Thursday, December 29, 2016

Being Good or Doing Good::What is the difference?!? by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook, Priest-in-Charge

Being Good or Doing Good
What’s the difference?!?

a blog post by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook
Priest-in-Charge, St. Mary's Episcopal Church

[Jesus] gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
from Paul’s Letter to Titus
For a Christian, what is the difference between being good and doing good?
In Christian theology this is not a distinction without a difference. The two are closely connected. Let me explain.
Being is what something is. The essence of something—from the Latin word esse, to be—is its character, its existence as something. Being is intransitive, inactive. Doing is transitive, moving, active, expressive. Doing has impact, effect, consequences.
For the Christian, doing is the expression of being. If you want to know who (or what) a person is, watch what they do. One pastoral bit of wisdom has it that if you want to know what a person believes—that is, who they are—just look at their date-book and their check-book (or, these days, their credit card statement.) What a person does with their time and their money is indicative of their essence, their being.
Much of St. Paul’s writings deal with this distinction, mostly on the side of being. The quote from his Letter to Titus above summarizes Paul’s theology: We are good, because of Christ Jesus. We do good because of Christ Jesus. The latter is the response to the former.
For Paul, all things were made good in the first place (cf., Genesis 1), became corrupted and broken (cf., Genesis 2ff.), and were once again made whole (healthy, well, holy) in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus (cf., any of the Gospels). He uses the word redeem to describe what had to happen in order for us to be restored into wholeness and a firm relationship with God. So, for him, all Christians have been redeemed, and they just need to act like it (cf., Galatians).
In other words, there is nothing YOU can do to be good. God has already taken care of that. You are perfect in God’s eyes. You cannot make God love you, nor can you stop God from loving you. Period. No qualifications or exceptions.
The reason we actively care about the poor, the needy, the hungry, the oppressed, etc., is because God loves us/you. We are to be “zealous for good deeds” not to prove anything or convince anyone of anything, but because we are responding to God’s love for us, unearned and undeserved.
We are good, therefore we do good. Amen.

                                  The authors of this blog welcome comments.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Journey to Ordination (part II), by The Rev. Timothy J. Yanni

In a previous entry, I explained the “standard” path to ordination in the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. My journey toward ordination, which will culminate with my ordination to the priesthood on December 17, was not exactly along the lines of “standard.” It is important to remember that God calls us all to ministry in some fashion. Each of our journeys is our own. Every single person who is called to ordained ministry has some kind of bump in their path that keeps it from being like anyone else’s. This is my story.

I entered an Episcopal Church for the first time on All Saints Sunday in 2010. I attended St. James in Midvale, which was the closest church to my house. I was recovering from the wounds of a divorce and no longer felt welcome in the Roman Catholic Church, which does not permit divorce (Roman Catholics can apply for, and be granted annulments but that is a different conversation). I was welcomed into the community at St. James and I felt a fulfillment at church that I had not felt in many years. My wounds were healing. As they healed, I felt a calling toward ordination that I had felt as a younger man. I had actually explored ordination in the Roman Catholic Church in my early 20s, but decided the timing was not right.

I met with the parish discernment committee and the rector, the Rev. John Williams, regularly and the discernment committee recommended me for postulancy in 2012. As much as Fr. Williams helped me to find comfort in his beautiful liturgy, his advice was contrary to what the Diocese expected of aspirants. The Diocese of Utah requires three years of residency in the diocese before it will admit an aspirant into the program. Fr. Williams disagreed with this policy and advised me to work around it. Although Bishop Hayashi would not admit me into the ordination process, Fr. Williams encouraged me to apply for, and move away to, seminary before I was admitted.

I believed I was, in fact, ready for seminary. In hindsight, I may not have been. I don’t really know. I can say the first year of seminary is the toughest. I took classes in Church history, Anglican history, and Old Testament. These classes rocked my world and broke down the foundation of my faith (that is what they are supposed to do, believe it or not!). Because I was in such a vulnerable point in my seminary career, I totally muffed the interviews with the Commission on Ministry and was not admitted into the process during my first year of seminary, which was my third year in the diocese.

I felt defeated and ready to give up. But I pushed on. I did everything Bishop Scott asked me to do. I found a regular spiritual director. I met with a counselor. I found a financial advisor. I pushed on with my education. And then, Fr. Williams was asked by the vestry to step down as the rector at St. James. I would not find out specific details until much later; I just knew he was leaving.

My mentor was gone. I did not understand why. I also did not know that this would actually be the best thing that could happen to my process. Bishop Scott telephoned me and told me he was assigning me to work directly with the Rev. Claudia Seiter, the chairperson of the COM, and the Rev. Peter Van Hook, the senior parish priest in the diocese (Peter was actually not the senior priest at the time, the Rev. Lincoln Ure of St. Mark’s Hospital held that distinction until his untimely death in 2016). He also told me I was moving to St. Mary’s. No one, including the Bishop, told me why this move was being made. It did not feel good at the time, but I went with it.

Revs. Peter and Claudia both basically did the equivalent of dumping a bucket of ice water over my head to wake me up. It was a necessary jolt. They, along with the rest of the diocese, were confused by my bizarre behavior and my completion of requirements out of order. When they discovered that I was actually just following bad advice, they quickly straightened me out. With their leadership, and a second year of seminary under my belt (the second year is the “building up again” year), I nailed my interviews the second time I attended them.

I became a postulant in 2015 and my policy streamlined. I was made a candidate in early 2016, graduated from seminary in May, and then ordained a transitional deacon in June. Fr. Williams has since relocated to a different diocese. I continue to keep close contact with both Revs. Van Hook and Seiter. They help me to keep my nose clean and to feel supported and taken care of.

My advice to anyone considering entering the process is this: The diocese has a very clear outline of expectations in the form of a check list. Follow the check list in as close to chronological order as possible. If you do that, and you are truly called by God, you will have a much more streamlined process than I did. I can say I learned a great deal by completing the process the way I did, but things could have been a whole lot easier for me if I had not tried to circumnavigate the established system.

It is a pleasure to serve at St. Mary’s. My childhood parish was called St. Mary’s. I received my First Holy Communion and my confirmation there. My elementary school was also called called St. Mary’s. I’m thrilled that I will be ordained at a parish named in honor of Our Lady.
~ The Rev. Tim Yanni

The authors of this blog welcome comments.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church: a place of sanctuary, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook, Priest-in-Charge

We are a sanctuary for those who are searching, grieving, hurting, lonely, or in recovery, and a place where people can heal and be equipped to live as God intended, in peace and love.
from The Affirmations of St. Mary's Church

About five years ago the Bishop's Committee and I spent several months discussing what we value about St. Mary's Church. What came out of those discussions became the five Affirmations of St. Mary's Church that you see on the inside back cover of the Sunday order of worship. They remain unchanged from the time they were adopted. The promises from the Baptismal Covenant (Holy Baptism) were added two years ago to make clear the context in which the Affirmations derived.
The wording of this Affirmation is interesting, and no one has yet asked me about it. (Remember, these things were written by a committee!) We are a sanctuary… We, the people of St. Mary's Church, are clearly not a sacred, holy space within a building…but in a way we are. We are clearly not a nature reserve…but perhaps our gardens express that more than we usually notice. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit…that is what I was taught in Sunday School, that my body in some contains the Holy Spirit.
That We properly should refer to something personified, human, social. No, the statement clearly says that We are a sanctuary.
Anglicans have a long history of being a bit fuzzy about the Communion of Saints and the Priesthood of All Believers. Within those concepts there is something clearly individual as well as corporate, something clearly personal but also organizational, a thing that has structure. I suppose that our Affirmation about Sanctuary has that sort of sense: it is individual (the thing is there for the individual and it is expressed often individually) but it is also corporate (the thing is both received and expressed corporately). The sense, then, is that the sanctuary we express is a human one—trust, mutual support, protection for the hurting—and a physical one—the property and facilities that “look like” St. Mary's Church.
In early medieval England the level of violence among the various dukes, knights, earls, and occasional kings was so high that the Church in England called two different conclaves to deal with it. In the first, the bishops handed down a rule that no battles could be fought on Sundays. Out of the second came a declaration that any church in England that had red doors is a sanctuary, into which fugitives from the law—who were liable to be killed on the spot just for the bounty—could go and not be pursued by the local sheriff, duke, earl, etc. As long as they were in the sanctuary, that is the space in the church bounded by the altar rail and in which the altar sat, they could not be touched by pursuers. The bishops also declared that anyone who violated the law of sanctuary would be immediately excommunicated and their souls condemned to everlasting damnation. Serious folk, these bishops!
We usually understand this statement about sanctuary as being about people who are hurting, etc., and who may come to one of the several support groups or even show up on Sundays and sit in the back of the church without identifying themselves. We have also extended that to our LGBT neighbors (1-1 and group meetings), and to their parents and friends (PFLAG). The members of the various groups that meet at St. Mary’s Church tell us that they appreciate that we have provided a safe place (sanctuary) in which they can meet. Our church building is used by individuals as a quiet and private place in which to pray and meditate: a sanctuary.

How do you understand sanctuary? How does our Affirmation about sanctuary speak about you to those with whom we come in contact? What kind of sanctuary are you?

The authors of this blog welcome comments.