Diocesan Life for June 2011

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The Good Shepherd and Functioning Up

Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Scranton
Easter IV, Year A, 15 May 2011

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit” (Saint John 10:1).

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is a special day for the Church of the Good Shepherd.  For today is “Good Shepherd” Sunday, the Sunday every year that we recognize that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that we pray we shall follow where he leads.  The case could be made that today is our Patronal Feast, the day when we recognize that our Patron is Jesus the Good Shepherd and that our identity (among many) is in following the Good Shepherd.

Rather than preach about sheep, and shepherds, and shepherds’ crooks, and pastures, and wolves, and gates, I want to move in another direction and speak about “functioning up.”  I frequently ask groups to function up.  And I remember a particular occasion here at the Church of the Good Shepherd when I asked everyone, including me, to function up.  It was about twenty months ago.  You may remember the time.  We were in the midst of the controversy about the Garden.  There were hurt feelings.  There were people who wanted to use those hurt feelings to get their way, and I held firm and asked people to function up.  What does functioning up mean, any way?

Someone asked me that the other day, and I confess I had no specially good answer.  But one came my way.  I was trying to say that functioning up means seeing the whole situation from the big perspective and not one’s own narrow point of view.  It means transcending your personal myth about how you are right most of the time and how other people, consequently, and not right when the two of you don’t agree.  And I couldn’t come up with a way of conveying the idea in a way that was compelling.  But, as I said, one came my way.

Like some of you, perhaps, I have been fascinated recently with the Navy SEALs, those soldiers so thoroughly trained, so competent, and so courageous, who so successfully completed the mission they were given, a mission they did not choose, just two weeks ago.  And I saw an article in The Wall Street Journal that spoke about functioning up though that term was not used.  The writer was explaining how difficult SEAL training is, how few recruits actually complete the course, and how few of them have the opportunity to put to work in the field the things they have learned.  About the recruits who made it through the rigorous training, the author wrote:

Almost all the men who survived possessed one common quality.  Even in great pain, faced with the test of their lives, they had the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear and ask: How can I help the guy next to me?  They had more than the ‘fist’ of courage and physical strength.  They also had a heart large enough to think about others, to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose (Eric Greitens, “An Inside Look at the SEAL Sensibility,” 7 May 2011).

Putting aside our agenda, whatever that may be, for the good of the parish is functioning up, and functioning up in a powerfully impressive way.  And, we are called to do it.  We are called to pursue a mission and a ministry.  We are called to pursue the mission of restoring “all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, page 855).  And the Church pursues that mission “as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love” (BCP, page 855).

And to do these things we have to put ourselves aside.  We have to put God and God’s mission first; we have to seek more than our vindication; we have to seek more than evidence that we are right, as usual.  We have to put the good of us all beyond the pleasure and fuzzy feelings of each one of us.

It is not lost on me that we have a powerful example of setting aside ourselves for a greater good.  For I believe that the Good Shepherd functions up on our behalf.  Specifically, I believe the Good Shepherd functioned up on our behalf when he made the supreme sacrifice of himself on the cross for you and for me, and for everyone who was, who is, and who is to come.  And by that sacrifice, he opened the gate to let any one of us in who puts her or his trust in him.  If he gave his life for us (and he did), can we not do likewise following his example?  Can we not lose our pride, our assurance that we are always right, our determination to have our way, our conviction that no one else gets it as clearly as we do?  Can we not put ourselves aside for the good of us all?

The Christian life is not, of course, a military operation though expert military have something to teach us.  They can certainly teach us how to follow a mission not our own; they can show us how to follow where the Good Shepherd leads.  They can show us how big a difference there is in following him rather than doing what we want and calling it what he wants.  They can give us an example of hearing our Leader’s voice, who calls each of us by name, and following where he leads (BCP, page 225).  And if we persevere, if we succeed, the Good Shepherd will not have failed, either.  He will have given us life, and we shall have it abundantly (Saint John 10:10).


'I Want It All'

by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
8 May 2011

It must have been Holy Tuesday.  Just when I thought I had seen most everything, walking to the Post Office on West Fourth Street in Bethlehem, I saw one of those personalized license plates.  Not the official ones that are made to order and are legal plates found on the rear bumper.  This was an unofficial one found on the front bumper.  Palm trees, after a manner of speaking, were to the right and to the left, framing an orange sunset across a bay.  And in the middle, in script, was this confident advertisement: “I want it all.”

What does it mean to have it “all”?  Does it mean that as long as someone else has a penny in a bank account or in a mattress somewhere that you don’t quite have it all?  Maybe you have a tremendously expensive house, as someone once described his house to me, on that very beach, framed by those same palm trees.  Then, do you have it all?  Or you may have a penthouse in Manhattan and a studio in Nob Hill.  Maybe you have a BMW and a Porsche.  Season tickets to the Yankees and the Giants.  Then, do you have it all?  Or maybe an apartment in West Allentown or a house in historic district with all your bills paid.  Or, perhaps, the roof over your head leaks during hard rains, and you have to pick and choose among your necessary medications.  Then, do you have it all?  The answer is: “Quite possibly.”

This is the Season about having it all, about having everything of any importance whatsoever.  For the time is now when we can be assured that the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ conquers the enemy of us all and opens to us the gate of everlasting life.

But Easter is about having it all in another way, too.  Have you ever seen a child at around Noon on Christmas Day, when all the family and friends have gathered, and the thought is moving across her or his consciousness that all the presents have been given, and the day holds no more mountains to climb, no more wrapping paper to wrestle?  We are in a similar circumstance—all of God’s truly significant gifts have been given to us: the enemy of us all has been conquered.  God has given us the most precious gift in his bounty to give whether we have too much or too little, whether we dine on hamburger or crab, whether our stocks are rising or falling, or whether we are “in” or “out” at the club or the office.

From time to time I am asked why the Bible stopped being written—if the Bible is God’s revelation to us, and it is, did that revelation stop at the end of the first century when additional writings stopped being added to the body of writings thought to be the Word of God?  The answer I usually give is an Easter answer.  The gift of eternal life given in the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost are the very big gifts God has to bestow.  It isn’t that God doesn’t have the money or the goods to be more generous; it is that God has given us what we need.  And God has given it in full measure.

I suppose a kind of ambition is in our nature: to want more, to think we deserve more, and to go out and try to get it.  And so much of our culture and our national ideals propel us to do just that.  But wrangling more and more out of God may just not be in the cards we’ve been dealt.  And we may forget what a tremendous barrier the just and innocent man, indeed, the Son of God, broke when he was killed and when God raised him from the dead.  Do any of us need to go faster than the speed of light?  Can we really make heaven a better place?  Will our lives be significantly improved if our ISP provides the 100 Mbps that it promises?  How much do we have to be given before it dawns on us that we really do have it all?


Diocesan Life for May 2011

You can download the .pdf version if you like below:

Luther K. Snow and Asset Mapping

By Howard Stringfellow
9 April 2011

This note is unusual in that it looks back rather than forward; rather than advertise a future event, I plan to reflect on one that is past and is memorable for its quality and implications for our life together.

Under the auspices of continuing education at Moravian Theological Seminary, Luther Snow presented in Allentown and Bethlehem on the last Friday and Saturday in March. We advertised the events as much as we could. Fr. Charles Cesaretti, Chair of the Diocesan Renewal Committee, included the presentations in his schedule of events for Renewal in the Diocese. Many clergy and lay people from the Diocese attended one or both sessions—along with many people from other denominations—more clergy on Friday and more lay people on Saturday.

The most striking, memorable, and compelling feature of Luther Snow’s presentations is his solid grounding in theology.  He really believes and trusts in God. He truly stands where he believes. Moreover, his belief and trust in God trump and overshadow the technique of what he calls asset mapping. The technique is valuable, don’t misunderstand, but it is all the more valuable because of his commitment in faith. His commitment and trust in God pervade everything he says whether he is presenting his material or responding to a comment. Every remark opens the door to God’s possibility and future, to God’s goodness and mercy.

I found it very moving for him to conclude a segment by saying, “Let us have a word of prayer.” And what he did then was to read a passage of Scripture, in most cases a portion of a reading assigned to the Sunday before us. He read not dramatically nor in any way that called attention to itself, but he read with conviction and with clarity and understanding. When he finished his passage, he stopped and said nothing but held the moment, held it as a spiritual reality. He broke the moment by physical movement. Having watched people conduct public services for over fifty years and having conducted them myself as an ordained minister for over twenty-five, I do not believe that his presence and obvious connection with the Almighty can be taught or faked. It only comes from being connected. And, we need more of it, more connection with each other and more connection with God. In other words, we need Renewal.  As an aside, I observe that ordination is not necessary to read the Scriptures in public, nor is Baptism necessary, for that matter.

Asset mapping is his term (though he acknowledges mentors and forerunners) for taking an inventory of assets and then combining the assets in creative ways to further mission. The process and exercises for groups to undertake the inventory and combination may be found in his book, The Power of Asset Mapping, published by the Alban Institute and available from the Brazilian River (my cheeky name for Amazon).

The image he uses often in his presentations is the water glass. Is it half-full or half-empty? And his point is that even if the water glass holds only 5% of the water it can hold when filled, a lot is there for God and God’s people to work with.

Asset mapping, then, is called for when the vestry gets to the point of saying, “We don’t have the money we need to open an overnight shelter.” But what resources do you, in fact, have? What can you do with what you have? How can you use what you have to open a door to the kingdom of God for people bumping into walls looking for that door?

Though he would, I suppose, abominate the term, he is a “supply-side” theologian, a Christian who sees enough in her or his daily bread or weekly offering or annual budget to do something to make God known. The water glass, holding something, holds enough to do something. Always. We may not be able to multiply loaves and fish, and convert water into wine, but the loaves, fish, and water can be used in such a way to declare that God gave them to us to use.

Late on Saturday one of the participants said that Luther Snow was to preach the next day at the early service at East Hills Moravian Church in Bethlehem.  Lord, I wanted to be in that number.


Baseball.The Archdeacon's Predictions and Opening Day at Yankee Stadium

By Howard Stringfellow
newSpin's head sportSwriter

20 March 2011
Eleven Days before Opening Day
The American League
Preparing predictions this spring has been agonizing, particularly in the American League with the aging, underperforming, and losing Yankees.

In the Grapefruit League, only Florida has a poorer record than the Yankees' 9-12 posting after today's win over the Phillies, 8-1.  And in the American League, only Chicago has a worse record in spring training.  In the regular season they will probably better their present percentage of .428, but it's a stretch to think that they will make the playoffs though I will be first to cheer them and a most happy man if they play truly significant games in late September.  They could struggle to stay above .500.

In the Bronx, off the field decisions are conflicted, as was indicated by Brian Cashman's absence from the Rafael Soriano press conference.  On the field, the best player is Robinson Cano, who is a fine player, but Jeter, Rodriguez, and Posada are candidates to succeed Methuselah, who, Sportin' Life sings, lived 900 years.  Who are the outfielders?  The rotation thins real fast.  John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman spoke today seriously about Bartolo Colon being in the rotation.  Additionally, the improvement of Baltimore, the steadiness of Toronto, and the winning ways of Tampa will make the AL East tighter with more teams in the hunt than usual.  In the East, the teams will knock each other out, but one will win.

And so as difficult as it is, I have to leave the Yankees out of the playoffs for the first time since 1995.  Facing this prospect has been grim.  More than Postum has been required to steady my hand and to write:

AL East:  Boston
AL Central:  Detroit
AL West:  Los Angeles
AL Wild Card:  Minnesota
AL Champion:  Minnesota

Thank you for your predictions.  Those of you who haven't sent them in, I know, are working on them, and I look forward to receiving them before the deadline of Noon on March 31, Opening Day, that promises to be especially bracing in the Bronx.

On a broadcast recently, I heard it said that however long spring training is, it's a week too long.  It seems that way to me this year especially.  We're down to it now.  Rosters are being trimmed; cuts are being made; careers are ending, and dreams are being fulfilled.  Soon, very soon, real meaning will be carried by the shouting of

Play Ball!

Best,
Howard

*************************************

27 March 2011
Four Days before Opening Day
The National League
The World Series

The word came to me and said, "What do you see?"  And I said, "I see a branch of an almond tree."

"Not that.  Look beyond that, and what do you see?"  "I see men running on dirt in the shape of a square, surrounded by green grass, and they are running furiously, like maniacs.  Their uniforms are black and orange, and there seems to be no end of them."

"Ah, that's it!  Now the scales have fallen from your eyes.  You shall see greater things than these.  In fifteen days, you will see those same men wearing black and orange receiving their World Series' rings before envious Cardinals' eyes, for the Phillies do not come to town until August 4."

And so I think it will be in 2011 in the Senior Circuit, the Manager's Dream and the Fan's Delight.  The Giants will continue where they left off and win the World Series again.  They have pitching. They have hitting.  They have a blend of new and veteran players.  Though they had a hiccough on the field as Spring Training waned, they have returned to their winning ways with victories yesterday against Cincinnati and Cleveland.  The field manager and general manager are superb colleagues.  And they have an energized fan base following the team around and setting attendance records in the Cactus League.  The Giants are not in town one day, and the attendance is 3500.  The Giants are in town the next day, and the attendance is 10,000.  Their season tickets are sold out in San Francisco, and they are taking reservations for 2012 with a five hundred dollar deposit per seat.

My full National League predictions are:

NL East:  Atlanta
NL Central:  Chicago
NL West:  Giants
NL Wild Card:  Philadelphia

NL Champion:  Giants

World's Champion:  Giants

Thank you to all those who have sent your predictions that are welcome from all comers.  Some of you have incomplete predictions and need to fill those in by Noon, March 31, Opening Day.

We're getting really close now to hear the cry that stirs our hearts: "Play ball!"

Best,
Howard

**********************

31 March 2011
Opening Day

Dear Croutons,
Today the shout "Play Ball!" was followed by the cracks of bats against pitched balls in stadiums throughout the land.  Solemn assemblies gathered to see the New Season begin, and those beginnings were marked with traditional symbolic acts, such as the throwing out of the first ball and the introductions of the teams.  To me, excitement, adventure, risk, and competition are back.  I love baseball, the trusted doorway open to me that leads to all these things and more.

Nowhere was the occasion more solemnly marked than in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium, "the Stadium" according to The New York Times and "Chan Ho 'Assault and Battery' Park" according to Steve Somers, just alongside the plot of land that lies beneath "The House that Ruth Built."  In Yankee Stadium, the assembly could not have been solemner.  Great occasions trigger great emotions.

The public address announcer intoned before the start of the game, "...Batting seventh...the Designated Hitter...Number Twenty...(hear Steve Carell but think Bob Sheppard)...Jorge...Posada...the Designated Hitter...Number Twenty...Jorge...Posada..."

At this announcement serious Yankee fans were abashed though they knew it was coming.  They remember the old days.  They know the difference.  They marked this transition, from Jorge as Catcher to Jorge as Designated Hitter, this movement into a scary future, this turning of the wheel of the life cycle if not of Fortune's Wheel, by grieving and by leaving their seats, these serious Yankee fans, and standing beyond the right-center field wall at that sacred place known as the Bawling Basin, they sang mournfully as the Basin caught their tears:

Ah, holy Jorge, how hast thou offended,
that fans to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By throws upended, by thy team rejected,
     O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my reason, Jorge, hath undone thee.
No longer can I thine errant throws not see:
     I demoted thee.

Designated hitter for us you're named;
thine age hath gained, and Jorge hath suffered
for our victory, we nothing else pondered--
     we have surrendered.

For me, kind Jorge, are thy degradation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy star's combustion,
thy move toward anguish, and thy obfuscation,
     As consolation.

Therefore, kind Jorge, since I cannot claim thee,
I do resign thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on my pity, and my love conserving,
     not thy declining.

[Words: Johann Heermann; tr. Robert Seymour Bridges (1844-1930), alt. (Prince) Hal Steinbrenner (b. 1959)

Tune: Herzliebster Jorge, Johann Cruger (1598-1662)
11 11. 11 5

Ed. Note: Discovered recently in Jorge Posada's old corner locker, cleaned of all baseballs, uniforms, mitts, bats, helmets, caps, shaving supplies, toiletries, Tylenol, pommade, and hair brushes, at the New York Yankees' spring training facility at George M. Streinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, was a single folio MS. in yellow legal foolscap, ruled, folded in halves until reduced in size to 1.35" by 1.79", written in a fine German blackletter hand with a stylus known as Sharpie, with the text indicated.  The textual apparatus will be published by Charles Scribbler's Sons in a separate volume that includes a complete transcription replete with its textual apparatus, all scribal errors, corrections, and emendations.  Look for it wherever books are sold.  Mel (Allen) Inkhorn, Editor.]

When they finished singing, these serious fans, relieved and refreshed, returned expectantly to their seats for the throwing out of the first ball and the first pitch of the new season.

And they weren't disappointed.  Their grief shed, they made their way to their perch and watched eagerly, poised precariously as on a knife's edge at the limen presented by the start of a new campaign, the first pitch from CC Sabathia, who at 6'7" and 290 pounds is not hard to find on the pitcher's mound, a fastball hurtling at 91 miles per hour and called a strike, on the outside corner, to Austin Jackson, the center fielder of the Detroit Tigers, who would strike out swinging on seven pitches as brisk as the 4l-degree temperature.

On the day, Jorge went 0-4 though he hit the ball sharply, and the Yankees won the game, 6-3, as Mariano Rivera garnered his 560th Save.

And, the Season's On.

Best,
Howard


The Proper Liturgy to Prepare for Opening Day

10 March 2011
Twenty-one Days before Opening Day

The Knot Hole Gang
(A Select and Highly Personal Email List, some of whom wish to remain Anonymous)

Dear Knot-Holer:
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, the baseball blogs and websites, and, perhaps, conversing (at arm's length) with baseball handicappers of renown, the ones, of course, at liberty to have such conversations.

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 Noon on Opening Day, March 31.  Please reply to the email address from whence this came.

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

2011 Baseball Season Predictions
Winners of Divisions and Wild Cards, League Champions, and World's Champion

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

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

World's Champion:

And when the Day of Judgment comes, that day dreaded by all whose Team has eliminated itself, the day when one Team alone wins the World's Championship, these Predictions will be put on the scales, and their value found by crediting the accurate prediction of a World's Champion with 10 points, the accurate prediction of a League Champion with 5 points, and the accurate prediction of a playoff berth with 3 points.  For the purpose of this evaluation, regular season Division Winners and the Wild Card Winners are accounted as equals.  If you correctly predict that a team makes the playoffs (whether as a Division Winner or Wild Card Winner), you will be credited with 3 points.  The maximum score is 44 points for correctly predicting the Word's Champion, the League Champions, and the 8 teams to make the playoffs.  In the case of a tie, the Predictions emailed earliest will be the winner.  The decision of the Judges is final though not capricious.

Play Ball!

Very truly yours,
Howard Stringfellow
610-691-5655, x222

[From Bill: On the Third Day of Lent, Commissioner Stringfellow expanded his invitation, as follows.]

The Third Day of Lent, 2011
March 11

The Knot Hole Gang is a group of people who are colleagues, acquaintances, and friends of mine who predict the outcomes of Major League Baseball each season in a mild and private competition.  Some are Christians and some are not; some wish to remain Anonymous.  If you think of the love of baseball extolled in Roger Kahn's classic book The Boys of Summer, you will understand completely the nature of this enterprise.  It's that simple.

This season I am opening up the Knot Hole Gang and inviting you to join. If you you have not been a Knot-Holer and wish to make your predictions and have them impartially evaluated through the season, please drop a note to my email address, and I shall send to you the official note calling for this season's predictions. Opening Day is March 31, so do not delay to begin your springtime reflection. Remember the words of King David, how he sang, as he plucked his favorite lyre, after a long day on a Judean diamond: "The fool has said in his heart: there is no game better than football" (Psalm 14:1, private translation).

Best,

Howard Stringfellow, Member
The New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society


'I Think He Colors his Hair"

by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Scranton
on Ash Wednesday 9 March 2011

I heard it the other day.  Someone said, “I think he colors his hair.”  And there he was for all the world to see.  A seemingly quiet, unassuming man whose ends were a sort of medium ash brown, and whose roots were as white as a newly-fallen snow in downtown Scranton.  “I think he colors his hair.”  There he was, unmasked, a man different from what he appeared to be.

You know that you can tell the truth, and you can use the truth to hurt people.  That’s got to be sinful.  And you can say out in the open what we all know to be true and to the detriment of the person involved.  That’s got to be sinful, too.  You don’t have to live very long or travel very far before you realize that most of us can observe, most of us can unearth, a lot of truth that is hurtful.  We can wield the truth as if it were a weapon.  But in most of our lives there is a lot of truth that we aren’t facing.  There’s a lot of truth about ourselves that we aren’t coming to terms with.  That’s got to be sinful, too.  And it would be hurtful for anyone to urge that truth upon us.  Anyone would be devastated to be told that he is doing something in some area of his life that is very like dyeing his hair.

Today is the day that begins the season when we try to undo a self-deception or two, when we do something very like letting the roots grow out.  We let vanity go, and we let God do the make-over.  We put ourselves in God’s hands, in the hands of Reality Itself, and ask that the truth remake us, reshape us, so that we may more closely resemble God’s truth that lives in us already.  It is the season when we accept that it is God who made us and not we ourselves.  It is the season when we face our dependence on God for our creation and preservation, as well as our redemption and salvation.  To return to that reality, to that relationship with God, we do what we have to do to keep it whole, to keep it intact.  And what we do may concern that funny business about the money.  It may have to do with pretending to pray and pretending to serve God.  It may have to do with exercising our bodies or our minds.  It may have to do with that person not our spouse whom we have on the side.  It may have to do with eating more rather than less if we haven’t been able to accept the waistline God has given us.  It may have to do with tiny and numerous selfishnesses so petty as to seem unmentionable but gathered together may be enough to weigh us down, keeping us from rising to new life in Christ.

Whatever it may be, the point is to let God, God’s reality, in, into our lives.  This is the day for a right beginning, a new start, confident that the God who made us is the God who wants to see us redeemed and wants to see us saved.  Whatever we do, whatever we want, we can let the reality that is God in.  And that requires honesty, an honesty disarming in its force and keenness.  We have to put away the dye, and take on the truth; put away the hypocrisy, and take on humility; put away the self-congratulation, and put on the praise of Christ.


The Dorchester Chaplains

by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at Diocesan House on 3 February 2011

[Note: The Dorchester Chaplains is a lesser feast in the proposed Holy Women Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010) approved for trial use by General Convention in 2009.  They were two Protestant, one Roman Catholic, and one Jewish Chaplains who gave up their life jackets and means of rescue to others on the Dorchester, a converted cruise ship whose boiler room was struck by enemy fire on February 3, 1943, a day from their destination of Greenland.]

Every time I cross the Atlantic I cannot do other than to think of the ice and the horribly cold water below.  To me the horror of those conditions excels by far the wood and the nails of our Savior’s cross.

Seventy-eight degree water, passing for eighty, at the gym’s lap pool gives me pause and takes my breath away once I summon the courage to jump in.  So think, if you will, of nineteen degree water a day’s sail from Greenland.

Into that condition, four chaplains went down today in 1943.  Their life jackets had been given to others.  Their arms were linked in prayer.  We are invited to believe that the Lord was there with them.  We are invited to believe that theirs was the greatest love for indeed they laid down their lives for their friends (Saint John 15:13, the Gospel of this Eucharist).  We are invited to believe that their sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that is being revealed in them (Romans 8:18, the Epistle of this Eucharist).

There is a Christian interpretation of the fourth man whom Nebuchadnezzar sees in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:25).  The fourth man, the interpretation goes, is the Lord.  And when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego emerge from the furnace they are not singed, nor do they have the smell of fire.

The Dorchester Chaplains enjoy and point you and me toward the glory of steadfast sacrificial love that only the Lord can bestow.  The best path to blessedness is the path of love and service of the True and Living God.  For the souls of those who follow this path are in the hand of God; they seem to have died, but they are at peace (Wisdom 3:1-3).


Diocesan Training Day on April 2nd

Registration opens today and closes March 23rd. Cost is $17.50 and includes lunch.

A day set aside for learning about opportunities and resources for ministry in congregations, and celebrating ministries we share. There will be 13 different workshops spanning all aspects of ministry to select from this year. Please plan to join us for a wonderful day of learning.

Workshops include:
All Day Workshops (one workshop in both sessions)

#1 Ministry of the Lay Eucharistic Visitor (all day workshop) - The Rev. Edward Erb -- Two-part course leads to licensing. Morning session - Biblical, theological, and historical background. Afternoon session - resources and practical considerations (ex. HIPAA rules, safety, and health concerns)

#2 Understanding and Working with ChurchPost (all day workshop) - Mr. John Goodell, Owner of ChurchPost -- A hands-on guide to using ChurchPost, our electronic newsletter platform, to communicate effectively and immediately with your members and visitors.

Session I - 9:45am to 11:15am

#3 Wardens/Vestry 101 - The Rt. Rev. Paul Marshall and The Ven. Howard Stringfellow - Introduction for new wardens and vestry members or a refresher for experienced vestry members to the roles, responsibilities, and realities of parish leadership.

#4 Bringing Financial Sanity to the Family - Mr. Dan Charney - The program, Financial Sanity, designed by Nathan Dungan, founder and president of Share Save Spend, consists of four one-hour sessions.  This training helps you to become familiar with the program, and will cover session one of the program to give participants a feel for what it is all about.

#5 Transitional Formation in Parishes - Ms. Kim Rowles - In periods of individual transition it is especially important to support and lead members in our communities to an intentional life with Christ, this session will help outline a plan for individual parishes dealing with middle to high school transition, high school to college transition, and couples to family transition.

#6 - Come Let Us Worship - A Workshop for the Laity and Clergy - The Rev. Laura Howell & The Rev. John Francis - This session will explore some of the tools the Book of Common Prayer gives us for daily worship.  It will provide some practical suggestions for parish prayer that may be led by the laity as well as the clergy.

#7 - Evangelism as Prayer and Faith Sharing - The Rev. Jane Bender, The Rev. Doug Moyer,  and Mrs. Carol Keane - The Unbinding the Gospel series doesn't give answers as to how, when and where.  Come learn how many ways this lively resource can be tailored for your use.


Session II -- 1:15pm to 2:45pm

#8 Enabling Ministries: Forward Life Planning - Mr. Charlie Barebo - Develop your parish's capabilities to deliver ministries by strengthening its approach to Forward Life Planning.

#9 Treasurers’ Workshop - Mr. Bruce Reiner -- This workshop will focus on cash receipts, cash disbursements, internal controls, and audits.

#10 - The Confirmation Conundrum - The Rev. Canon Anne Kitch - Explores the rite of Confirmation and the many questions it raises.  Includes an overview of the history of Confirmation in the Episcopal Church and the theology of Confirmation as it is express in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

#11 - Health Ministries - Mrs. Diana Marshall - Health ministry plays a unique and critical role in facilitating the health of clergy, staff and congregations.  Health ministry looks different from congregation to congregation, reflecting the unique needs, interests, and resources of the faith community.

#12 - Incorporating New members into the Episcopal Church - The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns- The course will introduce a simple, easy-to-understand, process of incorporating new members into a congregation. It will also describe various kinds of visitors and newcomers and show how to integrate the worship and theology of the Episcopal Church into our evangelism.

#13 - Training for Regional Discernment Teams - Members of the Commission on Ministry - This training session is designed to help both clergy and laity understand the purpose and structure of regional discernment as practiced in the Diocese of Bethlehem.

You can click here to register. Download the Diocesan Training Day brochure on our web site here.


Diocesan Life February 2011

Hello everyone! Here is the latest edition of Diocesan Life. We are now wrapping around a new, independent paper called the Episcopal Journal. Of course, our online version doesn't include that news, but you should receive it in your mailboxes this week. As always, if you have stories, photos, news, please pass them along to Kat Lehman. The file is in .pdf formate and is 2.3 MB in size.

Download 1102_DiocesanLifeFINAL_SMALL


There is Hope, by Archdeacon Stringfellow

Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
14 January 2011
[Revised slightly, Jan. 18]

The temperature is 29.  Snow lies on the ground, and ice grips the streets.  I am wearing a wool shirt over a wool tee-shirt.  But there is hope.

A friend gave me a few weeks ago a photograph signed "Juan Marichal HOF 83."  The "27," black outlined in orange with white piping, is emblazoned on the back of the grey jersey uncontaminated by a name, and his left foot, at a perfect right angle from his leg, reaches high in the sky, higher than his head with his eyes fixed on his prey.  A bit of daylight slivers between the stirrup and the sanitary stocking just above the inner portion of his right ankle.  The grass around the mound is verdant, and the infield is smooth.  The sun shines.  The photograph catches the split of a second before a devastating pitch hurtles toward home plate as skill touches art in the game where the defense holds the ball and gives the offense just a split of a second to seize the opportunity to be and to score.

Pitchers and catchers report one month from today.


What prophecy guides you?

Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at Diocesan House on The Feast of the Epiphany
6 January 2011

On one of the Twelve Days of Christmas, I cracked a fortune cookie and read: “To truly find yourself you should play hide and seek alone.”  The Wise Men weren’t seeking themselves.

The Gospel proclaimed on The Epiphany places us right in the midst of St Matthew’s evangelism, a proclamation that employs repeated formulas.

Often we hear something very like: “this took place to fulfill the words of the prophet…”  The Wise Men themselves follow the star having learned about it in the Book of Numbers: “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).

The Star of Bethlehem signifies God’s protection of God’s people and identifies that protection with Jesus.  By following a star, by following a prophecy, the Wise Men find Jesus.  What prophecy do you follow until it brings you to look upon his face?

My favorite is the one Jesus uses to disclose and to reveal himself.  Shut up in prison, John the Baptist sends some of his followers to Jesus to ask him: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  And Jesus tells them: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (St Matthew 11:2-6).

Jesus refers to Isaiah 29, Isaiah 35, and Isaiah 61 in his answer, and those prophecies lead and draw John and his disciples to Jesus.  The really important thing is that it really doesn’t matter which prophecy or which truth you follow or seek.  They all lead to him.

You can be a bricklayer or an attorney, a machine-worker or a writer, trying to do it the best way or the cleanest way, the smartest way or the honestest way, and your steps will lead you to him, for he knows the bricks, understands the laws and the machines, and comprehends the words.  For they are his, and so are you.


On the Feast of St Simon and St Jude

Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at Diocesan House on 28 October 2010
29 October 2010

We find four verses in the Scriptures concerning Simon, and two of them mention Jude who also has his own mention in another verse.  In the face of such scarce biography, why shouldn’t we give full rein to hagiography?

The collect pushes us along a bit, especially the petition where we ask that with ardent devotion, like theirs, we may make known the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.  And I take it that that is a worthy goal of us all.  How do we make Jesus’ love and mercy known?

One of my heroes, Ed Friedman, wrote somewhere that when we push the box of kleenex across the table to someone struggling with a moment of insight or growth, we give the wrong kind of help.  We give encouragement to emotion and pain.  We kiss the victim when we could be waiting to congratulate the person for taking greater responsibility, and for growing into greater maturity and for transcending victimhood.

I think that’s what God does.  God certainly exercises a permissive will: we can sin and make bad choices for ever and a day, and God will permit us to do those things.  That permission comes with many price tags (both God’s and ours), but God seems to think that freedom is worth it.  And giving that freedom to another person represents the love of Jesus Christ, the same love by which he allows us to crucify him again and again.

And following that love, there is mercy, the mercy we ourselves know when we ourselves learn exactly how much God has permitted, how much God has tolerated, and how much God has forgiven.  And giving that mercy to another person represents the mercy of Jesus Christ, the same mercy by which Jesus forgives sinners over and over again.

Perhaps fondly, I believe Simon and Jude knew these things and made them truly and deeply their own.  And just so, I believe that making Jesus’ love and mercy known amount to making him known and amount to maturing “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).


On the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

On the Feast of St Michael and All Angels
Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at Diocesan House on 30 September 2010 (transferred)
29 September 2010

Don’t we sound ridiculous when we say, “the devil made me do it”? We sound like we are copping out, and we sound as though we haven’t matured enough to take responsibility for what we’ve done or what we’ve left undone.

 But how do we sound when we say, “the angel saved me from it”? Or when we say, “the angel sent me in another direction”?

I’m going to go out on a limb and tell you about an experience I had years ago when I was driving up the mountain, as we Tennesseans say, from Nashville to visit some friends and to see a play, Henry IV, Part I, at Sewanee.

The road was no more than two lanes, and there was considerable fog. I was distracted and missed one of the curves. My car veered into the other lane while I stared at something I thought was a bear off the road. Somehow I was redirected to the road very quickly and without any light or sound to get my attention. I saw where my car had veered and returned to my lane just before another car came round the bend in its proper lane. Our front ends had been within fifteen feet of each other. I cannot explain the event naturally, and I have no hesitation to explain the event supernaturally.

The angels, we prayed to God today, “help and defend us here on earth” (BCP, page 244). I believe that, and I need that, for I am not able to withstand all the things that can befall us. But I am able to take the help that God gives, and I try to be open to that help. And in being intentionally open to God’s help, I hear God saying, “Do something simple, and I will meet you there.” Wherever God is, is exactly the place I want most to be.

May St Michael and all the holy angels direct your footsteps in the paths of peace and goodwill.


Constance, Nun, and her Companions

Making God's consolation more widely known
Homily by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at Diocesan House on 9 September 2010

1 Corinthians 1:3-5, Psalm 25:15-21, Saint John 12:24-28

I find the Epistle of this Eucharist haunting. God consoles us, we are told, so that we may be able to console others. God consoles us, in other words, so that others may be consoled. God’s consolation, then, is not about us or our feelings; it’s about making God’s consolation more widely known. We are touched by it, washed in it, and refined by it, but it is not about us.

I believe that to some extent all martyrs understand this mystery. God’s love passes through them for the purpose of reaching someone else.

The Martyrs of Memphis made sure that more, much more, than yellow fever passed through them. They made sure that God’s love passed through them just as God intends. About the former, about the contagion, they may have had no choice. But about the second, about God’s consolation, they made the choice of their lives.


Would you, Howard, have done what they did?

By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at Diocesan House on 2 September 2010
1 Chronicles 22:11-13, Psalm 126, Saint Luke 12:4-12

For over twenty years as a priest, when I have celebrated the eucharists of martyrs or commemorated them, I have asked myself this question: “Would you, Howard, have done what they did to be martyred? Is your faith as great as theirs?”

If you know of a better way to be hard on yourself, please let me know. I always strive to improve.

But that isn’t the question—whether we would do what the martyrs did. The question is whether we will do those things that strengthen our identity as Christians while we live in a culture that tolerates all faiths and specially supports no faith in particular. That is the question. We do not have emperors who want us to worship them. Nor do we have non-Christians who will kill us when we are turned in to them, as was true of the Martyrs of New Guinea. But we do have a culture that grows indifferent to Christians and to people of faith generally.

Someone gave me a brief synopsis of a sermon recently. In it were the preacher’s three main points, which, if we do them, support our identity as Christians and keep before our eyes our mission as Christians. They are:

1. pray every day;

2. go to church every Sunday, and pray for the welfare of everyone there; and

3. once a month ask someone to come to church.

If we do these things, then, as the Psalmist asserts, “those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:6).


Talbot Hall Grants

Talbot Hall Grants

To the Clergy of the Diocese of Bethlehem
From the Archdeacon

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

The Mission Statement of Talbot Hall is to provide spiritual, emotional, educational, cultural, physical and social opportunities for children who may not have experienced these blessings.  This year the Fund will be awarding grants up to $5,000.00.

If your parish or diocesan organization has a program that meets the criteria of this statement, please fill out the attached grant application and return it to me no later than October 30, 2010.  Electronic applications are preferred.  Just answer the questions on the application and email it to me, and I shall distribute it to the Talbot Hall Committee.

Word Format: Download 101030 Talbot Hall Application
PDF Format:
Download 101030 Talbot Hall Application

The Committee will meet in November to review all grant applications for 2011.  Applicants will be notified in writing as to the Committee’s decision.

Please feel free to contact me if further assistance is needed.

Sincerely,
Howard Stringfellow

Pentecost 12/C by Archdeacon Stringfellow

Pentecost 12
By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Year C, Proper 15 (Track Two)
The Church of the Good Shepherd in Scranton
15 August 2010


The Gospel today isn’t easy.  You heard the Lord say, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”  Pretty strong stuff.  “Five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.”  Not the standard hoochypap you usually hear from preachers.  Preachers, I know, like to give people good news.  We don’t like to remind people of the things Christ seeks to memorialize in the Gospel today.  We like to tell people, “Do the best you can; God will understand.”  But that pablum doesn’t nourish every occasion and every development.  And, it doesn’t fit the True and Living God.

What Christ is telling us in the Gospel today is something we would rather put off.  We would rather put it out of mind.  Like the roasting pan, we’d rather scrub it later.  Or the big credit card bill, we’d rather think about how to pay it later.  What’s the minimum amount due?

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