Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Seen and Unseen, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

I believe in God…the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. ~ The Nicene Creed

There is no reality beyond our perception of it.

It took me a long time to comprehend the depth of that little saying, but when I finally “got it”, it changed my life as a pastor. For years I had been confounded by the response of people, parishioners especially, to things I had said or done. (Sometimes peoples’ responses to things I have done or said is all too accurate, but that is another story.) Contemporary neuroscience has demonstrated that everything that goes through our senses is filtered and interpreted by our brains, which in turn have been formed by our experiences.

An example: the first Sunday of my tenure as Priest-in-Charge of St. Mary's Church I moved the Table from directly in front of the High Altar (where the Rev. Jessica Hatch had used it) to the center of the chancel (the area where the choir would be). I did not do this for serious liturgical reasons; I did it because it was a First Sunday and I wanted the children to stand with me at the Table during the Holy Communion! My intention was to move it back to its previous position.

Nobody said a word.

I thought this would at least raise some comments and questions (my perception). If anyone did consciously notice they did not say anything to me, and since I like the Table where it is it has stayed in its present position. (The same thing happened with the frontals [covers] on the Table, which I did not know existed until last Lent. They were not invisible: no one had shown me where they were stored.)

This is why the contemporary version of the Nicene Creed is important (and it is not just the “I believe…” vs. the “We believe…”). The traditional (Elizabethan) version states it “…maker…of all things visible and invisible.” The contemporary version states it as “…maker…of all that is, seen and unseen” (note the comma; it’s important). There is a significant and important difference between something being invisible and it being unseen. Invisible means that the thing is not available for us to perceive in any way, and it may exist, but we cannot know that. Unseen means that the thing exists but it is out of sight, hidden, or we have simply missed it. Our senses have filtered it out of our individual ability to see, hear, or touch it.

This is why we pray for people we do not see and perhaps have never met. We cannot know that they actually exist; we take it on the witness of others that they are. (Our friend Michelle Despain has not been seen in church in months, but I assure you that she is quite real!) The prologue of the Gospel according to John says that “no one has seen God; it is the Son who has made him known.” I have not seen God (at least that I know of), but I have perceived God at work in the people and world around me. I did not see the Resurrection of Jesus; I take it on the witness of the Apostles and others that they saw Jesus after he was crucified, a witness that has been passed down through generations of Christians until it got to me.

In other words, the Resurrection is not something invisible. It is, simply, something that for us is unseen. It is beyond our immediate perception. We have to listen, feel, and see carefully to discern it. Like everything else, we have to decide to discern it. That is not a trick of the mind. It is how reality works. We have to choose to see what is.
Peter +

A footnote: I recently made two other small changes in church. Again, no one has said anything to me about them. I do not know if they simply have not been perceived as changes, or if some have noticed them and not said anything. I try always to welcome comments and questions about our worship, because there may be things there, or things done, that I have not perceived myself. Remember: we’re in this together!
The authors of this blog welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Pastoral Care and Pastoral Guilt, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Will you undertake to be a faithful pastor to all whom you are called to serve, laboring together with them and with your fellow ministers to build up the family of God?
One of the vows in “The Ordination of a Priest,” bcp p. 532

That I can recall, in my forty-three-plus years as a pastor in The Episcopal Church I have missed Sunday services for which I was responsible twice, both because of illness. (There are probably a half-dozen or more Sundays that I should have been absent, but that is part of this story.)

Like most Episcopal clergy I feel not only the highest sense of responsibility for such, but I also worry that “things will not go well in my absence.” NOT because I think I am irreplaceable, but because I feel intense guilt when I fall short of my vision of what a parish priest is and does.

On the official side of things there are the vows we take and the canon law we pledge to uphold. The vows are said in response to questions from the bishop who is seated before you while a church full of people are silently listening and looking. (The ordinand has their back to the congregation, including the clergy of the diocese, but you know that everyone is looking at you.) It is a particularly solemn moment that one does not forget.

The vows take up one page in The Book of Common Prayer. The canon titled “Life and Work of the Priest” takes up about twenty pages in small print. It is difficult for a lay person to imagine the breadth of the responsibilities a parish priest has, including pastoral care, education, administration, worship, social...etc. It is not hard to feel overworked and inadequate all at the same time.

I am old enough and experience enough to be able to balance most of these things, and even to let go of the things I cannot do, by virtue of talent, skills, or time. More importantly, along the way I learned that one must look at the entirety of the vow noted above. We clergy tend to place a period after “service,” and delete the rest of it. It may be that the truly important part is in fact the second part, about working together to build up the family of God.

I am fortunate to be serving in a congregation that lives into the “working together” stuff. From my first Sunday at St. Mary’s Church, I have noted the willingness of people to step up and step in when needed. So, when things got really crazy in my life last week I knew I could count on that reality of mutual support. I just had not realized how much . . . .

Many of you are aware that Rob Jones, Deacon Sandra’s husband, became ill early last week. He was admitted to University Hospital for tests, but at the same time his condition continued to worsen. Late in the week he was notified that he would need a liver transplant. Saturday afternoon he was told a liver was available, and the surgery would be noon Sunday. (As I write this on Tuesday I can report that the surgery went well, and that Rob continues to recover quite nicely.)

The details of what happened in my life from Friday through Sunday are not important, but the broad outline is. Four clergy and one bishop (!) played tag team as Rob prepared for surgery and after. A fifth priest, Mary June Nestler, late Saturday evening during a phone call offered to cover for me at St. Mary’s while I attended to Rob and family.

I drove down to Provo early Sunday morning, made sure things were in order (did I mention the hyper-responsibility?), and then drove back to the University of Utah in time to give Rob a blessing on his way to surgery. I then spend most of the day staying with Sandra et al., until one of the other clergy appeared and gladly offered to stay the rest of the afternoon, and I headed home. At St. Mary’s Church the worship went well, and a delightful potluck was enjoyed by all. Bishop Hayashi spent considerable time visiting with Rob on Monday. Others have continued their vigils as well.

I offer this little bit of history not to brag but to demonstrate what happens when we work together for a common goal: the building up of the body of Christ (in this case, caring for Sandra and Rob).

Note that in forty-three years of parish ministry I have never had anything like this happen. I suppose it has happened in other places and perhaps in other ways, but never involving me. And I do not feel one bit of guilt for missing church at St. Mary’s on Sunday. Well, maybe a tiny bit . . . .


The authors of this blog welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Do Not Be Afraid — thoughts on the politics of fear (part two), by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

26 "So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.”
~ Matthew 10

In my blog last week I began my consideration of the politics of fear by laying out a New Testament and Early Church context, especially noting the similarities of that society and ours. (Hint: don’t let the differences in technology fool you.) The most notable characteristic of the first Christians was their absolute, unshakeable confidence in God and in the divine purposes.

This week I want to uncover the sources of the politics of fear (albeit briefly) and state what I think a true Christian response to the world’s crises can be.

In my view there are at least two main types of religious charlatans in the world. The first group claims special knowledge not available to others, and their claim to authority is their possession and ability to interpret [for you] such special knowledge. The second group tends more toward the day of reckoning knowledge. That is, in a curious way they have the answer to all the ills of creation which if you do not follow and obey them will lead you to you-know-where. There are other types, but these two, especially in contemporary American culture, are the more prominent.

What drives both of these types is anxiety. That anxiety can be expressed in many ways, but think about these: the end of the world is coming…and by the way you and your behavior are the cause of it; American society is sick and soulless and doomed, all because of those [fill in the blanks]; you must not come in contact with those [fill in the blank]s because a) they are evil, b) they are really evil, and c) they will corrupt you and turn you into one of that Godless horde. (The latter is one of the reasons zombie movies are so popular these days.)

Interestingly, the more anxious they can make you the more likely you are to become one of their followers. (At this point, read power, influence, and money.) What I see and hear from these sorts is unrestrained, unresolved, and unrecognized (or not admitted) anxiety. The source of that anxiety is likely that person’s own history, especially their family of origin and its dynamics. People with unresolved anxiety use others as living garbage bags into which they can pour and unload their feelings without taking responsibility for the consequences.

So, what do I mean when I talk about “the politics of fear”? By that term I mean those in our political life who are constantly blaming others (for whatever), who are claiming special knowledge (“I KNOW how to fix this economy! Just elect me and I’ll show you how!”), and who are addressing more and more narrow groups of listeners who now become the “in” group (the saved, the righteous, the good guys, the Christians vis-à-vis Muslims or whatever) and who have identified the true sources of our society’s ills and problems. Black and white thinking is one of the most obvious behaviors of anxiety-ridden people. Us/them. White/black-brown-yellow-red. Christian/non-Christian. Good/evil. Their thinking lacks nuance, subtlety, and discretion. Mostly, it is always somebody else’s fault (whatever “it” is).

It should be clear that a more sound (healthy, good, effective…) life is one in which the person can take responsibility for the consequences of their actions (without needing to take responsibility for things that are indeed not their responsibility). It is one in which appropriate anxiety (as a good therapist once said, there are good things in life to be afraid of) is owned and dealt with. It is a life in which there is the ability to discern the gradations of good and bad in everything and in everybody. It is a life in which all sorts of “others” are welcomed and appreciated. It is a life in which offense is not taken when it is not meant.

It is, in other words, a life of confidence.

Christians need not fear nor be anxious. They need to be caring and care-full. Christians have special knowledge of the divine life and divine purposes—and are more than happy to share it (see the quote at the beginning of this article). Christians are generous, hospitable, respectful, and (generally) happy. Christians understand the vagaries of this life, and accept them for what they are, within the larger context of the Kingdom of God. Christians live with confidence in the constant presence of a God who loves and cares for them.

The authors of this blog welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

A bit of background about the author. The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook has a Masters in Divinity, the professional degree for Episcopal clergy, which includes rigorous studies of scripture, tradition, and reason. He holds a Doctor Philosophy degree in Political Science, with a concentration in Public Administration. His primary academic interests are how values guide and justify decision making in organizations, and the sociology and psychology of individual action in organizations.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Do Not Be Afraid - thoughts on the politics of fear (part one), by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
First Letter of Peter 3

The social parallels between the time of the first Christians—from the destruction of Jerusalem in CE 72 to about 300—and this modern era have long fascinated me.

In the first and second centuries of the Common Era, Rome was to achieve the farthest extent of its imperial reach, marked in the West by Hadrian’s Wall that demarked the border between Britannia and the unruly Picts in what was to become Scotland. The year the Wall was completed, CE 128, marks the moment when Rome began its centuries-long decline into dissolution.

At the same time, the Roman economy was showing signs of strain with inflations and recessions undermining public confidence in the central government. The biggest single budget item was the military. At the same time it was a period of widespread and rapid technological advancement, driven often by the needs of the imperial armies and navies.

Roman invasions and domination of foreign peoples created massive movements of peoples out of their ancestral homes, the occupiers sometimes Romanizing the cultures and sometimes forcing populations to relocate. Refugees moved into urban areas, bringing strange languages and stranger customs with them. Social unrest occurred throughout the empire during this period.

A good example of strange cultures running headlong into Roman might is the situation in Judaea, with constant insults to the Jewish population creating riots and rebellions, culminating first in the invasion of Titus and his Legions (one of the first places conquered was the fortress at Masada near the Dead Sea), and in CE 135 the utter desolation of Jerusalem, such that the walls of the Temple Mount were torn down to the foundation stones and literally levelled (it is still that way).

The Romans never understood the Jews or their rabidly monotheistic religion. As far as the Romans were concerned the first Christians were just odd and recalcitrant Jews.

This is the context of the writing of the First Letter of Peter, in which the author (probably a disciple of the apostle) addresses these early Christians as sojourners, foreigners living in a foreign land.

The early Christians were being expelled from the synagogues as apostates but not being received into Roman society because of their religion and customs (which most Romans considered barbaric). He describes not formal government-driven persecution but social slights and smears and slurs that sometimes led to mob action. They were thus alienated from their previous religious roots and from the society around them, subject to ridicule and discrimination.

In the face of all this 1 Peter tells them, do not be afraid.

The phrases “do not be afraid” and “do not fear” occur over sixty times in the Christian Bible. What these phrases express is confidence in the loving care of their God and the salvific action of their Lord - in other words, don’t fear what those other guys fear.

The early Christians had good reason to be afraid and yet not to fear. They could be realistic about their present situation in society and yet smile knowingly because of their faith in the future. What these Christians knew is what drove their Roman neighbors to distraction: they knew they were living at once in the Roman Empire and in the Kingdom of God - which is how Christians ought to be living today.

Next Week: What the first Christians have to teach us about fear and anxiety.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Regarding Current Events in Our Community and World, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Two very important pastoral concerns have arisen in the last two weeks. They are the recent change to the policies regarding blessings and baptism of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the killings in Paris and the resulting backlash against Syrian immigrants.

​In response to both of these events, Bishop Hayashi has posted some excellent reflections on his Facebook page, and I commend his thoughts to you.
Regarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint's policy, click (here)
Regarding the violence in Paris/Syrian immigrants situation, click (here) )
To his posts I can add only two things:

First, St. Mary's Church--that is, its people--is a welcoming and accepting faith community. One of our goals and values is to be a sanctuary for those who are seeking, searching, or hurting. I expect that we will continue to do that.

Second, in regard to the refugee crisis, I would note that Jesus began his life as a homeless person (born in a stable) and a refugee (the flight into Egypt). Read the first few chapters of the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke for the details. We are called by Him to care for the poor, the homeless, the incarcerated, the sick. Such care is not always comfortable, but it is part of our call as Christian persons. (Cf. Matthew 25:35-46.)

Finally, there is a program of The Episcopal Church called Episcopal Migration Ministries [EMM] ( Its predecessor agency, the Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief, was founded in the early 1940s to rescue and resettle Jews escaping Europe. The PB's Fund later became two agencies, Episcopal Relief and Development [ERD] and EMM. I will report to you next week on what our Church is doing during this crisis.

The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook,​​ Priest-in-Charge

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bishop Hayashi's Statement in Response to the LDS Church's New Policy

The following statement by The Rt. Rev. Scott B. Hayashi was published on the Episcopal Diocese of Utah's facebook page on November 7, 2015:
(To view the original statement, click (here).)
Bishop Hayashi has made this statement in response to questions that he has been asked regarding the stance of the LDS Church as it appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune:

There have been a number of people who have expressed anger at the recent stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints regarding the children of Gay or Lesbian couples. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on this in a recent edition. I completely understand these feelings. We in the Episcopal Church believe that the Holy Spirit has led us in a different direction. We believe in the inclusion of people regardless of their sexual orientation. We live this out by welcoming people who are heterosexual or homosexual into the life and work of our church. In following after the leading of the Holy Spirit we experienced the loss of members who felt betrayed by what we had done.

This summer at the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City we took another step by authorizing clergy to perform weddings for same-sex couples. I am confident that our decision on this is not one with which the LDS Church agrees. Yet they believe that the Episcopal Church has the right and power to determine our own way of being and working to fulfill God's mission in this world and the work of Jesus.

So what do I think about the stance of the LDS Church? I do not agree with it. I believe differently than what they have expressed. I will continue to follow after the leading of the Holy Spirit as we in the Episcopal Church have discerned it. We will continue our stance of welcome of people as they are. We invite all people to be with us.

The larger question for me is can we maintain friendships, relationships and respect for those of another tradition who have stances that are different than ours? In short, if we cannot do this then then there is little hope for the world.

I value the friendships and relationships with my Mormon neighbors and the leaders that I know. I respect their right to determine how they will live out their life and work in the world as they have done the same with us.

I encourage both of us to continue seeking God's guidance and to follow it as we have discerned it. I offer my prayers for all of us as we seek to do God's work in the world.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Bishop’s Visitation — Thoughts in Preparation for Our Bishop’s Annual Visit, a blog post by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

CANON 9: Of the Life and Work of Priests
Sec. 5. Rectors and Priests-in-Charge and Their Duties
       (5) On notice being received of the Bishop's intention to visit any congregation, the Rector or Priest-in-Charge shall announce the fact to the congregation. At every visitation it shall be the duty of the Rector or Priest-in-Charge and the Wardens, Vestry or other officers, to exhibit to the Bishop the Parish Register and to give information as to the state of the congregation, spiritual and temporal, in such categories as the Bishop shall have previously requested in writing. Canon III.9.5(b)(5)

CANON 12: Of the Life and Work of a Bishop
Sec. 3. Duties
      (a) A Bishop Diocesan…shall visit the Congregations within the Diocese at least once in three years. Interim visits may be delegated to another Bishop of this Church.
            (1) At every such visitation the visiting Bishop shall preside at the Holy Eucharist and at the Initiatory Rites, as required, preach the Word, examine the records of the Congregation required by Canon III.9.5(c), and examine the life and ministry of the Clergy and Congregation according to Canon III.9.5. Canon III.12.3
In The Episcopal Church the Visitation of a Bishop (note the upper case “V”) is not just some trivial formality to be put up with by the clergy of the church. The Visitation is a serious matter of pastoral care and obligation given to the clergy by virtue of their ordination, be they bishop, priest, or deacon. It is, in short, A Big Deal, and should be understood as A Big Deal by the congregation.

I have quoted the General Canons above not to impress you, but to inform you. It is well known that I am not a rigid interpreter or practitioner of the canons. At the same time, I take them very seriously, and want you to know that these are things not to be ignored at will.

I do not get particularly antsy about the Bishop’s Visitation because I see to it that my congregation keeps good records and keeps the Bishop informed regularly about the state and activities of the congregation. In a small diocese like the Episcopal Diocese of Utah we have the luxury of seeing our Bishop at least once a year, and therefore of having an ongoing relationship. In a large diocese (e.g., New York, Los Angeles), Visitations by the Diocesan Bishop may not even take place on a Sunday because of the multiple demands placed on the office.

Since the goal of the Visitation is to get a good sense of the life of the congregation, I try to keep the worship and fellowship to a rather normal level. There are no silver tea sets and fine china with crumpets and scones, nor is there a pull-out-all-the-stops liturgy. A bit more festive than normal, perhaps, but as normal as possible.

Indeed there are the confirmations and receptions of new members, which deserve their own attention. At the same time, such rites are one of the core purposes of the Visitation. Indeed, as well, I will have the parish registers placed on the table in the Library as a sign to the Bishop that I know why he is present.

Another thing you should know is that the Bishop means to be available to you. The Bishop’s contact information is posted on the parish website so you can contact him. Most of Bishop Hayashi’s time at St. Mary's Church will be spent at the fellowship time, sitting with you. I suggest you take advantage of the opportunity. I have long suspected that it is the fellowship that Bishop Hayashi enjoys the most at his Visitations.

Peter +

A Footnote: if you suffer from incorrigible insomnia I suggest you read over the Canon Law of The Episcopal Church. I have posted copies of both the General and Diocesan Canons on our website for easy access.

The authors of this blog welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Jesus Wept - Thoughts in Preparation for All Saints Day, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

The two words that form the title of this article also comprise the shortest verse in the entire Bible (John 11:35). Jesus wept.

It is not my purpose today to get into the deeper theological conundrums of the incarnation, the idea that in Jesus the divine and the human come together finally and forever. It is, however, worth pausing over these two words: Jesus wept. In this moment is Jesus being more human or more divine? Are the tears those of a grieving friend or those of a Creator who cries at the death of anything God has made? I believe that the only conceivable answer to that question is Yes.

I suspect that this picture is what the compilers of our lectionary had in mind when they chose John 11:32-44 as the Gospel reading for All Saints Day in Year B of the cycle. As we gather on November 1 to remember saints great and insignificant as well as “all those who have gone before” we are reminded that grief is both human and holy.

If you are wondering how God can grieve, read on.

St. Paul uses the word wrath a number of times in his letters to describe God’s reaction to sin and evil. For Paul, sin is “missing the mark,” trying to do what is right (usually) and being incapable of hitting the mark, the bullseye, with any consistency. For Paul, that is what it means to be human: to be imperfect no matter how hard we try to be otherwise. So, when we miss the mark the result in the divine realms is cosmic wrath.

That is a terrible thought, especially so if you believe in divine retribution for all that you have done wrong—the consequences of all the marks you have missed. In contemporary English we use the word wrath as a synonym for righteous, unrestrained anger, fury, rage…wrath. Paul, on the other hand, having experienced the boundlessness of God’s love in Christ does not conjure up that kind of divine response. For Paul, the reaction of God to sin and evil is best described as the cosmic, reactive scream of pain and anguish of the God who loves us. It is as if for Paul God’s response to the encounter with sin is grief. God weeps.

In saying these things I do not mean to anthropomorphize God. Rather, I am using poetic language to speak to a deep theological reality. God cares. God cares for the universe. God cares for individuals. Incomprehensible, yes, but a core belief of Christians. This is why we so often turn to the image of the Good Shepherd to attempt to get at how God cares for us. Jesus himself said that the Good Shepherd knows his sheep and calls them each by name.

Lazarus. Come out. There it is. Jesus, Messiah, the Good Shepherd, calls his friend Lazarus by name.

In part, at least, our celebration of the feast of All Saints witnesses to our belief in a loving, caring, accessible God, who became human that we might get a better idea of what it means to live a Godly life. On All Saints Day we pray that God would empower us to follow the “blessed saints in all virtuous and Godly living.” To the extent that those in the faith who have gone before us can provide us that kind of example, as human as they were, then we might follow their example.

So, when Jesus wept before the tomb of his friend Lazarus was he being more human or more divine? Yes.


The authors of the blog texts welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Diocesan Convention — the Episcopal Diocese of Utah’s Annual Meeting, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

If you are sick and tired of organized religion then you should try The Episcopal Church: we’re the most disorganized religion on the planet!

This bit of whimsy is both silly and true: the exaggeration makes clear the silliness; the observation reveals the truth that lies within. This is a church made up of human beings, at its best led by the Spirit of God. A strength of The Episcopal Church is its members’ ability to look critically at their institution…and then both appreciate and laugh at what they see.

The Episcopal Church is both hierarchical and democratic. Its governance is modeled in many ways on the government of the United States. The church has bishops—fewer than two hundred of them—and conventions, committees, commissions, and councils—lots of them. The primary component of The Episcopal Church is the diocese (Greek for district), a geographical entity encompassing congregations, institutions, schools, and programs. And, we are not the national Episcopal Church because there are dioceses of this church not part of the United States, e.g., the Diocese of Haiti. The Episcopal Diocese of Utah consists of most of the state of Utah except for the southeast corner that is part of the Diocese of Navajoland, and includes St. David’s Church, Page, Arizona.

To be a diocese of The Episcopal Church you must have three things: a bishop, a standing committee, and a convention. You can have lots of other entities in a diocese, but you must have those three. And the primary element of those three is the convention, because it is the convention that elects the bishop(s) and the members of the standing committee. And the convention is a collection of congregations and clergy.

In the Episcopal Diocese of Utah (EDU) lay delegates are elected by each congregation proportionally by size, but all congregations are also represented by the two Wardens. All clergy, priest and deacon, canonically resident (that is, answering to this bishop and registered as such), have seat, voice, and vote in the Diocesan Convention. The Bishop presides at meetings of the Convention. The usual things that come before the Convention are reports (lots of them), elections (a few of them), and fellowship (a significant and essential part of the meeting).

When the office of bishop is vacant, by resignation, retirement, or death, the convention is called together to elect a bishop. (It’s a long, complicated process, not to be expounded upon here.) Bishops are elected for life, but they must retire (as do all clergy in TEC) at age 72.

The Standing Committee in the Episcopal Diocese of Utah consists of six members, three lay and three clergy, elected by the Convention for staggered three-year terms. In Utah the Standing Committee serves as the corporate Board of Directors and as the Council of Advice to the Bishop. There are a few things bishops cannot do without the consent of the Standing Committee (ordinations are one).

In this diocese there is also a body called Diocesan Council, elected by the Convention, which is responsible for managing the budgets and programs, and establishing policy. Also, every three years the Convention elects four clergy and four lay persons to serve as Deputies to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

Episcopal dioceses, and all the entities therein, are governed by a body of rules called canon law. In effect, the canons (as they are known) are the bylaws of the corporation, and are adopted and amended by votes of the members of the Convention, just as parishes have bylaws that are amended and adopted at annual meetings.

The Episcopal Diocese of Utah holds its annual convention this weekend at the Episcopal Church Center of Utah in Salt Lake City. There will be plenty of silliness, and there will be moments of solemnity. The fact that there is both indicates an institution that, like most human institutions, is pretty healthy.

"All but the 100 degree General Convention weather will be back for our diocesn convention. Delegates and visitors are asked to wear their moose pins, moose hats and red volunteer aprons as we remember our “once every 150 year” hosting of the General Convention."
(read more on The Episcopal Diocese of Utah's website)

All gatherings of the Convention in Utah are open to any interested person. This year there will be workshops (go to the Convention Website for details, at, a roomful of displays provided by vendors, programs, as well as congregations, and all of the other usual business. A special event each year is the Convention Eucharist, which is held at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark on Saturday morning at 9:00 AM. This is a great opportunity to see much of the pageantry that is The Episcopal Church, and I strongly encourage you to attend.

Perhaps now that you have read through all of this you will understand the truth of the bit of whimsy at the beginning of this article. Because, in the long run, it is not the institution and its rules and structures that matter most. What matters most is the Church’s faithful members gathering together in Jesus’ name to continue the human work of being the Body of Christ in the world.

The authors of the blog texts welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

1. The official name of this part of the Anglican Communion is The Episcopal Church, with the initial “T” capitalized, and abbreviated TEC. Its corporate name is The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, also known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA). The church is episcopal (having bishops). Its members are Episcopalians.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Then Come and Follow Me, by The Rev. Deacon Sandra Jones

This particular story from Mark is found in three of the Gospels, there are slight variations—the “wealthy man” in Mark (although we don’t know he is wealthy when the story begins), is identified as a “young man” in Matthew and later as a “ certain ruler” in Luke. This character, this “wealthy, young ruler”, represents the upper crust of society, he is part of the ruling elite, and whether he is an actual ruler or not, he benefits from the way the social system is set up.

The people living in Judea, in the time of Jesus, lived under a two-tiered domination system; one was local and centered in the Temple in Jerusalem, and it was subjugated by the other, Imperial Rome.

According to Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, the “domination system” “is shorthand for the most common form of social system—a way of organizing a society—in ancient and premodern times, that is, in preindustrial agrarian societies.”1 Three major features--political oppression, economic exploitation and religious legitimation, mark these systems.

As a conquered nation, the people of Judea were ruled by a few wealthy elites put into place by their Roman overlords. The economic exploitation was in the form of the “high percentage of the society’s wealth, which came primarily from agricultural production [in preindustrial societies,] went into the coffers of the wealthy and powerful.”2 This accumulation of wealth was enabled by the laws concerning land ownership, taxation, and the indentured labor of the lower classes due to incurred debt.

This system was fostered through religious legitimation, rule over the populace was justified through their religious language, the social order reflected the will of God, which gives support to the idea that those who are godly are blessed and those who suffer and do not appear to be blessed are ungodly as noted in the language of Deuteronomy where obeying God’s covenant leads to blessings of wealth and success in one’s undertakings (a concept which was a distortion, much as we see with the Prosperity Gospel)—but to sum it up, those who were in power, were there because God ordained it.

This is the elite caste system the “wealthy, young ruler” is a member of. In the gospel of Mark, when the man approaches Jesus, he kneels down—whenever someone approaches Jesus and kneels he or she is seeking healing, either for himself or herself or for someone they love, so what healing is this man seeking? With his question it seems this man wants to know and reconcile with, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” For us as Christians we hear him asking about heaven, but the “Greek phrase used by Mark renders the Jewish notion of ‘the life of the age to come’—a transformed earth, or the kingdom of God. Not heaven, but God’s kingdom on earth.”3 This is a deep question because it not only presents the idea of action, “what must I do”, but also considers relationship because to inherit means there is a belonging, what is received is bequeathed not earned.

Jesus’ response is to query the man about his practices, his adherence to the commandments. The specific commandments Jesus seeks response to, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud”, come from the 2nd table of the commandments, the last six of the ten that deal with how we are to conduct our human interactions, our relationships.

Along with the wealth the man possesses and the power that comes with it, there was status, social standing, sought through association with those of similar or higher rank and privilege, who do you know and who do you engage with? This man’s established sense of societal order, how it works and its expectations is going to be turned upside down. As Andrew Warren notes, “The kind of materialism Jesus calls us to requires not the accumulation of goods, but an engagement with people, particularly people in need.” There is not a lot of social status in “engaging” with society’s marginalized and this man is being invited to not only engage the marginalized but to become one.

Jesus listens to him as the man says “I have been faithful” and then as Mark writes, Jesus, looking at him, loved him—Jesus wants him to follow, to become a disciple. Jesus is seeing this man not only as he truly is, “but in a way that the young man is not yet capable of seeing himself.”4 So to consider the question asked in a previous paragraph, what healing is this man seeking—an answer could be spiritual healing, he feels, he senses there is something deeper, something more that will bring him closer to God and to God’s kingdom and it isn’t what he has studied or he practices, he is asking Jesus for directions on how to give his life meaning and create relationship.

Jesus says to him “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor”, he is to distribute his wealth to the poor, not given as charity, it goes beyond giving a percentage or a portion which might soothe the conscience of the giver, and also does little to change the system that creates the poor and marginalized. Jesus is inviting him “to join the inner circle of his family and as a challenge to do the difficult thing that will restore his relationship with those on the margins of his life, those most in need of justice and generosity.”5 It is not only recognizing the marginalized in his society it is being in relationship with them.

So was it just the wealth, the social status, or was it the giving up of living in a system of hierarchies that he is a part of that stops him from becoming a disciple? When Peter begins to say, “Look, we have left everything and followed you”, Jesus tells his disciples what their new life will look like, he says that those who have left their “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers, children and fields, with persecutions…” sometimes the responsibilities of being a Christian can be a tribulation, “and in the age to come eternal life”, again not “heaven”, but God’s kingdom on earth.

And we will belong to a new family, one in which you will note that Jesus leaves out the word “fathers”, not because there will be no fathers but because the father image reinforces the patriarchal/ hierarchical system and there will be no hierarchy of any sort, except for God. The kingdom of God that will be inherited is inclusive and as we heard in the gospel lesson a couple of weeks ago, and again today those “who are first will be last, and the last will be first”, and we shall all be “servants of all”.

So when Jesus says to us, “Then come and follow me”—what preface has Jesus used in his invitation to each of us to “come and follow” that may cause us to go “away grieving”? What can cause us to miss out on becoming a disciple of a radical prophet who says, “for God all things are possible”? For the “wealthy young ruler”, was the thought “Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?” too much? Wealth creates independence from others and the kingdom of God is relational, we are servants of each other and meaning for him came through those he was associated with, his new associates would be the marginalized of his society. Was the answer for his spiritual healing too scary, too intimidating to partake?

In the words of the hymn, “Will You Come and Follow Me?” when I am asked, “Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same”, I find that is a bit intimidating, going where I don’t know, where I might not have the answer or even an idea of what is happening. While the thought of being able to “set the prisoner free”, of kissing “the leper clean”, of caring “for the cruel and kind” sounds doable and even meaningful, then I hear the scariest statement of all “Will you love the ‘you’ you hide”, and I realize that I must bring all of me, even the scared, uncertain and well, I won’t go into the other “hidden ‘me’s” at this time, but they are all invited into this discipleship—although from what I know of the original twelve I will be in great company—still …

So what do we need to let go of, sell, get rid of, accept before we are able to see the look of love Jesus gives as he sees the true us in ways we are incapable, thus allowing us to truly say “yes” to his invitation to “come and follow me!”

1. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, pg. 7.
2. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, pg. 7-8.
3. Marcus Borg, Conversations with Scripture: the Gospel of Mark, pg 82.
4. Paul Waddell, Heroic Ambition, The Christian Century, 10/6/2009
5. Kathryn Matthews

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Jesus and the Little Useless Burdens, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

13. People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10)

In my sermon last Sunday I made the point that the little scene from Mark in which Jesus blesses children is far more remarkable than our Western, modern minds comprehend. In the ancient world until a child matured to the point where they could begin to help with the ongoing work of the family they were considered an economic burden. Children were classed below slaves because they were use-less. For Jesus to literally embrace little children would have been, at the very least, surprising to his followers and neighbors.

Jesus is obviously making a point, and it is this: the Kingdom of God into which Jesus invites us is radically different from the ways of the world, so much so that the foundations of everything we know and believe are turned on their heads.

The word that Mark uses that we translate child is paidia [παιδια, “pie-dee-uh”], a fairly common term in the Greek of the day. Interestingly, it can be used as a synonym for terms like baby, little ones, tykes, inconsequential ones, servants and so on. That is, the term paidia could be used very much like we use the word child. So, what Jesus’ hearers would have inferred is that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a [little child, servant, inconsequential thing, baby, innocent one] will never enter it.” What they would have heard was “…like the least valuable and most useless thing you can imagine…”.

They who were gathering around Jesus and were trying to make themselves useful (that is, noticed) by him had just been told that they would not enter the kingdom, but their little useless burdens—children—would. If they didn’t see their world turning upside down then at least they felt something falling onto their heads.

This idea of little useless ones occurs throughout Jesus’ teaching. It is hinted at in Jesus’ encounter with Rabbi Nicodemus in John. Matthew reports the saying of Jesus that “inasmuch as you have done it to these, one of the little ones, you have done it do me.” “Little ones” there is the Greek word micron (pronounced mee-kron). It means very much what it does in English: the tiniest entity imaginable, something microscopic, a thing so insignificant you would never notice it. A child, for instance.

(Having just done the Blessing of the Animals I am reminded of the prayer, “…that we may not succumb to coldness of heart when we see the stray animals on our streets, that we may not turn away but bring them to a place of safety,…” Perhaps anything inconsequential that passes beneath our attention is a paidia or a micron.)

This is not one of those ideas that one can simply embrace intellectually. It is more an awareness, a comprehension of something that makes us stop and consider what is being said. The foundations of what we think we know and believe are turned on their heads. Ouch.

Peter +

*** The authors of the blog texts in the St. Mary's Church Blog welcome comments, reactions, and critiques. Feel free (and welcome) to leave a comment. ***

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Update from our Postulant, Tim Yanni

Greetings to you back in Utah!

I hope the changing of the seasons is delightful to you! The change from summer to fall is one of the things I miss the most about being away from Utah. Here in California, the weather is fairly constant and the color changes are not as impressive as they are in Utah. With the change of seasons, I would like to share with you some details of events that are taking place in my life.

As you know, I left Utah for California about a month ago. It has been an extremely busy month! I am continuing in my role as Head Sacristan at CDSP. In the seminary world, Head Sacristan is a fairly prestigious position with many honors and many responsibilities. In seminary speak, Head Sacristan is often seen as a role ranking even higher than student body president at other institutions of higher learning. I'm honored to have earned the trust of the community and I am humbled by the responsibilities that the job requires. I spend many hours teaching, preparing, and in many ways, pastoring to other students. It is certainly a challenge to juggle Sacristan duties with school work. However, I have learned a great deal about leadership, worship, and administration by taking on this role.

I am continuing my weight loss journey, although it has not been easy. I have lost ten pounds since returning to Berkeley, yet I have a long way to go to reach a healthy weight. To date, my total weight loss is 73 pounds. If I am able to reach a healthy weight by the end of the calendar year, I will be accepted into the United States Navy's Chaplain Candidate program. As a Chaplain Candidate, I would gain helpful experience by working side by side with active duty Navy chaplains. It is a tremendous opportunity. Both Bishop Scott Hayashi and Bishop Jay Magness (the Episcopal Bishop of the U. S. Armed Services) have given me their ecclesiastical support in this venture. Now it is up to the Navy to accept me, which they will do if I meet their height and weight standards. This is a very exciting opportunity!

This semester, I am taking courses in Christian Ethics, Christian Education, Liturgics, and Pastoral Care. I have a very full schedule with very challenging courses. I would go as far as to say that this is my most challenging and stressful course load I have yet seen. This is probably amplified by the whirlwind of activities, deadlines, meetings, and commitments which come as part of a seminarian's senior year of studies. I am preparing to take General Ordination Exams in January of this year, and there is a weekly seminar for preparation every Wednesday. I am also preparing to preach my required senior sermon (by the time you read this, it will have been finished. I am scheduled to preach on Sept. 29, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.).

Overall, my studies and preparation are going well. I am learning to navigate the uncertainties and the unexpected obstacles that seem to appear and to take care of myself as best I can. If I am unable to take care of myself properly, then I am unable to give appropriate energy to studying and to ministering to the people of God. I have learned that this is a very important area of focus for virtually everyone in the ministry. I will continue to keep you posted of my progress this year. I am hopeful to be made a candidate for Holy Orders very soon and to be ordained as a transitional deacon at some point within the next three to eight months. Please know that you are all in my prayers and I very much appreciate the support I receive from the wonderful people of St. Mary's. Seminary is quite the journey, and with your support and prayers, I just might make it after all!
The authors of the blog texts welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

On the Dedication of a Piano, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

In accordance with a venerable tradition, church furnishings and ornaments are consecrated by being put to the use for which they were intended. The Book of Occasional Services, p. 192

On the evening of Saturday, October 10, St. Mary's Church will celebrate the dedication of the Richard H. Weissert Memorial Piano.

To dedicate a piano may seem odd, although it would seem less odd to dedicate a chalice or vestments or stained glass window. If anything it is right and good that we should acknowledge the gift of something to our church, but it is also right and good that we should remind ourselves of the importance that things have in our lives and of the importance that those who have gone before us have for our continuing life together.

The purpose of this piano has been explained before, so I shall only summarize here. About three years ago our then-Organist Ruth Eldredge Thomas and I began to realize that our “little” church was not only beautiful but also possessing rather fine acoustics. Ruth began to recruit friends and colleagues to perform at various times for us, and the idea began to grow that the church might be a resource for the larger music community around us, including the music programs at the two area universities.

In December 2014 the Bishop's Committee approved a proposal to create the Community Music Outreach Program to do exactly that: provide a moderate-sized venue for musical performance as a means of reaching out to the community around us and making life better for us all. However, our explorations revealed that in order to be an attractive venue we needed a decent—read, grand—piano. Our technical advisers recommend something around 6’2” in length.

In late 2013 the Rev. Richard Weissert, long-time Assisting Priest at St. Mary's Church, died. Conferring with his children, Barry and Sandy, it was decided that a fitting memorial for Fr. Dick, who loved church music and used to sing in the church choir, would be the desired piano. Thanks to them, and a number of others who contributed to the Weissert Memorial Fund, sufficient funds were raised that, when the right instrument was discovered, we were able to move quickly and acquire it.

In early 2015 Serena Kanig Benish was retained as the Program Coordinator, and the program commenced with the opera department of Utah Valley University putting on Puccini’s Suor Angelica in the church. (It was oddly fitting, in that the entire opera takes place in a chapel!)

Along with the piano itself, a bronze plaque will be placed in the church to remind us of the example of service that Fr. Dick gave us. He was well known around town for his generous spirit, and served for many years on the Food & Care Coalition board of directors, and many of them as Treasurer.

Two things Dick loved about St. Mary’s Church was the music and the annual service of the Blessing of the Animals. One of the last sermons he preached as at such a service, and the text of that sermon remains posted on our parish Website (here).

So, what then are we observing and dedicating on the 10th of October?

We are remembering, and causing to be continually remembered, the generous example of Dick Weissert to his church and his community.

We are acknowledging the many gifts of money that led to the acquisition of the piano.

We are recognizing the many years of planning and effort that went into the creation of the Community Music Outreach Program and the acquisition of the piano that will support it.

We are thanking God for all that and more, including the continuing opportunity as a congregation to reach out to the community around us and invite it into our lovely space to enjoy it with us.

We are committing ourselves to continuing the ministries that have been expressed out of this congregation so that the world will know that God’s creation includes the beauty of his holiness.

It is not necessary that we should dedicate this piano, but it is a good and lovely thing that we give thanks and celebrate the gifts we have received.

The authors of the blog texts welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Regarding the Church Development Institute (CDI), by Patricia Castelli

Bishop Scott Hayashi invited parishes from the Diocese of Utah to send representatives to the Church Development Institute (CDI). It's been my privilege to attend the first five of the eight-weekend workshops. Father Peter, David Carlisle, and I began our interactive study a year ago, committing to attend four workshops a year for two years. But life does sometimes nudges us onto other paths, and the Carlisle Family has relocated to Arizona. Personally, I felt much more confident about developing projects to enrich our Church life at St. Mary's with David bolstering our activities with his keen intelligence, solid Christian values, and innate leadership abilities.

The first year of CDI focused on organizational behavior through the lens of the individual and how each of us brings various character traits, personalities, and levels of commitment that affect our congregational community. In May, the representatives from each parish worked with one another to develop a project for their own congregation.

St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Park City developed a water conservation plan for the landscaping around their church building and encouraged all parishioners to track their water savings from the previous year.

During the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, St. Jude's Episcopal held a Saturday service based on the prayer book used in Shakespeare's Day, enticing many visitors to attend a service.

For St. Mary's, Peter, David, and I decided on formalizing our welcomes and goodbyes.

We reflected on St. Mary's and the transient nature of our congregation, especially the student population. We recognize that core members who have been attending St. Mary's for many years have naturally developed a welcoming community. The open friendliness and genuine interest in the people who enter the church creates an atmosphere of acceptance for all visitors. We want to augment that welcome with more. Perhaps a loaf of fresh bread taken to the home of the visitor, or a welcome packet of some sort? Feel free to share any ideas you may have with Peter or members of the Bishop's Committee. Our goal is to welcome others into our Church family in a way that invites them to contribute their talents to St. Mary's as a blessing for both the community and the individual.

Too often, we must say goodbye to well-loved families and individuals who have moved away, or moved on to their heavenly home. The goodbyes are part of our lives at St. Mary's and we can commemorate those events with special prayers in the service. For those moving away, social hour can be a celebration of their time with us. As we formulated these plans, our first goodbye was to David and his family.

I guess that means I can continue to work on CDI projects without the help of David. (After all, he didn't plan his own goodbye party.) While David will still be a part of St. Mary's as a seminarian from our community, we will need another person to dedicate three weekends to CDI: November 13-14, February 5-6, and May 20-21. If you're interested, talk to Peter.

~ Patricia Castelli

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Gift of Bewilderment, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

It is very unsettling, to say the least, when one finds oneself feeling quite alone while in the midst of a lot of people.

At times, it means being in a place where the customs and language are unfamiliar. It means feeling that one is different, out of sync, always suspecting that you are being looked at with sidelong glances, that there is more psychic than physical distance between you and the people around you. I experienced that when I spent four weeks in Cuernavaca, México studying Spanish. Wherever I was, I was usually the only Anglo; I am almost a foot taller than the average Mexican male, let alone the average Mexican female. To say the least, I stood out. My ability to speak Spanish was, as it still is, dreadful. I felt conspicuously out of sync. I never felt in any danger, but I also never felt at home.

People who are unfamiliar with liturgical worship — our kind of worship — can very much feel the same way that I did while in Mexico. Our worship space, our church building, so comfortable and comforting to us, so lovely and warm in our experience, can for a visitor be a strange land, an alien space. Our worship, familiar in its rhythms with its proclamation of God’s grace given to us, is for the newcomer often simply empty ritual with no meaning, no content whatsoever, a confusing babble to the person unfamiliar with us. And then we make them go through Episcopal calisthenics — sit, stand, kneel, stand again, sit...

A further stumbling-block to the new person in church is the fact they often bring with them a lot of pain as well as uncertainty. We Christians have a reputation for acting like we have arrived, that we have the answers. There is often a smugness about Christians that rubs crosswise against our claims to be humble. Maya Angelou mused once that
“I’m trying to be a Christian. I’m working at it, and I’m amazed when people walk up to me and say, ‘I’m a Christian.’ I think, Already? Wow!” [Quoted at The Working Preacher, August 2012.]

If a person is entering an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people doing unfamiliar things whom you suspect of smugness while dealing with hurts and rejections and failures, it is a wonder that many do not just turn at the door and run away.

What is interesting to me is that so many people arrived at St. Mary's Church just like that visitor I have just described, but discovered that we left our smugness somewhere near the door at some point and know ourselves to be just human beings struggling to be Christian. You may find this odd, but I want you to consider the possibility that it is that our experience of bewilderment and questioning and doubt that is one of the most important gifts we can give to someone who walks into this space.

It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity that faith is not something we attain, it is a gift of God that in no way can be earned or deserved. Many people have told me that they arrived in a church community they know not why but in retrospect they understand that in some very important way they were led there, that God was leading them to the gift of faith. You may think that you have to make a choice, but the reality is that you have been chosen. Think about that the next time you see a stranger walking into this church building.

St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, "...Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee...” (The Confessions, Bk. I, Chap. I). May we see in each of us, and especially in the visitor in our midst, that gift of searching.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Holy Baptism and the Community of the Faithful, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Holy Baptism is appropriately administered within the Eucharist as the chief service on a Sunday or other feast.

I am a progressive traditionalist. (Or perhaps it is a traditionalist progressive. Whatever.) I will not get into the details of how I base that stance, except to say that I am firmly attached to the old Anglican ideal of the three-legged stool: Scripture, tradition, and reason together giving us guidance and justification for our corporate decisions. This is especially true in matters of worship: I tend not to get attracted by the new and flashy, but I am open to innovations that support the community of the faithful I am serving.

For example: I was ordained just before the adoption of the [current] 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) with its many options and alternatives. For many of my colleagues, especially the younger ones, this meant lots of experimentation and frequent changing of the service. I had been taught that the alternatives were there to enable adaptation of the rites to local circumstances, and that is what I have practiced to this day.

This is true also of my pastoral and liturgical practices regarding Holy Baptism. As noted by the rubric quoted above, I will not do private baptisms, which is how my sister and I were baptized all those years ago (on a Saturday afternoon with just my parents). The intention of the BCP is that Baptism will be administered when the entire body of the faithful can be present. Further, in order to emphasize the importance and character of Baptism, like many other pastors, I have maintained the four primary feast days of the Church Year as the proper times for Baptism: The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (early January), Easter (early spring), Pentecost (late spring/summer), and All Saints Sunday (early winter). (See page 312 of the BCP for details.)

A quick glance at the calendar exposes an interesting catch: there can be six months between Pentecost and All Saints Day. That is a long time between baptisms!

Another, more recent, change has been something that Bishop Hayashi suggested a couple of years ago. First, we are in the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ, not just Episcopalians. (Agreed.) Second, using an Early Church model (tradition) we should make baptism more, not less, accessible. (Agreed.) For me, that means that Baptism is not to be understood as the conclusion of a process, an end in itself, but should be understood as the beginning of a process, a moment of change and departure from which one moves into the future. A consequence of that shift in perspective is that, while pre-baptismal instruction of a sort remains important, it is more important for the newly baptized person to have spiritual and pastoral support in the first months following their baptism.

So, while I still want to preserve the four feast days for baptisms, I am open to doing baptisms on other Sundays for good pastoral reasons.

Which is to say, a good pastoral reason has arisen.

A person relatively new to St. Mary's Church and her father will be baptized this Sunday, August 30. The pastoral reason is that she wants to be baptized with her father, who lives in Illinois, and time and money being tight for families with college students, the request was simple: how about when the father and daughter are together when he brings her to begin school in the fall?

They have both been going through the necessary pre-Baptismal instruction with a priest in Illinois this summer. Both will continue to be active in their respective faith communities. And, the Community of Faith will be present to welcome them into Christ’s Body the Church.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Stewardship of the Church: The Management of Ministry and a Visit with the Chancellor, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

In the Prayers of the People this summer we have been praying that we would be good stewards of the earth: “that we may use its resources rightly in service to others, and to your honor and glory;…” It is a line I like very much, because it gives context and direction to our use of God’s creation.

I believe that the same sentiment can be applied to the care we give our own church buildings: the worship space, the parish hall, the offices, the grounds. St. Mary's Church has a long and respectable history when it comes to the stewardship of this property. They remain in remarkably good shape thanks to generations of parish leadership who have seen that there is no deferred maintenance, and that little problems do not turn into bigger ones.

This outlook on care for what we have received is very much on the minds of the members of the Bishop's Committee as they continually see to the funding of our maintenance needs, and look forward to make sure that our plans include appropriate care. Those plans have included not only our own use of the property, but also the many support groups like A.A. that use the building week in and week out—sometimes over 400 people a week attend those meetings! One of the concerns for the members of the Bishop's Committee as we contemplated the Community Music Outreach Program (CMOP) was how to assure adequate care as the church building itself would be used.

A little-known aspect of managing the church property is the laws and regulations we must observe, including everything from food and health laws to liability concerns. Because St. Mary's Church is incorporated as a nonprofit entity we must follow the Internal Revenue Service regulations concerning who can be allowed to use our building. For example, no for-profit entity may use the property for any purpose at any time. (The logic is that we might be competing with another for-profit entity that would like to provide, say, meeting space, but cannot do it as cheaply as we can because we do no pay property or other taxes.) Also, we cannot allow just any school or educational program use the facilities: the University of Phoenix is a for-profit company, whereas BYU is private and nonprofit, and UVU is a public institution.

As we have developed the CMOP there have been a number of questions about specific uses. Not just policy concerns—is it OK to do operas and dramas? (Yes) How about a political group? (Maybe) How about private music teachers? (Maybe not.) The reason is that even the nice lady down the street who gives piano lessons to the neighborhood kids is considered by the IRS as a for-profit entity (unless she has incorporated as a nonprofit! educational program). Even though a recital is done for the benefit of the kids (in this case) it is not clear that the church facilities can be put to such a use.

There has been enough confusion and anxiety about these questions, and many others, that we have invited the Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah (the diocesan attorney) to visit with us this coming Wednesday evening. Stephen Hutchinson is not only an attorney, he has extensive experience in nonprofit legal issues. He also grew up at St. Mary's Church! This one-hour meeting is open to any interested person. (The class usually scheduled for Wednesday evenings will not meet in order to accommodate the Chancellor.)

St. Mary's Church has become known in many parts of our communities as an accessible, welcoming place, not only on Sunday mornings but also all during the week. We want to make sure that this identity is maintained and developed, and we want to make sure we do not even inadvertently misuse our nonprofit status. We want to continue to use this gift, this facility, rightly in service to others, and to God’s glory and honor.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Brief Meditation on Preaching on World Events, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

I face a dilemma any time there is a human tragedy or other public disaster or calamity. I find myself caught between my commitment to a Sunday service that is focused on God’s grace and our thanksgivings for it, and my responsibility as Priest and Pastor to help you make Christian sense out despair, shock, and confusion. (As an Extrovert type I also have a need to talk about my own reactions and feelings, and sermon preparation is often a place where that happens for me.) These two things are not in any essential conflict. It is just that the present form of our worship and our community life do not provide easy avenues to reach a resolution.

I have long felt, and been committed to, the liturgical philosophy that most people when they come to St. Mary's Church they are looking for sanctuary. Sanctuary in this sense means several things all at once:
~ a safe place where a person can come—to a worship service or to a meeting—and know that they will be respected in their person, just as they are.

~ a congregation in which children are recognized and received as full and responsible members of the worshipping community.

~ a congregation in which differences are respected, and where the question has at least equal importance to any answers.

~ a worshipping community that recognizes the transient nature of much of our membership, and is careful to allow those who are hurting to have space and time to heal, and is also diligent about letting any person know that they are welcome in this place.
These elements of sanctuary sometimes conflict with this pastor’s need to address the concerns and feelings we sometimes bring with us to church.

For example, the week after the terrible tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, I wanted to explore with you themes like the source and power of evil, the contemptible nature of violence, the power of symbols to incite action, our lack of concern as a society for the mentally ill, and the sense of powerlessness we feel when confronted by acts of destruction. But… There are children in church! There are people there who are themselves hurting and need a word of comfort and solace! There are people there who are visiting for the very first time, and I do not want to give a bad impression! There are people there who might disagree with my analyses, and preaching does not give any opportunity for dialogue! These people and many others I have in mind each week as I prepare for worship and preaching. These concerns even affect my choice of hymns! In other words, I sometimes feel stuck.

Part of my vexation is the reality of this congregation’s life: we have very little in the way of Adult Christian Education, nor do we have a prayer group or other fellowship groups in which these conversations might otherwise take place. Our recent efforts at building two different groups around the study of The Catechism in The Book of Common Prayer is an effort to begin to build back what once, many decades ago, was robust Christian Education program at St. Mary's Church. Later this summer we will be adding another ongoing adult program, but that information is for later.

My solution to my dilemma is that I would have a number of different groups meeting at various times and places to do different things: study group, prayer group, young adult group, a dinner group. Coming together outside of Sunday at 10:30 AM provides opportunities to create and maintain relationships, to build trust and community, and to hear one another’s concerns and thoughts. I just do not have the slightest idea, at this point, as to how to get from my dilemma to more opportunities to meet and talk.

Your thoughts and observations would be most welcome.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On Seminarians and their formation and Training — III, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Last week, I wrote about how a person moves through the usual process toward ordination to be a Deacon or Priest in the Episcopal Church. The process is the same for both and is long and involves years of education, reviews, and interviews. Last week’s blog was about the two men who have been with us and what the future holds for them and for us. This week, I address why these two men are here and what they are doing this summer.

The Role of Seminaries

One of the mysteries to most lay people about seminary education is how little practical training is provided. Of course, there are courses in liturgics (the how and why of leading and planning worship), the required clinical pastoral education, and even a course in canon law. At the same time, most Episcopal seminaries offer only one required course in homiletics (preaching) and a single semester of direct parish experience. (Bishop’s encourage seminarians to get as much experience as possible, but it is not a seminary requirement.) For example, I graduated after three years with no instruction in how to organize, lead, or preside at vestry or Bishop’s Committee Meetings, no instruction in promotion or public relations, and no instruction in human resource management or accounting and financial management.

The reason for this distinct lack of practical knowledge is that, historically, seminaries are theological schools not training schools. That is, they are academic institutions whose purpose is to prepare an educated and thoughtful church leadership. Seminaries prepare one to reflect, not to do. This is not training, but education: learning to learn, sometimes called formation. The purpose of formation is not to give a person skills but to equip them spiritually and intellectually for the rigors of ministry. The individual student is expected, with the support of their bishop and commission on ministry, to gain whatever practical experience they can during their three year course of study.

And therein lies this summer experience for David Carlisle and Tim Yanni.

A Summer at St. Mary's Church—the Role of the Parish in Preparation for Ministry

Knowing all this, I have offered Tim and David an opportunity to learn some stuff about parish life that they will not, indeed cannot, get in seminary. Like opportunities to preach to a real congregation of “normal” people. Like opportunities to teach and interact with parishioners about their own lives. Like opportunities to participate in congregational worship. And so on.

David Carlisle, having been an active part of this congregation’s life, has had a number of opportunities to take on leadership roles. He spent a year organizing and establishing our St. Francis Garden in the front of the church. To do so, he had to learn to negotiate with the Bishop’s Committee about the stake people have in their church and how to manage a limited budget in order to accomplish something positive. He has had opportunities to interact with parishioners pastorally while serving as a Eucharistic Visitor, which means calling on people in the hospital or in their home, and sitting with them to talk about their lives, and to pray with them.

As previously noted, Tim Yanni’s path toward ordination has been different than David’s in that he has had fewer opportunities for practical experience in a congregation. Tim’s primary purpose this summer is to complete his clinical pastoral education experience, so we have had to work around his commitments at St. Mark’s Hospital. He has been assisting in the Thursday Catechism Course, and that has given the two of us opportunities to chat while commuting. Tim has been sitting in on Bishop's Committee Meetings and acting as a Eucharistic Visitor, and he has been given several opportunities to preach to a live congregation, not just to a class of fellow students. In his CPE course he has attended birth and been with people in death. He has baptized people, and he has prayed with people.

In other words, this summer at St. Mary's Church has given both David and Tim real-world experience that relatively few seminarians ever get before they graduate. And, this experience has happened in a healthy, living congregation of real people in an odd corner of the universe called Provo.

Which is to say that the positive experience they have had at St. Mary's Church is because of the parishioners. The members of St. Mary's Church have welcomed David and Tim in their new roles and have been gracious in giving them access to parish life. In all this, they have been given a glimpse at what life will be like after they are ordained. It is truly a gift given by the people of God to two men who seek to serve Christ in them.

A footnote:
David will preach his final sermon on August 9 and will then move to Tucson, Arizona, where he, Arum, and the boys will take up their new life at the University of Arizona. David will continue as a member of St. Mary's Church and as an aspirant for ordination from the Diocese of Utah. He has already begun the part-time, non-residential program toward his Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) degree at CDSP.

Tim will finish up CPE in mid-August and then return to CDSP for his third and final year of seminary. He will be meeting with Bishop Hayashi later this summer to discuss becoming a Candidate for Holy Orders, the final step before ordination.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On Seminarians and their formation and Training — II, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Last week, I wrote about how a person moves through the usual process toward ordination to be a Deacon or Priest in The Episcopal Church. The process is the same for both, and is long and involves years of education, reviews, and interviews. The Orders of Priest and Deacon have distinct and important functions in the Church: It is helpful to see the Priest as the one who gathers the congregation for worship, and the Deacon as the one who equips, empowers, and sends members of the Church into the world in witness to Christ’s love. This week’s blog is about the two men who have been with us, and what the future holds for them and for us.

Postulants, Candidates, and Seminarians

As noted in my earlier blog the difference between a Postulant and a Candidate for Holy Orders is the point they are in the process toward ordination. One who desires to enter the process, an aspirant, applies to the Bishop for admission as a Postulant, which is essentially a period of extensive self-examination and discernment before one applies to be a Candidate. A Candidate, on the other hand, is considered to be in the final stages of preparation. It takes a significant action on the part of the Bishop and/or the Candidate to drop out of the process at this point.

In last week’s notes I failed to mention the important role of the Parish Discernment Committee, which is a small group of parishioners, usually appointed by the Priest-in-Charge, who spend several months meeting with an aspirant before they make formal application to the Bishop. I will say more about Discernment Committees another time, but they are critically important in the early steps of the process toward ordination.

All this leads me to describe the two men who are with us this summer, where they are in their different processes, and how they got there.

David Carlisle

David Carlisle came to St. Mary's Church when his wife, Arum Park, was appointed a visiting professor of Classics at BYU. They had become part of The Episcopal Church during graduate school in North Carolina (where they were confirmed by Bishop Michael Curry, now the Presiding Bishop-elect of The Episcopal Church). David grew up in rural New México in an unchurched family. His educational background is in the Classics: the study of ancient Greek and Roman literature and philosophy. After receiving his Ph.D. David taught for a year at Cornell College, a small liberal arts institution affiliated with the United Methodist Church in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, and then moved to Utah with the rest of his family.

David approached me shortly after they arrived to talk about his sense of call to ordained ministry, which had begun many years earlier. I formed a Parish Discernment Committee (consisting of Mary Allen Redd, Keith Jensen, and Chris Peper) and David met with them for nearly a year before asking to receive a formal endorsement from the Bishop's Committee of St. Mary's Church. He had been studying in the diocese’s ministry formation program, and meeting with various clergy throughout the diocese. He attended the (required) Day of Discovery, and subsequently took on the project of creating our St. Francis Garden in the front of the church.

Upon my recommendation, and the certification from the Bishop’s Committee, David applied for admission to the ordination process and was admitted as a Postulant for Holy Orders early in 2015.

Were this a more typical process toward ordination David would begin a three-year residential process at a seminary of the church. However, Arum has accepted a teaching position at the University of Arizona and the Carlisles will be moving to Tucson in August, and David will proceed with a longer (four years) but non-residential program at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California (CDSP). He will remain, officially, a member of St. Mary's Church and a Postulant of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah—which is not all that unusual, in that most seminarians have moved away from their “home” parishes.

Tim Yanni

Tim Yanni came into The Episcopal Church several years ago after being raised a Roman Catholic. He was living in Salt Lake City, and the church he attended was St. James, in Midvale. A few years ago he spoke with the then-Rector, John Williams, about ordination, which John readily supported. Tim went through the Day of Discovery and the usual interviews, but, because of various points of confusion in the process of applying for ordination, he was not immediately accepted as a Postulant. At the same time, he was encouraged by Bishop Hayashi to begin seminary at CDSP. Then, at the end of his first year of seminary, Fr. Williams resigned from St. James’ Church to take a position in New York, and Tim was left without a pastor and mentor. Bishop Hayashi approached me and asked that I take on that responsibility with Tim (although Tim’s “membership” is still at St. James; when it comes to the ordination process confusion is inevitable and certainly not unusual).

As Tim noted in this sermon on July 5, his original conception of ministry was primarily sacramental and pastoral. His experience at St. James’ Church and St. Mary’s has exposed several dimensions of ordained ministry that Tim had not recognized, and he has much appreciated the opportunities for pastoral and educational ministry that his time at St. Mary’s has afforded him. This summer he is enrolled in a program of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at St. Mark’s Hospital, which is a full-time training and experiential program in pastoral care. This is required of all persons moving toward ordination, and is often stressful as one experiences pastoral ministry in its most challenging aspects: births, traumatic injuries, family dynamics, and death. (Just in the last week Tim has witnessed his first birth, his first death, and has done two baptisms—just in case you want to know what parish ministry is like!)

Upon completion of his summer training Tim will return to Berkeley to begin his third and final year of formal theological education. He has become aware of a sense of call to ministry in the Armed Forces (probably the Navy). I have already signed off on his ecclesiastical endorsement, but he must complete two years of formal pastoral ministry before he can be admitted to the chaplain training program. As is true of all seminarians at this point in the process, Tim does not know where he will land after graduation next June. He will continue to be a part of the life of St. Mary's Church even by extension, as we continue to hold him in our prayers.


Next Week: Why are these two men here, and what are they supposed to be doing?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On Seminarians and Their Formation and Training — I, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

This summer our congregation is fortunate to have two seminarians with us, David Carlisle and Tim Yanni. I say “fortunate” because it is unusual to have even one seminarian being an active part of a smallish congregation like St. Mary's Church. These two add a different voice to our preaching, and bring different skills and backgrounds to our fellowship.

My intention in these next two blog posts is to describe the process through which one goes in order to become a Deacon or Priest in The Episcopal Church, and specifically describe how they are working with me and the congregation this summer as a part of their formation and training.

The Process

When one senses a call to the Diaconate or Priesthood the first step is to take counsel with their pastor, who makes the first determination of the soundness of the person’s call. At some point the person approaches the Bishop. The person is connected with the diocese’s Commission on Ministry, and the formal process of discernment begins by way of physical and psychological examinations, a series of interviews.

Upon the recommendation of the Commission on Ministry and the person’s sponsoring clergy and parish, the Bishop may then make them a Postulant for Holy Orders, which is simply being listed by the Bishop on a roster of those seeking ordination, and is understood to be a time of further exploration on the part of the church leadership and the aspirant. Seminary education may then begin with the permission of the Bishop.

The aspirant then applies to the Bishop to be admitted as a Candidate for Holy Orders, which is understood to be the primary formal step toward ordination. More interviews with the Commission and the Bishop are held, and with the concurrence of the Standing Committee of the diocese (the elected representatives of the diocesan Convention whose members form a Council of Advice to the bishop and act as the board of directors of the corporation). Following admission as a Candidate, theological education continues, and the person, toward the end of their formal education, then applies for ordination to the Diaconate or the Priesthood. Following more interviews (!) and approvals by the Commission and the Standing Committee, the Bishop may then announce the person’s date(s) of ordination.

All of this can take as much as five years, and sometimes longer. In other words, just getting to ordination is a huge commitment on the part of a person and their family, and often includes significant displacement in the lives of all.

Holy Orders

The formal title of the office held by ordained persons in the Church is Holy Orders. That is, one is formally set aside and placed in an order (sometimes called a college) of Deacons or Priests. This is not to be understood as being placed above everyone else in some sort of hierarchy, but rather as being set within a body of persons under the authority of the Bishop.

Deacons are particularly responsible for guiding the members of the Church in ministry of service to the world at large, symbolized by their liturgical role as the one who calls the church to faith (the Creed), humility (Confession), and ministry (the Dismissal). Priests are primarily responsible for the sacramental life of the congregation, and for the administration of the parish, and with the Deacons for the educational and pastoral life of the local church. These are distinct historical formal roles within the Church. (In fact, there have been times when certain parts of the Church had more than twenty ordained ministries!).

Deacons are usually non-stipendiary (unpaid) and part-time ministers; Priests are typically stipended (paid) and formally employed by the church in some capacity. However, there are Deacons who are paid staff in various places, and many priests are intentionally serving in unpaid roles.

All Deacons are understood to be under the direct authority of the Bishop, and are therefore assigned by the Bishop to a particular ministry. If in a parish, they then work under the direction of the priest-in-charge. In both cases, Deacons and Priests exist to serve the church and help organize its activities and ministries.

One helpful conception of the difference in these Orders is to think of Christian life as an ellipse that describes a course of seven days. The Priest stands at one locus, calling the members of the church to gather around the Lord’s Table for worship in order, as the Eucharistic prayer suggestions, to experience solace and strength, for pardon, and renewal (that is the one day, Sunday, of the ellipse). The Deacon stands at the other locus, calling the members of the Church into service in the world (the other six days). This describes a continual process of gathering and dispersal. At St. Mary's Church this is partially expressed by the Priest standing at the door of the church before worship welcoming people and leading them in procession to the Lord’s Table, and by the Deacon standing at the door of the church at the end of the service sending the People out “to love and serve the Lord.”


Next Week: David Carlisle and Tim Yanni, Postulants and Seminarians

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The General Convention of The Episcopal Church, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

The triennial meeting of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church begins this week at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City. Including the triennial meeting of the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) and many other groups, there will be over 8,000 non-Utah Episcopalians appearing on the streets of the capitol city. Thus, for ten days, the population of Episcopalians in Utah will have tripled.

The General Convention (or GC) includes eight Deputies from each of the 110 dioceses as well as all of the active Bishops. Structurally, the GC looks like the Congress, with two “houses” meeting separately and having to concur on most legislation. The Presiding Bishop only presides over the House of Bishops; the House of Deputies elects its President from among the members of the Convention.

The big issues at this GC include the continuing process of revisioning (not just revising) the administrative and programmatic structure of the church; a revision of the service of Holy Matrimony to include same-sex relationships (although any permanent change must be adopted by two successive GCs); a concordat or agreement for shared ministries with the United Methodist Church in the U.S. (similar to the one we have with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America); and, the election of a Presiding Bishop, as Katherine Jefferts Schori’s nine-year term expires at this GC. The four candidates, all men, are significantly different from one another, in terms of experience, interests, and personal style. The election of the P.B. will take place at a closed meeting of the House of Bishops in the Cathedral Church of St. Mark.

There will be a lot of secular news coverage of the GC, and most of it will be partial, sometimes slanted, and occasionally just plain wrong. Questions or concerns can be emailed to me. The best sources of information will be the news feed from the GC itself, or from the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. One of my favorite sites for reasonable commentary is The Episcopal Café.

If you get an opportunity to visit the GC take it! It costs $50 for admission for a day. The legislative sessions can be interesting, but the real action is in the hall where the displays from organizations, publishing houses, and many others are set up. You might end up spending most of your time there.

In the meantime, please keep the people attending and working at the GC in your prayers. Their efforts really do affect all of us.