Category Archives: On the Road Again

How The Episcopal Church Can Learn from Forma

FormaGroup2016I have just returned from the 19th Annual Forma Conference in Philadelphia, and it occurs to me that our Church can learn much from how this organization for Christian Formation leaders in The Episcopal Church has been behaving lately.

We’re always hearing about the decline in church membership, the “graying” of those in the pews, and younger generations who are choosing to stay away – preferring to be “spiritual” rather than “religious.” These past few days in Philadelphia gave me time to reflect on what was different (and exciting) as I listened, watched, and rejoiced in what was going on all around me.

First, a little history. Most of my adult vocation has been in Christian education on a parish, diocesan, or church-wide level. I’ve seen decline in church attendance, alongside the budget cuts of formation positions (and education funding) on all church levels. I’ve been a Forma member almost since its inception (which began in 1997 as NAECED – the National Association of Episcopal Christian Education Directors), joining when I was a part-time Church School Coordinator.

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Forma Leadership in 2002 in New Orleans

I’ve been to at least 15 NAECED/Forma conferences, with my first one in New Orleans in 2002. There were about 40 people present and all our sessions were together in a small hotel conference room. We were all women (with maybe two men), mostly lay folk, and most involved in children’s ministries. And we were aging – just like the church in general. We did not represent the diversity that exists in our communities. As years (and annual conferences) went by I was beginning to wonder if there was a future generation to follow in my footsteps, or if the vocation of Christian education was to go the way of the dodo bird (and maybe organized religion). Continue reading How The Episcopal Church Can Learn from Forma

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Empowering Women with Tea Bags

IMG_1349I’m a tea drinker. In bag form or loose, I enjoy a steaming cup of camomile, rooibos, white, or regular Lipton. I’ll reuse the leaves, and occasionally reuse a tea bag for another cup or pot. But then the bag or soaked tea leaves end up in the trash or compost. Little did I know they could serve another purpose – empowering women half way across the globe.

On our summer trip to South Africa, we had a day to explore Cape Town in all its beauty – Table Mountain (under the table-cloth), Simon’s Town, Haut Bay, and the beautiful M6 (Victoria Road) along the coast (which reminded us of Big Sur). Our guide knew we liked to see off the beaten path, local spots, so he brought us to Original T Bag Designs. Continue reading Empowering Women with Tea Bags

Voices and Shoes

hollywoodheelsI love looking at people’s feet – in particular, their shoes. I suppose this has me looking down more than looking up, which is problematic in itself. I probably miss some interesting faces and exchanges as an observer of people. I’ve discovered that airport sitting as well as hotel lobbies and train platforms offer a variety of perspectives. I believe shoes tell a lot about who we are, who we yearn to be, or how we try to fit in and relay a persona.

The past few days I’ve been in Minneapolis attending Why Christian?, a conference organized by Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans. It was a conference featuring some of the most promising voices of women in the Church in the United States. Some of the names were familiar to me, others I had never heard of. I didn’t know what to expect, except that the women on the marquis were at the leading edge of what the Church could and should be all about. The publicity leading up to this event hinted at what a watershed moment this might be. The venue had to be changed when 1,000 people registered months ago, causing the planners to have to turn away folks. While not a conference “about” and “for” women, the majority of people who filled the pews, aisles, and balcony to SRO were women.

Which brings me back to shoes. I stayed at the Hyatt, about half a mile from St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral where the event was held. It would seem that while Why Christian? was going on, another conference featuring women (as speakers and participants) was happening at the Hyatt. Waiting in line at Starbucks at 7:30 a.m. found me in a queue of strappy stilettos, well-manicured fingers, and coiffed hair. But it was the shoes that captured my gaze – clicking across the slate lobby floor, gracefully climbing the steps to the conference room areas, waiting for a double-espresso latte or tall macchiato. Long legs and short legs, each moved with confidence, having learned that balancing act, or at least exhibiting the power of control in walking tall perched on 6″ heels. I was wearing my black Aerosole flats. Continue reading Voices and Shoes

Sounds of Silence

Looking out on the Zambezi River in Zambia
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence
“Sounds of Silence” – Simon & Garfunkel 

I love August nights. The sounds of peepers when the temps are right – tree frogs, crickets and all the night creatures serenading me to sleep. I’ve been fortunate in that all the homes (excluding first apartment) have been set on a +/-acre of land that was at least partially wooded. Where we live now we’re surrounded by woods; it’s common to hear owls and coyotes calling in the darkness.

Quiet, comfortable silence that some might find too noisy. And as of last week, I’ve come to recognize the others noises that are not so pleasant.  My ears have been sensitized to the quiet, to the stillness, to the sound of the air and the breath of creation.

Last week my family and I arrived home from an amazing safari adventure in Zambia and Botswana. Our first few nights were along the Zambezi River near Victoria Falls and Livingstone, Zambia. It was not quiet the first night.

We arrived in Africa during a full moon, so we could still see our way along the pathways to our ‘tent’ and could catch the outlines of the multitude of elephants that strolled back and forth from the river in the early evening and early dawn. Sleep was often awakened to the sound of hrrmpphing . . . hippos rising out of the cool water of the river to feed on the grasses on the shore and inland, whether they were green or dry. The trumpeting of elephants communicating and defending their young sounded within reach, although were probably hundreds of meters away. The cry of a leopard in the distance.

Onto Botswana and the open air, the parched grasslands of the Kalahari Desert and the oasis of the Okavanga Delta.

The nights became darker. As the moon waned, the sky opened up. Coming back late evening from a game drive in the land rover gave our guide pause to stop the engine, turn off the headlights and be still. Looking up, the cosmos bloomed in a massive array of constellations and planets. The Southern Cross . . . follow the two pointers. The Milky Way. A shooting star. Another. And another.

Each morning awakened before the dawn cracked open to the sounds of vervet monkeys chattering in the trees and birds urging the sun to rise. A new day, a new adventure. A new experience of life that occurs everyday that was unbeknownst to me before.

In the heart of the Delta we are treated to mokoros. Guided by our boatsmen, they silently glide through the glass waters amidst reeds, grasses, palms and papyrus, with a steady hand and strong arm of the pole. True silence. During the day, even the hippos are hidden away in the tall reeds, crocs sunning themselves on the floating debris only to slide into the shallows as we approach. Watching a multitude of African fish eagles watching us, herons and cranes mirrored in their search for fish, a Pel’s Fishing Owl discovered in the trees. It is quiet.

The nights are again silent. The hippo grunts and elephants walking through mud and water are part of the sounds of calmness. The tree frogs create a rhythm of their own, different varieties, each with their own melody. A lion’s roar, followed by the bark of a hyena in the distance. It is quiet. Encased in a mosquito-netted bed, you can hear the earth breathe.

Flash forward. Gladly back to the comfort of my own bed, easily flowing hot water and awaiting for the August peepers to lull me back to sleep. It is not to be. The silence is no longer present. The hum of the refrigerator, the glow from the clock radio, the water softener going through its cycle in the wee hours of the morning. The cars . . . loudly whispering away on the Merritt Parkway on the other side of the woods. White noise.

Silence is a curious thing. You think you know what it is until you don’t have it anymore.

But I still have the peepers for another month, and the remembrance of the whispered sounds of silence.

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Photos taken by John Pearson, Sharon Pearson, Becca Hays and Chris Pearson (July 30 – August 10, 2012). 

Monks & Angels

I spent last week at Holy Cross Monastery, located in West Park, New York along the Hudson River. Part of the Order of the Holy Cross, the brothers are an Anglican Benedictine Community of Men whose primary work as a community is worship and prayer. The Monastery has a ministry to the community, offering hospitality and worship.

What brought me to Holy Cross was the annual Retreat with Adults Who Work With Youth, led by Jenifer C. Gamber, author of My Faith, My Life and musician Fran McEndree. Being able to reconnect with others whose passion is youth ministry was my primary goal, the second being some time away for personal reflection and rest. I received both. (You can also check out participant and photographer George Reiner’s blog for another perspective of the retreat and life at the monastery).

Outside of our plenary gatherings and group meditations, I spent my time in my little room (one might call it a ‘cell’) reading, writing, and yes, sleeping. I realized the rhythm of the day in a monastic community fit me well, and I grew more and more comfortable sitting in the chapel in silence, being summoned five times a day by the tolling of bells.

The day begins with Matins at 7:00am, followed by a silent breakfast. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated at 9:00am and the day then commences with whatever one might choose to do. At noon, we gathered again in the church for Diurnum (Midday Office) followed by lunch. The first part of the meal is eaten in silence, as one of the brothers reads a chapter from a book. While there I learned a little about how the Puritans (and others) determined whether the Sabbath was to be on Saturday or Sunday – a random piece of information. The work day closes with Vespers at 5:00pm. Compline is sung at 8:30pm in anticipation of God’s care through the night, followed by silence until we join together again at Matins in the morning.

Entering the “great silence” for about 12 hours brought new meaning to the opening sentences of Matins, which we also say in Morning Prayer at the Invitatory:

  • Officiant: Lord, Open our lips.
  • People: And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

The services were all chanted, and we were invited to participate in singing (quietly), allowing the brothers to hear each other as they seek to sing with “one voice.” With candles and incense, one can really enter another dimension in time and space.

A treat was being at Holy Cross on the Feast Day of St. Michael & All Angels, September 21st. Brother Andrew’s sermon was particularly thought provoking:

Next year will be my fiftieth anniversary of ordination – fifty years of pastoring, praying and preaching.  And this is the first time I remember preaching about the angels!!!

That feels odd because Scripture is full of angels… from the Garden of Eden to the garden in Revelation.  Angels with Abraham, angels with Lot, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel.  Hosts of them at the Birth of Jesus.  They appear to kings, to the poor. They glorify God in heaven and tromp the earth.  They are fearful and beautiful.  Some are righteous and some are crooked. They bear good news and they mutiny and rebel.

How come I’ve never preached on them?  Well, we’ve become so rational and so intellectually elite that we scorn such quaint ideas.  Unless, of course, we’ve gone off the deep end and into that place where people see angels everywhere… guarding their cars, in the garden like gnomes and fairies, or hovering over babies.

We don’t become angels when we die; they don’t get their wings when a bell on a Christmas tree rings; Della Reese and John Travolta are not angels! Nor do we become angels when we die.  Cherubs were never babies.

We’ve given up the angels!  We have let them go to those we call superstitious or the naïve.  We have turned them into shadows of themselves and stolen their power.  The mystery and beauty have become suspect.

But Scripture shows us beings with power.  Maybe that’s why we don’t mention them. We don’t quite understand what they’re all about.  They’re messengers. They speak for God…and so we fear them.  Each instance of their appearing seems to be imbued with awe.  They don’t look different, but their power and presence means that they usually have to start their messages with “Do not be afraid.”  Fearful and wonderful!

I think most faiths have the equivalent of our angels – beings from the heart of the Divine power who testify and challenge and protect the created universe.

It’s sad that we ignore them and I miss them.  Especially now, I miss them.  Now when other powers are rampaging in rage and arrogance and blindness through the world.  

Michael, Archangel, we need you!  We need your righteous sword that will cast down injustice and war-mongering. Defy tyrants.  Stand in darkened rooms where children are raped and protect them. Raise your hand against wife beaters and bullies. Give power to the weak; strength to the afflicted.

Gabriel, Archangel, who stood before the Maiden and announced a Savior, speak again!  Speak of the One who comes to dark and empty places in the human soul. Call us back! Proclaim the freeing Word that gives hope to the hopeless and joy to the mourners. Announce the coming of the One who restores and makes new.

Raphael, Archangel, spread healing in famine ridden Africa and in Asia; and in our military hospitals, in half-way houses, and under the bridges where homeless people shelter. Fight for an end to endemic illnesses; bring nourishment to the people starving needlessly. Teach us to spend our resources on life not on death.

Uriel, Archangel, you stand in God’s Presence where there is only Light.  Shine Light in our darkness.  This world is subsumed by the darkness of greed in business, in government.  Light must shine on the needs of the poor; on prisoners and addicts.

Angels in all your hosts, strengthen our voices to glorify the Redeemer, to speak to and for the lonely and voiceless.  Guard our children, cradle the sorrowful.  Shine, for God’s sake shine!

Now maybe that’s too outlandish for belief.  Maybe I’m verging too far on superstition.

But I don’t care. If you don’t believe in the angels, then for Christ’s sake become one.  Become a healer, and a proclaimer; become a warrior against hunger and hopelessness and evil.  Be a Light Bearer in the darkness around us.

Do that for Love’s sake and, believe me, you will find yourself on the side of the Angels…you will be Messengers of God, bearers of good tidings, protectors and lovers of God and God’s people. And the angels will rejoice!

That’s probably good enough!

Amen.