Advent Blog

Advent Reflections

December 24, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

In this week’s epistle, St. Paul addresses the saints: “To all God’s beloved in Rome… Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Episcopal Church’s framework for racial reconciliation, borrowing a phrase from Dr. King, addresses the possibility that we actually can become Beloved Community. And St. John the Evangelist – whose gospel many of us will read in-depth as part of the Good Book Club this Epiphany – writes in 1 John, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”

One of my great fears as a communicator is that we overuse “love” as a Church – not that we’re loving too much (no, there’s always room for more of that), but rather that our commitment to telling out God’s love for this world and our (sometimes-taxing) work of loving each other gets conflated with a saccharine, florid caricature. To the world, “love” can sound like politeness, a laissez-faire attitude, a greeting card sentimentality. Those aren’t always bad things in themselves, but they’re surely not what St. Paul, St. John, and Dr. King meant in describing love or us. “To all God’s polite people in Rome…” certainly doesn’t have the same ring.

Episcopal AdventWord Beloved

What then do they mean beloved? I would say this: they are reaching out to the basis of our being and primary identity as creatures made in the image of God. You are called “beloved” not because you are more special than your neighbor, not because you first loved God and are doing good work, but because the One who formed the Pleiades and Orion, who set the planets in their courses, and who whispered your name one day, just like he whispered mine – you are of inestimable worth because this One loves you.

Tonight, make a special intention – when you’re arguing with family on the way to church, when you’re feeling lonely, when you’ve burnt the ham, and when the water heater is on the fritz – to remember that this night is not about being perfect. It’s not about your successes this year. It’s not even “all about family,” as many a holiday movie will moralize before a sugary pop rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy”. Rather, this night is about encountering the living God in the manger, the one who knows you as Beloved.


 
In this week’s epistle, St. Paul addresses the saints: “To all God’s beloved in Rome… Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Episcopal Church’s framework for racial reconciliation, borrowing a phrase from Dr....
December 23, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

The season of Advent is a time of preparation. It’s not about the hustle and bustle, but about waiting for the coming of the One who redeems us all. As Episcopalians, what’s going on all around us from November 1 through December 24 can often be a hard counterpoint to the Advent world we want to be in: decorations and lights are everywhere, Christmas music assaults our ears, shoppers are focused on securing the best deals on gifts, and everyone seems to be rushing to the finish line of Christmas Day. “Can’t we wait all wait a little longer?” I want to know!

Episcopal AdventWord Message

But the "Good News made flesh" is coming. Until then, we work as the hands and feet of Jesus on earth. And as Episcopalians, we are all part of that work through The Episcopal Church. Learn more about the work of the Church at iam.ec/giving


 
The season of Advent is a time of preparation. It’s not about the hustle and bustle, but about waiting for the coming of the One who redeems us all. As Episcopalians, what’s going on all around us from November 1 through December 24 can often be a...
December 22, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

When I think about the importance of manual labor, I think of my brother.

The winter he turned twenty, Joshua was living in my grandparents’ basement while he flailed around trying to find himself, attending community college and partying entirely too much, feeling all the things. I have read that most addicts find their bad habits while looking for community, and my brother, perhaps the most relational being on the planet, was traveling full force down this road. Joshua would call me, lost in a haze of drugs, depression, loneliness, and confusion. My memories of those phone calls are sensory: I don’t remember words as much as I remember impressions. When I think back, there is a dark room with only a pinhole of light at one end, and my brother’s voice, lost and sad, echoing in the blackness that seemed to surround him at the other end. Those were scary phone calls for me, for both of us. And each time I hung up I wept, unspoken prayers—that he would hang on one more day—pouring through my tears.

But then my grandmother decided—by some miracle of mercy and grace, or because of her upcoming knee surgery—to send Joshua in her place on a mission trip to Honduras.

So, one frosty January day, we loaded my pale, skin-and-bones brother, with his weary eyes and sideways smile, onto an airplane with half a dozen Presbyterians and sent him south for hard work and time away. Two weeks later, the man who came off the plane was my brother as he was created to be. His skin, now a golden brown, radiated health. His eyes were clear, alert and lucid, his smile thick and hearty. He looked strong, confident, free. The physical work had been transformative. Something holy and mysterious had  happened to him. Sweat and effort, and more sweat, and more effort, unlocked a peace inside my brother that sitting behind a desk never would…

Episcopal Restore AdventWord

I wouldn’t know until much later how much the leader of the trip, a man named David Gill, had cared for Joshua. Had led him, looked after him, helped him navigate a foreign land, then pushed him to grow. There was a beautiful dance between David’s gentle prodding and the manual, body-breaking labor, which began to break Joshua’s more unhealthy patterns.  One without the other, - only manual labor or only friendship, and the process would have been incomplete; together, they were the healing balm so needed for my brother’s wounded soul and weary mind. Together they gave my brother motive and purpose, and comfort. “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness,” wrote Wendell Berry in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays.

To my dying day I will believe that this trip restored my brother’s life.   Seeing this transformation in my brother was the beginning of my understanding what St. Benedict meant when he said, “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.” When we use the toil of our hands and not only our minds to bring newness and restoration to the world, we become part of God’s healing process in creation. When we dig in the soil and plant a seed, we enter into a cycle of restoration that produces wholeness in us. Our bodies are restored by the tilling and the harvesting, our minds are restored by the space that such repetitive works opens up within us, the earth is restored by the nutrients provided through the plant, and our spirits are revived as we become better stewards of what we have been given. And when we enter into this work with grateful hearts, when we see our work as a way to give thanks and praise to God, we are transformed further, growing more in Christlikeness with every push of the shovel, every pluck of a weed.

Excerpted from At Home in this Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises by Jerusalem Greer, Staff Officer for Evangelism for The Episcopal Church.


 
When I think about the importance of manual labor, I think of my brother. The winter he turned twenty, Joshua was living in my grandparents’ basement while he flailed around trying to find himself, attending community college and partying entirely...
December 21, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” From the Confessions of St. Augustine

The last year has been an exciting one when it comes to the Way of Love and our Office of Communication. The popularity of the seven practices for Jesus-centered life – turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go, and rest – has been overwhelming; this is a good problem, most of the time. Our staff, small in number and generally dispersed around the country, work diligently to source, write, edit, film, revise, update, design, manage, translate, and announce offerings from The Episcopal Church to folks in the pews and diocesan offices.

Since the public launch of the Way of Love at General Convention in 2018, we’ve produced numerous curricula, launched two seasons of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s podcast, filmed and released a web series, designed handouts, and so much more – in addition to all of those tasks and projects we were working on before the launch. While it is busy – busier than I can ever remember – it is the joy of my life to help provide in some small way materials that help us all re-center our lives on Jesus Christ, even if it means burning the midnight oil on occasion.

Episcopal AdventWord Rest

Still, I received some wisdom late last year from the Rev. Jimmy Bartz, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jackson, Wyoming. While we were filming the Traveling the Way of Love episode called Rest, we discussed that as a spiritual discipline, resting is not the same as sleeping. It’s not the same as zoning out while watching the same movie you’ve seen a thousand times. To rest – whether for a moment or a Sabbath day – is to step away from the fever of life and re-center ourselves on the Source. Take note, friends: working until you are exhausted, even when you enjoy it, does not fulfill God’s command that you rest.

As I noted in the episode, I have never (ever) been good at resting, but I really do believe starting with small, intentional practices can help those of us who work in and with the Church. After all, none of us take on ministries so we can wear ourselves out with work (though we often do); rather, we work hard because we are on a mission to share God’s love with a world that sorely needs it. Take time today to look up from your phone or your computer. Step back into a long-neglected friendship. Take a hike on your own. Watch the snow fall in perfect silence. Let your heart – even for a moment, at first – find rest in God.


 
“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” From the Confessions of St. Augustine The last year has been an exciting one when it comes to the Way of Love and our Office of Communication. The popularity of the seven practices for...
December 20, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

“When the path is long, Christ wanders with you. When the path is difficult, God’s spirit carries you. When the path is dangerous, God’s hands embrace you. Go in peace as God’s beloved child.”

The words above are from the dismissal at a service that I accidentally wandered into at Oslo Cathedral a few years ago. I was visiting Norway for the first time after a lifetime of knowing that part of my family came from the country and several years of Norwegian language classes in New York City. I was excited and prepared for my week in Oslo: I had a list of places I wanted to go, things I wanted to see, family members I was going to meet for the first time, and a commitment to practice a new language even when I stumbled through it.

What I wasn’t prepared for, and honestly didn’t expect, was the sense of belonging and connection that emerged from getting on the plane and going to Norway.

That’s the power of the act of going. When we step out in faith with open hearts and minds, God expands the horizons of what we thought we knew.

Episcopal AdventWord Go

One of the great blessings of my life is that I get to be part of this journey with others as they prepare to “cross boundaries, listen deeply, and live like Jesus.” Through the Young Adult Service Corps and Episcopal Volunteers in Mission, Episcopalians from across our Church go to places around the Anglican Communion to serve alongside local communities, listen to and learn from their stories and experiences, and help us all connect with each other in new and deeper ways. While the initial call to go starts the process, living fully into the transformation that comes from this kind of ministry takes prayer, reflection, conversation, and time. It is an opportunity, as Lebanese artist, writer, and mystic Kahlil Gibran wrote, to meet the souls walking upon our paths.[1]

So, as we prepare to begin a new year, let’s recommit ourselves to going to new places – those that are halfway around the world and halfway down the block. Let’s cross boundaries that have been created for us and those that we’ve created for ourselves. Let’s listen deeply to the stories that God is sharing with us through our neighbors, our communities, and ourselves – even, and perhaps most especially, when it’s hard and uncomfortable. This is the work of faith, the work of life, and of a lifetime. As we do this, our lives more closely reflect the love and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, whose advent we await with hope-filled expectation. “Go in peace as God’s beloved child.”

[1] The Prophet, quoted on www.poets.org/poem/self-knowledge 


 
“When the path is long, Christ wanders with you. When the path is difficult, God’s spirit carries you. When the path is dangerous, God’s hands embrace you. Go in peace as God’s beloved child.” The words above are from the dismissal at a service...
December 19, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

“My life has been filled with multiple blessings, too many to count. Among the greatest of these blessings are the many different people with whom I have been privileged to share my path – people who have inspired me and guided me through the seasons of my life.

Episcopal AdventWord Bless

"The Episcopal Church was part of a transformational event for me when I was a young adult. As a freshman in college, I was selected to be a Youth Delegate to General Convention. I felt engaged, encouraged, connected, and entrusted with contributing to the future of the Church. Nobody could have envisioned that sending this young college student would have had this impact. And I feel that it is my job to help others to also have this kind of experience. I was recently involved in helping to support a young woman who wanted to attend Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales, a gathering of Episcopal youth in Panama. I told her, 'I hope this changes your life.'" - Canon Steve Nishibayashi 

Learn more about the work of the Church and support it! iam.ec/giving.


 
“My life has been filled with multiple blessings, too many to count. Among the greatest of these blessings are the many different people with whom I have been privileged to share my path – people who have inspired me and guided me through the...
December 18, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

Worship is an integral part in the life and mission of the church. We are an “ecclesia” because we gather to worship. I consider worship as a high priority and I encourage my diverse ethnic constituencies: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities to do the same.

What is the difference between praise and worship? Praise is thanking God for what God has done. The doxology (Greek “doxa or glory) says: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” When God blesses us, we praise God. Worship, on the other hand, is “thanking God for Who God is.” With its English root of “worth-ship,” worship is “thanking God for Who God is---God is worthy.” An apt example was Job. God blessed him tremendously and he praised God. But when trial came and he lost everything, “Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, fell to the ground and worshipped.” (Job 1:20-21)

Episcopal Worship AdventWord

Eucharist in the early Church began as a two-part Passover celebration: a Jewish Family meal on Friday night followed by the Breaking of the Bread on the Sabbath. To deal with gluttony, drunkenness and the rich not sharing their meal to the poor, the elders took the Eucharist from the Sabbath and placed it on a Sunday to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

The first context of the Eucharist were the synagogues. Most of the first Christians were Jewish and familiar with a simple meeting room designed for teaching, the breaking of the bread and prayers (Acts 2:42). The second context were the house churches. The “letters to 7 churches” in the Book of Revelation were addressed to 7 communities in the 7 cities inside the 7 houses. The third context of the Eucharist were the catacombs. These were networks of underground tunnels that became worship and burial places for Christians during the centuries of persecutions. When churches and basilicas were allowed during the Constantine Era, these relics of saints were moved to side chapels and the Eucharists were well established.

Today, it may be hard to imagine an Episcopalian being martyred for the sake of the Eucharist but there were times when Christians were willing to die for it. In 304 A.D., 49 Abilene Christians defied Emperor Diocletian by holding a Eucharist. When asked of their martyrdom, they replied “We cannot live without the Eucharist.”

Worship and Work

One Asian hymn translated in English says, “Worship and Work Must be One.” As faith seeks understanding, worship must influence our work. In worship, we are bathed in prayer, nourished by the sacraments, and we share fellowship in Christ’s Body. History is a continuum of generations of peoples who worship God, love one another and care for the world. God is one and we are one.

The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer provides a variety of worship services and liturgical forms. Throughout the Church worldwide, we worship God in the language of our hearts and the voices of diverse tongues. Our history is a continuum of generations who seek to worship God, love one another and serve the world.

As missionary priest, the Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred (Fred) Vergara lived, studied and ministered in three countries: Philippines, Singapore and the United States. He has served as an itinerant evangelist, church planter and missionary in the Iglesia Filipina Independiente; the Anglican Church of Singapore and the Diocese of El Camino Real; the Diocese of Nevada; and the Diocese of Long Island. He teaches Healing via Facebook Live (Fred Vergara3) and writes a blog http://travelinasian.blogspot.com. He lives in New York with his wife, Angela. He can be contacted via email at wvergara@episcopalchurch.org and website www.episcopalchurch.org/asiamerica-ministries.


 
Worship is an integral part in the life and mission of the church. We are an “ecclesia” because we gather to worship. I consider worship as a high priority and I encourage my diverse ethnic constituencies: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino,...
December 17, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

“Lord, teach us to pray…” Luke 11:1

I was at a conference recently in Brazil and soon after arriving, Luz Maria, a friend from Colombia, approached me with a request for prayer for her presentation at this conference as she was anxious about it. A mutual friend, Ema Rosero-Nordalm from Boston, had suggested that she invite me to join her in prayer. For a moment, I thought of Ema and marveled at how interconnected our ministry is. Luz Maria told me that her presentation would be at 4:00 PM a few days later and I told her that I would pray for her in advance and during her presentation.

Over the next few days, I prayed for Luz Maria and every time I would see her, I would assure her that she would do it well and that I would be there to cheer her on.

On the day of Luz Maria’s presentation, we had an afternoon break, so I went to my room to rest because my back was hurting. I stretched out on the bed for a few minutes and fell asleep. When I awoke it was 3:58 pm and her presentation was in 2 minutes! I thought – I’m going to miss Luz Maria’s presentation. And I began to pray as I ran out of my room. I prayed for so many things and I prayed without ceasing during the 10 minutes or so that it took me to get to the conference room. “Please Lord – let them start late! Please be with Luz Maria and give her the confidence she needs at this moment. Please don’t let the elevator take forever.” (It did.) “Please let me arrive in time to hear her. I'm not going to make it in time. Jesus, help me come up with a really good excuse as to why I didn’t make it. A really good LIE! Please don’t let Luz Maria hate me for not being there for her.”

Episcopal AdventWord Pray

As I entered the conference room, I was made aware that Luz Maria had just finished her presentation. I prayed again – “Oh God, give me the courage to face Luz Maria”. For the next hour or so, I half-listened to the other presenters as I kept praying – “Please Lord, let me find someone who recorded her so I can at least listen to it later.” (Someone did.)

At the end of the presentations, I stood by the door waiting for Luz Maria. As she approached, I blurted out – “I missed your presentation.” She laughed, her eyes twinkled, she smiled and said, “I know. I kept looking for you, but I didn’t see you anywhere in the room. But I knew that you were praying for me.” She gave me a big hug. I explained what had happened. She laughed with me and assured me that all was well and that she felt that her presentation had come off well. As she walked away, I prayed again, but this time it was – “Thank you God that Luz Maria was so understanding. Thank you for giving me the strength and courage to just be honest with her. But, Lord, please don’t have people come to me for prayer – it’s just too much of a burden. Just kidding, God. Thanks for being patient with me.”

This experience helped me to remember how powerful prayer is in connecting us with God and one another.

I am so thankful that as Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries, I have been given the opportunity to know and connect with so many people across the church. I am aware of how interconnected we are and how prayer connects us to one another. Everywhere I go, people tell me that they pray for me and my ministry or they ask me for prayer. I am truly grateful that in our absence from one another – prayer that holds us together.


 
“Lord, teach us to pray…” Luke 11:1 I was at a conference recently in Brazil and soon after arriving, Luz Maria, a friend from Colombia, approached me with a request for prayer for her presentation at this conference as she was anxious about it. A...
December 16, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

We learn through information and through experience. The work of the General Convention Office involves creating information and resources for the Church as well as planning and staffing experiences for the whole Church. The GCO is responsible for or has oversight of much of the information – Constitution and Canons, historical records (e.g. Journal of Convention), policies and procedures for Interim Bodies, etc. – that govern our common life together. The GCO also provides the mechanisms, structure, and support that allow thousands of Episcopalians to come together to do the work of the Church in small groups and in the fullness of General Convention.

Episcopal AdventWord Learn

It is in those gatherings, large and small, through conversation, deliberation, worship, and fellowship that each person learns more about themselves, the Church, and God. Without the information (which spans the spectrum from where to pick up your nametag to the foundational information in our Constitution and the Prayer Book), the gatherings would not be possible. Without the gatherings, we would not fully understand the richness of the information, the traditions, the resources that we share. We understand our Church and ourselves better when we are engaging all the information in the context of the rich breadth and diversity of our Church.

Blessedly, we also have marvelous technological tools from videoconferencing to message boards (we call it the Extranet) and filesharing which means that our experiences of engagement with friends and colleagues are not limited to the halls of General Convention or even the occasional in-person meetings of various Interim Bodies. We span 18 time zones, so the Extranet is rarely quiet. We can always be learning with and from each other.


 
We learn through information and through experience. The work of the General Convention Office involves creating information and resources for the Church as well as planning and staffing experiences for the whole Church. The GCO is responsible for...
December 15, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

Our faith encourages us to turn toward one another and toward God. Under Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, The Episcopal Church is called to engage Becoming Beloved Community, a set of interrelated commitments around which Episcopalians may organize our many efforts to respond to racial injustice and grow a community of reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers. 

Across the Church, Episcopalians are turning to one another to embrace that commitment. In 2019, The Episcopal Church launched the Sacred Ground dialogue series, a curriculum of films and readings on race, grounded in faith. Through Sacred Ground, small groups of Episcopalians are encouraged to gather in their communities, turning inward to learn and reflect on America’s history of race and racism. Then, the participants turn outward to engage in racial reconciliation and racial justice in their communities.  

Episcopal AdventWord Turn

August 2019: Episcopalians ring their church bell to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of 1619, the year when the first enslaved Africans landed in North America. 

Coming together in these Sacred Ground circles is giving Episcopalians courage as they find common ground. Said one participant at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Ojai, California, “It is pretty amazing how everyone is having pretty much the same experience: being able to face racism, rather than turn away.”

The curriculum itself encourages participants to “ask genuine questions of our history, be humble students of our past, acknowledge the harms done and the harms endured – if we can do these things, then God willing, we can eventually come to some centered spot, take stock, see, sense, feel, mourn, pray, and then turn and walk back out, together.” 

Other Episcopalians are living out the commitment to racial reconciliation and racial justice through the Beloved Community grant program, administered by the Presiding Officers' Advisory Group on Beloved Community Implementation. The 2019 program was designed to support churches engaged in racial truth-telling, healing and reconciliation, and proclaiming the dream of racial justice and Beloved Community.  

This Advent season, may we turn to one another and be open to change, transformation, community, and hope.


 
Our faith encourages us to turn toward one another and toward God. Under Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, The Episcopal Church is called to engage Becoming Beloved Community, a set of interrelated commitments around which Episcopalians may organize...