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.