Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Group Intelligence

The following article is about the way groups function. The research tends to show that groups, who value collaboration, tend to function at a higher level than individuals. The article also addresses our persistent tendency to focus on the functioning of the individual. I believe individuals can make a difference in any organization to the extent that there is a guiding vision, and that vision incorporates and takes seriously other members of the team.

The simple approach of organizations is often grounded in finding the "right" leader. I believe it is more complicated. The "how" of leadership is probably as important as the attributes of the individual. This is an important lesson for the Church.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent and The Second Letter of Peter

The New Testament reading at Morning Prayer, yesterday, came from the first chapter of The Second Letter of Peter. It begins with a reflection on the grace and righteousness offered through Jesus our Lord. The central theme of the opening bit is that God has given us what we need for life and godliness, but it quickly expands upon that theme, considering an appropriate response.

Our response to God's gift of life can either frustrate of facilitate our participation in the divine will. The Second Letter of Peter offers an interesting and useful way of considering our response, "You must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love." I think we are meant to be in mind of virtue, and the development of virtue, grounded in love. This development is about growing in love and faithfulness. It is a continuous circle.

As we approach the end of our Advent observance, I hope we recognize the unique nature of the gift we are being offered, and that our reception sparks something profound and significant. We are called to appreciate Jesus as the unique, sufficient and complete revelation of the divine love and will. Appreciation is only the beginning of the process of a full and rich appropriation and participation in the life of God, the coming of the Kingdom and the transformation of our hearts and minds. It is all grounded in love.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I like Thanksgiving for all sorts of reasons. I love the story. My first public performance was as a character in a kindergarten Thanksgiving play. I was Squanto, the fellow who introduced the pilgrims to corn. (disclaimer: I know nothing of the historical accuracy of my brief stage role.) I also enjoy the gathering of friends and family. I enjoy the food, the travel and the general pace of the holiday.

It may very well be the shift in activity level around the Thanksgiving holiday that resonates with me. It is something of a conscious shift. We become active in affirming what we hold dear. We proactively consider who we are, what we have and to whom we belong.

Of course, it can also be a difficult time for many. In listing the blessings, we note that through the passage of time and by reason of loss, some of the blessings of our lives seem inaccessible. Few are free of this reality. We, however, are a people filled with trust. We receive gifts and we give gifts, knowing from whom they come.

Blessings upon you.


I am very much looking forward to the “quiet morning” we are hosting at St. Columba’s. Time marked by silence and contemplation is an important piece of the spiritual life. Seeking God in silence is probably one of the most neglected forms of prayer. It may be that we don’t know quite what to do in the silence. It may be that we don’t like what we hear in the silence.

Please don’t let potential discomfort or fear keep you away. Please allow me to offer you a few suggestions about engaging the silence.

First, choose a simple word of phrase that has the capacity to gently capture your attention. It could be a simple and short line from the Bible. It could be a word or phrase from one of the meditations that will be available at the “ quiet morning.” It could be any word or phrase that focuses you.

Internally, repeat the word. When you start thinking about work, repeat the word and let work go. When you think of your grocery list, repeat the word. When you think of some perceived slight, repeat the word. Let your word help you push extraneous thoughts gently from your attention.

Finally, be aware of the silence and listen to it. What is happening as you become attentive to the silence? What do you hear in the silence?

If you are not able to be with us on the “quiet morning,” you can employ the simple method above wherever you are. Use it whenever you are able. Twenty minutes is a good starting point. Twice a week is a fine beginning.

In closing, I leave you with a snippet from 1 Kings. The prophet Elijah was beaten down and in need of God’s presence. God was found in the sheer silence.

1Kings 19:11   He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thinking Big

We are in the midst of our annual stewardship campaign. We are seeking pledges to build a budget and accomplish all our goals as a parish. The pledge is our primary vehicle of support, but I want to share some interesting thoughts from Harriet Dicicco, our junior warden. She is thinking big!

And something to grow on….

Participating in our community – be it Wednesday or Sunday worship services in our Chapel, the events and meetings in our Parish Hall or elsewhere – I am drawn to the many ways in which God moves, works and is celebrated.

Certainly, God is celebrated in tangible ways in our physical site. The stained glass windows. The organ. The trees. We all hear comments about our church’s beauty, about the special spiritual ambiance of our chapel.

And I watch God at work through us in our Parish Hall. A physical space whose value lies in the more intangible - enabling community to come together to work, to socialize, to support, to learn – at times for parishioners and other times, for our larger community.

And I think about how God moves each of us to become more fully His disciples and to use our time, talent and treasures to create a world which honors and practices His tenets. Assuredly, we are able to do some of this on our own but I have found that my faith is strengthened and clarified when I am a part of a community. And so, it is timely to reflect on how I can give to that community and to myself.

Certainly our pledges are the backbone of ‘operating’ St. Columba’s on a daily basis – our ‘meat and potatoes’ – feeding ourselves, our souls by ensuring that we have a place where we come together and a rector and staff to see to our needs. Our pledges are monies to operate on.

But what about ‘dessert’? What about monies to grow on? Monies that we may give but may never see used. What about those?

There are many members of our community whose gifts we are enjoying though they are no longer with us. Thanks to the Jelke Family, we have an organ and the ability to hear, and for some, sing in praise of God and His works.

The Harold Brooke Family ensures that we are able to nurture our property.

Parishioners’ generosity enable us to enjoy our stained glass windows….and the ever-changing light which filters through them throughout the seasons– a reminder for us of God’s ability to light us and our lives.

And think of those who contributed to the campaign for the Parish Hall….

So many people have provided us with ‘dessert’ because they contributed monies to grow on.

I would love to be able to provide a dessert on the scale of crème brulee…but I am not going to wait until I can. For now, in addition to my weekly pledge for monies to operate on, I also contribute separate monies for dessert. Granted, my dessert is more on the scale of the chocolate chip cookie or the cupcake. But, for me what matters is the sharing towards something not yet envisioned, something that may make a difference to a person or people I may never meet. Something that will, in some way, help people and a community to connect with God.

I invite you to think about dessert. About making a contribution beyond your weekly pledge. Monies to grow on.

God is about community, communities. Each one of us may contribute the equivalent of a cupcake – but when we put these cupcakes all together – ah, just think of what an amazing dessert we can create.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Vestry

As we approach our annual meeting at St. Columba’s we are working on plans, budgets and yes, the vestry election. The vestry and the work the vestry accomplishes in a parish are important. We all know the vestry is about the business of the parish. Traditionally this has meant things financial. If you read the canons, they set up a dichotomy between things spiritual and things financial. The clergy handle spiritual and the vestry handle temporal.

I am not sure the split has ever been a terribly helpful way of approaching parish ministry. The separation of spiritual and temporal strikes me as artificial and patently false. Conceptually, the separation conspires to make the vestry like any other board, and I don’t believe that is meet or right.

At St. Columba’s, the vestry and clergy work together to shape and enliven the ministry of our church. Our spiritual commitment dictates how we do our business, because the Spirit is at our core. At each vestry meeting, a member of the vestry offers an opening reflection. It has been an important way to know one another and remember what we are about as a vestry. Members of the vestry often speak of what they have gained through their service.

I see the vestry as a group of spiritual leaders, gathered to do the work of the Church. We are responsible for the physical aspects of the life of the community. The life of the Church is about much more than buildings and budgets. We seek to be faithful.

The red doors on the church symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit. Clergy and vestry seek the Spirit’s presence in our parish. I hope you will consider offering your gifts for the service of your parish.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

In the sermon Sunday, I explored the significance of the identity of the “grateful leper.” He was a Samaritan and a leper, a double outcast, but was the surprising source of thanks. I think this is the critical focus of this passage from Luke.

The sermon could have taken a number of directions; it is a rich text! There is certainly something here about responding to grace and healing. The “grateful leper” received the same restoration as the other lepers, the same gift of life and new health, but he alone stops to recognize God as the source of it. His act of thanks marks a greater awareness of the significance of his healing. He was readmitted to society free of leprosy, so he was restored to relationship with his fellow humans, and his giving thanks to Jesus signified right relationship to God.

Gratitude is a powerful and central feature of all healthy relationships. Expressed appreciation communicates to others the meaningful nature of their gifts to us. How do we offer God our gratitude for all the blessings of this life? What do you offer God in the name of expressed appreciation?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Foundation of Rock

In preparation for St. Columba’s annual pledge campaign, I have been thinking a great deal about the role of stewardship in my own life. It is very easy to lump my pledge to the Church into the realm of philanthropy. I think philanthropy is different, and I want us to consider the differences.

How often do we receive solicitations to contribute to a worthy cause? There are countless organizations that come to us, whose appeals are rooted in the good work they do. They often show us budgets and show us a percentage of administrative costs in an effort to highlight their prudence and effectiveness. Our decision to give usually hinges on our agreement with expressed values and work. Our gifts to nonprofits are a function of the organization.

I see my pledge to the Church in a very different way. My pledge isn’t as much about the organization as it is about me. My contributions to the Church are a function of how I understand myself in relationship to the Gospel. Am I person grounded in the teachings of Jesus, seeking to love God, love my neighbor and bring about the kingdom? I seek to be faithful in stewardship because I am seeking to be faithful to God and my calling as a disciple. The followers of Jesus pooled resources in an effort to care for one another because it said something about who they were.

Stewardship is about who we are at heart. It is about what resides at our core, our foundation. My prayer is that you will consider our campaign theme, “A Foundation of Rock,” and consider your core identity, your foundation as a follower of our Risen Lord.

Chris +

Matthew 7:24-27

24 "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell--and great was its fall!"

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Suffering and the Search for Answers

As we approach the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, I feel my own anxiety build. The memories of that day are unpleasant, to put it mildly. As Americans, we came face to face with our vulnerability. We witnessed tragic loss of life at home. Despite our best efforts, justice is incomplete. The whole thing feels unresolved.

Some events are never finished. They might recede into the background and become less overwhelming, but they are always present. 9/11 is such an event. Given the nature of this anniversary, how do we respond?

I think a kind of holy recall is possible to mark the loss and horror of that day. We remember to honor and hold dear what was lost, life and perspective. We remember in prayer those who died, received injuries and those who live with grief.

We often hear questions about the presence of God in the midst of tragedy and suffering. God was certainly present at the World Trade Center. No horror or tragedy is sufficient to cause God to flee, not even a seemingly senseless execution. A better question might be leveled. What does the resurrection faith of the Church demand?

As followers of Jesus, we press forward to a new day, bolstered by his promise of the kingdom. The Bible is full of images illustrating the kingdom, like the lion resting with the lamb and swords beaten into plowshares. The response of faith is working with God to bring about a time and place, where hatred doesn’t move women and men to act, but love.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


In a recent conversation with a trusted friend, the subject of faith was introduced. The introduction had to do with faith speaking directly to daily life. Faith in the midst of life is all too often ignored in favor of faith’s other meanings.

Faith in popular parlance tends to be associated with believing the unbelievable, or believing something without evidence. While faith has this connotation, I think it misses the real core of the Gospel. The scriptures offer a more nuanced view of faith.

The Letter to the Hebrews describes faith as, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This well-quoted line illustrates the multivalent nature of faith. Faith is part investment in a future hope within the context of the unrealized present.

The Letter to the Hebrews goes on to list many examples of faith. Abraham is chief among them. Abraham leaves all that he knows, family and land, to embrace a promise made by God. Abraham wasn’t stepping off a cliff into nothingness, but was moving into a future that he couldn’t completely grasp. The obedience of Abraham is a sign of his trust in God for his life and the future generations of his family. Abraham’s faith is manifest in his trust that his life is intertwined with the life of God.

Our practice of faith is not unlike that of Abraham. We are not promised that every moment will be bliss, if we believe in God. We are not promised an easy or successful life, if we follow Jesus and keep his commandments. Faith is trust that our lives are bound to the life and love of God.

Faith is seeing life in the security of God’s love. Faith is recognizing and appreciating the moments of obvious intersection, when our lives collide with the life of God. Faith is trusting in the midst of the uncertain, unfolding future that we are inextricably bound to God and the Kingdom. I need that faith, everyday.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Guest Preacher

This Sunday at St. Columba's we will have Father Gary Lemery with us. He will be the preacher at all Sunday morning services. Father Lemery has been active in the Diocese of Rhode Island in a number of significant ways. He is the retired rector of Transfiguration, Cranston. He is a board member of Episcopal Charities. Father Lemery also has taken an active role in disaster preparedness, works in chaplaincy with the airport and local fire and police departments. He was a first responder at the Station nightclub fire.

It will be a great Sunday. Plan to join us!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Outdoor Service and Parish Picnic

We have been trying to have an outdoor service at St. Columba’s for the last several years, but the weather hasn’t cooperated. This past Sunday everything came together and it worked. We had a huge crowd, too big to fit in the church. Special thanks to our parish life committee, Duane and Paula Sousa for hosting and all those who brought food or helped with clean-up. It was a great event because we gathered, and were ready to share in the fun.

The Gospel text for Sunday included the Lord’s Prayer from Luke. The focus of the sermon was the prayer. You can watch the sermon via the YouTube player at the bottom of this page.

One of my points had to do with “our daily bread.” In one sense, Jesus is talking about what we need for physical life, and encouraging us to trust God with those real needs. I think Jesus is talking about more than the physical realm. In the New Testament, bread is not just bread, but also a sign of God’s presence. It is Eucharist, Jesus’ ongoing, spiritually-sustaining presence in the sacramental community.

We started our Sunday with the Eucharist, the official celebration of Jesus’ presence in our midst. The picnic followed. It was a celebration of the presence of Jesus in our midst as well. When the community assembles, Jesus is with us.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Good Read

When I travel, I like to read historical fiction set in the place I plan to visit. Since I was to be in the U. K., Wolf Hall seemed a good choice. It turned out to be a great choice.

Author, Hilary Mantel approaches the turbulent time of Henry VIII through the eyes of those around him, most particularly Thomas Cromwell. Having some knowledge of English history around the reign of Henry VIII, I was able to enjoy Mantel’s marvelous development of characters like Cromwell, Wolsey and Cranmer. Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn leap off the page and spring to life. The novel gives the reader an appreciation for the humanity of those who would forever alter the course of England and Christianity.

Wolf Hall is well-researched and captures the confusion and nuances of the debates and the times. While we may never grasp with absolute certainty the complete motivation of the various individuals involved, Mantel presents the individuals in a credible fashion. One is left with a sense of complex people, living in a complex time, seeking to secure a vision of the future.

In a way, Wolf Hall made me appreciate the present. We are complex. Our world is complex. The future is out there, and there are competing visions for it.

I love a good read. For me, a good read always frames more questions. The debates in Wolf Hall are about the nature of marriage, Church, state, Catholic and Protestant. The answers to those questions shaped the world in which we live. What are the questions, we face, that will alter the course of history for the next 500 years?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What I did on my Summer Holiday

Having just returned from three weeks in the U.K., I am still processing much of the experience. Part of the holiday was pure leisure and touring, but a significant piece of it, about a week, was trailing after the vicar of St. John's Wood, the Rev’d Anders Bergquist. Last summer, I hosted Fr. Bergquist for a week to explore the Episcopal Church. My week at St. John’s Wood was the culmination of our reciprocal visits. It was that work that has provided much food for thought.

There are a fair number of similarities between our respective parish churches. The churches are roughly of similar vintages. The casual observer recognizes the shared roots of worship forms. While St. John’s Wood is much more ethnically diverse, the demographics around age are similar. Both churches are fortunate to have attractive buildings, but St. John’s Wood is situated in an urban area, while St. Columba’s is in a more bucolic setting.

One major difference, one that has serious implications for ministry, is the concept of a parish. Fr. Bergquist took me for a long walk on my first day. We actually walked much of the parish boundaries. I daresay most Americans think of the words parish and church as roughly interchangeable, meaning a building or group of people dedicated to a finite religious community. Fr. Bergquist has responsibilities to those who live within the confines of his parish, even if they are not part of his church.

The assumptions related to boundaries have interesting implications. On the one hand, focused boundaries are the stuff of community, and foster a sense of responsibility and communicate expectations about belonging. Boundaries create identification, definition and norms that grow out of core values. Boundaries are important.

Boundaries can obviously be barriers to engagement and interaction. Boundaries run amok are not useful parameters, but are closed doors. Maybe, it is a matter of degree.

One stop I particularly enjoyed was an after-school program. The kids there spanned many neighborhoods. They were of many races and religious backgrounds. Fr. Bergquist takes a keen interest in the place, because it is a place in his parish where so many different members of his parish gather.

Can our parishes be more?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I am off for a few weeks of holiday and a bit of business tacked on at the end. We start with a visit to the country house of some of Laura’s ancestors in an English village, Malvern. It is called Madresfield Court, if you are interested. Then, we will make our way to Iona, the Scottish locale of our own St. Columba. Finally, we finish in London. There I will be reconnecting with the Vicar of St. John’s Wood, Anders Bergquist. Many of you will remember Father Bergquist’s visit, his talk about the English Church and preaching. This is my reciprocal visit to his parish. You might also remember that the Church of St. John's Wood is the parish of Peter and Pat Jefferys. They are kind to host us for part of our London Stay. It will be a bit of vacation and a bit of work. You will be led by the Rt. Rev. David Joslin, Father Green and Father Bolles. Have a great beginning of the season and welcome back all our summer friends!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Gifts of The Spirit

I think the Holy Spirit is difficult to conceptualize in comparison to God the Father and Jesus. God and Jesus both offer us somewhat concrete images that have some resonance, even if those images are rooted more in imagination than reality. In common parlance, a spirit denotes the absence of form. We speak of the human spirit as distinct from the body. The Holy Spirit is described as a rush of wind, breath or a divided tongue of fire, whatever that looks like.

Since the Holy Spirit defies description of form or shape, perhaps we should try another direction. What does the Holy Spirit do? I am not advocating a reduction of the Spirit to function beyond relationship with God and Christ. I am suggesting we look to the tradition to point us in the direction of the work of the Spirit.

Our friends at Wickipedia offer a useful summary of the tradition:

The seven gifts are enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3, and conforms to the Latin Vulgate[1], which takes the list from the Septuagint [2].
Here are the names of the seven gifts, as given[2] in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with a description of each gift, as defined[3] by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica:
  • Wisdom - With the gift of wisdom, we see God at work in our lives and in the world. For the wise person, the wonders of nature, historical events, and the ups and downs of our lives take on deeper meaning. The matters of judgment about the truth, and being able to see the whole image of God. Lastly being able to see God in everyone and everything everywhere.
  • Understanding - With the gift of understanding, we comprehend how we need to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. A person with understanding is not confused by all the conflicting messages in our culture about the right way to live. The gift of understanding perfects a person's speculative reason in the apprehension of truth. It is the gift whereby self-evident principles are known, Aquinas writes.[4]
  • Counsel (right judgment) - With the gift of counsel/right judgment, we know the difference between right and wrong, and we choose to do what is right. A person with right judgment avoids sin and lives out the values taught by Jesus. The gift of truth that allows the person to respond prudently, and happily to believe our Christ the Lord
  • Fortitude (Courage) - With the gift of fortitude/courage, we overcome our fear and are willing to take risks as a follower of Jesus Christ. A person with courage is willing to stand up for what is right in the sight of God, even if it means accepting rejection, verbal abuse, or even physical harm and death. The gift of courage allows people the firmness of mind that is required both in doing good and in enduring evil, especially with regard to goods or evils that are difficult.
  • Knowledge - With the gift of knowledge, we understand the meaning of God's Revelation, especially as expressed in the life and words of Jesus Christ. A person with knowledge is always learning more about the scriptures and tradition. The gift of knowledge is more than an accumulation of facts.
  • Piety (Reverence) - With the gift of reverence, sometimes called piety, we have a deep sense of respect for God and the church. A person with reverence recognizes our total reliance on God and comes before God with humility, trust, and love. Piety is the gift whereby, at the Holy Spirit's instigation, we pay worship and duty to God as our Father, Aquinas writes.
  • Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe) - With the gift of fear of the Lord we are aware of the glory and majesty of God. A person with wonder and awe knows that God is the perfection of all we desire: perfect knowledge, perfect goodness, perfect power, and perfect love. This gift is described by Aquinas as a fear of separating oneself from God. He describes the gift as a "filial fear," like a child's fear of offending his father, rather than a "servile fear," that is, a fear of punishment. Also known as knowing God is all powerful. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7) because it puts our mindset in its correct location with respect to God: we are the finite, dependent creatures, and He is the infinite, all-powerful Creator.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I have made a serious commitment of late. A few weeks ago, I made my way to Island Books to purchase a new volume on the history of Christianity by Diarmaid MacCulloch. He is the author of a number of marvelous reads, especially his biography of Thomas Cranmer, an Archbishop of Canterbury, who continues to speak to us through The Book of Common Prayer. Reading MacCulloch is a commitment, not because it is difficult or uninteresting, quite the opposite, but because his books are expansive, read “long” here.

This book is titled Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. I have only begun, but relish stolen moments to imbibe MacCulloch’s careful prose and sweeping sense of the confluence of historical movements. We begin at 1000 BCE to examine how Greek and Roman culture intersect with Semitic thought to be the backdrop for Christianity. MacCulloch presents the essential threads and combines them in such a way, that the attentive reader grasps a sense of the significance of context and a given epistemology.

The subtitle is an optimistic wink. If we are Christians, we are caught within the current of our own time. We are inheritors of a tradition of Christian thought and praxis. What will the next thousand years look like?

NYT Review

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Good Questions

In the Diocese of Rhode Island, we are in the midst of a conscious exploration of our mission priorities. It is not so much an assessment of current efforts as an opportunity to reflect on personal experience. I think it will be interesting. There is a gathering at St. Columba’s at 6:30 on Wednesday, May 5th. I hope many will participate. If that is not possible, I offer the questions for consideration and inspiration.

-What were you doing in relation to Church work/service/ministry, when you felt most passionate and alive in the Spirit?

-What do we want to do together as RI Episcopalians?

-What do we/can we do together that we can’t do alone?

-Tell us your best ministry experience.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Keepers of the Story

I suspect most of us see a cemetery and think about the past. We think about life lived, but mostly about life ended. A cemetery evokes a sense of finality.

Of course, this is all true, but it is just a single dimension of the cemetery. At St. Columba’s, our churchyard is a cemetery. For us it is a sign of life and hope. Here, in the midst of the Great Fifty Days of Easter we remember that death is not the end, but a mark of life changed. The empty tomb of Jesus means that our tombs will be empty as well.

Each marker in our churchyard is a life and a story. Our churchyard holds those that have gone before us. We are now keepers of their stories.

I want to thank our churchyard committee for the work they do, and share one story they are keeping.

Varick Frissell

Birth: Aug. 29, 1903
Death: Mar. 15, 1931

Motion Picture Director. The son of a wealthy banker, he grew up in New York's Upper East Side and studied at Yale. He became interested in filmaking after seeing "Nanook of the North" (1922) and meeting its director, Robert Flaherty. On the strength of two short documentaries, "The Lure of Labrador" (1926) and "The Swilin' Racket" (1928), Frissell got backing from Paramount Pictures for a feature, "The Viking,“ the first talkie to be shot entirely in Canada. The production was fraught with hardships and took up most of 1930. On March 9, 1931, Frissell, cameraman Alexander G. Penrod, and two assistants joined the crew of the Canadian sealing ship Viking and sailed from Newfoundland to complete second-unit filming. Six days later the ship exploded and sank off the coast of Horse Island, killing Frissell, Penrod, and 25 others. It was one of the worst disasters in Hollywood history. "The Viking" was completed by director George Melford. Frissell's remains were never recovered but a cenotaph was placed for him at the Berkeley Chapel Churchyard in Middletown, Rhode Island. His life and the doomed voyage of the S. S. Viking were the subject of an award-winning documentary, "White Thunder" (2002). (bio by: Robert Edwards)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jon Meacham on National Day of Prayer

“The Founders understood this. Washington said we should give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance"; according to the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the Senate and signed by John Adams, "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Jefferson said that his statute for religious freedom in Virginia was "meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination." There are many precedents for the National Day of Prayer, but serious believers, given the choice between a government-sanctioned religious moment and the perpetuation of a culture in which religion can take its own stand, free from the corruptions of the world, should always choose the garden of the church over the wilderness of the world. It is, after all, what Jesus did.”

Entire Entry

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Not long ago, I had a conversation with a friend about a particular situation. We talked through the issue and all the related issues. My friend ended the conversation by saying, “All we can do now is pray.”

There is something in that final line that gives me pause. It makes it sound like prayer is something that happens when all other avenues are exhausted. There is nothing else to do, so now we pray. This completely misses the heart of prayer.

Prayer is about inviting God’s presence into a situation. In this season of the resurrection, we mark that God is alive, bringing new life and active in life. Prayer is intentionally inviting God to be part of our lives, naming our needs and sharing our hopes. We pray to know God, and to allow God to know us.

In the Prayers of the People on Sundays, there are a couple of openings for individuals to offer prayers. One petition is an opportunity to name blessings. There is great power in naming something as a blessing and sharing the blessing with the community.

The other two petitions are invitations to name those that need our prayers and who have died. These petitions invite God’s presence and help, but are also signs of trust. God cares and cares for us, forever.

I hope you will consider the situations in life where you would like to invite God. I hope you will share them in worship with the community that exists to proclaim God’s presence and care. Help us know, trust and see.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Bishop

See that you all follow the Bishop, as Christ does the Father, and the presbyterium as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as a command of God. Let no one do anything connected with the Church without the Bishop. Let that be considered a certain [βεβαια, "valid"] eucharist which is under the leadership of the Bishop, or one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the Bishop appears, there let the multitude of the people be; just as where Christ Jesus is, there is the catholic church. It is not permitted with the Bishop either to baptize or to celebrate an agape; but whatever he shall approve of, that is well-pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be assured and certain [βέβαιον].

—St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. 111 AD, Letter to the Smyrneans 8

Ignatius was a bishop, apologist and architect of the Church. Ignatius’ writings are still read and studied in conjunction with the history and structure of the Church. The quote above is an often-cited endorsement of the Episcopate (bishops).

In our day, many think of bishops as administrators at the top of a hierarchy or bureaucracy. The view of the office has been diminished by consideration of mere practical function. Ignatius is saying something much bigger and more significant.

Ignatius is focused of the role of the bishop as a sign of apostolic ministry, deriving authority from Christ and dispensing authority throughout the orders of ministry, resident within the Church. Ignatius is concerned with structure and leadership, yes, but the quote from Ignatius has a strong sacramental component. Within our branch of the Church, bishops imbue the sacramental life of the Church with the apostolic authority Jesus entrusted the apostles.

Bishop Wolf will be with us Sunday. The Bishop will be with us as the principal of the diocese, but much more important, the Bishop will be with us as the embodiment of the apostolic ministry.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Tuesday

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Monday

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Feast of the Resurrection

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Holy Saturday

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Good Friday

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Maundy Thursday

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect for Wednesday of Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Collect for Tuesday of Holy Week

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Passion Week

Last Sunday, during the parish notices, I offered an exhortation to be present for as much of Holy Week as possible. The various liturgies that comprise the Church’s observance make the final week of Jesus’ life, and the events that lead to his death, come alive. We experience and appropriate the drama of salvation as we follow our Lord in his story. In the following, it becomes our shared story.

One of my favorite aspects of Holy Week is the liturgy of the hours from noon to 3pm. After each of the meditations, a series of collects is prayed. Many of the collects come from the proper Good Friday liturgy found on page 276 of the BCP. The collects are from among the most ancient collects the Church possesses. For a bit of history related to the Solemn Collects, click Solemn Collects.

My favorite Solemn Collect follows. I think it captures the heart of Holy Week and the heart of the Gospel.

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Part of Something Bigger

My brand of piety is marked by an appreciation of timelessness and continuity. I remember standing in Arches National Monument and having a profound sense of being, at the same time, connected to the world and being but a small piece of it. The feast of All Saints’ does a similar thing to me. I know I am part of something bigger, taking my place, and following a long train of faithful disciples.

At Morning Prayer today, we read a portion of chapter 11 from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. It contains the “Words of Institution,” Jesus’ words from the Last Supper. The formula is embedded in our eucharistic prayers.

Jesus’ words echo in my head, reminding me that I am united with people across the ages. My obligation is the same as Christians past. I gather with Jesus’ present followers and remember. Jesus is made known to us in the breaking of the bread, and always will be. Our charge is to live, shaped by Jesus’ risen life.

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1 Cor 11:23-26

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Christian Community

The main aspect of Resident Aliens that resonates with me is the robust view of the Church. Hauerwas and Willimon reject a vision of Church confined to making good citizens. The Church gathers around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, not simply to remember, but to live it. The Church is the Kingdom community. Hauerwas and Willimon implore the Church to embrace her unique vocation.

Their view is rigorous. Below is a quote on the nature of Christian community.

“Christian community, life in the colony, is not primarily about togetherness. It is about the way of Jesus Christ with those he calls to himself. It is about disciplining our wants and needs in congruence with a true story, which gives us the resources to lead truthful lives. In living out the story together, togetherness happens, but only as a by-product of the main project of trying to be faithful to Jesus.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

From Resident Aliens

So much of the journey of faith is thought to be movement from the abstract to the personal. Growth is not about understanding a principle or a set of beliefs. Faith is about seeing yourself within a living, developing story. A few weeks into Lent, I offer this quote to consider.

“Early Christians, interestingly, began not with creedal speculation about the metaphysics of the Incarnation-that is, Christology abstracted from the Gospel accounts. They began with stories about Jesus, about those whose lives got caught up in his life. Therefore, in a more sophisticated and engaging way, by the very form of their presentation, the Gospel writers were able to begin training us to situate our lives like his life. We cannot know Jesus without following Jesus. Engagement with Jesus, as the misconceptions of the first disciples show, is necessary to understand Jesus. In a sense, we follow Jesus before we know Jesus. Furthermore, we know Jesus before we know ourselves.”
                                                                                  (pg. 55)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


In preparation for our Lenten Book study, I have been re-reading Resident Aliens. I think I read it the first time back in 1996. Though it had a certain shock value on that first read, now I take for granted much of the perspective of Hauerwas and Willimon.

Resident Aliens is largely about the cultural shifts of the last 40 years. The Church is no longer protected or promoted by western culture. The Church no longer “owns” Sunday. Sabbath is a concept that has been largely lost. Physical plants built for settled neighborhoods are populated by a communities of transients. How does the Church, built for a day gone by, adapt to remain faithful in the present? Maybe the compromised role of the Church in society was not a good thing anyway? Did we build an institution to the detriment of forming followers of Jesus? These are important questions.

There is one image from the preface that strikes me of being of supreme importance. It is the follower of Jesus as a lonely alien, living in a world consumed by concerns that conflict with covenant faithfulness. Isolation and loneliness devolve into self-righteousness or self-hate. Christians live in supportive relationships, marked by countless reminders that we are not alone. God is with us. Friendship is not, therefore, accidental to the Christian life. (pg 13)

If we are to answer our several callings, if we are to practice faithfulness, if we are to be the people of God in this world, it will be together in community.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


There are numerous methods of meditation that exist within Christian tradition. Some rely upon words or phrases from scripture to focus the attention. This type of prayer is generally know as lectio divina. It is about praying with the Bible. Others make use of a sacred word for repetition, that might be scriptural but not necessarily so, to dispense with distractions. This is generally referred to as “Centering Prayer.”

This Lent, I find myself attracted to a form of prayer put forth by St. Ignatius of Loyola. This type of prayer is about calling to mind a scene and becoming a participant in that scene. Using the scriptures makes sense, but isn’t required. It is possible to picture an event in Church history, or an event from the life of a particular saint. Through entering the scene, the supplicant is brought to a deeper experience of the theological significance of an event. This type of meditation can yield a deeper, personal connection that leads to direction.

Here is a a brief framework to begin an exploration of the methodology of St. Ignatius. Twenty minutes should prove a good start.

1-Begin with a brief prayer of intention and invocation of God’s assistance. Using the same prayer over a season is ideal. It should become familiar and facilitate your entrance into the meditation. “God of grace open my heart and mind to you. Visit me this day that I may know your presence and follow where you lead.”

2-Choose a scene related to your desire for the meditation. I am in a process of self-examination, so I am visualizing Peter and Jesus beside the lake, post-resurrection, when Jesus instructs Peter to “Feed my sheep.” Soak up the scene. What do you see? What other senses are employed? Visualize it and place yourself within it.

3-What is offered you in this scene? What grabs you and seems to be for you? How do you relate to the other characters present? Is one of them speaking to you? What do you do with the experience? I engage with Jesus’ connection of loving him and tending his sheep. I plumb the personal depths of what that means for me.

4-Close with the Lord’s Prayer.

This outline is only a starting point, loosely based on my read of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I am certain there are better explications and formats. My only desire is to offer a simple approach to exploration of this method of meditation.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ash Wednesday

I love Ash Wednesday. That may sound like a strange statement to make about the day that marks the beginning of Lent. It is a stark day that invokes themes most of us would rather avoid.

We begin with the Collect for Ash Wednesday:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Phrases like, “lamenting our sins” and “acknowledging our wretchedness” do not create the warm religious feeling most of us think the Gospel embodies. The readings shine a light on religious hypocrisy. The liturgical centerpiece of the day is the imposition of ashes with the reminder of the transitory nature of human life. So what could I possibly love about this observance?

I love the challenge of the day to get honest and real. What proclivities do I possess that are about displacing God, and seeking to be my own god? Is this not the nature of sin, the violation of relationship with God and one another, by seeking to occupy space that is not mine? Are most of my sinful predilections not tied to my denial of my own finitude and the reality of death of the body?

This day is not about being bad. It is about the creative, redemptive love of God, who beckons us near. I need to get honest and real to answer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lenten Book Study

St. Columba’s has a venerable tradition of doing a couple of annual book studies. The Lenten study is by far the most well subscribed. It is always an interesting and rewarding time of study, conversation and spiritual companionship focused on matters of substance.

Choosing a book is no easy task. There are significant considerations. The book should be accessible. It should be of an appropriate length to be substantial, but not too long. It could be about Lent, or about broader themes of history, scripture, or Church.

This year we are going to examine a text that is more about the role of Church and believers in our moment in history. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony is a provocative look at the changing place of Church in the western world. Written a little over 20 years ago, it has a timely quality about it. The reader will see the ways authors, Hauerwas and Willimon, have influenced more current works on the subject. At heart, Resident Aliens forces the reader to consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus in our time.

If you are able, I hope you will plan to attend. If not, or if you are reading this on the blog, read and comment. We can discuss via the blog. As part of my own discipline, I will try to have a weekly post about the book.

Resident Aliens

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Amos House

St. Columba’s has engaged a new outreach partner this year. Amos House is a very impressive program located in Providence that offers a wealth of resources to the homeless and those in need. Amos House offers housing, food, job training, life-stabilization, prescription drugs, and computer courses. Amos House even operates a professional catering service, staffed by program participants, that caters many events for the Diocese of Rhode Island.

In addition to our outreach and diocesan connections, Amos House is served by a talented Vice President, Linda Watkins. Linda is the daughter of our own Bill Watkins. Linda will be with us on Sunday to preach at each service. She is a a powerful servant of Jesus, and will share with us the Gospel work that happens at Amos House.

To discover more about Amos House, come Sunday and have a look at their website.

Amos House

Monday, January 18, 2010


Below is communication from the Diocese of Rhode Island related to relief efforts for Haiti. An invitation to a benefit at the Cathedral of St. John, Providence is at the end. This week at St. Columba’s we will do an appeal for Episcopal Relief and Development. Be generous and pray.


Episcopal Church in Haiti: Your Prayers and Aid Needed

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Haiti who now need our aid more than ever, in the wake of Tuesday’s 7.0 magnitude quake.

Recent estimates indicate that the quake has affected one in three Haitians, or about three million people. Casualties are expected to reach the tens of thousands, possibly even the hundreds of thousands. Roads and other infrastructure of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, including the cathedral and Diocesan offices, are in ruins and the situation on the ground is dire.

As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a statement Wednesday morning, “Even under ‘normal’ circumstances Haiti struggles to care for her 9 million people. The nation is the poorest in the western hemisphere, and this latest disaster will set back many recent efforts at development”.

Haiti is also the largest and fastest-growing diocese in The Episcopal Church. There are over 83,000 Episcopalians, over 100 Episcopal Churches, and over 200 Episcopal schools in Haiti.

Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) has a long-standing partnership with the growing Episcopal Church there, and is committed to providing care to the Haitian people under normal circumstances, as well as in this new wave of devastation.

ERD has already disbursed emergency funding to help the diocese of Haiti meet immediate needs for shelter, food and water, and “stands ready to support their ongoing recovery as they rebuild their ministries” according to Rob Radtke, President of ERD. “As communication improves and recovery plans develop, Episcopal Relief & Development will continue to provide updates.”

So far we know the Episcopal Church in Haiti has lost a cathedral, the Society of St. Margaret Convent, Holy Trinity Complex, College St. Pierre, and a Jubilee Center. The Bishop is alive, but has no place to live. The four missionaries are all accounted for - Mallory Holding, Jude Harmon, Oge Beauvoir and his wife Serette. The three sisters of St. Margaret who were at the convent are also alive, unhurt, and doing what they can to help in the football field of what used to be College St. Pierre.

How can Rhode Island help?
Join us for “Music and Prayers for Haiti; A Benefit for Earthquake Relief” at 4pm on Sunday January 24th at the Cathedral of St. John, 271 North Main Street, Providence, RI. The evening will include music from a variety of Episcopal Choirs and brief comments from two Haitian speakers. Donation offerings will be collected, make all checks out to Episcopal Charities, with “Haiti” noted on the Memo line. Email liz@episcopalri.org for more information. All proceeds will go to the earthquake relief initiatives of Episcopal Relief & Development and the Society of St. Margaret in Haiti.
Recommended Places to Donate:
Donate to Episcopal Relief & Development online at https://www.er-d.org/donate-select.php or by calling 800-334-7626 ext 5129. ERD has a four star rating on Charity Navigator and meets all 20 standards of the Better Business Bureau.
Donate to The Episcopal Charities of Rhode Island’s Haiti Fund by calling (401)-274-4500 x234 peggy@episcopalri.org
Donate to the Sisters of St. Margaret, http://www.ssmbos.com/Pages/Haiti.html or mail a check to The Society of St. Margaret, 17 Highland Park Street, Boston, MA 02119
Raise Awareness in your parish and beyond:
Place a link to Episcopal Relief & Development on your congregation’s home page. http://www.er-d.org
Check for updates on the Haiti page on Episcopal Relief & Development website http://www.er-d.org/HaitiEarthquakeResponse and our Diocesan blog www.episcopalri.blogspot.com
Share this information on Sunday and in your bulletin inserts. Bulletin inserts from Episcopal Relief & Development are available in both Spanish and English. http://www.er-d.org/BulletinInsertsCT/
Please do not encourage anyone to travel to Haiti, as priority must be given to first responders and a few relief agencies so as not to over-burden the already compromised infrastructure.
Thank you for all that you do in our Church.

Music and Prayers for Haiti A Benefit for Earthquake Relief
Sunday January 24th 4pm The Cathedral of St. John 271 North Main Street, Providence, RI, 02906
Featuring Music from a variety of Episcopal choirs and brief comments from two Haitian speakers. All are invited to Attend
All donations are welcome. Checks should be made payable to Episcopal Charities. Note “Haiti” on the memo line.
All proceeds will benefit the earthquake relief initiatives of Episcopal Relief & Development and The Society of St. Margaret In Haiti

Ruth Meteer
Communications Officer
The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island
275 North Main St
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 274-4500

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Listening to Your Life

Back in 1992, Fredrick Buechner published a book of daily devotions titled, Listening to Your Life. It was given to me by a friend, and has served as a quiet voice, reminding me to pay attention to the everyday events of life. It is a great volume.

The entry for January 14th, Alive and Changing, speaks to me.

“God speaks to us through our lives, we often say too easily. Something speaks anyway, spells out some sort of godly or godforsaken meaning to us through the alphabet of our years, but often it takes many years and many further spellings out before we start to glimpse, or think we do, a little of what meaning is. Even then we glimpse it only dimly, like the first trace of dawn on the rim of the night, and even then it has a meaning that we cannot fix and be sure of once and for all because it is always incarnate meaning and thus as alive and changing as we are ourselves alive and changing.”

Faith is God’s dynamic gift to us. It comes through God’s grace and is deepened through intentional cultivation. A quiet few moments at the break of day saying, “Thy will be done,” might be a good place to start. I have a trusted friend who begins each day by asking God to “use” him; God does.

We are not living out a chemical equation; we are seeking to deepen relationships with God and one another. Faith cannot be grasped, but to use Buechner’s word, glimpsed. If we are clear that faith is about seeking and deepening relationships, perhaps we can find the freedom to embrace the flux. Faith is a living process and so are we.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Tomorrow is the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the traditional commemoration of the arrival of the three kings to the presence of Christ to offer their gifts. The theological significance for Christians is that Jesus is the supreme manifestation of God. The presence of the kings is interpreted as the manifestation of God to Gentiles. These kings were certainly not Jews included in God’s Covenant relationship with Israel. The Epiphany is the mark of a new Covenant that encompasses Gentiles.

Being a Gentile, I am pro-Epiphany. We will celebrate this feast at our Wednesday 5:30 pm Eucharist. Come offer thanks for God’s manifestation and new Covenant.