Tuesday, May 24, 2016

THE CHURCH CALENDAR...reading Scripture all year long, together, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook, Priest-in-Charge

The Church Year (or, the liturgical calendar) is a gift. In its richness we find a way of reading Scripture and hearing the Good News of Jesus proclaimed. 

It arose out of two parallel dynamics, the desire to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week, and the desire to continue the ancient Jewish practice of readings from the Scriptures as a part of the liturgical act. 

There are two separate cycles within the Church Year, one based on the date of Christmas (usually December 25) and the other based on the date of Easter (which moves according to the ancient lunar calendar). 
  • The Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle begins four Sundays before Christmas, and ends with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 (the Twelfth Day of Christmas-tide). The Sundays after the Epiphany focus on major events in the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah, beginning with his baptism and continuing with his several miracles. 
  • The Lent/Easter/Pentecost cycle begins on Ash Wednesday (forty weekdays before Easter) and continues to the fiftieth day after Easter on Pentecost. 
Each of the cycles occupies about one-quarter of a year. That leaves about one-half of the year outside the two cycles. 

The several weeks after Pentecost are that other half, prosaically called “The Sundays after Pentecost” (duh). This time of the Church Year is also called Ordinary Time, as these are Sundays not in one of the two cycles. 

The Lectionary is the means by which we have chosen to organize the readings from the Bible over the course of the Church Year. 

Its formal title is The Revised Common Lectionary (or RCL), as it is shared and used by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and other Protestant denominations, having been slightly revised several years ago. The RCL is one of the results of the ecumenical movement beginning in the 1960s and the liturgical renewal movement that arose a few decades earlier. 

The RCL provides readings for each Sunday of the Church Year (which begins on the First Sunday in Advent) as well as readings for major feast days that do not occur on Sundays (e.g., saints days). 

This lectionary is divided into three cycles conveniently (?) named Years A, B, and C. The difference in the three cycles is that they are each based on one of the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with occasional insertions from the Gospel according to John (especially in Lent and Eastertide). 

We are currently in Year C, so the Gospel readings are typically from Luke. 

The other readings—from the Hebrew Bible, the Psalms, and the Letters of the Christian Bible—are linked thematically to the Gospel for the day, with two exceptions: 
  • The readings from the Letters are thematically linked to the Gospel reading in the Christmas and Easter cycles, but are read seriatum (more or less continuously) by Letter during the Sundays after Pentecost. This year we begin with Galatians and continue through the Letters of Paul. 
  • The readings from the Hebrew Bible are always thematically linked to the reading from the Gospel, except that during Ordinary Time there are two “tracks” or strands, one of which links the OT reading to the Gospel, and the other which reads seriatum. Thus, in Year A the OT readings begin with Exodus and continue through the early historical books; in Year B the readings are from the great monarchy narratives, and in Year C we read from the later prophetic books. 
Since I became Priest-in-Charge at St. Mary's Church in late 2011, we have always used Track 2, which links the OT readings to the Gospel reading. This is because I preach from the Lectionary, rarely going “off-topic” to a theme unrelated to the readings. 

Next year, in Year A in Ordinary Time we will use Track 1, which will allow us to hear read a substantial portion of the Hebrew Bible over the next three years. (Note that the selection from the Psalms almost always is linked directly to the OT reading for the day.) 

There are two direct implications of the Church Year and the RCL. 

First, by using a lectionary we are “forced” to read from every part of the Bible. In traditions that do not use a lectionary the (usually) single reading from the Bible is chosen by the preacher, who may have a favorite short list which is used again and again. The tendency is stay away from uncomfortable or difficult subjects (think of my sermon on the Holy Trinity on May 22). 

Second, in every Episcopal Church in the world on every Sunday there are four different readings from the Bible spoken to the people: the Hebrew Bible, the Psalms, the Epistles (or Letters), and the Gospels, covering every part of the Bible in three years. In other words, there is more Bible read and heard and addressed in The Episcopal Church on Sunday than there is in any other Christian tradition in the world. The so-called “Bible-based churches” have nothing on us. 

In the foregoing commentary, a number of relevant details have been passed over in the interest of length. For example, there are minor differences in the Lectionaries in each denomination due to traditional usages, and there are rules of precedence that determine what feasts can be celebrated on a Sunday. If you detect one of those deletions in the commentary please be free to ask me about it. 

- Peter+

Friday, May 20, 2016

Creating and Living Our Values at St. Mary's, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook, Priest-in-Charge

On the inside back cover of our weekly order of worship is the list of principles by which we intend to as a Christian community. Although the word “value” as a noun is a relatively recent addition to English parlance, it has become a common term in organizational management, where it is usually defined as something like “guiding principles.” 
When I use the term I mean something far deeper. For me, a value is a statement about being over, against, doing, or having. A value answers the question, Who or what are you? Are you honest, kind, faithful, loving, Christ-like, hard-working, truthful—these things express who you are rather than what you do.
When I work with church groups I suggest that the values they express can be used to measure and justify decision making. That is, as a faith community we will do this or the other—or not—because of who we believe we are as expressed in our values. As an example, at St. Mary's Church we state that we value ROOTS, expressed as a faith community steeped in the Anglican tradition, and committed to the historic creeds and the centrality of Scripture, all of it interpreted in the context of local life and needs.
Recently, two of them have arisen in conversations fairly frequently: Hospitality and Sanctuary. 
Hospitality is expressed as being a welcoming community, no matter who you are, where you came from, or where you are in your spiritual journey. 
Sanctuary we have defined as being a safe place, for those in recovery, those who are hurting or lonely, and those who just need a place to encounter God. 
These principles do have much in common, but they can also be in tension with one another. Let me give you an example . . . .
As fellowship time was winding down on Sunday, May 15, a gentleman came into the front lobby and asked if there was any food available for him. (I was not a participant in the conversation that followed, but I did overhear much of it.) Apparently, he was quite convinced that this little church would have something like substantial food supplies available, especially for people like himself. When offered a sampling of the goodies offered at fellowship, he threw them on the floor and demanded “real” food.
Up to this point the conversation had been fairly reserved, the exception being his escalating demand for food. When it became clear that we could not meet his he was asked to leave.
So, I ask you: were we being hospitable and were we providing sanctuary for this individual?
There is an argument that can be made that we might have gone further out of our way to address his demands. However, his behavior was becoming increasingly belligerent, and it was becoming clear, at least to me, as it was to those engaging the gentleman, that we were not going to be able to respond to him in the way that he expected or wanted. The judgment made by those engaging with him was that any kind of real relationship, human to human, was not going to be possible. Sadly, but realistically, he needed to leave. (If he had appeared sick, confused, or too addled to be safe on his own, we would have made some phone calls.)
What this event illustrates is the “bottom line” in our efforts to be hospitable and to provide sanctuary: Are you willing to be in a human relationship with me, or are you going to place demands or conditions on our relationship with which I cannot live?
In talking with the people with whom I regularly work, I have stated repeatedly that “no one in this church will get into trouble for having called 911.” Why? Because personal safety trumps hospitality. “If you hear or suspect or know of any situation regarding child or elder abuse, call 911 first. Then, call me.” The child’s safety is paramount. “The support groups that meet here have permission to use our facilities. Their members do not have permission to use us.”

We will be working this year to clarify and change, if need be, our values, those statements that guide our decision making. Your participation is essential. What are the values you would like to see St. Mary's Church express?
The authors of the blog texts welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"...I was in prison and you visited me," a blog post by our Seminarian, Tim Yanni

“I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in

prison and you visited me.” Matthew 25:36, NRSV.

I am in my final weeks of seminary at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in

Berkeley, California. As my final semester wraps up, I find myself facing a whirlwind of

emotions. Some of the emotions come at the realization that I will be leaving this place

which has been my home for the last three years. Others come at the realization that I

will be parting ways with my classmates and we will each be going our own separate

directions in life. Some of us may never see each other again. While I expected these

emotional triggers, I did not expect the emotional response I felt when I walked away

from San Quentin State Prison for the final time.

Through the graces of the Graduate Theological Union, of which CDSP is a part,

I took an elective class about prison ministry. The course is offered by the Jesuit School

of Theology of Santa Clara University. The course was taught by the Jesuit chaplain at

San Quentin, Fr. George Williams. As a requirement of the course, I spent several hours

each week at the prison. I must admit, spending time at San Quentin has changed my

life in ways I never could have expected.

San Quentin is one of the most notorious prisons in the country. It’s one of those

prisons people know by name. It’s in the category of Folsom, Sing Sing, Huntsville Unit,

and the now-closed Alcatraz. If you are doing time at San Quentin, it isn’t because you

have been convicted of a traffic violation. To go to San Quentin, home to California’s

750 death row inmates, you probably committed a pretty violent crime. If you are doing

time at San Quentin, there is a possibility you one day may be executed for your crimes

and an even stronger possibility that you will never be released to set foot outside its

tan, concrete, razor-wire- fortified walls. As a prisoner in the California Department of

Corrections and Rehabilitation, you have very few privileges, very little privacy, and in

many cases, very little hope.

“But Tim,” you might say. “Why would you waste your time going out there and

talking to these guys? They are criminals. They deserve to be punished.” This is a

loaded question and the answer is equally as loaded. I have been asked this very

question by peers, by prison guards, and by community members. What this question

indicates to me is that there is much work to be done in the field of prison ministry. The

shortest (and in my opinion best) answer to this question is straight from the Gospel of

Matthew. As Christians, it is not uncommon to discern those tasks to which Christ calls

us. However, there are a few tasks Jesus specifically tells us we are to do. We are

called to visit those who are in prison. This is not a suggestion. It is simply not optional.

What I have discovered about myself over this experience is that I had been

called to bring a face of humanity to the people who are stuck behind bars at San

Quentin. They are humans. They experience human emotions. As we are told in the

Book of Genesis, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he

created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27, NRSV). We are also told,

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31,

NRSV). This doesn’t tell us God made some people in his image. It also does not tell us

that God said some of creation is good. God made us—all of us—in his image. And God

said his creation—all of his creation— is good.

An inmate recently asked me, “Tim, why do you never ask me why I’m in here?” I

told him I thought it would be rude and intrusive to ask.

He said, “No. I want you to ask my why I’m in here.”

Believing I was calling his bluff, I said, “Ok, great. Then why are you in here?”

He said, “I’m in here for first degree murder. I killed my ex girlfriend.” I felt chills

run through my entire body and it took everything I had to keep from making a physical

reaction. This inmate needed to share his story. As his chaplain, it was my obligation to

receive it. He gave me gruesome details of his crime. He told me he was sentenced

“200 years to life.” He will never get out of prison. What was most troubling to me was

that he committed his crime before I was even born. He has spent my entire lifespan

behind bars at San Quentin.

In a group discussion one evening, I came to the realization that I was the only

person in a group of seven men who had never committed a murder. I sat in a circle,

face to face, within arms reach of six convicted murderers. Where is God? I wondered.

What am I doing here? Why am I wasting my time with these guys? This wondering

came to a head when one of the men said he would kill again if someone harmed one of

his family members. I felt hopeless for him. I felt scared. What is this guy capable of

doing to me if he decides he doesn’t like me? I walked through the gates, back to the

car, and crossed the Richmond Bridge back to Berkeley that night and I didn’t say a

word to my classmates who drove with me. I had trouble sleeping that night.

Several days later, I attended the Catholic mass, which was presided over by Fr.

Williams. At the mass, I had a very different experience. I looked around at a gathering

of men, all dressed in prison-issue blue shirts and pants. Most of them sang, many of

them raised their hands in prayer, and some of them danced. The Spirit was alive and

well inside that chapel. What I witnessed on that Sunday morning was a group of guys

who have absolutely nothing. Still, they are madly in love with Jesus Christ and the

grace he brings through the sacraments.

An inmate recently asked me, “Tim, have you ever seen those airplane

commercials? The ones that say ‘Wanna get away?’”

I responded, “Yes, I have seen them.”

He said, “You know what I think, every time I see that commercial?”

“No. What do you think?”

“I think, ‘yep. I sure do,” he said with a laugh. I have to admit, it was a pretty good

joke. What made it funny was that it was very human. I don’t know this man’s crime. But

I know he is a human.

I remember conversations I have had with a man who is 46 years old. He is

incarcerated for a murder he committed when he was 19. He has been in prison for

longer than he had been out of prison. Although he faces the parole board this fall, he

may never go home. His sentence was for life.

I remember conversations I had with a man who changed his name—and his

religion—while incarcerated. As he spoke to the entire group of inmates, he thanked me

by name for spending time with them. “People on the outside need to know we have

human faces,” he said. “Please go out into the world and tell them that we are humans.

It means so much to us to know you are here, even if we don’t get a chance to talk to

you, because it reminds us that you think about us and you haven’t forgotten us.”

Our Christian theology tells us that we are all sinners. Yet some sins carry more

weight than others. I certainly am not perfect and I believe it would be a travesty if I

were known only for the worst action I ever committed in my life. I can’t help but believe

this must be true for everyone. Are there some crimes that require restitution and even

punishment? Certainly. However, must they be carried out without dignity for the human

person? If we are to answer this question in the affirmative, then we are turning our

back on our baptismal covenant.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People I will, with God's help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as


People I will, with God's help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the

dignity of every human being?

People I will, with God's help. (BCP p. 305)

Spending time inside prison walls is not easy to do. It is challenging. Even though

those living within their walls are humans, made in the image of God, there is still an

aura of the systematic evil which penetrates the prison. There is racism, violence, and

drug use all around in prison. At San Quentin, every time I went, I noticed the

prominence of the exhaust pipe of the gas chamber. I can’t help but think of the lives

that were extinguished in the room directly below the ugly green smokestack. There

have been 215 hangings, 196 gassings, and 11 lethal injections, which have ended the

lives of condemned men and women inside San Quentin. Fifty-six men have died while

awaiting execution at San Quentin since 1976. Fourteen of these deaths were suicides.

I am also reminded of the lives that were ended by the men and women who were

executed there. It feels wrong to kill people to teach them that killing is wrong. There’s

not an easy solution, but I don’t believe the death penalty is a good one.

The reality is that people are broken. All of us are broken. And none of us can be

defined solely by the worst offense we’ve ever committed. It is important to remember

that each of us also has caused pain to other people in our lives. The fact that people

continue to show us love and compassion does not take away from the pain we may

have caused others. The same is true in the criminal justice world. Showing compassion

for the imprisoned does not mean there is a lack of compassion for their victims. It

means that God’s compassion transcends wrongdoing. Our compassion for one another

needs to be visible in the world, inside of prison and outside. If we can work together to

change the hearts of would-be offenders, maybe they won’t end up in prison in the first

place. And if we can bring a little love and a little hope to the people inside the walls,

maybe they will remember that God loves them and does not neglect them.

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