Advent Blog

Advent Reflections

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...
December 14, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

When I first moved to Liverpool, I had met only one person, through Skype, who picked me up at the airport. I was nervous; I had never lived so far away from my family before, moved to a place I had never been before, to meet and work and worship with people I had never met before. There were many firsts.

One was seeing the massive Liverpool Cathedral for the first time. Standing at the top of a mount, with an impressive central tower pointing one hundred meters into the air, my first thought was, I can’t possibly be working here for the next year? My cathedral back home in Portland, Maine was certainly humble compared to this one.

Episcopal AdventWord Gather

The Cathedral is not just grand in its appearance, it also has impressive programs; it is used as a venue for concerts, glamorous banquets, as a place for exploring and touring, as a popular school field trip destination, and most importantly, as a place where people gather to worship.

What do you think of when you hear the word gather? What comes to my mind first is something along the lines of gathering objects, collections, or even gathering one’s thoughts. But water can gather in droplets on a windowsill, people can gather around a performance, and feelings of sadness or joy can gather in our chest. Gathering is as much of an intention as it is an action, it requires a purpose or a reason. We gather together because we share something in common.

When I moved to Liverpool, I was not sure that I had many things in common with those around me in my new environment. I knew we spoke the same language, but at times I was not even sure that that was absolutely true. I did know, however, that we all were Christian, and we all worshipped the same God. So, when I went to my first Sunday service, still jetlagged and probably a little shell-shocked, I felt a sense of relief listening to familiar hymns, hearing familiar readings, and taking a moment to gather with fellow Christians to worship. It did not matter that I still only technically knew one person; I was in a community that welcomed me, and so I gathered with them.

Gathering requires a little more intention than just being in the same place at the same time, however. About a month and a half into my year, I was approached by a friend who was putting together a new young adult service at the cathedral. Our group grew from five to ten and then to about fifteen people after each of us had been tasked to bring a friend along with us. Never had I met a group of young people who were so willing to welcome anyone into their gathering, and it is only because of how hard we all worked that it became that way.

I left Liverpool with lifelong friendships because I was welcomed so warmly into the cathedral community. I would not have been able to gather with my new friends had I not felt so welcomed first. In order to gather, we must be open and willing to share our experiences and lives with anyone who wants to join us. Reflecting on last week’s reading, we must “welcome one another … just as Christ has welcomed you” (Rom 15:7). There is no gathering without first having a heart that is open to all.


 
When I first moved to Liverpool, I had met only one person, through Skype, who picked me up at the airport. I was nervous; I had never lived so far away from my family before, moved to a place I had never been before, to meet and work and worship...
December 13, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

It is easy to overlook the powerful nature of water. Many of us engage with water when it is controlled – pouring out of taps in our houses or running from a pump in a well. But water is a powerful force. Water can turn a piece of broken glass into a soft rock, carve out a canyon from flat earth, and wash clean people, things, and even itself. Water changes things.

I live in New Mexico at the confluence of three rivers and in the midst of a place that is often challenged by drought. Our rivers churn with water in the spring and early summer as the snowpack to the north melts. Then, come fall, our rivers settle into their banks to prepare for winter. The rivers are living members of our community, bound neither by their banks nor our needs. They are a constant reminder of how we need water to live and our responsibility to care and cultivate this important natural resource.

Episcopal AdventWord Water

I believe that gratitude is a lot like water. Gratitude also changes things. Like water, we need gratitude, and it is our responsibility to care and cultivate a grateful heart. When we practice gratitude, we notice that during the course of our day, God is doing amazing things in the midst of us, inside of us, and in spite of us – and our job is to respond to that with gratitude. So, like the rock that is tumbling through the river and having the rough edges knocked off, gratitude moves us through our days. We are able to notice the little things that others are doing for us, that make us stronger, braver, and better.

We need gratitude because it acknowledges at our core that we need each other, and that as humans, we hope to impact the world in positive ways. Humans thrive on meaning-making and gratitude is one way that we can understand that we have impacted others. So today, when you are out living your life, be sure to stop and notice all of the good things God is doing around you and give thanks. Be sure to say thank you to those people that you might not otherwise have said anything to. See how it changes you and changes them. Join in the flow of gratitude, see the broken glass worn smooth in your life and in the lives of others.

If you’d like to find ways to deepen or start a personal spiritual discipline of gratitude, be sure to check out the United Thank Offering (UTO) and find out how your gratitude for the blessings of your day can go on to bless others: www.episcopalchurch.org/uto or www.unitedthankoffering.org.


 
It is easy to overlook the powerful nature of water. Many of us engage with water when it is controlled – pouring out of taps in our houses or running from a pump in a well. But water is a powerful force. Water can turn a piece of broken glass into...
December 12, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

Bringing people and cultures together. Singing hymns in the Navajo language. Gathering together in hózhó, in beauty, balance, and the love of Christ. This is what harmony means in the Episcopal Church in Navajoland (ECN).

Episcopal AdventWord Harmony

The Episcopal Church in Navajoland (ECN) seeks to invite people in the region into loving, liberating, and life-giving relationship with God, with each other, and with the Earth.  ECN works to respond to human needs in the community through loving service; safeguard the integrity of creation and the traditional homelands of the Navajo; and support the spiritual development of Navajo Christians while also honoring Navajo beliefs and practices. 

To learn more and support Navajoland, visit ecofnavajoland.org.


 
Bringing people and cultures together. Singing hymns in the Navajo language. Gathering together in hózhó, in beauty, balance, and the love of Christ. This is what harmony means in the Episcopal Church in Navajoland (ECN). The Episcopal Church in...
December 11, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

We humans get so many things wrong, but we also get a lot of things right; we are often cruel and make a mess of our world, but we also create glorious art and do amazingly kind things for others. I spent this past October traveling in Spain with 35 other UTO Pilgrims on the Camino and then in Peru with my wife. It seemed like an odd combination to many, but the Old World–New World juxtaposition was endlessly fascinating and thought-provoking. The age of European conquest led to the creation of magnificent cathedrals, art, and scholarship in Europe, but at the cost of horrifying brutality toward the conquered peoples in the New World and stripping them of their most valuable natural resources. And yet Christianity did indeed take root and still thrives in Peru, despite the shameful acts involved in establishing it and today brings comfort and faith to millions there.

Episcopal AdventWord Confess

The definition of “confess” we most often use is that of admitting our wrongdoings, as in confessing our sins, but its second definition is acknowledging or professing something as truth, as in confessing that Jesus is our savior. This Old World–New World trip has made me very aware of both meanings and how wonderfully and terribly they can intertwine in our lives. The Spanish conquerors felt absolutely justified in forcing the one true faith on the people they subjugated, compelling confessions of faith even if they killed the reluctant confessors. But eventually there were Spanish people of faith who could not justify such brutality to bring people to a loving God, people who confessed that their behavior toward the indigenous people was sinful and tried to get the Catholic Church to set kinder rules on how to win people to Christianity without killing them, even while other people of faith argued that any behavior was acceptable if it led to acknowledgment of the one true faith.

So, what’s my point? History is complicated and I don’t have any easy answers on how to judge the past or even the present. How do we obey Jesus’ command to evangelize and confess/profess our belief in God without leading to un-Christian behavior that requires us to confess/acknowledge that we have sinned? How do we confess and hold to our beliefs about God without brutalizing people whose beliefs are equally firm and faith-filled? I don’t know. But I do know that continuing to think about it is a good thing. Maintain certainty in your own confession of faith, but with just enough acknowledgment of your error-prone humanity to allow that someone else’s confession may be just as accurate. Hold firm to your own beliefs but allow space for God to work differently in someone else’s life. And continue to confess your own faith and your own failures.

Sherri Dietrich, of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, serves as the board president of the United Thank Offering (UTO). To learn more about UTO, visit www.episcopalchurch.org/uto.


 
We humans get so many things wrong, but we also get a lot of things right; we are often cruel and make a mess of our world, but we also create glorious art and do amazingly kind things for others. I spent this past October traveling in Spain with...
December 10, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

In August 2017, a group of young people and their leaders gathered in Shrine Mont, Virginia…

Shrine Mont is the spiritual heart of the Virginia Diocese - a “thin place”, a beautiful place of retreat, and the perfect location to conclude a two-year journey traveling as Triangle of Hope pilgrims.

The Triangle of Hope is a child of the Anglican Communion - an international partnership (what we call a covenantal community) between three very different dioceses: Virginia (U.S.), Liverpool (U.K.) and Kumasi (Ghana). Its focus is racial reconciliation, using the principles of Sankofa, a Twi (Akan) word meaning “return and seek out, then carry forward”.

Episcopal AdventWord Grace

Our desire is that we might learn from and be transformed by the horrors of history - particularly the shameful history which connects our three dioceses: the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. We want to remember, but we also want to be energized and equipped to work against those same horrors in the present day.

Youth pilgrimages are foundational to the Triangle of Hope. At the end of two years of following Christ into shared history, deeper into ourselves and out into the world (often in ways unimaginable at the start), the young people are commissioned, having been equipped to carry forward in the name of Christ a message of reconciling and healing love in the world.

But back to Shrine Mont: to an outside space not far from the Shrine. The day had been an emotional one as friendships, refined in the fire of God’s love, now formed a circle around a “last night” campfire. It was a night marked by echoes of inhumanity - approximately 100km away in Charlottesville was another gathering, not of pilgrims, but protestors- white supremacists and far-right activists - reminding us powerfully that this pilgrimage, this way of love, is needed today in our world more than ever before.

In Shrine Mont we watch the flames and silence descends, then, without prompting or rehearsal, “Amazing Grace” begins to resound, sung simply, respectfully, tearfully.

Saint Theresa of Avila said, “In a state of grace, the soul is like a well of limpid water, from which flow only streams of clearest crystal.”

Ours was indeed a libation of grace-filled tears; an offering to God who is love and whose way is love. We wept as we asked that God might live in us, work through us, move in the hearts and minds of those who walk the way of hate and turn them around.

[Learn more about the important work of Global Partnerships in The Episcopal Church]

Sankofa is a rich and profound concept. Sankofa does not mean carrying forward those things that destroy and divide us, but those things, perhaps long forgotten, which heal and restore and bring life. Sankofa is the humble recognition that we are on a journey; that we are not perfect, and that with God all things are possible. All this is grace. God’s grace at work in and through us, leading us to love and repentance; the transformation of our souls and hope for the world.

Imagine that you too are there this Advent, as we wait and walk and watch; as flames flicker and tears fall. Return, seek out, and carry forward that which the Lord has done for you; that which can restore hope and bring life and healing again.

Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come:
‘tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.


 
In August 2017, a group of young people and their leaders gathered in Shrine Mont, Virginia… Shrine Mont is the spiritual heart of the Virginia Diocese - a “thin place”, a beautiful place of retreat, and the perfect location to conclude a two-year...
December 9, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

Sitting on my couch, broken foot in cast, holiday and life plans completely jacked up, I had my very own conversion experience. But instead of hearing God say, “Go,” I heard him say, very clearly, “Stay.”  had counted on selling our house and moving to make me happy. To make my husband happy. To be a new adventure to distract us from all that was broken in our lives. Sitting in a house I had come to have so little regard for, for months on end, with all of our problems piling up around me during the holiday season was not my idea of adventure. And yet, I found comfort in the words of Jeremiah 29 1-14.  The simplicity of God’s directions to the Israelites living in a place not of their choosing settled in my heart and sprouted the tiniest bit of hope. And interestingly, I noticed how these verses, including the ones that follow them, reminded me a whole lot of the Rule of St. Benedict whose primary teachings center around these vows:

  • stability—God will work in us when we choose to remain where we have been planted, through both the people and the geographical location;
  • conversion—we must continually grow and change, allowing the Holy Spirit to work within us; and
  • obedience—we place Christ and not ourselves at the centers of our lives, thereby learning to love and serve as he loved and served.

Jeremiah 29:1-14 echoes these same ideas. Make yourselves at home here (Stability), work and pray for the good of Babylon (Conversion), and keep looking for me, I am here (Obedience).

As I sat on my couch for months on end, broken foot in boot, heart in throat, I thought a lot about Jeremiah 29, and how these verses intersected with the teachings of St. Benedict, how together they seemed radical and obvious. They were to me a mystical combination. A combination that inspired hope in me that I could find a way to be present to my life, as it was, without throwing out my dreams and desires with the bathwater.

Reading Jeremiah confirmed a suspicion that had begun with reading St. Benedict: balance isn’t a matter of getting what we think will make us happy; it is about cultivating a grateful and present heart right where we are. This realization led to these questions:

  • What if, instead of seeking balance, I seek rootedness?
  • Can I find a way to live a slower version of modern life?
  • Is it possible to slow down, internally, right where I am, without changing my external circumstances—jobs, schools, home, or responsibilities?

Can our family find a way to use the passage from Jeremiah as a scaffolding to help us rebuild the way we live, to do as God instructs through the words of Jeremiah: to put down roots, to plant a garden, to embrace and serve our community, to stop worshiping the greener grass, throw out the pursuit of balance, and instead dig in where we are with gratefulness, no matter our circumstances?

Would this reorientation of our hearts help create a simpler and more sustainable life from the inside out?

I didn’t know, but I was certainly willing to try. As soon as my boot came off, we were going to find out.

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


 
Sitting on my couch, broken foot in cast, holiday and life plans completely jacked up, I had my very own conversion experience. But instead of hearing God say, “Go,” I heard him say, very clearly, “Stay.”  had counted on selling our house and...
December 8, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Matthew 3:11, NRSV

I can’t speak for everyone who works for The Episcopal Church, but I can speak for myself - and I think I can reflect back a bit of what I see and hear from colleagues with whom I work closest - and what I want to say is this: We are not worthy to carry the sandals or boots or sneakers of those within our Church who are the hands and feet of Christ upon this earth in the most ordinary and extraordinary of places, doing both church work and the work of the Church.

Episcopal AdventWord Worthy

We are not worthy of those who show up Sunday after Sunday to teach the one child in Sunday school week after week. We are not worthy of those who go out into the middle of snowstorms to move their homeless neighbors to warm shelters. We are not worthy of those volunteers who copy the bulletins at odd hours of the night after their own workday is done, or those who hold vigil outside prisons and detention centers, praying for the shackles of injustice to be broken. Just as John the Baptist did not feel worthy to lead, preparing the way of the Jesus, we rarely feel worthy to lead, worthy to prepare the Way of Love - the way of Jesus - ourselves. And yet, like John, I and those I work with continue to try and do what we can. We show up and try to lead like John: with humility and bravery in the face of changing times, remembering who it is that has called us to this work in the first place.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Matthew 3:11, NRSV I can’t speak for everyone who works for...
December 7, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

Advent confronts us with a comforting truth that in spite of seemingly insurmountable challenges we have at a personal, family, national, ecumenical, or interfaith level, or within the Anglican Communion, God’s unshakable promise that He will be with us does not depend on these decisions or challenges.

God is waiting to be born again or to be re-discovered again in our lives. In the Pauline corpus, unity is not sameness. Unity is about parts of the body, each contributing to the whole. Unity is a Godly judgment on the policies such as apartheid – apartheid meaning racial, social, ecumenical apartness that presumes others are not made in the image of God.

AdventWord Episcopal Unity

So, unity in Advent is a call to re-align our compasses as the body of Christ to know that through our baptism, we are heirs of His rule (Kingdom) and our vocation is to be seen in loving service, in uprooting unjust structures, in proclaiming His love, in respecting human dignity, in hearing the loud cry of creation, which is groaning because of our greed.

Unity in this Advent journey invites us to participate with God in His work of reconciliation between our nations and within our Communion (Makgoba 2019: Faith & Courage, p 189).

Let me end with a prayer adapted from Bishop Michael Nuttall:

Lord, heal our land,
Heal our leaders,
Heal our church,
Heal our nations,
Heal our creation, but begin with me.
Amen.


 
Advent confronts us with a comforting truth that in spite of seemingly insurmountable challenges we have at a personal, family, national, ecumenical, or interfaith level, or within the Anglican Communion, God’s unshakable promise that He will be...
December 6, 2019
Tagged in: AdventWord

Scraping windows is one of those chores that can only be done slowly. Repeatedly. Diligently. Painstakingly. And it is awful, boring, sweat-producing, tedious work. I was scraping our windows so that we could repaint them a newer, shinier, more appealing hue of white, in an attempt to lure a buyer for our house. I was scraping them because I was desperate. I was ready to move, and it was just not happening, so there I was, outside, in the blazing sun, pushing and scraping our ancient, peeling windows.

In an attempt to entice Jesus to show me favor and sell this damn house for me, I prayed while I scraped. I thanked him for our house. For the windows and the flaky paint and the beautiful day to scrape them. I thanked him for our friends who had come to help with scraping the eighteen windows, some of which were floor to ceiling. I thanked him that we even had a house. While I prayed, I tried really hard not to think about how I had hoped these windows would be someone else’s problem by now, about how what I really wanted to be thanking God for was a new house and twenty acres. But it was no use. Both Jesus and I could see straight through my flimsy tissue-paper-heart prayers. I was an ungrateful fraud and we both knew it. So I gave up. I stopped praying, stopped scraping and peeling, and went inside, where I was greeted by all the other projects and rooms in the house still waiting to be repaired, finished, and cleaned. The living room ceiling that needed patching, the scarred wood floors, the half-painted dining room, the overflowing laundry, and the ancient, mismatched kitchen appliances. They all were all openly mocking me. There was only one thing to do. Flee the scene.

AdventWord Episcopal House

I grabbed a stack of books and headed straight for the day spa, where I hoped to rid myself of both ugly toenail polish and a bad attitude. While I sat with my feet in plastic bags filled with hot wax, I begin reading about the Rule of St. Benedict in Dennis Okholm’s Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants… when I stumbled over these words: “Conversion and growth in character happen when we remain, not when we run. . . . Stability means being faithful where we are—really paying attention to those with whom we live and to what is happening in our common life.” At that moment, these words were the exact opposite of what I wanted to hear, but I could not move on. I was arrested. I read those words again and again, letting their weight, their caution, and their guidance soak into my heart just the tiniest bit as the hot wax was soaking into my skin.

Staying put in our current house was not a bad life. It was actually a very lovely life in a lot of ways. I knew this fact in the same part of my brain where I make decisions to pay the light bill, take a shower, and drive on the right side of the road. They were the logical, rational responses to my ungrateful whining. But it was the other part of my brain that was making all the ruckus, the all-emotion and feelings and desires part. The part that stomps its feet, clenches its fists tightly, and screams, “This is not what I want!” I had decided I needed, I wanted, I had to have, that house and those twenty acres. It was the thing that would fix everything, and I wanted it yesterday. Sitting there in the pedicure chair, reading those words of Dennis Okholm’s over and over, I began to realize I had painted myself into a petulant corner and it was sucking all the joy out of my life.

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


 
Scraping windows is one of those chores that can only be done slowly. Repeatedly. Diligently. Painstakingly. And it is awful, boring, sweat-producing, tedious work. I was scraping our windows so that we could repaint them a newer, shinier, more...