To register for Diocesan Convention, Oct. 4-5

[From Archdeacon Stringfellow]

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

This note comes to you to give you a simple and overall picture of registering for the Diocesan Convention to be held October 4 and 5 at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Lay Delegates need to see that three steps are accomplished:

1.  Each Lay Delegate and Alternate has to make sure that the parish you represent has filed a Certificate of Election with the Secretary of the Diocese, Father Karl Kern, Rector of St Alban's Church in Sinking Spring.  The date due for Certificates was July 23.  Father Kern mailed a Certificate to each parish several weeks ago.  A soft copy of the Certificate lives on my hard drive, and I am happy to send it if you need it.  This step is unnecessary for Lay Visitors to Convention who may simply register by accomplishing 2 and 3 below.

2.  Each Lay Delegate and Alternate either individually or as a part of your parish's delegation needs to Register for Convention.  This process now is exclusively accomplished online at the Diocesan website.  The website will be programmed to receive registrations beginning August 9.  The deadline to complete registrations is September 20.  It is in registering that you specify your entrée for the banquet.

This year Bishop Jack Croneberger will be specially honored at the Convention banquet, and those who wish to celebrate his ministry among us will be able to register for the banquet only.

3.  Each Delegate and Alternate either individually or as part of your parish's delegation needs to reserve a room at a hotel in Bethlehem if you need overnight accommodations.  Soon I shall send to the parishes and the clergy the names of the hotels, their locations, the rates they charge, their telephone numbers, and the deadline by which a reservation must be made to be included in our group's rate.  The deadlines differ from hotel to hotel.

The Clergy Delegates to Convention have to accomplish numbers 2 and 3 of these steps.  In virtue of being canonically resident or licensed to officiate clergy are expected to attend and to be part of Convention.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask them: [email protected]

Archdeacon Stringfellow's Sabbatical begins Jan. 24

[Posted by Archdeacon Stringfellow on Bakery]

Dear Colleagues and Croutons,

Several months ago Bishop Paul and I agreed that I would take an overdue sabbatical in the early portion of this year.  And in the New Year I proposed to begin it on Thu 24 Jan and return on Mon 13 May.

During that time Canon Anne E. Kitch, Canon for Lifelong Formation in the Christian Faith, by Bishop Paul's appointment will be Acting Archdeacon.  Correspondence usually addressed to me at this address should be addressed to her.  She will keep the schedule of Archdeacon's Visits and other pastoral responsibilities normally mine.  Even more of her gifts will come to light.

Accordingly this inbox will close at Noon on Wed 23 Jan and will reopen in May.  I have asked Kat Lehman to set an automatic reply to email addressed here indicating that email addressed to it will neither accumulate nor be read.

On Sunday, Epiphany II, January 20, I shall celebrate the Eucharist and preach the Gospel at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Scranton as I have done most all of the Sundays in this Church Year.  The parish is close to my heart, and they with all the faithful in this Diocese will be continually in my prayers though I have not accepted invitations to celebrate or to preach until I return.

My colleagues at Diocesan House today favored me with a surprise of cake and lots of gooey icing (the best food group for mental health) and with cards to express their best wishes.  I am grateful to them for making the sabbatical just a little more difficult to undertake.  A sword-bridge, however, it is not.

But it is time to continue study of Murray Bowen's systems theory with emphasis on his own writings collected in Family Therapy in Clinical Practice (1978) in addition to following a course on the subject at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem.  I am delighted to observe to you that interest in Bowen Theory continues to develop beyond the boundaries of the Center for Family Process in Bethesda, Maryland, and the devoted disciples of Ed Friedman throughout the United States and particularly in the Episcopal Church.

Secondly, I shall study my favourite twentieth-century author, Graham Greene.  Novelist William Golding wrote that Greene is "the ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man's consciousness and anxiety."  He wrote but five hundred words a day, but what words they are.  Greene certainly knew the power and the glory as well as the human factor, and he resorted to the rosary and Russian roulette.  My plan is to read again his major works and to read many of his minor works along with Norman Sherry's respected three-volume biography.  Graham Greene and Cinema and The Graham Greene Film Reader interest me, and I sincerely hope time remains for them as well.

And I'll spend a rainy Sunday afternoon brushing up my Italian.  Of course I could stand to make some progress in minor hobbies, bicycle maintenance, photography, and cooking.

And did you know that Shrove Tuesday opens spring training?  The Knot Hole Gang will again be in session this season though I shall not advertise for predictions through diocesan portals.  Any predictions posted before the deadline, however, will be added to the great spreadsheet.  The deadline is Noon on Opening Day, Mon 1 Apr, Easter Monday in some religious calendars.  Perhaps the Knot Hole Gang will have a surprise along the way.

I have let the passions of the season past cool a bit before announcing, lest my humility gain complete sway, that I won the contest last season, being the only prognosticating handicapper (even among Giants' fans) to predict the Giants to be world's champions.  It was hard to give and to receive the prize, but I did well enough, I suppose.  This ambidextrous feat may even occur to the marketers in Hollywood, so famous throughout the world for their award-giving and award-receiving.  The Yankees have taught us all how to win and to keep a trophy though this off-season they seem to be in need of some of their own lessons.

I am grateful to Bishop Paul for the opportunity to minister among you.  That you keep a holy and costly Lent for the love of Christ alone and that you, buried with him, may also rise with him in glory, walking in newness of life--be assured of the prayers of

Your faithful,

Howard Stringfellow III

A Homily Preached at Diocesan House

By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
9 August 2012
Judges 8:22-35, Psalm 27, Saint John 1:43-21 (Feria)

With a practiced finger, the sales clerk pushed the bridge of his spectacles half-way up his nose and squinted.  “You could ride this bicycle all the way to heaven.”  The young lady, just twelve, returned her answer, “All I know is that I want to ride and to ride and to ride.  How shall I know if I get to heaven?”  “First of all,” the sales clerk said, “you’ll be on your way by doing what you really want to do.”  With practiced skill, he continued.  “And you will know you are there, because you will forget to ask your question along the way.”

And so it is.  The Lord who made us made it possible for us to find him by following what he made us to enjoy.  I have staked my life on this proposition: where there is truth, there is God.  It is not really possible to misappropriate truth.

In the Gospel today, Nathanael asks Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?” (1:48).  The answer “I saw you under the fig tree” means something like “How could I not know you?”  You see, we are his, and his forever.  Our paths lead to him.  Our paths are in him.  I know I have forgotten to ask my questions along the way.

Focusing on Mission—the Mutual Ministry Review

By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
10 August 2012

The telephone rang.  It was a senior warden.  “You need to review the performance of our rector.  He doesn’t call on shut-ins, and his sermons aren’t very good.  They’re too long, too.  And you have to tell him.”

Take a long breath, Howard.  You’re in a classic triangle formed by the anxiety of one person dealing with another.  One person’s message for the other is difficult, and you simply by answering the telephone have been brought in to give that message, sparing someone of the discomfort of giving such a message and picking up the pieces.

Over the years, I have noticed that God works and has the opportunity to work when I am minding my own business more or less faithfully.  And here was one of those instances.  God had plenty of opportunity to act and to act in “a still more excellent way,” as Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians (I Cor. 12:31).

And that still more excellent way is the Mutual Ministry Review.  In good hands, the Mutual Ministry Review (MMR) gives a parish the opportunity to focus on its mission.

In even better hands, the MMR gives a parish the opportunity to sets goals for its ministry and its mission.  The best leaders of parishes use the MMR in exactly these ways and find that their parish functions better, has more clearly defined goals, and has a more clearly understood mission.  Over and over again, I see that parishes who have a mission statement and intentionally accomplish it grow and thrive.  And the MMR can help to bring this about especially when a parish has a mission statement and seems to be stuck in trying to accomplish it.

The basis of the MMR is Samuel P. Magill’s Living into our Ministries, published in 2003 by the Episcopal Church Foundation.  My introduction to it came some years ago when a rector telephoned me and wanted me to facilitate a review for the purpose of setting long-term goals for the mission of the parish.

And over a number of sessions and conversations, we were able together to do that.  The MMR is a structured conversation among the rector, the vestry, and the members of a parish concerning its mission, ministry, functioning, goals, and how those goals may be achieved.

The structured conversation really is “mutual”: each of the three groups reviews the other two.  Here ends the triangulation: no third parties give difficult messages, and each party delivers its own message.  The conversation, also, really concerns “ministry,” or the service or functioning within the parish of each of the three groups.  The conversation, thirdly and finally, really is a “review”: each group expresses its perception of the functioning of the other two.

There are things the structured conversation of the MMR is not.  The conversation does not include, except when unavoidably necessary, obligatory responsibilities under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the national or diocesan canons, diocesan resolutions and policies, the parish’s bylaws, and the clergy’s ordination vows.  The assumption is that these obligations are being accomplished as a matter of course.  Fulfilling these obligations is basic to the healthy functioning of the parish.  If they are not being accomplished, the interplay of rector, vestry, and members can make the necessary corrections.

The conversation of the MMR does address how the rector, vestry, and members function to further the mission, ministry, and goals of the parish.  The conversation assumes, secondly, that the ministry of each of the three groups differs from the other two.  Each group has obligations and ministries that belong to itself exclusively.  Thirdly, the conversation reviews those obligations and ministries as well as the means used by each group to fulfill them.

And so the rector, the vestry, and the members function differently, but they function differently to accomplish the mission they share.  This vision of functioning in a parish compares to the vision of Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians (4:1-7, 11-12, and 13-16).  Some are rectors, some are vestry, and some are members, but together all serve to accomplish the mission of the parish.

In future articles, I shall address the functions of the rector, the vestry, and the members of parishes.  If you have ideas to share about these functions, I would be happy to hear from you.

Enduring as the person you are in the calling you have received

Sermon at Diocesan House
Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
The Thursday after Pentecost VI
Feria, 12 July 2012, Proper 9
Romans 9:19-33, Psalm 62, Saint Matthew 24:1-12 (Daily Office, altered)

The internet radio smoothly and unmistakably sounds.  The announcer proclaims clearly, “When you’re here, you can do anything.  You can be anyone.”

Crafty people, those advertisers.  They know some of us want to be somebody else.  They know that some of us want to be doing something else.  And they will use that to advertise, of all things—a casino.

You can do anything and be anyone, and you can lose and lose and lose all the way to the point that nothing else remains to be lost.

The kingdom of our Lord and the Christian life differ somewhat from a casino.

The Lord points to the difference in the Gospel today.  “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Saint Matthew 24:13).

Living, really living, is not about doing something else or being somebody else.  It’s about enduring as the person you are in the calling you have received.  The person you are and the calling you have come from God, and making that connection saves you, saves you from losing and losing, and preserves you to eternal life.

The Summer—and our Lives—Begin and End with Our Lady

Howard Stringfellow
4 June 2012

The summer in very truth begins with The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (May 31) and has well entered its decline with the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15). When this discovery dawned on me, I began to see the season as a figure for life, for living well, and for letting life take its Providential course. Summer is much more than baseball.

Continue reading "The Summer—and our Lives—Begin and End with Our Lady" »

Diocesan Life March/April 2012

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The Baseball Fan and 2012 predictions

By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow

The Baseball Fan observes with great devotion the days of the Baseball Season, and it became the custom to prepare for Opening Day by a season of reflection and prediction.  This season provided a time for converts and seasoned Fans alike to share with each other their allegiances and analyses so that conversations, whether appointed or joyously unexpected, could begin with mutual understanding and awareness.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Game we love, to the observance of a truly great Season by self-examination and objectivity; by reflection, contemplation, and self-awareness; by differentiation from past rivalries and present and obligatory pay-backs; and by reading and studying The Sporting News' Baseball Annual, the sports pages, baseball blogs, and websites, and, perhaps, conversing (at arm's length) with baseball handicappers of renown (one of whom in The Great Gatsby sports cuff-links made of human molars).

Those of you whose predictions achieve a high congruence with the Season's outcomes may fully expect an appropriate acknowledgment after the last pitched ball.  To be considered for this prize, I shall need to have your predictions by Midnight of Tuesday, March 27, the day before (actually, six hours and ten minutes before), the first pitched ball of the 2012 Season in Tokyo, when the (Ancient) Mariners of Seattle visit the (White) Elephants of Oakland.  Opening Day in America will be April 4 when the Champion Cardinals open the Miami Marlins' new ballpark.

Your predictions this year should include two Wild Card picks per league.  A new playoff format, as I understand it, calls for a one-game playoff between wild card winners in what amounts to a play-in game for each league.  Whether this format will begin this Season or next is unknown at the moment.  A final decision is required by the Collective Bargaining Agreement by March 1.  I do not know if two Wild Cards can come from the same division.  MLB press releases have not addressed the new format.  If the new format is delayed, Wild Card 1 (not 2) will stand as your Wild Card pick.  For the purposes of tallying results, predicting correct playoff spots (Wild Cards or Division Champions) garner 3 points, League Champions 5 points, and World's Champion 10 points.

And, to make a right beginning to the Season, let us now kneel in silence to determine the results of our studies and our hopes for the Teams, and to set forth those results below:

2012 Baseball Season Predictions
Winners of Divisions and Wild Cards, League Champions, and World's Champion

AL East:
AL Central:
AL West:
AL Wild Card 1:
AL Wild Card 2:
AL Champion:

NL East:
NL Central:
NL West:
NL Wild Card 1:
NL Wild Card 2:
NL Champion:

World's Champion:

Play Ball!

Defeating our Enemies

Our Need for Lent
Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
15 February 2012

The Lord’s words to Cain never quite become silent.  They never leave, and they remind me, as they linger, of the need we have of using every means possible to prefer the good and to leave the evil alone: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).

The choice is ours, of course, whether we do well or do not do well, or whether we master sin or permit sin to master us.  The desire to defeat our enemies as much as anything I know points to our need for Lent—our need to repent and to return to the Lord.

Defeating our enemies clearly belongs to the category of not doing well and letting sin become our master.  As long as we’re clear on that, some room may remain to have a little fun.

Continue reading "Defeating our Enemies" »

The Tithe and Leadership

by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
8 December 2011

What plan do you have, or does your parish have, for beginning to tithe?  By its nature, because of its costliness, tithing cannot begin accidentally.  You begin intentionally if you begin.

Dan Charney, the Stewardship Missioner of the Diocese, preaches passionately and eloquently about the tithe, or the practice of giving ten percent of one’s income or produce to the Lord.  Since I came to this Diocese in 1993, I have heard more here about tithing than I had heard altogether before or since from other people including clergy.  Tithing enjoys a long and widespread history.  Religions of people other than the Israelites refer to it and expect it.  Dan’s ministry stakes the claim that tithing is expected here also, and I admire him for it.  He witnesses no failure of nerve on this subject, and he is the better leader for taking a stand.

He is of age; we can ask him, of course, but his stewardship talks have emphasized three reasons to tithe that I list in the priority he gives them.

Continue reading "The Tithe and Leadership" »

Kitch and Strickland Top Baseball Prognosticators

by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
9 December 2011

With Baseball’s Winter Meetings concluded yesterday, it seems an auspicious time to announce the winners of the 2011 Baseball Prognostication.

The Rev. Canon Anne E. Kitch and Mr. William Strickland tied as Best Prognosticator while die-hard Yankees’, Phillies’, and Red Sox’ fans, predicting more with their heart than with their head, trailed distantly. 

No one predicted the St Louis Cardinals to be World’s Champions though among DioBeth’s participants Scott Allen, Andrew Gerns, and Jonathan Mayo, may be said to have achieved Honorable Mentions for predicting the Cardinals’ advance to the playoffs.  Another Honorable Mention goes to another prognosticator outside our fold.

“Preacher” Kitch and “The Stick” Strickland rode their way to excellence by tapping the Texas Rangers to repeat as American League Champions.  They alone of all prognosticators predicted the repeat championship.  Three points are awarded for each correct playoff berth (wild cards and division leaders interchangeable); five points are awarded for each league champion; and ten points are awarded for the World’s Champion.

“Preacher” is the Canon for Formation in the Christian Faith in the Diocese of Bethlehem, and “The Stick” is Senior Warden of St Gabriel’s Church in Douglassville.

The 2012 Baseball Prognostication will be announced on February 22, and predictions will be due by Noon of Opening Day, April 4, the day the Cardinals begin defense of their title on the road, opening a new baseball park, against the Miami Marlins.  If you want to participate, just send me an email note to that effect.

A Rope We Cannot Give Away

A Homily Preached at Diocesan House by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Thursday after Advent Sunday

Isaiah 26:1-6, Psalm 118:19-24, Saint Matthew 7:21-27
1 December 2011

[Better to understand the image of the rope, look at Edwin Friedman’s fable, “The Bridge.”  It has been made into a brief film, “The Crux,” available on YouTube.  The Staff at Diocesan House have seen it and discussed it.  —  H. S.]

It happens every year.  It is as certain as finding Santa Claus at Macy’s in November.

Here we are almost at the very beginning of Advent, and things are about to take a turn.  They do every year.  The solemn and sobering image of our Lord as Savior and Judge will again this year, as it does every year, morph into the image of our Lord as a pitiable and helpless Baby, so helpless that even our help seems necessary.  Even a Little Drummer Boy has a gift to offer.

I understand this.  It’s so much more rewarding to be helpful than it is to be accountable.  Taking a rope is a lot more fun than being asked what in the world we’re doing with rope in our hands—especially when the rope isn’t our own.

While we have time, let’s let our Lord be our Savior and Judge, and not distort him into helplessness.  He can be a Savior and Judge at once, at the same time, because his Mercy is his Justice, and his Justice is his Mercy.  I mean by this that Jesus’ love for us, unconditional and uncompromised, seems to be one or the other, depending upon where we are, where we’ve strayed or where we haven’t strayed, or whether we’ve identified with him or accepted a substitute.

In the terms of the Gospel today, we receive his Justice if our house is built on sand, if we’ve heard and not acted on his words.  We receive his Mercy if our house is built on rock, if we’ve heard and acted on his words.

Each one of us has the power, the freedom, to decide which foundation our lives shall have.  We inevitably become in this life what we most want to be.  And this choice is a rope that we cannot give away either in time or in eternity.

Diocesan Life for December 2011/January 2012

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My Inner Naaman

Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
5 November 2011
“What is it about this oil that you have that will cure me?”
There; I had said it and said it aloud for the priest to hear.  “What is it about this oil that you have that will cure me?”  My inner Naaman, though nameless to me, had stepped out of the shadows and was right there for the two of us to see.  For my part, I was proud of that Naaman, for that Naaman kept me me and not another.  It was the other I feared, I suppose.  I can only guess what the priest thought.
At the time I was a sophomore in college.  I had been to the doctor—several doctors in fact—to discover the cause of the dizzy spells that were plaguing me at some inopportune times.  I remember once being overcome with dizziness while I sped westward on Interstate 40 midway between Nashville and Memphis.  That was scary.
When dizziness hits, reason flies out the window.  Contrary to all reason, I once held onto the bed where I was lying, because the sensation that I might be thrown off of it could not by reason be put down.

Continue reading "My Inner Naaman" »

Diocesan Life for November 2011

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Pretensions Die Hard

by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
6 October 2011
Pretensions die hard, but help in nailing them sometimes comes from unexpected quarters.
One day some years ago I was putting things back in my locker in a hallway at the Jewish Community Center in Scranton.  I was dressed in my Fifth Avenue finest though without the suit jacket I would don later: Palm Beach wool suit from Duffy & Quinn on Fifth Avenue (of course), rabbat from Wippell’s trimmed with an Anglican collar, and a white shirt with French cuffs joined by gold cuff links: just a humble parish priest collecting anecdotes for inclusion in his own version of Journal d’un curé de campagne.  This is the same rig worn in my Diocesan Life photograph.
And a seven year-old Jewish boy dressed in black and white, as I was, and just beginning to sport fringes on his tallis and to sprout forelocks asked intrepidly, “Are you a waiter?”  “No,” I reactively thought, “not me.”  Then I thought my case would be hard to sell this little judge when he found out about my handling of patens, chalices, and purificators on special tables.  So, I actually said, “I guess in a way.”  Smiling, he showed his sense of success and ran to rejoin his group of friends who unlike him had passed me by.
The boy is something of a terror, I later learned.  The son of a rabbi, he asks tough questions of his teachers and adult supervisors as he did that day of me.  And while I didn’t like it at first, slowly I began to see something of the humor (from my perspective) of his determined inquisitiveness.
And the notion of the humor itself did not last long.  It melted and resolved itself rather quickly into what I think had happened.  I and my pretensions had been in his scrutiny placed in the balance and been found wanting.  This was tough to take.  I can’t just have my costume and exalted self-image at the same time?  Doesn’t the one require the other, and are they not part of the same thing?  What about all those Anglican priests in former times riding in the car with the deceased’s family with a nose in the breviary?  Were they not more self-aware than I was?
The answer of course is No.  We get to have our cake and to eat it, too, in fairy tales, dreams, and cartoons but not in real life where in ordinary circumstances we are accountable to each other on a very fundamental level before we arrive at the mature though none the less divisive specialties of denomination, theology, priesthood, sacrifice, belief, and a long list of other props that serve very well as barricades.
And just the other day I (in Anglican collar) was on the verge of asking someone a question that should’ve been asked of someone much closer by.  I hope to get it one day.
Pretensions indeed die hard, and we need the help God sends even if it be in the person of a little kid doing little kid things.

Diocesan Life for October 2011

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The Office Book

By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
6 September 2011

It’s more valuable than my cell phone (contacts, calendar, and communication).  Its information is more reliable than that on my computer.  I would be lost without it.  I have given it away and take it with me wherever I go.  I have used it on an airplane in the middle of the night, in my car before a meeting, in great cathedrals, and in my favorite chair.

I refer (of course) to the Contemporary Office Book (New York: Church Publishing, 2000; $140), that single volume and 2884 page repository of all things necessary to offer The Daily Office in Rite Two using the New Revised Standard Version of the scriptures.  Its name comes from the Latin word officium, meaning duty or service.  This service is and is not a duty.

Today’s Old Testament reading (I Kings 16:23-34) gives us the entire scriptural account of Omri, King of Israel, whose name means worshipper of Yahweh.  But Omri is important for another reason.  The scriptures say that he “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” but they overlook his quelling of a rebellion and his might shown in capability both abroad and at home.  He was one of the greatest kings of Israel.  I came by this extra knowledge innocently: a Bible professor I had in seminary wrote his dissertation on Omri.

But I have come to see that nothing about the scriptures and the daily prayers is irrelevant to my daily round cellular activity: contacts, calendar events, and communication.  In fact, the scriptures and the daily prayers give to me and reinforce in me an important meaning lying behind the events.  We are God’s, and we remain God’s despite what we do.  And, at times, we even answer our calling to do God’s will.  Even old Omri reminds me that we all have a double story, the one that is written down and the one that defies writing, the one that’s harder or more inconvenient to see.  We all pray that God’s will be done, and occasionally we actually do it.

For the scriptures tell our story, too.  We find duplicated in us the events and the emotions of the people of Israel through the ages.  And we find, too, that place where we can trust in God’s loving-kindness and mercy.  Over and over we are called to that trust and to commit to that relationship so that it is as firm for our part as it is for God’s part.

I’ve said it in sermons precisely because I believe it.  When Jesus speaks in the proclamation of the Gospel for the day, he speaks and is present to all his hearers not only those of two thousand years ago.  He speaks to you and to me, and to the situation of our lives.

And so I carry the Office Book with me and use it though I think of it more as a breviary, a collection of those short readings that give to me and remind me of the deeper meaning, and open the door of eternity.  To me it’s very like Jacob’s Ladder, stretching to heaven and declaring God’s promise: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” (Genesis 28:15).  I’ll take it over a cell phone any day.

Diocesan Life for September 2011

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Diocesan Life for July/August 2011


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