Tuesday, April 26, 2016

OPENING THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, a blog post by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook, Priest-in-Charge

My mother kept two things on the nightstand next to her bed: a Bible, and The Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book was always on top of the Bible.
In the first twenty years or so of my ordained ministry I remember distinctly visiting with active Episcopalians and almost always finding a copy of the BCP in plain sight. Nowadays, that is rare.
I suspect that there are two main reasons, among others, why this has happened. First, most members of Episcopal congregations now are relatively new “converts” and they have not had time to absorb the ethos that the BCP presents.
The other reason is the practice of having an order of worship—a full text of the service presented in bulletin format—instead of using the book itself. The reason for that is a practical one: trying to figure out how to navigate through the book in the midst of a service is daunting for the newcomer. For many it is rather like reading a city map in a foreign language: it just does not make any sense.
For Anglicans—that Christian tradition based in the history of the Church of England like The Episcopal Church—the BCP is a compendium of practicalities as well as a sign of unity. The title gives a hint of this: it is a book (a text), it is common (in the local language, and used by everyone), and it is about prayer and worship. It is the concrete expression of our worship: lex orandi, lex credendi. that which is prayed becomes what is believed.
With the Bible the BCP contains what we believe. It is both a liturgical statement of faith and the thing that guides our formation in the faith. It is meant to be used by congregations, by small groups, by monastic communities, and by individuals. And—no surprise here—it is available online.

I would like to “open the BCP” to you. Many of you are aware of the discussion group that meets on the 1st & 3rd Tuesday at the Amber Family Restaurant in Spanish Fork. I have been asked by a few people to offer a survey of The Book of Common Prayer with a focus on its usefulness for individuals. I will begin that conversation on Tuesday, May 3, and continue as desired. Anyone is welcome. You need not eat (but the desserts are excellent!), and children are welcome.
It will be necessary to have some BCPs available, whether in text or electronic form. I have a few available for sale in my office. You can download a pdf version or use an online version at the links below, among others. I will bring along a few copies to share.
Purchase digital version from Google books:  https://www.google.com (search term: Episcopal Book of Common Prayer).  
Use online: www.bcponline.org
Purchase hardcopy (my favorite supply house, located in Seattle):www.episcopalbookstore.com
Also available at amazon.com

Books & other interesting Episcopal stuff is available at the small bookstores located in the Cathedral Church of St Mark and Good Shepherd, Ogden (they will both be open at Diocesan Convention next weekend).
~ Peter+

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

CREATING A SUCCESSION PLAN FOR A PRIEST a blog post by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook, Priest-in-Charge

I am going to retire. I have promised Carole, I have promised Bishop Hayashi, and I have promised myself: I am going to retire. I’ve earned it, I deserve it, and by God I’m going to have it! (Recall that this is what people say about nervous breakdowns, too. There may be a parallel to retirement, but I am not sure what it is.) 

The missing element in the above paragraph is a date. Yes, I am going to retire; I just do not know when. 

I began the first meeting of the newly-elected Bishop's Committee in February by stating that my one clear goal for the 2016 term is to complete a succession plan for the Priest-in-Charge by the Annual Meeting in January 2017. (It was stated thusly in order to get their attention. It did.) 

By succession plan, I mean a carefully thought out statement that includes these elements: a clear definition of “where” St. Mary's Church is now (that is, what is the true state of the congregation and its ministries); a clear statement of the vision of the future (that is, to whom do we intend to minister, and with what kind of resources); and, the beginnings of a description of the kind of skills and experience and gifts the pastor of this congregation should have (that is, a tentative position description). 

There are several reasons why the skills and experience and gifts lists should be tentative. 

In the first place, history has consistently shown that when the current pastor [in Episcopal congregations] gets involved in choosing a successor it is an invitation for failure and conflict. Congregations are not for-profit businesses that can and do change focus when a CEO retires. Congregations have shared experiences, history, culture, personality, character that must be respected. 

The proper term for this sort of planning in churches is a transition process, a term that focuses attention on the transition between pastors. (Another way to create conflict in churches is not to have a transition period.) 

Typically, it is during the transition period that a congregation gathers information about its current status, creates a vision for the future, and then looks for a pastor to bring to the congregation the skills and gifts needed to assist them in moving into that future. In other words, my goal for the year, stated as a succession plan, is to do exactly what a congregation does in the transition period, short of identifying and calling a new pastor. 

Some of you will remember that I came to St. Mary's Church in late 2011 as a long-term interim minister. I had spent the previous ten years serving churches throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Utah as their interim, helping them do exactly what I am talking about here: transition from one pastor to another with the assistance of an interim pastor. My original call was for three years. Next Labor Day I will have been the Priest-in-Charge at St. Mary's Church for five years. 

At this time St. Mary's Church is a stable, strong, active congregation, with four healthy ministries: Sunday morning worship, hosting twenty or so self-help groups (e.g., A.A.), the monthly Food & Care Ministry, and the Community Music Outreach Program. Beyond strengthening what we are already doing, it is not clear to me or the parish leadership what the next steps ought to be. Therefore, a time of discernment—prayerful consideration of the present and visioning the future—is appropriate. 

We will be assisted in the planning process by Bishop Hayashi and by the Rev. Terri Heyduk, currently the Interim Rector of St. James’ Church, Midvale. A brief biography of Terri is to be found elsewhere in this edition of the newsletter (here). She, too, is an experienced transitions pastor (previous to St. James’ she was the Interim Rector of St. Paul’s Church, Salt Lake City), she understand what we are trying to do here with a good, strong congregation, and she is excited to be of help. 

The first meeting of the steering group from the Bishop's Committee is the week of April 24. We will keep you posted as to what is happening. 


Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Sermon by Tim Yanni at the transferred feast of the Annunciation

The following is the text of Tim Yanni's homily from Tuesday, April 5th Solemn High Mass for the transferred feast of the Annunciation:

Today the worship committee is taking advantage of a liberty the Prayer Book lets us take. We changed the lectionary around and moved a couple of feasts. As the Prayer Book rubrics tell us, when the Annunciation falls during either Holy Week or Easter week, we move it to the second week of Easter. We wanted to make sure to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. yesterday, so we moved the major feast of the Annunciation to today. We decided this move made sense. As one piece of consideration, this is a major feast on the Church calendar and we generally have more people who are able to be present for Tuesday worship. Also, as it is a traditionally Marian feast day, it made for an appropriate occasion for the worship committee to schedule this high mass, which members of the CDSP worshipping community have been asking us to schedule.

I have to be honest and admit to you that I do not really consider myself a high churchman. Whatever that means. I do enjoy some traditionally “high church” expressions of worship, but I don’t identify that way myself. So as you can imagine, I was surprised when the worship committee asked me to spearhead putting this service together.

You see, this service is a piece of a larger project the worship committee is exploring. We believe it is important to explore the range of worship practices in the Episcopal Church and to make sure everyone here has the opportunity to worship in a way that they find to be meaningful. It is no secret that there is certainly a range of worship pieties within our small seminary, let alone within the wider Episcopal Church.

Services such as these give us the chance to do a little soul searching. In order for me to agree to assist with this service, I had to wrestle with some of my discomfort. For some reason, the term “Anglo-Catholic” made me cringe a little. Yes, it’s true that I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. But I was raised in the 80s and 90s. Post Vatican II. I have always been familiar with worship practices that pretty well mirror a middle-of-the-road service from the 1979 Prayer Book.

Yet I do bring some of my childhood pieties with me. I have a devotion to our Blessed Mother. The feast we celebrate today is meaningful to me. It’s from today’s gospel reading that we get the text for a prayer that is beloved in many Christian communities, including Anglicanism. It’s a prayer I say in my own prayer life. It’s of course The Hail Mary. “Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you!” the angel Gabriel tells Mary. How frightening that must have been! Yet how powerful.

Now we know from our study of Greek that αγγελος, the word for angel, means messenger. But our tradition tells us that Gabriel is more than just a messenger. Gabriel is one of the three archangels. High messengers, if we want to go back to our Greek. Nonetheless, our tradition paints images of what angels ought to look like. Take a look at the cover of your bulletin. That image is a famous rendition of the Annunciation, painted by Fra Angelico in around 1430. Wings and everything. Images like these shape much of what we think of when we think of the angels in scripture.

Whatever this angel looked like, and whoever it was, Gabriel probably caught Mary off guard.

Think for a moment about how it might feel to have an idea of what you want to do with your life, only to find out God has other plans for you?

How can this be? You might ask God. Certainly you do not want me!

It’s important to remember that in Luke’s gospel, Mary says yes to the call. “Be it done to me according to your will.” More words from Luke’s gospel that have been included in a Marian prayer, the Angelus. Wow. Isn’t it beautiful? Through those words, Mary acknowledges the will of God and she consents to her place in the story of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Now I realize not all of you have a Marian devotion and I recognize not all of you agree with me that these prayers to Mary have the level of beauty I observe in them. I mention them to give you an example of why we’re celebrating this liturgy that is outside the realm of our normal practice in this chapel.

It is important to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It is important to be adaptable to the unfamiliar. That’s why we move the furniture around in the chapel seasonally. That’s why we have alternate liturgies. As members of a seminary worshipping community, we have to be ready to roll with the punches and act on our toes! Changes can be jarring. Yet sometimes getting out of the rut of the day-to-day puts us in a place where we can open our eyes and truly encounter God. Sometimes these encounters can happen in places where we don’t even expect them.

I know you are all at some stage of saying yes to whatever it is God is calling you to do. I know you have strong worship practices and devout prayer lives. As your lame duck head sacristan, I want to ask you to put those worship practice and prayer lives to work and allow yourselves to challenge them. If you’re comfortable with low-church services, allow yourself to become fully immersed in today’s rituals. If these are rituals which bring you comfort and fulfillment, enjoy them today and at a later time, explore other rituals. In all you do, never stop looking for ways to experience Jesus Christ. Sing some hymns you are unfamiliar with. Experience the smell of burning incense. Light a candle and try contemplative prayer. Experience the Word of God in scripture study. Please never allow your worship life to become “just routine.”

Through the feast we celebrate today, Christ is incarnate. The Word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us. So during this glorious season of Easter, let us joyfully proclaim, Christ is risen! Alleluia!
~ Tim Yanni