish you you had this too?

And can we include in our public boasting our quickness to broadcast photographs of our beautiful grandchildren, or gatherings of our  huge number of happy wine-drinking friends, or our designer wardrobe?  It is likely that those of our acquaintances who don’t enjoy such gifts will either be hurt, or simply envious, and envy is one of the seven deadly sins we don’t want to be responsible for engendering in others.

I am convinced that we Christians, especially those of us who are ordained, are not doing ourselves or our church any favors by these public displays of our material blessings. We are a Christian denomination which has always advocated for the poor and for a just economy, but do we practice what we preach?  Or are we more driven to impress our friends with what we have than to advocate for those who have not?

We might fool ourselves by thinking that our postings are only for our friends—although why should we boast to our friends?—but if there is one thing that social media has taught us, it is that anything we post on the web has the potential for becoming public in a big way. The average facebook member has several hundred friends and they in turn each have several hundred. In such a geometric progression it doesn't take much for our innocent boast about our new SUV,  European vacation, or five-star restaurant meal to go viral.  

Jesus is always reminding his followers about the danger of attachment to things,  material possessions, power, and prestige—you all know the proof texts.  What is even worse for Jesus is when we use our possessions in ways which harm others.  It is often said that social media is “word of mouth on steroids” for its power to reach so many people so quickly. What are the words in our mouth, or on our facebook page?  Facebook bragging is bragging on steroids and it has the power to harm not only our own soul, but the faith of those around us.  

Let’s “share” the things that really matter.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Wrong on Every Count

One expects good journalism from the Wall Street Journal.  What we got instead today in their reporting of General Convention was an inaccurate and nasty diatribe against the Episcopal Church in general and our Presiding Bishop in particular.

I hesitate even to give out the link to this example of muckraking, but I guess I must if I am to refute the errors it contains. If you are an Episcopalian and read it, be prepared to be slimed.

The reporter himself as an Episcopalian, but it is clear that he knows little or nothing about our Church.  I very much doubt he even attended.

The Article is entitled, "What Ails the Episcopalians" and begins by saying that General Convention "is noted for sheer ostentation and carnival atmosphere. For seven straight nights, lavish cocktail parties spilled into pricey steakhouses, where bishops could use their diocesan funds to order bottles of the finest wines."

I can tell you as a veteran of three of these gatherings, that I have never come close to a lavish party or a bottle of expensive wine.  I took my breakfast at Starbucks, and lunch was usually at Subway.  Our last  dinner get together as the Arizona deputation was at a local sports bar--pictured below! Not a bottle of expensive wine in sight!

That's for starters. The Presiding Bishop (whom she incorrectly calls "Bishop Shori"), her next target,  she calls "secretive an authoritarian", who rules through a cabal of committees which she controls and who "brazenly" carries a metropolitan cross in procession.  The first charge is laughable, the second just plain wrong.  Previous Presiding Bishops carried this cross because they are, well, Primates of the Church!

Next comes a whole litany of attacks one usually hears from the ultra-right--the Episcopal Church has declined because of its liberal stands on social issues (actually all expressions of organized religion in the United States are in numerical decline, the Southern Baptists--hardly a liberal church--being the leader).  The church is in financial trouble because of the cost of litigation over breakaway groups which have tried to take our property--also not true, most legal costs have been born by individual dioceses, and in fact giving to the church increased this year.

If the reporter had bothered to talk to those of us who attended, he would have learned that General Convention was a wonderfully hopeful and positive experience, with better collegiality and cooperation that I have ever seen.

We Episcopalians can be hopeful about a church that has the self-awareness to take on its own restructuring, take prophetic positions on the world's urgent problems, include all people in its sacramental life, and proclaim to the Good News of Jesus in many new and creative ways.  And we do it all in a uniquely democratic manner, which is sometimes messy, but always Spirit-filled. 

I am at loss to understand how the Journal would permit this kind of article to published in its paper without even checking basic facts.  Could it be that the editorial board has connections with some of those groups who seek to discredit "mainline" American churches?  In any event, such "reporting" is hardly worthy of such a venerable publication.

I have only one more thing to say to the Wall Street Journal:  I am cancelling my subscription.

[Note:  Since I wrote this on July 13, I have learned a few things.  First, the Wall Street Journal reporter is not a woman, as I originally thought, and he has written before for Virtue Online.   I was also reminded that the Journal is now owned by Rupert Murdoch who uses his media outlets to further his own right wing agenda.  I would also recommend two additional responses. George Congar is a conservative writer, but he too has panned this particular hatchet job.  Scott Gunn, head of Forward Movement Publications, provides a closer criticism of the article at]

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Arizona youth workers

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The video below

Whoops, this posting should have come before the video. Still having trouble with wifi connection--each place we are in, room, hearing room, HOB, has it own set of challenges getting on. As time goes on, I hope to get that fixed.

There are new policies in affect about use of electronic equipment in meetings. For example, no pictures from the meetings unless we have permission of those being pictured, and no tweeting or facebooking from the floor, so most of my reports will have to be after the fact.

I will continue to do my best to keep in touch with all of you!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Trying video again

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Arrival in Indy

We had an uneventful trip to Indy. As suspected it is hot and humid here, although comfortable in the hotel. We are having some phone and internet issues which I hope to get fixed tomorrow. Right now, I am trying to do this blog over my iphone!

After we arrived, we went right into a Province VIII meeting. Although the Province does some great work, the administrative logistics always upset me. The meeting, badly organized and boring was at least offset by the reports about some of the good work being done. Carmen Guerrero spoke as did our own Winnie Follett about the work of ECW. I could have done with the mind numbing report on canon changes. Let's see if I can upload a picture of Carmen giving her report and we will call it quits for this first night.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, July 2, 2012

Test blog

Just to make sure everything is working.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Getting Ready for General Convention

As I have done for past gatherings (General Convention, Lambeth, House of Bishops, etc), I will make every effort to make a daily blog entry about the days events.  Having an iPhone will make this easier than before, especially when it comes to posting pictures and videos.  Some of you have asked however why my videos are so short--usually about 30-45 seconds.  That is because they still take a fairly long time to upload.

For those of you church wonks who want to get even more information about events on the floor of Convention, you can also check our Diocesan website (  There our Director of Communications, Nicole Krug, has provided links to a number of real time sites.  Episcopal Cafe is also a timely source.

To give you something to think about on the eve of the 77th General Convention.  Here are some remarks by Jim Naughton which he posted this morning on Episcopal Cafe.  He sums up well what we might expect during the next week:

I am on my way to Indianapolis for the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which begins, officially, on July 5, although I believe folks began trickling into town yesterday.
I don’t entirely know what to expect at this convention, but I suspect that people may arrive in a state of some agitation and find that there is little immediate legislative reason to be so stirred up.
I believe that legislation authorizing a trial rite for blessing same-sex relationships will pass, and am delighted that this will be perceived as something of an anti-climax. I am fairly certain that we will not sign on to the Anglican Covenant, but am wondering if we will nuance our no.
I suspect we will delay full implementation of the denominational health plan, and while this is certainly a significant issue, it isn’t what people are most worked up about.
Much pre-convention conversation has focused on restructuring the church and developing the triennial budget. But in some ways, on these issues, we are all het up with few places to go. Unless we waive the constitution—a dreadful idea—we can’t make any constitutional changes at this convention, so we are likely to end up arguing about whether efforts to restructuring the church should be led by the Standing Commission of Structure—which I would prefer—or a special commission appointed by the presiding officers. This decision will not be without consequences, but it merely determines the forum in which our ongoing conversations on this issue will take place. As for the budget, by the end of this General Convention, we will have one, and some people will like it more than others.
I think there is an argument to be made for looking at the budget that the Presiding Bishop presented, cutting much of the new spending she proposed (little of it has been subject to even cursory scrutiny) and cutting the asking to so that more of the money in the church stays on the grassroots level where the experimentation we need right now is more likely to take place. I doubt this idea will prevail, and I will be only mildly disappointed if it does not. I don’t like the way that the Presiding Bishop and her closest advisors are behaving right now, but I do not believe my sleep will be troubled if they get the budget they want, even though I don’t approve of the means by which they got it.
The problems that the Episcopal Church faces now are not of the General Convention’s making, and they will no be solved either in Indianapolis or three years from now in Salt Lake City. Have you ever met anyone who said, “Gosh, you guys have a beautiful liturgy. I just loved the preacher and I could listen to you people sing all day, but I won’t be back unless you get yourselves a unicameral legislature.” Me neither. And I don’t know of a single parish that has lost members because we have too many CCABs—although I think we do.
General Convention may be able to fund or facilitate the kind of grassroots innovation that our church needs, but it can’t make it happen. The same is true, though perhaps to a less degree, of the Presiding Bishop and the staff at Church Center. Our problem is less in our structures than in ourselves. We simply are not inspiring enough people to join our congregations. I am not sure we want to, and I am not sure we know how. Legislative bodies don’t exist to solve such problems.
This is not to say what we do in Indianapolis will not be important, but we shouldn’t expect from the convention more than the convention has to give.

Laura and I will be leaving Phoenix tomorrow at mid-morning and expect to be in Indy
around mid-afternoon.   There is a meeting of our Provincial VIII delegates that evening, so we will be getting right down to business!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Abandon All Hope?

Abandon All Hope?

“The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow. It is to decide what to abandon. In order to grow, a business must have a systematic policy to get rid of the outgrown, the obsolete, the unproductive.”

So stated the world's leading business guru Peter Drucker over forty years ago.  His “principle of abandonment” was central to his teaching, and has been incorporated by virtually every American corporation and business writer since then. According to Mr. Drucker, institutions must constantly examine their structures and methods to determine what is productive and what is not. If it is not working, get rid of it. Growth will never take place as long as time and energy are spent supporting people, programs, and products that do not produce. Before management can decide what needs to be done differently, they must first “clear the decks” of anything from the past that may restrict innovation. We can honor the past without letting it set the agenda. For an institution to move forward, it can never look back. In Drucker’s words, “Abandon all but tomorrow.”

Drucker’s words are wise council for us in the church as we face our task of “restructuring,” which will begin in just two weeks at our General Convention.  My fear is that rather than follow Drucker’s tried-and-true strategy of purposeful abandonment of structures that do little or nothing to further our goal of spreading the Good News (aptly defined in the “Five Marks of Mission” that we adopted and then largely ignored), we will instead settle for an ongoing tinkering process, referring our problems to various committees, which in many cases helped create the mess we are in.  If we are to truly restructure, then we must first be prepared to jettison everything, and I mean everything, that holds us back.  To that end, I offer my own “abandonment list.”  I admit that this is not a good word for us Episcopalians. We think of abandonment as a negative word, as in child abandonment, abandonment by God, abandonment of communion, the opposite of the concepts of covenant and commitment we are more comfortable with. But if we think of the word in its original sense, not as desertion or forsaking but as a “release from bonds” (what the world literally means) then we can understand abandonment as a pathway to the kind of creative freedom Drucker is talking about. I don’t mean this to be an extended snark. I have great regard for those involved in the day-to-day operation of the church, and I include myself among those who have spent a lot of time trying to shore up structures that should have been junked long ago. Our inertia was largely due to fear, apathy, or just cluelessness about how to proceed. To our malaise, Drucker offers a starting point:  “don’t tell me what you are doing, tell me what you have stopped doing!”

Since General Convention is imminent, I will start my list with some recommendations for this gathering. Lest I be accused of finger pointing, I will then turn to some unproductive ways of business which are closer to home—i.e. Diocesan-level—and which also in my opinion need to go.

1.  Reduce the size of General Convention.
One bishop, one priest or deacon, and two lay people from each diocese should just about do it.  This body would meet every three years for three days to do the business work of the church.  No ecclesiastical supermarket, no special interest presentations, no banquets.  

Since it is important to have the opportunity to worship, learn, and enjoy fellowship, let’s move those activities to a new churchwide assembly or “tent meeting”  which would do no business, and which would be attended, not by deputies, but by those up-and-coming designated young leaders selected by their diocesan conventions just for this purpose.

As for bishops, we see quite enough of each other. One (shorter) meeting a year is quite enough.

2.  Limit resolutions to matters having to do with the immediate and concrete issues of faith and practice in the church.
Changing insurance plans, setting standards for ordination, or adopting a new prayer book are fine.  All other non-essential debates over such things as adding politically correct persons to the liturgical calendar, writing special liturgies for the loss of a pet, sending “feel good” political resolutions to Congress (not that they in any way care), those things should be addressed locally.

3.  Scrap the budgeting process.  
Who ever heard of an institution doing a budget by consensus?  Let the Presiding Bishop propose a budget and then have General Convention vote it up or down—as she has thankfully done just today!  It is a futile waste of time to try to fund the pet projects of every special interest group and it detracts from strategic goal-setting.  It also goes without saying that any money not spent on realizing the “Five Marks of Mission” should be on the chopping block.

4.  Dump the current mission asking.
It is effectively ignored by many dioceses anyway.  Figure out what revenue is required by the more streamlined budget, then make the mission share a flat percentage (10%?). If you don’t pay it, you don’t get to vote.  Period.  

5.  Scrap ALL boards and commissions and start over.  
They should be appointed and staffed by General Convention, and half the members should come from outside General Convention so as to encourage “outside the box” thinking.    

6.  Redefine the office of the Presiding Bishop.  
I am not among those who think that this office should or can be held by a sitting diocesan bishop, as was the case in the past.  We need a “head of state” for the Episcopal Church, particularly one like our present incumbent who has a real charism for leadership and spiritual direction.  

A bit closer to home:

1.  Reduce the number of seminaries to three (I would go for East, West, South).  
This will be hard, since each of our existing institutions is in effect its own financial fiefdom.  The graduates they turn out—and I speak from personal experience—are not exactly well-formed, either in intellectual knowledge or leadership ability.  We need scholars in the church, to be sure, but even more we need young men and women who can grow the church. This clearly is not happening, which means...

2.  Send fewer people to seminary and create more local training programs.  
This is especially important if we are to place priests and deacons in nontraditional settings—the places that will be the cutting edge of church growth.  I am looking for ways to follow the example of the African church in which a candidate for ordination is licensed as an Evangelist for an indefinite period, which includes close, local mentoring.  When that Evangelist proves his or her gifts and ability to gather new Christians, then, and only then, is that person ordained priest. You can see here that I am arguing, not for making ordination standards lower, but higher.

3.  Reduce the level of diocesan paperwork.  
Our staff is constantly looking for ways to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy.  For example, it is a waste of my time to license eucharistic ministers—their local clergy can do that.  If the Canons would permit it, I would also delegate permission for remarriage to priests-in-charge, who actually happen to know the couple!

4.  If diocesan staff work does not directly serve the needs of local congregations, get rid of it.
All our work needs to be tied to “customer service” model.  (I highly recommend the work of Russell Crabtree and his book, A Fly In the Ointment).  It should be noted, however, that unlike a business (which has the job of keeping the customer happy), our job is to help the customer be transformed to the image and likeness of Christ. Not the same thing.

Are we up to abandoning the practices that hold us back?  I am not sure, but I do know the consequences of trying to carry a lot of useless baggage. I am often reminded of the story of the Franklin Expedition of 1845.  In that year, Captain John Franklin set sail from England to find a Northwest Passage through the arctic ocean to shorten the route between Britain and the Orient.  Being a proper Englishman, he brought with him everything he thought necessary for such a trip—dress uniforms, silver tea service, tins of gourmet food, ceremonial swords, and cannons (for use on seals?).  They were so loaded down with “necessities,” that their heavy ships quickly became trapped in ice floes.  The crews tried to jettison the now useless “necessities,” only to find they had not brought along what they really needed—foul weather gear, non-perishable rations, and ropes.  All 129 crew members perished on the ice. The mission failed because it was weighed down by frivolous items which were totally unsuitable for the new environment in which they found themselves, and yet they could not, or would not, jettison them.

Drucker makes it clear that the principle of abandonment must be an ongoing task.  Without such a mindset, an institution might make radical changes but all too quickly settle back into the comfortable status quo.  If our church is to affect productive change, we will have to begin somewhere, and I suggest a thorough housecleaning.  I have my doubts that any institution— General Convention, diocese, or congregation—can really be reformed from within, but I also know that such reform is the only acceptable way forward.  Sadly, at this writing, even though there are plenty of resolutions which address restructuring, there is nothing which calls for the principle of abandonment I am talking about, although the Presiding Bishop’s offer of an alternative, mission-based budget to General Convention is a good start. To suffer a failure of nerve at this point will only serve to point our great church on a path to irrelevance and eventual collapse.  We need more than structural puttering by trimming a committee here, shaving costs there. But does this mean we must abandon all hope?  I think not.

There is still time to get the process of creative abandonment started. Furthermore, we can face such a radical restructuring with a sense of joy and excitement about the future.  As people of faith, we have seen again and again how powerfully the Holy Spirit can move in our lives when we make room for that to happen, when we let go of customs and procedures which have become familiar and comfortable—and counterproductive.  Abandoning those structures which are hopeless does not mean abandoning hope.  

*For a very readable summary of the life and work of Peter Drucker, see Jeffrey Krames, Inside Drucker’s Brain (2008).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tucson Sabbatical Adventure--Casa Mariposa

During the time I stayed in Tucson, I lived at Casa Mariposa, an "intentional" community started by the Vicar of St. Andrew's, Tucson, and her partner Carol.  There are 6 young people living in this community, all very actively involved in peace and justice issues in the community, and with providing hospitality to folks who need a place to stay for a while-- this included a woman seeking political asylum from Ethiopia and a young Mexican man just released from prison.

I was most impressed by their "Greyhound Ministry,"  Every night two of them go to the Greyhound bus station to meet a bus arriving from the immigration detention center in Eloy.  The INS simply drops off those who have been released from detention at the bus station with their belongings in a plastic bag.  Many of them have no place to go, and no money.   The Casa Mariposa folks are there to greet them with food, water, access to a phone, and if they need it, a place to stay for the night.  On Tuesday night (my last night there), they hosted two young men.  One of them was documented but was picked up anyway and held for a week!

It made me think.  Wouldn't it be great if all of our larger parishes had such a hospitality house for those in need in their community, a refugee for folks who needed temporary housing?  Everyone in the parish could help with the cooking and logistics--that now would be a ministry of hospitality!  Lack that, we can all do our best to support efforts like Casa Mariposa to provide shelter and a welcome in the name of Christ.

[Note:  This will be the last blog entry until General Convention begins next month--then look for daily updates from Indianapolis]

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tucson Sabbatical Adventure--Living Water

I stayed an extra day in Tucson so that I could a have the opportunity to join with the Samaritan organization in their efforts to drop off water in the desert for migrants making the journey north.  This might seem a simple thing to do, but it is vitally important, for over 6000 men women and children have died in the last decade making this journey.

I gained a sense of just how hard this trip can be from  my brief time yesterday.  Four of us left Tucson in the morning with 40 gallons of water in plastic jugs.  We drove for more than an hour in to rugged country near Lake Arribaca, then more driving on marginal dirt roads, until we finally parked and hiked into various drop sites to deposit the water and pick up any empty containers.  It was very hot and very difficult.  I drank at least two gallons of water myself in the 5 hours we were there, and I was well prepared and was only carrying the weight of the water!  It was hard to imagine how difficult such a trip would be for a family or for anyone not in good shape, carrying their worldly possessions.   At one site I found a homemade canteen abandoned by a migrant.  It was made from a burlap bag and plastic water bottle.  I brought it back with me as a reminder of the struggle of our brothers and sisters and the hardships they endure in their quest to support their families.

In the picture you can see Br David Buer, wearing his Franciscan habit over his jeans.  His cowl made a good head cover!  Watching him, I thought of other "desert fathers" in our tradition from hundreds of years ago.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tucson Sabbatical Adventure--disappointment

Let's start with a nice picture of San Xavier mission taken yesterday--an iconic view of whitewashed adobe walls and deep blue sky.

Now onto more substantial matters.  I finished up my work at Poverello House this morning.  We had nine clients, spent most of my time helping to make Beef Stroganoff for lunch, and doing laundry.

It was hard to leave.  I very much enjoyed my time doing basic service and getting to hear the experiences of men who are living on the street.  I don't think I will ever be able to talk to homeless men again and not see them in some way as "my guys."  I suspect I will become more involved in their plight when I get home.

The disappointment was then attending a meeting of the Secular Franciscans in the afternoon.  They seem a very nice group of people who are committed to following St Francis's example of serving the poor.  I felt that they might be a model for us as Episcopalians to be more in touch with this Gospel imperative.  The only problem is that their agenda (at least for this meeting) was all about "Obama's attack on the family", and how requiring insurance companies to provide birth control was an attack on "religious freedom."  I am sorry, but I don't buy that argument.  Nor do I think that those who support a Woman's right to chose, same-sex marriage, and birth control are out to destroy the country.  I did keep my mouth shut as a guest, even though I was invited to speak.  My mentor, Br David, whom I have great regard for, tried to steer the conversation towards the values of St Francis, but it appears the the culture wars have sidetracked even this most compassionate of Catholics.

It reminded me of a friend in New York City who said than in the last year he has received 10 letters from the Cardinal there.  Seven were about sex, and three were about church governance.  None was about the poor.

I don't want to be in the position of casting the first stone here.  Our record in the Episcopal Church of siding with the poor has not always been great, but I had somehow expected better from the admirers of the Poverello(the little poor man), St Francis.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tucson sabbatical adventure--Art at San Xavier del Bac

After cooking breakfast and doing dishes this morning at Poverello House, I drove with Br. David to the famous mission of San Xavier del Bac just south of Tucson.  This is a popular tourist attraction and one of the oldest Spanish missions in America, built in the late 1700's.  Br David was in residence here for five years, so I got a special backstage tour.  The reason for our trip however was to meet with a group of Secular Franciscans who were dedicating a new icon in the chapel of Juan Diego.  Those of you who are familiar with the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe will remember that Juan Diego was the Indian peasant to whom the BVM appeared just outside of Mexico City in the 16th Century.  He was just canonized about twenty years ago, the first indigenous person to gain the status of Saint.  The Franciscans dedicated a chapel to him, but realized not long ago that there was no image of Juan Diego there.  So they commissioned an icon for the chapel.  This was not easily done, they had only a few hundred dollars for the painting, and the artist they commissioned seemed unresponsive.  Finally, through a "friend of a friend", Br David made contact with an artist named John Giuliani, a Benedictine who had worked on the Navajo reservation.  He agreed to do the painting.  What they didn't realize was how famous Giuliani's work is.  He is internationally known for his portrayals of Biblical characters as Native Americans.  You can find his art in almost any religious bookstore.  What they got therefore was an unexpected masterpiece which they could never have afforded.  If you are ever in the vicinity of the San Xavier, be sure to stop in and see it--I am still not sure they know what a treasure they have.

So it was a day filled with both the sublime of great religious art and the down to earth work of doing the laundry of men "who have nowhere to lay their heads."

Friday, June 8, 2012

Tucson sabbatical adventure

I have been in Tucson for since Tuesday.  As part of my sabbatical leave, I wanted to spend some time working with the poor.  Like most clergy, I spent a lot of time talking about serving the poor, but don't actually do much of it.  I considered a number of ways to do this--go to a third world country, etc, but finally decided to do something in Arizona.  I meet a Franciscan friar, Br David Buer, from Tucson at the Desert House of Prayer last year who told me about Poverello House, a "respite house" for homeless men that he helped to get started.

Since PH doesn't have a place to stay (except for the manager), I am living while here at Casa Mariposa, an intentional faith community consisting of mostly young people interested in spirituality and peace and justice issues.  There are about 8 of them living in former railway worker barracks right in Old Tucson. It was begun by our youngest Episcopal Vicar in Arizona, the Rev. Kate Bradsen and her partner Carol.  They take in guests like me as well as people who have been released from detention or who are seeking political asylum.

The work at PH has gone well.  Each day, ten men come by reservation from 8-4.  The house is small and can only handle that many.  They have breakfast, do laundry, take showers, and relax in the air conditioning, we also serve lunch (usually provided by a local eatery) as well as a sack lunch for dinner.  The day is spent reading, watching tv, or rolling cigarettes and smoking outside.  I help in whatever way I can--I have washed more dishes in a few days than I think I have in my whole life put together!  I also do laundry and clean toilets,  do a little help with cooking, and of course just chat with the "clients."  Each one has an interesting story to tell.

In addition to working at PH, my "mentor" Br Buer has made sure that I learn about those working with the homeless and other justice issues in Tucson.  We attended a meeting of the Samaritans, who do water drops in the desert, attended a vigil for migrant victims, went to a rally at City Hall in support of keeping the price of bus passes low, and folded newsletters for an anti-war group.  By coincidence (or Providence) I just happen to be reading a biography of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Workers Movement, so I have become thoroughly "radicalized."  Tomorrow I will meet with some Third Order Franciscans and on Monday, go with the Samaritans on a water drop near Ajo, AZ.

My time with the Casa Mariposa folks has been great too.  In so many simple ways they are living out their faith by their simple lifestyle and passion for the forgotten people of Tucson.  As good as the food has been here (vegan mostly), I am going to treat them all to dinner tonight, they deserve it!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time to get on the plane

Today will be mostly a day of waiting. Our group got up early to get in line to go to the temple mount area, so we could see the famous Dome of the Rock mosque

. We waited two hours in line and once we got there were were allowed to stay only about 10 minutes because there had been some breach of security and the guards wanted to clear the area. (Picture of the day).

We are now waiting back at the college for our taxi to come 6 to take us to the airport for our 10.30 pm flight. When we get there we have been told to expect long lines going through checkpoints and custom searches. If all goes well we should be home in about 24 hours.

I know it will take some time to digest all we have seen and experienced. Reflecting over coffee with Laura a few minutes ago, a few things come to mind.

1. A better sense of the geography of Jesus life. Case in point, Golgotha and the empty tomb are only about 100 yard apart.

2. Radical nature of Jesus teaching. He challenged every aspect of his culture and society. He offended everybody while loving them too.

3. The simplicity of Jesus teaching. He used common and accessible images to convey his message. Preachers beware!

4. His society was incredibly violent and conflicted. Just like ours.

5. We like to think of the divine as perfection. Jesus entered fully into the messiness of reality. That is what incarnation is all about.

6. There far more expressions of Christianity than we are aware of in the
States, many are more colorful noisy and expressive than we are. Many face open persecution.

7. The situation in the middle east is much more complex and much more dangerous than we think. Every side has blood on their hands and there is little desire to compromise on anything. Our foreign policy over the years h not helped matters.

I am sure there will be many more insights as time goes on. For now, I am grateful too all of you back home for your prayers and support. It WAS a life changing experience!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Day 14 March 26

It was a long day on the bus.

It was longer for me since I got up at 5 to spend some time at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by myself before the tourists arrived. It was great walking through the narrow streets as people were just beginning the day, you could even hear the cock crowing. It was also wonderful to be in the church at that hour, apart from some monks chanting, there were only about 10 people in that whole massive building. It was a meditative way to begin the day.

At 8 we were off to Samaria on the bus. We had a long visit with the high priest of the small remaining Samaritan community on top of Mt Gerizim. THey are one of the oldest communities in the world and have the worlds oldest language and book they claim dates back to 3000 BC, but is more likely about 1000bc.

Then down off the mountain and to Sichar and the well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. The well is in a beautiful new Greek Orthodox Church presided over by Fr. Justin who designed the church and filled it with many of his own fabulous icons. Laura was in heaven (picture of the day).

The final stop was to visit a Christian community in the town of Zagbedah-St Matthews Anglican church. In spite of the different culture, parish life was much like ours, guided by an energetic young rector. The women of the church served us a traditional regional dish, chicken on top of a round pita bread topped with butter, onions, and sumac. That fortified us for a long tedious ride back to Jerusalem.

After dinner we had an excellent lecture about Islam by a young Palestinian Christian priest who is doing his doctorate at Cambridge.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day 13: March 25

It was an emotionally draining day. We began with informal Eucharist in the lecture room of the college. I celebrated and the the six members of my "family"did the rest. There are two priests,one deacon, and two laypeople in our subgroup that keeps track of each other and debriefs at the end of the day.

AFter breakfast we spent nearly 2 hours at the holocaust museum Yad Vashem, a stunning museum but emotionally gut wrenching. We we got back on the bus, no one spoke for a long time. We then visited a rabbi in a settlement on the west bank to get the Jewish perspective on the political situation in Israel then met with a young Arab leader in one of the refugee camps. Not much hope here, both sides seem unwilling to even discuss a compromise, and right now everything is overshadowed by a possible war with Iran, which will effect the entire world should it happen. We had a tour through the camp before stopping in Bethlehem for a quick lunch. (Picture of the day).

In our free time this after Laura and I explored then Jewish Quarter of the city since I was on the hunt for a tallit or prayer shawl. We had some interesting conversations with shop keepers who all seem to be originally from the States.

One of my important insights during this trip was wishing I could have experienced the Holy Land when I was 30 rather than 60. To this end, I have decided to fund some of our most promising just out of seminary clergy so they can have the benefit of this life changing experience. It will not only effect them but also their congregations over their career.


is our last full day. Most of which will be spent in the bus.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Day 11 March 24

We had a much lighter day today. Most of the morning was spent at the Sepulcher and environs. The church was very crowded so the experience want relaxing. One surprise for me is that the both Golgotha and the tomb can be contained under one roof. The best insight from the guide was that we needed to remember that Jesus is not here. " He has gone before you into Galilee.". Interestingly Eastern churches this church is known, not as the Holy Sepulcher

, but as the Church of the Resurrection.

The photo of the day is of the light coming in the central rotunda right over the tomb.

We had the afternoon off. Laura did some shopping while I visited the nearby church of St Stephen. It is on the grounds of a French institute, so I had to ring to get in a d was the only person there. A nice place to meditate on a warm afternoon.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, March 23, 2012

Day 11' March 23

The day began very early as we began the way of the cross at 5.30 AM, just as the city was waking up. It was deeply powerful to retrace Jesus' steps. There were places where we had to contend with early morning dump trucks, but also other more garden like settings. After breakfast we followed Jesus' entry into the city starting with Bethphage, The mount of Olives, Gethsemane, and later in the afternoon, Mt Zion. Out end stop was best: the new church (St Peter Gallicantu )

built over the house of the High Priest where Jesus was first tried and scourged. Underneath is the prison area where he must have been tortured. This was only unearthed in the last century so it does not have all the accumulated building on top of it.

The picture of the day is the remains of the staircase that Jesus was led up after his arrest and when was sent onto Pilate.

On a ore secular note, we had some free time before dinner so Laura and I went out for a drink at the American Colony Hotel, partly to escape the group for a while and partly to experience this great old hotel. Where else can you get a good Martini in Jerusalem?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jordan river video

Jordan River

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Day 10 March 22, Back to Jerusalem

We left the excellent accommodations at Pilgerhaus at 7.30 in order to get to Mt Tabor before the crowds. When we arrived we had to switch to small shuttles for the hairpin climb to the top. We had a terrific view, and I picked up a small rock from the ruins of the old church to bring back to the Church of the Transfiguration in Mesa,and also one for my newborn third cousin named Tabor.

We made some interesting stops along the way, but the highlight was the spot at the Jordan river where Jesus was baptized. Until a few months ago this was on a closed military base, but it has been opened up and many churches are in the process of putting up new building around the ancient ruins. Even at full flood, the river is only about 15 feet wide and we could talk to the pilgrims just across from us on the Jordanian side.

Picture of the day is us at the Jordan. I will also try to put up some video later.

After some shopping in Jericho,we have now arrived back at the college.

The only downside of the trip is that about 2/3 of the folks are sick with a terrible cough. The bus sounds like the bronchitis ward. So far Laura and I have been

spared this plague.

Tomorrow stations of the cross at 5.30 AM

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 9: March 21: Galilee and Golan

We began today with the springs at Banyas, an ancient pagan temple site where Cesarea Philipii was built. This polytheistic backdrop was the place where Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am?". There were hundreds of Jewish school kids there on the first day of spring holiday, not for Christian reasons but to see the ancient temples. This is also the source of the Jordan river.

Then it was high up Mt Hermon to visit a tiny Christian community and have some local apples and fruit, no tourists here! That is the picture of the day. A drive through war ravaged Golan Hight's,

at times within yards of the Syrian border, brought us back to the Sea for lunch. Then to my favorite spot of the day,the area where Jesus healed the Geresene demoniac whose name was Legion. I've discovered that I like the places which have the fewest tourists.

A late afternoon boat ride was great fun, and very meaningful when the captain cut the engine and we floated quietly for a few minutes around the same place that Jesus stilled the storm, although we had nearly perfect weather.

But of all our experiences today, our early morning Eucharist on the lakeside topped the list. During the sermon, a fisherman came along shore casting his nets, just like 2000 years ago.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saw a lot today but a highlight was a boat ride on the sea of Galilee.

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Eucharist by the lake

We had Eucharist by the sea of Galilee this morning. Off shore a fisherman was casting his nets within yards of where Jesus called his disciples.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Day 8: March 20. Galilee

We saw so much today, it is hard to keep it all straight. We began with at stop at Cana where our guide helped to put the wedding at Cana in social perspective. Afterwards, I did a short renewal of marriage vows service for anyone who wanted. The it was onto Galilee where we visited a number of sites: The site of the sermon the mount. After visited the church we took ashore hike down the mountain through much new green spring growth and learned to identify "the lilies of the field", and "the wheat and the tares". It was great to get away from the tourist crowds and walk in the same landscape that Jesus did. That is the picture of the day. Later we visited the site of the feeding of the five thousand, and Peter's confession, "feed my sheep", after the resurrection. The day ended with a visit to Capherum, to see the Synagogue where Jesus shocked his listeners, and Peter's house.

The biggest surprise for me was to see how close all these sites were to Jesus's home base, all within a few mile radius. Unlike the settled sites where churches are, this is the same ground Jesus trod without the layers of rubble and buildings on the urban sites.

We are now settled in for two nights at the Pilgerhaus, A very modern hostel right on the Sea of Galilee. Our lodging in Nazareth last night was historic, but we are looking forward to a warm room and a hot shower!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Galilee video

Our guide gives us a sermon on the mount

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, March 19, 2012

On quick picture before signing off

It is late here, but wanted to share with you a picture of my most moving experience so far. Thanks to the connections of our guide, we were able to visit the excavated ruined under a covent in Nazareth which is closed to the public. Here there is the remains of one of 40 or so houses that comprised the village in Jesus time. The sister who guided us, who is an archeologist, reminded us that with such a small village Jesus must have been in this house at sometime as he grew up and spent time with his neighbors. The other great find in this dig was the discovery of a first century tomb, complete with a rolled stone blocking the door. This must have been what Jesus tomb in Jerusalem must have looked like. it was very moving to be deep underground in this spot with no other tourists, just our little group.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad