Monday, July 20, 2009

Tuesday Night Book Group

One of the tricky pieces of being single and a parish priest is finding a life outside the church. In Benedictine style, I've found that I have to be very intentional to make sure that all parts of my life are lived in balance.

Early in my days in ordained ministry, I made a "first on the calendar" rule. Unless there was an outstanding reason otherwise, whatever appointments I made first were the ones I kept--no changing at the last minute for some more attractive opportunity. I learned early that I had to schedule "me" appointments or something that seemed more pressing would override times for fun and rest.

One of the appointments I am religious (no pun intended) about keeping is a day of Sabbath each week. I also take every day of vacation, every day of continuing ed, and every day of spiritual development that is part of my ministry agreement with St. Mary's. This was rather novel for the parish in the beginning days of our life together. No rector had ever done that before. I am now largely told (though I'm sure some people would rather I were around all the time) that the parish appreciates the way I take care of myself. I am told that the parish knows that they can only be as healthy as I am.

One of ways I care for myself is my monthly book group. Several years ago a friend and I decided to start the group. We were an interesting assortment of women from the beginning because she and I traveled in different circles. We are very loosely organized--choosing books only a couple of months ahead and the same for whose home will host the group.

The top shelf of the bookcase in my bedroom is now full with the books that we've read over the past three years. I love looking at those books because many are ones I'd have never read if someone in the book group hadn't offered it as a monthly suggestion.

I am struck each time we gather that the book group is one of the few activities in my life where we don't pray aloud as part of our gathering. I noticed it especially this past month when we decided to do something different for our July meeting because we didn't think we'd have a quorum. We decided to keep our date on the calendar but have dinner together instead.

As six of us sat around the table with salads, pizza, and wine, I saw these women in a new light--a brilliant young woman who works for a nonprofit; a woman from the East Coast who works with people from different cultures helping them to be at home in the United States; a woman who is a pilot and a bit of an entrepreneur; a clinical psychologist; a stay at home mom who has put the same excellence into her parenting that she did into her career. Our three other members, a woman with a Ph.D. who is originally from India; our senior member whose delight for life and intellect is greatly admired; and a church leader and grandmother with great curiosity and a caring heart, were with us in spirit. As we talked about our common lives, I realized that even without the shared experience of reading the same book, we were now friends and a community.

I especially realized this with the words of interest from the group gathered that night about my candidacy for bishop. I would never have imagined their interest and support. One of the great costs of discipleship if I am elected will be leaving these women and our monthly time together. However, they have put the consecration date on their calendars and say they will be having a serious road trip to join me if I am elected.

Our next two books are Olive Kitteridge and The Space Between Us, although our change in schedule has us a bit confused about which is the August book and which is the September, and at whose house were we planning to meet? A series of emails will straighten this out before the second Tuesday of the month.

Friday, July 10, 2009

In memory of Sue+

My friend The Rev. Sue Scott died earlier this week after a longtime battle with cancer. Her Burial Eucharist was today at 2.

I first met Sue when we were students in seminary, both of us seeking ordination. In Sue's very remarkable life, she was ordained in the Southern Baptist tradition, no small task for a woman. She went on to earn her doctorate and initially expressed her ordained ministry primarily as a pastoral counselor and hospital chaplain. Emotional and spiritual healing of families and individuals was her passion.

Sue was diagnosed with cancer and during a time of remission became an Episcopalian. She and was eventually ordained an Episcopal deacon, then priest. It was right after her ordination to the priesthood that her cancer became active again. I have an image of all those holy hands being laid on her making her a priest in Christ's Church and unbeknownst, as the Spirit will do, bestowing God's healing, too.

Her cancer was once again in remission, and she served as a priest until last fall when her cancer once again lifted its final ugly head. Our bishop, Andy, writes eloquently of what may have been Sue's last celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Sue loved her family dearly, most especially her husband, children, and grandchildren as well as her family in Christ, and we loved her back with the same great affection.

I know Sue's soul rests in peace. May God's comfort and care be with all of those of us who miss her so dearly.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why House of Grace?

Sometime I was fooling around with my name and discovered that my first name, roughly, in Hebrew means house and my middle name means grace--a sort of House of Grace. I don't think that was my parents' intent when they named me years ago, but that understanding of my name has become my personal vocation--in all that I am and all that I do to be a place where God's perfect love abides.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

So if you'd told me ten years ago........

I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church. When I was in elementary school, I read a book, Her Own Way, about a missionary to China, Lottie Moon. I loved that book and read it over and over and decided that I, too, was being called to be a missionary. That was the only serious option for church work in the 60's for girls in the Baptist tradition. But the discernment was correct--I was being called to be a missionary, but not in anyway I could have imagined then.

I joined the Episcopal Church in the late 70's during the great Book of Common Prayer of transition. I fell in love with God and became very active in my little mission church. In the early 80's, while I was attending a Bible study, I heard an Inner Voice saying quite clearly, "You will be a deacon."

Thus began the twists and turns of seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church. My diocese did not have an active (permanent/vocational/perpetual/real) diaconate. I floundered around for several years trying to figure out what God had told me to be and to do, and I did finally end up as a postulant for Holy Orders, the first ever in my diocese seeking ordination as a deacon. But midway in seminary, the Holy Spirit did another twist, and after a weekend of prayer and tears, I knew that something had shifted inside of me, and my call was to serve as priest.

The bishop was delighted at my change of heart (he didn't see any value in an active diaconate), and I was ordained a priest in the early 90's.

To add to the surprise and wonder, one day, early in my priesthood, my then-husband Jay, who was not prone to receive prophetic messages, came in from mowing the yard and said, "I just heard the strangest thing, if heard is the word I can use. You are going to be a bishop." We had a very good laugh over that, and I forgot all about that conversation until a few years ago when I was asked to run for bishop in my home diocese.

I declined but over the next few years kept getting nudges and suggestions. Which is the roundabout way that I've ended up a candidate for Bishop in Connecticut.

One more word about that call to be a deacon.

In the 2000's, my diocese got a new bishop who was passionate about an active diaconate. He and I had served on the Commission on Ministry together and knew that I shared his passion for the diaconate. There was probably no other priest in our diocese who knew more about the diaconate from all that study and pondering I'd done back when I was trying to figure out what God was calling me to do. My bishop made me chair of the task force that became the committee creating an active diaconate in my diocese. It was the most difficult task I'd ever done for God, and that we were able to accomplish that mission in such a short time is more a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit than any ability on my part.

What preposterous or unlikely thing has the Spirit led you to do?

So it begins

I am a sixth generation Texan (depending how you count the generations; my mother lives on land in north Texas that has been in her family since the 1840s). When I was made one of the candidates for Bishop of Connecticut, I decided that I needed to find a way to become better acquainted with the people of the state that God may be calling me to serve as bishop. Thus this blog. I hope that it will be a way for all of us to get better acquainted with the larger Church, in particular that part that calls itself Episcopalian.

We'll have some random ponderings from this Texas priest as I explore what God has in store for the parish where I now joyfully serve and the possibility of new friends made through the discernment and election process.

There is a prayer that I am praying that is adapted from one written by Jeanne Vogel, OSB, one of the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana. The parish I serve prayed it for two years everytime we gathered for worship as we discerned and listened for what God was calling us to do. Yes. Two years. Things rarely move fast at St. Mary's.

I've shared the prayer with the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. I'll share it with you:

Our God, the time is now and we are here.
We know that you have always called people to do special tasks when the time was ready and the need was great.
What would you have us do now?
How can we serve you best by using the gifts and talents you have given us?
Show us how you want us to serve the people of God who cry for peace and justice, who lack life’s necessities.
Please help us know what you are calling us to do here and now.
We are listening, God.

Please join me as we see what God has in store.