25 years ago today, on the Feast of St. Alcuin, I was made a priest in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It has been NOTHING like I expected. Pt. 1

I was first ordained 41 years ago in 1979 through a consortium of non-denominational churches in Florida. I had been a student leader of a mid week campus prayer meeting that we incorporated as a church. I was called to serve as their second Senior Pastor even though I had not yet been to seminary and had no formal training. I made a lot of mistakes but words cannot adequately express how much I loved those folks and what an honor it was to serve them. 

Those were some colorful years. We bought property and built a building. The members of the parish took their faith very seriously and lifelong spiritual friendships were formed among them. The group of churches, with which we had been affiliated, became increasing cultic and so I pulled our church out from it. That was a very difficult step to take. Although it was the right thing to do it also meant that we were entirely on our own. At times the weight of that seemed unbearable because I knew that I was caring for people’s souls. I was mindful of St. Paul’s saying that teachers will incur a stricter judgment.

Over the years I worked part time on a degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary near Boston. I was also able to travel and taught clergy and lay ministers in Haiti, Spain and the Philippians. On one occasion I smuggled bibles into Communist China during their New Year’s celebrations. I worked very hard for the Church but not hard enough on myself, and as a consequence I went through a terrible burnout. My life unraveled and I left the ministry.

God had mercy and blessed the broken road that led me to Chattanooga, where I met and married Beth. We were both social workers and I saw myself remaining in that career until retirement. I had no interest in returning to full time ministry. I particularly enjoyed not being on call 24/7, having weekends and holidays free, and being able to completely forget about work the moment that I locked my office door. 

As the saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” My plans for a career in social work were not His plans. Beth and I were newly married when the call returned, doors opened widely, and everything changed for us. It involved quitting my job, leaving Chattanooga and taking on additional studies at Sewanee’s School of Theology. 

The reason that I said the priesthood is nothing like I expected goes back to 4thgrade. My father was stationed in Boston and so we lived nearby in a town in Rhode Island. My family attended a small parish that was so close to our home that we walked to church. The rectory was next door to the church and our priest led a beautiful liturgy. His life seemed to be quiet and serene. This planted an image in my mind of one day being a priest in a small stone church that was next to a quaint rectory. I imagined spending most of my day in my study in the rectory, smoking a pipe and reading. Once a day I would saunter over to the church to say Mass, and twice on Sunday. Other than an occasional counseling session, life would be quiet, contemplative and alternate between study and worship. 

My curacy, instead of being in a small stone church, was in a very large, historic, downtown parish. And the church, rather than being quiet and contemplative, was always bustling with a large staff and much activity. I had an office in an old part of the church where monks used to live. It was a very wealthy parish and was known as the church to go to when you want to see and be seen. My job was to do everything that the Rector did not want to do. It was a privilege to serve in that beautiful and historic parish but the Rector and his wife were so dysfunctional that it soon became time to leave. 

Providentially in the fall of 1996 I received a call from the Bishop of Tennessee to plant a church in Smyrna. The challenge was that there was no one waiting for me, I could not ask for help from nearby parishes (because they were upset with the Bishop for planting a church near them) and we had to be completely self-supporting in 5 years. To be honest I felt the call but I was terrified. 

I moved to town first and Beth followed a few months later when she was able to secure a transfer in her job. I converted a second floor real estate office into a chapel/office/library. It was warm and inviting. All that was missing was the people. 

It made sense to start with a Bible Study. And since at the time all I had was a Bible, a Prayer Book and a Processional Cross, I could not have started with worship even if I had wanted to. I went around town introducing myself to people, feeling very much like a Fuller Brush salesman. (This gave me a whole new respect for folks who make a living doing cold calls). I took out an ad in the newspaper announcing the Bible study, and I put up a poster in the Post Office. They kept taking it down and I kept putting it back up. Each of these attempts made contact with someone and so the first night of the Bible Study there were 12 in attendance. Someone said to me later, “Hey that number 12 worked the first time.”

As the little flock grew I added a class called “Anglican 101” to introduce Anglican life and worship. After a few months I had gathered an altar and a World War II Mass kit and was able to offer our first experience of worship. We almost lost one member when she saw me in vestments for the first time. She had grown up in a deeply anti Roman Catholic atmosphere. Those prejudices came roaring back when she saw me. She looked as though she had just seen the anti-Christ.

Once we outgrew the chapel we began to meet on Sunday afternoons in a Cumberland Presbyterian Church. It was there in the fall of 1997 that we had our formal launch. At the next Annual Convention the Diocese accepted us as a Mission. 

The quiet and contemplative life that I expected as a child still was nowhere to be found. Planting a church is like starting a new business. When you are not working 60-80 hours per week, you are thinking, and often worrying, and always strategizing about your next move. It did help my prayer life however; that is if you can call yelling “Help!” to God about every 15 minutes a prayer life. 

When an old Wal-Mart became vacant we moved into it. We did so both to have more room and to finally be able to offer Sunday morning worship and Christian Education. I learned a valuable lesson from that move. The outside of the building needs to match what is going on inside or you will be sending out wrong signals. Folks told me later that they knew about our presence in the old Wal-Mart but they did not visit then because they assumed that because we were in a strip mall it meant that we were not a traditional Anglican parish. To them a storefront meant drums and guitars and not smells and bells.In 2001 we built our church on 18 acres and in January of 2002 we walked the aisle of the Cathedral in Nashville to be accepted as a Parish in the Diocese. Then all hell broke loose.

Christians and the Upcoming Elections


I have been looking at Christian leaders for input on the upcoming elections and I have found a consistent theme. From Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, to Pope Francis their advice has been to pray, to study and to vote. Please allow me to add some priestly commentary.

PRAY. While we certainly do want God to bless our nation, the theme of prayers in the Scriptures concerning nations is more often prayers of repentance. The more famous one is from 2 Chronicles. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (7:14). There are many sins for which our nation is guilty and if God’s people do not repent on behalf of their nation who will? Second we need to pray for God to raise up godly leaders. St. Paul says that is a priority. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life….” (1 Tim 2:1). Third we should pray that our government remains within its God given parameters. Romans 13 says that governing authorities are servants of God but we must be careful not to allow them to attempt to replace God. Our rights and freedoms are given to us by God and not by the government. Therefore any government that seeks to limit our rights and freedoms is no longer serving God. To put it crassly, the chief role of the government is national security not telling it citizens how large of a Slurpee we are allowed to have. My momma lives in Orlando, not Washington D.C.

STUDY. As an instant society we are too swayed by sound bites and slogans and commercials. Experience tells us that candidates will tell us what they think that we want to hear in order to be elected. So we need to dig deeper. It is helpful to get beyond the personalities and investigate the platforms upon which the candidates are standing. The platforms of both major parties and of the independents are easily found using Google. Given the power of the American Presidency and its influence around the world it is worth some of our time to do some investigation.

VOTE. But may I add to vote your conscience. As Christians we should move beyond our personal interests and seek what it right and true and good. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phil 2:4. So while I would like to pay less taxes that won’t be my determining factor if it means voting for someone who would oppress others. We also must give freedom to others that voting their conscience may mean for them that their conscience won’t allow them to vote. This takes us back to prayer in order to be certain that we are being led by the Holy Spirit.

Lastly I submit that it is important to put this election in perspective with the Kingdom of God. How many times have you heard that this is the most important election in our nation’s history and that if we don’t get in the right person that it will be the end of America?

Given that 70% of our nation believes that we are headed in the wrong direction this is indeed an important election but let’s keep things in perspective. As Christians our citizenship is in heaven and our purpose here is to extend the Kingdom of God. Israel was being occupied by the Romans and ruled by corrupt leaders like Herod but we don’t see a lot of hand wringing by the writers of the New Testament about the state of the nation.

For millennia nations and empires have come and gone while the unshakeable Kingdom of God continued to grow. We may well be in the declining days of our nation. This is certainly not the country that the Greatest Generation fought to preserve. But even if that is so, our marching orders as Christians have not changed. We are to be living and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. No matter who is president, Jesus is still King and that will never change.

We can have a mature optimism about our future. If God hears our prayers and heals our land then we will be a blest people. If our nation moves further away from God and grows even darker, then the light of Christ will be even more obvious and more people will be drawn to Him. Jesus promised that He will build His Church and the gates of hell will not be able to prevail against it. If you are with Him, then you are already on the winning side.

Facing East: Ad Orientem

Ad Orientum

Q: Why does the priest celebrate with his back towards the people?

A: He doesn’t! He celebrates facing the Lord WITH the people.

There are two visuals that guide our orientation in worship. First is to visualize the altar as the Lord’s Throne and the tabernacle, which contains consecrated bread and wine, as His Real Presence. Thus when the celebrant prays with and on behalf of the congregation he should be facing the Lord with the people.

The second visual is to think of the altar as the end of the heavenly banquet table breaking into our time/space world. On the other side are the angels and archangels and all of the company of heaven i.e. the communion of the saints. If the altar is off the wall and the priest stands on the other side, facing the people, this important symbol is lost.

Lastly the priest faces the same direction as the people because he is not the host of this sacred meal. Christ is the Host and so with the priest not facing the people it is easier to look past the priest to our Host.




“The Christian is a eucharistic worshipper of the saving love and mercy of God who has accepted him. He is steeped in gratitude and dependence. His very being is a Eucharist, a permanent perpetual thanksgiving to God.”….If Eucharist means thanksgiving, Christianity mean people who are joyfully grateful people.”  Brennan Manning

Our Present Duty

Bishop Frank Weston

Concluding Address, Anglo-Catholic Congress, 1923

By Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar

published by the Society of Ss Peter and Paul, London, n.d.


Our Present Duty

I have no manner of doubt that it is the present duty of every Churchman to send money across the seas for foreign Missions. But that is not the purpose of my being here to-night. I was asked to speak to you at the end of the Congress upon our present duty as Anglo-Catholics, and it is to that that I address myself. I am purposely not saying anything about the present duty of the Anglo-Catholic Congress Committee, for any views I may have upon that I hope to communicate to them to-morrow if they care to have them. My duty as Chairman is this—to try to sum up as clearly as I can the things that we have been learning, the things, at least, that I hope we have been learning during these three days.

Now to put it quite clearly our present duty as Anglo-Catholics is to make a far deeper surrender to our Lord Christ and to make it over a far wider area than ever before. We are to make such a surrender of self to Christ over the whole area of our life that were he to choose to come on earth to reign in his own person, neither you nor I would find it necessary to alter the principles upon which we conduct our work, our prayer, our worship. That is the point. Were he to come, our principles would not require to be altered.

I recall you and myself to him, and I want you first to listen to the call of the Christ of Bethlehem, eternal God made Man for you, made Man for me, Jesus the Babe of Bethlehem. I want you to listen to him as he leaps from the Father’s Throne across the gulf that separates the Creator from creation, across the gulf that separates holiness from sin. Listen to him as he leaps that gulf and appears in human form amongst us men. Listen to him as he speaks to you: By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to the other. I recall you to the Christ of Bethlehem and I suggest to you, as I suggest to myself, that it is our present duty to return into our own parishes and into our own dioceses and to see whether it is not possible to work out there the problems in the solving of which we seem to lose our love and to care only for ourselves. There in your own parish: and not in your parish only, but (shall we say?) in your rural deanery. There where you have the problem of the rich and the poor, the problem of the educated and the uneducated, the problem o£ the master and the man, the problem of the employer and the employed—there set yourselves, brethren, to work out the problem of fellowship. See if it be not possible that some of us may be called by our Lord to make a leap after the manner, however great a distance apart, of his; that we should come out of that in which we were born and make for ourselves a new life, if in any way we can help to build up the fellowship of man with man in Christ. I recall you to Jesus of Bethlehem. I challenge you to look up to Jesus of Bethlehem and summon him to move in and around your parish from altar to altar, from church to church. I challenge you to summon him. You dare not, and I dare not. When he comes we cry, “Lord have mercy.” We are ashamed. For when shall we be able to stand for him, as a family, round the parish altar with hearts and voices all in unison, and all raised to him? When? That is your problem. That is the first problem of the Anglo-Catholic Congress.

Now in this no-one can throw stones. There are individuals whose efforts must shine in the sight of the angels; but as a corporate body, no Communion, no Church, no Society, can claim to have done more than touch the problem. Brethren, if you ask me, your Chairman, what is your present duty I tell you that first. Get back into your parish, get back into your rural deanery, get back into your own diocese, and work out what Christian fellowship means. Make for yourselves such fellowship as shall not make you ashamed in the sight of Jesus. Do not ask me how it is to be done,—if I knew I would tell you. It is a problem; but it is a problem that Christ can solve if we will be true to him-a difficult and a ticklish problem. You cannot simply sweep away the social customs in which we have been born and bred, and God forbid that we should try. You cannot pretend to an equality of culture and an equality of taste and temperament which does not actually exist. But, if God leapt a gulf for you, I suppose that you can leap gulfs for God first. We are recalled to the Christ of Bethlehem, then, into fellowship.

And secondly–though I dared not if I had not been told to do it, for who am I that I should speak on present duty?—I recall you to the Christ of Calvary. I remind you, brethren, and myself; that the reality behind the Catholic Movement, the reality at the foundation of the Church of Christ, is the Man Christ Jesus and him crucified.

I remind you that the hope of your salvation and the justification of your claim to attention from the world is just the naked Christ of Nazareth, and to him I recall you. The Anglo-Catholic—a man, a woman—following after Jesus along the old Catholic path. Nothing more than that. The path is Catholic, but do not boast about your path. Fix your eyes upon him who goes before you: Jesus, the naked Christ. Brethren, I recall you then in his name to the imitation of his Passion in a degree that has become foreign to most of us. You must set yourselves, brethren, here in the midst of London to show people that it is perfectly possible to lead a happy, a wholesome, healthy life, developing your true manhood without in any way forsaking the simplicity which goes with the Cross of the Christ of Nazareth; that you shall live simple lives, that you shall fight against luxury, that you shall encourage the rich to set a limit to the amount of money that they will use upon themselves, that they will do it not under pressure from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but out of personal devotion to him, Jesus.

And I would say this. I would venture to say to my brethren in the Ministry that the priesthood of which we Anglo-Catholics talk a very great deal implies a strictness and a sternness in the following of Christ that is sometimes sadly to seek. We want, we Priests, really to believe that we are consecrated to give our wills to Jesus, and in giving our wills to lay ourselves body and soul in his hands that he may do what he will with us. And therefore we have to be extremely careful to shut ourselves in from those things in the world that so easily distract our minds from him. We must have a far stricter standard, a far sterner following of Christ. For the Christ of Calvary calls you.

Brethren, consider. We meet and we count our thousands now; and had we an Altar that we might offer our Mass here, how glorious we should think it. But when you have followed the naked Christ, now glorified, and in the sacramental presence pleaded his cause before the Father, where is the sternness, where is the strictness, where is the self-sacrifice in us, the ministers, the acolytes and worshippers at the altar? Naked, yet glorified: that is the picture of him in his sacramental presence; and we well we know what we are. And beyond that call to us, the ministers, there are those yet awaiting their vocation; these are young men, there are boys, young women, girls; and life is opening out. What has the Christ of Calvary to say to you? What is the duty of the Anglo-Catholic Movement with regard to them? We want the young men in the Priesthood, if God calls them: we want the women in the Religious Life, we want them in the work of teaching for the Church: we want men and women, Priests and other workers abroad in the Foreign Mission field. But where are they? Why do they not come? Because we are not yet recalled to the Christ of Calvary—there is no other reason. And I put it to you who are parents and you who hope to be parents hereafter—I put it to you, what has the Christ of Calvary to say to you? Nothing? Do you remember how he reached his Cross? Do you forget whom it was he left that he might climb his Cross? Do you forget how his Mother was bidden to be content to live with the Beloved Disciple? And you fathers and mothers, cannot you give to Jesus some of what he has given to you? Dedicate them; rejoice that they should go into the Religious Life. Look only at the Catholics in Ireland—five or six of the family in the Priesthood and in Religion. Look at the numbers of men and women in a French household who are in the Priesthood and in Religion. Then look at your English homes. I recall you to the Christ of Calvary—listen to him, brethren.

And I want, if I may, to make one other point about Calvary. I want you Anglo-Catholics to consider how you are going to make that picture of Christ real to the world, unless religion can be presented to people as a matter of discipline. We want all the love, and the Christ of Bethlehem will secure that. We need the self-sacrifice, and the Christ of Calvary will do that. Now what about the discipline? You know you move in an atmosphere of obedience. Ideally, as I step out to go to the altar of God, I go in definite obedience to Holy Church to offer the Sacrifice of Christ’s obedience. Now I ask you, in the ordinary Anglo-Catholic Church how much obedience is there? Now, mark you, I am not asking for obedience to a Bishop. I ask for obedience to the Bishops in so far as they themselves obey the Catholic Church. Please don’t try to applaud. I am not making a point. I am talking to your souls. If you want my opinion of your present duty, I want you to get nearer to those English Bishops who do understand a little, and I want you to make it clear to them that it is becoming intolerable to you that your daily and Sunday Masses should be without that consecrating sense of obedience lying heavy on the Priest from the moment he begins to vest until he has completed the Mass and said his thanksgiving. And I want you to plead with the Bishops that they shall believe you, and that with you they shall try and see how you shall arrive at some understanding that shall be covered by the practice and the custom of the Catholic Church. I would never ask a Priest to obey the dicta of a Bishop. I have been a Bishop for fifteen years, and I do not think I have ever asked a priest simply to obey my opinion; but I always beg of them—and they listen—that when we are agreed that this is Catholic, and this is useful, and this is what is needed, then they obey. Even if they do not always agree, they obey.

And you lay people, what about Confession? Are you going to obey about that? How long are you going to hold back before you make your confessions to God in God’s Church in the presence of God’s Priests? How long are you going to hold back from acknowledging your corporate guilt and your responsibility to the Church? Or fasting. Do you fast? Do you know what it means really to fast? We have not learned it yet in England, and now we are beginning to look for dispensations from fasting and talking about gentacala and other most deceiving things. There is a sort of air of softness about us; and Jesus calls you. What does it matter if you get a headache when you are representing Calvary before the Father? Would you want to feel especially well and buoyant as you came from the contemplation of the Christ of Calvary? Brethren, you know you would not.

And my last point is this. I recall you in the last place to the Christ of the Blessed Sacrament. I beg you, brethren, not to yield one inch to those who would for any reason or specious excuse deprive you of your Tabernacles. I beg you, do not yield, but remember when you struggle, or, as Father Frere told us to-day, when you fight for the Church—do remember that the Church is the body of Christ, and you fight in the presence of Christ. Do not forget that. I want you to make your stand for the Tabernacle, not for your own sakes but for the sake of truth first, and in the second place for the sake of reunion hereafter. But for the truth, because the one great thing that England needs to learn is that Christ is found in and amid matter—Spirit through matter—God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.

Now mark that—this is the Gospel truth. If you are prepared to say that the Anglo-Catholic is at perfect liberty to rake in all the money he can get no matter what the wages are that are paid, no matter what the conditions are under which people work; if you say that the Anglo-Catholic has a right to hold his peace while his fellow citizens are living in hovels below the levels of the streets, this I say to you, that you do not yet know the Lord Jesus in his Sacrament. You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary—but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen to-night your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.

There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.



God and my Dog

Coach Sees the Light

A little over 14 years ago a friend gave me one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received; a west highland white terrier we called Coach. If you are a dog lover then you understand how a dog is not a pet but is a member of the family. If you are not a dog lover you should probably stop reading.

Coach and I were joined at the hip. Just thinking about him would make me smile. But then last weekend he became fatally ill and I had to take him to the vet and hold him in my lap while they put him to sleep. It is an understatement to say that it was a very dark day and a brokenhearted week that followed.

To assuage my grief I have tried to concentrate on the things that I loved about him and what he represented to my life. Being a creature of God, Coach reflected his Creator.

Coach loved passionately. There was nothing lukewarm about him. When I would be working in the back yard and go out through the fence, even for a matter of moments, Coach would meet me at the gate on my return. He would bark loudly while throwing his head back and forth as if to say, “Where in the world did you go? You have been gone for YEARS!”

Early in the mornings Coach would scratch on my side of the bed and then jump up and press in hard against me to give me a morning hug. His love knew no limits.

God loves us passionately and without limits as well. He loves us so much that He took on flesh and died on our behalf. As Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” What does God expect from us in return? Simply that we love Him back. I saw a sign out in front of a church that nailed it. “God wants full custody, not weekend visitation.”

Coach accepted me…..period. I could come home in a good mood and he would meet me at the door with tail wagging. I could come home in a bad mood and have the same greeting. If I had been away for several days still he was happy to see me and if I was sick he would stay by my side. Coach did not condemn me. The only time that I could tell that Coach would be upset with me was when I had been at another home and he could smell other dogs on me. He would sniff me and simply walk away.

That quality in Coach also reflected his Creator. We don’t have to get good enough for God to accept us. The Bible says, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” God accepts us when we are in a good mood or a bad mood or when we are in any mood. God accepts us when we are doing right and He even accepts us when we are doing wrong, as long as we come back to Him like the Prodigal Son. God does not condemn us. The only time that we will be able to tell that God is upset with us is if He smells other gods on us.

What really surprised me after Coach’s death was how empty our home became. We still have two other dogs but that has not prevented our home from feeling like a mausoleum. I had no idea what a presence he was and how greatly he filled our lives. We are having to adjust to a new normal without Coach.

It is the same with God. We probably take His presence for granted and do not realize how much He fills our lives, but the Scripture says that, “in Him we live and move and have our being.” If we try to live apart from Him our lives would be very empty. But gratefully we don’t have to get used to a new normal without God in our lives. We have His promise that nothing can separate us from His love and that He will never leave us or forsake us.

There is a beautiful poem by Wendy J. Francisco that says it so well.

I look up and I see God,

I look down and see my dog.

Simple spelling G O D,

same word backwards, D O G.

They would stay with me all day.

I’m the one who walks away.

But both of them just wait for me,

and dance at my return with glee.

Both love me no matter what –

divine God and canine mutt.

I take it hard each time I fail,

but God forgives, dog wags his tail.

God thought up and made the dog,

dog reflects a part of God.

I’ve seen love from both sides now,

it’s everywhere, amen, bow wow.




Don’t Let Christmas Consume Advent

No Christmas


I want to suggest that it would be more consistent of those of us who get concerned for the loss of the sacred when Christmas items come out before Halloween, to be equally concerned about Christmas being celebrated during Advent.

By the end of the 4th century the season of Advent was universally observed throughout the Church. It is currently observed four Sundays before the Feast of the Nativity. In ancient times it was observed much like Lent, as a time of fasting, abstinence and almsgiving. The idea was to prepare oneself to receive Christ at His first and second comings; to prepare an abode made fit for the King.

While today we are not quite so strict in our observance of Advent, we would do well to learn from our spiritual ancestors. Just as many have observed how much more meaningful their Easter becomes after keeping a holy Lent, the same will be true for Christmas. Allow me to offer some suggestions for keeping Advent a penitential season and saving our celebrations for their proper time.

  • Put off Christmas decorations and music and offering Christmas parties until at least Gaudette Sunday (the third Sunday in Advent)
  • Make or purchase an Advent Calendar and teach your children what this season is about
  • Make an appointment to make a sacramental confession
  • Fast from meat on Wed and Fridays, which were typical days of fasting
  • Remember the poor. As you are making a list of gifts to give for family and friends, consider the poor in your Christmas budget
  • Invite those who are alone into your Christmas celebrations
  • Pray for the Prince of Peace to bring peace to the world
  • Attend that your lamps are full so that you will not be found wanting at the day of His coming. Do this by “walking in the Spirit so that you do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”

Then remember that Christmas is a season and not a day. For the 12 days of Christmas feast and fellowship until the Feast of the Epiphany which is January 6, when the Church celebrates the visitation of the Magi.

You may stand out if you are fasting when everyone else is celebrating and then still celebrating Christmas after New Years, but it may offer you an opportunity to witness about living by a calendar that follows the life of Christ whom you seek to follow as your Lord and Savior.



Same Sex Marriage and the Loss of Freedom

Gay Marriage

A sober warning is given in a wonderful article written by a woman who was raised in the family of a same sex marriage.[1] However I am not seeing that warning repeated in social media. With the Supreme Court poised to change the definition of marriage, I hope that it not too late to hear her prophetic call.

Her warning is that same sex marriage will erode fundamental rights and her proof is what has transpired in Canada. She gives abundant examples, but we don’t have to go to Canada to see the validity of her argument. It is already happening here in the United States.

Consider the family run bakery that was fined by the State and put out of business for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding. The lesbian couple gave dozens of negative symptoms that they experienced due to the rejection, that ranged from sleeplessness to weight gain (even though they didn’t get the cake). We need to move past the hysteria surrounding the event in order to consider what really happened and then some very troubling things come to light that are harbingers of things to come.

It is important to note that the family did not prevent the couple from getting married nor did they prevent them from having a cake. That would have violated the couple’s rights. The family simply refused to participate in the wedding based on their religious beliefs. Again they didn’t stop anything, in fact they didn’t do anything, they simply declined to participate. By bringing suit, the gay couple was in effect telling the family that they do not have a right to their religious convictions. And the State, essentially playing thought police, agreed. What then is the point of freedom of religion if we are not free to live according to our religion?

This takes the discussion beyond legalizing gay marriage to the next step of silencing any and all opposition. We not only have to accept it, now we are required to participate in it. We are no longer free to disagree because disagreement is labeled as hate speech and punished accordingly. But the power of Dawn’s article comes from the fact that she loves her gay parents and so no motive of fear or hatred can be assigned to her. Her concerns for the loss of individual freedoms come from being a witness to that fact.

Not only is freedom of religion under attack but also freedom of speech. A teacher in New Jersey was suspended for expressing her opinion, not in the classroom, but on Facebook.[2] It is noteworthy that the picture at the top of the article is of protestors holding signs “No Hate In Our State.” Disagreement equals hate. More recently a fire chief in Atlanta was fired because he authored a devotional book that taught biblical principles of morality.[3] Last October the mayor of Houston demanded that preachers submit their sermons concerning sexuality or gender for review.[4] There was such a backlash that she backed down but it would be naïve to believe that was the last time such a demand will be made.

Examples are plentiful of people being silenced and these examples should shock people into action. Even those who support gay marriage should be the first to defend the freedom of speech of those who do not, because these rights are for us all and not just for those with whom we agree.

[1] A Warning from Canada: Same-Sex Marriage Erodes Fundamental Rights by  Dawn Stefanowicz http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/04/14899/.

[2] http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/nj_teacher_who_made_anti-gay_remarks_on_facebook_s.html

[3] http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/02/18/lawsuit-fire-chief-terminated-because-christian-faith/

[4] http://www.ijreview.com/2014/10/188148-lawsuit-bathroom-law-city-houston-demands-copies-pastors-sermons-regarding-sexuality/

The Annunciation

Annunciation 2

We often talk of “the Christmas miracle” but in reality it is the event we celebrate tonight that is the miracle. The birth of Jesus was not miraculous because it was a birth like any other. What is miraculous is that the Holy Spirit came to Mary and she conceived. This is what the angel announced and Mary was a humble and obedient servant. This is a miracle like no other and the idea of God becoming flesh is so profound that the altar party kneels when we come to that place in the Creed. It is a wonder that this is not the day that we exchange gifts and sing carols and know that because of tonight, the world will never be the same.

Is Lent Unbiblical?

Lent - 4 Parts

A parishioner sent me a copy of a statement against keeping Lent, declaring Lent to be a perversion of the true repentance and fasting to which Christians are called. We see these kinds of challenges every year but with the advent of social media, they are receiving wider attention. This response is intended to defend Lent as a holy season.

First the writer describes Lent as “the 40 day Catholic season of preparation.” I’m sure it would come as a surprise to our Orthodox brethren that they are observing a “Catholic season.” No, it is the universal Church’s season of preparation. Since the vast majority of the Church observes Lent, critiques of it come across like the boy in the marching band that complains that everyone else is out of step. Of course numbers do not determine truth, so we need to dig deeper. The anti-Catholic tone throughout the critique is regrettable given Jesus’ Prayer for unity in John 17.

Second the writer points out that “Lent” and “Ash Wednesday” are not in the Bible. “Bible” is not in the Bible. That argument proves nothing unless you are the kind of literalist that believes we can only do what is in the Bible, rather than the more biblical approach that we can do all things except what the Bible forbids. Paul points out that for the Christian “all things are lawful but not all things are profitable.” Thus if we find Lent profitable, then it is biblical to observe it (I Corinthians 10:23-33).

Third he says that when we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday that it is a violation of Jesus teaching on fasting. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18.

It seems like he has a point here. Jesus tells us to wash and we are putting ashes on our foreheads. Are we therefore disobeying Jesus? Let me answer that question with a question. When the critic of Lent fasts, is he disobeying Jesus if he does not put oil on his head because Jesus said to do that also?

This points out that Scripture must be interpreted and not just parroted (“if your eyes causes you to stumble, pluck it out”). Through proper interpretation we seek to understand the intent of the passage so that we are keeping the spirit of the law and not just the letter of the law. Jesus’ point in this pericope is that we should not be overtly practicing our religion to gain the approval of man, but rather we should practice it privately for the approval of God. Earlier in Matthew 6:6 Jesus says when we pray we shouldn’t pray in the synagogues and street corners, we are to go into our room or closet and shut the door and pray to our Father in secret. So are we disobeying Jesus when we pray in Church? Are we wrong to pray anywhere except in our closet? And what if our closet doesn’t have a door to shut? Again, these texts need proper interpretation.

The issue according to Jesus’ teaching is our intent. What is our intent in receiving ashes? If we are doing it to gain the approval of man then we would be wrong to do it. But if we are doing it as a sign of our repentance then not only is it lawful but it is profitable to do. When my son was small we received ashes together and on the way back to our pew he said to me “Dad, I feel weird.” I whispered back, “You’re supposed to.” I think it was the first time he faced his own mortality and according to the Scriptures, that is how we gain wisdom.

It is important to add that we receive ashes as a Body and not just one person in Church drawing attention to himself, which would also violate Jesus’ teaching. But what does the world think when they see the signs of our repentance? Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.

Fourth, he critiques Lent saying that it is wrong to give up eating certain foods because Paul says so in I Timothy 3:1-3. (So all you gluten free folks are going to hell!) This is a classic example of how you can make the Bible say anything you want it to say if you take it out of context. First of all there is a difference between a voluntary fast and requiring abstinence from certain foods. If you voluntarily give up meat for a season as a partial fast that is different from being forbidden to eat shellfish.

What is the context of Paul’s statement? “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.”

Just before this passage Paul gives the qualifications of a deacon and just after it he elucidates on being a good servant of Christ. So this passage juxtaposes the true Church with a demon inspired apostasy. This abstaining from certain foods, like the forbidding of marriage, is referring to a permanent law of a cult. That has nothing whatsoever with the temporary fast of the Church.

Fifth he critiques the Church for designating 40 days for fasting and repentance when we should be repenting “all year round.” In this critique, he insults our intelligence. Of course we realize that we should be repenting “all year round” (even though there is not a specific verse in the Bible that tells us to repent “all year round”). But just as our Lord set 40 days apart for fasting and prayer, the Church declares a special season for it as well. In the end we are merely choosing to walk in the footsteps of our Master. How can that possibly be wrong?